Back in 2019, my boyfriend, two friends of ours, and I took a road trip around Iceland and had the most amazing time exploring some of what this amazing country has to offer! Based on my own experiences exploring here, I’m sharing our 10-day itinerary, along with some photos, interesting information about each spot, and my personal opinions.
Our route roughly follows the perimeter of the country along Route 1, or Ring Road, and can be modified to further fit your own interests and time constraints. Ten days, which includes getting to and from Iceland, felt like the perfect amount of time for us. But, like most places we’ve been, we would’ve loved to have even more time to explore here!
Given that we had a rental car for our journey, our itinerary will be most useful for travelers who will also be renting or have access to a car or camper van. We visited in June, which means that we were lucky enough to have 24 hours of daylight; this also means we had a ton of extra time to explore each day. Keep in mind that if you’re planning to visit another time of year, some of the locations mentioned in this blog post may not be accessible, and you may not be able to fit in as many stops/activities each day. There may also be more exciting or more interesting spots to visit during other times of the year too.
Day 1: How to Get to Iceland
First things first, you’ll need to get to Iceland! For our trip, we all flew into Keflavik Airport, or KEF. We chose flights that would arrive roughly around the same time on the same day, since we were flying from different locations. To maximize our time in Iceland, we flew out on a Friday night after work and arrived early Saturday morning.
For context on timing and pricing, our friends flew from Washington D.C. on Icelandair for just more than $700 round-trip per person (about a 6 hour flight). My boyfriend and I flew from Houston with a stop in Dallas on American Airlines for just more than $900 round-trip per person. We had an hour flight to Dallas, an hour layover, and close to 8 hours to Iceland; there were no direct flights from Houston when we went.
A Broad Recommendation: Splurge and pay the extra fees to select your seat ahead of time. You’ll most likely want to choose an overnight flight, and you’ll need to get some sleep. If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, know that even calling ahead of time won’t guarantee seats together. And, this is definitely not something you’ll want to deal with at the airport, especially during a short layover – we’re speaking from experience here!
Day 2: Picking Up Your Car and Hiking in Southwest Iceland
Picking Up Your Rental Car
We caught a free shuttle bus at the airport – which runs about every fifteen minutes – to SADcars, where we picked up our VW Golf-sized vehicle.
Although the car was fine for the most part, a larger car would’ve been better for some of the rougher terrain and for the longer car rides. It was a snug fit for the four of us plus our luggage, backpacks and groceries.
Note: the Keflavik SADcars office is open 24/7 – perfect for any flight arrival time.
We started our road trip in Reykjavík, which is about 45 minutes from the airport and car rental offices. Before embarking on our journey, we stopped at the Bonus supermarket to get some non-perishable items so that we wouldn’t have to eat out too much.
Stop 1: Reykjadalur
Another 45 minutes from Reykjavík is Reykjadalur, a popular spot for hiking and one of Iceland’s most frequently visited natural bathing spots. It was carved out by glacial erosion and is known for its geothermal activity, stemming from the roots of an extinct volcano that was active 120,000 years ago.
Small waterfalls and streams cut through the mountainous terrain, and steam rises from the ground, giving Reykjadalur its nickname, “Valley of Steam”.
About an hour into our hike, we made it to an area where people were hanging out in the streams and enjoying the lovely, albeit chilly, weather. Not to worry though because if you remember, the streams are naturally heated!
We weren’t prepared for a swim, but if you allot for more time here, it looked like a fun place to hangout for the afternoon.
Stop 2: Kerið (Kerid Crater)
Formed approximately 6,500 years ago, Kerið lies at the northern end of a row of craters known as Tjarnarhólar within Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone. It’s oval shaped, about 180 feet deep, 560 feet wide and 890 feet across, and is covered in red volcanic rock instead of the typical black volcanic rock you might expect. Filling the caldera is stunning, sapphire-colored water.
Most craters like this are formed by volcanic explosions, but studies in this region found no evidence of an explosion. Instead, it’s believed that Kerið was a cone volcano that erupted and emptied its magma reserve. When the magma was depleted, the weight of the cone collapsed into the empty magma chamber.
We paid 400 ISK (~$3 USD) to the land owners to check out this beautiful sight. We were able to walk around the crater and take photos from various angles. And, we were even able to go all the way down and touch the water – well worth the price, if you ask me!
Accommodation for Day 2: Airbnb in Laugardalur
Around 30 minutes from Kerið was our precious “Two bedroom family room at the Golden Circle” in Laugardalur. Laugardalur, i.e. “hot spring valley”, was primarily used for washing laundry in the geothermal hot springs until the 1930s but later became the capital’s main sports area. It boasts a large open-air, geothermal-heated swimming pool – the most visited in Iceland after the Blue Lagoon – a soccer stadium, a sports hall, a botanical garden, a park and a zoo.
There’s a beautiful pathway that leads to the water, along which sit the consecrated pool and bier stones. According to the Kristni Saga, Christians came here to be baptized at the hot pool at Reykir. It’s also claimed to be the burial site of the Bishop Jon Arason and his two sons, following their beheading. The six stones are known as the Likasteinar or “body stones” and are where the coffins were placed.
One of the signs said that some people still believe the waters have healing powers, specifically for eye disorders. Pretty interesting stuff!
Each room had two twin beds, which could be pushed together to form a double bed, and there was a door separating the rooms, so we had a separate spaces. The bathroom was chic and modern, and we loved the décor throughout the place. We paid just under $200 for the night.
A Broad Recommendation: Although July and August typically have the warmest weather and are popular for tourism, Iceland experiences 24 hours of daylight in June, making it a great time to visit. That being said, bring an eye mask to ensure you get a full night’s sleep.
Day 3: Visiting Along the Popular Golden Circle Route in South Iceland
Stop 1: Geysir Geothermal Area
The Geysir Geothermal Area is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Iceland! Located along the Golden Circle, it’s full of boiling mud pits and exploding geysers – how cool is that? The geothermal field has a surface area of just under two square miles and has been active for more than one thousand years.
Geysir is one of the most famous geysers in the world, along with the one in Yellowstone National Park. And, it’s the geyser that all others were named after.
You can visit Geysir from a distance and look at the large bowl surrounded by geyserite. Although mostly dormant now, it’s fenced off for safety purposes, since earthquakes can trigger an eruption, and the frequency of eruptions can change dramatically. Maybe you’ll be the lucky person who gets to see it erupt again!
Strokkur, a lively geyser on the premises, sprouts water 100 feet high into the air every few minutes.
Beyond the super cool experience of watching Strokkur erupt (like five times!), the scenery from every angle is stunning here. The Geysir Geothermal Area is definitely a must-see on any trip to Iceland.
Stop 2: Gullfoss
Just about ten minutes down the road from the Geysir Geothermal Area is Gullfoss, a breathtaking waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá river.
Gullfoss was formed by a flash flood that forced its way through the cracks in the basalt lava layers. The floods were so intense that the waters could’ve filled fifty Olympic-sized pools at a rate of one pool per second, and thus, filled the 100-feet-tall gorge all the way to the top.
There are several theories around how Gullfoss got its name. Some say it’s because of the golden evening hue, which often colors its glacial waters. Others think it’s from the rainbow which often appears when sunshine hits the water-spray thrown up by the waterfall. There’s an old legend of a farmer who had so much gold that he couldn’t bear the thought of someone else ever having it, so he threw it in the waterfall.
This area was designated a nature reserve in 1979, after a failed attempt by investors to use the waterfall to generate electricity. The trail was ultimately dedicated to the late Sigríður Tómasdóttir, a well-known conservationist.
Also located in the Golden Circle, this is another one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. We really enjoyed our visit here and can highly recommend it!
Stop 3: The Secret Lagoon
Located 30 minutes from Gullfoss in a small village called Fludir, the Secret Lagoon is the oldest natural hot spring in Iceland. It’s also the most natural and unique of the pools in the country, giving visitors an experience similar to that back in 1891 when the pool first opened.
The lagoon stays above 100 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, and the surrounding area boasts several other geothermal spots and a small geyser that erupts every five minutes or so. In the winter, you can even see the northern lights from here!
The cost is 3,000 ISK (~$22 USD), and you’re required to shower beforehand; there are communal showers onsite for this. Also, remember to bring your towel along, or you’ll have to pay extra to borrow one. If you’re interested in taking pictures while in the lagoon, I would recommend bringing a waterproof phone case or cover. This was such a cool experience and one well worth capturing to remember through time!
Stop 4: Gjáin
An hour-long drive and another hour-long walk will bring you to the hidden treasure, Gjáin. Note: we basically left our car on the side of the road and began trekking through what looked like Mars. Technically, you can drive to Gjáin, but the road is restricted to four-wheel drive vehicles only.
Gjáin is known as one of Iceland’s “Pearls of Nature” and is hidden deep within the Þjórsárdalur Valley. Appearing practically out of nowhere, almost like a mirage in the expanse of the lava fields that surround it, Gjáin is covered with waterfalls, rivers, columnar basalt, and other volcanic formations. From here, you can also see the volcano Hekla.
Many native Icelanders believe that elves and trolls live here, and it reminded us of the movie The Land Before Time. It really was unlike anything we’d ever seen before! If you’re a Games of Thrones lover, you’ll be excited to learn that some of the scenes were filmed here.
Some of the paths leading to the waterfall, Gjárfoss, are rocky and steep, so wear your hiking boots. Unfortunately, Gjáin is covered in snow and inaccessible in the winter months.
Stop 5: Gljúfrafoss and Seljalandsfoss
Note: we checked into our hotel before stopping here, but were able to explore this area late into the evening due to the 24 hours of daylight Iceland experiences in June.
Gljúfrafoss is a hidden gem, tucked away behind a cracked cliff, where its waters flow deep into a cave covered in moss and greenery. Visitors are able to climb into the cave and make their way back to the waterfall for an even cooler perspective. This is exactly what we did!
A Broad Recommendation: This would be a great time to wear your waterproof jacket, pants and hiking boots because you will get wet! You may even be wading through water if you aren’t good at balancing on rocks. I waited until the last minute – like two days before our trip – to order these Columbia Women’s Anytime Outdoor Boot Cut Casual Pants. They ended up arriving right on time, and I loved them! You’ll also want to use a waterproof case or bag to keep your camera, phone, watch, etc. dry.
There’s a trail with a wooden staircase that will take you to another viewpoint, but we chose not to do this because we didn’t get here until around 10 PM, and we still wanted to check out Seljalandsfoss.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the country’s most famous, most visited, and most photographed waterfalls. It’s part of the Seljalands River that originates from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Back in 2010, when the volcano erupted, havoc was wreaked to air traffic all the way in Europe. Ash made its way to the UK, Scandinavia and parts of Germany – say what?!
The waterfall can be fully encircled, meaning you can walk behind the falls into a small cave and watch the water flow down from another perspective. This was one of the coolest experiences of our entire trip, and a must-see spot in my opinion. We watched the sunset through the waterfall – and because Iceland is so neat, we saw the sun rising on our way out!
Note that, again, we were here in the summer; it may not be safe or accessible to do this in the winter. We heard stories of icicles and boulders falling and almost hitting people in the past, so remember to be extra careful no matter what time of year you’re visiting.
Another fun fact: Seljalandsfoss was featured in The Amazing Race 6 and in one of Justin Bieber’s music videos (the ‘I’ll Show You’ video for all you Beliebers out there – don’t worry, I wasn’t going to leave you hanging!).
Again, you’re going to want to wear your wet gear here. If you go for sunset, no matter what time of year you’re visiting, it will likely be cold, so wear warm clothes.
Accommodation for Day 3: Hotel Lambafell
Hotel Lambafell is a charming cabin surrounded by epic views. We shared a quaint room between the four of us with four single beds, two of which were pushed together on either side of the room, and one bathroom. And, we enjoyed the outdoor hot tub overlooking the stunning vista of mountains and rolling hills.
Hotel Lambafell was definitely one of our favorites of the trip; the cost was just under $250 for the night and included breakfast.
Day 4: Making Your Way to and Through Vatnajökull National Park
Stop 1: Skógafoss
Just a short 20 minute drive from Hotel Lambafell, Skógafoss sits on the Skógá River and is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. It’s also one of the largest at 82 feet wide and 200 feet tall. This area used to be a coastline that receded seaward, leaving the cliffs behind and forming a clear border between the coastal lowlands and highlands.
According to legend, a Viking settler named Þrasi Þórólfsson hid a chest of gold behind the waterfall, where it would be difficult to reach. It sat there for many years with one end visible through the waterfall. Three men once tried to retrieve the chest, but when they pulled with all their might, an iron ring from the side of the chest was ripped off, and they were unsuccessful in moving it. The ring was placed on the door of the church in Skógar before being moved to the Skógar Folk Museum.
You can walk right up to Skógafoss, and because we went in the morning, we got some amazing, people-free shots! If you decide to do this, be prepared to get wet (again!). There are also steps leading to an observation platform where you can admire Skógafoss from a different perspective.
More fun facts: On most days, you can see at least one rainbow in the falls. And, you’ll be excited to hear that this one was also featured in JB’s music video. How fun!
Stop 2: Fjaðrárgljúfur
Fjaðrárgljúfur, a.k.a. “Feather River Canyon”, is about an hour and a half drive from Skógafoss. More than 300 feet deep and around a mile long, Fjaðrárgljúfur is a narrow canyon with steep, “sheer” walls, a serpent-like shape, and palagonite bedrock from the cold periods of the Ice Age. It’s believed to be around two million years old, forming at the end of the last Ice Age – how cool!
Tourists came flocking to this once little-known location after the release of JB’s music video, and the canyon couldn’t withstand all of the foot traffic. It was closed for several months in 2019 – thanks a lot, Biebs – but we got really lucky, and it reopened right before our visit!
There are some well-marked paths and an outlook where you can safely walk out all the way to the edge to take in the gorgeous views.
Stop 3: Svartifoss
Vatnajökull National Park is the largest national park in the country and boasts many natural wonders, including Svartifoss, also known as “the Black Waterfall” or “Black Falls”. The dark, hexagonal basalt columns that surround the waterfall give it its name and look similar to the pipes of a giant organ.
These columns, which are formed from lava cooling over centuries, are similar to those found in Northern Ireland at the Giant’s Causeway, in the United States at Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower and in Scotland on the island of Staffa.
Ice-cold waters from the Svínafellsjökull glacier flow over the columns from 80 feet above. And, if hearing ice-cold waters doesn’t bother you enough, the sharp rocks at the bottom of the falls should be even more reason to avoid getting in the water here.
The trail leading to the waterfall is just around a mile and takes between 35-45 minutes one-way. It has some loose gravel along the paths, so be careful as you trek along. Paths can also be slippery, especially in rain or frost. Removing stones or plants and disturbing the vegetation or wildlife are prohibited, along with littering, of course.
There’s a moderately-priced campsite in the park if you choose to stay around here; the waterfall itself is free to visit.
Stop 4: Jökulsárlón
After another hour drive, you’ll arrive at Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lagoon in the southern part of the National Park. Let me pause here to just rave about how in love I was with this place. It honestly may have been the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I don’t just mean temperature-wise, haha.
Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, the lake formed after glaciers began receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It has since grown due to glaciers melting over the past 60 or so years. It was once the deepest lake in Iceland and is considered one of the natural wonders of the country.
There are various boat and ice cave tours, which we didn’t have time for, but I can only imagine how magical those are. It’s one of Iceland’s most filmed locations, featured in several movies like James Bond and Tomb Raider.
Across the street sits the jet-black beach, Breiðamerkursandur. It’s nicknamed “Diamond Beach”, since it’s covered in the translucent ice sculptures that wash ashore from the North Atlantic Ocean and glisten like diamonds. Here, we saw a bunch of seals laying along the shoreline and playing in the water. They can be seen year-round here, as they head to the mouth of the lagoon to catch fish.
Accommodation for Day 4: Vagnsstaðir Hostel
Just around 30 minutes from Jökulsárlón is Vagnsstaðir Hostel. We had two twin beds and a set of bunk beds. Check-in is seamless, and breakfast is included. We paid around $270 for the night.
Day 5: Exploring the Beautiful Canyons and Waterfalls of East Iceland
Stop 1: Jökulsárlón – So Nice, We Went Twice!
Since we had a gloomy day for our first visit, we decided to go back again the next morning. I don’t know if I can say this enough, but this is a definite must-see on any trip to Iceland!
Stop 2: Berufjörður
Berufjörður is a fjord in Eastern Iceland and is around a two and a half hour drive from Jökulsárlón. A fjord is a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs that typically forms by submergence of a glaciated valley – I had to look this one up, so thought you might want to know too.
The drive along this route is absolutely stunning; there are tons of waterfalls, and I would recommend leaving yourself more time to stop and take photos along the way. I would also recommend getting a car with four-wheel drive for this part of the journey because we were climbing some steep mountains, and there were some loose gravel roads that seemed almost impassable at times. Luckily, we made it through with flying colors, but it was definitely scary at times!
Berufjörður is around 12 miles long and 1-3 miles wide depending on the area. It’s home to the village of Djúpivogur, where less than 500 people live; yet, it’s still a major attraction due to its public artwork. It’s also the home of Iceland’s first black settler, escaped former slave, Hans Jonatan.
It’s sometimes possible to see whales and migratory seabirds in the summer, as well as seals and dolphins throughout the year, but we, unfortunately, didn’t spot any.
Stop 3: Djúpivogur
Djúpivogur is located on a peninsula between Berufjörður and Hamarsfjörður, two of the three fjords that make up the coastline in this area. It’s home to one of Iceland’s oldest commercial buildings, which now hosts a café, the heritage museum and an exhibition on the Icelandic sculptor Ríkarður Jónsson, a village native.
Although, we basically just stopped for a quick bathroom break and to stock up on snacks, you may enjoy walking around and exploring here.
Stop 4: Hengifoss
Next up is Hengifoss, which is about an hour and a half away from Djúpivogur. Surrounded by basaltic patterns and thin, red layers of clay, it’s the third highest waterfall in Iceland at almost 400 feet high and close to 1,500 feet above sea level.
To reach the waterfall, we hiked for close to an hour, much of which was uphill. It’s the most popular hiking site in East Iceland, and the trail is quite scenic along the way. Once you get to the waterfall, you can climb behind it and explore a small cave too.
The trail also leads to Litlanesfoss, which is also covered in incredible basalt stone columns.
Stop 5: Stuðlagil Canyon and Stuðlafoss Basalt Column Waterfall
Note: We actually stopped at our accommodation for the evening, Grímstunga Guesthouse, before heading here due to check-in requirements.
Just under an hour and a half away from Hengifoss is Stuðlagil Canyon and Stuðlafoss Basalt Column Waterfall. Stuðlagil, or Basalt Column Canyon, is located in upper Jökuldalur, an incredible glacier valley in East Iceland. The valley is well-known for its forceful glacial river, which is one of the largest and most powerful glacial rivers in all of Iceland – so strong, in fact, that it divided the valley into two separate sides, making communication difficult for centuries and the river dangerous to cross.
My boyfriend and I hiked down while holding onto the ropes (it was very steep), but after going part of the way, our friends decided to turn back for safety reasons and explored from a higher altitude.
The area is still not very accessible and thus not well-explored, making this natural wonder one of the most beautiful hidden gems in Iceland. If you are willing to take the path less traveled, you’re definitely in for a treat. There was no one here when we visited!
Stuðlagil itself has one of the largest collections of basalt columns in the country. The pictures we took here don’t really do it justice! We visited later in the day, so there were lots of shadows, and I really should’ve invested in a new phone/camera for this trip 🙂.
Stuðlafoss Basalt Column Waterfall
Stuðlafoss is another one of Iceland’s hidden gems, its location unknown to many tourists. To get here, you will need to hike just over a mile from the same gravel road/parking lot that leads to Stuðlagil Canyon. Stuðlafoss sits between large basalt columns, which formed from volcanic activities and other geographical factors in the area; it’s a beautiful sight to take in.
Accommodation for Day 5: Grímstunga Guesthouse
Grímstunga Guesthouse is about an hour and fifteen minutes from Stuðlagil Canyon, and we had two separate rooms, both with two twin beds. We shared a communal shower, bathroom and kitchen with everyone else. The lounge area looked pretty cool, but we didn’t spend any time there.
I will say that this wasn’t one of my favorites in regards to housing, specifically with the shared bathroom situation. It was $228.42 for the night, and breakfast was an additional $15, which we opted out of.
Day 6: Touring the Diamond Circle Route in North Iceland
Stop 1: Dettifoss
Located in the northern part of the Vatnajökull National Park on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, Dettifoss is the second most powerful waterfall in Europe, following Switzerland’s Rhine Falls and the second largest waterfall in Iceland in terms of volume, following Urriðafoss in southwest Iceland.
It’s around 330 feet wide with a drop of approximately 150 feet into the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. Its waters are grey-white due to the glacial erosion and sediment run-off from its origin, Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe.
Although Dettifoss belongs to a popular tourist route called the Diamond Circle, being a part of the largest national park in the country means that Dettifoss is well protected.
A Broad Recommendation: Take your time and be careful here. As the signs warn, the spray from the waterfall makes the surrounding areas wet and slippery, and there are some loose rocks along the way where you could lose your footing. This area is especially dangerous during winter months. Some roads may even be impassable in the winter, so check into that before your visit.
Stop 2: Selfoss
There are two other waterfalls fed by the same river as Dettifoss, Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss. Since it’s just a short walk south of Dettifoss, we were able to visit Selfoss.
Sometimes forgotten and overshadowed by Dettifoss, Selfoss is another one of Iceland’s hidden gems. We actually enjoyed visiting here more than Dettifoss! Depending on the season and any volcanic activity, the water flow may vary.
We visited on the east side of the waterfall, which is recommended, and didn’t need to move our car. Don’t confuse this with the town Selfoss, as they are in quite different locations!
Stop 3: Krafla
The drive from Dettifoss and Selfoss to Krafla takes about an hour. Krafla is a caldera that’s part of a greater volcanic system of the same name near Lake Mývatn in Northern Iceland. It’s one of Iceland’s most explosive volcanoes and has erupted 29 times in recorded history. Located on the slopes of the volcano, Viti Crater is filled with stunning turquoise, blue-green water and is surrounded by lava fields and breathtaking mountains.
Formed during a five-year-long period of eruptions at the beginning of the Mývatn Fires in 1724, Viti Crater is just under 1,000 feet in diameter. It was named after the Icelandic term for “hell” due to the geothermal violence that occurred here.
The trail begins at the parking lot and since it’s a rim hike, you can walk in either direction. We went to the right and walked a quarter of the way or so before our friends turned back to take more photos at the front.
My boyfriend and I walked a bit further to snap a few more shots before turning back; we spotted this neat, small second lake off to the side.
The entire hike can be completed in around an hour, and you can also go down to the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do that and can’t give any details about the difficulty.
Stop 4: Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur is a geothermal area with volcanic terrain, lava fields and bubbling sulfuric pits, located in the Krafla Caldera. The Mývatn Fires (1724-1729) and the Krafla Fires (1975-1984) are notably the two major periods of volcanic activity in this area during the past few centuries. The lava field formed from its most recent eruption in 1984, and you’re able to walk around and explore the impacted area.
The trail begins at the parking lot and along the way, you’ll see Mars-like terrain and aqua-colored hot springs. How neat! Be careful to stay on the trails, though. Even thirty years after the last volcanic event, steam is still rising from the ground, and the area beneath is extremely hot and dangerous. You might melt the sole of your shoes or get burnt if you’re not careful here.
Stop 5: Námaskarð
Námaskarð – also referred to as Hverir or Hverarönd – is another geothermal area full of fumaroles, hot springs, mud pools and mud pots. Since it’s large and easy to access, this spot tends to get quite crowded.
A fumarole is an opening in the Earth’s crust, usually near a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge and emit steam. When water collects in the volcanic ash surrounding one of these, mud pools or mud pots can form. Then, the heating up of gas or water vapor pushes through the mud and creates bubbles.
Due to the sulphur, you can’t miss the smell of this place. It smells something like rotten eggs, and from the resulting acidity of the ground, there isn’t much vegetation in sight. Again, it felt like a different planet here!
As you’d expect, the ground is extremely hot in some areas, and it’s important to stay on the marked paths.
Stop 6: Grjótagjá Cave
Grjótagjá Cave was a popular bathing place for decades before the 1975-1984 Krafla Fires. During that time, flowing magma streams resulted in sharp rises in water temperature, reaching nearly 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the water is now between 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit, the caves present other dangers like falling rocks. The public is now prohibited from bathing or using the caves for anything other than looking around and photographing.
This cave was also featured in Game of Thrones.
Stop 7: Dimmuborgir
Dimmuborgir, a.k.a. “The Black Fortress” or “Dark City” is an area of unusually shaped rocks and lava fields east of Mývatn. Lake Mývatn is located on the intersection of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are constantly drifting apart, therefore, making the area very volcanically active.
Around 2,300 years ago, the lava from several gigantic volcanic eruptions flowed over the then Lake Mývatn, causing it to boil and simultaneously quickening the cooling process of the lava. Reminiscent of an ancient collapsed citadel, the magnificent geological formations that remain are the creation of emptied lava lakes, and such lava pillars, dramatic rock formations and caves are rarely found on land – how neat!
There are lots of references to Icelandic folklore here. Dimmuborgir is said to be the gate between Earth and hell and the place where Satan landed when he was cast from the heavens. These lava caves are also known as the homes to the nation’s most terrifying trolls, some of which are half-troll, half-ogre and eat children – oh my!
Grýla, one of the most famous trolls, and her husband had thirteen sons who lived in Dimmuborgir. They’re known as the “Yule Lads”, and each troll makes its debut on one of the thirteen nights before Christmas, terrorizing Icelanders in their own unique ways. Originally intended to steer children away from going out into the cold Icelandic nights and getting lost, the story of the trolls has since changed, and they now wear Santa costumes and bring gifts to children instead.
Dimmuborgir is one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Iceland, and even more so after being featured in Game of Thrones. There are five marked trails within the area, all designated with their own color. You’ll need to stay on the trails to respect and preserve the area; the soil is sensitive due to wind erosion, and the rocks are brittle. A conservation program has been in place since the early 1940s.
Stop 8: Skútustaðagígar Pseudo Craters
The Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters are also found in the Lake Mývatn area. Pseudo-craters form when molten lava flows over water or wetlands and water gets trapped under the lava field and starts boiling. The pressure from the steam causes explosions, and the repeated explosions rip apart the lava, leaving lava piles around the steam vent. The resulting formation is called a pseudo crater – pretty interesting, right?
Skútustaðagígar was historically a swampy wetlands, and the remaining pseudo craters were formed from similar steam eruptions.
There are a couple of hiking trails here, both less than two miles. One takes about 30 minutes and the other an hour. Despite being a popular area for birdwatchers, the area is infested with bugs. We had to cover up as much as possible and wore sunglasses to avoid getting hit in the face. If you don’t have much time, you can skip this stop; it was interesting but not my favorite.
Stop 9: Mývatn Nature Bath
Note: We checked into Guesthouse Storu-Laugar before heading here.
A visit to the Mývatn Nature Bath is the perfect way to end a busy day! With all of the minerals, silicates and geothermal micro-organisms, the warm, soothing waters have lots of healthy benefits, like improving the skin, spirit and arthritis symptoms.
Situated by the hills of Jarðbaðshólar, the area belongs to the geologically active zone that runs southwest to northeast through the island. The surrounding area is a volcanic landscape with craters, fissures, lava formations and steaming hills.
Historically, locals used the natural steam for bathing, the tradition being to build a stone shelter over a steaming fissure. Drawing from this tradition, Mývatn Nature Bath opened in 2004.
We spent around two hours here, sipping on some ciders and beers, and suggest you leave yourself plenty of time here too. This was our favorite of the lagoons we visited in Iceland, including the Blue Lagoon, which we visited later on our trip!
Similar to the Secret Lagoon, you must shower beforehand and remove jewelry, so as to not impact the natural lagoon. You’re also going to want to shower after, so bring a change of clothes in with you. They have soap and shampoo/conditioner inside, and this one had options for showering alone vs. using the communal shower.
The cost was 5,500 ISK (~$40 USD), and it costs extra to borrow towels. Bring your own if possible.
Accommodation for Day 6: Guesthouse Storu-Laugar
Guesthouse Storu-Laugar offered two separate rooms, each fully equipped with twin beds, storage and their own bathroom. This place was super cute, and the woman running the front desk was very kind. The cost was $225 total for both rooms, and breakfast was included. We also had some pretty cute neighbors!
Day 7: A Road Trip from North Iceland to the Westfjords in the Northwest
Stop 1: Goðafoss
Sometimes referred to as the “Waterfall of the Gods”, Goðafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, falling from a height of around 30 feet over a horseshoe-shaped width of around 100 feet. It’s fed by the Skjálfandafljót river and is certainly a spectacular sight. It actually reminded us a bit of Niagara Falls in Canada.
An Icelandic ship (the MS Goðafoss) was once named after the waterfall. It was used to transport both freight and passengers, but sadly, it was sunk by a German U-Boat during World War II.
Stop 2: Kolugljúfur
From Goðafoss, it’s a three hour drive to Kolugljúfur, or Kolugil gorge, through which the Víðidalsá river flows. The gorge was named after a female troll, Kola, who according to folklore actually dug the gorge herself. It’s believed that she lived on the edge of the gorge and would reach into the river to catch salmon. Kola and her treasure are buried up on a hill in the hayfield at Kolugil and are still protected by her spell to this day.
There are several beautiful waterfalls that flow into the gorge, the most impressive being Kolufoss. The gorge is a little over a half of a mile long and around 150 feet deep.
Be careful here to not get too close to the edge; in some areas, it looked like rocks had started breaking off, and it could become quite dangerous.
Stop 3: Dynjandi
The drive from Kolugljúfur to Dynjandi is one of the longest drives of the trip at four hours long, and it’s a little scary, considering there are lots of gravel roads and no guardrails in some areas. That being said, the views are absolutely breathtaking.
Dynjandi has been a protected natural monument since 1981, protecting the waterfalls and the entire water catchment of the Dynjandisá river. The name Dynjani means “thundering noise”, and we can attest that it lives up to its name! It’s known as the “jewel of the Westfjords”, which are the oldest part of Iceland. We learned from one of the signs that they originated during a series of volcanic eruptions which took place during the Tertiary Period around 14 to 16 million years ago.
After an ice age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, the progression of a glacier carved deep valleys and fjords in the landscape, leaving behind layers of rock of different degrees of hardness, which ultimately formed the terraced waterfall Dynjandi.
As you make the fairly short hike, you’ll see six other waterfalls below the main waterfall, each with its own name; Dynjandi, of course, is the most impressive though, towering at 325 feet high and close to 100 feet wide.
A Broad Recommendation: We spent about two hours exploring here, so give yourself plenty of time. We would also recommend applying bug spray or lotion beforehand. We love this long-lasting Sawyer Products SP533 Premium Ultra 30% DEET Insect Repellent in Liposome Base Lotion. The controlled release formula provides up to 11 hours of protection and comes in an airline-friendly 3-ounce bottle.
Accommodation for Day 7: Hotel Edda Laugar
Hotel Edda Laugar is located in Saelingsdalur, and we had two separate rooms each with twin beds pushed together. This hotel is more like a hostel with shared bathrooms and showers; it was one of our least favorite of the trip but still totally fine. Breakfast was not included, and the total cost was just under $200 for both rooms.
Day 8: A Day Visit to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland
Stop 1: Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufell, also known as “Church Mountain”, is a famous, triangularly shaped mountain located on the north shore of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Its name comes from its resemblance to a church steeple, and it’s one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland.
A Broad Recommendation: the most popular spot to photograph Kirkjufell is casually from the side of the road. That’s where we took the shot above.
Kirkjufellsfoss, or “Church Mountain Falls”, is walking distance from the mountain. There’s a short path that leads you around the falls. After seeing so many other impressive waterfalls, this wasn’t as exciting, but it was still beautiful and a nice way to break up our long drives.
That being said, the scenery around the falls was breathtaking, especially with this famous mountain in the background.
Fun fact: this is yet another spot where Game of Thrones was filmed. We spent about 45 mins here, including the time it took us to walk to and from the falls.
Stop 2: Djúpalónssandur
Just around an hour away is Djúpalónssandur, a black sand and black pebble beach speckled with large, rocky lava formations. The smooth, black pebbles give the beach its nicknames, “Black Lava Pearl Beach” and “pearls of the deep lagoon”. Note that these pebbles are protected by law, and you shouldn’t take any home with you.
Remnants of a shipwreck in 1948 can still be found scattered across the beach to this day. The iron pieces are now protected as a monument in honor of those who perished; they should also be left undisturbed.
One large lava formation called Gatklettur has a hole in the middle, through which you can see Snæfellsjökull glacier. Another called Söngklettur, or “singing rock”, is a large lava rock with a reddish hue, which is said to be a “Church of the Elves” and is deemed a natural monument in the area. Several other formations are believed to have been trolls that were turned to stone. Of course, you should respect these natural wonders and avoid climbing on them.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula once was one of the most active trading posts on the island but has since become a tourist spot. The waters are actually quite treacherous, and the suction of the Atlantic Ocean is very strong here. The beach should only be admired from a safe distance. One of the signs reads: “Very strong sea currents. Sharp increase in depth. Dangerous waves. Entering the sea may be life-threatening.”, so please remember to use extra caution and don’t go into the ocean.
Stop 3: Lóndrangar
Lóndrangar is comprised of two impressive basalt rock pinnacles rising up from the ocean near the seashore of Snæfellsjökull National Park. The larger of the rocks is around 246 feet tall and the smaller is closer to 200 feet tall; they are thought to be the remains of a crater which has since eroded away.
Lóndrangar is home to many seabirds, and the cliffs are covered in bird poop. That part is not so pretty – ha!
Stop 4: Hellnar
Two small villages, Hellnar and Arnarstapi, sit adjacent to each other at the foot of Snaefellsjökull, Iceland’s most famous volcano. The surrounding area is known to be one of the most mystical energy centers on earth, and many hikers come here to experience this unique energy.
Hellnar was once among the largest fishing villages, and is now visited for Valasnös, a spectacular cliff protruding into the ocean, and Baðstofa, one of Iceland’s most peculiar, colorful caves. The shore is, again, full of black and white polished rocks; if you walk to the cave, be careful and take your time, as they can get extremely slippery.
We also saw a cute café up on the hill, but we decided to keep moving after 40 minutes of exploring.
Stop 5: Rauðfeldsgjá Canyon
Bárðar Snæfellsáss, who was half-man, half-troll, lived in Hellnar at the end of the 9th century, and his brother, Porkell, lived in Arnarstapi. One of Porkell’s son’s, Rauðfeldsgjá, pushed Bárðar’s eldest daughter onto an iceberg, and it’s said that she drifted all the way to Greenland. Although she was unharmed, Bárðar was furious and killed both of Porkell’s sons, pushing Rauðfeldsgjá into a canyon, now called Rauðfeldsgjá Canyon, and pushing Sölvi off a cliff nearby, now called Sölvahamar Cliff.
A popular place to explore, a stream runs through Rauðfeldsgjá Canyon, and it narrows the further you get inside; if you make it through, you can see a clear view of the sky, where it’s believed Bárðar is still watching over to this day.
We walked the short trail here and made our way inside, but we saw some serious hikers/rock climbers that were drenched, and it looked slippery and a bit dangerous, so we decided to turn back almost as soon as we started. If you feel comfortable getting wet, this looked like quite an adventure, though.
Stop 6: Bjarnarfoss
Bjarnarfoss, a beautiful waterfall that can be seen from the road, is just a few minutes away. Bjarnar is Icelandic for Bear, which seems odd, since bears aren’t native to the area. However, Polar Bears have been known to make visits on icebergs that occasionally drift over from Greenland – say what?!
The most interesting part of the waterfall is said to be up in the cliffs, which requires hiking the steep slope along the stream coming from the waterfall. We opted out on doing this and just grabbed some photos from the road.
Stop 7: Búðakirkja
Another short drive lands you in Búðir, a small settlement that sits in the Búðahraun lava field, which is now grown over with grassy flora. It’s home to Hotel Búðir, a popular country inn and restaurant, and Búðakirkja, an old, small, black church.
The first Búðakirkja was built in 1703 but was eventually deconstructed due to a lack of parishioners; it was later reconstructed in 1987. There is still a historic graveyard, a bell and a chalice from the time when the church was first erected.
Accommodation for Day 8: Hótel Borgarnes
Hótel Borgarnes is located in the town of Borgarnes in southwest Iceland. We shared one room with four twin beds and a bathroom. The cost was just under $250 for the night, and breakfast the next morning was also included.
Day 9: Finding Our Way Through West Iceland and Back to Reykjavík
Stop 1: Hraunfossar
Appropriately named after the Icelandic word for lava (hraun), Hraunfossar is a series of springs and waterfalls streaming out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field, which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes under the glacier named Langjökull.
Surface water and melt water from the glaciers run between the lava layers and emerge to form the falls. The pillow lava is believed to have been formed around 800 AD, shortly before the first settlers arrived in Iceland.
Stop 2: Barnafoss
Barnafoss is walkable from Hraunfossar. Its water can appear either bright blue or milky grey depending on when you visit. It’s said that the name, “the waterfall of the children”, came from an accident where two children fell to their deaths while crossing a natural stone arch bridge formed over the waterfall; their mother later had the bridge demolished.
Stop 3: Glymur
A hour and a half drive from Barnafoss is Glymur hiking trail. Glymur, in the river Botnsa, is the highest waterfall in Iceland. Botnsa runs from the lake Hvalvatn and tumbles from a height of around 650 feet above sea level down a short, but very deep canyon into the valley, Botnsdalur. The lake is the second deepest lake in Iceland.
There are marked trails to the viewpoints, Steojasnos and Hellupallur, and other unmarked trails where you can continue walking up along the canyon. You can also wade across the river, and from there, walk down along the west side of the canyon – we opted out of these options as to not get too wet.
The full trail averages around 4-6 hours round trip (it only took us around 3 hours though) and is absolutely breathtaking. The trail also has some interesting obstacles like going through a cave, walking across a log over the river, and using chains to climb up and down the side of the cliffs. Don’t worry, though; none of these were too hard.
Pack a lunch, so you can eat at the top and take in all of the views!
A Broad Recommendation: wear waterproof hiking boots for this excursion. There can be crumbling rocks in some places and slippery surfaces. If it rains and the river floods, hikers must wade across the river even along the marked hiking trails.
Stop 4: Thingvellir National Park
Head back to the Golden Circle area (about a two hour drive) to check out Thingvellir National Park. The park lies in a rift valley situated on the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Once the site of the Alþiing, the annual parliament of Iceland, this area has a lot of history and is a site of cultural and geological importance. For that reason, it’s now a protected area of the Icelandic nation and also a very popular tourist attraction. We spent around 45 minutes here, walking along the trail to some small waterfalls and purchasing a few souvenirs.
For more information, check out the Thingvellir National Park website.
Stop 5: Tapas Barinn
Tapas Barinn is a highly-rated tapas restaurant (4.5 stars at the time we went).
Our friends ordered the “Icelandic Gourmet Feast”, which is the most popular menu item for travelers. My boyfriend and I went with “A Journey into the Unknown”, the most popular set menu option. Ours started with an aperitif followed by seven tapas chosen by the chef containing a mixture of meat, fish and vegetables and a dessert.
Both meals were 8,990 ISK (or around $65 USD per person), and honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with anything here; the food was so delicious, and we really enjoyed the overall vibe – and the impeccable service.
Stop 6: Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is arguably the most popular geothermal spa in Iceland. Located in a lava field near Grindavík, it boasts a mask bar, an in-water drink bar, saunas, steam rooms, a restaurant and more.
Similar to the Mývatn Nature Baths, the Blue Lagoon offers a rejuvenating experience while relaxing in geothermal seawater. It’s a wonderful way to end any trip to Iceland! It’s also fairly close to the airport, making it an easy visit for layovers too.
Similar to the Secret Lagoon and the Mývatn Nature Baths, you must shower beforehand and remove all jewelry. They advise putting extra conditioner in your hair due to the high levels of silica in the seawater. They have complimentary soap and shampoo/conditioner and options for showering alone as well.
The cost was around $50 USD per person, and a towel is included in the price of your booking.
A Broad Recommendation: you should book in advance, as the Blue Lagoon is typically fully booked throughout the year, and you don’t want to miss your chance to visit here! They will not guarantee entry for guests who arrive late; you have a one-hour window of flexibility, meaning you can arrive up to one hour after your booking time.
Stop 7: Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja is an iconic Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík. Situated on a hilltop near the center of Reykjavík, it’s visible throughout the city and is one of the city’s best-known landmarks. We visited around 12:30 AM and took full advantage of the 24 hours of daylight.
Stop 8: Second Dinner at Pylsuhúsið
Grab a hot dog from Pylsuhúsið. Iceland is well known for having the best hot dogs in the world, and it’s recommended that you order them with “the works”, i.e. all the condiments. I’m not a huge hot dog fan, but I will say Nordic countries tend to get these right!
Accommodation for Day 9: Airbnb in Reykjavík
We had two separate bedrooms – one with a double bed and one with two twins – and a shared bathroom and kitchen. The total cost was $275.12 for the night, and we had the entire place to ourselves. Sorry I don’t have the booking details for this one, but you can use that price range as a reference.
Day 10: Heading Home With Lots of Amazing Memories From Our Trip!
Sadly, every trip must come to an end. Drop off your rental car and give yourself plenty of time to get checked in and settled at the airport. We plan to arrive around three hours early for any international flight.
Have you ever been to Iceland? Feel free to leave us a message about your experience in a comment below!
Looking for more information about traveling to Iceland? Check out our other pages/posts:
- Iceland: A-Broad Overview: lots of bonus material to help you plan your own trip to Iceland like what to pack, how to dress, and other important travel information.
- Our Amazing 10 Day Road Trip Around Iceland: details about our whole Iceland experience from start to finish with lots more information and photos from each spot!
And for something else to read, check out some of our other European adventures:
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XOXO Travel A-Broads