My kid and I are heading to Iceland for 9 days the end of June. The wife is anemic and always cold and will not be going. We wanted to drive the Ring Road but the thought of packing and unpacking and having to find so many places to stay just seems a bit much.
We also thought about getting a hotel in Reykjavik to use as a base camp, then taking day trips down to the SE and other areas closer to the capital, including the Golden Circle route. Maybe head up to the West Fjords for a few days near the end of the trip and explore there before heading back to Reykjavik to fly out. We’d get a room in the West Fjords but only for the last 2 nights. So, 7 nights in Reykjavik and 2 in the Fjordlands. This way we also can chill if it’s a very rainy day and wait for the next day to see things we might miss if we do the full Ring Road.
Does anyone who has been there have any other ideas or just thinks we should do the Ring Road as we wont ever be going back there again.
My wife and I went for 12 days in September, it’s wonderful! I’d really recommend the Ring Road if you can.
The best advice I have is to get a travel guide like this one:
That’s what we used—really, I mean that’s what my wife used; most of the credit goes to her—and it was really valuable with exactly the kinds of decisions you’re making. Where should you go? How long should you stay there? If you’re going for X days, what should you skip+add? Unless you already have a trusted travel guide of your own, I’d say just go ahead and buy that right now.
My wife booked all our accommodations months in advance (she also booked our dinner reservation for Dill months in advance because that’s a super fancy restaurant you pretty much have to book early), and you’ve got plenty of time, so I’d say do the same if you can.
We flew into Keflavik and rented a car, then we drove to Reykjavik and stayed two nights at an Airbnb. From there we drove the ring road, staying either one or two days at each stop, staying at “guest houses”, which are basically like motels. Typically they’re at someplace like a farm that also has a restaurant. Many of them had options for rooms with private bathrooms or rooms with shared baths, so pay attention to that when you’re booking if you have a preference. We ended back in Reykjavik for our final night and just stayed at a hotel.
There were a couple days that we missed things due to weather. A park, a hike, a whale watching boat trip we booked. But for the most part we had flexibility to adapt and do something else, again, based on the help in the guide book to know what our options were. If you’re going in June you probably won’t run into much as far as bad weather, and you’ll have plenty of daylight and attractions will still be operating with their tourism season hours. September seems like the month where that transitions; some things we considered had already reduced their hours for the off season at the beginning of Sept, others would change their hours at the end of the month.
If you do rent a car, you probably won’t need this in June, but https://road.is was invaluable with real time weather conditions for the roads everywhere in the country. There was one day we were on the fence about making one of our stops based on the ice and wind the day before, but by morning we could see the road looked manageable. And if you rent a car, don’t get the compact ones, get an SUV. Doesn’t have to be some kind of monster American-sized SUV, just a little midsize SUV will be so much more comfortable than a compact car, and more capable if you do run into bad weather on the roads.
I really would recommend the Ring Road if you think you can swing it at all, it was such a gorgeous drive. I don’t know what your pace is when you travel (I barely know what ours is, this was our first “big” trip together), but I think we would’ve gotten a little stir crazy if we stayed in Reykjavik for seven days, even with trips out to the ring road.
Awesome ideas for our trip, thanks for that. Will get a medium sized car as I’m 6’4" and can really deal with anything but would like a bit more room for such a long trip.
I love to drive…driven all over the US many times so I’m good for short or long distances, mostly depends on my kiddo. Tried to describe my choices for the trip and she wants to see everything but also loves the thought of a base camp type situation. I keep going back and forth and keep changing my mind on what I think would be best but need to decide soon. Definitely going to reserve our rooms as soon as possible.
I might have more questions for sure but thanks again for your thoughts…will be ruminating hard on this for the next couple weeks.
We had friends who just went a month or so ago. I don’t have any advice in terms of what to see, but the one thing they mentioned was that a friend who had been there before said to get the optional windshield insurance when renting a car. They did, and said their windshield did get cracked and the insurance saved them a good bit of money.
Iceland is fun, but it’s a bit like a giant Disney world where the residents are all employees-by-birth and not by choice, whether they like it or not.
You can homebase out of Reykjavik to see Thingvellir and the stuff around the Golden Circle. I’m not sure I’d travel all the way to Iceland just to see the Golden Circle stuff, though, neat as it was. The real fun is driving around the island. The approach to Vatnajokull is one of those memorable lifetime scenes.
Only thing about that though is you’re not going to be able to do and see all this stuff and be able to drive back to Reykjavik, so you’ll need to plan ahead (or pay double) and be prepared to drive long distances in the evening to get to your hotel / whatever. We ended up finding some new hotels. I’d stay in a hotel rather than bother with Airbnb’s while going around the island.
Also, since Iceland has like one road, and it hits the same spots, it’s kind of funny in that everyone who visits Iceland takes the same pictures of the same things in almost the exact same places. (IE, Disney World).
My hypothetical itenerary for your 9 day would be something like:
1: Food tour, walk around Reyk
2. Golden Circle Day 1
3. Golden Circle Day 2* or Blue Lagoon or Reyk stuff (Puffin, whales, horses)
4. Ring Road 1 (make it to near Vatnajokull, climb glaciers, waterfalls, ect)
5. Ring Road 2 (snowmobile Vatnajokull, see Jokulsarlon, do random stuff moving east)
6. Ring Road 3 (never made it past the national park, keep going counterclockwise along east / north coast)
7. Ring Road 4*
8. Ring Road 5* (depending on pace, what you find to do up there)
9. Reyk last day (Blue Lagoon, Puffins, shopping, party, ect)
Thanks for all the ideas. I will talk to the kid and try and come up with a game plan this weekend…just too excited to get over there. Went to New Zealand the year I met my wife and have not been overseas since…because of taking care of her mother and sister. So, ready to get going!
I spent a month in Iceland summer after my 3rd year in college, studying geophysical science. I did my thesis on the magnetostratigraphic work of Jan Hospers, showing how Iceland basalt tracked the precession of Earth’s magnetic north through the ages.
Do the ring road if it’s feasible; it’s amazing, and worth the prep. I can’t promise this of course, but one fateful night on a farmstead outside acres of moss covered basalts I saw the Aurora Borealis light up the sky in ways that defy description.
You’ll see glaciers, waterfalls, hotsprings, and meeting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
I would recommend not staying in Reykjavik more than 2-3 nights. There’s some stuff there, but ultimately, I think Iceland shines when you take the time to get away from Reykjavik and the regular tourist routes. The golden circle is absolutely overrun with tourists, as are many of the larger waterfalls and other sites that are within a 2-3 hour drive from town. The smaller towns are tiny. You’ll see a town on the map and show up there to find it’s literally one dude’s farm house.
If you are the type of traveler that enjoys figuring shit out, look for some AirBnB’s in places like Vik or even away from the coast. We stayed in one that was a farmhouse, about 15 min north of Selfoss, and it was delightful. We stayed at another in Vik, which is a tiny town, but has it’s own little local pub. Restaurants and stuff close very early.
If you can talk to the locals (which we found easier via AirBnB reservations), they’ll tell you about little hidden local sites, like a hot springs on some dude’s farm, where you can go bathe in private, or a road that’s not on the map. While it’s fun to visit the penis museum or the other handful of sites in Reykjavik, there’s some stark isolated beauty to be found if you can get away from the crowds.
Speaking of which, rent a 4x4 and do not attempt to go off on some random dirt mountain road by yourself. If you want to do that, go with one of the guided tours with those trucks that have giant wheels. You really really don’t want to get stuck on the other side of some isolated mountain.
I was just checking the route I drove when I visited the S. Island of New Zealand and that was around the same distance over about the same number of days so the Ring Road it is…no problems…the kiddo will have to adjust.
We leave Seattle at 7:35 pm and get to Iceland at 10:30 am and I dont sleep on planes so will get a hotel for 2 nights in the capital to try and catch up on sleep and adjust. Will do the Golden Circle stuff and then head out.
My partner and I did Iceland last month - it was excellent. In between meetings so I will just do a brain dump.
There are things to see literally everywhere and driving anywhere can universally be described as “pretty”. Don’t let the initial sights around the airport or Reykjavik discourage you - it is almost entirely treeless moss covered volcanic rock. Which is pretty in its own way, but a bit rustic and stark. Going over any large mountain ridge and into a new valley is almost like it’s own little biome/weather patterns. Expect that it may rain a little bit every day, but rarely an all day wash out. The “real” cold is due to the wind, so be prepared for that.
I echo Clay in that you really only need to stay in Reykjavik no more than 3 nights. We didn’t make it up the west coast, but we did swing through the SE part of the island and stayed at Vik (Vik is perfectly nice with good hotels, we stayed at Hotel Kria w/free breakfast). Vik is a nice home base on that part of the island, you have near direct access to the black sand beaches, the Sólheimajökull Glacier, and can make a day trip further up the east coast to “Europe’s” largest Glacier, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, and Diamond Beach which are all popular.
We did an Airbnb on the beach on the SW peninsula (Grindavik), and an Airbnb for 3 nights in Reykjavik.
Hot Springs: Blue Lagoon/Sky Lagoon are the large touristy ones, but you have options for smaller out of the way hot springs if you research.
Reykjavik: Recommend the Free Walking Tour. The whole city is walkable over 2-3 days, so just do some research and figure out what you want to do. Coocoos Nest is a nice brunch place at the docks. OmNom Chocolate also has an icecream store out that way with fun combinations. You can also buy their bar chocolate cheaper that most anywhere else. Islenski Barinn - classic Icelandic meals. You have the opportunity to eat whale/puffin/reindeer/and the lovely fermented shark if you dare.
Golden Circle: Can be driven in a day - don’t have to make a hotel stop if you don’t want to. Waterfalls/geysirs/craters/all sorts of stuff to see along the path. Friðheimar – fun lunch stop. Greenhouse restaurant that supplies something like 80% of all Iceland’s tomatoes. Everything is tomato themed including the beer and cocktails. Make a reservation for expanded menu, or just stop in for a beer/coffee/cup of tomato soup.
Vik: Black Crust Pizzeria - fun pizza combinations.
The Soup Company - variety of nice soups - get a free 2nd soup option after you are done with your first. Popular place to warm up.
Check out the Black Sand Beach at sunset. Also has those geometric stone basalt columns. I also heavily recommend taking a glacier tour. When are you ever going to get the chance to walk on a glacier again before they melt? I went through viator for a tour - it was awesome, you only need a few hours, and you don’t need to be especially physically fit. Any “ice cave” tours can vary heavily, so pay attention to what reviews are saying.
Do what you need to do to see the Northern Lights. If you “think” you see them, then hold your camera up to the sky. The camera picks up the colors better than the naked eye. The Northern Lights are incredibly fickle. There are questionable apps you can download to gauge the odds that they will show, but you best bet is to keep an ear out and see if anyone else is shouting like crazy when they show up. You can also have your hotels call you if they make an appearance.