A few months ago I texted my friend Rachel to tell her I was about to book my flights and ask her a silly question about what luggage I should take. When I told her where I was going and that my first stop was in Iceland she immediately replied with “I’m coming too” and about 10 minutes later we both had our flights to Reykjavik booked.
That’s where all of this began. Soon enough my days off from work were filled with researching Iceland, finding the best places to visit, booking accommodation and so on. We have just completed our road trip around the South of Iceland and it was honestly one of the best trips of my life. So, if your interested in going to Iceland, finding out what we did or just want to be a little bit nosy then I’m going to give you the low down on what we did each day. I’ll be honest it’s quite a long post, but if you are planning on going to Iceland it’s really detailed and will help you plan your own trip.
When we visited: January
Planning a trip to Iceland during winter has both its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, winter in Iceland means there is a much higher possibility of seeing the Northern Lights and visiting off-season means that prices for accommodation and rental cars etc. is also a lot cheaper than in the busier summer season. However, there is also much less daylight in Iceland during winter, dependant on which month you visit there could be as little as 4-6 hours of daylight per day. We maximised our daylight hours each day by planning to get to our first stop of the day just before sunrise.
Rental Car: 4×4 Dacia Duster
Accommodation: Reykjavik City HI Hostel and Airbnb’s around Iceland.
Staying in a hostel in Reykjavik allowed us to save a bit of money for our first night. The Airbnb’s are a great option for staying in more remote locations within Iceland. They gave us the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in the evening and we got to stay in some pretty awesome apartments. Our last one even had its own private hot tub on the rooftop and sauna; the perfect way to end our time in Iceland!
Day 1: Arrival, check in at Hostel
Driving Time: 45 minutes
Distance Travelled: 32 miles
Our flight arrived into Keflavik airport at 18:50 PM so it was already dark outside, which meant we didn’t have a plan for the night other than picking the car up, driving into Reykjavik, checking into our hostel and going out for food.
Rental Car Pick Up:
We booked our car through ‘Geysir’. It took less than an hour to get our keys, check the car over and get on the road. Make sure you have a credit card when booking a rental car in Iceland as they place a hold on your card in case any damages incur.
Our first night was spent at the Reykjavik City HI Hostel. We booked 2 beds in a 6-bed dorm, but since it was the low season the hostel wasn’t busy and we had the whole dorm to ourselves. We didn’t spend much time at the hostel since we arrived late and left early in the morning. There is a local convenience store close by where we bought some food, roughly a 5 minute walk. The kitchens had everything you would need and we made a quick meal before we went to bed and got some rest.
Day 2: Reykjavik City, Blue Lagoon, Drive to Selfoss
Driving Time: 2 hours
Distance Travelled: 94 miles
Reykjavik City Centre:
Like I said earlier daylight hours in Iceland during the winter months are limited. The sun doesn’t rise until 11am and although it will start getting lighter before then we had to make the most of our time before sunrise. For our first day in Iceland, we went to the supermarket in the morning to get a few food supplies for the following days. Staying in airbnb’s meant that we could cook our own meals in the evenings and save a bit more money. If you are thinking of doing the same, the cheaper supermarket brand is called ‘Bonus’ – it’s like the equivalent of a Lidl or Aldi in England.
We then drove and parked up in the city centre. We found a cheap parking garage but there is also lots of street parking in the city centre. Just make sure you pay at the meter and are back to your car in time, parking inspectors are quite active in Reykjavik.
The first thing we both like to do when in a new city is to get to the highest point for the views and get our bearings a little bit. In Reykjavik you can go to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja Church which has 360 degree views across the city. If you need a coffee fix and your in the area then I recommend visiting Reykjavik Roasters. Its less than a minutes walk from the church, they do great coffee and have some comfy seats by the windows.
Next, take a walk down Laugavegur street. This is the main shopping street in the city centre. There are some traditional Icelandic shops where you can check out the Icelandic jumpers, although they are quite expensive to buy. There are a fair few touristy shops too as you would expect. We walked towards the waterfront after a quick wander around some of the shops and checked out the Sun Voyager sculpture and then walked towards the Harpa concert Hall. It’s really pretty inside so make sure you check it out.
If you eat anything in Reykjavik it should definitely be a hot dog from ‘Baejarins Betzu Pylsur’. This phrase quite literally translates into ‘the best hot dog in town’. It became pretty famous after President Bill Clinton visited in 2004 and now it seems to be the place to eat whilst in Reykjavik. Ask for your hot dog with all the works on it, that’s how the locals eat it.
Our tickets were booked for 3pm which is a good time to go in the winter months when it starts to get dark at around 4:30pm. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon so take this into account when booking your tickets in advance. We had enough time to take all the pictures we wanted and enjoy the Blue Lagoon before it got dark. There are other similar places you can go instead of the Blue Lagoon such as the secret lagoon or Myvatn Nature Baths. We didn’t go to any of these so I can not personally recommend them. But we did have the best time at the Blue Lagoon and it wasn’t overcrowded as you might expect it to be. We got free face masks and a drink at the swim up bar. You can also spend as much time as you would like in the Blue Lagoon once you are inside.
Once we looked like prunes from soaking in the blue lagoon for hours we got changed and drove to our Airbnb. We chose to stay in a town called Selfoss for 2 nights. It was a good location for driving the golden circle the next day and staying outside of Reykjavik will give you a better chance of seeing the northern lights since there is less light pollution. Our Airbnb was called ‘Spirit Farm’ and I can definitelty recommend staying here. The bedrooms are really nice, you are welcome to make use of the kitchen and lounge area. They rent several rooms out in the house so it felt more like a small hostel, but its great for meeting other people too.
We had a great stay at this Airbnb and the location was perfect for exploring. Click this link if you are interested in staying here during your stay too. Also, if you are new to Airbnb then signing up via this link will give you £25 off your first home booking and give me a little something towards my next trip too.
Day 3: Golden Circle, Horses and Hotsprings
Driving Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Distance Travelled: 116 miles
Sunrise at Thingvellir National Park:
The sun doesn’t rise in Iceland in the winter until about 11am which means you don’t have to get up too early to be able to see it. The sunrises are pretty epic and you should definitely aim to be at your first stop in time to see it. It usually means driving in the dark for a little bit, but the roads are quiet and it will start to get light outside way before 11am. Our first stop was the Thingvellir National Park, we did a short hike to the Oxarfoss waterfall and then back to the car again. We timed it perfectly as when we got back the sky was like pink cotton candy.
So neither me or Rachel actually did the diving here, but it is a popular spot for people to dive/snorkel between the two tectonic plates. If you are interested in doing it then make sure to book it in advance. Overall it’s a pretty cool place to see, it’s about 10 minutes down the road from the previous stop and you get to see others braving the water even if you don’t do it yourself. There’s also a church in the area, about a 5 minute walk away. You’ll be able to see it from the car park and its a short scenic walk to get to it.
This is a famous hot spring in a geothermal area in Iceland. It’s a popular attraction for visitors driving the Golden Circle. If you have ever visited Yellowstone National Park it will definitely remind you of that. But, instead of having to wait 90 minutes for the Old Faithful Geysir at Yellowstone to erupt, this one erupts about every 6 minutes. This was good news for us because we were freezing waiting for it. We watched it erupt 3 times in total and I still didn’t manage to get a good photo. In between estimating how long until it erupts again, taking my gloves on and off trying to avoid frostbite but also trying to get a good shot it just didn’t work for me. Watching it 3 times was enough with the cold air blowing around us so we walked back to the visitor centre to warm up.
After a quick bite to eat we were back on the road and Gulfoss waterfall was our next stop. Just a 10 minute drive from Geysir it makes for the ideal next attraction. This was one of the busiest waterfalls we visited during our road trip in Iceland. Since it is located on the Golden Circle route it is visited frequently by tour buses and visitors with limited time in Iceland. Nevertheless it is still worth a visit. There are 2 viewpoints from which you can see the waterfall.
We asked someone to take a picture of the two of us and she was amazing. She got all the different angles, waited for people to move. She was everything I’ve ever wanted from a stranger taking photos of me.
You will see many horses in the fields beside the main roads whilst you are driving around Iceland. Sometimes you will be able to safely stop somewhere other times you will have to drive on. This isn’t a stop you can particularly plan for but don’t worry you will definitely see some whilst you are in Iceland. They are super friendly and photogenic! You will have a few opportunities to see them whilst driving the Golden Circle so keep looking.
Hotspings/ Secret Lagoon:
If you didn’t visit the Blue Lagoon on your first day or don’t have any plans to visit during your stay, then the secret lagoon is meant to be a good alternative. We didn’t visit the secret lagoon but you can find lots of reviews online and decide for yourself.
Instead we managed to find a small hot spring which was tucked away. We had read online about it but the location was not disclosed to ensure it doesn’t get too touristy. When we arrived it was easy to see why. The hot spring was split into two pools, one of which would fit about 6-8 people and a small more private pool that would fit no more than 2 people. When we arrived there were quite a few people there but by the time we got changed and got in the pool, most people seemed to be leaving. We got the private 2-person pool to ourselves and it was the perfect location to relax after a busy day and watch the sun go down. I also won’t disclose the location of the hot spring to respect the locals who live there and visit frequently. However, I will say that we managed to find it after a bit of private investigating online and if you seriously want to visit you should be able to find it.
Day 4: Seljalandsfoss and skogafoss
Driving Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Distance Travelled: 100 miles
Get up early in the morning and drive to this waterfall for sunrise. This was my favourite waterfall of the trip because you can actually walk up behind this waterfall. Its a very icy path in the winter and once you have climbed the stairs there isn’t a handrail to hold onto. I’m so glad Rachel was there to help me and hold on to for the trickier bits or I would have fallen over for sure. If you do walk behind this waterfall in the winter, crampons on your shoes would be best. We didn’t have any and it made it a lot harder to grip on the floor.
We visited on a cloudy day so unfortunately we did not see much of a sunrise. However, I think if the weather is good, walking behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall for sunrise is meant to be beautiful.
Your next waterfall of the day is a 25 minute drive from Seljalandsfoss. There are 2 viewing points at this waterfall. First you can get up close with the waterfall from the bottom nearest the car park. Once you have taken some pictures from here and hopefully not got too wet from the spray from the waterfall, there are some steps leading to the top. Its a lot of steps actually and I was quite tired when I got to to the top, but it was worth it for the views up there. We didn’t stay up there very long since the spray from the waterfall was quite heavy and on a cold day can make you feel even worse.
By this time the weather was getting much worse, it was cloudy, snowy and very windy. We drove to Vik which is the town located closest to our airbnb, grabbed some lunch and food for the evening, refuelled and drove another 10 minutes to our airbnb and had a chilled afternoon instead.
Black Sand Beach, Vik:
However, if the weather is still looking good for you then you have a couple of options of how to spend the rest of your day. You could either visit the Seljavallalaug hot spring which is a slight detour back the way you have just driven or you can continue forward and visit Reynisfjara, often referred to as Black Sand Beach in Vik.
Both of these are good options and we still managed to visit both of them in the following days. I will go in to more detail abut them further down this post.
Day 5: Diamond beach/ Jokulsarlon and Skaftafell
Driving Time: 5 hours
Distance Travelled: 242 miles
Diamond Beach and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon:
Okay, so today is quite a big day in terms of driving if you are choosing to stay in Vik like we did. You could stay closer to Jokulsarlon in the town of Hof but you still have to do the driving at some point. We figured we could do half of the day’s driving while it was still dark and aim to arrive at Diamond Beach in time for the sunrise. Like I said previously we maxed out our daylight hours the best we could!
Diamond Beach and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon are in the same area, just opposite each other in the Vatnajokull National Park. This was probably one of my favourite stops during our time in Iceland. The lagoon features icebergs which have broken off from the glacier; the nearby Diamond Beach is named so because the icebergs resemble large diamonds. They contrast nicely against the black sand beach and glisten in the sun. The weather was a bit overcast on the day we visited so we didn’t get to see a sunrise as such but the ‘diamonds’ still looked amazing on a cloudy day.
Seals can also be seen swimming in the lagoon, I only saw one and wasn’t really quick enough with my camera to capture it. Keep your eye out for them though because they are there.
Skaftafellsjokull Glacier and Svartifoss Waterfall:
Driving back to the town of Vik, we stopped off at the Skaftafell/ Vatnajokull National Park and did 2 hikes from the visitor centre. Firstly, we hiked 3.7km to the Skaftafellsjokull Glacier. You can only hike on the glacier if you are on a guided glacier hike and provided with the correct equipment. However, we still got amazing views of the glacier and hiked around it a little bit before returning to the visitor centre.
From the visitor centre, the Svartifoss waterfall is an additional hike in the opposite direction. It is a 1.5km hike to the waterfall and you will pass a couple of other waterfalls on the way. This was the one hike I was hesitant to do during our time in Iceland, and only because I was hungry and didn’t want to delay eating any longer. However, after talking to a couple of others who had just done the hike at the visitor centre (and seeing their pictures) we decided we had to do the hike and I’m so glad I did. It is a relatively easy hike- only made harder by my own hunger. Svartifoss was a beautiful waterfall though, and also much quieter than any of the others we had been to. Most likely because there was a bit of effort involved getting to it, whereas other more popular waterfalls are more easily accessible. If you are in this area of Iceland I would highly recommend this hike to Svartifoss waterfall.
Day 6: Solheimasandur Plane Wreck and Seljavallalaug Pool
Driving Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Distance Travelled: 151 miles
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck Sunrise Hike:
We got up early this morning and drove about 10 minutes to the car park from our airbnb to the site where this hike begins. When we arrived at the car park there was only one other car there. The signs at the beginning of the hike said it was over 7km there and back and takes between 3-4 hours. It took us a bit less than 1 hour each way, so either myself and Rachel are super speedy or the signs are a little exaggerated. My guess is a little bit of both. I do remember we walked fairly fast towards the plane to ensure we had as much of the sunrise time to take all the pictures we wanted.
So, if you are also planning to get there for sunrise then I would give yourself an hour to walk there and you should be fine. It’s a pretty flat walk too so nothing too strenuous for the morning. Getting there for sunrise was definitely our best idea. Not only was the lighting beautiful but it was also really quiet because funnily enough not too many people want to get up for sunrise. There was a lot more people walking towards the plane crash site when we were on our return journey. It was also much easier to take pictures without having to wait for people to move out of your shot.
Black Sand Beach/ Reynisfjara:
So this stop actually goes back in the direction of Vik where you are probably coming from on this morning. However, it’s not that far back and if you haven’t had time to visit yet, or the weather hasn’t been on your side like for us then go now! Going back there when the sun was still in that post sunrise glowing stage was spectactular. The way the sun reflects on the black sand is unique and you can see yourself from the pictures that it is stunning.
Again, this stop is completely optional. We decided to briefly visit this waterfall again since it was on our route back anyway. The weather was holding up a lot better than when we visited a few days ago and it was nice to see it with blue skies and even a rainbow.
Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool:
If by this point you have done any research at all into natural hot springs in Iceland, this one has probably come up. Although not technically a hot spring, more of a geothermally heated swimming pool. The location of this pool is truly amazing. It is hidden in the middle of the mountains and from the car park is about a 15 minute hike. You do have to clamber over a couple of streams but with the help of each other we managed to do it.
The one thing I wish we had known before visiting is because the pool is so large in the winter months it doesn’t actually get that hot. It was a lukewarm temperature still, but we found the tiny spot in the corner where the hot water came in from and hung out there. We were pretty much hugging the corner of this massive pool to stay warm so it probably looked rather strange to other people as they walked up and saw us.
*On this map the location is marked as ‘Raufarfellsvegur’ because Google Maps doesn’t recognise a road which leads to the car park. It is a gravel road so just remember to take it slow so you don’t cause any damage to your rental car.*