All right, fellow adventurer. Let’s say you’re considering a trip to Iceland, but you’re completely overwhelmed with what to do and see. While it’s a relatively small island, there are countless beautiful sights to see.
How do you narrow down where you should go? It really depends on three things, and they are all interdependent:
1 – How much time you have in the country
Some people have large quantities of time they can travel. We met a few retired couples in our hostels who were taking a month or two to travel around Iceland. While that is completely awesome and my eventual life goal, it is an unrealistic expectation for people like me: young professionals who answer to a company and therefore have 1, maybe 2 weeks to take off of work at a time. There are also those who decide to do the Stopover program from IcelandAir, and perhaps they only spend a few nights in Iceland.
2 – Your travel budget
If you have a large budget, the sky’s the limit. You could fly into Keflavik International Airport, then fly to any of the other airports in Iceland to arrive across the country within a few hours. This article in Smarter Travel cites you can travel within Iceland by Air Iceland and get to “Akureyri in the north, Egilsstadir in the east and Isafjordur in the Westfjords fairly easily.” Once you arrive at the airport, you can rent a car or hire a guided tour to get you to your final destination.
There are companies that will rent you a car and supply you with a daily itinerary, and even book your hotels on your behalf. You’ll pay a lot more for that concierge service, but it definitely takes the stress out of planning your trip.
If you have a moderate budget, you could take these options:
- Take a tour with a company who will take you to your point of destination. A day trip here or there is well worth the money if you are not going to rent a car. Your limitation will likely be financial, as there are tours that will take you around the Golden Circle in a few hours, to tours that will take you to multiple landmarks all the way to South Iceland in a 10 hour total trip.
- Rent a car and travel around the country independently. Note that the cost of gas is much higher in Iceland than in the States. You should plan for $8 a gallon, which racks up quickly.
If you have a small budget, spend a short amount of time in Iceland to see some of the highlights, or travel with a small group of people so that you can split the cost on car rentals and accommodations. The country is small, but mass transportation does not exist outside of the cities, and you will need to either spend money on a tour, car, or camper van to get anywhere. You can rely on the bus transportation to get from the airport in Keflavik to Reykjavik, and use buses around Reykjavik. This will keep your radius in traveling small, so you will not see many of the famous landmarks outside of Reykjavik unless you pay for a guided tour. I’d suggest hitchhiking, but since there are more sheep than people in Iceland, you will likely not get very far or find that reliable.
3 – Your priorities in traveling (guided adventures tours, extreme activities, hiking, famous landmarks, culture, history)
If you want to do guided adventure activities, then you’re going to need a larger budget set aside for “adventuring.” Iceland offers some awesome options — ice climbing, glacier hiking, snow mobile tours, helicopter tours, ice cave tours, scuba diving between continents, etc. These activities range anywhere from $110 USD per person to many hundreds of dollars. The great thing about Iceland is that the majority of places you can see are free, so you can save up for one cool adventure activity even if you are trying to stick with a moderate budget.
Of course, you might be one of those people that crave extreme activities. This may not cost a lot extra for you in comparison to the guided adventure activities, but you do need to take extra safety precautions. If you desire leaving the safety of the Ring Road, you’ll need to rent a 4×4 vehicle to drive into The Highlands or on the F-roads. If you intend to do very hardcore things like cross (or ford) a river, it is best if you travel in a pack of at least two vehicles, that way one crosses into the river first, and if it gets stuck, the other vehicle can help tow it out. I’ve got resources below that will explain this further, as I am not an expert in this. I can’t stress this enough though: if you’re not the kind of person that does extreme activities in your home country, please do not attempt to try extreme activities in Iceland as a “first-timer.” Iceland is sparsely populated and quick help may not be easily attained, especially if you are in more remote or dangerous locations outside of the Ring Road. You have no business driving the F-roads if you are unsure how to safely cross a river or handle impassable roads on your own. Take a guided tour of The Highlands instead.
If you want to hike or see the famous landmarks in person, then you’re traveling to the correct country. It is so easy to hike in Iceland. A lot of these famous landmarks require you to hike to get there, or if you can drive up to them pretty easily, then you can hike around the landmarks. In South Iceland, the National Parks, or at the very famous landmarks, hiking trails are pretty obvious and there are signs that direct you where you need to go. When you get to the less popular landmarks, hiking trails might not be as obvious. At that point it is best to consult the local resources or research ahead of time so that you are not unintentionally hiking “off trail.” Hiking off the trail is not admirable in Iceland, it is looked down upon because you are likely trampling upon delicate ecosystems.
While Icelandic history may not be something you learned in school, there is plenty to learn about this beautiful country’s history and culture. In particular, you can focus on Viking history and Norse gods, learn about the folklore of Iceland, or see some of the impressive architecture.
Here are a few things to do and see in Reykjavik:
- Hallgrímskirkja Church – I’ve heard this described as the Icelandic version of NYC Empire State Building. (free)
- Nautholsvik Beach (thermal, free except to use locker room)
- Harpa Music Hall
- Perlan observation deck and exhibits
- Penis Museum
- Settlement Exhibit (Viking museum)
- Viking Maritime Museum
- Art Museum
- Various walking tours (oftentimes you set the price)
Here are a few things to do and see in Akureyri:
If you are intrigued by Volcanos:
Now that you’ve been given some options to consider, you can better plan out the ideal trip for yourself. Consider following my blog to get more tips and advice on how to plan out a trip to Iceland, and check out these additional resources below.
As always, please feel free to comment with any questions, tips, advice, or recommendations concerning Iceland that you have also found in your travels. Happy trip planning!
Alternate resources for you to check out:
General tips about traveling within Iceland
Highland and F-road driving Safety