Having been to Iceland in 2012, I get questions about our trip now that it’s becoming a more popular destination for vacations and holidays. Below is an adaption of the email I save for such questions. Comment below if you have your own questions since they may help others!
We went for 1 week in April, I think 6 nights there. Their seasons are actually not too different from say, Boston’s. When I tell people that we flew out of Boston and it was only about a 4 hour flight, they’re surprised! Even though Iceland is part of Europe, it’s really not that far nor different than we’re already used to (if you live in the Northeast) Although the weather isn’t as crazy as you might think, the sunlight can vary a lot more than the States: very long days in the summer and very dark in the winter. In general, I don’t think it’s advisable to go anytime in the winter due to harsher conditions and a lot less light!
When you first get to the airport, get your rental car. Iceland is so easy to navigate because there is essentially 1 main road around the whole country..for the side roads, your GPS will help and ours was accurate. Do NOT rent from SAD cars. We did because they were fairly cheap…yes that’ the real name and yes, we were sad when they didn’t pick us up from the airport for 3-4 hours b/c the dude was sleeping….go with Hertz or a company that is based in the airport, even if it’s a little more expensive. We made reservations for the rental car in advance. We had a little 2 door Yaris which was perfect. I thought we might need a 4 wheel drive SUV, but the ring road is like any road in the States and was fine since it was spring. If you are going in the winter, you might need a 4×4. Check forums like TripAdvisor about that.
When you get to the airport you’ll arrive very early (7am ish), so pick up your rental car and go first to the blue lagoon b/c most hotels don’t check you in that early anyway. Kristin really loves the spa stuff so we did the Blue Lagoon on the way in and way out. Expensive, but you’ll never go to another place like it. We did 4 nights staying in Reykjavik (hotel was called “room with a view”) The hotel was great b/c it had a kitchen and we bought food to cook (Iceland can be expensive to eat) and it was in a perfect central location. Reykjavik is known for their bar scene so people are out until 2-4am even on weeknights. This can be good if you are looking to party; not good if you are looking to sleep. Reykjavik is a neat little city, and definitely walkable, but you probably don’t need more than a day or two to explore. There is a cool church and a couple of main streets to do some shopping. Two nights were in the countryside (Hotel Hamar) to see the northern lights (which we didn’t b/c it was foggy..oh well) It was ok, but since we were really just there for the northern lights, we didn’t do much except a day trip to see some waterfalls.
If you have longer than a week I would totally recommend driving around the ring road for the whole country. Even if you don’t, I would still be open to the idea of changing hotels every night or every couple of nights in order to do an out-and-back drive along the south coast. We didn’t get to the far east coast and that’s where some of the cool glaciers were. From Reykjavik it is super easy to get to the golden triangle (Thingvellir, Gullfoss, etc) and up north to some of the fjords….but looking back we wish we didn’t book the same hotel for 4 nights and instead had the freedom or the planning to drive and stop at a place, then the next day continue along the coast, stop, etc. You can literally drive around the ring road without a plan and just stop wherever there’s a blue sign marking a waterfall…AMAZING falls.
If I had to change our itinerary, I would get a hotel in Reykjavik for the first night or 2. This will let you do a day in Reykjavik, a day to see the golden triangle, and a day to do anything else in that area if you wanted. Then I would drive along the southern coast and make stops along the way to see waterfalls, glaciers, animals, etc. (there was a place that is known for seal colonies, but we didn’t see any when we went) Then I would either go around the whole ring road (7-10 day trip…7 days would be rushed, 10 days would be perfect) or drive back to Reykjavik and stay a last night there before your flight. In terms of clothes, bring warm layers. It can get very windy and so the temp is not too bad (mid to high 30s but again, that was in April) but the wind makes it feel colder. If we were hiking (which was most of our days) then we would wear a base layer of clothing, a fleece layer, and then either a down sweater (thinner than a heavy down jacket) or a soft shell jacket. Hat and gloves are a must. Snacks too, since being hangry is the worst when you’re on vacation.