Back in 2014, my parents spent about three weeks road tripping around Iceland. My dad had always wanted to go back to Iceland in winter and as my mom wasn't keen on the lower temperatures, I cunningly volunteered.
As it would be my first time there, I created a detailed Iceland itinerary which I'm sharing with you below. It's perfect if you want to spend one week in Iceland exploring the south coast but can easily be adapted to a shorter or longer trip.
- One week in Iceland in winter: an Iceland itinerary
- Day 1: Reykjanes Peninsula
- Day 2: The Golden Circle
- Day 3: exploring Thórsmörk valley by super jeep
- Day 4: along the South Coast
- Day 5: another day along the South Coast
- Day 6: an Ice Cave tour
- Day 7: the drive back
- Recommended South Coast tours
- Recommended Northern Lights tours
- Iceland road trip map
- A word on overtourism
- How to get to Iceland
- What to pack for Iceland in winter
- How much does a week in Iceland in winter cost?
- Don't forget travel insurance
One week in Iceland in winter: an Iceland itinerary
Day 1: Reykjanes Peninsula
The Reykjanes peninsula lies just south of Reykjavik. We chose to go there first as we arrived in Iceland in the afternoon and immediately wanted to pick up our rental car to go exploring. If you land in Iceland in the morning, you can also spend a full day here and I'll give you recommendations for how to do that below.
The Bridge Between Continents
The Bridge Between Continents lies in Sandvik, a 20-minute drive from Keflavik International Airport. It stretches over a crack or “fissure” in the landscape caused by the divergence of the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates.
Fissures like this can be seen in several places in Iceland and they're oftentimes more impressive than at the Bridge Between Continents but the bridge is a fun photo spot and serves as a symbol of the connection between North America and Europe.
You can both walk over and under it.
Good to know:
There's free parking space right by the short path that leads to the bridge.
Gunnuhver Geothermal Area
A quick 7-minute drive onward, you'll reach the Gunnuhver Geothermal Area, where you can follow a wooden path in between steaming mud pools.
The group of hot springs is actually named after Gunna. The legend goes that she was a woman who was in a fight with the sheriff. When she died, their fight was still unresolved and what do you know – the day after Gunna was buried, the sheriff was found dead.
His body was taken to the local priest who spent all night holding off Gunna's ghost, who tried to take the sheriff with her to hell. The priest succeeded, which made Gunna go absolutely made. She started terrorizing everyone on the peninsula until two farmers, with the aid of another priest, set a trap for her that led her to fall in a hot spring.
That day, now 400 years ago, she was declared “truly” dead and the hot springs were named after her.
Good to know:
Do not leave the path. This goes for everywhere in Iceland where you need to stay on a path. It's both for your own protection and for that of the environment. When my parents were in Iceland, they saw a lady put her foot above a hot spring because she wanted to see if it was really that hot. She got severely burned. Don't be like her.
There is free parking at Gunnuhver.
Hot springs of Seltún/Krýsuvik
It might get a bit confusing when you're looking for these hot springs, because they're both called Seltúnshverir (the “hot springs of Seltún”) and Krýsuvíkurhverir (the “hot springs of Krýsuvík”). You can find this place on Google Maps by looking for “Krisuvik/Seltún Parking”.
They're about a 40-minute drive from Gunnuhver and on the road to what was our last stop of the day: Kleifarvatn Lake.
Lake Kleifarvatn lies a 10-minute drive from the Seltún/Krýsuvik hot springs and is stunning – though my opinion might be aided by the fact that we got there during the blue hour. It lies surrounded by volcanic hills and when we were there, slices of ice floated around on it like leftover cereal in a bowl of milk.
It's the largest lake on the Reykjanes peninsula and the third largest in Iceland with a size of about 10 km² (1000 hectares). It's also one of the deepest lakes in Iceland with its deepest point being 97 meters below the surface.
Good to know:
You can search for “Lake Kleifarvatn Car Park” on Google Maps to get to – indeed – the car park.
The Blue Lagoon
Also located on the Reykjanes peninsula is the famous Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that was actually man-made and while it's mostly known for its heated waters, has all the features of a luxury spa. You can enjoy a mud mask there, go to the sauna or take a steam bath, among other things.
We didn't go, though. To be honest, I don't really get the fuss. You can go to a spa just about anywhere and there are plenty of hotels in Iceland that have hot tubs and heated outdoor pools for those who want to watch the Icelandic sunset in their swimming gear.
But maybe that's just because I'm not that much of a spa person. If you are, look into it and decide if you want to spend a few hours there because it's rather pricy (again, my opinion) to pop in and out for just an hour. The cheapest package is €50/$56 per person while the most expensive starts at €564/$638.
Good to know:
You need to book your visit days to even weeks beforehand. This is the most-visited place in Iceland, more popular than the Golden Circle Route even, so don't expect to it to calm. You'll probably be there with a lot of other people.
Recommended Blue Lagoon tours and transfers
Recommended Reykjanes tours
A night at the Frost and Fire hotel
We spent our first night in Iceland at the Frost and Fire hotel in Hveragerdi. It was a little less than an hour from Lake Kleifarvatn and we chose it for several reasons. First of all, it's well-located if you want to do the Golden Circle Route, which was our plan for the next day, and secondly, my parents had stayed here on their trip and had loved it.
Lastly, the hotel has its own restaurant which was something we looked for when we were researching accommodation as we didn't feel like driving around Iceland in the dark at night.
Frost and Fire consists of a main building where you can find the restaurant, reception, and some rooms as well as some smaller buildings with rooms. It also has a sauna, two outdoor hot tubs, and a heated outdoor pool. All of those have a view of the river which runs alongside the property.
The dinner menu offers a selection of starters, main courses, and desserts and I'm not ashamed to say we ordered all three courses. I started with a langoustine soup, followed by fish. For dessert, I had the chocolate cake which was prepared in the steam of the hotel's very own geothermal spring.
They also prepare other dishes there and when you're lucky, you'll get to see them boil the eggs for breakfast in the spring!
The food was excellent and we also enjoyed the setting of the restaurant, which is located in a sunroom overlooking the river.
We stayed in one of their smaller rooms which still had everything we needed for that one night. Twin beds with bed tables, a small desk, a television, a closet, and a bathroom with a shower, toilet, and sink. Slippers and a bathrobe were provided as well.
In the morning, we enjoyed the hot-and-cold breakfast buffet which had a nice little extra: a waffle machine and batter to make your own warm waffles! We then went for a quick walk around the hotel before starting our drive of Iceland's Golden Circle.
Day 2: The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular routes to drive in Iceland. Many people who visit Iceland on a stopover do it as a 300 km loop trip from Reykjavik but you can also work it into a longer road trip, like we did.
The Golden Circle comprises three natural sights: the Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss Waterfall (“foss” means waterfall so it's actually just “Gullfoss” but I added it to be clear).
Thingvellir National Park
We first headed to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about an hour's drive from the Frost and Fire hotel. On the way, we stopped at a beautiful lake and at a place where you could clearly see the different stages of divergence between the tectonic plates. I don't know what these places were called but the landscape in Iceland is quite open and it's easy to spot all the different little stops alongside the road.
I'd say you could even drive the south of Iceland main road without doing research and just stop everywhere that looks a bit interesting and/or has a parking lot.
But back to Thingvellir!
Thingvellir is a National Park with two visitor centers and different parking lots by the different natural sights in the park. There are the few houses with the church, the Thingvellir Lagoon, the Silfra Lake where you can go diving, the Lögberg which you can hike and the Öxarárfoss, a waterfall you can walk up to.
All the sights in the park are well-signed and there are only a few roads so it's easy to find your way. Just make sure to also drive to the visitor center at the upper part of the park, from where you get a great view of the park.
While you can go hiking at Thingvellir, it's possible to see all the sights from easily walkable footpaths. The only path that wasn't maintained in winter and was quite slippery, was the one up to the waterfall. Crampons would've come in handy here, but I got up just fine without them.
My dad felt a little less certain about the whole thing, though, and decided to wait for me at the start of the path. If you visit Thingvellir in winter too and are uncertain about this path, know that the way up only reaches as far as you can see.
Once you can't see the path going up anymore, it just turns left toward the waterfall and is on even ground. At the top, there's a wooden walkway (versus the gravel path going up) but when I was there, it was covered in snow and pretty icy.
Thingvellir isn't just an important natural location. It's also where the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, came together from 930 AD until 1798. That's a long time!
Good to know:
Entry to the park is free but you do need to pay for parking. I think it was around €7/$8 for a full day. There's only one set price and what's handy in Iceland is that you can just go to a website, enter your license plate and pay online. No need to queue at the pay machines.
You can get snacks, sandwiches, and drinks at both visitor centers. They also sell souvenirs and you can go to the toilet there.
Recommended Thingvellir activities
Lunch at The Barnloft
It was already close to 2 pm when we left Thingvellir so we decided to stop for lunch atEfstidalur II or “The Barnloft” on our way to Geysir. What a find that was! This farm is also a guesthouse/ice cream shop/restaurant/cafe. Their ice cream is homemade and most of the meat and cheese they serve comes from their own animals.
We both ordered the “meatzza” – their meat pizza. It's basically a layer of grounded beef with tomato sauce and a whole lot of cheese. It sounds greasy but it was so good. And it came with a nice salad and decent fries. Win!
I would have loved to try the ice cream as well but was absolutely full plus, we still had two stops we wanted to make that day.
Geysir geothermal area
The Geysir hot springs lies in the Valley of Haukadalur and when we got there, it was immediately clear that this is a popular tourist site. There were a big outdoor clothing store, a restaurant, a hotel, and a big parking lot all across the street from the geothermal field through which you can walk following a designated path.
While there are several hot springs here, there's one big one that everyone comes for – the Strokkur Geyser – and that seemed to erupt every 6 to 10 minutes. Unfortunately, when we were there, it started to rain pretty badly and so we only made a few attempts at trying to capture the eruption – but I managed!
The geothermal area of Geysir became active about 1000 years ago and is believed to now cover about 3 km². Most of the hot springs are located along a 100-meter wide strip of land that follows the tectonic lines in the area.
The Geysir hot spring was the first one to be described in a printed source. It gave its name to geysers all over the world but at the moment, it's mostly dormant.
Good to know:
At the time of our visit (February 2019), the parking lot at Geysir was free. We didn't check for toilets but there's a restaurant by the parking lot so you should be able to go there.
The true highlight of this day, though, was Gullfoss, a magnificent waterfall with two visible stages less than 10 minutes driving from Geysir.
Gullfoss is part of the Hvítá River which originates at the glacier Langjökull (“jökull” meaning glacier). The first part of the waterfall has an 11-meter (36 feet) drop while the second drops 21 meters (69 feet).
In summer, no less than about 140 cubic meters (459 cubic feet) of water splashes down the waterfall per second. Knowing this, it won't surprise you that you'll get absolutely soaked if you go near it.
Yes, it is possible to go near the waterfall in summer but the steps down there seemed closed off when we were visiting in February. It was also super windy and we literally got blown away a few times.
The power of Gullfoss has long been known across Icelandic borders. There are different versions of this story, but here's the general gist: In the early 20th century, the English businessman Howell managed to rent the waterfall from the owner, the farmer Tómas Tómasson. He wanted to build a hydroelectric plant at the site.
Tómas' daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, was heavily opposed to Howell's plans and spent years fighting him in court. The case grew so heavy on her that at one point, she even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if Howell was allowed to proceed with his plans.
It would be quite the story if that threat had stopped Howell from executing his plans but it was actually lack of funding that did.
Gullfoss is now owned by the Icelandic state and protected as a natural site. Sigríður Tómasdóttir received a plaque telling her story at Gullfoss and grew to become one of Iceland's most famous citizens. Her lawyer at the time, Sveinn Björnsson, became the first president of Iceland in 1944.
Good to know:
There are two parking lots here, one for cars closer to the top of the waterfall and one for buses a bit higher up, from where you might get a better overall view but need to take some steps down to get to the waterfall. We parked at the car one which is right next to the viewing point.
Recommended Golden Circle tours
Two nights at the Aurora Lodge Hotel
From Gullfoss, it was an hour and 15 minutes to the Aurora Lodge Hotel where we'd stay for two nights. One of the reasons we chose this hotel is because it's conveniently located just off the main road and super close to Midgard Adventures, the company we'd be doing a tour with the next day.
The hotel itself consists of the main building which has a bar, restaurant, terrace, and two hot tubs and a collection of cabins that are split up into four rooms.
We had one of the biggest rooms of our trip at this hotel, with twin beds, ample of space to leave our suitcases lying open, two little desks, a closet and a bathroom with a sink and a shower.
We had dinner here twice and this was a bit hit or miss. The first night, I had the fish and dad had a spaghetti carbonara but it wasn't realle a spaghetti carbonara. My fish was good but it came accompanied by a strange combination of vegetables. Not bad, just strange.
As a starter, we both had the French onion soup which was lovely and I only had dessert the second night: a lovely moelleux with whipped cream.
The second night, we both made a better choice for our main course as well. My Caesar salad was really good and dad enjoyed his lamb.
The breakfast buffet consisted of warm oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, bread, meats, and cheeses. There was also some fruit and different kinds of cereal. Plenty of choice to start the day off right!
Day 3: exploring Thórsmörk valley by super jeep
On our third day in Iceland, we joined Midgard Adventure for a super jeep tour of the Thorsmork Nature Reserve, named after the thunder god Thor. We initially wanted to go on a tour of Landmannalaugar but unfortunately, we were the only people who'd signed up for that and so they offered us this tour instead.
As the photos of Thórsmörk online looked promising, we agreed and I'm glad that we did. What a spectacular day!
But first a bit more about Midgard.
The story of Midgard
Midgard Adventure was so kind as to host us on this tour and one of the reasons we chose to work with them is that they're a local company with a cool story. In fact, you can read the story of how the company was founded… when you go to the toilet at the Midgard Basecamp.
The short version: almost everyone who works there grew up in Hvolsvöllur, the town where Midgard is now based, or on the surrounding farms and wants to show visitors the places they themselves love to go to.
They offer private tours, multi-day tours, and all kinds of day tours from the Midgard Basecamp which isn't just the meeting point but also a hotel with a restaurant and a bar where events are frequently organized not just for guests but for members of the community as well.
When we were there, I heard them talking about a concert night and I couldn't help but regret missing out on it a bit!
Midgard also puts on yoga classes, documentary evenings, get-togethers for big sports events, and hosts meetups organized by locals, such as the crochet club.
The common area is actually right by the reception where you need to “check in” for your tour, so you can check it out while you wait to leave.
The super jeep tour
Our tour started at 10 am and required us to be there 15 minutes in advance so we could meet our guide and fellow group members as well as receive our lunch package.
The lunch package is an optional extra we appreciated they offered as it meant that we didn't have to go look for food the day before or early in the morning. We hadn't expected much of it but didn't even finish it all during our full day tour.
It contained a healthy wrap, Iceland's famous skyr (a type of yogurt), a juice, water, an oatmeal bar, a chocolate rice bar, an apple, and maybe one or two other things.
We took it all with us in the big white truck and set off to Thorsmork, making a few quick photo stops along the way as well.
At one point, the road vanished into a sea of rocks and gravel but our guide Snorri (how cool is that name?!) knew exactly where to go. It's as if he could see a road we could not – one that led through rivers and a fair amount of cracks.
As our jeep hobbled up and down, water splashing over the windshield as dove into a river bedding nose down, the mountains came closer and the landscape turned ashes black.
Ashes. Does that remind you of something? Indeed, the infamous Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano that erupted last in 2010, causing air traffic disruptions in northwest Europe.
Stricly speaking, Thorsmork is a mountain range and valley that lies between the rivers Krossá, Þröngá, and Markarfljót rivers but the locals use the name to refer to a larger area, which is bordered on one side by Eyjafjallajökull and by Tindfjallajökull on another.
That last volcano hasn't erupted since after the last glacial period and is covered by a glacier of about 19 km².
Another famous – or infamous, if you wish – landmark of Thorsmork is the river Krossá. It curls and winds through the valley and is at some points too deep to cross even in winter. This river is one to look out for. It changes course frequently and can widen exponentially depending on the weather. Its current is brutal and Snorri told us it even took a live a summer or two ago.
What happened? A couple got stuck in their car trying to cross the river. If this happens, you should stay in your car but they didn't and the woman was grabbed by the river and carried away. When she was found, it was already too late.
No need to worry though: you won't do anything dangerous on a super jeep tour with Midgard. To us, the drive through the rugged landscape was incredibly spectacular but at the same time, we could tell that our guide was constantly scouting our surroundings to find the safest route.
He also made sure we never walked into risky territory when we stopped somewhere for a short hike. The day of our visit, the weather was quite shaky which made conditions in places like canyons and the at the glacier we were supposed to hike to a bit treacherous. Snorri explained that heavy wind and rainfall often lead to rocks tumbling down and obviously, we couldn't take the risk of getting hurt.
I'm actually happy that our first experience at Thorsmork was driving around it in a super jeep. We got to see so much of the nature reserve and it really made me want to go back sometime in summer to go hike there.
Many people do that for the day, but there are also some multi-day treks during which you'll sleep in hiker huts right in the park. I'm more of an “exploration by day, comfort by night” kind of girl, though, so I think I'll stick to one of the day hikes.
We did stop at one of the huts for our lunch break. Not at the main building, but at this round wooden structure where we cozily huddled together at picnic tables to re-energize our bodies.
By the way: when we got there, I really needed to pee. It was so bad that I didn't even think twice when the guide of another group that had joined us told me they were outdoor toilets. Instead, I made my way through the snow (this was the only part of the park we went to where there was still a bunch of snow) to the toilet building which… was perfectly fine.
It was just a regular wooden building with regular toilets, just with a big hole in the earth below them. Such a relief. In more ways than one.
After our break, we continued together with the other group. I don't think they usually join but we weren't more than 12 people or so in total and some people in our group were there to shoot promotional footage for Midgard and so they wanted to film and photograph the beautiful red jeep the other group was traveling in.
I didn't mind, as it got me some fun shots as well.
Talking about photos: none of my Iceland photos do the place justice. Maybe they would if I'd highly edit them but that's not really my style. I want to show you things exactly the way I saw them but for Iceland, that somehow doesn't seem to work. I blame the grey skies we had most of the time but think it's also simply one of those places you have to go to and see for yourself.
Back at our tour, we went for a walk inside a canyon before having some jeep fun in the river and slowly making our way out of the park.
From Midgard Basecamp, it was less than a 10-minute drive in our regular rental jeep back to the Aurora Lodge Hotel where we spent another night, this time recounting each other our favorite moments of the day and repeating more than once how happy we were that we'd included this activity in our trip.
Good to know:
If you'd like to take the same tour we did, you can find more information about it on the Midgard Adventure website.
There is free parking space at the Midgard Basecamp and you can also use the toilets there before you start your tour. I recommend you do this as your next toilet break won't be until lunch time.
Day 4: along the South Coast
Our fourth day in Iceland, we'd planned on checking out a lot of the natural sights along Iceland's south coast and we did end up doing what we'd planned but most of it happened in a downpour. When we got up, the sky was still blue but in Iceland, the weather can change in an instant and you truly can get four seasons in a day.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfall
Our first stop was the famous Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi or Gljufrafoss, another waterfall walking distance from Seljalandsfoss that's a bit hidden away in a canyon. We'd actually stopped here the day before on our way out of Thorsmork on our super jeep tour but as it was less grey in the morning, we decided to visit again.
It was a quick stop. After all, there's only so much time you can stand looking at a waterfall unless you want to photograph it from every possible angle. You can't climb Seljalandsfoss, for example, but you can walk behind it. Just knwo that if you do, you'll probably get soaked and at the start of our day in temperatures below 10°C (50F), that didn't seem like a good idea to us.
Good to know:
There's a paid parking lot right by Seljalandsfoss. The price is 700 ISK (about 6.7 USD/5.7 EUR) and that money is being used to maintain the parking lot and other facilities, such as the toilets that are there. The fee was introduced in the summer of 2017 due to the growing tourism strain on the site.
Next up was Skógafoss, probably the widest waterfall we saw in Iceland apart from Gullfoss with a width of 25 meters (82 feet) and a drop of 60 meters (197 feet). It's a popular photography location as you're practically guaranteed at least one rainbow here when the sun is shining.
That's what dad was hoping for but unfortunately, the skies had already turned grey again when we got there.
We did walk up the tall iron staircase that runs alongside Skogafoss and takes you to the top of the waterfall. The walk up is a bit scary for those with a fear of heights but I thought the view was worth it.
There's a metal grid platform that overlooks the waterfall's drop but if you're not too sure about that, you can just walk onto the hiking path that starts at the drop and runs alongside the river Skógá.
Good to know:
The parking lot at Skógafoss falls was free when we visited. There's a hotel with a restaurant right by the waterfall, which is also where we stayed that night.
Optional: Solheimasandur plane wreck
The Solheimasandur plane wreck is a US Navy DC plane that crashed on the beach in 1973 because the pilot had switched to the wrong fuel tank. Everyone involved in the accident survived and for some reason, it was decided to leave the plane there.
We hadn't planned to go to the Solheimasandur plane wreck but I'd spotted it on Google Maps and as it seemed to be along the ring road, we decided to make a stop there. We didn't end up actually seeing it, though, as it requires a 7 km round hike over the beach to get to.
You're not allowed to drive there yourself and it's not recommended to do the hike when the weather conditions are bad but there is a shuttle that you can take from the parking lot. As we didn't know about this plane beforehand, we hadn't looked up the timetables though and we didn't feel like waiting for the shuttle, so we skipped this.
If the plane wreck is something you want to see, make sure to research it beforehand.
Good to know:
The parking lot here was free when we visited.
You can find the plane on Google Maps or enter the following coordinates into your GPS: (63 27.546-19 21.887).
Lunch in Vik
By now, it had started to rain heavily and so we decided to stop for lunch in Vik, which was by the next sites we wanted to visit anyway. As I so often do when I want to find a place to eat, I just pulled up Google Maps, typed in “lunch” and thus found the Halldorskaffi.
This cozy local pub doesn't look like a pub from the outside but since Google Maps assured us we were at the right place, we ran across the street through the rain and pushed open the door to be welcomed by a warm – and most importantly, dry – wooden interior.
The menu had all kinds of lighter snacks as well as main courses and while dad opted for a pizza, I chose a Caesar salad (yes, I like chicken). The food was good and the service friendly, so I'd recommend this place.
What's also nice is that it's actually in the same building as the souvenir shop and the local museum. We wanted to have a look at the museum but it was a few minutes after two and, for some odd reason, they close between 2 and 4 pm so if you want to visit, look into the opening hours.
Good to know:
There are plenty of free parking spaces across the street from Halldorskaffi.
Halldorskaffi was walking distance from our next stop: Reynisfjara black sand beach. We took the car though, as it was still pouring and there's free parking space at the beach.
Here's the thing: when you go to Iceland, almost all the things you'll want to see will be outside and so for some reason, you won't care about the weather anymore. At least we didn't. I loved how we both kept our good spirits and just decided to head out there even though the rain was now going sideways.
While a black beach is cool, Reynisfjara is actually known for its Reynisdrangar, the basalt sea stacks right in front of its coast. Legend has it that they were formed when two trolls and a ship that got stuck between them turned to stone as dawn broke.
Another legend says it was a man whose wife was killed by the trolls that chased them to the beach where they froze as the sun rose. In reality, the rocks were once part of the Reynisfjall mountain range but weathering and erosion have made it look as if they're independent rocks sticking out of the sea.
You can actually see them better from the other side of the rocks, but that's also a more visited place. Where we were, we were all by ourselves.
The cool thing about the other side, though, is the massive black cave so I do recommend stopping at both places. There's a big parking lot on the other side which you can spot on Google Maps. You can also get there if you enter Kirkjufjara Beach, which is right next to Reynisfjara.
Good to know:
Both Reynisfjara and Kirkjufjara beach can be extremely dangerous because of sneaker waves. The locals know this but tourists have gotten into trouble and even died here in the past. There are now warning signs at the beach so please pay attention to them and don't get closer to the ocean than you have to just to get a nice photo. Also, don't climb the rocks and be aware that while you can still go in, parts of the cave have collapsed in the past.
Quite a few movie and television series shots have been filmed at this black sand beach in Iceland:
- some shots “north of the wall” of Game of Thrones, season 7
- some shots in Star Trek: Into Darkness
- some shots in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- some shots in Noah with Russell Crowe
Check it out.
Our final stop was at Dyrhólaey peninsula. This is also a nature reserve but a lot of the trails were blocked because of the bad weather. We walked up to one of the viewing points but at this point, it was really pouring and the winds were so heavy we couldn't even get a good shot.
Because of the weatehr, we also didn't pay much attention to Dyrhólaey's most famous attraction: the big natural arch of the same name where a small plane once flew through.
It's pretty impressive up there, though, so I'd recommend including it.
A night at Hotel Skogafoss
Ideally, we'd have spent this night in Vik but we didn't find a hotel to our liking (and budget) there so we opted for Hotel Skogafoss right by the waterfall. We had a decent twin room again with a private bathroom and breakfast included.
In the evening, we enjoyed dinner at the hotel's restaurant which is rather casual but does make a good pasta dish. I wouldn't recommend the chocolate cake though. That was a bit too dry to my liking.
Coffee and tea are complimentary here but you do have to get them in the hallway. There's no kettle in the room. As we were only staying there for one night, that was fine for us.
Unlike the other places we stayed at, the Skogafoss hotel only consists of the main building so you don't need to go outside anymore when you go from your room to dinner. Win! There's also another building in which there's a hostel run by the same place, but we didn't have a look there.
Day 5: another day along the South Coast
Day 5 was without a doubt our best day in Iceland. It didn't rain all day and we got to see a lot of things.
Grafarkirkja was actually a mistake. Dad wanted to go see the turf church “Hofskirkja” in Hof again but I mistakenly thought he meant Grafarkikja just a bit north from the main road.
Now, there is a Garfarkirkja in the north of Iceland which is actually the oldest turf church in Iceland but the one we drove to has nothing to do with that. It's just a typical white and red church in the middle of a field.
So why am I mentioning it? Because the drive there was actually pretty nice. We crossed a river and passed another, got to see some farms and hobbled over some hills. if you have the time, go for it. If not, this is about an hour detour from the main road and back and skippable.
What's not skippable, is Fjadrargljufur Canyon. It's about 2 kilometers (1.24 feet) long and 100 meters deep and you can stand right in front of it on the bridge that covers the river that runs through the canyon.
There's also a path that runs up along the edge of the canyon and allows you to look into it and see the waterfalls. Depending on the weather, you can also walk alongside the river but you'll likely have to get your feet wet and wade through some parts of it.
Good to know:
You can park just a few meters away from the canyon for free.
There is a toilet building but when we were there, that was closed for maintenance.
Just 10 minutes from the canyon, you can find Systrafoss, a smaller waterfall right in the middle of a tiny town but I really liked it as there was almost nobody else there and you could easily walk alongside it.
When you follow our itinerary, you'll do this after the canyon but we actually came here first because after our detour to Grafakirkja I realllllly needed to go to the toilet and there's a cafe right by Systrafoss.
Good to know:
You can park for free alongside the road.
Foss a Sidu/Stigafoss
The Foss a Sidu waterfall is also known as Stigafoss but for some reason, you won't find it like that on Google Maps. It's a tall and narrow waterfall right along the ring road which is actually located on private property. You can, however, drive onto a small parking lot and see it from there.
Skaftafell National Park
One can easily spend a day or even more at Skaftafell National Park as it has several trails leading to different natural sites. You can easily see these on a big map outside but if you want, you can also ask for more information at the Skaftafell Information Center before starting your hike.
We first had lunch at the self-serve restaurant before we chose the shortest and easiest Skaftafell hike, the one to Skaftafellsjökull glacier.
The skaftafellsjökull hike starts right next to the restaurant and takes about 30 minutes over a flat path to reach the glacier and the “beach” in front of it. It's perfect for people who aren't super fit or struggle with knee issues, like my dad.
It's possible to walk onto the beach and get close to the glacier and we even saw some people on the glacier but mind you, they were doing a guided Skaftafell glacier walk. You're obviously not supposed to climb it on your own.
Skaftafell park is another place I'd like to come back to, to do some of the other hikes as well.
Good to know:
Entry to Skaftafell National Park is free but you do need to pay a parking fee for the day.
The Skaftafellsjökull glacier hike is doable with a stroller or wheelchair until you reach the beach.
Recommended activities at Skaftafell:
And then it was finally time for dad's turf church! Hofskirkja or “church of Hof” lies in, indeed, Hof, which is a tiny town along the main road. This is actually the last turf church that was built on Iceland. It dates back to 1884 and is still in use today.
Together with the Grafarkirkja I mentioned before, this is one of only six remaining turf churches in Iceland. All of them are protected.
Good to know:
The church is not open to tourists but you can walk around it and visit the graveyard.
There's a small free parking lot in front of it.
Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Our penultimate stop of the day was at Fjallsarlon, a glacier lagoon smaller than the nearby located and more famous Jokulsarlon but we actually liked it better.
There's a gravel path leading toward the glacier from where you get a great view but make sure to also follow the path down as you can walk all the way up to the water. The mountains make for a great backdrop and I can totally see this place being a photographer's favorite.
Still, it wasn't that busy over here. Maybe because it was already later in the day or maybe because most people skip Fjallsarlon and only go to Jokulsarlon. Either way, dad and I spent quite some time here, taking in the lagoon and glacier from every possible angle.
The walk there from the parking lot is short and I highly recommend it!
Good to know:
When we were there, parking was free and they were building something which looked like it would become a restaurant and maybe a visitor center or small hotel.
We ended our day at Jokulsarlon but weren't really feeling it so we headed back there when we started our return drive to Keflavik, so I'll tell you more about this famous glacier a bit below. I did also want to mention it here as it's just a few minutes from Fjallsarlon and can easily be combined with it.
Two nights at Guesthouse Skálafell
We spent the next two nights at Guesthouse Skálafell, the furthest we'd drive east on this trip. This guesthouse is located by a farm and the main building consists of the breakfast/lunch/dinner area and a few rooms. There are also a few wooden cabins outside which are divided into two rooms, of which we had one.
Our room was actually quite lovely, with twin beds, a big enough desk, a closet, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. Unfortunately, we'd spend more time here than we'd planned because a storm swept over Iceland the next day that forced us to stay inside.
Luckily, the owners didn't only offer breakfast and dinner but also made soup for everyone for lunch and they were even so kind to let people who were supposed to check out in the morning stay so they didn't have to leave in the storm.
While we definitely had a nice stay, this place was a bit more basic than the others we stayed had. The WiFi didn't work for a moment – luckily, I had my Skyroam hotspot with me. (By the way, you can get $10 off if you use my code WONDERFULWANDERINGS at the checkout!)
For dinner, we could choose between fish and lamb and while the food was really good, I don't think you'd want to eat just fish and lamb for an entire week.
Lastly, one of our windows didn't close the wait it should have and so I had to get up in the middle of the night to clean the floor. Over the course of the day, I went back and forth between the main building (which luckily was close) a few times for new towels so I could keep things dry inside.
The owner did offer us to change rooms but with all of our stuff already unpacked and the storm outside, we didn't really feel up for that so he just helped us with the towels and when my dad went to pay the bill on the last day, the owner left off the wine my dad had had with dinner – something that isn't exactly cheap in Iceland.
Now I know this probably all sounds very negative but somehow I do have good memories of that place. There's something about being grounded by a storm abroad for the first time, I guess :D
Day 6: an Ice Cave tour
As you could already read, we spent the whole of our sixth day in Iceland at our hotel because of a storm. What we had planned to do, however, was an ice cave tour. As we couldn't go, I looked up some recommended ice cave tours for you:
Day 7: the drive back
Our last day, we had to drive all the way back from the guesthouse to Keflavik Airport. Just 454 km (282 miles) but you can't drive that fast anywhere in Iceland. Top speed on the ring road is 90 km/hour (55.9 miles/hour) so we knew it would take us all day.
We did, however, get lucky: the sky had completely cleared after the storm of the day before and as we woke up to a beautiful sunrise, we knew we'd be able to make a few more fun stops.
As I mentioned, we'd stopped at Jokulsarlon at the end of day 5 and I found it to be somewhat of a disappointment after all the other magnificent places we'd seen that day. Because the weather was so nice and we had to pass by there anyway, we decided to make another stop there on our way back to give it another go.
I still wasn't as impressed as I had thought before the trip that I'd be, but I am glad we went back as there wre fewer people now and the lagoon looked much nicer in the sunlight.
It was also quite special to see how the storm had broken a lot of the ice and instead of the big chunks you usually see on the water, it was now as if we were looking at the surface of a massive slushy.
Unfortunately, the storm had also blown away or broken down the big ice rocks that usually float on land at Diamond Beach, the beach by Jokulsarlon. We made a stop there anyway to go see if we could find some but there were none.
Good to know:
There are actually three parking lots by Jokulsarlon. There's the main one that's to your left right after the bridge when you're coming from Reykjavik. There you also have a cafe and toilets. Then there's one across the street from the main one, and one right before the bridge to your right. The latter is the one you go to to see the ice blocks that usually wash up on the beach.
Eldhraun/Scenic green lava walk
The last thing I really wanted to see was Eldhraun or “scenic green lava walk” on Google Maps. It's a big lava field along the ring road that we'd already driven through but hadn't stopped at before but that I was really impressed by.
The field originated as the result of the Laki Eruption in 1783 and 1783, during which no less than 42 tons of lava burst out of a volcanic fissure. The eruption and its direct consequences (ash clouds etc.) killed 50% of all domestic animals and around 20% of the people in Iceland. It also massively affected the weather in Europe, North America, and even Asia.
One consequence of that weather change was the failed growth of crops in France, something that many historians believe was one of the things that led to the French Revolution.
As the eruption took place over two centuries ago, the lava field isn't all black anymore but covered in a beautiful green moss. To protect the moss, visitors can only walk around the gravel main area and on a short narrow loop trail.
The loop trail goes a little bit through the field so you can get a good loop on it but it also demonstrates how the moss would disappear if people would just wander all over the place. There was no more green beneath my feet when I walked it.
And yet for some reason, there are always those who think the rules don't apply to them and – more worrisome – believe their need for a good photo is more important than preserving the environment. I got so mad when I saw not one but two groups of friends climb onto the rocks to start posing. What the actual f*.
Pardon my language.
I love sharing what I see on my travels with you but I'd never do something I'm not allowed to do or harm something or someone in any way to get a prettier picture. That's just wrong. So please, when you travel, respect the places you visit and leave them behind the way you found them.
Lunch in Vik
As we would pass Vik around lunch time again, we decided to make a stop there at Restaurant Sudur Vik. This restaurant is housed in a beautiful wooden building on the hill overlooking the town and Reynisfjara beach. It has a quite diverse menu and we both loved our grilled chicken dish.
This is also where I finally had some Icelandic skyr cake. It's like cheesecake but then made with skyr!
Vik i Myrdal Church
From Restaurant Sudur Vik it's a short walk or drive up to the red and white church overlooking Vik and Reynisfjara beach. It's not super special but good for a two-minute stop if you're there anyway.
Souvenir stop at UNA Local Products
On the afternoon part of our drive back, we stopped at two places to look for a present for my brother, which we ended up finding at the airport. I do want to share our first stop with you as it was a cute store selling all kinds of handmade souvenirs and things like cards, notebooks, magnets… but all pretty and not tacky.
It's called UNA Local Products and it's actually located in Hvolsvöllur, just a two-minute drive from Midgard Basecamp where we left for our super jeep tour earlier that week. It lies right by the main road so if you need to drive by anyway, it's worth a quick stop.
Drinks at Kaffi Krús
By the time we reached Selfoss, we both really needed a toilet break and so we decided to stop for drinks at Kaffi Krús. I'd found this place through a quick Google Search and it's one I'm going to remember for a next trip to Iceland.
This time, we only stopped for a drink and a toilet break but I loved the dark wooden interior of this little cafe with its wide range of pepper and salt mills lined along the walls. They had quite an extensive menu as well.
A night at the Airport Hotel Aurora Star
After having dropped off our car at Lagoon Car Rental, we could finally relax at the Airport Hotel Aurora Star. We chose to stay here as it's literally a 5-minute walk from the airport entrance and we had a 6.30 am flight the next day.
I have to say I was truly surprised when I opened the door to our room and saw the biggest room of our trip. Twin beds with ample space in between and enough space on the sides to lay open a suitcase, a long work desk stretching along the wall, a big flatscreen tv and a bathroom one could do a little dance in – and I might have done just that.
This hotel also has a restaurant and we both had a pasta dish there for dinner. It was good but I do have to say I got sick almost as soon as we got back to our room and spent quite some time in the bathroom that night. I honestly can't say if it was the pasta or just the fact that I'd been eating quite differently than I normally do all week and was pretty exhausted too.
Luckily, I was fine again by the time we had to get up but because I didn't want to take any risks, I didn't indulge in the breakfast buffet that already starts at 4 am. It looked really good, though.
Given our big room, the lovely welcome at the reception and the extensive and early-starting breakfast, I'd definitely stay here again. As dad was fine, I'm hoping my stomach issues that night weren't a testament of the restaurant's quality.
Recommended South Coast tours
We did everything independently aside from the super jeep tour with Midgard Adventure. If you'd rather join a small group while exploring Iceland's south coast, the tours below come recommended.
Recommended south coast of Iceland day tours
Recommended Northern Lights tours
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the Northern Lights on our trip as the weather conditions weren't right. If they are when you're there, you can head out to somewhere with minimal light pollution on your own at night, or join a Northern Lights tour. Other travelers recommend the tours below.
Recommended multi-day tours
G Adventures has a wide range of multi-day tours in Iceland, from very active hiking-focused tours to classic tours and even wellness tours. The duration of these tours ranges from 5 to 15 days so you're bound to find something that fits your schedule. I've traveled with them to Romania and had a super fun experience.
Iceland road trip map
I've created a Google Map with all the places on the itinerary, including where we stayed and had lunch.
Click the image below and the map will open in a new tab.
A word on overtourism
Now before we move on to the practical stuff, we need to talk about overtourism. Over-tourism has become a big topic in the travel industry in recent years as more and more destinations started to suffer from too many people traveling to the same places, wanting to see the same things. Amsterdam is the prime example of such a destination.
Because of the booming tourism in Iceland since 2010 and because of the many photos of Iceland shared on social media, Iceland is often mentioned as one of the places suffering from overtourism as well. However, María Reynisdóttir, tourism specialist at Iceland's Ministry of Industries and Innovation, has told Conde Nast Traveler the following:
“I wouldn't call it overtourism. Iceland is a fairly large island. But yes, okay, Iceland has been mentioned in the context of overtourism — the main reason being since 2010, we’ve seen a 25 percent growth year on year, which is not a sustainable growth rate. It’s actually slowing down now, but the fast growth and catching up with that growth has been the focus. The fast growth has caused pressure of certain kinds, in certain areas at certain times. […]
There’s far from being pressure all over Iceland. Iceland is not overrun with tourists. But we do have problems in specific areas, parts of sites, and we’ve started to focus more on visitor management and adding infrastructure and those kinds of things, and changing our marketing message to distribute visitors.”
(Source: Conde Nast Traveler)
The thing is that many people who come to Iceland either do it on a stopover and use Reykjavik as their base to make day trips or drive the south coast as we did. The north, west, and east regions of Iceland would actually like more tourists.
So why did we go to southern Iceland, you may ask?
Because the other regions are much harder to travel to in winter and because it was my first time in Iceland and like many people going somewhere for the first time, I wanted to see all those places I'd heard and read about.
Before we left, I saw another travel blogger saying that bloggers should stop visiting the south coast and go to other parts of Iceland. I think that's easy to say when you've already been to the south of Iceland yourself.
I personally don't think you should ever tell anyone where they should and shouldn't travel to. But I do feel that I, as someone who travels a lot and has this platform, can try to show you there is more than the sights you see everywhere.
As Reynisdóttir says: “Even in these cities like Venice or Barcelona, you can always find a little corner somewhere”. I know I've shown you some of Iceland's top sights but I hope this itinerary has also introduced you to some places you hadn't heard of before.
As for our own impression of (over)tourism in Iceland: we sometimes drove 15 minutes or longer without passing another car. There were tourist buses at big sites like Skogafoss and along the Golden Circle, but there were just as many places where it was just us and a few other independent travelers. We've even stopped at some sites where there was nobody else around.
Dad did mention that in comparison with when he was there five years ago, they'd clearly added some infrastructure in some spots. More hotels along the main road, toilet cabins by some of the most-visited places.
How to get to Iceland
Well, this is a little awkward, because we worked with WOWair to fly directly from Brussels Airport to Keflavik International Airport and try their service, as we'd never flown them before. Unfortunately, WOWair ceased operations and canceled their already planned flights right before I wanted to hit publish on this article.
I'm very sorry that this happened but I also want to remain completely honest and transparent here on the blog so I'm not going to pretend I flew anyone else, when I worked with them. My first experience with WOWair was a positive one but unfortunately, they couldn't keep up what they were offering.
When I go back to Iceland in the future – and I will go back – I'll update this article to let you know how I got there and how that went.
Car rental in Iceland
For our rental car, we worked together with Lagoon Car Rental, a local rental car company. I've detailed everything about our rental car experience and driving in Iceland in winter in this post.
If you just want to check out Lagoon Car Rental's offer, you can do so here.
What to pack for Iceland in winter
What you should take with you to enjoy Iceland in winter is a whole topic of its own, so I've dedicated a separate article to it. You can check my packing checklist for winter in Iceland here.
How much does a week in Iceland in winter cost?
When I was writing this post, I asked my followers on Instagram and Facebook if they had any questions I should definitely address here. Something that many people asked is what this trip cost or if Iceland is really that expensive. So if you're wondering “How much money should I take to Iceland?”, the following is for you.
As a blogger, I was able to work with a few brands on this trip but I'm going to break down the prices of everything we did so that you have an idea of the cost of our exact trip.
It's important to know that you can make this trip way more expensive but also more budget-friendly. I'll address that a bit more while doing the breakdown.
On top of that, prices for things like hotels and flights change over the course of the year depending on whether you visit in high season or low season, for example.
We flew from Brussels International Airport to Keflavik International Airport in Iceland in collaboration with WOWair. Unfortunately, they've since ceased operations.
We received rental of a 4×4 Subaru Forester for one week from Lagoon Car Rental. Good to know for American drivers: this is an automatic.
Prices for this car start at €50/$56.6 per day but this does not include insurance. Lagoon Car Rental offers three kinds of insurance packages:
- bronze: €27/$30.5 per day
- silver: €37/$42 per day – this is what we had
- gold: €48/$54 per day
I go more into detail about the differences between these and what it's like to drive in Iceland in winter in this dedicated post.
Then there's an option to add on all kinds of things such as theft protection, tire protection, sand and ash protection etc. These cost between €5 and €14 per day. You can also add on an extra driver, rent a GPS, and get a bunch of camping things – all of which we didn't need.
Doing the calculation on the website, our one-week rental of a 4×4 including the silver insurance package would cost €592/$670 at the time of writing.
Obviously, you could make it a lot pricier by adding all the possible insurances and getting a bunch of car amenities.
You could also make it cheaper by renting a regular car but I really only recommend doing this if you plan to sticking to the main ring road. For anything else and for your own piece of mind, you need a 4×4.
Dad and I had breakfast included in our hotel stays so we never paid extra for that. We did eat out for lunch and also had dinner at our hotels every evening. I didn't have the impression that food at the hotels was more expensive than at restaurants.
Main courses were around
- 2000 to 2500 ISK (around €14.5/$16.5 to €17/$19.2) for something like a salad, burger, or pizza in a more casual place
- 3000 ISK (€22/$25) for something with fish
- 4500 ISK (€33/$37.3) for something with lamb
- 6000 ISK or more (€44/$50)for a very good steak
This isn't cheap but it also isn't double the prices that you'd pay in other more expensive European countries.
At the start of our road trip, we also picked up a bunch of snacks from the supermarket because hey, a road trip requires snacks :) I don't remember what these cost but we went to supermarket Bonus which has a website so you can check their prices there.
Obviously, if you want to save money, you could make your own lunch and dinner every day.
What does cost a lot in Iceland is alcohol. Expect to pay 1600 to 1800 ISK (around €12/$13.5 to €13/$14.7) for a glass of wine and 4500 ISK (€33/$37.3) for a cheap bottle – often more.
A beer at the hotel cost ISK.
Soft drinks were usually 400 ISK (around €3 or $3.4) and we always got a big bottle of free tap water with every meal. I'm not entirely sure but I think coffee and tea were about the same, maybe a bit less. Sparkling water was usually a bit less too.
As you could read, we'd planned on doing two tours but ended up only doing one because of the storm. Our full-day super jeep tour of Thorsmork with Midgard Adventure cost 32,000 ISK per person.
All we bought for souvenirs in Iceland were a pair of woolen socks and a hat for my brother. If you're looking to buy one of those typical Icelandic sweaters, they generally go for around €140/$158 to €180/$204.
Our hotels in South Iceland
I'd consider the hotels we stayed at in Iceland to be mid-range. We could have gone cheaper by renting apartments or staying at hostels and guesthouses where the rooms had shared bathrooms but that's not something we were up for.
Our accommodation requirements for this trip:
- a room with twin beds
- free WiFi
- breakfast included or at least provided
- an on-site restaurant
- a private bathroom
- free parking (not an issue in Iceland but I wanted to be sure)
- a rating of at least 8/10 by other guests
I always use Booking.com to look for hotels as it allows me to filter using all the criteria above and that's how we ended up staying at the places we stayed at.
- Frost and Fire – budget twin room with breakfast included: from €192/$217 per night
- Aurora Lodge Hotel – original twin room with breakfast included: from €215/$243 per night – we stayed two nights
- Hotel Skógafoss – twin room with breakfast included: from €147/$166 per night
- Guesthouse Skalafell – twin room with breakfast included: from €98/$111 per night – we stayed two nights
- Airport Hotel Aurora Star – twin room with breakfast incuded: from €135/$153 per night
If you want to spend less on accommodation, you can find guesthouses with shared bathrooms and hostel beds starting at around €28/$31.7 per person per night. You can also find more luxurious hotels with prices hovering around €365/$413 per room per night.
If you're looking for hotel recommendations other than the ones we stayed at, I included a bunch in the downloadable version of this itinerary which you can find further down below.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip to Iceland, there's always the possibility that something goes wrong that's beyond your control. A reservation might get canceled, your luggage might not arrive or you might slip on some ice and break your leg.
In these cases, good travel insurance has got you covered. Don't have insurance yet? Get a quote from World Nomads. They cover a wide range of activities for people from 140 countries.
PIN FOR LATER
A special thanks goes out to Lagoon Car Rental for providing us with a car, the Frost and Fire Hotel for hosting us, the Aurora Lodge Hotel for hosting us, and Midgard Adventures for offering us a tour. They believed in the concept of our road trip and helped us make it possible while fully allowing us to do our own thing while we were in Iceland.