Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik –> Stop by Snaefellsnes peninsula, sleep in Blondus
Day 2: Drive to Myvatn
Day 3: Stop in Krafla, sleep in Seydisfjordur
Day 4: Jokulsarlon + Skaftafell, sleep in Vik
Day 5: Explore Vik, then back to Reykjavik
Day 6: Golden circle and the city at night
Day 7: Go home!
We’re going to kick off this blog with a classic route! Since the advent of WOW air, my international travel has gotten substantially cheaper. While budget airlines might not be for everyone, I’m too cheap and practical to refuse! Every year, our group of friends go on a trip. We come from all over – west coast, midwest, east coast – and meet abroad. For this trip, we were a group of six, which was perfect. Any bigger, that one large 4-wheel drive would’ve become two and a much bigger headache. In the early days of planning, I’d read a lot about the Ring road and how circling the entire island in 1 week was maybe not a great idea. Of course, I wasn’t going to let expert opinion deter me. This trip was pretty aggressive, with between 2-5 hours of driving a day, but it was absolutely worth it. The key is lots of Icelandic snacks (drop by any N1 gas station to stock up), awesome playlists, and an endless appreciation for bonding and nature. If you’re looking for a more relaxed trip or are even shorter on time, I’d suggest sticking to the eastern coast only.
We flew into Keflavik airport early and instead of taking time in Rekjavik right off the bat, we decided to press forward, brave the jet lag and end an active trip on a relaxing note in the capital city. We drove the Ring road clockwise. The drive to sights ratio was a lot higher on the western coast, which allowed us to get acclimated to driving and the long days (sunset was around 2AM!). We spent the first night in Blondus. Stops from Rekjavik to Blondus included the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the famous Kirkjufell mountain and the first of many awe-inspiring waterfalls, Kirkjufellsfoss. We also toured the Settlement Center, a small museum on Icelandic history that also boasts a veggie buffet (the last time you’ll have ample vegetables this trip), which was entertaining but can definitely be skipped.
A quick note on weather and time of year, two things that vastly impact your experience in Iceland. My recommendation for a first timer is to go during shoulder season or summer, to maximize daylight and get the green and warm(er) version of Iceland, especially if you’re planning on doing the Northern lights somewhere else. You’ll still be able to do most (if not all) ice activities, particularly during shoulder season. We went end of May, which meant smaller crowds and cheaper travel, but not the full “green” of summer.
The second day was a quick drive to beautiful Lake Myvatn, where good hiking trails can be found. There were two places where the impact of tourism and climate change on Iceland were most visible. The first was that the unique green algae balls of Lake Myvatn no longer existed. If you don’t build in time for Blue Lagoon near Keflavik airport (I did this on a separate trip during a short layover), a second, arguably better option exists: Myvatn nature baths. I would also recommend a short upwards hike to Hverfjall, a volcanic crater. The Grjótagjá cave made famous by Jon Snow and Ygritte on Game of Thrones is also here.
The drive from Myvatn to Seyðisfjörður, a town ringed by waterfalls, was one of my favorites, mostly due to the fiery lava fields of Krafla. There’s something just so other-worldly about steam rising from cracked land vents. Before reaching Seyðisfjörður, we did a side trip to Borgarfjörður eystri for its famed puffin viewings. Here was the second spot – sadly due to decreased food availability, the puffins have had to sit further out to sea and for longer, thus weren’t nesting on nearby hills. Luckily, we had our close encounter with a puffin anyways, in the cliffs adjoining the spectacular Skalanes Mountain Lodge in Seyðisfjörður, which comes highly recommended.
The next day was a full one with two stunning glacial activities. The first is Jökulsárlón, a must-see and often featured glacial lagoon, full of frolicking sea lions, that can be toured by boat. The second is ice climbing on Skaftafell. If ice climbing (or being pulled out of an ice hole by a muscular Icelandic girl named Olga) sounds more terrifying than exciting, ice trekking is also available. If you still have energy after all this, drive down to Vik for a rest. Take an easy day in Vik, my favorite town in Iceland, exploring the black sand beaches on horseback (literally felt like Lord of the Rings) and Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls.
Our last full day was spent checking out bits of the Golden Circle and snorkeling in Silfra. Honestly, nothing we saw in the Golden Circle topped the sights we’d already seen on our grand tour. However, snorkeling between tectonic plates is something everyone needs to do in their lifetime, even if you freeze your toes off. Then spend your last night in a hip AirBnB in Reykjavik, grab some coffee or drinks, and have a lovely dinner at the scrumptious Matur og Drykker (Icelandic for food and drink). Following that, staying up and partying all night with the Icelanders is a rite of passage, and the best way to end the trip with a bang.
Iceland was one of my favorite trips ever and there are definite plans for a second visit, focused on the West Fjords. Drop me a line if you have any questions about the itinerary or just want to chat about how awesome Iceland is!