The Golden Circle: A must-do for any Icelandic trip

On the Road: Iceland Planning and Travel Tips

Are you looking to plan a trip to Iceland? This blog post is meant for anyone curious about visiting this beautiful country (if you’re looking for a travel recap, go check out my previous post). Iceland was not a normal sort of trip for us and it required different planning, attitudes and gear. Today I’ll be sharing what I learned from the experience as well as some other resources that were helpful to us. This is chock-full of details, so bookmark it so you’re ready to go when the time comes!

Who should go to Iceland… Plus three additional considerations.

Honestly, if you are intrigued by Iceland, this blog might help you decide if it’s a good fit for you. And it wasn’t a perfect match to our interests, but we went and had a good time anyway. Because it has become a bit trendy in the past five or so years, there are many misconceptions about Iceland — I had them too! Iceland might be fun for you if you:

  • Are an independent traveler; you’re comfortable spending time alone and/or your travel partner(s) and don’t need lots of interactions with others.
  • Like the outdoors. Outside of Reykjavik, most of your activities will be outdoorsy; as an indoorsy person, this was a challenge for me.
  • Are adaptable; you can flex when weather and situations change, and you might have to skip an attraction that is closed due to weather or an unanticipated change in schedule.
  • Are open to eating the following every day: Fish, beef, lamb, potatoes, and bread. We’ll get more to food later in the post.
  • Are willing to check a bag; all those puffer jackets will not fit in a European-sized carry-on (and one checked bag is included in your Icelandair ticket).

Two more considerations:

  • English fluency: If you are not fluent in English (or visiting with a tour group), Iceland might be challenging. As two fluent English speakers (one native, one not) we were fine, as Icelanders seem to be universally bilingual. However, many workers in the tourism industry are not Icelandic, but from Eastern Europe (while not part of the EU, Iceland does belong to the EEA), and though everyone was friendly and did their best, their English fluency varied. Though I assume most of my readers are fluent English speakers, please note that if you or your family aren’t comfortable with English, you might look at tour group options.
  • Cost: I’ll include a section about money, but there’s no easy way to get around this — Iceland is expensive. When we visited Norway a few years ago we had sticker shock, but Iceland was far, far, far more costly. There are certainly ways to save money — and airline tickets, for example, are cheaper now due to the pandemic — but it’s the most expensive country I’ve visited thus far, even during the pandemic economic downturn.

A last note: Iceland is a country of white people, like much of Scandinavia. How white? 93% of the country is of Icelandic descent, 3% is Polish… and even if the rest were not white, you can see where this is going. I’m a very white lady and my observations are through those eyes. I did find two perspectives about traveling while black in Iceland and being black in Iceland that I would recommend, and if you are not white, know that my experience might or might not be similar to yours.

Wind, rain, and cold at Þingvellir in the Golden Circle

When should I go to Iceland, and for how long?

When to go? We went to Iceland from September 1–13, 2021, landing early morning on September 2nd and departing late afternoon on the 13th. This included two nights in Reykjavik, seven nights on the Ring Road, and two more nights in Reykjavik/The Blue Lagoon.

We chose September because we are two childless adults and the shoulder season is our favorite time to travel; generally most or all attractions are open, prices are slightly lower, and crowds smaller.

This is tricky for Iceland because the “season” for the Ring is quite short — May through September. April and October are the true shoulder months, but because of weather and road or attraction closures it is not recommended to drive the Ring during this time (Reykjavik and its surrounds are easy to visit year-round).

I was more bullish about traveling outside of this window, but some of the roads were already rough in mid-September. Unless you are a confident off-road, poor-weather driver, I’d stick with May through September.

How long should I stay? There seem to be a few common ways to “see” Iceland:

  1. 24–48 hour stopover on the way to your final destination (this effectively restricts your travel to the Reykjavik area)
  2. 4–6 days doing Reykjavik and side trips, usually the Golden Circle and South Coast
  3. Reykjavik and driving the 800+ mile Ring Road, usually at least a week, but up to two to three.

As you can see, we opted for the third option, convinced that we were going to Iceland, we would do Iceland. You can see photos and lots of details in my first post.

Would I do this again? Check out the last section to find out!

Almost 8 hours in coach? It’s gonna be great.

How did you plan your trip?

Flights: If you are coming from North America, you’ll be flying on Icelandair; there are additional discount carriers options from Europe (and Lufthansa, which isn’t a discount carrier but sometimes behaves like one). Flights depart the US and Canada in afternoon/evening and arrive early morning in Keflavik (I could write another post about their business model but I won’t).

Icelandair is an interesting mid-class, long-haul airline, sort of like Norwegian. Unfortunately they have only two seating classes — Saga Class (similar to first class on a domestic flight) and coach. We were able to snag coach seats for $700/each (plus fees), a really good deal for these tickets; Saga class for this route was 5x the price and we couldn’t justify the additional cost. As a reminder, check Seat Guru for seat tips (we chose exit row seats and the extra leg room made a big difference) so you can pick the best possible seat at your price point.

Service was very Nordic — polite but not overly warm; unlike domestic flights, there were plenty of food items for purchase. Seats come with USB chargers and personal entertainment systems; our overnight flight included pillows and blankets, and the day flight just pillows. Both flights were about 80% full with many middle seats open.

Lodging and car: We tend towards independent travel, but as I alluded to before, Iceland is a bit of a different beast. Our preference is to find a home base for 2–4 nights and explore around that home base, but that’s not the nature of the Ring Road. Initially I researched hotel options but found it overwhelming to estimate the number of nights to stay in each place; the blogs and books I consulted had conflicting answers!

So thanks to recommendation of my friends Yvette and Julie we booked our trip through Nordic Visitor. You pick a price point (economy, comfort plus, and superior) and a trip duration (10 or 14 days are their Ring choices), and they select the direction of your drive (clockwise or counter) and book your hotels along the route. They also arranged our airport transport and rental car and I believe they can book excursions too (but we did other things on our own). We chose superior and were were very pleased with every hotel they chose — all clean, quiet, and comfortable — and all of the logistics were seamless.

This was challenging because I like to control things, but it went so well that I would heartily recommend it, especially to first-time visitors.

One note: Everywhere you go in Iceland you’ll see camper vans, ranging in size from a regular minivan to the delivery-van size to even full-size RVs. We didn’t go with this option, but, especially in the summer, this could allow you more flexibility and be a more affordable option.

Additional reservations: Sergio booked the Blue Lagoon Spa and an extra night at an onsite hotel. You can also book whale-watching, horseback riding, helicopter tours, etc. to your heart’s content. These add-ons are especially expensive (you’ll learn more about cost in a moment).

The two most useful resources for us were Rick Steves Iceland (though it is a first edition and, let’s be honest, Rick is not super outdoorsy) and Iceland With a View.

Magma Hotel views, Southern Iceland

What else must be done pre-trip?

This might vary by your country of origin, but check if you need a visa to travel. It’s not needed for American citizens, who can enter the Schengen area for 90 days with a valid passport that has at least six months until its expiration.

Get some American cash (we took a few hundred dollars) to exchange for Icelandic Króna once you arrive. Króna are hard to find and expensive in the United States (and, I assume, many other places). We exchanged money at a bank in Reykjavik (banks tend to have better rates than currency exchange booths); if you forget to bring cash, use an ATM at the airport.

Might I recommend getting some of your favorite snacks, especially if you’re driving the Ring Road? Icelandic food can be disappointing and not friendly. to your dietary restrictions.

Cell service can vary, but we did relatively well with Google Fi. Check with your carrier to understand your options and expect portions of the trip to be cell-service free. Luckily you can usually get free WIFI at full-service gas stations.

If you’re reading this during the COVID pandemic, visit covid.is to understand the current travel requirements (FWIW, they changed twice between when we booked our tickets and when we went). If you are fully-vaccinated, it will probably look something like this:

  • Register your trip and get your barcode (you’ll need this upon arrival, so download it to your phone).
  • Book an approved COVID test 72 hours or less before your departure (we took the antigen test).
  • Book your COVID test for 72 hours or less before your departure from Iceland if your country, like the United States, requires a negative test for re-entry.
  • Make sure to put your vaccination card with your passport. You’ll need to present in multiple time throughout your trip. I recommend a protective sleeve like this one.

If you are not vaccinated, I would not recommend Iceland, as you’d be required to complete a five-day quarantine at your own expense. Almost all eligible Icelanders are vaccinated and they take COVID seriously. Due to the safety protocols and the many outdoors activities, it felt like a safe pandemic destination to us.

Also, just get vaccinated already.

Sergio and I modeling some of our packing essentials.

What should I pack?

I did a lot of researching on attire before we went to Iceland; some of it was helpful and some of it wasn’t. I think it’s best to first think about your body and your needs before you shell out a bunch of bucks for what might be optional items for you.

Yes, Iceland can be cold (see: name of country). But we also had mild days, rainy days, foggy days… and if we stayed much longer, we would have hit snow. Many packing lists seemed to over-emphasize the coldness of the country, which wasn’t really our experience. That being said, I tend to run a little warm, so if you are always cold, take that into account.

One positive aspect of Iceland is that it is very casual, which, as a Seattleite, I appreciate. You won’t need any fancy clothing, so pack for use and comfort and leave your white jeans and high-heeled hiking boots at home.

This last example taken from actual attire on a muddy hiking trail. Yes, really.

Anyone else pack by throwing everything in a pile first?

Here’s what we found most useful:

Warm headband, neck buff, and gloves: Yes, a fleece-lined hat is wonderful, but if you’re layered correctly, the extra body heat has to come out of your head. These headbands keep your ears warm but are good for active days. And forget scarves — get a neck buff! Scarves are bulky but a neck buff can keep the wind off of your neck, and this one “can be used in 12 ways” (but I just wore it as a neck buff, so…). I also packed a mid-weight pair of gloves that was sufficient.

Waterproof poncho or jacket: Sergio mocked my poncho but it was a great compromise between a $2 plastic poncho and his beautiful (but pricey) Marmot windbreaker. You will get wet, but you’re also wearing layers, so buy something big enough to fit over your puffy coat. If you were doing lots of hiking you might also consider rain pants, but we decided not to invest in them, and it was the right choice for us.

One or two different warm coats: We’re big fan of puffy coats (Patagonia for him, Jack Wolfskin for me), so play around with warmth to figure out the right weight for you. I also brought my ski jacket for casual wear (too warm for hikes but great for lunch or dinner).

Easily washable pants: We took jeans for dinners and city days, but most of your time, some sort of outdoorsy or hiking pants will be best. I grabbed two pairs of Prana’s Laura pants and one pair of REI’s Active Pursuits Tights and I’d strongly recommend both.

Hiking shoes and tennis shoes: Hiking shoes (as opposed to boots) were more than enough for us (make sure they are waterproof!), and for easy walks I wore an old pair of tennis shoes. I also brought a pair of nicer black Nikes for our city days.

Easily-layered tops: I brought three t-shirts for city-wear and dinner and three athletic, moisture-wicking shirts (like this one) for most days (and ladies, can I recommend to just wear sports bras? you will thank me for this tip!). I also added a lightweight, long-sleeved layer (this is the Patagonia version; I like the ExOfficio shirts better, but they seem have switched to their winter line so they aren’t available) and then added my puffy or my North Face Canyonlands jacket. These different layers helped me easily adjust to changing weather conditions!

Warm but breathable socks: Grab some socks that are at least ankle length so you can roll them over your pants when needed (this brand is amazing). I also live for the tri-block socks from Bombas. Socks don’t dry well overnight (see laundry, below) so pack enough pairs to have one per day.

What did I buy but not need? I bought a Merino wool base layer top that I never wore (too hot and too tightly-fit to layer), as well as some base layer tights that were never necessary. That being said, if the weather was different, these base layers would have been vital, and given that it is hard to find many items outside of Reykjavik, it was worth adding them to my suitcase.

Finally, let’s talk laundry. It is extremely hard to find a place to wash your clothes in Iceland, and because you’re likely in a hotel for one night at a time, their laundry services might not work for you (you drop off in the morning and pick up and night, but you’re arriving at night and leaving in the morning!).

Because of this you’ll want to choose clothes that dry quickly so you can wash them in the sink when you check in and they can be mostly dry when you check out and you can dry them in your car (hypothetically, of course — we of course did not do this… certainly we did not drive down the road with underwear drying on the back headrests…). I always take Woolite packets, as they are perfectly portioned for a sink, but there are many options for travel laundry detergents, and you should include some in your suitcase.

As you can see, there aren’t that many items on this list (woo-hoo!) but it is worth considering what you’re taking because…

You know I was consulting St. Rick for this trip…

Planning is your friend

Somewhere between 48 hours and the time of departure I will have a full-blown panic attack. I’ve come to accept that this will happen for big trips, especially those that are new to me or travels abroad. Other than letting it happen, I also remind myself of all of the work and planning I’ve done to get to this point and that I can always buy myself out of a planning failure.

Except… not so much in Iceland. More than 70% of Icelanders live in Reykjavik; the second city, Akureyri, has fewer than 20,000 residents! Most small towns don’t have a wide range of amenities, and if they have what you need it might be prohibitively expensive.

If you tend towards planning, just lean into that tendency. If not, this might be the trip to either outsource your planning or buckle down and do the damn thing.

Which brings us to…

Money, money, money

I mentioned that Iceland is expensive, so let’s talk about that for a minute. While our flights were reasonable, everything else in Iceland is costly. We jokingly called Iceland “Arctic Hawai’i,” but the comparison is apt in that take whatever you think is reasonable for a nice hotel and double it.

There are about 129 Króna to the US dollar, which is a challenging conversion to do in one’s head, and it’s also surprising when you buy a snack for 500 Króna and feel like you’re getting ripped off. Gas in Iceland runs about $7/gallon; a moderate lunch is $50–75; a hotel dinner (sometimes the only option when you’re in a rural spot) is easily $100 — without drinks or extras. Iceland is second only to Norway in the cost of alcohol. I laughed off the “buy alcohol at the duty-free shop at Keflavik” until I saw that a single drink is about $20. While the museums are fantastic, they are also pricey. And souvenirs? My word! Even the cheap, mass produced souvenirs are expensive, let alone the beautiful knitwear that Iceland is known for (yes, a sweater is $200–300 dollars).

Writing this feels stressful. If you’re on a budget, Iceland is stressful. There are many budget travel tips, but there are some things that are hard to avoid (interestingly, you are limited in how many kilograms of food you can bring into the country!). At first I had assumed that the high costs were because of its location, but it sounds like there are political and lobbyist interests that artificially inflate some of the prices (and if this interests you, Rick Steves covers it in the back of his book).

A few things that helped us save money:

  • Choose a hotel with breakfast included.
  • Eat your bigger meal at lunch.
  • Buy one bottle of water at the airport and refill that bottle your entire trip. Icelandic water is delicious from the tap and free.
  • While sampling snacks is good, bring your favorite granola bars from home and only snack as a treat.
  • Compare prices between similar attractions (eg; if you want to visit a hot springs, can you find one at a lower price in a more remote area?) instead of choosing the most famous option.
  • Avoid foreign transaction fees by choosing a better credit card (we like Chase Sapphire Reserve) and always, always pay in the local currency when given the choice.
  • Forgo souvenirs (we did!) and choose postcards or magnets, or just take lots of photos!
  • Pack what you think you will need to avoid buying higher-priced items there. For example, I thought about buying a new puffer at 66 North… until I saw the price tag.
  • Yes, Americans can get a VAT refund at the airport — but, if you’re like me, you’ll either lose the receipt, accidentally check the bag even though you need to present the goods, or be stressed out about the flight and not want to stand in the line… so can you really count on this?

Lastly, Iceland is almost entirely credit-card friendly. It is useful to have some coins on-hand for pay bathrooms at some sights or gas stations, but other than that, everything can be done by card. Make sure you have a chip-and-pin card and that you know your credit card pin number. If you have a credit card, it can take seven business days to get your pin in the mail, so plan ahead and call your credit card company as soon as you book your trip!

Driving in Iceland: One person to drive, the other to look for hazards, mainly sheep.

Driving: The good, the bad, but hopefully not the ugly

I’m proud to say that no sheep were killed during our trip (“fun” fact: if you hit a sheep, you owe the farmer $300).

Driving in Iceland is not an easy proposition! While it’s hard to get lost if you stay on the Ring itself, there are many hazards and some interesting quirks in this country to consider if you plan on renting a car.

First of all, like mainland Europe, most rental cars come with a manual transmission. If you want to be transported back to your early driving days, go for it! Or request an automatic.

You’ll recognize many of the rental car companies (we ended up with Enterprise); ours was booked through our trip company so we didn’t have a choice. We got some sort of Hyundai wagon and it was just fine. Some planning guides make a big deal about 4x4 cars, but if you drive the Ring in the summer or early fall and don’t plan on fording streams, it’s not necessary.

We did purchase some extra insurance for rock chips, and we are glad we did because we got two on our Ring Road drive! There is also sand insurance for certain areas. While I tend to be against optional insurances, some of these might be worth it depending on your plans. Unlike many of our American rental car experiences, the folks seemed honest and helpful.

Another tip — Before you leave the rental car lot, check the spare tire exists, is inflated, and you have a jack. We had some serious tire pressure issues but we did not check our spare (thankfully it was okay).

Our rental car came with a wireless hub, which came in handy for a few spots where we couldn’t get cell service. Make sure you’re confident in how to use it before you leave the rental car lot. We purchased a map that we never used but that would be helpful if we were unable to get a signal.

Let’s take a quick detour to our wagon, a very common rental car type in Iceland. Due to my anxiety I do not like any sort of rental car without a trunk where I can safely put luggage out of sight. Sergio, well acquainted with my anxiety, asked the rental car agent about the safety of leaving luggage in the car, and the agent seemed stumped.

“Safety? What do you mean?”

Sergio asked if was safe to leave our luggage when it was visible in the car. Would people steal our stuff?

“Steal your stuff?” [long pause] “In my ten years here, we’ve never had a theft.”

“So just to be sure,” Sergio, clarified, “because my wife will ask — it’s safe to leave our stuff in the car?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

Come to find out, Iceland has been rated the safest destination for tourists ever since 2008 (and counting). Never once did we feel unsafe, and yes, we did leave our suitcases in our car and nothing happened. As an American this still does not compute.

Back to driving — let’s say that driving in Iceland comes with lots of hazards and challenges (and some really odd roundabout rules, so read up on those before you drive). We had lots of gravel roads, one-lane tunnels(!) where you had to watch and pull-out of the road in time for opposing traffic to pass, gravel mountain passes with no guardrails, and, of course, two tires that dropped from 32 to 25 psi because of rough rocks on gravel roads. Even though there are fences, sheep tend to roam free — if there are sheep on both sides of the road, assume one group will cross to meet the other and slow way, way down.

Another important consideration: Services can be few and far between in parts of the country; you can drive more than 100 kilometers until you reach a gas station. When you check out of your hotel each morning, fill up your tank and make sure you’ve pinned a gas station or two on your route.

Speaking of gas stations, note that some “gas stations” are just a few pumps at the side of the road — no clerk, no bathrooms, no snacks — so a credit card with a pin is necessary.

And as regards bathrooms, they are generally available, except when they aren’t. Never pass up an opportunity to use one when it’s there — I really and truly mean this. Though I don’t enjoy peeing behind trees, sometimes you gotta do it — but, in Iceland, where there are no trees in most places, it becomes more difficult. As with all travel, I’d recommend packing some travel-sized Kleenex packs with you because you will need them when the bathroom is out of toilet paper.

Iceland: Where you eat beef or lamb while viewing their relatives. For the record I’m eating fish.

Eating: I hope you like meat

Iceland is an… interesting place for food. No, you won’t regularly find “hardship” foods (seal, puffin, or whale) on the menu, but there is less variety in Icelandic cuisine than mainland Europe and it comes at a higher price (see money, above).

Icelandic meals are heavy on meat, dairy, and gluten, so if you are intolerant or just don’t eat one or more of these, it’s going to be difficult. To be fair, many restaurants had a vegetarian option (sometimes listed as vegan, but be diligent as some “vegan” meals included dairy or eggs in their sauces or sides) but this is not a country rich in vegetables. It will be difficult to survive on vegetable soup for a week.

Many of the meals are based on local foods — lots of lamb and beef and lots and lots of Icelandic cod and trout. There is little chicken and pork outside of Reykjavik other than your imported breakfast buffet bacon, and we saw no tofu at all. Icelanders also love their dairy, with butter or cream the base of most of your sauces. Most of your meals will open with bread and butter and you will likely get some version of potatoes alongside your main course, perhaps with the Sad Iceberg Lettuce Salad (additional vegetables optional).

There was certainly more attention to food allergies and intolerances than I expected, and people really tried to do their best — but language barriers did crop up with servers and we’d get our main course topped with cheese even though we asked for no dairy. If you stick to Reykjavik and surrounds you’ll have no trouble finding fantastic vegan or gluten-free meals, but adjust your expectations if you drive the Ring. To be fair, I’ve never had so much delicious fish in my life (I don’t eat lamb and generally don’t eat beef), but you best believe this West Coast girl had a big salad topped with avocado when she got home.

The Herring Museum was fantastic!

Everything Else

History: I won’t do any justice to the complexity of Icelandic history, but round out your trip by checking out some of the country’s modest but delightful museums. Here were our stops:

  • National Museum of Iceland (Reykjavik): Covering Viking settlement through the present day, this museum covers all of the high points of Icelandic history. Thoughtfully presented over two floors, it was a lovely museum to start our visit.
  • Skogar Museum (Skogar): This was actually three different museums in one, as the brochure promised — the “technical museum,” covering everything from how Iceland was electrified to modern rescues at sea, the folk museum that gave a slice of life on the Southern Coast, and a collection of about six buildings to tour outside.
  • The Herring Era Museum (Siglufjörður): We almost didn’t make this detour off of the Ring but I’m glad we did! It included three buildings of exhibits — a herring factory, herring boats, and the “herring girls” house. We stopped by on a Friday and were treated to a herring beheading and salting demonstration. This museum was 10x cooler than expected and made herring fishing come alive.
  • Glaumbaer Museum (Glaumbaer): This turf farm complex was inhabited until 1947, and it was an ingenious 16-room complex made mainly of sod. The English guide was well-written and because it was a little off of the beaten path we almost had it to ourselves!
  • The Whales of Iceland (Reykjavik): We had a few hours to pass in Reykjavik before we could check into our hotel at the Blue Lagoon, so we decided to visit this “museum” without really knowing what to expect. None of the whales are real and/or alive (it’s not an aquarium), but you learn about all of the dolphins and whales found near Iceland through their informative audioguide and they have life-sized models of each. For folks like me who are prone to seasickness, this is a good alternative — and it helps you appreciate the size of a blue whale.

Culture and people: Unlike Greenland, Alaska, Canada, or northern Scandinavia, Iceland had no native peoples when the Vikings arrived sometime in the 800s (we think). Icelanders spent periods of independence and periods of both Norwegian and Danish rule, but because of the distance and differences in the countries, Icelanders are independent and proud.

If you are imagining a visit to an ice bar to down shots with the locals, this is not your country. Iceland reads more per capita than any other country, they love offbeat and quirky music, and their favorite treats seem to be soft-serve and any sort of black licorice. They are kind and eager to help, but they won’t get up in your business and they aren’t overly extroverted. It’s clear that relationships matter — we saw many occasions of people bumping into each other on the street in Reykjavik, catching up mid-sidewalk. Icelanders are more approachable than the Swedes and less fashion-conscious than the Danes, and in both cases, they are the better for it.

All in all, the people and their understated culture added to our trip; just remember that these are not the Spanish or the Italians. Ask them about their food, their culture, their history — and learn about the country through a proud local’s eyes.

L: Near Skogafoss; C: Icebergs!; R: Herring Museum boats

Hits

To summarize:

  • Waterfalls and glaciers: The photos speak for themselves.
  • Golden Circle: Easy to navigate and lots of bang for your buck, as the three main sights are basically free (small parking fees apply).
  • Museums: Iceland isn’t just hiking; break up your days with museums and other cultural sites!
  • Cats and goats (which are basically larger cats): Does this need explanation?
  • Sleeping: I’ve never slept in a quieter country; these hotels were very well-insulated and everyone was tired so we all went to sleep and were quiet.
  • Blue Lagoon: Yes, it’s pricey and a little touristy, but it met and exceeded my expectations, even in the rain (read more in my first Iceland post)
L: OMG, are you filming a reel too?!?; R: Whole lotta smell for not much at all.

Misses

To summarize:

  • Black Sand Beach: It is possible every tourist with Instagram had congregated on this beach. Yeah, the sand was black… but that’s about it. You’ve seen a beach before, right?
  • Myvatn: Lacking any blockbuster sights, especially considering the hype. Unless you are into the nastiest rotten-egg smell ever, I’d skip it most attractions here.
  • The weather: Not necessarily a miss, but a huge crapshoot. If you’re longing for sunny days — or at least something predictable — this is not the island you’re looking for.
  • The Eastern part of Iceland: But you didn’t write much about it. I know. There’s a reason.
  • 7 days for the Ring Road: It was either too short or too long, which I’ll cover in my final section.

What would I do differently?

It’s easy to list hits and misses, but let’s talk about the takeaways from this trip.

I have mixed feelings about whether I would choose Nordic Traveler again, but I’ve concluded this is because I now have enough knowledge to plan another trip (and perhaps you do too!). If you’re on the fence, I’d recommend choosing them, especially for your first visit.

Were I to return, I would not plan the trip the way that we did. Instead, I’d do the following:

  • I’d most likely choose to spend only 5–6 days in Iceland, as my favorite parts of the trip were Reykjavik and the nearby side trips (Golden Circle and South Coast). Yes, that skips the most remote parts, but I’d take the extra 6 days and fly onwards to Denmark or Norway or another place with a similar climate (for packing ease, of course).
  • If I were to drive the Ring again, I’d slow it down and do two full weeks, allowing us to spend more time in our favorite places and have “easy days” in Eastern Iceland, finding a cute B&B near the water and spending the whole afternoon reading. I’m not opposed to relaxing travel, but it’s hard to relax with 7-hour driving days knowing that fun sights are ahead.
  • Nordic Traveler chooses the direction of your trip, but I’d certainly recommend driving the Ring clockwise instead of counter. The blockbuster sights would be at the end of the trip instead of at the beginning, as they were for us. It seems like they switch the direction sometime in September and we went the lesser of the two ways.

Personally, I was proud of myself for trying something this different and, per my husband’s feedback, going with the flow more than I had on any previous trip. Was the bar low? Extremely. Yet I surpassed it, which is enough for now.

To bring this entry full-circle, your happiness with any trip, especially one to Iceland, is about your expectations. Of course you want to be excited to travel to a new place, and yet unrealistic expectation leads to disappointment. If you’re open to a trip that is a little different, a little unpredictable, and might hold some moments of amazement, perhaps Iceland is for you.

I hope this more detailed post gives you some areas to research if you’re planning a trip. Feel free to reach out to me if you have specific questions and I’ll do my best to help, as others helped me.

Happy Travels!

Xo, Sarah

Sun, you so bright!

NW native blogging about life’s struggles and triumphs. Balancing career, family, hobbies, and health. Fierce advocate for mental health. And chocolate lover.

NW native blogging about life’s struggles and triumphs. Balancing career, family, hobbies, and health. Fierce advocate for mental health. And chocolate lover.