Iceland is a country I had been longing to visit since I was in my early 20s – a decade before it became “instafamous”. Last winter I was spending an evening perusing Google Flights, because what else is there to do after work besides plan vacations, and I found roundtrip tickets to Iceland for less than $400.00 each. I instantly booked them.
I can promise you, Iceland is full of the most amazing landscapes you will ever see. It’s also full of Icelandic horses and puffins and there are more sheep in Iceland than people. Need I say more? My husband and I visited this wonderful country for 4 days and went into it not knowing what to expect. Needless to say, it lived up to our expectations and then some. In fact, we are already planning another trip so that we can drive the Ring Road in it’s entirety.
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Iceland Must Haves
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Where to Stay
The Southern Coast
- Hotel Laekur – This is the hotel we stayed at while traveling the southern coast. Located in Hella, Hotel Laekur is such an amazing hotel with the most incredible views. There is a river that runs along the property and horses in the field that you can walk up to and pet. The hotel offers free wifi, free breakfast, and a sun terrace. The location is perfect for viewing the Northern Lights during the winter – we actually saw them while we were there. I highly recommend Hotel Laekur if you are going to be traveling the southern coast.
The Golden Circle
- Brekkegurdi Guesthouse – This is where we stayed while traveling the Golden Circle. It’s a lovely little guesthouse with the kindest owner. The hotel offers free breakfast and free Wi-Fi. It’s perfectly located in the middle of the Golden Circle, which was great because it wasn’t very far from restaurants and attractions. I noticed that guesthouses are pretty common in Iceland. More so than actual hotels and I was perfectly fine with that.
- Airbnb – There are so many wonderful Airbnb options in Iceland. I would definitely recommend browsing the Airbnb App if you are looking for a cheaper alternative to a hotel.
- Camper Vans – Ah, the glorious camper van. These are so popular in Iceland and for good reason.The awesome thing about renting a camper van is that it’s your mode of transpiration, your sleeping quarters, and your place to eat all rolled in one. We are actually thinking about going this route on our next trip to Iceland.
How to Get Around
Honestly, the only way to get around is by renting a car – or camper van if you go that route. We used Lotus Car Rental and I highly recommend them.
What to Do
The Southern Coast
- Seljalandsfoss – The first waterfall you will come to along your drive of the southern coast is Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall is one of my favorites because you can take a path behind the waterfall, which I thought was really cool. There is also a walking path in front of Seljalandsfoss that leads you to Gljufrabui waterfall located just north of Seljalandsfoss. The walk takes about 10 minutes and I highly recommend it. The waterfall is partially obscured by the cliff rock, but you can follow a trail to enter the narrow canyon. I would arrive early to beat all of the tour buses. I think we arrived around 9am and it was relatively chaos free and no tour buses. We explored for about an hour and by the time we left, there were tour buses everywhere. You do have to pay to park and if I remember correctly it was around $7.00 (USD) and the machine took credit cards.
- Skogafoss – This is the next waterfall you will come to – it’s about 20 minutes from Seljalandsfoss and it’s seriously so stunning and powerful. There are stairs located along the side of the hill beside the waterfall that allow you to walk up and view the waterfall from above. The view is incredible from up there and I thank my husband for going and getting pictures – because you know, I don’t do stairs. Unlike Seljalandsfoss, the parking at Skogafoss is free. There is also a gift shop and café on-site.
- Solheimasandur Plane Wreck – After leaving Skogafoss, the next place you come to is the famous DC-3 plane wreck. Don’t worry, everyone survived so you don’t have to feel guilty about visiting. It’s located a few miles from Skogafoss and once upon a time you could drive right up to the plane – the plane is on the beach about 2 miles from the road – but visitors weren’t respecting the land, so the local land owners banned vehicles. Now you have to park in a little makeshift parking area on the side of the highway and walk. Make sure you thank all those jerky, inconsiderate tourists for the 4 mile roundtrip hike you have to take now.
- Reynisfjara Beach – Next up on your drive is Reynisfjara Beach, located just outside the tiny little village of Vik. I had never been to a black sand beach before and let me just say, it was everything I could have hoped for. The beach has these beautiful, massive basalt columns and according to local Icelandic folklore, the columns were once trolls trying to pull ships from the ocean to shore. For any Game of Thrones fans out there, you will also recognize the columns from Season 7 of the show.
- Fjaorargljufur Canyon – About an hour past Vik is Fjaororgljufur Canyon. While technically Fjaororgljufur Canyon is located more along the south east coast, I had to include it because it’s just so stunning! The canyon itself is about 100 meters deep and two kilometers long with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it.
These are not the only places to stop during a drive of Iceland’s southern coast, but these are probably the most popular stops along the route. I can’t tell you how many times we pulled over on the side of the road to take pictures – in designated areas of course – don’t be those tourists who stop in the middle of the road. The entire island is so picturesque and photo worthy and I recommend you go off the beaten path a little and explore.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle can easily be done in a day. We managed to get all of these places ticked off our list in about 6 hours or so. We started at Gulfoss and ended at Kerid Crater.
- Gullfoss – Gullfoss waterfall is probably the most popular stop along the Golden Circle. I would recommend getting an early start because Gullfoss gets incredibly busy around 10am once of all the tour buses start showing up. There is a cafe on-site in case you get hungry – it was OK, but if you aren’t very hungry I would definitely skip it and head to one of the restaurants I recommend below.
- Kerid Crater – Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater lake and is approximately three thousand years old! We stopped at Kerid Crater on our way to Reykjavik and when we arrived around 9am, there were only a few other people there. There is a small entrance fee of about about $3.00(USD) to get in, but it’s totally worth it. I really enjoyed walking around the edge of the perimeter and you can even walk down to water at the bottom of the crater.
- The Great Geysir – I had never seen a geyser in real life before seeing this one, so I will admit it was neat to see it, but it smelled like rotten eggs and after a few minutes I was ready to get back in the car. If you are into geysers, then definitely check it out, but it was a little on the boring side in my opinion.
- Thingvellir National Park – Hands down my favorite part of the Golden Circle. We drove around Thingvellir for a few hours and stopped to see the Silfra Fissure. If you have time and are a certified scuba diver, you can actually dive the site. If you aren’t, don’t worry…you can snorkel, too! There are several different parking lots throughout the park – some of them of are free and others are not.
Where to Eat
Honestly, there are not tons of places to eat once you get outside of the towns, so I definitely recommend packing snacks of some sort to keep in your car. I took a bunch of RXbars and Kashi Nut Butter bars to Iceland with me and I can’t even being to tell you how many times they saved from becoming hangry. Keep in mind that food in Iceland is also notoriously expensive. We spent the most money on food and it wasn’t uncommon to spend upwards of $50.00 for lunch or dinner for two people. We ate breakfast at the hotel/guesthouse we were staying at so that we could at least cut out some food expenses. With that being said, we did come across some really great restaurants while we were in Iceland that I highly recommend.
The Southern Coast
- Mia’s Country Van – If you are wanting delicious and fresh fish and chips then you must stop at this adorable little food truck! It’s located right past Skogafoss waterfall when you’re heading toward Vik.
- Restaurant Kanslarinn – This restaurant is located in Hella and we ate here on our very first night in Iceland. The fish and chips are delicious and fresh and the cheeseburgers were also really good. Admittedly, I ate like such an American while in Iceland. But there was no way in hell I was eating fermented shark or sheep head. Nope. It just wasn’t happening.
- Black Beach Restaurant – This restaurant is located at Reynisfjara Beach right outside Vik. I wasn’t planning on eating here, but after we explored the beach I was really hungry and there wasn’t much else around. I grabbed a tunafish sandwich to-go and honestly really wasn’t expecting much, but that was the best tunafish sandwich I have ever eaten. It was so fresh! The restaurant serves up sandwiches, salads, burgers, and a ton of desserts!
The Golden Circle
- Restaurant Mika – If you are looking for a good pizza in Iceland then you need to head over to Restaurant Mika. Seriously, it was so good! If you want to try some authentic Icelandic food then they’ve got you covered there, too! Everything from beef cheeks to cured lamb.
- Goodburger – I won’t even lie, I wanted to eat here solely because it reminded me of the Keenan and Kel skit from the Nickelodeon show All That. Anyone else a fellow 90s kid? I am really glad that my 90s nostalgia steered me here because it was honestly really good! The burgers are made to order and there are different types of burgers to choose from- everything from a Goodburger, which includes a special sauce (this is the one I had and it reminded me of Shake Shack or In-N-Out) to a Bar-B-Que burger.
I hope you have found some useful tips in this travel guide and that you check out some of my recommendations! Have you ever been to Iceland? What are some of your must have stops? Leave a comment below so I can check out your suggestions.