‘the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’ —augustine of hippo
WHEN TO GO
When planning a trip to Iceland, the first thing to consider is, of course, what time of year to go. As Iceland is very close to the Arctic Circle, the country has very long summer days (21+ hours of sunlight), and very short winter days (5 hours of daylight). This is definitely something to consider when deciding what time of year to travel! Also, this does not mean that winter is a terrible time to go–it leaves lots of time for seeing the Northern Lights, and it doesn’t get absurdly cold there like it does here in New England. I’m talking average temperatures of about 30 to 33*F, or -1 to +1*C.
The high tourist season of Iceland is roughly from the beginning of June to the end of September. As Iceland is becoming increasingly tourist-y, that means this time of year is much busier than others, and different things to do may cost more during these months.
My trip in Iceland was September 27-October 3, nestled right in at the end of the tourist season, and had almost equal hours of daylight and night. It stayed right around 50*F, or 10*C, our entire trip. Now, this is the only time I have ever been to Iceland, so I can’t speak for other times of year, but…this was the PERFECT time to go. It wasn’t high tourist season but the weather was still nice, there was enough night time hours that we saw the Northern Lights, and most of the places we went to weren’t super crowded (like campgrounds, places of interest, etc.). As a lot of the best parts of Iceland are remote and far apart from each other, you will definitely need to know which mode of transportation you will use to get around the country.
Also, if you are flying from the US–check out the airline WOWAir! It is amazingly cheap, it was less than $300 roundtrip for my ticket from Boston!
THE BEST WAY TO EXPLORE ICELAND
EASY. My mom and I rented a camper van from the wonderfully helpful company —-> Happy Campers. We did a ton of research with comparing the few camper van rental companies in Iceland, and decided Happy Campers definitely give you the most bang for your buck.
For the two of us, the Happy 1 van was totally comfortable. It gave us the freedom to travel at our own pace, the freedom to visit the places we wanted to see, and also served as our cozy accommodation for the nights we spent in it at campgrounds! With its stove top and mini-cooler, it allowed us to cook our own food (YAY saving $$!), and since it was our transportation and accommodation all in one, it saved us money that way, too.
LOGISTICS OF RENTING A CAMPER VAN
Road tripping around a foreign country in a camper van may seem daunting, but it is not as intimidating as it seems! With the combination of my mom and I doing some research and the staff of Happy Campers (HC) helping us plan the route of our road trip around the Ring Road (post on that coming soon!), we did just that. They also picked us up from the airport and took us to their headquarters about 15 minutes away.
The vans themselves are comfortably-sized for driving, cooking, and sleeping. HC provides bedding, pillows, and some add-ons that you can buy for more comfort. As we decided not to get an international phone plan for just one week, we purchased the wifi package from HC for a flat fee of €40 (around $49), and that served as our GPS and connection to the outside world! The wifi works whenever the van is running, and for about an hour after it stops running. We also got sleeping bags from HC for some extra warmth at night, even though the van comes with a solar heating system for when it is not running (!!). It has a cooler, stove plate, and the bed folds up into a couch for when you drive.
As for campgrounds, HC gave us a map of all of the open campgrounds for that time of year. We did not have to call in advance for any of them, which made our traveling easy because we would just stop and sleep whenever we felt like it. They ranged from about €10-25 a night ($12-30) for us to camp and for full use of their bathrooms and showers.
If you want to truly see all that Iceland has to offer and do not want to rent a camper van, the other two options are to rent a car, or to participate in bus tours. If you rent a car, then you might as well rent a van because you would either be staying in hotels/AirBNBs, which would add up to more than renting a camper van, or camping in a very small vehicle, which would not be the most comfortable for an extended period of time. Tour buses are a great option if you are feeling intimidated by traveling around a foreign country without any structure. However, they tend to be considerably more expensive and you run on their schedule; as opposed to taking your time in certain places, or passing by others that don’t interest you as much.
My personal favorite things to do while traveling tend to be things that aren’t as tourist-y, or things that are more off the beaten path. My absolute FAVORITE thing that we did on our trip was to go see The Cave People cave. It is about an hour’s drive outside of Reykjavik, and it is SO WORTH IT! This is a new attraction started by a native Icelandic mother-son duo in Spring 2017. They warmed us up in their tent with hot drinks, and then took us on a private tour of the Laugarvatnshellar Cave. The cave was inhabited by two very interesting families at two different times in the 20th century, and the tour guides are amazing story-tellers. I don’t want to spoil the stories for you, but the cave is even worth going to just to see the inside! Here is their website —-> The Cave People Iceland
Iceland is known for its high density of unreal waterfalls that feel like you are living in a desktop background. Two of my favorites are on the south shore of Iceland, only 20 minutes apart from each other: Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Skogafoss is the farther one from Reykjavik, and it is a 2 hour drive to get there…which is worth every minute for the beauty you experience from these two sights! Seljalandsfoss is especially magical because there is a path to walk behind the waterfall, as pictured below. The southern short of Iceland is jam-packed with beautiful sights, from the waterfalls, to the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier, to the Black Sand Beach and the DC Plane Wreck. If you find yourself in Iceland, this area is a MUST!
My other favorite waterfall that we ventured out to was Hraunfossar. This one is definitely more out of the way as there are not many other attractions nearby, unlike Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. But…I must say, it was even more beautiful. It is essentially a series of a ton of small waterfalls that together make one HUGE one. The fall foliage really just made this place one of my favorites in the world…
The last place on my list of must-sees would be the village of Myvatn. SO many cool things are packed into this tiny little town–geothermal baths (that are better than Blue Lagoon), Hverfjall (a giant, hikeable, volcanic crater), lava fields, a lake with water bluer than you have ever seen…basically, what I am saying is that this place is worth the 6 hour drive from Reykjavik. If you are traveling around the entirety of the Ring Road, then you have no excuse for skipping over this magical place!
We only gave ourselves two days to spend in Reykjavik, and I think we would have benefited from allotting one or two more in order to truly see all that we would have wanted to see (like more museums…yes, we are nerds). However, we found some amazing restaurants (Cafe Babalu, Glo), shops along the Skolavordustigur, and beautiful places (Hallgrimskirkja–you have to go here!, the old port).
I hope this travel guide was helpful for you! Please leave a comment if you have any questions about anything I’ve mentioned here. There is a post on how to travel the Ring Road of Iceland coming very soon!
Also, here is a reference link to get you and I both some money off of rentals from Happy Campers! —-> Happy Campers Reference Code