The Complete Iceland Travel Guide | Hikes, Waterfalls, & More (on a budget)
Iceland: the land of water, fire, and ice. Built atop lava rock from ancient volcanos, Iceland is one of the most uniquely beautiful places I have had the chance to visit. I don't often travel to destinations colder than my own, but Iceland is worth the chill.
This post is jam packed with insights and tips to saving a few dollars while maximizing your experience as you travel to one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world.
Reyjkavik | Apartment Downtown
Day 1: Landed at KEF, dipped in the Blue Lagoon, explored the city with Dinner at Islenski Baerinn
Day 2: Hiked Pingvellir State Park, ate ice cream at Efstidalur II, explored the Golden Circle (geysir and gulfoss waterfall), lunched at Fridheimar, hiked the kerid crater, checked into our new hotel, grabbed a causal bite in Selfoss
Selfoss | Bella Apartments & Hotels
Day 3: Drove down the south coast to the Gljufrabui waterfalls, went to the Westman Islands to hike and see puffins, enjoyed a fab dinner back in Selfoss at Tryggvaskali
Day 4: Horse back rode through the countryside with Riding Tours South Iceland, lunched at Fluda Sveppir for mushroom soup, picked up fresh strawberries in Fludir, dipped in the Secret Lagoon, drove back to Reykjavik to explore the city one hot dog stand at a time
Reyjkavik | City Park Hotel
Day 5: Explored Perlan museum and hiked around the observatory, lunched and wandered around downtown, flew home with views high above the Arctic
How to Get to Iceland
Fly! Iceland is in the middle of the ocean, so you're only option (other than a cruise) is to fly. We took Icelandair from JFK, which was affordable and direct. It was my first time flying this airline, but the experience was overall very positive. The plane was new and clean with good options on the TV. What more can you ask for in life?
Where to Stay in Iceland
This is going to vary a bit based on what you want to do when you're there, so let me break it down.
Traveling to the City, Golden Circle, and South Coast? Staying for only 5 (or fewer) days?
I would recommend staying in Reykjavik and Selfoss for easy access to the Golden Circle and South Coast. Selfoss is a somewhat central location that will save you time from going all the way back to Reykjavik each night.
Traveling all the way around the island and to the glaciers? Staying for 6 (or more) days?
You will want to be there for 6+ days and stay locally throughout the country to have time to see everything, including the Glaciers. You cannot (comfortably) do all areas of the island while staying in 1 or 2 hotels.
What to Do in Iceland
There are endless options of things to do in nature in Iceland. From lagoons to geysers, the natural geography makes for some truly unique views.
Iceland is famous for their hot springs, which are water pools fed by springs that are hot and bubbling from the geothermal heat of the Earth. Some hot springs leverage natural bubbling sources directly, while others harness the energy into an artificial pool. I would highly recommend trying both options on your trip!
Blue Lagoon: The blue lagoon is a famous, man-made hot spring located pretty close to the KEF airport. It is famous for it's gorgeous blue color and luxury spa. I would highly recommend checking it out! We did the basic package (~$80 USD) which included a towel, face mask, drink, and unlimited access to the lagoon. We loved it.
Secret Lagoon: The secret lagoon is all natural and a great contrast to the Blue Lagoon. The locker rooms were not fancy and there was no face mask or smoothie, but the natural view and magic of the springs were 100% worth seeing. The fee for entrance and a towel was ~20 USD.
Hikes & Waterfalls
Geyser: The town where geysers were named. This is a great spot to see the two geysers live. One goes off every few minutes, and the other is mostly dormant. They are quite the sight and so unique!
Gulfoss: The biggest waterfall in Iceland, this is a great spot on the Golden Circle for a brief hike.
Gljufrabui: SUCH a cool waterfall! It is hidden behind a rock passage and perfect for exploring. There are a few other waterfalls to hike around as well.
Westman Islands: The Westman Islands are a great addition to your trip for hikes and sightseeing. We went to the Puffin Sanctuary and hiked cliffside with lambs, which was both terrifying and unreal.
Horseback Ride: Horseback riding in the Icelandic countryside was a memory I will never forget. The horses in Iceland are a special breed with gaits that western horses don't have. Much like everything in Iceland, it is truly unique and an experience you cannot have elsewhere in the world.
What to Eat in Iceland
While Iceland is not famous for their food, we found some really spectacular restaurants that I would highly recommend!
Lunch or Dinner
Islenski Baerinn: This was a great classic pub in Reykjavik. I would suggest getting the lamb dog, which was pulled lamb with fried onion and secret sauces.
Fridheimar Greenhouse: HIGHLIGHT. OF. OUR. TRIP. This greenhouse serves all kinds of tomato foods with a tomato soup buffet. You can even add skewers of meats, cheeses, and veggies to your soup!
Tryggvaskali: Located in Selfoss, this was an amazing meal. From the fresh bread to the salmon and lamb, each dish was cooked to perfection. Would highly recommend checking it out for a more elevated dining experience.
Baejarins Beztu: Known to be the "Best Hot Dog Stand" in Iceland, we had to stop by and try one. It was pretty different than how we do hot dogs in the US with fried onions, mayo, mustard, and relish.
Fluda Sveppir: Similar to the tomato farm, this mushroom farm serves up some amazing, fresh mushroom soups. You don't eat directly in the greenhouse the way you do at Fridheimar, but it was still a great meal.
Kaffi Krus: In Selfoss, this is a great place for pastries and coffee. We loved the lattes and Skyr Cake! Skyr Cake, which is available almost everywhere, is a yogurt based cake that tastes almost like a fluffier cheesecake. You have to try it while you are in Iceland!
Efstidalur II: ICE CREAM, PLEASE! This ice cream shop sold ice cream with a view of the cows it came from. It was a charming farm, and the ice cream was seriously delicious.
Tips to Save Money While You Travel to Iceland
Iceland is a very expensive country when you are there. A burger in a casual restaurant can be $30+ USD. That said, here are my best tips and tricks to save some money while you are there:
Pack granola bars to eat for breakfast and between meals so you only need 2 formal meals a day.
Split items at nicer places and then add in some casual meals or snacks.
Buy duty free alcohol on the way because alcohol is very pricey.
Double and quadruple check the fees associated with a hotel or apartment before booking - this is where they get you in Iceland! Everything was so varied from $20 - $1,000.
Have you been to Iceland? Share your recommendations in the comments!