In January, I went to Iceland with my best friend and my sister-in-law. We rented a car and headed on a 5-day road trip across the South Coast.
As I’m always the person in charge of planning for these trips (partly because I enjoy it, partly because of control issues), I started gathering as much information as I could to make the best of the short amount time we had. It took me weeks to come up with an itinerary that worked for us – so here it is: all of my hard work – for you.
Undoubtedly the most famous spot in all of Iceland, the hefty entry cost is well worth the experience. The Blue Lagoon offers a surreal experience like no other. Going here during the winter allows you to be there for sunrise (10-11am), while also experiencing the beautifully eerie fog that forms above the hot water due to the freezing local temperatures.
To see my full review of the Blue Lagoon, go here.
I was really excited to go to Seljalandsfoss because of the many Instagram pictures I had seen of people standing directly behind the waterfall. However, turns out that in winter it is very difficult/impossible to get back there, so we had to settle for looking at this beautiful work of nature from the ground (aw, shucks!). Nevertheless, this is still an amazing sight, and it’s completely free to visit.
To be fair, we didn’t climb the volcano or anything. After doing some research, I found the best spot to see Eyjafjallajökull was from Þorvaldseyri. You can park on the side of the road and get an awesome view of the volcano. It’s a huge stretch of open land (like most of Iceland), so it’s a perfect spot to stop and have a picnic if the weather is pleasant (and hope the volcano doesn’t erupt).
We stayed at a tiny hotel at the foot of this waterfall and it was incredible. The waterfall is 197 feet of pure beauty. There are stairs you can take to get to the top, but be warned – it’s EXHAUSTING (did I mention the thing is 197 feet tall?). If you can make it all the way up, the view will quickly make you forget you just climbed a million steps. There’s actually a small metal platform you can go on that hangs off of the edge of the cliff! This spot gets pretty crowded, so its best to go early in the morning. There is plenty of free parking and a few restaurants in the area.
Where we stayed: Hotel Skogafoss | Pros: View, Cozy, Friendly Staff, Restaurant | Cons: None
Vik Fishing Village
This adorable little village is the largest settlement in this area, with a whopping population of 318. I’m not kidding when I say most “villages” we saw while driving around consisted of maybe 10 houses total. Despite its small size, Vik has a lot to offer. There are quite a few hotel and restaurant options in the area, as well as convenience stores and gas stations. While here, make sure to go up the hill to the world-famous Vík í Mýrdal church. Although the building itself is not uncommon (we must’ve seen 3 or 4 churches that looked very similar, one is right outside of Vik), the fact that this one is set on top of a hill overlooking the village and the beach makes it super special!
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Holy. Crap. Go here. Just go.
This beach was not voted one of the Top 10 Beaches in the World by National Geographic for no reason. The black sand is incredibly unique. The waves in the winter were GIANT. The rock formations all around the beach are unbelievably intricate. Do yourself a favor and include this stop in your itinerary.
This was by far one of the best sights we saw during this entire trip. From the free parking lot, you have to walk up a slightly inclined path all the way to the viewing platform – maybe a 5-minute walk. It’s really not bad, but in Iceland, they don’t seem to care much about keeping tourist walkways free of ice, so the easy walk becomes a little more difficult. Everyone was falling, everyone was laughing, and once we got to the top, everyone was mesmerized. This is a beautiful canyon and very worth a few slippery minutes of hiking. Fun Fact: I didn’t know this at the time, but I guess Justin Bieber filmed one of his videos here?
This is a giant glacier you can explore. The hike from the parking lot to the actual glacier is about 15 minutes, but it’s a very easy, scenic, and well-kept path and not icy at all. When you arrive at the end of the path, you can see endless amounts of ice in all directions. I believe they also offer paid hikes that go on the actual ice, but we didn’t do that. We just walked around on safe land and took a few pictures.
This, for me, is enough reason alone to go back to Iceland. We arrived here at sunset and I may or may not have cried a little bit. Jökulsárlón is what remains of a glacier, much of which has melted and continues to melt. It is also the deepest lake in all of Iceland, at 250 meters deep.
When we got here, the sky was all cotton-candy like, and you could see its reflection in the icy waters of the Lagoon. Giant ice rocks floated about, and seals were swimming around. It was like a scene from a fantasy movie. I have never seen anything like it before. If you can, I highly recommend going at sunset in the winter time. The water in the lagoon acts as a mirror and reflects all of the pretty colors in the sky.
Where we stayed: Vagnsstaðir HI Hostel | Pros: Friendly Staff, Free Breakfast | Cons: None
Day 4 – Golden Circle
Kerið Crater Lake
I had seen photos of this crater lake in the Summer and was very excited to see it in person. However, in Winter, it is underwhelming. The whole thing is covered in ice and snow and it all blends into one. As my sister-in-law put it as we first looked downhill at the lake, which was covered in ice: “What’s the difference between a crater and the bottom of a hill?” None, Jessie. There is none.
This area actually has a few geysers, but the main one is called The Great Geysir. It goes off every 10 minutes or so, so you don’t have to worry about missing it. The spot was crowded with tourists, and the Geysir itself was pretty cool – if you enjoy watching water coming out of the ground. Not one of the most amazing sights I saw during the trip, but not the worst.
Ugh. This was the most disappointing sight of our entire trip. I think this may be the most famous waterfall in Iceland, and I had seen so many photos of it. But when we got up there it was just…meh.
The parking lot is right by where the viewing points are, so there is no hiking involved. We went in the afternoon and the whole place was crowded with tourists. I mean CROWDED. Like, impossible to get a good photo crowded. The actual waterfall was fine. It’s really pretty, but just not as overwhelmingly beautiful as other ones we had seen. I get really turned off when places are really touristy, so maybe I am a bit biased.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the Golden Circle sights. But due to its proximity to Reykjavik, it’s worth seeing if you’re short on time. For more detailed information, check out this post: Why You Should Skip Iceland’s Golden Circle
Where we stayed: This AirBNB | Pros: Location, Entire Apartment | Cons: Bathroom was a bit small
Day 5 – Reykjavik
On our last day in Iceland, we explored the capital. The city itself is very lively, with lots of options for food and entertainment. The locals are very friendly (we even made some friends!). Since it was winter, I am glad we had a car – but it seemed really easy to get around on foot as well.
Food: Food in Iceland is EXTREMELY expensive. I was told by one of the restaurant staff they have a 25% tax on prepared foods. If you count that on top of the fact that they mainly have to outsource most fresh food items, it all makes sense. On our last day, after eating sandwiches for 4 days, we decided to splurge on some Icelandic food. We went over to Sweet Pig to try two of Iceland’s local delicacies: Whale and Puffin. In case you were wondering, they are both delicious.
Where we stayed: : KEX Hostel Reykjavik| Pros: Location, Cool Lobby/Bar, Price | Cons: Shared bathrooms
At the end of our trip, while we were excited to come back to our Californian warm winter, I think we all left with a bit of sadness as well. We knew we were going to miss the Icelandic cold breeze, the miles and miles of nothingness, the ridiculously expensive food, the friendly people, and yes, even the Hidden Folk. Have you been to Iceland? Is it somewhere you’d like to visit? Tell me your thoughts on the places mentioned in this post.