Iceland boasts some of the most unique and impressive landscapes I have seen in my travels. My 5 days itinerary crams all the important sites you shouldn’t miss in possibly the shortest time possible, so you can use it as a reference if you like to get the most out of your time in Iceland.
The best sites to see in Iceland are mostly littered along the southern coast, including the Golden circle. My itinerary is for the winter months, and you can definitely see and do more during the summer, but some sites/activities are exclusive to the winter (and vice versa), like seeing ice caves and glacier formations.
A 4-wheel-drive car actually makes a difference in Iceland, as some gravel paths are exclusive to a 4WD. I would suggest avoiding gravel paths though, as you can end up damaging your rental car easily.
Another tip: you don’t need to exchange your currency into the Icelandic currency, as everything can be paid for by credit card, including the unmanned public toilets.
All tours begin in Reykjavik, and my itinerary is always planned such that the easy parts are done last. So we headed out of Reykjavik immediately towards Seljalandsfoss (Foss means waterfall). The coolest part about this waterfall is being able to walk around behind it.
There is another must-see waterfall nearby that most people still don’t know about (but no longer a hidden secret) – Gljúfrabúi. It’s a waterfall you can literally walk into. It’s best to have waterproof shoes, clothing and camera. I didn’t walk inside because i didn’t want my shoes to be soaked. It would be pretty hard to get a very good photo inside because of the mist, but if you take plenty of photos then you should still have a few good ones. By the way, I met a guy who parked his car nearer to this waterfall, which i suppose is free parking. Otherwise, the official car park is quite expensive, like everything else in Iceland.
Next stop, Skogafoss. Yet another waterfall, worth checking out. At least parking was free.
One thing worth mentioning – to save time, pack your own lunch. This way you can see more during the precious day time in winter. Food in Iceland is expensive, and mostly nothing special.
Next stop, the Kirkjufjara beach, which is virtually free of tourists unlike the black sand beach. Apparently Puffins can be seen in this area, but i saw none, probably due to the weather. One word of caution when visiting the black sand beach – the waves (called sneaker waves) are extremely dangerous. There had been fatal cases before. Despite the warning sign, tourists go too far into the beach.
At this time of the year, restaurants and even hotels are closed for holiday and maintenance work. We ended up having a simple dinner at a petrol kiosk. Capping the day, we actually got to see the northern lights. What a day!
We started the day really early, as i have booked a 9am Ice Cave tour, and the meeting point was a 1 hour and 15 minutes drive (in pitch darkness) from the hotel. The day before, i was actually told that the Ice Cave could not be seen due to the weather and such (it had been raining too much). The truth, as i was told by our very honest guide Andrei, was that the previously accessible Ice Caves have mostly been flooded this year and may have become permanently devastated. Ice Caves mostly occur at the base of the glacier where the largest amount of melted glacial waters accumulate and hollow out the ice. The glacial features that can be seen every winter season varies, and unfortunately for this year, there were no accessible ice caves. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile tour to go on. A must i would say, despite the cost, if one hasn’t been on a glacier before.
Ice that has broken off from the glacier ends up in the Jökulsárlón glacier lake, and on the Diamond beach. This is a fantastic 3-in-1 half day sightseeing combo visit.
I chose to see Svartifoss for the afternoon. An alternative option might be Fjaðrárgljúfur, although i suspect it is more viable in the summer. It takes a 40 minutes uphill hike to get to Svartifoss from the car park, so, may not be suitable for everyone. There is an alternative elevated starting point (with free parking it seems) that might save you some climbing effort, although i’m not sure how easy that path is. I suspect it is overall an easier way.
We embarked on the golden circle, the route all tourists would do in Iceland. First stop, Gull foss. Yes, yet another waterfall that shouldn’t be missed anyway. A massive two cascade fall.
Just a short distance away, Geysir, a geyser. Yeah, that’s right, geysers are named after Geysir. I didn’t actually see Geysir, or maybe i did but didn’t recognize it because it’s not specifically marked. Strokkur is the geyser that steals the show since it erupts every ten minutes or so.
For most tourists, dipping into the famed Blue lagoon is an absolute must. Not for me. Instead, i had a dip in the
Laugarvatn Fontana hotspring pools. It is relatively cheap at ISK3800 (S$43), vs ISK11990 (S$135) for the Blue Lagoon! The buffet lunch is also quite reasonably priced (for Iceland) at ISK2900 (S$33).
The Kerid crater was our final quick stopover before we called it a day. Colourful slopes and a frozen lake.
Day 4 was dedicated to the Snæfellsjökull peninsula. There was just one main attraction here (for me anyway) – Kirkjufell mountain. It is probably the most photographed attraction of Iceland.
We arrived at Kirkjufell mountain at just the right time (about 3pm) – there was hardly anyone there! There was still enough day light for some decent photos. I can imagine that the bus loads of tourists we bumped into at Arnarstapi must have come here in the morning, so it’s definitely better to go in the afternoon during the winter.
On our way back, we made a quick stop at the Olkelda mineral spring to sample the naturally carbonated mineral spring water.
As I’ve mentioned, we do the easy parts last – Reykjavik, which has basically just one attraction, the Reykjavik Cathedral. And the last item on the itinerary was the Blue Lagoon, near the airport. You can see the Lagoon from the outside without paying for entrance. The water is not even lukewarm (probably around 20 degrees Celsius) so don’t try to be funny and go in your swimsuit. Another important tip – there is a Blue Lagoon duty free shop in the airport offering the same promotions you find in the onsite shop, and it is much cheaper from the airport.