This Iceland travel blog post has sat in our drafts for a month because we haven’t come to terms with the fact that our trip to Iceland is actually over. For a trip that only lasted three days, this one is lingering incredibly long. The magic of the country, with a population smaller than our Los Angeles neighborhood, is seen on a surface-level through its Hobbit-like rolling green hills and milky blue hot springs. You’ll notice that the small Icelandic towns feel more like fishing villages and farm towns than the utopian Björkville you may have pictured in your mind. Speaking of Björk, our expectations of Icelandic musical taste expanded from experimental electro to bangin’ Icelandic hip hop like JóiPé and Birnir, artists that are still topping off our Most Played playlist despite not knowing one word in Icelandic.
What surprised us most was that even with only three days in Iceland (and having done very little research), we managed to have the adventure we were looking for, and all for a $150 flight from the East Coast of the United States. In other words, now’s the time to shut up and go to Iceland. These are our tips for your trip.
Rent a car
First off, rent a car. It’s $40-50 per day, and you’ll want to explore the mountains and waterfalls you pass along the way. We skipped the main touristic route, The Golden Circle, and opted for the second most touristic route, the Ring Road. It’s the main “highway” road that does the loop of Iceland. Make sure to use the under-bumper mirrors to check your rental car before leaving the rental car facility; Some gravel roads in Iceland are bumpy and/or have pot holes, meaning your car will bounce and up and down, and I promise you the slightest, and I mean slightest scratch or chip, even if it’s under the front bumper, will cost you $402. True story. $402. Imagine us at the car rental counter making a scene. Still fighting the car rental facility on this one.
Ok. So. You’re not flying into Reykjavik. The airport is located 45 minutes away in a town called Keflavik, but nonetheless it takes only one road, and a few roundabouts to get to and from each city. In fact, that’s a pretty general rule about anywhere in Iceland. Make sure to stop along one of the even smaller towns along the way. We chose Sufistinn, a very “local” (there were zero tourists in this town) Icelandic café, where a carrot and coconut soup and flat white was $18. Yep, that’s “just how it is” in Iceland.
We stayed at this AirBNB that was only a few blocks away from Reykjavik Roasters – another café we would have checked out had we decided to spend more than two seconds in the city. You can eat at, what seemed like the main tourist restaurant near the main square, Café Loki, which is what we did – but only cuz it was the only other restaurant open besides a Thai place – and you know how we feel about doing Thai in a place like Iceland. Who are we kidding – we’d be the first to eat Thai anywhere. If you’re trying to eat in Iceland on a budget, seriously stick to the gas stations and supermarkets like Bonus or Kronin. It’ll still be more expensive than you’re used to, but at least your meat soup or cheese and marmalade bagel won’t be roughly $15. For more information on just how broke you can go, watch our video All The Times We Went Broke In Iceland.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
Park your car and hike one hour (on a paved path) through the rolling green hills to arrive at a natural hot spring where locals and tourists are all bathing. Yeah, it smells like you just awkwardly walked into the bathroom after someone just..ok we won’t go all the way there, but if you plug your nose, you can really focus on the incredible views. Reykjadalur was more scenic and completely free, which is why we liked this better than the Secret Lagoon. Do this.
The Secret Lagoon is the cheaper, yet still expensive ($27) alternative to the Blue Lagoon, where the minimum ticket costs $60. We didn’t visit the Blue Lagoon due to the fact that all the tickets were sold out. Ok, and also cuz it was $60. The Secret Lagoon doesn’t have the iconic blue milky water, but it’s still a sight to see. Not to mention, they allow alcohol as well. Who knew gin and grape would be my new drink?
Secret Lagoon claims to have a geysir that erupts every five minutes, and I mean, they do, but it’s nothing that should make you choose this lagoon over another, as it was pretty uneventful.
Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss
Just so we’re clear, Foss means waterfall. You’ll pass waterfalls all along Ring Road (and possibly the Golden Circle?), although some have no access points. One thing no one else seemed to mention when researching Iceland travel blogs was how the sunlight is key when it comes to seeing the beauty of the country – exactly why we named our other Iceland blog, Things No One Tells You About Iceland.
We first rolled up on Seljalandsfoss (so many opportunities for typos when typing these foreign names) at 9pm, which was so damn scary, and yet so damn majestic at the same time. We saw a total of one man, who appeared from behind the waterfall, which was also so damn scary, and yet also so damn majestic at the same time.
We decided to go back to see the waterfall in broad daylight, but what we didn’t realize was that the sunlight was rising from the wrong side, making the waterfall appear pretty dark for your typical amateur photographer. From your above average photographer, you’ll be looking at a silhouetted waterfall. Taking the sunlight into consideration when thinking about your sights to see is key if you’re looking to take some nice photos. And if you really couldn’t care less about snapping the perfect pic, go at any time and you’ll be impressed. What’s also impressive is the path that has been created, allowing you to walk behind the waterfall and seeing it with all of its force.
We never made it to Skógafoss, but we managed to catch a glimpse from the car window from the Ring Road. Seljalandsfoss looked bigger and better, but comparing the beauty of waterfalls seems like a pretty petty thing to do. Go to both if you have time!
The Northern Lights
It’s not often I land in a country and have one thing on my to-do list, but Iceland was the exception. I knew the mountains would be beautiful and the natural springs would be warm, but the thing that made Iceland unique to me was the likelihood of catching the Northern Lights. Because we planned our trip during the fall season, sunrise and sunset were at “normal” hours, as opposed to long hours of daylight in the summer, and short hours of daylight in the winter – the latter being great for witnessing the Northern Lights.
If it weren’t for our friend Paige who was consistently tracking the strength of the solar winds at 10:45pm via this site, we would have continued spending the night editing YouTube videos and we would have completely missed the fact that the lights were happening outside our window. The Northern Lights appeared less like lights and more like green alien beams through the sky, at times appearing as strong streaks of what looked like green spray-paint and at other times faint streaks that you may mistake as polluted clouds. Using a site like the one above will give you the times you should head outside to witness the lights, instead of totally wasting your time hoping for them to appear. We managed to catch them twice for five minutes each and I think we were the only ones screaming out of excitement the entire time – guess we wouldn’t know since we were isolated in a farm town of five farm houses that we’re still questioning if people even lived in.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a green canyon that is straight from your laptop’s desktop wallpaper. The canyon itself is impressive and is totally that pic that probably made you want to go to Iceland in the first place. The only thing is: it takes about three hours to get here from the Secret Lagoon, and on a real level, there isn’t much to do besides admire the beauty (which is great too), so driving an extra few hours away from other destinations is something to consider. If you’re driving a lot of the Ring Road loop, of course stop by, but if you’re crunched for time, I would have stuck to more adventure-based activities.
When we read on the internet that it takes nearly two hours round-trip to walk to and from this abandoned plane wreck from the 1970s, we brushed it off, but no, it literally takes nearly two hours, even if you speed-walk like a stepmom at a high-school track. Walking out to the crash site, you’ll feel like you’re walking on a desolate planet with nothing but black sand and rocks. No fidget spinners, no tourist attractions, no one. You actually walk so far out that to the crash site you can no longer see your car. Definitely a great way to get your 10,000 steps in after so much time road tripping in the car.
Once we arrived at the plane, I personally was expecting a commercial jet, but you’ll see it’s really more of a smaller aircraft – or maybe that’s just because it looks like half of it is missing. We, like everyone else who was there, explored inside the wreckage which was both intriguing and twisted that you’re witnessing a legitimate plane “crash” (that fortunately everyone survived).
3 Days in Iceland: what tips do you have?