Land of Fire and Ice
Updated: Jun 30
We had the experience of a lifetime when we visited Iceland last August. If you are someone who seeks adventure, is interested in different cultures, and is an outdoors enthusiast, then I cannot recommend this remarkable destination enough. It's truly impossible to put into words how beautiful, magical, and surreal this country is. It should be on everyone's bucket list; I feel it's just one of those places you can completely immerse yourself in. It's a nature-lover, photographer, and hiker's dream. Whether you are just covering a portion of the country or the entire ring road, there is plenty to do, see, taste, and experience.
I spent a lot of time looking over different blogs and itineraries online, and I eventually put an agenda together that best suited our family's interests, which included: waterfalls, black sand beach, Game of Thrones sites, hiking, and natural hot springs. We decided on covering the south and west regions..and still didn't cover as much as we should have. If we had more than a week, I believe we would have completed the ring road and ventured to the North and the East. We had six nights, seven days, and every minute of each day was loaded. I hope the following itinerary is helpful towards your trip planning to Iceland!
Day 1 & 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula (2 hr drive from Reykjavik)
Our flight arrived early in the morning, and after grabbing our van rental and heading to Reykjavik for an authentic Iceland breakfast - lots of fresh smoked salmon - we made our way to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This is a beautiful area with a ton of attractions that was on my must see list. This region included lots of dramatic landscapes, black sand beaches, magnificent cliffs, mountain peaks, volcanic craters, soaring waterfalls, rocky coastlines, intimate fishing villages, and its remarkable Snæfellsjökull glacier. #SnæfellsnesPeninsula #Snæfellsnes #iceland #topattraction
*Inside Scoop: Reserve your car rental as early as possible; you'll save hundreds of dollars.
Breakfast: https://kaffivagninn.is/ - Right on the harbor and Iceland's oldest restaurant. It's cozy and the smoked salmon was great. Huge bonus..they are open super early for those 6:30a arrivals into the airport. #icelandbreakfast #kaffivagninn #harboreating
What We Covered:
Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge was not a part of our itinerary but was a pleasant surprise. We discovered this on our way to the peninsula. It's a natural formation on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that navigates into Mount Botnsfjall. There is a massive crack on the mountain’s eastern face that can be seen from the coastal road. From the parking lot, a marked trail climbs 125 meters (410 feet) over 0.5 kilometers (0.3 miles) up a stream valley to a small waterfall and a narrow passage that leads inside the mountain. Waterproof shoes and clothing are a must, as the path is wet. Inside, the space widens into a majestic grotto covered from the ground to the sky in a bright green moss.
**Great photo opportunity. We all LOVED this stop.
Our next destination was to the seaside cliffs of Arnarstapi, which includes the basalt rock formations at Gatklettur ("Hellnar Arch") which is a famous, naturally formed stone arch found between the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Arnarstapi and the Basalt Rock Formations
Djúpalónssandur Black Sand Beach was another attraction in the West on our list. The rocks and sand were all perfectly smooth and black. It was amazing. This beach is known for a shipwreck that took place in 1948 with chunks of twisted metal scattered across the black volcanic sand. There are four big stones at the entrance of the beach, with different sizes. They were used to measure the strength of sailors in the days of the fishing stations.
Djúpalónssandur Black Sand Beach
We made late afternoon reservations for the guided Vatnshellir Cave tour. This volcanic cave descends 100 feet below ground to an 8,000-year-old lava tube. We experienced total darkness and saw amazing rock pigments, lava formations, stalagmites and stalactites. #vatnshellircave #lavaformations #amazingrocks #stalagmites #donotmiss #amazingsites
**Cave Tour: http://www.summitguides.is/vatnshellir-cave-op1r6
We spent the night at Hotel Stundarfridur: https://stundarfridur.com/en-gb
I cannot say enough about this hotel!! The accommodations were wonderful, clean, welcoming, and AFFORDABLE! They also have on site dining..which is a huge bonus. The pictures do not do this hotel/guest house justice. If you can get a reservation, do not think twice and book it. After a long day of walking, hiking, and sightseeing, you need a comfortable bed to sleep in, and this place delivers. There is a reason reviews and ratings are excellent at this location! #hotelstundarfridur #icelandhotels #snaefellsneshotels
Kirkjufell Mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall were our first destinations of the day, and what a sight they were. Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland; it is simply remarkable. We spent a lot of time exploring and taking pictures here.
I could have spent the entire day just walking around and taking in the view.
We drove through Stykkishólmur, a pretty fishing town before heading back to Reykjavik. We took pictures at the lighthouse and enjoyed the view from the mountaintop. #Stykkishólmur
Before going to our airbnb, we made one more stop - on our list - to hike Glymur mountain and waterfall. This was an easy/moderate two mile hike...except for the last 20 minutes, which were more challenging, but the view from the top is amazing and worth the effort. You don't want to loop down the way you came up, but want to continue to cross the stream at the top and proceed forward...to a mostly flat and easy walk down the other side of the mountain. #glymur #glymurmountain
Our climb up Glymur Mountain
The view of the waterfall is amazing
Crossing the stream at the top..getting your shoes wet is inevitable with even more amazing views
After having a wonderful dinner of salmon kabobs at Sægreifinn, our day ended at our three bedroom airbnb in Kópavogur. We were 15 minutes from Reykjavik..so we saved money by staying just outside of that hot spot. https://www.saegreifinn.is/
*I highly recommend booking your airbnb with a superhost asap. Our rental:
Day 3: Thingvellir National Park and Game of Thrones Tour - guided tour (8 hrs)
We booked a morning tour, which left our later afternoon free to get in some hiking. The Game of Thrones tour is a must for true fans and even non fans. The tour bus was clean and comfortable, and Theo, the guide, and an extra on GOT set was outstanding and very knowledgeable. This tour included visiting an Icelandic horse farm, and a visit to Hjalparfoss, a dual waterfall.
I booked this tour on www.Viator.com. The reason being..most of their tours offer full refund to your c/c if cancelled within 24 hours. You can't beat that.
Beautiful Icelandic Horses
Visiting the sites of Game of Thrones with Theo, Our Game of Thrones guide, and a visit to Hjalparfoss, a dual waterfall
Inside Scoop: Thingvellir National Park is where Icelanders gathered in A.D. 930 and established one of the world’s first parliaments. Find yourself standing upon one of the globe’s most geologically significant landscapes,Thingvellir rugged rift valley. This UNESCO site marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the point where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
Walking through Thingvellir National Park
#thingvellir #thingvellirnationalpark #tectonicplates #nature #landscapes #theo #GOT #GameofThrones #GOTIceland #gameofthronestour #hjalparfoss #waterfall #dualwaterfall #kirkjufell #kirkjufellsfoss #icelandmountains #icelandichorses
We ended our long day in Reykjavik having cod and potatoes for dinner at Reykjavik Fish www.reykjavikfish.is
Day 4: The Golden Circle, Kerid Crater, Fridheimar Tomato Farm, Reykjadalur Hot Springs
www.extremeiceland.is features this awesome map with all the sites worth visiting along the Golden Circle. Extreme Iceland is a great site to buy tours, plan day trips, and they will map out your entire drive for you. #extremeiceland
This started out as a well planned day, but I definitely messed it up by adding in a last minute hike at the end of the day that I didn't fully research. Reykjadalur Hot Springs hike should have been saved for another day, entirely, and I'll explain why at the end of this post. This was our Golden Circle day, where we would experience some of the most popular sites in all of Iceland. #LongAssDay
Our first destination on this route was a visit to Geysir, about 90 minutes from Reykjavik. The most active geyser in Iceland is Strokkur, and it erupts every 4-10 minutes naturally. We had never witnessed a geyser eruption, and this one did not disappoint. A must see when in Iceland. After Geysir, we treated ourselves to Efstidalur Farm for homemade icelandic ice cream, which was delicious. If we had not made reservations for lunch at Fridheimar, I would definitely have had lunch here. https://efstidalur.is/farm-hotel/ #geysir #strokkur #icelandicecream #icecream
Efstidalur Ice Cream
Next on our journey was Gullfoss waterfall and then Faxi waterfall. Gullfoss is one of Iceland's top attractions and is simply beautiful. Faxi is on the Golden Circle route and is another breathtaking waterfall to visit. #gullfoss #faxiwaterfall #goldencircle
Gullfoss Waterfall (these pics do not do the waterfall justice...a MUST SEE)
Fridheimar Tomato Farm
We had 2pm reservations at Fridheimar Tomato Farm, www.fridheimar.is. This was a unique, one of a kind, culinary experience. I would absolutely recommend eating here because it is like nothing you have ever seen. Imagine a huge greenhouse with hundreds of tomato plants, many different varieties, with tables throughout for dining. Lunch is served among the plants. It's magical, and they have created something extraordinary and eco friendly, using state of the art technology. #fridheimar #tomatofarm #tomatoes #icelandtomatoes #greenhouse #sustainableliving
Ravioli with tomatoes from the greenhouse
Food...finally! We were starving!!
Reservations must be made months in advance, and I was on top of that. For lunch, we ordered the tomato soup, ravioli, and had chocolate and cheesecake dessert. Outside of the restaurant/farm are Icelandic horses and a horse show.
We enjoyed our walk around the crater and to the top to see the view.
After an extremely long day and on our way to a restaurant for dinner, I got sidetracked when I noticed the parking lot for Reykjadalur hot springs. This was on our list..but not for today, and it was already 8pm. I figured...how long could this hike be...30 maybe 40 minutes tops until we reached the much talked about hot springs. Well, I was mistaken and some of my family members were not happy campers, as they were starving. This was day 4, and protein bars were getting really old by this point. The hike took us well over an hour and it was all uphill...way uphill. #Reykjadalur #hotsprings #icelandhotsprings
Reykjadalur Hot Springs Guide: 2.4 miles (60-90 minutes one way! We hadn't eaten and started this hike at 8pm. Remember...it's light out until 11pm or later. I didn't know how long this hike was..and some of us were just too exhausted and hungry to really appreciate it and take in the beauty of this experience. https://www.theoutbound.com/iceland/hiking/hike-to-reykjadalur-hot-springs
The girls were happy..the boys..not so much. This was one looong hike..going up, up, and up higher! So worth it when you finally get to the hot springs. Just.don't attempt this on an empty stomach or when you're already exhausted...bad idea. This place is so special that it should have been marked for a morning hike and lunch picnic. I wish I had known or read up on it more.
The walk and view to the springs is something else! Dave and I loved this hike!
Chillin in the hot springs
These two were too hungry to enjoy the springs.
Day 4 was a remarkable day. If we had more time, we would have visited the secret lagoon in Fludir - www.secretlagoon.is and Bruarfoss Waterfall (hidden waterfall). We missed out on those destinations. #Brurfosswaterfall #hiddenwaterfall #fludir
Day 5: Visiting the great Falls and Black Sand Beach
We set out towards the South today. Our drive included a scenic route along the south shore to see Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Skógafoss, one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, and Seljalandsfoss, an iconic and picturesque waterfall with a walkway behind it, and Gljúfrafoss, a short walk from Seljalandsfoss.
Our day started with some fast food from the gas station...the go to for food when in Iceland. Totally acceptable, clean, and popular. This is what everyone does for food! They have hot dogs, pre wrapped sandwiches, yogurt, and more. While my kids weren't exactly thrilled with the food choices...it is doable. You can survive on gas station food in Iceland!
We are in the car again! Heading South!
The scenery on your way to the southern waterfalls is beautiful. There are horses and sheep everywhere. When you visit in the summer, you can count on the temperatures being much more moderate and in the 55-65 degree range. We were lucky, as most of our days were in the mid 60s, and we even saw a bit of sun. BUT..you need to have layers in the car because the weather can change quickly..sun one minute and rain the next (as we found out).
Arriving at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach...and it went from sunny to windy and rainy, really quickly! First stop....lunch at the restaurant right at the beach!
Lucky for us, they were out of turnip soup and had just made sweet potato soup..DELISH!!! The boys had fish and chips.
Checking out the black sand beach and unique basalt rock formations.
We weren't sure what we'd find in the cave..but it was cool with black basalt rock..Possible #GOT site?
Skogafoss is almost 500 steps to the top. It took me a bit, while the rest of the family went ahead. I would not recommend this for anyone who has health problems or issues with walking steps. From the top, you can view South Iceland's coastline.
Views from the top of Skogafoss..so much more to see
*For more info: https://guidetoiceland.is/
On to Seljalandsfoss and then a short walk over to Gljúfrafoss, a somewhat secret hidden waterfall in a grove. Do not skip over this one. It is awesome.
A walk behind the waterfall
Just a short walk away, and not as well known, is the hidden treasure Gljúfrafoss.
You can stand inside next to the waterfall, feel the mist on your face, and look straight up into the sunlight.
All in all, it was a great day with fabulous weather. I didn't surprise my kids with a last minute 8pm hike (lol), and we ended the day having dinner at a restaurant on our way home. I researched restaurants along all of our routes, so we had a list of options on where to dine..every step of the way (highly recommending researching restaurants in your $$ range).
Chilling at our airbnb
Day 6: Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon
Today was our day of taking in Reykjavik..no busy travelling..just walking around the city and enjoying the sites, which included unique architecture, local artisans, colorful building murals, world famous chocolate, and a city rich in history and heritage. The following isn't in any particular order.
Some of the painted buildings we saw in Reykjavik #Icelandmurals
Hallgrímskirkja Church is the largest church in Iceland, among the tallest of buildings, and one of the most visited places in the country. It's right downtown and a huge landmark.
The Sun Voyager Sculpture,. which resembles a Viking longship, is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason.
The Main shopping road in downtown Reykjavik is Laugavegur. We had fun souvenir shopping. You'll find boutiques, novelty shops, restaurants, bakeries, and street vendors selling arts and crafts. The next street over is Skólavörðustígur, which also has shops and is the road that leads up to Hallgrímskirkja Church. We didn't make it to Braud & Co (for their cinnamon rolls) or Cafe Loki, which is right across the street from the church, and known to have great coffee and cakes. #Regret. I would dedicate a full day to downtown Reykjavik...there's a lot to see and fun shopping!
We had lunch at Messinn Granda, www.messinn.com at the harbor. Good food and nice, casual vibe.
Blue Lagoon - This is not to be missed. Do not skip over this amazing geothermal pool! We loved it here! I shopped this way in advance to get the best price. At the time, admission was $99 p/p, I was able to get $50, as I booked our reservations about six months in advance. I'm not sure about pricing now, but it's smart to book as far ahead as possible. We had 8pm reservations. I actually would have saved this for the last day had I known how wonderful the showers and locker areas are. There is a restaurant and gift shop on site. This is an excellent LAST DAY excursion. https://www.bluelagoon.com/ #bluelagoon #bluelagooniceland #hotsprings
Day 7: Our Last Day in Iceland!
We spent the day finishing up in Reykjavik. This was supposed to be our hike day to our springs in the mountains...but you know how that went. So..it was basically a chill day. We went and got Iceland chocolate at the manufacturing site, world famous Omnon, https://omnomchocolate.com/. We also visited the Saga Museum for a history lesson on Viking life and the founding of Iceland. We had lunch at a cute pub on Laugavegur, did even more shopping downtown, had dinner at Saegreifinn again (because the salmon kabobs are incredible), and then headed to the airport. It was an extraordinary and memorable week. I cannot recommend Iceland enough..especially in August. I knew we would miss the northern lights, but I wanted the moderate weather. I can save that for a Norway visit.
Because this was an incredibly busy week, by Day 7, everyone was pretty much wiped out. I wish we had visited Perlan, https://perlan.is/, on our last day. Perlan is a nature exploratorium with an indoor ice cave. The nature exhibits allow guests to see, hear, and feel the power of volcanoes, earthquakes and geothermal energy. #BigREGRET
CHOCOLATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! at #OMNOM
Lunch at Íslenski barinn, https://www.islenskibarinn.is/en/
I loved putting this blog post together, and if there is anything I can help you with, please send a message. Have fun with your trip planning!
**A MUST FOR YOUR CAR: At all times, keep the following in your car - water/collapsible water bottle, protein bars, granola bars, nuts, bathing suit, microfiber towel, raincoat/rain pants, waterproof hiking shoes, and a change of clothes. We bought our rain pants at Dicks Sporting Good and everything else pretty much on Amazon.