Written and Travelled by Deborah Bhandari
Unless you live in a cave, you know that Iceland is HOT, both geo-thermally and as a bucket-list destination. Whether you are an intrepid traveler, a nature lover, a hardcore hiker, or Game of Thrones junkie, it is a destination that is not to be missed.
We were determined to see as much of the country as possible so we planned a one-week adventure. A little quality time together was just what we wanted before our two kids went off to boarding school. (With all of the driving we did, this may be an understatement.)
We touched down in Reykjavik in late July armed with a car reservation, VRBO bookings and some notes about the must-see sights. We climbed into our SUV at Keflavik Airport ready to explore the Land of Fire and Ice.
Iceland is not very big. You can drive the entire perimeter of the country in roughly 12 hours. During the summer months, it has what is known as the “Midnight Sun” due to its proximity to the Arctic Circle. With all that daylight, you can pack a lot into a visit.
While the country is small, there are vast differences in the landscape: Lush greenery, barren lava fields, black sand beaches, roaring waterfalls, blue ice glaciers and steaming geothermal pools. Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, it is remarkably not crowded, allowing you to take in the breathtaking and untouched natural beauty all on your own.
What to Do
The Blue Lagoon - Definitely the most touristy and crowded experience we had. You need to book ahead and queue up for entry. Use MORE of the hair conditioner than you think you need before you go into the Lagoon (you're welcome). It is a great option to do right from your flight from the US, as you land in the morning, and it is on the way into Reykjavik.
Reykjavik - There are quaint and charming streets, small shops and coffee houses. Don't miss the beautiful Hallgrimskirkja church.
Pingvellir National Park: Gorgeous vistas and hikes
Geysir and Strokkur: These two geysers (the word geyser actually comes from Geysir!), and they are right next to each other. Geysir is dormant, but Strokkur erupts every few minutes.
There are waterfalls all over Iceland, but Gullfoss, Dettifoss (most powerful in Europe), and Godafoss are the big ones. The natural beauty and the power of the water are magnificent and frightening. Seljalandfoss is a beautiful smaller waterfall just off the Ring Road on the way to Vik. Make sure to walk up behind the cascade of the falling water. This was our favorite.
Vik, Dyrholaey, Reynisfjara: This area is lovely with deserted beaches of black sand, smooth stones and basalt formations rising out of the water. At Dyrholaey, you can watch the adorable puffins up close as they take off and land on the sheer side of the cliff.
Glacier and Glacier Lagoon – A boat through the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon to weave in and out of the gorgeous natural ice blocks that have broken off of the glacier is an absolute must.
Dimmoborgir - These are incredible lava formations to wander through.
Hverir - A natural geothermal area that again, looks like you are walking on another planet.
Icelandic Horses- These beautiful creatures have a lovely unkept appearance.
We rented amazing, modern, minimalist houses all over the country through VRBO. Wine and hot tub after a day of exploring was perfection.
Rent an SUV and take the optional sand insurance (there are little pebbles and dust that pelt your car and can easily knick your windshield). Also opt in for the portable wifi unit for the car, it is very useful for the GPS, but equally to have in your pocket at all times. Put a good play list on your phone and bring books
It is a very relaxed country, there are no entry fees for the national parks, no guards, and parking is ample and easy.
The one thing that we found challenging was finding great restaurants outside of Reykjavik. In Reykjavik, we discovered an absolute gem, Ostabudin, which I would highly recommend for it's charming ambiance, lovely service and delicious local delicacies. I would try to research restaurants as much as you can before you go. Because of the explosive tourist growth, there are new hotels and an emerging restaurant scene that is evolving quickly.
The weather varies from the city to the beach to the glacier, so bring layers and great all terrain shoes or boots. Bring nightshades to sleep, as there is barely any dark sky at all in summer.
You also do not need a week to get a feeling for Iceland. It can definitely be done in a long weekend. Enjoy!
Kelly's Packing List- Iceland
Patagonia's old-school style vest is a great layering piece for chillier days. These Stella McCartney for Adidas trainers work well for hiking, but are stylish to pair with jeans for dinner. Veronica Beard's striped sweater is zippy and warm. Our Over the Pond kit includes cashmere nightshades which are essential for sleeping, as the Icelandic summer sun almost never sets. Stance socks come in a ton of fun patterns and are quite toasty. This Marni rain coat would be great to roll up for travel, and equally chic in town. Available through Need Supply Co, which incidentally is a great web site to find emerging designers, many very inexpensive. I love anything Ganni, and I would layer a longer sleeve tee under this one to wear with these Rachel Comey jeans. Finally, I found this Indie Lee cleanser through Ridgley's Radar, and it smells yummy and doesn't dry your travel-weary skin out.