Iceland in a Week – You can do it all!

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Icebergs at Jokulsarlon about to be carried out to sea

Well, not literally all that Iceland has to offer. But you can do an awful lot.

Sometimes when I travel I don’t really make plans for each day. Other times, when I want to do some activities where timing is important, I will make a plan, and I did plan for this trip to Iceland for one reason. I wanted to see the ice caves on the southeast coast in Jokulsarlon with Guide to Iceland, and for this, you have to book in advance. Therefore, I needed at least a partial plan.

Here’s a rundown of my week in Iceland so you can get an idea of what I saw and the time it took to do it. It was an amazing week and worked out even better than I had hoped, even with a huge snowstorm on my second night.

Reykjavik after 50cm of snow fell overnight

Taking Care of Business

Day 1 Friday – Travel from Kuwait to Iceland, which meant four countries in one day. Got money, SIM card, and a rental car with studs on the tires (a must!) and GPS from Orange Car Rental. Made it to my awesome Airbnb apartment by 10PM.

The Golden Circle

Pingvellir National Park – first stop on the Golden Circle

Day 2 Saturday – I started with breakfast at The Laundromat Café downtown, and it was bitterly cold and snowing. Highly recommend The Laundromat Cafe. The snow stopped and I drove The Golden Circle, part of it in a snowstorm later in the day. I chose to do this today because the weather for the next day looked even worse than it did for today. Good thing I did. By the time I got to the Geysir, snow began to fall pretty heavily. It was the weirdest snow I’d ever seen. It looked like Dippin’ Dots. Then it turned into huge, wet flakes.

I drove on to Gulfoss where the snow was full blown and so was the wind, but this was a mistake. I couldn’t even see Gulfoss and I was miserable, so I snapped a few obligatory pictures and headed back to my car. I looked in the mirror and realized I had mascara running down my face! Makes sense since I couldn’t see because of snowflakes on my eyelashes. I cleaned up a bit and drove back towards the Geysir and could barely see. The road at this point was completely white.

Geysir bubble erupting, but it was snowing and so cold that it created a lot of steam blocking the view

After I got back to the Geysir, I continued toward Selfoss and the weather improved somewhat after about an hour, but the damage had been done. Roads were snowy and in places, icy, so I didn’t make any stops. At the time, I didn’t realize that between Gulfoss, Selfoss, and Reykjavik, there aren’t really any stops to make unless you want to take photos of scenery. The Golden Circle is really a Golden line to Gulfoss. Or in my case, a white line.

I found the Golden Circle to be a bit of a disappointment, but maybe that’s because of the weather. Or the tour buses and the crowds that came with them. I think with better weather, the scenery would be amazing and I could have been relaxed enough to enjoy it while driving.

This was my snowy view of Gulfoss waterfall

Snow, Snow, and more Snow – Reykjavik it is!

Day 3 Sunday – Overnight, over 50cm of snow fell on the city and most of Iceland. My car was literally buried. It was a surprise to everyone, and the 2nd biggest snowstorm in Iceland in over 50 years. It was beautiful. And a pain in my ass. I’m not even going to pretend that I was out frolicking in it and having fun building a snowman. I would not be driving today. I took a walk and took pictures of the Seltjarnarnes, and then waited around at the apartment till about 11:30 when my host was leaving and she offered to take to me downtown.

My rental car after the snowstorm. It didn’t go anywhere on this day.
Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral in Reykjavik is worth 10 dollars to go up into the tower for the views

I spent the day exploring Reykjavik, starting with Hallgrimskirkja (1000 ISK) and a view of the city from the tower. Great snowy photos, but the church itself was underwhelming. Impressive tower though. I had lunch, coffee and beer at Café Babalu, which was outstanding but a bit hectic, and then I headed to the Icelandic Phallological Museum (1500 ISK). Never has an attraction been so highly overrated, with the exception of the Blue Lagoon. Much more to come on that!

Cafe Babalu is popular for a reason – great coffee and food

I took a pretty bad spill on the ice and after a while, I just got tired of roaming the streets and taking pictures while trying not to fall. It was treacherous, and yet people were everywhere. Every café and restaurant seemed to have a line. It was late afternoon, I was cold, my back hurt from falling two days in a row (I also fell at the Geysir), and I had no desire to shop, so I made my way over to the seaside walking path. It had been cleared off for the most part, and the sun was shining, so I walked the 3km back to my little abode at the end of the peninsula. I enjoyed that as much as the dogs I saw playing in the snow.

Ice, Ice, and Lights in Jokulsarlon

Day 4 Monday – My Airbnb host dug my car out of the snow yesterday. Now that is above and beyond hospitality. I was so grateful. I got up early this morning and by 7:50 I was on my way to Jokulsarlon. Roads were in pretty good shape, but Road 1 over the mountains out of Reykjavik was terrifying. Blowing snow blinded me at times. I think at the time I was just too stupid to be terrified.

It was a long drive along the southern coast and my tour of the caves with Guide to Iceland was at 4PM. I made much better time than I thought I would, even in very windy conditions, and only stopped twice along the way. I planned to stop at sights of interest the next day on my way back.

Random waterfall I shot on Road 1 on the way to Jokulsarlon

I arrived at Jokulsarlon at 1:30, had a very expensive sandwich, pie, and hot cocoa, and walked around taking pictures of the glacier till my tour at 4:00. I joined a group of about ten in the most ridiculous looking, but necessary, vehicle I’d ever seen, and we made the 45 minute drive across the glacier to the ice caves. Talk about an amazing feat of nature. We could really only go about 30 meters into the caves (there were two) but the ice formations were just astounding. When I thought about how these caves were formed, I was truly impressed.

I booked my tour through Guide to Iceland about two weeks in advance. Great experience.

Crystal Cave at the Vatnajokull Glacier near Jokulsarlon just opened 3 days before my arrival

It was dark when we returned to Jokulsarlon, and I had a 45 minute drive to my room for the evening at Guesthouse Holmur. I was a little concerned about wind, but had no problems. It was a clear night and there is nothing in Holmur except the guesthouse, so I was hopeful I would see the Northern Lights. And I did. They weren’t that strong, but they were stunning. Everyone else there went to bed, but I stood outside in the wind as long as I could stand it, about 30 minutes, watching them. Then I went to my room and watched from my window for about an hour. My pictures didn’t turn out at all because it was so windy I couldn’t set up a tripod, and I think the lights just weren’t strong enough. But they were still amazing. Two spectacular natural wonders in one day. Awesome.

Snowy drive across the Vatnajokul glacier to get to Crystal Cave

Black Sand and Rainbows on Ring Road

Black sand and icebergs make a beautiful combination – across the road from Jokulsarlon

Day 5 Tuesday – Made the drive back to Reykjavik, stopping along the way to see Reynisfjara black sand beach, Dyrholaey which has incredible views, and Skogafoss waterfall where I was blessed with a full rainbow and didn’t fall on the solid sheet of ice leading up to it. Another real highlight today was the black sand beach covered in icebergs that is just across the road from Jokulsarlon. Talk about some striking photos. The white of the ice on that black sand is beautiful. In my opinion, the sights along this stretch of Road 1, which is part of the Ring Road, are better than The Golden Circle. I think to appreciate the Golden Circle, you just simply need better weather or to go see it in summer.

Skogafoss waterfall and a rainbow on my way back from Jokulsarlon
View from Dyrholaey on the way back from Jokulsarlon
Another view from Dyrholaey

Snaefellsjokull Peninsula

Day 6 Wednesday – Today I headed north on Road 1 to the Snaefellsjokull peninsula. I couldn’t drive exactly the route I wanted because some of the roads were not in good shape, although a tour bus headed down one of them without hesitation. I drove 300 meters on that road and turned around! That meant I had to pay 1000 ISK to go through a 6km long tunnel. Going and coming back. Ouch.

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall isn’t the real reason to drive Snaefellsjokull Peninsula, but it is beautiful

But the tunnel didn’t spoil anything. The roads the rest of the way were really good and the scenery was just spectacular. This is also part of the Ring Road. This entire peninsula is just stunning with mountains, lakes, streams, glaciers, and at the very tip, Snaefellsjokull National Park will blow your mind. Do not miss the amazing lookout here where you can trek around. There was almost no one here, the skies were so clear, there was no wind, and these perfect conditions made for a perfect day. There’s a waterfall called Kirkjufellsfoss that everyone flocks to see, and while it is beautiful, it’s really not the reason to drive this road. The National Park at the end of the peninsula is.

This view at Snaefellsjokull National Park is the real reason to go to the end of this peninsula
Another incredible view on Snaefellsjokull Peninsula

When I got back to my apartment, I hung out for a little bit then got the notification from the Aurora app that the Northern Lights were coming. I was ready! You can read about it here Northern Lights

Mistakes and Recovery

Day 7 Thursday – Blue Lagoon day. Nothing else planned really, except to go back to The Laundromat Café for dinner, Einstok White Ale, and do some writing.

The Blue Lagoon. I kind of dreaded it. Now I know why. This experience deserves a post all its own, and you can read about my experience here Blue Lagoon and why I required beer to recover.

The Blue Lagoon. Meh. Very photogenic, but that’s about all it has going for it

Time to Leave – Sadness Ensues

Day 8 Friday – My last day. I couldn’t get a place on the tour of the Omnom Chocolate Factory, so I had nothing really planned today. The streets were in much better shape, so I walked a lot and took pictures of the street art. Found an awesome café called Kaffi Vinyl where I hung out and had great Thai noodles and mediocre coffee for a hefty price, but everything edible or drinkable in Iceland has a hefty price. Later I went to Mokka Kaffi and had excellent coffee and a waffle (oh my). Mokka is pretty cool because there is no wifi. I looked at cool photography books and the other people were actually talking to each other. What a novel concept!

Vinyl has an amazing selection of vinyl you can play while sipping your coffee and eating your Thai noodles

Now that I was hyped up on coffee, it was time to leave this amazing country and I wasn’t ready yet. But I had no choice. I returned my rental car to Orange Car Rental, and they drove me to the airport, and I was on my way back to the desert. I saw more than I ever imagined I would, and experienced enough snow and ice to last me a very long time.

Iceland sunset over Vatnajokull glacier. Goodbye for now, Iceland
Mary Lyons
I have had incredible travel opportunities since moving overseas eleven years ago. I created this blog to share my experiences, what I've learned, and my mistakes and frustrations, in hopes of entertaining readers and helping people to create and plan their own travel opportunities.

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