In the last year, every travel magazine has voted Iceland the “Country to see!” or “The trending spot of 2016!” You’ve probably seen every blogger and their husband/photographer taking a casual dip in a thermal lagoon or smiling in front of a waterfall.
And no wonder. The country is a vast, vertically untouched island (a total population of about 323,000 and a country the size of Georgia…I MEAN COME ON.) For these reasons, among others like the world’s most inexpensive flight prices, humans from every corner of the world have been flooding the country. Hm, yes. And that includes me!
I spent most of the month of June traveling Europe and the Baltic’s with one of my best friends, with our first stop in Iceland. We spent a grand total of 5 days exploring the country, and accomplished A LOT in this time frame. However, I would recommend going for 6-7 total days to take full advantage of every moment in the country. Now, I’m not one for tour buses and you couldn’t pay me to hold a selfie stick, so here is what I’ll call my “Un-tourist’s Guide to Iceland.”
RENT A CAR
There are a lot of different companies to rent cars from, but we chose Reykjavik Cars. They were great because they didn’t charge a “per mile traveled” fee like some other companies we looked into. We went with a 4-wheel drive, automatic Subaru and loved it. SIDE NOTE – I would definitely get a GPS (something like 18 Euros equivalent), as it’s pre-programed with Icelandic land data and most other GPS’ are not.
As I mentioned above, I’m not one for guided tours, however, the country does offer many different options in the tour area – from trips around the Golden Circle to hikes up waterfalls. But, we noticed they are VERY overpriced and with a car, really enjoyed being able to do things on our own time. Plus, some of the most beautiful moments are stopping right off the side of the road to take pictures, have a snack on the grass, etc.
Dill – We didn’t get a chance to eat here since we didn’t make a reservation beforehand (MISTAKE), but heard it was incredible! I would email them and reserve before your trip if you want to enjoy their one of a kind fish dishes.
Reykjavik Roasters – Our favorite coffee spot in Reykjavik. There are 2 locations.
Snaps – Cute local spot, great for either lunch or dinner!
Kex Hostel – We didn’t stay here, but got beers / snacks here one afternoon while exploring the city. Definitely a cool spot to see and hang.
Ion Hotel – This was a once in a lifetime, truly amazing experience. It is a bit off the beaten path (we stayed here on our way around the Golden Circle), but it’s an absolute must stay. The decor was minimal yet, cozy and the food was out of this world. There was also a small, thermal algae spa underneath the hotel that was the perfect place to relax after a day of exploring the country.
Reykjavik – We chose to airbnb our stay in Reykjavik (and loved it), however, there are a handful of upscale as well as moderately priced accommodations depending on your travel style / budget.
Vik – These are beautiful Black Sand beaches on the Southern Coast. A fun stop on the way to the Glacier Lagoon!
Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss Waterfalls – In my opinion, these were the most moving and beautiful sights on our trip. Each waterfall was different, yet special in it’s own right. Each had walking paths up, down and behind the falls.
– Yes, this is where all those Instagram photos you love are from. My recommendation is to plan an entire day for this – we went on the last day of our trip and loved it. We booked ahead of time (space fills quickly as there is a limit of how many people allowed in each day) and left on a bus from Reykjavik around 11am to get there at 12pm. We stayed for a few hours and then took a bus back in the afternoon.
Side note – If you plan on going, DO NOT wear a nice swimsuit or your favorite sunglasses, as the thermal pools tarnish and trash all clothing! And also your hair – drown yourself in conditioner and do your best not to wet your hair.
– This is the circular road that hits a ton of the country’s hottest landmarks. The full travel takes around 3- 3.5ish hours, not including stops. Very touristy, but worth seeing the sights!
Glacier Lagoon – We didn’t get a chance to go here and what a bummer. I heard from multiple people that this was one of their most moving experiences in Iceland. If we stayed another day, this is where we would have explored. It’s definitely a trek (about 275 km from Reykjavik along the coast), but I hear absolutely worth it.
Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral – This is one of the main attractions in Reykjavik. You can buy tickets inside to travel to the top, which gives way to a 360 view of the city.
Harpa – The architecture of this new concert hall in downtown Reykjavik was absolutely incredible. They also have some amazing art installations and exhibits. We chose to walk around inside and stop for a quick expresso at the cafe followed by an AMAZING David Bowie photography exhibit.