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Your Complete Iceland Travel Guide [What to do, where to eat, what to wear]

October 24, 2018


Erin Schrader

Oh, Iceland. What started out as a simple note in a gift bag tucked under the Christmas tree last year turned out to be one of the best vacations that Shawn and I have ever been on together! We are typically beach people [pass the pina colada, please] so when we decided to venture off to Iceland, we didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, it exceeded all of our [lack] of expectations. If there is one piece of advice that I can give you, it is to GO. I’ll break down exactly why below.

While we were gone, so many of you asked for a detailed itinerary of our trip and so a detailed itinerary is what you will get! I should note that I am going to follow up this post with two additional posts on Iceland – what to pack for her and what to pack for him, so stay tuned for those! Today I’m bringing you a complete [and maybe too detailed] summary of what we did while there and what I would recommend / not recommend. Are you ready to take a virtual trip to Iceland? Let’s go…

+ Packing

Before you depart, you’re going to need to pack. Like I mentioned above, I am bringing you complete packing lists for both her + him in the next week or two, but one piece of advice – shop online before your trip at Backcountry. Shawn and I did this and it was literally a one-stop shop for all of our Iceland needs. Because of the cooler, wet climate, warm and waterproof clothing was key. Thankfully Backcountry has a TON of inventory with both of those things in mind [bonus: it all is really, really cute too so you’ll look fashionable while bundled up]! Bonus: You can score 15% off your first purchase with code YELLOW15! Disclosure: Thank you to Backcountry and ShopStyle for sponsoring today’s post. While our trip was planned and paid for by us, I was provided with the opportunity to wear clothing from one of my all-time favorite retailers, Backcountry while there!

The North Face Aconcagua Vest [true to size, wearing in small] // Columbia Wonder Ridge Pullover Sweater [true to size, wearing in small] // Sorel Joan Of Arctic Wedge II Tall Boot [true to size] // similar: Pendleton Cable Hat

+ Air Travel 

We chose to fly WOW Air from Chicago direct to Reykjavik which was a non-stop six hour flight at a ridiculously low cost. I’ve received several questions on if it was worth paying less to fly WOW. I would say absolutely. The airplanes that we were on were new and nice, there were AC power adapters and while there aren’t any other fancy things on flight [no wifi, no free snacks or drinks, etc] it is an inexpensive way to get to Iceland. We just brought on our own snacks and drinks and were good to go! We also flew overnight which meant the only entertainment we needed was sleep.

Dylan Raglan Pullover [true to size, wearing in small] // Prana Pillar Leggings // similar Nike shoes

+ Car Rental

We rented a car through Hertz [in the airport terminal] and are so happy we did. I would 100% recommend renting a car for the time you are in Iceland as you will use it often! Bonus: navigating the roads of Iceland are easier than anywhere else in the world I’m convinced [even small town Indiana]. You are driving on what seem like country roads all over the island with virtually zero traffic. 

+ Lodging

We opted to rent a home on VRBO for our trip in the heart of the Golden Circle area. I was a little hesitant that we didn’t make the right decision before traveling, however, once we were there I felt like it was the best decision we could have made. We rented this home and couldn’t have loved the house or location more. We were about an hour and fifteen minutes from the airport and 45 minutes from downtown Reykjavik [the capital]. However, we were within 30 minutes of a lot of main things that we wanted to see and do. Additionally, it was so nice having an entire home to spread out in, have a kitchen to cook breakfast, lunch and an occasional dinner in [dining out in Iceland is pricey so this was a cost saving way of doing things]. The hot tub was a huge benefit as we ended nearly every evening in! I would highly recommend looking into renting a home in the Golden Circle area if traveling there!

+ Itinerary 

While it is quite popular for people to pay tour guides to take them around the island, Shawn and I prefer to be on our own schedule and be able to do what we want, when we want while on vacation. Because of this, we did everything independently and am so happy we went this route. One thing I highly, highly recommend when traveling to Iceland and planning an itinerary – make Google Maps your best friend. You can “save” any location that you want to go to which made our days a breeze. Once you have all of your must-have items saved on Google Maps, you can quickly plan your route for the day. The furthest we ever drove from our home during the week we were in Iceland was one hour and fifteen minutes and we were typically stopping every 10-20 minutes, which made our car time seem very short and easy! Here’s how we personally mapped out our days and my thoughts on the stops [side note: my biggest piece of advice is to have a plan, but not TOO much of a plan. Iceland has so many hidden gems and you’ll find yourself constantly pulling over on the side of the road to take in the scenery or venturing down a country road to see what’s around the corner!] One more thing – we were in Iceland for six days and we opted to stay in the Golden Circle area the entire trip. Below I’ve bolded any names of attractions, restaurants or stores so you can quickly spot them in the paragraphs!

Day 1, Arrival Day: 

After we landed, stocked up on alcohol for the week in the Duty Free store inside the airport [this is highly recommended as alcohol in restaurants is quite expensive] and rented our car, it was lunchtime so we stopped at Kaffi Duus which was just a few minutes outside of the airport. I was most nervous about the food in Iceland before arriving, however, our first lunch quickly put my nerves at ease. Nearly every restaurant serves some American classics [cheeseburgers, pizza, etc] and everything I ate I liked! I also noticed that Iceland has a lot of vegetarian and vegan options, so if you are on a special diet, you should be just fine! The rumors are true – food is expensive in restaurants in Iceland. Our normal lunch was around $60 [including alcohol] and dinner was typically around $80 – $100. Once we ate, we made the one hour and twenty minute drive to our house to get all checked in and settled. That evening we hit up a grocery store, Kronan, which is located in the town of Selfoss which was just 15 minutes away. Note: Bonus and Kronan are the two main grocery stores in Iceland and their prices are almost identical to the items in our grocery stores which was a nice surprise. We stocked up on breakfast items, lunch, snacks and ingredients to be able to make dinner one of the evenings we were there. This helped offset having to eat out for every meal which saved a lot of money! For dinner, we ate at Thrastalundur [looks like Prastalunder on the sign] which had the best pizza of our trip [get the Piloto pizza]! I absolutely loved this restaurant!

Day 2: 

The North Face Aconcagua Vest [true to size, wearing in small] // Columbia Wonder Ridge Pullover Sweater [true to size, wearing in small] // Shawn’s coat: Spyder Geared Synthetic Down Jacket // Spyder Charger Zip T-Neck Jacket

We didn’t leave our house to venture out until around 1:00 pm most days as the time change had us all sorts of mixed up which meant sleeping in later than our normal. Here’s what we did [in the order we did it]:

  • Stopped first at Kerid Crater – fun to see, I’d recommend!
  • Ate lunch at Fridheimar Greenhouse. This was my favorite restaurant of the trip! You eat in the middle of a greenhouse which is a fun experience as-is, but combine their delicious tomato soup, pasta, pizza and beverages and it’s an incredible experience you can’t miss!
  • Bruarfoss Waterfall – There are SO many waterfalls in Iceland and this one does not disappoint. Absolutely beautiful!
  • Geysir – Definitely a fun thing to stop and see! The geysir erupts every 10-20 minutes or so and when it does, it’s the perfect Boomerang opportunity 😉 I loved walking around here and through their cafe they have on site! When in Iceland, it’s a must do!
  • Gulfoss Waterfall – Don’t go chasing waterfalls….unless in Iceland, in which case, chase them ALL. This waterfall is amazing because you can walk right up to it! Caution: you may get a little bit wet but it’s definitely worth it! Shawn’s coat: Spyder Geared Synthetic Down Jacket // Waterproof Boots // Smartwool Insulated Gloves // Beanie
  • Efstidalur II Ice Cream Farm – We stopped here for a sweet treat and if you like creamy ice cream, you will love this place. You literally eat your ice cream right next to the cows that the milk came from. Additional bonus: you could pet some as you walk in!
  • Laugarvatn Fontana Mineral Hot Baths – This was probably one of my FAVORITE things to do. We arrived around 7 pm right after the sun had set and it was here that we saw the Northern Lights dance across the sky [we experienced them around 8 pm]! Talk about a magical moment! There are four different mineral hot baths and they are all different temperatures! One thing to note: it is required that you shower completely naked among other women [or men, if you are in the men’s locker room] before entering the baths so that’s a little bit of an experience! Brave the nudity for 5 minutes, get your swimsuit on and soak in the baths! You will LOVE it. This is the perfect way to end a day of exploring!

Day 3:

Patagonia Bivy Vest [true to size, wearing in small] // Kamik SiennaF2 Boot [true to size] // Pendleton Cable Hat

  • Ægissíðufoss Waterfall – Our first stop of the day was at this waterfall and I believe when we arrived, we didn’t think there was anything there and that we got punked. We soon saw the waterfall and it was pretty. Nothing too major, but a little stop on the side of the road that took a quick ten minutes so it was worth doing!
  • Hotel Ranga for lunch – This is a luxury hotel and it was a fun setting to enjoy lunch in. Where you dine is surrounded but nothing but floor to ceiling windows so you can take in the natural beautiful scenery around you. The food was good as well!
  • Sólheimasandur plane crash – This was probably the only stop of the entire trip that we regretted. We were wanting to visit Black Sand Beach [which is totally worth doing] but didn’t realize that there were different places to do this at. We stopped at the location of the abandoned plane crash, but what we didn’t realize that it is about a one-hour walk to the beach and a one-hour walk back from the beach when you stop here. Add in walking on rocks in cold temps and well, the walk got old in a hurry. The plane was neat to see, but not worth it in our eyes. We would have rather stopped at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.

Shawn’s coat: Spyder Geared Synthetic Down Jacket // Waterproof Boots // Smartwool Insulated Gloves // Beanie

  • Skógafoss Waterfall – Another waterfall you have to stop at. The power behind it is incredible and you feel so tiny next to it! Bonus: You can stop at the cafe and get a coffee with whiskey to drink while enjoying the sight seeing here 😉

Lole Down Coat [size up, wearing in small] // Pendleton Cable Hat // Shawn’s coat: Spyder Geared Synthetic Down Jacket // Waterproof Boots // Smartwool Insulated Gloves // Beanie

  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – Hands down my FAVORITE waterfall of the entire trip and one of my favorite experiences. You can walk BEHIND this waterfall so it feels like you are literally in it. You must stop here and make the walk around it, it’s a magical experience!
  • Tryggvaskáli Restaurant in Selfoss – This was our favorite meal of the trip! Located in the most charming house, the food was fantastic and the atmosphere was so quaint and the perfect way to end a day out and about! 

Day 4: 

It was on this day that Shawn and I both started in with our colds so a day at home was just what we needed. Netflix, hot tub and kleenexes.

Day 5: 

The North Face Aconcagua Vest [true to size, wearing in small] // Hunter Rain Boots [true to size] // Hunter Original 6 Stitch Cable Boot Sock // Gordini Argyle Glove

  • Thingvellir National Park – This is another must stop while in Iceland! There is SO much to see in this one spot, so plan on spending a couple of hours here most likely. Here you can snorkel between two tectonic plates in the clearest of clear water [you can see 300 feet down!] While we opted not to snorkel due to our colds, we heard it is one of the most amazing experiences! We walked around all over the park and enjoyed the beautiful scenery everywhere!

  • BLIK Bistro & Grill – After leaving the national park, we ventured thirty minutes or so towards Reykjavik for a nice lunch. This place was STUNNING to eat in. Just the scenery out the windows makes it completely worth eating here at. We ordered a ton to try and it was all decent [we liked the scenery more than the food but would eat here again]!

  • Alafoss – From lunch we made our way to Alafoss which is one of Iceland’s most popular wool stores. While I didn’t walk away with any sweaters or blankets, they were fun to look at!
  • þórufoss Waterfall – And yet, another waterfall we found and stopped at! My word of advice is to just stop at any possible waterfall or attraction, they are ALL worth taking in!

The North Face Aconcagua Vest [true to size, wearing in small] // Hunter Rain Boots [true to size] // Hunter Original 6 Stitch Cable Boot Sock

  • Thingvellir National Park [to walk between the two Tectonic Plates] – We made our way back to a portion of the National Park to walk between the two plates which was an awesome experience. At the end of your walk you are greeted by a waterfall and just like every other thing in Iceland, it’s beautiful! This was a fun stop!

  • Kaffi Krus in Selfoss – We ended our day at the cutest coffee shop that we frequented often during our stay for dinner. They have a HUGE food menu and some delicious pizza! I would have eaten here more if we would have had more time!

Day 6: 

Herschel Backpack // Sorel Lexie Wedge Boot [true to size]

It was on this day that we checked out of our rental home and made the hour drive back towards Reykjavik where we decided to stay for our last night in Iceland! We stayed outside of Reykjavik, closer to the Blue Lagoon since we had a reservation for 8:00 am the next morning and wanted to be close to it! We stayed at The Park Inn by Radisson!

  • Downtown Reykjavik – This is the capital of Iceland and is PACKED with restaurants, bars, stores and night life! It is a fun city to walk around and explore. I’ll share a few of the things we did while in town…

  • Hallgrímskirkja Church – This church is beautiful and a popular tourist spot, because you can take an elevator up to the top and look out over the city [which is where I took the photo above from]! If you want a birds eye view of downtown, you should stop here!
  • Stores – There are a lot of fun stores to venture in and out of while walking around! I would encourage you to just walk around the streets in and stop in anywhere and everywhere that looks interesting! A lot of fun shopping can happen here!
  • Icelandic Craft Beer Bar – Naturally, we had to stop in at a bar for a nice adult beverage during our trek around town. This bar was the perfect spot. The atmosphere was fun, the bartender was friendly and the flight of Icelandic craft beers was delicious!

  • The Library at Park Inn – We ended the day at our hotel that we were staying and enjoyed dinner at their restaurant, The Library which was such an awesome spot! The atmosphere was a lot of fun and the food was delicious!

Day 7:

  • Blue Lagoon Spa Resort – We absolutely saved the best thing for last in my personal opinion. You HAVE to go to the Blue Lagoon if you visit Iceland. Most people either visit the Lagoon on their arrival day or departure day, because it is so close to the airport. We chose to visit it on our departure day so that we could spend our last several hours in Iceland in pure bliss and relaxation. We opted to do the Spa Resort package which is pricier but I am SO glad that we did. You have private access to a portion of the lagoon and can experience all that the spa has to offer, which is beautiful and so relaxing. I would highly recommend going this route! The shower alone in your own private room is worth every dollar! The milky blue water is heated from 200 meters below to about 100 degrees and felt incredible. The bar in the middle of the lagoon made it even more enjoyable!

  • Papas Restaurant – Our last meal in Iceland was in a little town near The Blue Lagoon and we lived it up with chicken wings, pizza, and onion wings and loved every bite! A great place to stop into after your lagoon trip!
  • Brimketill Lava Rock Pool – Our last and final stop before heading back to the airport was one of Shawn’s favorite stops of the entire trip. You walk out on a platform over these lava rocks and watch the waves crash in and it’s a truly incredible sight to see, due to the magnitude and power of the waves. The water was so blue and milky and it was a place we stood for awhile just continuing to be amazed by the waves! A fun and final stop for sure!

Phew, I told you it was going to be detailed! If you have any questions at all about our Iceland trip, leave them below and I’ll be sure to get back to you! Stay tuned for complete packing guides from Backcountry in the next several weeks! Remember to use code YELLOW15 your first order with code YELLOW15! Who’s ready to go to Iceland!?

Disclosure: Thank you to Backcountry and ShopStyle for sponsoring today’s post. While our trip was planned and paid for by us, I was provided with the opportunity to wear clothing from one of my all-time favorite retailers, Backcountry while there!

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