Iceland is rough and beautiful and straight up strange. Every ten minutes you drive through a completely different landscape, from mossy lava flows to desolate moonscapes to grassy rolling hills. You will never be bored driving through Iceland. The problem with Iceland is that IT IS EXPENSIVE. This means that while we would have happily stayed for 2 entire weeks, we had to boil it down to 3 days.
First things first, you have to have a rental car. There is no way around it; though the amount of hitchhikers we saw suggests that some people think there is. It was our biggest expense but you gotta do what ya gotta do. One of the best decisions we made was paying $12 a day for the portable wifi hotspot with our car. We named him Simon and he was our very best friend. We used him for navigation and communication. Not having phone service in Iceland, it was nice to know we could at least email for help if our car broke down. We used Blue Car Rental and had absolutely no problems. They even gave us our car 3 hours early after someone (Katelyn) set our car pick up time to noon even though we landed at 9am. AND they allowed us to reschedule our drop off when we decided that a fourth day in Iceland was not something our budget would accommodate.
Day 1: Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gulfoss
Here we go people! We set out from the airport in our newly rented car and new best friend, Simon, to Thingvellir National Park. It’s about an hour drive. The park is large so it’s a little tricky to figure out where to go once you’re close. Follow the signs to Almannagia, this is the Icelandic name for the continental divide. If you miss the turn and go to the information center, like we did, feel free to grab some soup and bread at the little cafeteria there! It was hot and delicious and reasonably priced (for Iceland anyway). We got a map there, found the turn we originally missed, and were back on track. You have to pay to park here. Go to the kiosk and enter your license plate number in order to pay. It’s $7 well spent! Thingvellir is actually spelled Þingvellir in Icelandic, so try not to get confused. The Icelandic language is impossible and there is zero chance of you being able to pronounce any of it correctly, so good luck. Rule of thumb: if it vaguely resembles the word you’re looking for, then it’s probably the same word. Thingvellir was the seat of the vikings and is where the North American and Eurasian continents divide! You can literally walk between them. You can hike and wander around to your heart’s content taking in the divide and clear spring water. There are a couple of waterfalls to see and an adorable little church on the site of the first church in Iceland. The park is peaceful and quaint. There are a lot of activities to partake in here but because of time and funds we had to move along. I would look into snorkeling in Silfra, we heard many people mention it. You can swim between continents!
Next stop: Geysir. A 45 minute drive away, Geysir is the site of…well a large Geysir. This is the OG Geysir, the one that we get the word “geysir” from. It erupts about every 10 minutes and is a very impressive display. The whole area is a geothermal hot spot and you can see steam and water coming out of the ground is various ways, forms, and fashions. It also smells very strongly of sulfur so just prepare you hearts and minds for that. If you don’t know what sulfur smells like…I’ll just let you find out for yourself. It’s free to park here and it has a very nice visitor center complete with Water Closets (aka bathrooms) and a little restaurant. Katelyn had a Swiss Mocha that she greatly enjoyed.
On to Gulfoss. Foss means Waterfall in Icelandic, so just know that anything with “foss” tacked on the end is probably a place you want to go. At some point the wind picked up on our 15 minute drive between Geysir and Gulfoss and when we got out of the car we literally had to lean into the wind and hope it didn’t take us flying off the cliff. It was a very real concern. Iceland’s weather is unpredictable and frankly kinda dangerous so…constant vigilance people! Gulfoss took our breath away, and not just because of the wind. It is loud and large and gorgeous. You can look at it from the top or take the path down to the water. Warning: you will get wet. I don’t know if it was because of the crazy wind or if it is always like this but we definitely needed our raincoats.
We were basically dying of exhaustion at this point because of jetlag and the general uncomfortableness of sleeping on planes so we made our way to our Airbnb near Selfoss (Another hour drive) and were asleep by 8pm. Hallelujah!
Day 2: Seljalandsfoss, Glacier Lagoon, and Diamond Beach
We had a nice breakfast at our Airbnb and headed out to another waterfall. Not hard to do because the entire country is full of them! We started at Seljalandsfoss, which you can see from the Ring Road, which more than likely you will spend a lot of time on. You have to “pay and display” again here. You can actually go behind this waterfall which is very, very cool! We were soaking wet by the time we hiked up and around this waterfall so prepare accordingly! One of my favorite things was that if you walk down the path away from the waterfall and parking lot you eventually find another waterfall! It is called Gljufrabui and it is inside its own little canyon cave thing. You have to walk through a creek to get inside the cave, so again, Be Prepared. We wore waterproof hiking boots the entire trip and BOY DID WE NEED THEM. Both of these waterfalls have some rough, slippery terrain that would not be easy with regular tennis shoes or the Converse I saw on one tourist. (Don’t be that person, ya’ll)
Now wet and kinda cold, we went on a 3 hour journey east to see a glacier! The Glacier lagoon does NOT disappoint! It is a blue lake next to a huge glacier that has pieces constantly breaking off of it- do not be alarmed by the loud cracking sounds! The pieces bob in the lake for a while before being swept out to sea. I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves on this one, but one thing you should know is there is a big parking lot with a visitors center and some food trucks next to the lagoon. However; before you get there, there are some small lots where you can park and climb down to the lagoon, which we did, quite honestly because we couldn’t stay in the car for one more second! We saw the icebergs and just pulled over on a whim, but it was a great decision because almost no one else was there! We got some great pictures and didn’t have to worry about anyone else. We went down to the visitors center parking lot later and experienced Katelyn’s very favorite moment of the trip. I turn and see Katelyn running down the shoreline, dodging tourists, pointing toward the water. I am very concerned because as a rule, we don’t run. I follow at a leisurely pace and realize she has seen a seal in the lagoon! It was all very exciting. We stopped at a fish and chips food truck to discuss the seal spotting and watch a little British child get more excited than anyone else about the presence of fish&chips in Iceland.
Afterwards, we drove back across the bridge and parked across the street to see the Diamond Beach! Remember when I told you the icebergs eventually float out to sea? Well a lot of them wash back up on the shore. The shore happens to be this gorgeous black sand beach! I’m obsessed with this beach and would suggest NOT MISSING THIS AREA. It took some time to get there and back and honestly we were concerned that it wouldn’t be worth it. I mean, when you only have 3 days, you have to make the most of your time. Worth. It.
Afterward we drove back 3.5 hours to find our way to Snotra Hostel. 10/10 hostel, would recommend, ya know, if that’s your thing. It was clean and friendly and we would stay there again.
Day 3: Seljavallalaug, Plane Wreck, Blue Lagoon
A big part of Icelandic culture is enjoying the thermal pools and hotpots all over the country. Because there’s so much volcanic activity, hot springs are everywhere and the people of Iceland take advantage! We had to experience this at least once so we headed out to Seljavallalaug. It’s 45 minutes down the ring road from Hella, so it seemed easy to get to. OK. Let me tell you this fell under the heading of Adventure, so read carefully before venturing to this vintage pool. We turn onto this road that looks like it’s heading into the mountains- like exactly into the side of the mountain. Everything’s beautiful and green and sheep are leaping about and suddenly I see a sign that says “Malbik endar” and I’m like hey Katelyn what do we think that means? We quickly found out as we hit gravel road at 70kmh. Oops. It then devolved into there being more potholes than road, so I wove through potholes for a while and we parked where we could see a few other cars in front of this closed down modern swimming pool. We walked around trying to figure out what was going on and couldn’t. We basically gave up and drove back down the pothole path to leave. I hate giving up and Katelyn looks at me and is like, “You aren’t going to let this go are you?” NOPE. Needless to say, we turned back around, parked again, and went on a hike. AND WE FOUND IT! So, just know that this is not a park and swim type stop. It is a hike 15 minutes into the valley towards an unseen destination type stop. Eventually you will find a random pool in the middle of nowhere, so stay strong. Just follow the water. Once you’re there you see a small concrete building attached to a small swimming pool. The building is a changing room. Let me just tell you, the Icelandic people aren’t big on modesty so its just a couple large agender rooms to get out of the wind. Honestly, they are pretty gross. I’d say come with your suit on and avoid the rooms at all costs. You just aren’t going to see pools like this anywhere else, so I thought it was a worthy stop! Very unique.
We hiked back out of the valley and drove 30 minutes down the road to the Plane Wreck. This is the only place we went to look at something not of the natural world. So basically a U.S. navy plane went down on the coast of Iceland in 1973 and the wreckage is still there on this eerie black sand, moon looking landscape. Everyone survived, so you can feel good about that! To get to the plane, or remnants rather, it’s a 2 mile walk to Solheinsandur beach. There is a well marked trail to follow, but it feels like you aren’t moving because it’s just flat sameness for 2 miles. Don’t panic. You are moving, I promise. You won’t see the plane until you are literally on top of it.
We then took another long car ride back to Reykjavik. 2 Hours-ish. I told you you’d spend a lot of time in the car, didn’t I? We went straight to Hallgrimskirkja Church. The architecture is gorgeous and there is a cool viking statue outside that the U.S. gave to Iceland. You’re welcome. We wandered the streets and had some coffee and toast. Iceland is known for it’s sourdough bread so we couldn’t miss out on that. We took a good look at the sun voyager statue on the water and then made our way back to the car to go to The Blue Lagoon.
Another hour drive took us to the most touristy place in Iceland. We momentarily considered crossing the Blue Lagoon off of our itinerary because it’s on the pricey side and honestly it seemed a lil basic. But holy cow it is touristy FOR GOOD REASON. Oh my gosh we had the very best time at the Blue Lagoon. You just float through this silica filled natural pool surrounded by steam and lava rocks. You get a mud mask for your face and a drink from the swim up bar included in your admission. We lived our very best life at the Blue Lagoon. It is a well done attraction with good crowd control and top-notch facilities. We were there from 8pm-10pm and the sunset was amazing! The light was changing so much that it looked completely different from moment to moment. It was the perfect way to finish off our trip! Side note: the lagoon really messes with your hair. They tell you about it but honestly I didn’t really believe them. The silica in the water thoroughly dries out your hair. I’m writing this 3 days later and the ends of my hair still feel like straw. So bring conditioner with you so you…you’ll need it! After they forcibly kicked us out at ten, we drove back towards Keflavik. We stayed in an Airbnb near the airport that night and drove to the airport first thing the next morning.
The end came much too soon, but our bank accounts were thankful. All in all, we had a blast exploring and adventuring to our little hearts’ content. After all, what’s better than waterfalls, glaciers, black sand, and seals??