Iceland was at the top of my list for a few years due to the massive, powerful waterfalls and the Blue Lagoon. With my cousin joining us, we visited in June when it was daylight 24 hours before heading to Portugal. Check out our Iceland travel guide below!
How we traveled there
We were supposed to take Delta and connect in Minneapolis however due to weather delays we were able to change flights to fly direct from Denver to Reykjavík (KEF) on Icelandair. The flight was only 7 hours direct which had us landing early in the morning with the time change. Due to the quick change in flights, our bags didn’t make it on the plane. The customer service at the KEF airport was phenomenal. Once our bags arrived in Iceland, the KEF airport had someone drive our bags two hours to our Airbnb.
We rented a car at the airport through Sixt however we regret using this budget rental company due to a hefty dent charge that we couldn’t prove was there before renting the car. Don’t forget to take pictures and videos of the car before you leave the lot, even if you are delirious from a flight! Sand and ash protection will be offered for an additional cost. This was something we hadn’t heard of before but decided to add it on. We didn’t end up experiencing sand or ash damage but apparently, it is a known risk on the island (most common from February to April).
Where we stayed
We first drove down to southern Iceland for a few days and stayed on a beautiful horse farm in Hvolsvöllur. This house was isolated from everything making it so peaceful with horses roaming around the property. It was beautifully decorated with everything you needed to make meals, do laundry, and had blackout shades for the rooms.
For the remainder of our stay, we were in downtown Reykjavík at another Airbnb. Since it’s the ground unit it was on the darker side but we didn’t spend much time in the unit and it was a great walkable location.
What activities we experienced
Since most flights land in the morning, there is a lot of time before you can check into your accommodations and you are likely tired from the travel. Right from the airport we went to the Blue Lagoon since it’s close to the airport and it kept us awake to get on Iceland’s time zone. We booked the premium day experience which added two additional masks and a bathrobe.
No surprise, the Blue Lagoon is a unique Iceland activity that you must experience while on the island. If you want to bring your phone into the lagoon then make sure to bring a waterproof case with you. We recommend packing your swimsuit in your personal bag on the off chance your luggage is lost. Ours was lost for 24 hours and having our swimsuits allowed us to still experience one of Iceland’s iconic activities. If you forget your swimsuit, The Blue Lagoon has a store to purchase from.
After the Blue Lagoon, we drove down to Hvolsvöllur where we were staying for the next two days. Our first full day in Iceland was spent exploring southern Iceland. We visited Seljalandsfoss & Skogafoss waterfalls which are both easily accessible from the parking lot. Don’t forget your raincoat and boots since you can walk behind Seljalandsfoss. While you are there, walk the extra mile to Gljufrafoss. It’s worth trudging through the water quickly to see the hidden waterfall. At Skogafoss you can see it from the bottom of the waterfall or you can take the stairs to view it from the top where you see many mini waterfalls. These two main waterfalls are only 25 minutes apart so you can see them both on the same day.
We also drove down to Vik to see Reynisfjara Beach. The landscape is stunning from the rock formations to the waves crashing on the black sand beach. We didn’t see anyone swimming in the water since the waves looked very strong. The parking lot is right next to the beach making it easily accessible.
On our way back to Reykjavík we took a detour to hike Glymur Waterfall, the 2nd highest waterfall in Iceland. It is a steep hike at 1,400 feet of elevation gain and 4.3 miles. It took us four hours to complete the loop. Make sure you go to the right to start the hike so the steepest part is the incline vs decline (we made the mistake of starting left and paid for it on the decline). Early on there is a log you must use to cross a small river with a wire for stability.
At the top of the hike, you have to cross the top of the waterfall which is freezing and at least 25 feet wide. Make sure you bring water shoes. I also highly recommend hiking poles for the hike and the stability of crossing the water. The river at the top is very close to the drop-off of the waterfall so be careful when crossing. The steepness, height of the waterfall, and beautiful scenery made this hike my favorite activity we did in Iceland. It was strenuous and challenging but very rewarding in my opinion. Make sure you are up for it before you commit!
After arriving in Reykjavík we walked around exploring the city. With it being light 24 hours we could see a lot of the city later at night. The next day we headed to the Sky Lagoon, a thermal spa overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. We are glad we upgraded to the Pure Pass which adds the 7-step ritual including cold therapy, sauna, energizing mist, cleansing scrub, steam, and a shower to finish it. In my opinion, The Blue Lagoon is a must-do once while The Sky Lagoon is somewhere I could go multiple times because it had fewer people, overlooked the ocean, and felt more spa-like.
Based on a recommendation from one of our friends, we headed to The Icelandic Phallological Museum which has over 300 penises from various animals on display along with penis-shaped food. We pre-gamed a bit and had a fun time exploring. I did get locked in the penis-filled bathroom for a good 10 minutes which was comical to everyone else at the museum.
For our last day in Iceland, we drove around The Golden Circle. Since there are so many stop offs we decided to drive ourselves instead of using a tour to be on our own schedule. We went to Thingvellir National Park which is where people snorkel and dive between two continents. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it without getting in the water. The top of the national park was a pretty overlook.
We also stopped at the Geysir Geothermal Area. The Strokkur geyser is the main event and goes off every ten minutes shooting water at least 60 feet in the air. Just down the road is the Gullfoss Waterfall which is a massive waterfall built from many mini-waterfalls. We ended the trip at Kerid Crater which is a volcanic crater lake. It is a very beautiful blue color. Although The Golden Circle was a lot of driving we were happy with what we were able to see in one day.
Where we ate
Many people gave us mixed reviews on the food before we left for Iceland but everything we tried was delicious.
On our first night in southern Iceland, we made salmon at home which was the best and freshest salmon we ever had. In Vik, we ate at the Strondin for lunch which is known for its clam chowder. For dinner, we went to Valhalla Restaurant which has delicious bbq along with darts, pool, and axe throwing.
In Reykjavík, we had amazing seafood at Matarkjallarinn and Messinn. We loved the Arctic char at Messin. If you have read our other posts then you know we love Thai food! Krua Thai was close to our Airbnb and very tasty.
While driving The Golden Circle we ate lunch at Efstidalur, a family farm. You can explore the farm and then try their ice cream, feta cheese, and beef.
Where we drank
Since there was not much nightlife in Hvolsvöllur we enjoyed wine at home while watching the horses roam the property.
In Reykjavík, we enjoyed cocktails at Monkeys and Jungle Cocktail Bar. We spent our last night at Kaldi, a gin bar. This bar had the most energy and was where we met many locals and enjoyed local music.
What we recommend knowing/preparing
- There is no shoulder to many of the roads with the cars programmed to alert you when you are close to the edge (which for us was frequent). It was nerve-wracking running on zero sleep.
- Everywhere accepted our credit cards. Bring the minimum amount of cash you feel comfortable having on an international trip.
- Some gas stations only take credit cards with a pin. If you forget a card with a pin you can buy a prepaid gas card to use. The pump colors are also different from the US. Black is diesel and green is regular
- Alcohol is expensive. Stock up at the duty-free store before leaving the airport.
- In Southern Iceland, there were no places to buy clothes, even basics. If you are like us and lose your luggage, make sure to pick up some clothes in Reykjavík before heading south.
- Some insurance policies cover you for rental cars but it does not always apply to international car rentals. Double-check your auto insurance before you go to avoid paying for insurance you don’t need. The Amex Platinum credit card did cover rental car damage which saved us from a hefty charge.
- Hvolsvöllur is a very small town so don’t expect much to be going on. Many places like the grocery store close earlier than you would expect.
- Check out our travel tips page for general recommendations
What we didn’t do but looked into
- On The Golden Circle, you can snorkel between the continents. This is the tour we would have gone with if we had extra time.
- One of my cousins recommended Reykjadalur Valley where you hike in and can enjoy a beverage in the natural hot river
- ATVing in Southern Iceland between two volcanoes
- Katla ice cave tour from Vik in Southern Iceland
- Whale watching (wasn’t in season)
What we packed
- Since you will be around a lot of water bring your raincoat, waterproof shoes, and a waterproof phone cover
- For exploring we wore workout/athleisure attire
- Where we went out was casual so we didn’t dress up or wear heels
- Check out our recommendations for travel clothing and essentials