As you can see in the map above, quite a lot of Icelandic territory was covered during my 10-day road trip. I won’t bore you with the daily details of the entire trip, but I thought I’d share my favorite bits, along with some photos and general tips.
*Since Icelandic words are very long and contain some odd letters, I'll start off by sharing a few word parts that might make the things listed below a bit clearer:
foss = waterfall
jökull = glacier
fjörður = fjord
Below is my list of the top 14 things to do/see if you find yourself in Iceland. You will note that about half of them are waterfalls - Waterfalls are amongst Iceland's most recognizable attractions. As you drive around, you see them everywhere - essentially, the whole country appears to be leaking!
1. Blue Lagoon: It seems everyone has heard of the Blue Lagoon and it’s on every must-do Iceland list that you'll read. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to like it very much, as I anticipated it to be a tourist trap. I’ll be clear here, it is in fact a tourist trap, but that said, it’s also pretty great. You must book in advance, online. You cannot just turn up and assume that you’ll get in.
2. Gullfoss 'Golden Waterfall': This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. It’s located in the canyon of Hvítá river, in the southwest. It’s been set up really well for viewing, as you can walk along paths overlooking it and also get sprayed by the mist from the top of the falls.
3. Seljalandsfoss: This waterfall is situated in the south region of Iceland. It can be seen from the main road (Route 1). The best part about this waterfall is that you can walk all the way around it.
4. Gljúfurárfoss: To the left of Seljalandsfoss, there’s another waterfall which is often overlooked. It's hidden within a cave and is magical. If you're willing to brave the ice cold water, you can climb right in there. Your efforts will be rewarded. It's amazing!
5. Snowmobiling on Mýrdalsjökull: It was about a 30 minute, VERY bumpy, drive from the Arcanum headquarters up to the ice cap. The snowmobiling portion of the tour is about an hour. All the gear is provided and the tour guides are excellent.
6. Vik & neighboring Reynishöfn: Vik is the southernmost village in Iceland, located on the Ring Road. It’s famous for its black sand beach and puffin sightings (if it’s the right time of the year). Nearby, on Reynishverfi Beach, you can climb on the basalt column rock formations and explore caves. It's like a playground for adults!
7. Svartifoss: A waterfall in Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður (say that 10 times fast...or even once) National Park. It’s a fairly easy hike to get to this foss. The waterfall is nicknamed ‘Black Fall’ because it is surrounded by dark lava columns.
8. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon: This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. As huge blocks of ice fall off the glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, the icebergs float into this lagoon. You aren’t allowed out on the icebergs here, but if you cross the road, there’s a black sand beach where you can climb amongst the glaciers for an iceberg photo shoot!!
9. Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon: Located in the southeast area of Iceland, not far from the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. This easy hike, along the top of the canyon, affords you continuously changing views. I’ve read that you can walk through the actual canyon too, but you’ll need to be prepared to wade across the river.
10. Skógafoss: This is one of the biggest falls in Iceland. There are 377 steps alongside the falls that you can trek up. Once at the top, there are some hiking trails and a lot more waterfalls. If you’re really adventurous, fit and properly equipped with the right gear, you can hike all the way to Landmannalaugar (about 55km).
11. Hraunfossar: This is a beautiful series of waterfalls. There was a rainbow across the top when I first arrived, which was spectacular. The water is usually a glacial blue, but it was pretty brown when I visited.
12. Husafell Ice Tunnels/Caves: This tour takes your through man-made tunnels inside one of Europe's largest glaciers, Langjökull. The ice chambers are backlit with LED lights and there's even an ice room that can be rented out for weddings/events.
13. Whale Watching: I can't say enough about this excursion! Ambassdor has had 100% whale sightings every day since May 2015. Since the whales are found in a fjord, called Eyjafjörður, and the waters are calm, seasickness is very rare. Also, you don’t have to go that far out before you start to see whales. The humpbacks get so close that you can almost touch them. You might even get splashed by one, if you’re lucky.
14. Grimsey Island: This island is about 40km north of the mainland, and is the only part of Iceland that lies within the Arctic Circle. There are about 60 inhabitants in the winter and up to approximately 100 in the summer months. The flight from Akureyri is 30 minutes. There is not much to do once you get there, but you do get to leave with a certification acknowledging that you’ve been to the Arctic Circle.
Below are a few tips and pointers for a road trip in Iceland:
Everyone speaks English and the Icelandic people are very friendly
Wifi is available just about everywhere
Iceland is more expensive than you would ever think is possible
Credit cards are widely accepted, even at toll booths
Tipping is not customary and not expected
Food there is very good, but there isn’t a ton of variety – try meat soup and a reindeer burger
The butter is to die for
Radio stations are few and far between and are not typically in English - bring an auxiliary cord so you can play music from your phone/tablet
With such a high number of tourists, all year round, I'd advise that you book everything in advance – tours, hotels, etc.
The weather in September is cold, windy and rainy. Northern Lights are possible to see during this time of year, if the sky is clear enough
Beware of nature! There is a very good chance that you will get attacked by a herd of sheep and your car might get munched on by horses!