I'm sooo excited to share photos and an itinerary from our recent trip to Iceland! Iceland has become such a hot spot for travel and I feel like every week someone on my Instagram feed pops up sharing pics from their trip visiting this incredible country. Just over the last few years, Iceland's number of annual tourist visitors has doubled, and they now receive around 2 million visitors a year. Which is pretty crazy considering the population is only 330,000. We absolutely loved Iceland's other-worldly landscapes, stunning waterfalls, and friendly people. We took about 2,000 photos and it was really hard to narrow them down for this post since everywhere you look in Iceland is so stunning, but hopefully you won't mind the extra long photo story!
- Check-in. For the first few nights of our trip we were in Reykjavik as our home base. We stayed at an adorable Airbnb owned by a lovely woman named Elsa. Her bright red house was so cozy and cute, and we loved all of the pretty details. It is also very central and we were literally able to walk everywhere we wanted to go in Reykjavik. This Airbnb also has parking spots, which are a hot commodity in downtown Reykjavik and perfect for us since we had a car rental for our day trips. We loved staying in this charming spot!
- Brunch at Bergsson Mathus. We had brunch a couple times at this super cute, very yummy and very hygge spot. If there is a long wait and it’s a nice day, ordering to-go is always an option.
- Free Reykjavik Walking Tour. Doing a walking tour on your first day is a great way to orient yourself to the city and learn a bit about Icelandic history (because I’m guessing you skipped that lesson in AP World History class too). The tour is free and you tip at the end. We learned a ton and it’s nice to have some context for the culture and new city you’re about to experience. One thing that surprised me that I loved learning about was how progressive Iceland is. They're very pro gay rights, they elected their first female president in 1980, they had an openly lesbian president in the early 2000's, and their parliament is currently working on a law that guarantees equal wages for men and women. Clearly we could all learn a little something from Iceland.
- Mokka Kaffi. We stopped here to warm up with a delicious Swiss Mocha (omg so much whipped cream and chocolate) and a yummy pastry dessert. So cozy and cute, and decadent.
- Hallgrímskirkja. You definitely don’t want to miss the views from the top of this odd but also interesting looking church. There's also a giant organ inside and we got to watch an organist play for a bit.
- Lunch at Gló. At this point I had been traveling in Europe for a month and a half and really indulging, so a healthy lunch sounded great. Gló prides itself on providing healthy meals with fresh ingredients, and one plate gets you a few different types of salads and a main dish, like a yummy Thai curry chicken.
- Harpa. The Harpa is the beautiful concert hall in Iceland. They had some events and plays going on that sounded like fun, but we didn't have time to go to any of them. Even if you're not going to see a show there, it's a really unique building and worth stopping in to take in the beautiful architecture. The dimensional glass walls make for a great Instagram shot.
- Sun Voyager. After visiting the Harpa we strolled along the water and made our way down to the Sun Voyager sculpture.
- Snap Bistro. We had a delicious seafood dinner at Snap our first night in Reykjavik. I'd recommend the mussels appetizer (with extra bread to soak up that delicious sauce) and the bouillabaisse for dinner. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
- The Laundromat Café. To be honest it felt a little crazy to be paying $60 for a basic-ass breakfast for two of eggs, bacon, potatoes and coffee, but the grocery stores in Iceland are also very expensive and we didn’t feel like cooking, so we had a hearty breakfast here. The cafe is cute and we were filled up for a day of exploring.
- Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a must-do on a first-timer’s trip to Iceland. Before our trip I was getting it confused with The Ring Road, which goes all the way around Iceland, and I kept wondering why people were telling us to do this crazy drive! But the Golden Circle is easy to do in a half day from Reykjavik and hits up a few of Iceland’s top sights. During most drives in Iceland you'll also spot beautiful Icelandic horses. I was so excited to hop out and pet these sweet and gentle guys! Seriously could have just played with them all day. Besides the gorgeous horses, on the Golden Circle you'll hit up:
- Þingvellir. Also spelled Thingvellier in English letters, this national park has some interesting spots and history. The Vikings first settled here and created the first parliament in the 10th century. It's also where two tectonic plates are separating, so you can see the rift between the plates.
- Gullfoss. Gollfoss is the foss of all fosses (foss = falls). It's like two giant waterfalls that converge into one. It's easily accessible and definitely no to be missed in Iceland.
- Geysir. The Great Geysir is the geysir that all geysirs are named after (say "geysir" again). There are a bunch of little geysirs that you can watch boil and steam and it's pretty magical. But the big geysir erupts every few minutes or so and it's so fun to watch. You can see the hot water and the anticipation as it slowly boils up just kills ya.
- Lindin. We had a yummy lunch here before heading to a hot spring right next door. Based on our Lonely Planet book (which we saw everyone and their mom carrying around Iceland), this definitely sounded like the best lunch spot off of the Golden Circle.
- Laugarvatn Fontana. We decided to unwind after a day of driving around and sightseeing by visiting the Fontana natural hot spring, which is right next to Lindin. It was a spur of the moment decision so we were happy to learn that you can rent swimsuits from them! If you’re daring, you can also run into the ice cold water and hop back into the hot spring.
- B Hot Dog Stand. After relaxing in the hot spring for a while we made the drive back to Reykjavik. Everyone kept talking about these famous Iceland hot dogs so we decided we needed to try one. Get one with everything, even though they’re probably of very little nutritional value, they're pretty tasty.
- Blue Lagoon. We squeezed in an evening trip out to the Blue Lagoon for even more R&R. Definitely book this one as far ahead of time as you can, as the time slots book up fast! Since it's located right by the airport some people like to coordinate so they can go straight there after landing, or before taking off. We didn't take a ton of pics here because we wanted to relax and not have to worry about our phones in the water, and also it was getting dark. But the Blue Lagoon is so iconic and a fun experience so you won't want to miss it if you're heading to Iceland!
- The Deli. If you’re looking for some late night pizza, The Deli has you covered.
- Grai Kotturinn. Apparently Bjork is a fan of this spot. It’s really cute and cozy and we had a yummy breakfast here.
- Snæfellsnes Penninusla. We did a really long drive with the Snæfellsnes Penninsula as our final destination. This post was really helpful in planning out what we wanted to see on our drive. It was a really long day trip but the landscape changes so much that we kept pulling over for all the beautiful scenery. One minute it would be totally flat and barren, then there would be beautiful snow-covered mountains, then lava rocks covered in thick moss, then gorgeous lakes and waterfalls. Kirkjufellsfoss was one of our main destinations on the drive and the scenery there was gorgeous.
- Hraun. We stopped here for lunch and the lobster burger was sooo delicious! Seriously, get if you go, get it. Definitely the perfect lunch stop on this drive.
- The Lebowski Bar. Once we made it back to Reykjavik we went out to some fun bars including a Big Lebowski themed bar that has dozens of different White Russian drinks!
- Lobster Hut. For a late night dinner we stopped by the Lobster Hut and had delicious lobster bisque and lobster rolls. I’d say it’s worth the investment to pay for extra lobster, because extra lobster never hurt anybody, but too little lobster probably has. Follow them on Facebook to find out which nights they'll be in the in the town square.
- Coffee and pastries. Before heading out on our drive we picked up some pastries from Braud & Co. and coffee from Reykjavik Roasters. They're known for being the best pastry shop and coffee shop in Reykjavik and are conveniently located kitty-corner from each other. The cinnamon bun and chocolate chip cookies were to die for!
- Drive to Vik. On our fourth day we drove down south so that we could be based in Vik for our last couple nights of our trip. Vik is a teeny tiny town with a population of 250 people. We stayed at a cute and comfortable Airbnb, and it was a great option for Vik. Hildur, the owner was lovely and accommodating and sent us several recommendations. It was the perfect homebase after a day of traveling from Reykjavik, and we were able to use it as a jumping off point to go and visit the Glacier Lagoon.
- Seljalandsfoss. On our way from Reykjavik we hit up two of Iceland’s major waterfalls, the first being Seljalandsfoss. This is the waterfall that you can walk behind, and if it’s not too icy and you have the appropriate clothes, I’d definitely recommend doing it! It’s pretty thrilling to stand behind the waterfall and take it all in. Make sure you're wearing the right clothes for it though (waterproof parka, pants, and boots)—I saw a girl who thought it would be a great idea to wear a sweatsuit and go behind the waterfall. She was drenched and it wasn't cute.
- Skogafoss. Skogafoss is another iconic Iceland waterfall that you’ll pass on your way to Vik. It’s also really beautiful and you can get right up to the base of it. If the sun is shining, you’ll see some pretty rainbows from the falls as well.
- Seljavallalaug. When I saw a picture of this natural hot spring up in the mountains, I knew I had to go! It’s kind of a pain in the ass to get to (be prepared to cross a river of glacial run-off that may go all the way up to your knees), but obviously a very stunning and unique scene. Fair warning though, when we went the hot spring was more like a lukewarm spring, so we didn’t hang out in it for hours like I was picturing. But man, was it beautiful. I was just reading about it on Trip Advisor though, and someone said there's a hot corner where the warmer water feeds in. It's definitely off the beaten path, but this post does a nice job explaining how to get there. There are some changing rooms there but to be honest it looks like a creepy movie murder scene inside of them, so don't expect anything luxurious.
- Northern Lights. The Northern Lights are something that have been on my bucket list since I was a kid (thanks to the movie Balto), and I wanted to see them in Iceland SO badly. But you have to get very lucky to see them because it needs to be an active night for them, and also a clear night. To make things harder, they don’t really appear in Iceland in the summer, and September through March are peak season…which is also when the weather is bad because it’s winter. Our first few nights in Iceland were totally cloudy and we had pretty much zero chance of seeing the lights, but on our first night in Vik it was totally clear. The Aurora Forecast said they would be at a very low activity, but we thought we’d give it a shot anyways and drove about 15 minutes outside of Vik. We pulled over at a random spot off the road with little light pollution, and as soon as I got out of the car I gasped. The Northern Lights were dancing eerily over the horizon behind us, and they were beautiful! To the naked eye, they look like white fingers or ribbons of light that shape shift and move throughout the sky. Their beauty gave us the chills and we stood there in awe watching them.
- Jökulsárlón. On our last full day in Iceland we drove a couple hours east of Vik to see the famed Glacier Lagoon. It’s awesome to see chunks of glaciers crashing into each other in this lagoon and to see cute little seals poking their heads out of the water to say hello.
- Glacier Cave Tour. We had booked a glacier cave tour that would leave from the Glacier Lagoon, but unfortunately it was canceled as they ended the season a day before our tour since the glacier caves were starting to melt. I was SO bummed, but we knew when we booked it that we’d be trying to go at the tail end of the season. But if you're going to Iceland in the winter, you should absolutely book a glacier cave tour and tell me about how it was.
- Reynisfjara. We made our way back to Vik and caught a stunning sunset from the black sand beach Reynisfjara. On one side you can see stone arches, and to the other side the beach has these interesting basalt columns. They’re perfect for climbing up and sitting on to watch the sun go down, and we perched up there to enjoy the most stunning sunset.
- Sudur Vik. We had a yummy dinner on our last night at Sudur Vik, the main restaurant in the small town of Vik. Since it was our last night and the Aurora forecast was strong, we ventured out, this time west of Vik, and were lucky enough to spot the Northern Lights a second night. It was a pretty cloudy night so they were a little harder to view, but still amazing.
After all that we drove back to Reykjavik the next morning to catch our flight! Our Iceland trip was incredible and we’d love to go back some day to check out other parts of it that we didn’t get a chance to visit. If you have any recommendations, especially for the northern part of Iceland, I’d love to hear them!