The road trip is about 12 hours roundtrip, and we rented a campervan through Airbnb. Definitely make sure your gas tank is filled up everytime you pass a gas station. Once you get out of the city the gas stations are few and far inbetween.
We hit a lot of great spots, but there are honestly so many other great spots that you could add on. I will list some of the ones that we plan on catching on our next trip to Iceland at the bottom of this blog!
Here are the locations we were able to visit on our trip:
Seljavallalaug Outdoor Pool & Secret Hotspring:
Probably one of the most photographed hotsprings in Iceland is this outdoor pool. It is free and right off the main road. We went around noon and there were probably about 5-6 people there. We checked out the water here and it was a luke warm temperature, but it was cool to check out. We ended up bypassing this pool after dipping our toes in and walking a bit past it to find a tiny little trail that leads you to a secret private hotspring that is in between two mountains with a small river rushing by it. There’s only room for 2 maybe 3 people at most so you don’t have to worry about anyone joining you, and like I said earlier it’s a bit tricky to find and ticked behind a hill so totally private. Nudity is perfectly acceptable at this hotspring. It was absolutely incredible and a lot warmer that the main pool. My husband proposed to me here so this little place has a very special place in my heart.
This is the first stop on the trip, and a really cool experience. Here you can actually walk behind the waterfall! There were a good amount of tourists there so if you want to miss the crowd try to get there early in the morning or around sunset. It’s right off the main road so you will be able to easily get to this location.
Another stop off the main road, this waterfall was my favorite of the trip. It just felt larger than life and had a more eerie feel to it. I also recommend walking up the stairs to the right of the waterfall where you can look over the top of the falls and view the stunning river that leads to the falls. There’s also a lot of wild sheep at the top of the stairs we were able to catch a few shots of them!
Right before you get to Vik there is this incredible stop. To see the iconic view over the shore of this beach you have to walk up this huge hill, but the view is totally worth it! There’s also a cool lighthouse at the top to check out too.
One of my favorite spots of the trip, but there are some things to know before going! It is a big tourist spot so if you want any chance of having no people you need to get there at dawn. We arrived at 8am and there were a lot of people even then! Also you NEED TO BE CAREFUL at this beach. It has extremely dangerous “sneaker waves” as they call them. These are waves that happen every once in a while that are huge and come way further up shore than all the other waves. People have literally died getting too close to the ocean. As you are walking into the beach there is a sign with warnings and a photo of a tourist that died there. It shows them getting dragged off into sea. That being said it is an amazing location straight out of a movie with huge basalt pillars.
Vik is a cute town a few miles east of Reynisfajara beach and one of the filming locations for The Game of Thrones. We stopped and stayed here the night before going to Reynisfajara beach to make sure we could get there early to beat the large crowds. They had showers and bathrooms at the campground, but it’s a pretty popular spot so it got pretty crowded there. We arrived here near the end of the trip and realized we were actually doing pretty good on our budget so it’s one of the few places we stopped and went out to eat. There are a few cute local restaurants here. We decided to go to Sudor-Vik. It had a very nice atmosphere and great food! We were honestly just happy to eat anything other than what was in our cooler.
The most picturesque place on the list! It looks like a place straight out of a painting. It’s a bit off the main road, but definitely worth the slight detour.
Kirkjubaejarklaustur Swimming Pool, Campground, and Stjornafoss:
Before our final stop at the Glacier Lagoon we stopped to shower and relax after a long day of adventures at the Kirkjubaejarklaustar Swimming Pool. We were the only ones there so we had all the hot tubs to ourselves and a beautiful view of the mountains and a waterfall! Highly recommend stopping by here. We then found a campground in this town just minutes from the swimming pool. It lead us down a gravel road and around the corner next to the camping area was Stjornafoss waterfall! It is an incredibly underated waterfall that has little to no visitors.
Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach:
The farthest east we went and the perfect place to end our south coast roadtrip. The Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach are right across the road from each other. The ocean here is a lot more calm than the rough and rugged Reynisfajara beach. At the Glacier Lagoon you will see large pieces of ice that broke off from the glacier floating in a lagoon. At the Diamond Beach you will see some of those same pieces that washed ashore from the ocean scattered all over the beach that are melting away. It looks like huge glistening diamonds scattered over black sand. The colors are just beautiful here with the contrasting blues, blacks and whites. The beach is breathtakingly cold so bundle up as much as you can for this one!
South Coast Iceland Wish List:
US Navy DC-3 Plane Wreck
The Blue Peak
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital, and one of the only large cities in the country. We had a lot of fun 23exploring around the city, going shopping, and getting a taste for Icelandic culture. We spent 5 days here, 2 of which we left the city on day trips around the Golden Circle. Overall, I really think you only need two days here maybe three if you have a lot of money. Because the city does tend to get pretty expensive, especially the food which I will go into later.
Things to do:
The city is pretty walkable, but they do have buses that are pretty regular. We mainly walked instead of waiting for a bus, but we would catch them to go to some of the museums that were closer to the outskirts of the city. For day trips, we took our rental car. Driving around is pretty tight downtown, but once you get on the interstate it is smooth sailing, and not much traffic at all. I did not feel scared to drive there, even downtown, and it was my first time driving in a foreign city.
I would highly suggest getting a city card from the Reykjavik visitor’s center. Here is their website: https://visitreykjavik.is/reykjavik-city-card It is fairly afforadable, and will include unlimited bus passes for your stay, and free entrance to most of their museums. Our favorite museums was the Viking museum that gave all the history of vikings and Iceland, and then of course the photography museum!
Shopping in Reykjavik:
They have one main road in downtown Reykjavik that will have a lot of places to eat, bars, and of course shopping. Everything in Iceland is pretty expensive, and we love going vintage clothing shopping so we mainly stuck to those, and honestly we were pretty impressed! We found some pretty great ones. Our favorite was Sputnik, it had a really great vibe and a good selection for both men and women. Another great one was Fatamarkaðurinn Second Hand Market. They don’t have a website, but they are one the same strip and main road as everything else. Close to one of the main Reyjkavik attraction, Hallgrimmskirkja, is a little photography store that we just LOVED, http://www.fotografi.is/ . Traditional Iceland shopping consisted of a lot of wool stores with sweaters and the Nordic brand you’ve probably heard of before, https://www.fjallraven.com/us/en-us .
Something relaxing to do in Reykjavik that is also free to do with the city card is visit one of the city’s bathhouses! This is one of our favorite things to do in the city and something I wish was a popular thing in the US. It is also where a lot of locals hangout. We were lucky to get to talk to a group of locals for bar and nightlife recommendagtions. The bathhouses consist of a few very large hottubs, very cold tubs, saunas, and regular swimming pools. One of the health traditions for Iceland is to get in a sauna or one of the really hot tubs, and then get in one of the freezing tubs. It’s is something about going from really hot to really cold temperatures to get the blood flowing. Our favorite bathhouse was the Sundhöll Reykjavíkur pool . We weren’t allowed to take any photos, but trust us when we say it’s a must when visiting the city!
To really get the feel of the city and see all the sights we honestly just walked around a lot. So much so I had to take a break and sit on the side of the road as you can see in the above slideshow. Reykjavik has a really great walking path next to the water where one view is of mountains off in the distance and the other is the Reykjavik skyline! If you keep following this path it will eventually take you down to the Harpa Opera House. It’s free to walk in and check it out. The architecture is incredible. Two other points of interest are the Hallgrimmskirkja Church and The Sun Voyager sculpture. While walking around you’ll run into a lot of stray cats, an unexpected joy of Iceland.
Honestly, we don’t have a lot to write about the food, other than it is incredibly expensive! Usually when we travel we put a lot of effort in finding all the best places to get the local cusine. Sometimes I would stop while we were walking to just check out some of the prices and everytime I would be blown away by the prices. I saw one place with a caesar salad for $30. We are from a city in Tennessee that has a really low cost of living so maybe others wouldn’t be as shocked as we were at the prices.
One thing I recommend if you are on a budget is to go grocery shopping at Bonus, their equivalent to Aldi’s. We did that most of the time so we could stick to our budget. Our Airbnb did not have a coffee maker though and that is one thing we can’t skip out on so we would stop for coffee. Above are photos from an adorable coffee shop called Emilie and The Cool Kids. They gave us some free samples of a homemade cake with our Cappuccinos.
There was one thing food must try in Iceland that was on budget for us and it was the famous hot dog stand, Baejarins beztu pylsur! Icelandic people definitely came up with an amazing topping combo for hotdogs! I’ve been meaning to try to order some of the sauce and fried crunchy toppings from the internet. Anyways, this hot dog stand is open almost 24/7 so it’s a great place to stop while you’re museum hopping during the day and at the end of bar hopping at night!
Reykjavik is a pretty good night life spot! They had a lot of really chill places to stop and get a beer, and then a few places to really let loose and dance.
We really wanted to try different Icelandic beers so we went straight for Microbar. It was this little underground bar with Icelandic beers on draft. It was pretty crowded when we went and it had a very casual vibe. We got a few beers, played a game of chess, and then headed for the Kaffibarrinn. This place was pretty cool and hip, but very crowded. We stayed for a couple of drinks, and then headed to Kiki, a dancing gay bar. Here we had to wait in line, but it was a fun time and definitely a place to stop by while bar hopping in the capital. Hurra was the last stop where we danced to electronic music. We ended the night by of course stopping by Baejarins beztu pylsur!! One other place that we stopped by on one of our shopping ventures was The Irishman pub. It had a very cool and classy atmosphere. We meant to go back, but never made it back there.
Where we stayed:
So this was our first big trip together and we were definitely on a budget. The cheapest form of accomodation within the city that was walking distance to everything was an airbnb for $70.00/night, but it was pretty basic. It was a little room in the basment of an apartment building with no kitchen, only a microwave and minifridge, and a shared bathroom that was not very clean. I was going to link the airbnb anyways just in case anyone did want to stay here, but it was no longer posted. I would honestly splurge a little more on one with a coffee machine and a kitchen because it will end up saving you a lot of money from going out and getting coffee, and you’ll be able to cook nice meals instead of living off of turkey sandwichs and ramen noodles.
I have recently checked airbnb’s since travelling there and they have A LOT more affordable options that have all of those things. Just try to book in advance so you can get the best locations for the best prices.
5 Stops on The Golden Circle
We started off from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Here we rented a car with https://www.carsiceland.com/ . At the time of this trip I didn’t have a credit card and this is the only place I found that I could rent a car without having a credit card and without having a large amount taken out of my debit card. If you don’t have a credit card I highly recommend getting a travel one so you can build up points to receive free flights in the future, my credit card also just gave me a $100 credit for Delta just because. You don’t need a 4x4 for The Golden Circle the roads are very nice and easy to drive on.
We then stopped at a Bonus in Reykjavik. This is their budget friendly grocery store comparative to Aldi’s. Iceland’s food is extremely expensive! Like I’m talking $30 for a ceasar salad at a restaurant. So if you are on a budget I highly recommend shopping here and packing lunches for any day trips you take. It saved us SO much money.
Another travel tip is to look up average gas prices in Iceland because they tend to be pretty pricey especially during peak season (June-August). This will help you set a budget for gas based on your route. Here is the map of our stops on The Golden Circle!
Thingvellir is a national park that you will drive through on the way to the first stop. It’s a very beautiful drive and there are a lot of places with picnic tables to stop at and have some lunch. Here are some photos we took along the way.
The Geysir was the first place we went and it is not far from the next destination on the list. It will be really obvious along the road, there’s a visiter center, and usually a lot of cars. It was cool, and we did get to see the Geysir go off. We didn’t stay here long, probably like 15-20 minutes. Hence why we didn’t take that many photos here. Also right before you get to the Geysir there is an abandoned greenhouse just off the side of the road that we stopped to check out. No one else was there, and was a cool place to take some photos.
Gulfoss is an iconic Iceland waterfall that is a must see while visiting the country. It was another spot that you absolutely can’t miss, it has a visiter center and bathroom there making it obvious when you come across it. There is a short walk down to the viewing points of the waterfall. It is extremely windy and misty there so bring a poncho or rainjacket!
We bought these ponchos from Amazon before our trip so we’d be ready for any weather Iceland threw our way. I highly recommend getting a pack of these before your trip. They are inexpensive, very light, and saved our camera equipment numerous times.
This is one of my favorite stops on our trip to Iceland! I knew when I booked the trip that I wanted to see a grass covered home (Turf house) so I had to do a bit of digging, but I found this gem! Skalholt consists of a white church, the turf house, and a singular tombstone. It is on a bus tour so I would get there early if you want to get photos without anyone around the house. We arrived before 9 am and no one was there, but at 9am a huge buss showed up. When you are driving through Iceland you will see more turf homes, but the ones I saw looked like they were on private property so I didn’t want to disturb anyone for some photos. This one is a little off of the main road so I would GPS it. This little town is surrounded by a meadow with tall grass.
Kerid is right off the main road as well so there is no way you can miss it! It’s really pretty, again not somewhere we stayed for long, but worth the stop since it’s on the way! It’s a beautiful example of Icelands contrast of colors in the natural landscape.
I hope you have a great trip to Iceland and that this post helped plan your trip!