Iceland – How to plan your itinerary for 7 days.
Ever since my first geology class at uni I’ve been dying to see the diverse and dynamic landscape of Iceland.The affordable prices at the time (end of 2013) were another plus, as the country was still recovering from the economic crisis that hit them between 2008 and 2011. Finally, in our case, one of the most important reasons, the one that on its own should make you book the flights: the spectacular northern lights, also known as aurora borealis. Or if you are planning to go in the summer you will experience the famous “midnight sun”.
When to Go?
In my opinion Iceland is a country that deserves at least 2 visits, as it is a very different country depending on what time of the year you go. I know many countries change a lot from summer to winter, but in the case of Iceland, the temperatures may not change that much, however the duration of daylight changes drastically and consequently could interfere with your plans.
If observing the geology, the alien like scenery and a more adventurous type of holiday is what you seek, summer is probably the best time for you to go. If you are travelling with someone, there is even the option of hiring a camper van and embarking on a road trip.
Don’t expect anything over 15 degrees, not very summery. We had a one day stopover in Reykjavik in July 2015 and it was 10 degrees and very windy. The amazing part is that it is pretty much 24 hours of daylight! As the Icelandic people proudly say: “it is the only place you wear sunglasses at midnight”. The downside of visiting Iceland at this time of the year is that you don’t get to see the aurora borealis.
As far as I know Iceland, it is called Iceland for a reason! So you know one thing to expect from it if you decide to go during the winter. However, we were there for a week and it wasn’t too bad temperature wise, but it was always very windy. The main challenge you may encounter if you decide to visit during the winter, is organising the timing of sightseeing, as daylight lasts only between 4 to 6 hours.
I am not saying it is impossible to enjoy the nature, but it has to be well planned specially if there is travel involved to get to the spot you want to see. For instance, when we were there we wanted on the same day to leave Reykjavik in the morning, visit two waterfalls that are on the way to Vik, where we wanted to visit the beach and the city before dark. We had not only to consider the time of the drive, but also leave time to take photos and to actually enjoy the places.
The upside of all this running around during the day is that once the night comes, with it comes the hope to see the best part of a winter visit to Iceland… The northern lights!! As I said…a hope, because actually it’s not that easy to see, as it is a phenomenon that depends on a number of different conditions in order to be visible.
For how long and where to go?
This I think is more personal, but for us it was easy to decide the length of the stay as we had only a week of holiday to be taken, plus the new year’s bank holiday, the question was how to plan our itinerary for 7 days in Iceland. After some research, I highlighted some of the major touristic sights in different regions of the country and we all decided to stick with the South region of the country and use the capital, Reykjavik, as our base.
So what was our itinerary for 7 days in Iceland?
Day 1: Arrival and a bit of sightseeing in Reykjavik.
Day 2: Leave early to Vik via Highway 1 and visit the the stunning waterfalls of Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, visit the town of Vik with its beautiful black beach and spend the night nearby.
Day 3: Continue east over wide ancient lava flows and broad ever changing scenery to Skaftafell National Park. From there head further east to the Jökulsarlon glacial lagoon. To then turn around and retrace our route as far as Hella where we spent another night.
Day 4: Leave early heading towards Reykjavik, stopping for a dip in the Blue Lagoon to relax after so much driving before heading back.
Day 5: Road trip to the famous Golden Triangle, term used for the combined visit of the Gullfoss Waterfall, the Thingvellir National Park which is amazing and finally the geysers. Come back home to cook a nice dinner and head to the town for the fireworks as it was New Year’s eve.
Day 6: We had plans to go to the West coast, however the hangover did not allow us, so we decided to chill instead and keep in search for the Northern lights.
Day 7: Spent the day sightseeing Reykjavik and after dark the search continued and it was worth the wait. Early night for morning flight.
Once we decided we wanted to stay mainly in the capital, accomodation was an easy one to solve, especially as we were travelling with our flatmates (Karin and Marcelo), Airbnb was the answer. We stayed at Magnus house in the heart of Reykjavik and the whole flat for 6 nights was only £17.80 per person/ per night.
The two nights we spent on the road we booked into hotels via booking.com, both were great and not too expensive. The first was a very nice hotel near Vik, as after a long day driving, we all needed a good night of sleep, specially Marcelo. Greg and I even enjoyed an open air jacuzzi while the temperature above water was below zero. Hotel Lambafell £29.25 pp/pn
The second accommodation we booked while on the road was a cottage in a more remote place in the hope to get great views of the northern lights, which wasn’t the case due to the weather conditions. Little did we know that after a long day of driving and only 20km away from our accommodation we would encounter a snow storm. It may sound fun now, but it wasn’t at the time. The car got stuck and we had to be rescued by the owner of the accommodation with a backhoe, the night ended really well with lots of wine and laughs with locals. Hellisholar Cottages is definitely a place we’ll always remember and recommend too. £23.25 pp/pn
We also agreed on renting a car for our whole stay which we picked up and dropped off at the airport. I hear you saying…but you and Greg don’t drive! And you are right, but our flatmates do! They were real saviours as everywhere I checked advised to go for car rentals, as it was the easiest way to travel around the country.
After much research we opted for the cheapest option available, the most basic car. Honestly there was nothing wrong with the car. It cost us about £10 a day plus a little extra for petrol and insurance. The car was fine for most of the trip, it was cute, but we confess it was a bit small considering the luggage for the four of us. There were moments of extreme weather and terrain that we wished we had chosen a better car, potentially a 4×4 prepared for snow and icy roads.
So here is a valuable tip, spend a little bit more on the car if you are hiring one to travel in Iceland during winter. Another must is the insurance, specially if you travel in wet weather, as the salt they use on the roads or if you get caught in an ash/sand/snow storm can damage the car. Another thing I would say if you are travelling a lot is to get a Sat Nav or make sure you have maps downloaded onto your smartphone (don’t forget the charger too).
What to Pack?
Packing was also an interesting task, we knew it would be cold and we wanted to be prepared, so we had ski clothing, base layers, gloves, hats, boots, scarves, waterproof shoes and so on. I also took a tripod with me for the pictures, so I confess it was one of the heaviest backpacks I ever took with me. But I used every single item I took.
Food and Drink
Eating out like pretty much everywhere in Europe is expensive and it was not different in Iceland, but when based in Reykjavik we were able to buy food at the supermarket and cook at home, which reduced a lot the cost of food. Same goes for drinks. The price of a main course varies from £15 to £25, while a beer is around £5. Make sure to try some of the Icelandic traditional dishes like the rye bread, whale burger, icelandic horse meat, and if you are very brave…rotten shark.
The trip was amazing and tears come to my eyes as I write this post….if I recommend it? Not only recommend as I can’t wait to go back to this astonishing place!!
If you liked this post, stay tuned as we have one about the specific places we visited and one to tell you all about the northern lights!