Iceland: forged from fire and ice, home to giants and elves and land of the midnight sun. It’s a land of stark contradictions but somehow they all co-exist to make for one beautiful place unlike anywhere else on earth. There’s a lot to see and experience in Iceland but keep in mind everything is expensive so plan on spending a nice chunk of change. We had a hard time planning our trip for a number of reasons but one of them being lack of quickly digested information. Since we were lucky enough to see a lot during our time there we wanted to help others experience this amazing country without running into the same problem so we made a short helpful guide of our top tips. Enjoy!
Excursion: Icelandic Horse Back Riding
Description: Whether you’re used to birthday party pony rides or are an experienced equestrian, riding the Icelandic horse is something not to be passed over. There are numerous tours available all over the country and they will cater to any skill level. What makes riding them especially epic? The Icelandic Horse has a gait ( way of walking) that no other horse on earth has called the tolt. It’s somewhere between a trot and canter but way smoother. Add that to the fact you’re riding through 7,000 year old lava fields and by active volcanoes to make for one epic experience.
Top Tips: If you enjoy riding horses, this is a must! If you aren’t a huge outdoor person you might wanna skip because it’s a go rain or shine and you will get dirty. Don’t bring anything with you that has been in contact with other horses outside of Iceland as national law prohibits bringing in anything that could spread disease to the native breed. Make sure to take a lucky horseshoe with you (if your tour offers them).
Cost: $116.50 USD per person which includes hotel pickup and drop off.
Excursion: Golden Circle Tour
Description: The Golden Circle is a road looping from Reykjavik, past three of Iceland's most popular sights; Thingvellir national park Gullfoss waterfall, and Geysir geothermal area then circling back to the city. It may seem like a lot to do in one shot but all three places are easily visited in the same day without feeling like you missed out or skipped something just to cram it all in.
Top TIps: A rain coat, hiking boots and great camera are essential for this day trip. See if you can spot the drowning pit at Thingvellir and if looking to dive the Silfra fissure make sure you’re dry suit certified. When at Geysir watching the eruptions make sure you stand with the wind at your back and don’t forget to get some lunch cooked using one of the Geysir geothermal pits. Gullfoss is one powerful fall so this is where the hiking boots come in handy as there is no barrier between you and it...except a rope.
Website: We booked through the wedding planners website. There's plenty of self guided maps and a bunch of other tours depending on your budget.
Cost: $125.00 USD per person for a private group bus tour of just us wedding guests.
Excursion: The Blue Lagoon, Krýsuvík, Kleifarvatn
Description: Krýsuvík is an expansive geothermal area on the way to the Blue Lagoon. You will see every color of the rainbow in the geological structures here. Kleifarvatn is the largest lake in the Reykjanes Peninsula region and has amazing black sand beaches surrounded by steep, volcanic cliffs. The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s top attraction and the result of runoff from the geothermal plant next door, not a naturally occurring spring. The gorgeous blue water is rich in minerals and has a lot of benefits for those suffering with skin conditions.
Top Tips: Krýsuvík smells strongly like a mix of old eggs and sulfur but it’s worth suffering through the smell to see. Bonus points if you make it to the top for its 360 ocean and mountain views. The Blue Lagoon waters are incredibly beneficial for skin but your hair will turn to straw if you let it touch the water. Make sure to leave conditioner in and that your locks are in a tight bun before your soak. Also it’s about 45 minutes from Reykjavik so make sure if you’re taking a tour transportation is included.
Cost: Krýsuvík and Kleifarvatn are free. The Blue Lagoon will run $60.00 USD and up.
Excursion: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Glacier Beach, Vik Black Sand Beach
Description: The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon started to form in 1934 when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, the largest glacier in Iceland, started to retreat in the area. It’s unique in that the lagoon feeds right into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1956 the size of the lagoon was 4.5 square kilometers. Today, the size of the lagoon is estimated to be around 25 square kilometers and it’s getting larger each year as nearly 500 square meters of ice break off the glacier...thanks global warming. You can walk around the lagoon and there’s different tour options available as well. After visiting the lagoon you’re going to want to to walk the black sand beaches sprinkled with icebergs the size of minivans directly across the street. More west in the small town of Vik you’ll find more beautiful black sand beaches that are flanked by giant cliffs made of pillar looking rock formations.
Top Tips: If you only take one tour in Iceland make it at Jökulsárlón and I’d highly recommend a zodiac boat tour. Also, look out for seals here as they come to feed in the rich waters. Vik’s black sand beaches are usually pretty full of tourists but it is still not to be missed. While there take the warnings for sneaker waves seriously and stay a good distance away from the breaking surf. Bonus points if visiting Vik during the summer and you spot puffins.
Cost: The boat tour will run $95.00 USD per person and up. Everything else is free.
Excursion: Dyrhólaey, Hidden Waterfall, Hveragerdi Hot Spring
Description: Dyrhólaey is an arched rock formation about half an hours ride outside of Vik and worth the quick stop. The Hidden Waterfall is located right by the more famous Skógafoss Waterfall. This is off the beaten path so make sure you’re in relatively good shape. To get to the Hveragerdi Hot Spring it’s about an hours hike almost exclusively uphill. There’s no showers or bathrooms or swim up bar like the blue lagoon so bring what you'll need with you (bathing suit, towels, beers etc) but once you finally arrive you’ll find that the extra work was worth it to soak in the babbling brooks completely immersed in nature.
Top Tips: Early morning is best for viewing the powerful scene at Dyrhólaey. The Hidden Waterfall isn't a long hike but if there was rain a walking stick may come in handy because some of the hills are pretty steep. At the Hveragerdi Hot Spring the first 20-40 minutes of your hike you’ll be swarmed by bugs. They don’t bite or sting but they will get in your mouth, ears, nose, pretty much anywhere they can fit. I’d recommend wearing a face sock and hat so they can’t.
Where to Stay: Hotels, Hostels and Camper Vans
If only staying exclusively in Reykjavik for a few days I would recommend staying at the Castle House Luxury Apartments because they're clean, spacious and almost each unit has its own small kitchen so you can cook a few meals to keep things cheap. They have three different locations so make sure you book a room at the Castle location if you'd like to be close to city center otherwise you might end up spending a fair amount on cabs.
If you're touring, I'd recommend renting a camper van from Happy Campers. This camper van company might not be the cheapest but you get a lot the other companies charge for and they don't nickel and dime you to death. Even if you're thinking you'd like to just drive and then rent hotels or stay in hostels this might be a great backup because plans change and hotels or hostels lose reservations. Also, the vans run on diesel not petrol which means you're going to get the most bang for your buck at the pump as they're actually pretty great on gas. We drove around for 4 days and would top off the tank here and there but combined I think it equals to completely filling the tank once. Keep in mind that no matter what time of year there will be camp ground open and for about $30 USD a night its a steal compared to the typical hotel room.
Top Tips: Triple check your location if booking a hotel. Even though it might be warm, the weather changes every hour and you can find yourself paying a lot for taxis to get out of the bad weather(seriously this happened to us, learn from our mistake).
If renting a camper van, you might want to bring an extra blanket because it gets really cold at night. Many of the campgrounds have a common area that will let you bring your grill into so you can cook dinner even if the weather is crap. Happy Campers had an area for stuff you could take for free that was left by other travelers which was amazing. Also, if you're even a kind of light sleeper, bring ear plugs. If it starts raining at night you will hear every drop. Lastly, don't forget to pack external phone batteries and a USB car charger!
Websites: http://hotelsiceland.net/ https://happycampers.is/
Long story short Iceland is an amazing place with adventures to be had by everyone. Try to go in between seasons, like during the months of March or September to get lower rates but not the freezing cold. You're going to have to plan your dream trip then also plan a backup trip because its a wild country and roads can be blocked by floods, ice or sheep. And seriously invest in warm clothes, great hiking boots and solid rain gear to make the most of your epic adventure. To commemorate the trip check out our Northern Lights limited editions.