“You’re going to Iceland for two whole weeks!? What will you do there?” a colleague of mine asked.
Still considered a cold and tiny island “somewhere in the sea”, few people are aware of its sheer size.
But Iceland is not like any other country, where the main cities are connected by motorways and driving is pure bliss. No, in Iceland, prepare yourself for gravel roads, weather conditions that slow you down and the beauty of the place that will make you want to stop literally at every corner!
This itinerary is the perfect roadtrip to spend two weeks in Iceland and discover the diversity of the country. You’ll pass waterfalls, fishing villages, lave fields and boiling mudpools, with time to take in a few hikes as well.
But before we head off, check out these ten things you should know before going to Iceland:
Ten invaluable travel tips for Iceland!
1.Rent a car
Yes, it is expensive, especially in summer, but if there are several of you travelling together, there won’t be a massive difference compared to taking the bus. You can get to most sights by bus, but it might take an awful lot of time for the more remote areas. Going on excursions is hassle-free, but you don’t get to choose how much time you want to spend in a place and you will be there when the crowds are. So yes, rent a car, trust me!
2.Iceland is HUGE, take your time
So you thought this Nordic island between the USA and Europe was tiny? Think again! It’s roughly the size of Portugal or the state of Kentucky! So if you want to travel all around Iceland, you will end up driving A LOT! I thought 2 weeks would be plenty. Guess what? Nope! There are quite a few gravel roads that will slow you down a lot!
Oh and don’t rely on Google maps! When it says your travel time will be 2 hours, make sure you count double! It’s pretty accurate on the Ring Road, the major road around the island, but once you’re off that, it’s anybody’s guess how long it’ll take you to get to your next destination!
So, take your time!! Don’t spend a whole day driving, instead walk around the fishing villages, go for a hike and stop at that scenic picnic spot!
I drove for about 60km without seeing anybody else on the road, or a village or shop for that matter! Buy a road map that indicates petrol stations and fill up every time you get the opportunity, you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank!
Same thing goes for food. In most countries, we are used to come across some kind of shop or café every few kilometres. Not in Iceland! Make sure you have some provision with you, even for dinner. Some hostels I stayed in were so remote I would have had to drive 30km to the next bar/restaurant!
4.Icelandic weather is unpredictable, even in “summer”
I live in Ireland, so I thought I knew a thing or two about changeable weather. Turned out I was wrong… I went to Iceland in June, somehow referred to as “summer”, with an average temperature of 12°C/53°F! But what really surprised me were the howling winds and lashing rain at times. Rain doesn’t seem to come from the sky in Iceland, it seems to lash horizontally, making sure you get absolutely soaked and putting your waterproof gear to an ultimate test!
If you go hiking, prepare!
I took some risks walking along the beautiful Raudanes cliffs. The weather started off fine, but soon fog set in, meaning that it got pretty challenging to find my bearings… Take a GPS with you!
Or how about leaving beautiful Seydisfjördur, in the East Fjords? Driving over the mountain pass in thick fog, not seeing where I was going, was pretty frightening I must say!
Download the free 112 Iceland app, which will allow you to leave your travel route and will send an SMS to the Icelandic emergency services with your GPS location if you get into real trouble!
5.Bring your own music
Whenever I’m abroad, I love listening to the local radio station to hear the local music and/or learn a bit about the local lingo. I could picture myself driving on the empty Icelandic roads listening to Björk-soundalikes. I was right about the empty roads, I was wrong about the music. Some areas are so remote that you just don’t capture any kind of radio station! If you do, it will be either RUV1 or RUV2, the national broadcasting service, which is hardly more exciting. They seem to talk endlessly on those channels and music is a rarity. When they finally do play something, you wish you had another channel you could switch to!
Bylgjan or FM957 are better choices, but forget about finding them in remoter areas.
6. Happy hours!
One of the most common myths is that alcohol is very expensive in Iceland. It’s not exactly cheap, but in Reykjavik you can get your tipple for not a lot more than you would back home: make sure you download the free app “Appy Hour” to check on all happy hours of all the bars in Reykjavik. How is that for a saver?
7. Yaaay, free car-wash
Driving on the gravel roads or dirt tracks will transform your shiny car into one big muddy affair. But no worries, no need to pay for an expensive carwash! Most petrol stations have brushes and water handy to get rid of most of the dirt. And they are completely free!
8. Credit card country
No need to take a massive amount of cash with you, cards are accepted everywhere, even for small amounts. For my American readers, you do need a PIN code to get petrol, no swiping in Iceland, so make sure to get one from the bank before leaving!
9.Watch out for the Arctic Terns
I’m not much of a bird-fan, I consider anything that flies as a possible aggressor. Of course most of the birds will leave you alone, but in Iceland they seem to have a variety that actually does represent my worst nightmare: meet the Arctic tern! To be fair to them, they only attack during nesting/breeding season, roughly May-August. Of course, let that be the season I was there!
I was walking quietly on a country road in the East Fjords when a few of them started circling around my head, squeaking to clearly intimidate. Pretty impressive!
A few days later, in the north, I was walking along the beach when the same thing happened, but this time they decided to up their game: one of them actually started pecking at my head! Oh the horror!
It’s difficult to know where exactly they are nesting, but don’t worry about finding them, they will find you!
I saw a few walkers waving their walking poles above their head to avoid the aerial strikes. A hat might also help to protect.
10. Beware of the sheep too
In spite of having so much space available, some sheep have decided that the best place for a sit-in is in the middle of the road! So be careful, especially in remote areas and in foggy weather!
After all this preparation, we’re ready to go!
Iceland is a fantastic country! Have fun, enjoy your trip and you can thank me later!
2 weeks in Iceland
Day 1: arrival in Reykjavik. Depending on when your flight arrives and how long it took you to get here, you might want to settle in, relax, have a bite to eat or just take a walk around to get a feel of the place. Don’t sweat it, Reykjavik is small, you’ll have plenty of time to explore tomorrow! And on the way from the airport to Reykjavik, why not stop at the famous Blue Lagoon for a soak?
Day 2: Reykjavik. Is it museums you’re after? Architecture? Nightlife? Reykjavik has it all! There’s plenty of things to do in and around the capital!
Day 3: The Golden Circle. The proper road trip starts! And what a start! Today we are driving the Golden Circle that encompasses three of the main attractions in Iceland: the historic site of Thingvellir National Park, the spouting Strokkur Geysir and the iconic Gullfoss waterfall. All three are a great introduction to the diverse landscapes of Iceland. The Golden Circle is the busiest road in Iceland, so be prepared for crowds, especially at the Geysir.
Day 4: It’s waterfall time! Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are two of Iceland’s most photographed waterfalls. And rightly so! Seljalandsfoss drops at 60m and you can even walk behind it! Be cautious cause the path can be slippery. Don’t forget to walk a few hundred meters further along the main path at Seljalandsfoss to visit the hidden Gljufurarfoss.
Standing at the base of Skogafoss, with its millions of gallons of water thundering down over the cliff, makes you feel very small. Climb the stairs next to the waterfall to get a view from the top as well. If you’re up for a hike, this is where the walk to Thorsmork starts. (+/- 10 hours walking) You don’t have to do the whole trail, even one hour makes for some serious gorgeous scenery!
Day 5: It’s glacier time! From Skogafoss, it’s only a short drive to the Solheimajökull glacier tongue. You can walk to the base on your own, but if you want to do some proper glacier-hiking, you will obviously need to book a guide.
Continue to the black sand beach of Vik and the basalt rock formations at Reynisfara. Rainy and windy weather truly make for an apocalyptic atmosphere!
From there on, it’s off to Skaftafell. (+/- 1h30 drive) If you still have energy left, you can take a walk to yet another glacier tongue: Skaftafelljökull, where a marked trail and free brochure will explain you the geology of the place.
Day 6: the land of ice. Still in Skaftafell, take a walk up to the dramatic looking waterfall of Svartifoss. Drive to the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon to see huge ice boulders rest on the black beach or in the lagoon and spend the night in Höfn.
Day 7: the beautiful East Fjords From Höfn, drive along the coast and discover the remote East Fjords. The highlight and probably the best place to stay overnight is Seydisfjördur, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and dripping waterfalls. The road up there is steep and even in June you may encounter fog, be careful!
Day 8: puffins, lake pools and mud. Take a wander in the beautiful surroundings of Seydisfjördur, passing waterfalls and bizarre sound sculptures. If you are here between May and August, go and check out the puffins in Borgarfjördur Estri.
A 2h30 drive will take you to Myvatn, THE must see in the north. There’s plenty to see and do: lava formations, volcanoes, geothermal activity, … Don’t forget to have a soak in the Myvatn nature baths!
Day 9: canyons and waterfalls. Stay another night in Myvatn. and make a daytrip to Dettifoss waterfall and the Asbyrgi canyon. On the way back, you can go whale-watching in Húsavik.
Day 10: a tale of waterfalls and herring. Take some time to explore the second city of Iceland: Akureyri . On the way to Akureyri, make sure you stop at Godafoss, my favourite waterfall by far! From there on, continue towards the beautiful village of Siglofjördur to discover the herring-history of Iceland (it’s much more interesting than it sounds, trust me!)
Day 11: Be prepared for a long drive (+/- 5 hours) to get to Stykkishólmur, where gorgeous little islands dot the bay of Breidafjördur. Why not take a boat ride to check some of them out? Or indulge in some fresh fish at the little harbour and climb the basalt rock formation of Súgandisey. Don’t forget to visit Stykkishólmur’s futuristic church!
Day 12: Time for the west! The Snaefellsnes peninsula is one of my favourite parts of Iceland, it packs in so much in a relatively small area: crunching lava, black beaches, stunning rock formations, … There are plenty of walking opportunities too!
Day 13: time for some history. On your way back to Reykjavik, stop at Borgarnes where the Settlement Centre tells you about Iceland’s fascinating history! Spend a last night in Reykjavik.
Day 14: I know, it’s sad, you don’t want to leave, do you? Two weeks gave me a great overview of all the variety Iceland has to offer, but there is one area I didn’t cover: the Westfjords. Seems like a good reason to come back to me!
Have you visited the country of fire and ice? What places would you add to this two week itinerary for Iceland?