I visited Iceland in November 2016, we had 6 hours of sunlight per day (10am – 4pm) although it doesn’t sound like much we found that it was the perfect amount providing we set out before to watch the sunrise, we would then watch the sun set in another location and head back to Reykjavik for some dinner. We used the maps.me app to help navigate us around the island, as well as help us find nearby restaurants/toilets etc.
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We found the perfect little studio apartment on Air Bnb right in the centre of Reykjavik, a 2 minute walk from the main Street (Laugavegur). It slept the four of us comfortably with a double bed and double sofa bed, we also had a lovely balcony all for £130 per person for four nights! Our host Anna was very laid back and flexible with checking in/out times.
You absolutely MUST hire a car, it is so much more cost effective than booking the organised tours that run from Reykjavik (these can be hundreds of £’s per person) and it gives you the FREEDOM to stop off wherever you like and spend as much time as you wish in each place. Our car cost us £40 each for the whole trip through Budget cars, we found this price on Travel Supermarket comparison site and it worked out great for us. This price included full insurance, they do require someone with a credit card to take a deposit for the car in case of any damages and we also paid a small fee to have an extra driver. Parking is very cheap in Reykjavik, if not free if you drive 5 minutes out from the centre, however in most pay and display car parks they only ask you to pay between 9am – 6pm (we were out driving between these times so actually never had to pay for parking).
Alcohol is very expensive in Iceland so if you are planning on drinking or partying I would recommend stocking up at the Airport’s duty free shop when you arrive at the airport, you will save A LOT of money.
We had previously decided that we would make our own lunch and breakfast because we had heard the prices were high in Iceland (the rumours aren’t exaggerated), this decision actually helped us a lot with budgeting and not spending crazy amounts, we also often didn’t have time to stop and find somewhere to eat because we were too busy sight seeing! However, most of the attractions do have cafes and small coffee shops with snacks if needed! We often bought a hot drink to warm ourselves up. Bonus Supermarkets are the cheapest to visit so we stocked up with supplies for breakfast and lunch for the 5 days and decided we would eat dinner out as a treat.
We managed to fit in a crazy amount of sight seeing and exciting things in the space of 5 days! Here is a list of all the places and things I would definitely recommend! –
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK
TE & KAFFI
On our first day we were extremely tired from our 3am wake up, so we decided it was the perfect day to walk around Reykjavik and get our barings. We ate a lovely lunch in one of their coffee shop chains on the main street (Laugavegur) called TE & KAFFI – my Chai Latte was perfect and we all had delicious fresh bagels with a choice of fillings!
After dropping the shopping from the supermarket back to the apartment we then went to a cool bar/restaurant called Apotek for some half price happy hour drinks (this made the cocktails much more affordable which were otherwise £20 each). The bar area had a really cool vibe great for some chilled drinks.
A little retro burger joint on Laugavegur, you have to walk through a bar to get to it, it is just a small room with awesome retro decor. It is very reasonably priced for a decent sized burger, chips and a drink (around £12) which is perfect if you are looking for some quick grub.
On our first full day after a long days sight seeing we were excited to get back to Reykjavik and have some dinner. The Geysir Bistro was right next door to our apartment, which was very convenient, we had also seen that is was very busy/popular the evening before so decided we would try it out. The prices were similar to all of the restaurant in the city (£30 – £40 for a main meal) this may seem very expensive compared to England but the food was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t fault it. I had the traditional Icelandic lamb dish and it was amazing!
Kex bar is a hidden gem! Inside the Kex hostel on the sea front in Reykjavik, walk through the front door and up to the first floor into this cool, hipster bar. It is decorated like an old library, I definitely recommend visiting for a couple of drinks.
SUDUR VIK RESTAURANT
We stopped off at Sudur Vik Restaurant on our way back from visiting the Glacier lagoon on our finally full day in Iceland. We searched on our maps.me app for restaurants on our route back home and found this little gem! I would recommend stopping off here if you are visiting the black sand beach because it is very close by. It first looks like someones house, it has a very cosy vibe and the food was lovely. We all had starters and mains and didn’t have a bad thing to say about it!
THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
ÞINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
On our first morning in Iceland we set off at 9am in the car and headed toward the Golden Circle. On our way the sun started to rise and we passed a lay-by with an amazing view of Thingvellir/Þingvellir National Park, so we pulled over and got some amazing pictures of the sunrise, one of the most beautiful i’ve ever seen! We were very lucky to have clear skies on our first morning because it was too cloudy to see sunrise for the rest of the holiday.
We then drove further around the national park and stopped off where you can see the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, this was such an awesome thing to see!, the views from here are incredible! It was 400krona for a parking pass for the day (around £3) you can use this in all the Þingvellir parking.
(Free to park) Next stop on the golden circle was the Geysers; Geysir and Strokkur. These are erupting springs of hot water and steam heated up by the volcano, they only exist in a few places on earth and are a very rare phenomenon. It was a great thing to witness, the Geysir goes off around twice per day (we didn’t see this erupt) however the second one, Strokkur, erupts around every 6 minutes. Be aware that the smell of the sulphur is very strong, so prepare yourself for the eggy smell! You will get used to the smell after a while, even the hot water smells of it slightly. You can choose to stand anywhere around the Geysers, it was fun to stand in the spray zone!
Gulfosss is another stop on the golden circle, it is a huge beautiful waterfall, it is definitely worth seeing! We saw lots of waterfalls during our trip but this is by far the biggest!
To end our trip for the day we decided to drive and see the Hekla Volcano, without thinking we drove towards it and realised it looked like any other mountain, to get close to it you have to hike and at -6 degrees the weather was not on our side for that. Luckily after driving a long way to see it, we saw on our maps.me app that we were very close to a hot pool (something that was on our list of things to do, we wanted to get in as many naturally heated hot springs/pools throughout the holiday). So we drove to the hot pool and only two of us were brave enough to get in but it was an amazing experience to be in a naturally warm pool while it was below freezing outside!
REYKJADALUR HOT SPRING
On day two we set out in a different direction and first stopped off at this famous hot spring. We parked in the car park at the bottom and hiked up towards the steaming stream. The water was lovely and warm even at the bottom of the stream, and if you hike up towards the top there were bubbling hot pools (these are 80-100 degrees celsius so be careful). What made this even better is that we were the only people around for miles, it was very peaceful and stunning to explore.
This massive volcanic crater was great to visit and walk around, you can walk all the way around the top and there are also steps that take you down to the bottom. These steps were extremely icy so be careful if you are visiting in winter, it is definitely worth the trip down to the bottom though! It costs 400krona per person for entry so make sure you take your time and get your monies worth!
Another part of the Þingvellir national park, Silfra is the area where you can snorkel or dive between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to snorkel, it is also quite pricey! But it was great to watch people get into the freezing cold water.
Make sure you book the Blue Lagoon in advance, this is something we didn’t do until the day we arrived in Reykjavik and unfortunately we didn’t have much choice on time slots. The blue lagoon is a famous geothermal spa and people have been bathing in these baths for many years, the water and silica mud mask it said to be very good for skin especially if you suffer from psoriasis. We originally wanted to go for sunrise but there was nothing available before 6pm any day we were there. So we had to go for a 6pm slot – we ended up arrived at 5pm and they let us in early so it was great that we were able to enjoy the extra hour. It was lovely to be swimming and relaxing in the warm pools while it was snowing outside, however, it would’ve been even better to see it properly in the light so I would definitely recommend booking a sunrise slot if there is one available (to see it in both darkness and daylight).
We purchased the comfort package (the second cheapest at 55 Euros) this includes; entrance, a silica mud mask, algae mask, towel, and first drink of your choice. It was great and well worth the money, saved us taking our own towels and my skin felt amazing after using both masks. They give you a wristband on entry which you scan if you want to buy and food or drinks once in the pools and you pay on the way out.
My favourite waterfall of the holiday. It was extremely icy and difficult to get close to but once up close you would catch the spray on your face, in the warmer months you are also able to walk around the back of the waterfall however the pathway was too iced over when we visited. The perfect place for some amazing photos! Along a 100 metre stretch of road there are around 3 or 4 waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss being the biggest. There is also a gift shop and cafe here!
A little bit further along from Seljalandsfoss is a hidden waterfall, the surroundings are pretty with a little cave in the hill. You will see people climbing to get a proper glimpse of the waterfall or climbing around the stream.
Another famous waterfall, another great photo opportunity. Food, toilets and gift shops all here as well!
VIK BLACK SAND BEACH AND REYNISFJARA
The Black Sand Beach restaurant looked like the perfect place for lunch with an amazing view across the beach, unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop for long as we stopped off here on our way to the Glacier lagoon and we were on a time schedule if we were to arrive at the Glaciers before sunset. I would definitely recommend making time to visit this if possible! The black sand beach, the basalt formations and Hálsanefshellir caves are all beautiful, the way the rock has formed is stunning! It is a very peaceful place listening to the waves crash and taking in all the amazing scenery. You will catch a lot of people climbing the rock formation seeing who can climb the highest for the best photo!
Jökulsárlón GLACIER LAGOON
Possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! Visiting this glacier lagoon is an absolute MUST, it is a long drive from Reykjavik, (4hours and 40mins) but we stopped off on the way to break up the journey and the trip was SO WORTH IT! It is an incredible thing to witness and so difficult to describe its beauty, I wish we had more hours of sunlight while we were there because it was getting dark by the time we arrived there. There are two places you can park to see this – the South Panoramic View and slightly further along there is a second car park with a cafe in it – head to the second one because the view is much better from here!
On our last day we had a few hours to kill before leaving for the airport so we decided to do the famous view from the top of the Hallgrímskirkja church. It is 900 krona per person for a ticket to the top of the church. It was extremely windy when we got to the top so we didn’t spend much time up there but the view was lovely and we had to tick it off the list! We had a wander round the church on our way back down and lit a candle for our loved ones.
CHRISTMAS AND SOUVENIR SHOPS
To pass the final couple of hours we went and wandered round the shops and got some souvenirs. I bought a couple of cute baubles from the Christmas shop on Laugavegur road. You will find that most of the shops are selling the same sort of stuff so its not really worth going round all of them! If you are visiting over a Saturday or Sunday be sure to visit the flea market on the sea front by the concert hall for some bargains!
MY FAVOURITE THING about Iceland is that you can be driving down a road and want to pull over almost all the time because everything you drive past it so beautiful! Here are some pictures I took just from stopping off randomly in the car;
TIP – Make sure you have change with you at all times when you are visiting the sights, although the majority is free they WILL charge you to use the toilets!
ONE REGRET – After our first full day in Iceland it was lovely clear skies and we had planned to drive and see if we could see the Northern Lights. When we got back to Reykjavik we were going to eat dinner and then leave again – we decided that we were too tired to get back in the car after eating dinner and convinced ourselves that it wasn’t guaranteed that we we would see them anyway. This was a HUGE mistake, we saw the day after that the Northern Lights were out in full force and we didn’t get another chance to see them because the skies were overcast every evening after!