Iceland and its majestic mystery had gravitated to the top of my travel list. After having covered most of Europe before my late 20’s, that little Nordic island in the Norwegian Sea was ‘calling’ me.
Other-worldly landscapes, that famous Blue Lagoon and those stunning Icelandic wild horses – this is one of the few places I’ve seen bypass its stereotypes… in all the good ways.
I only left disappointed about one thing… missing the Northern Lights, but that was Mother Nature’s call. No tour guide can guarantee to witness natural spectacles like that.
Stay open-minded and ready for the adventures that await you.
Iceland is packed full of adventure.
Decide how many days you’ll need
Iceland isn’t a place to want to rush around in. There’s a certain pace that travellers take. It’s less about hopping from attraction-to-attraction, but rather, immersing yourself in the country. While there will certainly be spots where you have to go early (the Blue Lagoon, for example), but most days you won’t need more than a map in your hands.
First, determine how long you’ll have in Iceland. This will help you craft your (loose) itinerary. The great thing is, most visitors follow the same route – anti-clockwise around the island. It’s a popular stop-over destination, so many travellers spend a couple of days on the ‘Golden Circle’ – a 300km route, peppered with geysers, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains… starting and finishing in Reykjavik.
Other adventurers take their time, taking the road that weaves around the entire island. To do this right, you’ll need a good 10 days.
You’ll need at least a week and a half to see Iceland.
Make a list of the attractions you want to see
Another way to map out your trip is by destinations, not timing. Make a list of the attractions you cannot miss. While the Northern Lights first put Iceland on my radar, I also wanted to swim in the Blue Lagoon, feel the splashback from one of those towering waterfalls, walk on a glacier, and hike to that historic Navy plane ‘skeleton’ ruin.
When you’re planning your trip, start by listing what you want to do.
The Golden Circle
Most of these sights were in and around the circumference of the Golden Circle. The abandoned DC plane required an adventurous spirit and backpackers’ ‘Chinese whispers’ to locate. The wreckage can be found on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the islands centre, on the way to the famous glaciers on the east coast.
Although these two sights added another 1.5 days onto my trip, it’s what I remember the most. Take Google’s time estimation with a grain of salt. You’ll be stopping every ten minutes, in awe of the ever-changing scenery.
The Sólheimasandur plane wreck.
The 4.5-hour stretch from Reykjavik to the Svínafellsjökull glacier turned into a full day. From terrain I can only describe as lunar, to enchanting houses, atop a cliff with a waterfall, Iceland will bring you back to that childhood ‘everything is new’ state of being. I recommend spending at least seven days in Iceland.
You’ll see snow-capped mountains and waterfalls.
Exploring Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and Svínafellsjökull
Spend two days exploring Reykjavik, one day travelling the Golden Circle, the next travelling along the first section of the island edge, to Vik. You’ll find Sólheimasandur near this seaside town. On day four, leisurely make your way over to Svínafellsjökull, and spend the day in this surreal landscape. If you’re game, book a glacier hike or boat trip around the edges of this monstrous wonder.
Just one of the incredible things to see in Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Hellulaug
The following day, enjoy all the sights that colour this highway back to Reykjavik. Stop and pat the wild horses, take photos of those dreamy Icelandic houses and marvel at two of the island’s largest waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss.
If you’ve left the Blue Lagoon until the last day, don’t fret. Bypass the crowds (and entry fee) and head up to Hellulaug. With 360° ocean and mountain views and 40°C water, you’ll never be able to go back to a man-made spa again.
Stop to pat the wild horses.
Weather, budgeting, accommodation & car hire
While Iceland will put on a show once you’re there, it’s important to respect the safety precautions, too. Consider the time of year you’re planning to visit. The heart of winter (January and February) can surprise even the most seasoned travellers.
Take a dip in the warm waters of Hellulaug.
April and May are a gorgeous time of year to visit, as the mountains are still covered in snow. The roads are clear, the sun’s often out, and so are the locals.
I flew into London, then took a short two-hour flight to Reykjavik. Pre-book a car to pick up on your arrival. I used Expedia.com for this. Given how expensive food is in Iceland, having your own vehicle makes it easier to pack your lunches and water for day trips.
Once everything is sorted, you’ll be ready to hit the road to explore.
AirBnb or Booking.com are two websites to cross-check the best accommodation prices. Once your flights, car hire and accommodation are sorted, you’re set.
Consider if you’d like to book a glacier tour or simply explore it yourself. These will be your big-ticket items, otherwise, budgeting $50-75 per day for food and petrol is enough.
And this side of Mother Nature is priceless.
Have you ever been lucky enough to see the northern lights?
About the writer...