Hundreds of waterfalls, geysers, fjords, lakes, lava fields, volcanos, glaciers, icebergs, hot springs… Iceland is a land of fire and ice: its breathtaking landscapes attract many nature lovers each year! But how do you prepare such a trip? Here are all the info I gathered when I was preparing my trip! Here we go!
FIRST OF ALL: PLAN IN ADVANCE!
It is impossible to visit Iceland during high season without booking your hotels and your car rental in advance. Iceland’s spectacular landscapes draw many visitors each summer and the facilities are not quite adapted to this number of visitors. We started planning this trip about a month in advance and it was almost too late! Finding hotels was hard in some parts of Iceland and they were quite expensive. The touristic season only lasts three months and everybody is trying to book a hotel at the same time. Ideally hotels should be booked 3 to 6 months in advance.
But before booking your hotels, you need to know where you want to go! In about 10 days, we managed to go all around the island. Here is our itinerary. The good news is that most of these sites are located right by route #1 that goes all around Iceland and which is accessible to regular cars.
Day #1 : we walked around Reykjavik to discover its nordic atmosphere.
Day #2 : we visited the Golden Circle, a group of three sites that are very representative of Iceland (a national park, a geyser and a waterfall), and hiked in Hveragerdi until we reached a hotspring.
Day #3 : we discovered many waterfalls on the road from Selfoss to Vik like Seljalandsfoss (its particularity is that you can walk behind the waterfall) and Skogafoss (the starting point of a beautiful hike).
Day #4 : we took a ferry to reach the Westman islands.
Day #5 : We discovered the glacier of Vatnajokull and the beautiful icebergs of Jokullsarlon.
Day #6 : we explored the eastern fjords region and discovered Mjoifjordur, which is said to be the wildest fjord of the region, and Seydisfjordur, famous for its fairy tale village.
Day #7 and 8 : we explored the region of Lake Myvatn which is full of curiosities: a geothermic zone, lagoons with strange colors, rocky formations… The “have-I-landed-on-another-planet” effect is guaranteed!”
Day #9 : we explored the northern fjords by the Acrtic ocean.
Day #10 and 11 : we went back to Reykjavik and spent our last day in the capital.
HOW MANY DAYS?
Many spectacular sites are located very close to the capitale so in a 3-day weekend you will have enough time to have a good glimpse at Iceland: the capital, the Golden Circle and the waterfalls from Selfoss to Vik. If you have one week, you will have time to reach the glaciers in the south. In 10 days, you can go all around the island like we did. If you have 2 weeks, you will have plenty of time to go out of the beaten paths and spend more time at each site.
If your dream is to see the Northern Lights, then you should go in winter because it is the only time of the year you will be able to see them. However, the weather conditions will be quite difficult with snow and cold temperatures. Many roads will be closed and the sun will set very early. We chose to visit Iceland in June, to make the most of each day and enjoy the beautiful landscapes with more favorable weather conditions. The counterpart is that everything is more expensive in summer.
HOW TO GO TO ICELAND?
The low cost company Wow Air offers reasonable prices (it is once in Iceland that everything is very expensive!). The flight lasts about 3 hours from Paris. There are flights from many European cities as well as from the USA. You can also fly with this company to go from Europe to the USA via Iceland!
WHICH TRANSPORTATION MEANS?
THE CAR – The easiest way to explore Iceland is to rent a car. You will have more flexibility to go wherever you want, whenever you want and to make the photo stops you want. This is the option we chose.
THE “HOP ON HOP OFF” BUSES – If you don’t wish to rent a car, that’s not a problem, you can go to the main sites by bus with the Reykjavik Excursions company. Choose the itinerary you want to follow and then hop on and off as you wish. With the “Circle Passport” itinerary for instance you will go all around the island for 42000 ISK (about 320€). You will then book your hotels by yourself. Find more info here on the “Iceland on your own” section on the Rekjavik Excursions website. This agency also offers many excursions.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATIONS – One of the cheapest option is to use the public transportation system. They will take you from one city to the other but might not make stops at all the main sites.
RENTING A CAR
REGULAR CAR OR SUV? – It all depends on where you want to go. If you stay on Route 1, a regular car will do. However, if you want to use the secondary roads that start with the letter F (to go to the Landmannalaugar park for instance), you will absolutely need a SUV because F roads are gravel roads with wholes and fords.
WHICH CAR? – The Suzuki Jimny and the Duster are the cheapest SUVs you can rent. We chose the Kia Sportage 4×4 to have a bit more space.
WHICH INSURANCE? – It is recommended to choose the Gravel Protection insurance. You will be covered for gravel protections on the vehicle, the lights, and windshield. That’s the one we chose.
THINK ABOUT CAR SHARING – If you are going to rent a car, you can enter your itinerary on a car sharing website. You will be contacted by travellers who want to go to the same place as you and you will save some money on your car rental budget. Check out these two sites: samferda.net and carpoolworld.com.
DRIVING IN ICELAND
CAUTION WITH THE DOORS BEING BLOWN AWAY – If you stay on Road #1, driving in Iceland is not any harder than driving somewhere else. However, what makes it more difficult are the weather conditions. When we rented our car, we were told to be careful with the wind as it can blow the doors of the car away! To avoid this, you just need to hold on to your door as you open or close it. During our trip, we also faced a big storm and very thick fog… The best thing to do is to check the weather conditions regularly. The www.road.is website will give you the weather conditions on the road as well as indicate which roads are closed.
FILLING THE TANK REGULARLY – It is advised to fill the tank as soon as you see a gas station because they are rare in some parts of the island. The hotpoticeland map shows you where to find the gas stations all around Iceland.
GPS OR MAP? Having a GPS might not be essential because the network is relatively easy. A traditional map might be enough. However, we were happy to use Goople Maps on our phones to find our hotels as they usually were lost in the middle of nowhere.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN ICELAND
Hotels and hostels are very expensive in Iceland. We booked everything one month in advance and spent in average 100€ per night for small rooms with shared bathrooms and no breakfast. As I was planning this trip, I had found the following tips that had worked out for other travellers but when I checked these places, they were either full or very expensive. Here they are anyway, they might be interesting for you, depending on how much in advance you plan your trip.
- « Icelandic Farm Holidays ».
- « EDDA » hotels they rent student rooms in summer.
- Hostels. They are quite expensive for hostels and most of the time you need to bring your sleeping bag or rent it.
- Airbnb. Here again it is more expensive than in other places but you might find interesting prices in Reykjavik. There are not many options as you go further away from the capital.
WHAT BUDGET FOR 10 DAYS IN ICELAND?
TRANSPORTATION BUDGET: 1834€ for two – We spent 460 € for two return flights from Paris. We spent 1036€ for the car rental with the gravel insurance and extra driver. We also spent 220€ for gas. We spent 80€ for the shuttle from the airport to Reykjavik (from and to the airport, for two people) and 38€ for the ferry crossing to the Westman Islands (for two people).
ACCOMMODATION BUDGET: 1100€ for two people
FOOD BUDGET: 600€ (restaurants + groceries) – Restaurants are quite expensive in Iceland. A good way to reduce your expenses is to buy groceries at the supermarket to make your sandwiches and/or cook at night if you have access to a kitchen. The Bonus supermarkets are the less expensive supermarkets. Keep in mind that they open at 11 am. The alternative is to buy your groceries at the gas station.
VISIT BUDGET: 24€ for 2 people – Almost all the sites we visites were free! We just spent 13€ to go up Hallgrimskikja church in Reykjavik, 3,60€ at Thingvellir to park our car and 7,75€ to enter the Kerid volcano.
DON’T FORGET TO PACK
- Warm clothes of course, even if you are going in summer time. Think about thermic clothes that will keep you warm and won’t occupy much space.
- Waterproof pants. They will be quite useful on rainy days and to explore the waterfalls and glaciers.
- Good hiking shoes.
- A hat against mosquitos if you go to Lake Myvatn, in the East…
- A swimming cap for the hotsprings as they tend to dry your hair.
- A swimsuit and microfibers towels. Microfibers towels are my favorite tip to save space in my backpack.
- Sunscreen. You never know, you might need it even in Iceland…
- A sleep mask. If you travel in summer, the sun almost never sets so you might need a mask.
- A map of Iceland.
- A good play list. Toujours sympa d’avoir de la bonne musique pour un road trip.
FIND ALL MY ARTICLES ABOUT ICELAND…
#5 East fjords
#6 Lake Myvatn
#7 North fjords
#8 Info & tips