Reykjavik, Golden Circle, South Drive to Vik… oh my!
I highly recommend renting a car or camper van and explore Iceland on your own. It’s the best way to see everything. You will not and could not get lost. The roads are extremely easy to drive on. The main roads are well maintained. Signage was clear (although they did lack warning signs to let you know your exit is coming up. There were frequent U-turns involved). We barely used GPS and mostly opted for an old school map (Michelin Iceland Map 750) that I bought from Amazon instead. We weren’t getting much signal on our mobile phone anyway so the paper map came in really handy.
Prior to our trip, I mapped out all the main place we wanted to see in Iceland. We were there for a very limited time, so we needed to make sure we covered as much as could. I simply took my map and circles every point of interest and we planned a driving route from that. It saved us a lot of time not having to figure out where to go next.
We rented a small hatchback from SAD Cars, which fit exactly myself and I plus our two suitcases. Full disclosure, the cars at this rental are nothing to write home about, it’s really “sad” looking cars but they do the job! There’s a free shuttle service to and from the airport as well.
If you’re not comfortable with the adventure of driving and off to the unknown, there are a variety of tours available.
Day 1: Reykjavik.
Really quaint city. Not a whole lot to see but it was really interesting to see such a large shipping dock area so close to the centre of town. I was expecting a completely suburban and simple life in this city. But to my surprise, there were several modern condominiums scattered everywhere.
Although, to be honest, I don’t recommend spending more than one day in Reykjavik. It’s honestly so small and walkable. It can easily be done in one evening.
- Hallgrimskirkja: take the elevator up and get the best view of the entire city
- Sun Voyager: modern structure and depiction of a Viking ship
Day 2: Golden Circle.
We’re on the road again! If you have a short time in Iceland, the Golden Circle is a great route to take. It’s one of the more popular parts of the country and relatively quick to get through (took us the whole day to drive to each points of interest). It’s really easy to follow – literally a round route on the map! You can really plan your day around the GC. Try and leave early because there is so much to see.
First stop: Þingvellir National Park. This is huge national park you can drive into. Went to see Oxararfoss – gorgeous waterfalls in the middle of the park
Then we managed a short hike up into Dead Man’s Valley: I can’t quite remember the history behind this place but there’s a plaque there explaining why it’s called this. It was a popular place for execution of criminals. It’s a small valley with huge rocks everywhere. Very eerie feeling once you’re in there. You can almost feel the spirits luring around you.
After about 45 minute drive, we ended up in Geysir: amazing sight to see! The geyser erupted every 10 to 15 mins. Take a short hike up the hill to see an amazing view of the Golden Circle.
Gulfoss: this is the largest waterfall in all of Europe (as per Icelandic people). Stopped for a quick lunch at Fridheimar Tomato Farm. They were a family who focuses their crops solely on greenhouse tomatoes. It was truly mind blowing to see such a large farm growing crops in a place where the temperatures are frigid most of the year. The entire operation was sustainable and organic. They used the geothermal water for heat, electricity and to water the tomatoes. The imported honey bees from Holland to fertilize and use as a natural pesticide against the bad insects. They did not use any form of chemical pesticides. The amazing part of it all was that they used the imperfect tomatoes and made 3 dishes out of them. Their famous tomato soup (unlimited soup and fresh bread) , tomato pasta and tomato dessert. All of which were amazing! If you ever visit Iceland , make sure you stop by this place. It’s a hidden gem and truly Icelandic
After a long day of drivig, we spent the night in a secluded cabin in the middle of the GC. We were welcomed by the most lovely couple. True Icelandic locals. They welcomed us with open arms and a hot tub. My favourite part of getting to know locals is gaining invaluable insight to their way of life. It’s the best way to get recommendations to places and food that you would normally miss.
Day 3: South Coast to Vik.
Our last full day in Iceland was extremely jam packed. We woke up around 6 AM to ensure we made it to as much as possible. We had a long drive down to the south to Vik and plenty to see along the way.
See my blog post on the Blue Lagoon for our experience
Day 4: Keflavik.
Not much to see in Keflavik. It’s a quiet suburban town with a few restaurants. Things tends to slow down early in the evening around here. It was a struggle to find a restaurant and bar to hang out in for a night. It’s really close to the airport and the Blue Lagoon (15 mins drive to each). It’s a good place to spend the last night and just catch up on rest from your adventures. Plan the Blue Lagoon near the end of your trip. It’s a nice way to relax. You’ll be closer to the airport so you can either do it on your way to the airport or book a night in Keflavik if you have a morning flight the next day.
Read my blog post on Iceland for more travel tips: My Love Affair with Iceland