For the past few years I have been thinking about how little time I really get to spend with my dad. Once he and my mom split, he moved to Baltimore and started working 9-5 again. Ever since then we just haven’t had as much time to hang out. So after I took my mom to Greece last year as part of my yearly celebration for being debt free, I decided that this year my dad and I should go on a trip together. When I asked him where he wanted to go the first thing he said was Ireland and immediately after, Iceland. It might seem surprising considering where he lives but my dad grew up in Galesburg Illinois so he is definitely an outdoorsy, small town kinda guy. While he can enjoy the finer things like fancy donuts, he’s happiest surrounded by nature or with family. I decided to go with Iceland because I knew how much my dad likes to fish and when you think of quality fish you think Icelandic fish over Irish fish. We chose to go in September because it’s the beginning of Northern Lights season, the days are still long, and the weather is decent, plus it’s my birthday month. While I was a little nervous about this trip since it was my first outdoors, non-summer vacation it was an absolutely incredible experience that I am so excited to finally be sharing with you. So keep reading for all the details about the first part of our trip to Iceland.
Planning a Trip to Iceland: A 7 Day Itinerary
Thankfully my dad is relatively carefree when it comes to traveling. In his mind just seeing one site a day is fine which is the polar opposite of my must maximize every minute of every day to see every little thing travel philosophy. So we decided it was best to leave the planning up to me. Originally the goal was to drive the ring road around the whole island because I wanted to see the east fjords as well as soak in the Mývatn Nature Baths. As I started trying to piece together what the trip would look like packing the ring road into just 7 days I realized it’d make for rushed and very miserable trip. After a quick talk with pops we decided to focus on enjoying the west and south coast. Our 7 day Iceland itinerary was as follows:
Day 1- Reykjavík
Day 2 – Reykjavík – Golden Circle – Hella
Day 3 – Hella – Vik
Day 4 – Vik -Jökulsárlón -Vik
Day 5 – Vik – Reykjavík – Grundarfjörður
Day 6– Snæfellsjökull National Park
Day 7– Grundarfjörður – Reykjavík
Getting to and Around Iceland
Since we were coming from the U.S. we flew into Iceland. When we first starting planning this trip WowAir was still in business, but after they shut down we found a relatively inexpensive direct flight through Icelandair out of Dulles, Washington straight into Reykjavík International. Note the international airport is about 30 minutes from actual Reykjavík the capitol.
Pro Tip: Once you land at the airport IMMEDIATELY use the free wifi to get on Google Maps to download maps of where you plan to travel to ahead of time. Both my dad and I had international plans through our cell providers but had absolutely zero coverage. Also use your notes to jot down any important addresses. Even if you have no wifi the offline version of Google Maps will allow you to get directions to any place within the map you downloaded. This was a total lifesaver since we were on the road a lot.
In terms of transportation you have a few options. If you plan to stay just in the Reykjavík area then I would recommend relying on shuttles and tour buses to see the sites. Since my dad and I decided we wanted to go to Jökulsárlón and Snæfellsjökull National Park we rented a car. After doing a lot of shopping around I found the best deal on a car through Sixt. Originally we had just a regular Toyota but ended up upgrading once we landed. My dad wanted the extra space. If you’re on the fence about renting a car versus a 4×4 my dad recommends the 4×4 because it allows you to go on the f-roads. F-roads are non paved usually gravel roads, that take you off the beaten path to some pretty awesome sites.
Where to Stay in Reykjavík Iceland
I knew after an overnight flight, a morning of fishing and an afternoon blissfully relaxing in the Blue Lagoon we would be exhausted and in desperate need of some sleep. After doing some price comparisons I decided to save some money here so I could spring for some of the Air BnBs I wanted to stay at later in the trip so I booked us a room the Brim Hotel. The accommodations were simple but just what we needed, two beds and our own bathroom. Note there was no TV in the room but they did have WiFi. There was a shared kitchen guests could use as well as breakfast for purchase the next day, we didn’t use either. For one night it was perfect but if you plan to stay longer you might want to find a place that includes breakfast in the price of the room.
Things to Do in Reykjavik
- Open Sea Fishing. This was literally one of the only two things my dad really wanted to do on this trip. We opted for a half day excursion through Happy Tours on the morning we landed. It was such a fun experience, they provided all the gear, baited the hooks, taught you the technique then removed any fish you caught. The best part was that they cooked the fish afterwards for an absolutely delicious lunch. Hands down some of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life.
- The Blue Lagoon, or any other of the geothermal pools. There are a lot of mixed reviews when it comes to the Blue Lagoon. Even though it’s a man-made hot spring both my father and I found it super enjoyable and recommend going. We went at around 1pm and it wasn’t that crowded. I would stick with the comfort package unless you want the luxury spa experience. We went with the premium but the extra facial wasn’t worth the extra cash.
- Meander the City. The capital is the largest city on the whole island so all the food and night life will be here.
- Visit the Hallgrímskirkja. Be mindful that this is a church so if you go on a Sunday tours will be shut down for service. We didn’t go inside but stopped for a bit to enjoy the truly incredible piece of architecture.
- Schedule a day trip. For those that don’t plan to rent a car book an excursion to the Golden Circle, which I’ll take about below, Vik or Snæfellsjökull National Park.
Where to Stop Along the Golden Circle
- Þórufoss – of all the stops this was hands down our favorite. We arrived a little before 11 am and had the views all to ourselves. You can be adventurous and actually wander down to the waterfall and river which I recommend you to do because most tourists won’t have enough time to do so. I recommend doing this stop last, bringing a picnic with you and just spend time in the moment.
- Thingvellir National Park– the draw of this national park is the tectonic plates. Note that you have to pay to park here. While the views are incredible we didn’t do too much exploring, but there are excursions where you can snorkel or dive between the tectonic plates.
- Brúarfoss Waterfall-when we researched this waterfall the directions said we’d be able to park in someone’s driveway and take a short walk to get to the falls, that is no longer true. Instead there is a lot just off the main road and the walk is a few miles long one way, the other thing that people fail to mention is depending on the weather the first part of that walk is entirely thick mud, like the kind that will steal your shoes. So long story short we did not visit this site, but I’ve heard it’s worth the arduous trek, but be forewarned to wear clothes and shoes you don’t mind getting ruined and that this is for those who are fairly in shape.
- Strokkur Gysir– this is a quick stop but really fun to see. The Gysir goes off fairly frequently, about every 5 minutes, so you can stop to enjoy several sprays or see the one then go.
- Gullfoss Falls – this is one of the larger waterfalls we saw but also the most crowded by the time we got there later in the afternoon. What’s nice is it’s an easy walk to see the falls, then a path to get up close as well as stairs to get a higher view.
- Kerið Crater– this is also can be a quick stop as well, but note it does cost to get in, about $5 per person. Luckily their card machine was broken so we got in free. You can take stairs down to the bottom of the crater as well as walk around the rim for some gorgeous views.
Where & What to Eat
People are not exaggerating when they say eating out can get expensive in Iceland. You have to bear in mind it’s an island so a lot of food is imported which is why it costs more. The other thing we found was that food was definitely hit or miss because many locals feel eating out is too expensive so most of the restaurants are frequented by tourists. That being said here are a few places my dad and I enjoyed:
- 101 Reykjavík Street Food– we both were craving some soup and saw this little spot. The owner was amazingly kind and helpful and the soup was delicious. My dad ordered the meat soup and I ordered the lobster soup both came with a roll and a candy bar.
- Sandholt– while they do serve food here my dad and I stopped for the bakery. They had all kinds of cakes, rolls and other sweets. We picked a variety to bring with us to eat for my birthday up in Grundarfjörður.
- Braud– another bakery, can you tell we have a serious sweet tooth. This was a cool place to stop because you could see all the baked goods being made and I even found some Icelandic kombucha here.
the Golden Circle
- Laugarvatn Fontana– both a cafe and hot sprig. Honestly my dad and I just stopped here to get some of Iceland’s famous underground baked rye bread. Their cafe had a really great offering for a healthy lunch buffet. Also just behind the building you can go right to the lake and actually walk in to feel the natural geothermal spring, but be careful because some parts of the water are 100 degrees F.
- Efstidalur– a dairy farm. It’s known for it’s ice cream but also has a cozy cafe that you can enjoy soups and sandwiches. We opted to try every flavor of ice cream and with a side of swiss mochas to combat the sugar rush.
- Friðheimar– an organic tomato farm. While we didn’t make it here this place came highly recommended for serving amazing tomato soup inside their greenhouse. They say you should make reservations first but I’ve heard some people were able to walk in and still get seated.
What to Pack and Wear to Iceland in September
I will pass on the warning that I was given which was to bring waterproof everything! The weather really is crazy, like it can rain or snow in an instant and the winds got up to 30mph crazy, but even if it’s sunny you’ll get wet visiting the waterfalls. At the very least be sure to pack the following:
- rain poncho or jacket
- waterproof boots
- waterproof fanny pack or backpack
- layering pieces (i.e. tank tops, long sleeves and leggings)
- beanie or head band
My dad bought us Frogg Togg rain jackets and pants that I wore over my outfits when it was raining or we were planning to get soaked by waterfalls. I also wore a pair of water resistant Lululemon leggings under all my pants to help wick away moisture. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my UGG boots and cropped sherpa jacket stood up to all the water.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for part two of our trip on Things to do in Southern Iceland. If you’ve been to Iceland please share any recommendations of your own below!