If you still haven’t been to Iceland, book your tickets and pack your bags. Iceland is BREATHTAKING!!! The scenery is in literal terms “out of this world”. And a lot of places in Iceland actually look as if you are on another planet all together. In this post, I shall be sharing our Iceland itinerary, Iceland itinerary map and telling you about:
- When to go?
- What to pack?
- Glimpse of how expensive is Iceland
- Our Iceland itinerary
- Suggested Iceland itinerary
- Iceland visa
- Resources from where we booked car rental, stay etc.
1. When to go?
We, went with a group of friends (we were 9 people) in mid September (11th – 15th) 2016. Yes, I know, only 4 days what were we thinking. But let us not delve into the reasons for only four days. However, one thing is for sure I would not recommend anything less than 1 week for Iceland itinerary.
While we had only 4 days, we made sure to capture as much Iceland as we can by waking up at 7 AM and then witnessing the beauty before we came back at 3 AM everyday.
Mid-September is an ideal time to go for people who do not like too much tourist traffic. The tourist season is at its fag end and the temperature has also not dropped too much. Though it ranged from 0C to 7C depending on where we were. Additionally, there is a faint chance that you will spot northern lights starting mid-September. Though we were lucky to spot northern lights 2 out of 4 days.
2. What to pack?
Trick to surviving in Iceland is “layers”. No matter how warm your clothing is, never forget the power of insulation layering provides. Iceland is known for its high wind speeds (wind speeds I haven’t observed anywhere else), so much so that our car rental guy asked us to keep holding the door when we open it else it could get bent. Since it might rain a bit, make sure your outermost layer is water-proof or at least water resistant.
This is not a packing item, but an important one nonetheless. You should carry the local currency Icelandic Krona (ISK). While the official rate is around 1 ISK = 0.6 INR, however, the currency isn’t easily available in India. Even if you get hold of someone providing you with Icelandic Krona in India, the exchange rate would be super expensive. Hence, best option is to carry your debit card (make sure it is an international debit card) and withdraw ISK from ATM in Iceland. The conversion charges would be a bit high but still not a lot.
3. Is it expensive?
Reykjavik is probably the 2nd or 3rd most expensive city in Europe. We have bought take-aways at “cheap” restaurants that have costed us Rs. 27,000 for 9 people. So yes, Iceland is expensive but that doesn’t mean that you cannot optimise. Our total trip expense was around Rs. 1,25,000 per person.
First of all, travelling in September meant accommodations were relatively cheaper as tourist season was over. Secondly, we were travelling as a group of 9 which meant that expense got distributed. As an example, the AirBnB we stayed at was approximately Rs. 90,000 for 4 nights. But since we were 9 people it came out to be Rs. 2,500 per person per night or Rs. 5,000 per couple per night. Similarly, the cars we rented had passengers to occupy it to full capacity and hence the expense got distributed.
4. Our Iceland itinerary – The trip starts
I am posting our Iceland itinerary first and then a suggested itinerary after this. Because what we did in 4 days can be easily spread out to 6 days.
In 2016, there were no direct flights from New Delhi to Keflavik (Iceland) (Wow Air now operates). Hence, we booked a round trip flight from Delhi to Amsterdam which was around Rs. 50,000 per person.
We stayed for a couple of days in Amsterdam (more on my favourite city in the world in a later post 🙂 ). From Amsterdam, we had booked a round trip from to Keflavik for around Rs. 16,000 per person.
We landed at Keflavik airport on 11th September at around 4 PM.
Most of the car rental companies have their pick up location 2-3 Kms from the airport and will send a representative to pick you up.
We picked up our two 4X4s and left the rental company station at around 5:30 PM. Our earlier plan was to drop the luggage at our AirBnB and then go to our first destination. But since we were late, we decided to directly go to Blue Lagoon, which is roughly 20Kms from the airport. And we were in for a surprise!!!. Blue lagoon is a geothermal spa, located in a lava field. With clear blue waters, and a beautiful sunset that we watched standing inside water at 39C while outside temperature was 3C, we were blown away at our first site in Iceland. While Blue Lagoon is the most commercialised geothermal spa (it costed us Euro 40 per person), and there are other cheaper or free options available (like geothermal spa near Lake Myvatn), Blue Lagoon is definitely a one time must go location.
By the time, we were done admiring Blue Lagoon and clicking pics it was already 8 PM. We drove to our AirBnB, where our host had already kept the key in a password protected keybox. Here, we unpacked and unwinded for a bit, went to Reykjavik city to have some dinner and drinks.
Post that we started out at 11 PM to spot northern lights. We were hardly 15 minutes outside Reykjavik towards Thingvellir national park and Mrs. FIRE Forty spotted our first ever view of northern lights. One word to describe : magical. And we were jumping like little kids at the sight.
We started towards Snaefellsjokull national park (too many sights in here). However, the thing about Iceland is that at every 10 mins the scenery completely changes and it is difficult not to stop and admire the same. But do not stop your car anywhere, there are proper shoulders, parking areas and viewing spots to admire and click pictures. The drive has mountain on one side and Atlantic ocean on the other.
There are multiple sights, waterfalls along the way. But the key ones are Kirkjufell mountain (apparently the most clicked mountain of Iceland), Vatnshellir lava caves (you have to buy a tour which is roughly ISK 2000 or INR 1200) and hiking Grundarfjörður.
However, one of our greatest finds was a lesser known crater in Snaefellsjokull national park called Saxholl. There are proper stairs to climb to the top and the 360 degree view is awesome. The most amazing thing though was the wind speed on top. Our cheeks were actually fluttering in the wind.
We went to the popular 2 lava rock formations by the cliffs, the white and orange lighthouse. With a flat tyre, a few detours and stopping every half an hour to click pictures our day was over as we came back to Reykjavik at night.
Our final destination was Jokulsarlon to see floating glaciers, which is around 5-6 hours from Reykjavik. There are multiple stops on the way.
We stopped at Seljalandsfoss, which is an amazing waterfall. Here, we could walk up all the way to the back of the waterfall and saw an amazing curtain of water.
After Seljalandsfoss we stopped at Reynisdrangar rock formations and had a quick stop over at Dyrholaey for the view and Vik for lunch.
We also wanted to stop at Vik at the plane crash site. But now one cannot go there via car. The last few miles have to be covered on foot. While we wanted to do that but were already late to Jokulsarlon. Hence, we skipped the plane crash site.
Jokulsarlon is an another breathtaking place. The blue coloured floating glaciers are a site to watch.
By the time we wrapped up from Jokulsarlon, it was already 8:30 PM and we had a 5-6 hour drive ahead of us with a stop over for dinner. The thing about Iceland is most of the places shut pretty early, except in Reykjavik city.
Anyway the drive back was mostly a lazy one, except for an hour in between when we again spotted northern lights.
We had to start early, as we had purchased an Into the Glacier tour (around ISK 20,000 per person or roughly INR 12,000). We reached Into the Glacier site near Husafell, from where the tour folks prep you up with gear and take you in a military vehicle on top of Langjokull glacier (Iceland’s second largest glacier). Here, we were given a tour of man made ice caves. The entire prep + tour + journey to the top of Langjokull takes around 2-3 hours, and is definitely a must do.
Post our tour, we went to see Strokkur geyser, followed by Gulfoss waterfall and Hallgrimskirkja church. And that was a wrap as far as our Iceland itinerary was concerned. Next morning we took the flight back to Amsterdam.
5. Suggested Iceland itinerary
While we went crazy packing everything in 4 days, below is a suggested 8 day itinerary that you should go for.
Land in Keflavik international airport and go towards Blue Lagoon. Stay in Reykjavik and enjoy the nightlife. If you like to party late then Reykjavik is the city for you.
Start from Reykjavik, go to Thingvellir national park, Strokkur Geyser and Gulfoss waterfall. Post that keep the last stop of the day at Seljalandsfoss (if you really want to push add Skogafoss as well). After spending the day on road, plan to stay near Skogar area or in Vik. Total drive time : ~4-5 hours
Start from Skogar and first visit Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. Next stop should be Dyrhólaey Viewpoint and Reynisdrangar rock formations. If you are staying in Vik then these locations will be a little in the opposite direction (but not more than 1 hour drive time). Finally, reach Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. Spend the night in Jokulsarlon area itself. Total drive time: ~4 hours
Start from Jokulsarlon to go towards Egilsstadir via eastern Fjords. You will pass a lot of small villages along the way. Stay in Egilsstadir. Total drive time : ~3.5 hours
Start from Egilsstadir, to go towards Detifoss (the most powerful waterfall in Europe). Right next to Detifoss is another beautiful waterfall called Selfoss. You could easily spend a couple of hours here admiring the beauty. Next up would be Viti crater. The crater has a turquoise lake in the middle. Post this, visit Mývatn Nature Baths near Mývatn lake. It is not as commercialised as Blue Lagoon, but nonetheless, beautiful. Stay in Myvatn area for the night. Total drive time : ~4 hours.
Go to Grjótagjá cave near Myvatn. It is a lava cave with a natural hot spring inside. You can go whale watching in Husavik and explore Akureyri. And spend the day in Akureyri. Total drive time : ~2 hours.
Drive towards Snaefellsnes Peninsula. In the peninsula, visit Grundarfjörður, Kirkjufell, Saxholl crater and Vatnshellir lava caves. Spend a night in Snaefellsnes area. Total drive time: ~6 hours.
Take Into the Glacier tour to visit Langjokull glacier. After the tour come back to Reykjavik and spend a day here before calling it a wrap. Total drive time: ~4.5 hours
6. Iceland visa
Iceland is in Schengen zone and Schengen visa works. However, Iceland does not have an embassy in India and their visa is processed via Embassy of Denmark. If you want to submit your visa application form directly to the embassy, book an appointment first by dropping an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or other option is to apply though VFS.
7. Key resources to plan Iceland itinerary
- Flight bookings – Skyscanner.com and Skiplagged.com are great to fight cheap flights. I recommend installing their mobile apps
- Hotel bookings – We used Booking.com to book hotels with free cancellation. We also used AirBnB to find great deals.
- Tour bookings – Directly from tour operator website, but do search for discount coupons on Groupon etc.
- Car rental – We booked our 4X4s from Icerental 4X4. They have slightly older vehicles but are well maintained. The prices of Icerental 4X4 were the cheapest that we found. There are multiple rental companies with similar names e.g. Iceland 4X4, Iceland rentals 4X4 etc. and we also got confused during pick up. Here is their website https://icerental4x4.is/
- Where to stay – We stationed ourselves at Reykjavik and probably were on the road 8 hours per day. Don’t do that!!!. Make it a road trip, by charting out a route so that you are staying at a few different places for a couple of days each at least.
- How many days – As many as you want, but not less than 7.
- Best time to go to Iceland – I would suggest mid-end September as it is not too cold, the tourist crowd has gone home and there are faint chances of spotting northern lights. However, if northern light spotting is your primary goal then Dec-Feb is what you should target. The only drawback in Dec-Feb time period is that sunlight is only available for ~6 hours.
- What to be careful of – F-roads. Try to steer clear from F-roads. We had a tyre burst at one of the F road because of a sharp rock. And the issue is you would not spot anyone over there. We were lucky to have two vehicles and hence got help.
- Track northern lights – Use the following two links to track northern lights, which date/place will have higher probability. Northern Lights Iceland and Iceland met office.
That is all of our Iceland itinerary, do let us know if you have any specific questions. You may want to check our our Croatia itinerary as well.
There are certain locations that were the shooting locations used in the Gerua song from the movie Dilwale (starring Shahrukh Khan and Kajol). I have captured them in a separate post here. You may want to replicate the scenes 🙂 :).