Everything you’ve heard about Iceland is true. It’s beautiful beyond words, to the point where you can’t believe what you’re looking at it is actually real. Iceland is also one of the most expensive countries I’ve ever been to. Everything is imported, so items are very costly. Fret not – planning ahead can be really beneficial and allow you to experience this incredible country without breaking the bank.
The most affordable car company we could find was: Northbound
The most affordable way we could eat was by packing in our meals (dehydrated and freeze dried meals & the ever trusty JetBoil), shopping at Bonus grocery stores, and only buying dinner out sometimes.
The campgrounds cost between $10 and $30 per person, per night. The hostels were the most expensive I’ve ever paid to stay in, but still much more affordable than any hotel/AirBnB we could find, as we were just two people.
Mentally prepare to spend money here, but also prepare to see some of the most mind blowing, beautiful natural landscapes you’ve ever seen. Iceland is magical.
Try This There:
Day 1: I arrived at nighttime from Switzerland and took a bus from the airport to the hostel. I took FlyBus and I bought the ticket on my Iceland Air flight from the stewardess. This is very common and convenient. My friend, Sammy, was due to land the next day from the US, so I spent a night in Reykjavik at the Reykjavik City HI Hostel. This hostel was right next door to a heated outdoor pool that you can pay for a swim. It was fine for a night. I wouldn’t stay again though – I liked the hostel we stayed in at the end of the trip much better: Hlemmur Square Hostel.
Day 2: My friend Sammy met me at the hostel after picking up the rental car (Northbound picked her up from the airport to bring her to the rental place and this was included in the price of renting the car) and we started our trip after both taking showers at the hostel. (Pro tip – shower when you can in Iceland.) We stopped at the grocery store Bonus for some food for our trip that wouldn’t spoil too quickly in the car (fruits, veggies, bread, peanut butter) and that would supplement the freeze dried and dehydrated meals we brought with us. We drove Golden Circle today. First we stopped at Helgafoss, a tiny little waterfall we only found because we drove by the sign and decided to pull over. We hiked up the little trail along the waterfall for a while before turning back to the car. Then we wound up in Pingvellir National Park and saw Öxarárfoss. From there we went to see Geysir and saw it explode a handful of times! Next up was Thingvellir National Park where we went to Gullfoss. Finally we drove to Seljalandsfoss, which was incredible (my favorite of the whole trip) and set up camp right in front of the waterfall. We set up camp at the camping grounds right next to Seljalandsfoss – you can’t miss them off to the left if you’re looking at the waterfall. We had to pay at the little house out front and could set up wherever we pleased. It wasn’t too busy, so we landed a prime spot with a perfect view of the falls.
Note: the showers were unfortunately disgusting at this campground so we opted out.
Day 3: We started out early in the morning by driving to Skógafoss. After we climbed up the stairs to the right of the waterfall and hiked a couple miles down the trail, we found even more beautiful falls! Definitely take a few hours to hike along the trail. It’s worthwhile and amazing. As we were driving out of the parking lot, we stopped at a food truck selling locally caught fish, served fish and chips style, and it was the best meal of the whole trip. Some locals were eating there and highly recommended it to us when we were debating spending the money on them, as like everything in Iceland, food truck food is expensive.
Next up, we hiked to the abandoned airplane wreckage on Sólheimasandur Beach, where the sun finally came out for us! It’s a short trek from the parking lot to the plane, but it’s pretty cool to see the wreck. An Iceland staple. Then we drove to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and walked along the beach for hours! The black sand is so cool in real life and climbing the basalt columns is fun. The water was sparkling and it was nice to be by the sea. We later set up camp at Vik Campground. We paid at the house in the middle of the parking lots/campsites.
Note: the showers were expensive at the campground – you had to pay extra to use them – and they looked gross so we opted out. Instead we went to Vik swimming pool before it closed and rented towels. We did this and enjoyed their heated pools and clean showers!
Day 4: The sun was out when we woke up so we backtracked to visit Skógafoss again. We made breakfast in front of the waterfall. We had the entire place to ourselves, as we got there just before 8 a.m. It was 100% worth the backtrack, which we justified because we wanted to go see Sólheimajökull glacier in Katla Geopark, but had accidentally missed it yesterday. (Note: we should have visited the glacier yesterday before the plane wreck!)
On our way out of the campground, we met some random man from Lithuania currently living in Vik at an unmarked waterfall we saw off the side of the road and he told us about this cave called Gygagjá in the territory of Hjörleifshöfdi, so we obviously went to see it after visiting Skógafoss and Sólheimajökull glacier. It was on the beach and pretty cool, but maybe not totally worth the detour. We continued down Route 1 and stopped at Laugskálavaròa, which boasted hundreds of cairns! Shortly after that, we drove through miles and miles of mossy rocks, which turned out to be lava fields covered in moss. It was incredible. Do pull over and take pictures, but don’t stand on the moss as it kills it!
We went to view Fjaðrárgljúfur, which is an ancient, massive river canyon and spent some time there just admiring it. After that, we drove to a hiking spot that leads to Svartifoss, a waterfall that falls over basalt columns. This hike was really pretty and super easy!
On the way to our final stop of the day, we drove by these incredible mountains and glaciers. We pulled over to see one called Kvíamyrarkambur, which was so beautiful. On one side of the highway were the ocean and fields, and on the other side of the highway were mountains, glaciers, and a stream. It was incredible. Iceland is so surreal!
The last thing we did today was head to Jökulsárlón, which is a glacial lagoon, bordering Vatnajökull National Park. We saw icebergs floating in the lagoon and they were so blue! Across the street from the large lot where we parked, we walked to the Atlantic Ocean. It boasted huge chunks of ice both on the smooth black sand and floating out in the sea. It was amazing! And cold! We camped at Höfn campground, which was pretty busy.
Day 5: We woke up and handed in some laundry for the campground to do for us while we headed to the nearby public pool for a swim and showers! Today was pretty uneventful. It gave us time to relax. Once we picked up our laundry and packed up camp, we began our drive. On our drive we stopped at this German cafe called Havari and tried their vegan sausages called Burrywurst and grilled cheese sandwiches. We also had coffee and pie. It’s a cool little spot in the middle of nowhere that sometimes hosts concerts. We stopped off at a random lighthouse we saw on the side of the road to take some pictures. We fed some of our apples to horses on the side of the road and finally made our way to Grímsstaðir, where an old Icelandic lady checked us in to stay on her property. You have the option to camp on the property or to rent a bed in the house here. We camped!
Day 6: We ventured to the little cafe part of the property in the morning for some breakfast before we left the campground and then headed to Dettifoss waterfall. We hiked around and explored that for a while. After a couple hours of driving we saw Godafoss waterfall and spent some time in the gift shop there to warm up and buy souvenirs. We finally made our way to the capital of the North, Akureyri, where we checked into the Akureyri Backpackers Hostel. It was a cool place and I’d recommend staying there! We paid about $50 each for a night in a 4-bed dorm that we shared with just one other person. It was clean and conventionally located. We went to Akureyri Fish and Chips for dinner and had ice cream from Brynja.
Day 7: We explored Akureyri today! It’s a really cool town. You could opt to go whale watching here, but it was pretty expensive so we didn’t. Depending on when you visit, you can go to Laufas Turf Houses, Arctic Botanical Gardens, Christmas House in Jolahusid, use the Akureyri Swimming Pool or go skiing at Hlidarfjall. It was nice to have a day of rest and to leave the car in park after a week of driving!
Day 8: We had breakfast at Cafe Berlin and then drove six hours to Krossneslaug, a geothermal pool situated on the Atlantic Ocean. It was so cool! You could see the pipes carrying water from the hot spring into the pool. We could see an iceberg out in the distance in the ocean as we swam. We camped at Urdartindur, with the ocean right across the street, and saw the closest thing to a sunset summer in Iceland had to offer during our trip, as it’s essentially light out for 23 hours a day in the summer.
Day 9: We woke up early and headed to Reykjavík. On the way we stopped for pretty views of the west fjords and the geothermal pool called Gudrúnarlaug, located behind Hotel Edda in the village of Laugar Saelingsdalur. We went in the small pool and rested a while before making our way to the hostel in Reykjavík. We stayed at Hlemmur Square Hostel. We met new friends, had a group dinner at the hostel, and walked around to souvenir shops nearby. We had crepes and ice cream from Eldur og Ís.
We went to a bar called Dillion and tried Icelandic whiskey which is made from barley because they can’t grow wheat in Iceland. We had a few beers and watched some live music. Quiet, low key place.
Day 10: Today we did some souvenir shopping and explored Reykjavík. We walked up and down to Laugavegur, which is the most famous street in Reykjavik. We walked around Harpa Concert Hall, which is this gorgeous glass building right along the ocean. It’s a great spot to catch a view over the harbor and Mt. Esja if you catch a clear day. We also hit up the Old Harbor. It’s the old shipping harbor right along the seaside close to the town center. It’s got old fishing boats and a great view of the skyline. We had the group dinner at the hostel and then went out in Reykjavik.
Day 11: Today we checked out the church Hallgrimskirkja and then strolled around Tjörnin, which is a natural pond in the heart of Reykjavik. Today would be a great day to visit the Blue Lagoon for a few hours! We didn’t, but you could book this in advance online. We had the group dinner at the hostel as our flight was early tomorrow AM!
Day 12: We caught morning flights back to the US today. We dropped off the rental car and the company shuttled us to the airport.
We visited Iceland in July of 2018.