Iceland has been on my bucket list for quite a few years now. So, when one of my best friends suggested that we go together how could I say no?! Gorgeous scenery, adventures AND amazing company…yes please!
We wanted to do Iceland proud, so we ended up planning a fairly intense itinerary. If you want to read more on the planning process, click here to get my tips and tricks for planning your own amazing Iceland getaway!
Our trip started and ended in Reykjavik, which was a surprisingly incredible city. To see all of the fun we had in and around the city, check out my post about our adventures in Reykjavik!
Pro tip: From Reykjavik, we headed out on the ring road clockwise. You can certainly choose to go counterclockwise as well, but most of our activities were in the South… so we wanted to tackle our long driving days first and leave what we thought would be the coolest sights for last.
After loading up with groceries and snacks for the road, we headed out on our adventure!
There is so much to do in Western Iceland, mainly concentrated around Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Eastfjords. We unfortunately didn’t have time to do both, so we decided to focus on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Our first stop didn’t look like much from the road, but it’s a gorgeous narrow gorge that you can hike up into (it takes about ~20 minutes). Most people were focused inside the canyon, but I actually loved the view looking back to the ocean!
For those of you that are Game of Thrones fans, you’re also in for a treat because many of the stops on our route are filming scenes! I am such a sucker for a good photo-op and this gorgeous mountain did not disappoint. It’s said to be one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland!
Pro tip: Restaurants along the ring road are sparse, so most meals come from gas stations with small “grab and go” sections if you don’t pack your own snacks. There are some decent choices, but I discovered something exceptional – Skyr Drykkur. It’s basically a smoothie made with Skyr, an Icelandic cultured dairy product that has the consistency of strained yogurt, but tastes milder. It quickly became my very favorite Icelandic treat!
After a very long day on the road, we came home to the cutest cabin there ever was at the Brimnes Hotel & Cabins to spend the night!
It was really hard to narrow down what we wanted to see here! We tried to fit in as much as possible, but definitely had to make some hard choices.
Pro tip: What’s great about this area is that many fewer tourists make journey out here, so it feels much more local and low key. Even if you’re not able to drive the full ring road, you could easily fly into Akureyri Airport from Keflavik Airport.
Horseback Riding at Polar Hestar
Most people are surprised to know that I have a fear of heights and fast things considering how many adventures I go on. Well, it’s true. So, when Rachel insisted that we go horseback riding in Iceland I can’t say that I was thrilled. But…carpe diem!
The more that I read about Icelandic horses, the more excited I got. They are a special breed, much smaller in stature that also are trained with 2 gaits that other horses don’t have. This is awesome for me because a smaller horses mean less further for me to fall!
After a lot of research, we decided on Polar Hestar because of their incredible reputation and views. I got paired up with a horse that was about the same height as me and who stopped to eat almost every 10 minutes. We sure were kindred spirits! It was a fantastic experience…even for this skeptic! It may have also helped that the tour ended with cake.
When I read about a place with tiny houses with grass roofs, I knew we had to at least stop for a quick photo op! While the turf houses at Laufás are from the 1800’s, the original settlement there dates back to the 800’s. And no, that is not a typo!
This beauty appropriately named “Waterfall of the Gods” certainly did not disappoint. There were quite a few viewpoints on either side that are easily accessible, plus the brave can also climb a few rocks and stand on the edge near the falls!
Farm-to-table restaurants are my jam! So when I read about this amazing spot that is part dairy, part farm and part restaurant I was sold even before looking at the food photos! All of their dairy items are made fresh from their milk daily. We had dinner there and it was so good that we went back the next morning for lattes (with fresh milk from that morning!) and cake for breakfast!
Dimmuborgir Lava Formations
Game of Thrones alert! These naturally occurring lava formations were quite massive.
Námafjall Hverir Geothermal Area
This place smelled awful (sulphur), but was an incredible photo op! I totally felt like I was on Mars with the landscape. Plus, you could actually see the mud pots bubbling up!
Since we only had 7 days to get around the whole country, we unfortunately didn’t have any time to stop in Eastern Iceland. However, I definitely regret this and recommend that you plan for some more time here. It is the land of the fjords and is the only place on the island with a National Forest and even reindeer native to this part of the island!
Random Waterfall & Gorge
Seriously, I have no idea what this place is called (even after some googling), but it is worth sharing! We did a quick pullover at this amazing waterfall and gorge. If I am being honest, it was mostly so that Adam could fly his drone. The views were spectacular!
This is definitely where the majority of the famous Iceland sights are located, including the famous Golden Circle and also Vatnajökull glacier, which is Europe’s largest icecap.
Pro tip: There’s a random red chair off the side of the ring road. No one really knows why it’s there, but the views are spectacular!
This was an unplanned detour, but how could we pass up the chance to walk on water and see these views?
Otto Matur & Drykkur
Foodie alert! We were told by everyone that the food in Iceland was terrible. And I am here to tell you that could not be further from the truth. Sure, there aren’t a ton of restaurants along the ring road so the gas station’s finest is sometimes dinner. However, there are absolute GEMS if you look an this was one of those. Set in the oldest house in Höfn (circa 1897), Otto had amazing local produce and fresh seafood.
Pro tip: Langoustine (basically lobster) is so popular and affordable here – EAT IT.
Snowmobiling on Vatnajokull Glacier
Snowmobiling was yet another activity I was terrified of and excited for at the same time. This trip really pushed me out of my comfort zone! But, how can I turn down the chance to snowmobile across a glacier in Iceland? We loved our experience with Glacier Journey – and they even gave us an amazing neck warmer / bandana that I am now obsessed with. Freebies are clearly the way to my heart!
Jökulsárlón Lagoon & Diamond Beach
I have never seen anything like this place in my life! It’s basically a giant lagoon at the base of a glacier. The glacier calves (breaks apart) and the giant ice chunks sit in the lagoon. That is until the current catches them and brings them down a canal and into the ocean. The ocean waves break apart the ice chunks into smaller pieces and they wash up on black sand beaches, basically looking like diamonds. Hence, “Diamond Beach”. I probably could have sat and watched this phenomenon happen all day – it was mesmerizing!
Eldraun Lava Field
This really should be called “Eldraun Moss Field” because on top of the cooled lava grew the most beautiful, bright green moss! It stretched as far as the eye could see. If you come here, just make sure you don’t step on the moss – it’s living and you could kill it!
I’m not sure what it is about black sand beaches, but they are so freaking cool. Especially when they are near towering cliffs made of basalt columns. If you’ve never seen these up close, you are in for a treat – they are truly stunning!
Pro tip: Be careful not to get too close to the ocean as the waves come out of nowhere and the currents are intense. Also, be sure to bundle up here though – the wind can be brutal!
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
It’s not every day that you get to see a plane wreck up close and personal. It sounds morbid, but thankfully no one died in this crash. This has become a bit of a fad sight, but is honestly quite cool to see in person. It does require a 45 minute walk through basically nothingness before the crash site emerges on the horizon line. The plane body is on another black sand beach, making it a photographer’s dream!
Mia’s Country Van
A curious name for a food truck serving fish & chips exclusively. However, this Minnie Mouse inspired van is a MUST stop. They serve local fish battered in local beer. Did your mouth start watering yet? Mine sure is.
Seljalandsfoss & Gljúfrabúi Waterfalls
Iceland sure is the land of the waterfalls! Seljalandsfoss is one of the most popular ones because you can actually walk around it and see the backside of the waterfall! Prepare to get SOAKING wet doing this and be surrounded by tourists, but it’s a really neat sight.
Even more interesting is a smaller, hidden waterfall just about a 10 minute walk called Gljúfrabúi. You access it by walking through a small slit and then wading through the water. It may sound wet, but the payoff is extraordinary! It is a towering, raging waterfall that feels inches away.
All I have to say is BEST AIRBNB EVER. We were supposed to take a ferry to the Westman Islands to explore for the day, but it got cancelled due to high winds and it was the happiest accident ever because we got to spend the rest of our afternoon and evening enjoying this gem. It has a full kitchen (which we used to make homemade pizzas), a hot tub heated with local geothermal water, the cutest horse-themed decor and of course views for days. Can you imagine being here and watching the Northern lights?! I’m already ready to go back!
The best part? It’s set on a working horse farm and the owner loves giving tours of her stables.
Ok friends, I am going to keep it real here. This experience was terrifying for me and I didn’t ever get comfortable enough to enjoy it. However, everyone else LOVED the experience and looking back, I am glad that I did it. So, I would encourage you all to try it!
In the middle of the Golden Circle in Thingvellir National Park is the Silfra Fissure, a place where the plates of the North America & Europe meet. Here, there’s glacier water that’s incredibly clear (and COLD) but provides a very unique snorkeling (or diving) experience.
We suited up in our dry suits, which basically only left a small portion of our face exposed. These are designed to keep your body warm and stay dry (as opposed to a wet suit) and you actually wear clothes underneath. As you enter the water (just above freezing temperature), your suit will suction to your body and your face/lips will go numb very quickly. My best advice is to just relax and enjoy the scenery! I tried…and failed haha.
Pro tip: When you are relaxed, RESIST the urge to pee when you’re in the water and in your dry suit. It may feel like you’re swimming, but you are wearing clothes and the rest of your day will suck if you pee in your pants! Thankfully I am not speaking from personal experience!
After a frigid morning, this was just what the doctor ordered! I will warn you that this place has gotten very trendy, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less awesome! What would happen if you put a restaurant inside a tomato greenhouse? You’d get the most delicious all-you-can-eat tomato soup and bread buffet restaurant. Do not miss this place!
I have to say, there has been such hype about Iceland so my expectations were high and somehow the experience still beat those expectations! I cannot recommend Iceland enough for anyone and everyone. There are so many different ways to plan your own adventure. There is so much raw, natural beauty to see – in summer, winter or somewhere in between. The food was absolutely fantastic. The people were so kind and proud of their homeland. The sheep roam free and always seem to know their way back home. For a country so cold, I sure felt the warmth.
As we said goodbye to Iceland, we got a treat and saw Greenland out the window! Next trip, anyone?!
Have you been to Iceland? Comment below with your favorite spots!