Planning to travel to Iceland was a fun process for us and we wanted to share more about the resources we found that made our trip so enjoyable. Especially for a destination with rugged terrain and an almost unintelligible language, taking time to prepare before you go can make a trip much more care free. Maps can be a bit vague, wifi spotty, and sometimes the coolest experiences we had were uncovered by following the distinctly off-the-map advice of newly found internet friends.


The flight will be your biggest expense; we found several great options and ended up on Delta with an easy connection through JFK. We never love red-eyes, but we made it and even got a lucky upgrade on the return trip home! If we visit in the future, we will likely try IcelandAir as they operate out of our new home airport and have the free stop-over option in en route to Europe.


As always, our first step was to carefully prioritize our sight-seeing wish list, then map out the best route for fitting in as much of it as possible. Confusing the names of waterfalls and erroneous internet advice would have zigzagged us all over the place had we not reviewed the path in advance. Figure out the balance of activities your travel companions like. We layered in time estimates, trying to better gauge how long hikes and visits would take so that our days were better balanced and held allowance for random adventures and travel mishaps.

Hold up a minute before you start judging us for the efficiency method, because to us, this is so freeing! It helps to fend off extra crazy surprises on the road, and thus, minimizes extra crazy grumpy traveler meltdowns (not naming names). Between a simple tracking spreadsheet and Google Maps, we had a really good idea of what was possible and how much it was going to cost us to do it. This step then feeds into easy hotel booking decisions and other reservations that must be made in advance.

We were lucky to not have any delays or travel glitches, but if we did, we knew what stops would have to drop off the list to save time for our potential favorites. Ultimately, we didn't miss any of our must-see stops, although we did regrettably bypass snorkeling the Silfra fissure due to the time commitment.  It has been suggested that if you hope to make the full circle around Iceland, you would need at least 10-12 days to do it well. Our time on the Southern Coast hit quite a lot of what you see by way of popular Icelandic media. If you have more time, take it! If you 4-5 days like us, don't skip it; we believe that the investment was well worth it for the ground you can cover.


Once there, it's easy to navigate, but we were glad we had typed out full addresses and identifying hallmarks in our notes, and that we had brought a printed copy of those notes. Because sometimes your electronics die, and other times you type in destinations like"Fjaðrárgljúfur" into your GPS and you don't feel completely convinced that you are choosing the right place. Communicating with hospitable locals is a breeze, paying by chip credit card is even easier, and booking stays online in advance of travel allows for a peaceful conclusion to active days.


When to go:
-High season runs from May to August, and will boast better weather but worse prices/crowds. We traveled August 21-25, were able book most of our top lodging preferences, and enjoyed mild weather and few crowds. BUT we missed the Northern Lights. A day after we left, several active nights occurred. We embrace the idea of the shoulder season, but delaying longer will carry you into colder weather and rain. Winter is said to have amazing hallmarks, but for the itinerary we share, we say Sept. 1.


Our travel tips for Iceland:
- Rent a car. Pick it up right at the airport. Don't worry with an SUV, the budget option is sufficient.
-Don't pay for a GPS in the rental car. Instead, rent a wireless hotspot and use your phone. So simple and inexpensive. We even played Spotify through the car Bluetooth which was great!
-Print a physical copy of your notes with full addresses/ bring copies of all booking receipts.
-Use this to track Aurora activity and plan night watching
-Don't forget your chip credit card (no need to exchange money, we didn't)
-Go to the Blue Lagoon: read the reviews, but give it a shot, you only live once. Save $ by not buying the top package, and if you do like we did and schedule treatments, you get a complimentary robe to wear on your visit anyway. Seriously, book before you go, and try to plan to be there first thing in the morning (night sounds cool too). The few glorious early moments when the pools were empty were pretty stellar and as we left by mid-day the crowds were very dense. Bring a pony tail holder, make sure you try all of the silica masks, and splurge on the lip balm in the gift shop as you go.
-Filling up at the gas station can be tricky and requires your credit card to have a pin (set this up before you travel, as Americans don't commonly use pins on their credit cards). You can also simplify the process by going inside to purchase pre-paid gas cards and using those at the pump. On your first purchase, start with a moderate amount and calculate how far that gets you so that you don't over buy the next time.
-Trying to save your budget? Pack more food from home and skip paying for lunches on the go.
-Another budget option to look into is tent camping or rv rentals


What we packed: (hint -simplify and carry on)
-Use your personal carry-on wisely & bring something to repack for day hikes (we brought 1 backpack, 1 small drawstring bag, 1 large messenger purse , & 1 small clutch for evenings)
-Reusable water bottle for each traveler- stay hydrated on the plane & enjoy filling up with the purest water in the world once there!
-Swim suit (or 2)
-Thick wool socks, several pairs
-Hiking appropriate shoes/boots with a sturdier sole than a tennis shoe (we didn't spend extra $ to buy fancy hiking boots, but they are going to get muddy and tennis shoes will not hold up well enough)
-Fashion sneakers for travel/town
-Loafers/boots/etc. for town/dining
-Pack-able down jacket
-Rain shell
-Rain sleeve for your DSLR cameras (extra battery and memory card are a given)
-Long-sleeve thermal layer or pullover jacket to layer with others
-Regular (non-athletic) casual fall jacket or pullover
-Gloves, hat, scarf
-Athletic/hiking outfit (simple base layers)
- Black pants, jeans & neutral tops for town & travel
-Sharp casual outfit for dinner out (think black)
-Turkey Jerky and Chocolate covered almonds (or your favorite snack)



Where we ate:
Coffee/Breakfast: Rekyjavik Roasters, C is for Cookie, Kex Hostel
Lunch: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Casual Dinner/HH: Fish Restaurant Reykjavik, Nora Magasin, Glacier Goodies (Skaftafell)
Special night out: Grillmarkadurinn
Other New Nordic options: Dill, Fish Market, Snaps, Ion


Where we shopped:
-We saved our travel budget by buying little, but the woolen products were the most tempting, as was everything carried by Geysir and the super sleek Scandinavian home design stores. Plan accordingly. I do recommend finding these great items around Rekyjavik or in duty free on your way home:
-Nordur Salt
-Omnom Chocolate 

Our itinerary:
Friday:
12:00 PM: Depart Austin

Saturday: 
8:15AM-Arrive/Rental Car Pickup
9:00AM- GPS Pickup
9:15AM-10:00AM-Breakfast at C is for Cookie, walk in Reykjavik 
11:15AM-1:00- Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park
1:15PM-2:30PM – Brúarfoss
2:30PM-3:30PM – Strokkur, Geysir
3:30PM-4:30PM – Gullfoss
5:45PM – Arrive Hestheimar Guesthouse

Sunday: 
7:00AM-8:00AM – Breakfast at Hestheimar 
8:30AM- 9:00AM- Seljalandsfoss
9:30AM-10:30AM – Skógafoss 
10:30AM-12:00PM– Reynisfjara Beach/ Reynisdrangar (puffins)
12:15PM-12:45PM – Lunch stop, exploring in Vik
1:15PM- 1:45PM- Suðurland mossy lava field exploration
2:30PM-3:30PM – Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
4:00PM-7:30PM – Skaftafell- Vatnajokull National Park/ Svartifoss/ Dinner & Coffee
8:00PM – Fosshotel Islandia Nupar

Monday:
7:30AM Coffee & Hotel Checkout
8:30AM-11:15 AM Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 
11:30AM-11:45AM Hofskirkja Church/Last Turf Church of Hof
3:00PM-5:00PM Reykjadalur Hot Spring
6:30PM– Hlid Fisherman's Village check-in Alftanes
7:30PM– Dinner at Grillmarkaðurinn in Reykjavík

Tuesday:
7:30AM- Breakfast in Alftanes
8:45AM-11:00AM – Blue Lagoon
12:00PM- Check-in Hotel Odinsve
12:30PM-12:45PM – Lunch at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavík
1:00PM- Exploring in Reykjavík
4:30PM– Nora Magasin on the Square
8:30PM- Dinner at Fish Restaurant Reykjavik

Wednesday:
7:00AM – Depart for airport
11:00 PM- Arrive home


What we read before we went:
Pinterest:I have collected several links on my Iceland board. Check it out!
Aspiring Kennedy(A fellow HU Alumna & amazing Intl. Programs Director) her itineraries are great and we ended up booking almost all of our lodging based on her recommendations!
Unlocking Kiki: (American expat living in Iceland) she helped us find Bruarfoss, our favorite stop and she shares other amazing excursions (like this one we missed). We took her advice on this hike.


So there you have it. Now get planning!


European breakfasts are one of my favorite things when we spend time abroad. We passed on the pickled herring samples, but the smorrebrod offered with the rental of our tiny cabin in Alftanes included a build your-own-skyr parfait bar which was a big win for me as we started our fourth morning in Iceland.

We chose this spot not only for prime aurora views, but also because it put us only a short drive from Grindavik and our big reservation at the Blue Lagoon.


We carefully selected the early morning check-in when we reserved online and were glad to not meet any lines as we got our towels and headed to the locker rooms (which are amazing)! You are given a nifty little wrist tag so that you can choose, and lock, any locker that you please. The wristband is safely worn in the water with you, helping to keep total peace of mind. Showers are mandatory before heading outside, but spa toiletries are provided. Outside, it's easy to leave your robe on a rack before heading in and claiming your free beverage at the swim up bar.


We took our waterproof cover so we could capture a few in water shots, but the experience itself is a sensory overload that can't be done justice by what you see online. With the chilly air, it felt great to hurry into the warm water to soak. The color is completely mesmerizing.


For entertainment (and I'm sure therapeutic purposes), there are vats of silica masks and scrubs to try. We put on our facial mask and sipped our smoothies as we wandered around to different pockets of the pool.


We tried the sauna and steam rooms until it was time for our in-water massages. In a quiet inlet, masseuses float guests around as they work. Matt and I were amused by the process, and enjoyed a good laugh when I was assigned a burly Icelandic masseuse named Magnus ;)


The nice locker rooms were helpful because it takes a thorough shampoo and conditioning to try and rinse the minerals from your hair. I appreciated the well-stocked supplies and hair dryer at each vanity and felt like a new person walking out of the spa. We picked up a water bottle, a great lip balm from the spa gift shop, and headed back to Reykjavik for our last day of fun.


After a quick drop off of our wifi hotspot, which we could live without the last day, we went downtown to grab lunch at the ever famous Baejarin's Beztu Pylsur. For all of the star visitors it boasts, it's nothing more than a humble street food stand serving up inexpensive but very unique lamb hotdogs. Try them with the remoulade and mustard and it makes for a fun and cheap way to chow down with locals on lunch break.


Harpa concert hall, the stunning glass building on the edge of the bay, was just across the road so we ran in to explore. It is an amazing stop that shouldn't be missed; everything is created with design in mind, including the pretty gifts in souvenir shop.


After a walk around the town lake and in and out of pretty neighborhoods, we parked at our hotel and lightened our load before heading back out for an afternoon in the city.




Though we had covered quite a bit of ground on our first few stops in town, we took more time to explore Hallgrimskirkja.


Pausing as we went, we took in many of the murals tucked in quiet gardens, hidden in alleys, and taking up large spaces. We moseyed in and out of shops as we headed towards Laugavegur, the long, busy avenue that cuts through town.


After a coffee break at Reykjavik Roasters, we dreamed about picking out a brand new Nordic wardrobe from Farmer's Market. We picked our favorite lopopeysa patterns at the Handknitting Association of Iceland but decided to pass on the pricy knits until we can live in a colder climate.


The Sun Voyager makes for a nice rest stop to enjoy the views across the water. We stayed there for a while and watched a television show film. After purchasing a few gifts, we stopped in at a popular happy hour at Nora Magasin, which is situated on a pretty little square.





After trying out some tasty snacks, we walked through the gorgeous (fully-booked) art-deco establishment next door, Hotel Borg. It seems surprising that the northern most capital of the world would have such a vibrant art and design scene in spite of it's remote location.



We were anxious to find a fresh seafood dinner and our meal of fish and chips was perfect! Casual, but with a great aesthetic, the simply named Fish Restaurant Reykjavik sits on the harbor and was a bit of a walk from the busier heart of town. We've been craving that meal ever since, with all its yummy tartar sauces and skyr dessert, it was delectable. Mmm!


A long walk back to the hotel and a final failed attempt at aurora watching left us worn out and ready to enjoy the peaceful Odinsve before the early flight the next morning.

Without traffic, our drive to the airport went quickly and the rental return was easy, giving us plenty of spare time to stock up on a few duty free items and grab a latte at one of the great airport cafes. Icelanders really just ooze cool, and for airport establishments, the design and menus can be impressive. We tried to hold onto our Blue Lagoon vibes to get us home. International upgrades were super exciting, and having the lounge access to pass our time at JFK helped with that.


Iceland was even better than we imagined and we can't wait to get back!
It wasn't very intentionally planned to be a day of extremes, but by happy accident we experienced the full spectrum of the famous "land of fire and ice" slogan on our third day of traveling Iceland.

With a sparse mossy green foreground, a glacier, and several waterfalls further on the horizon, the early morning view from our hotel was peaceful and we kept going back to the window as we packed. Since we had arrived early the night before, we had already driven this stretch to Skaftafell once before.


It was fascinating to see the glacier and barren fields in the morning light, and could tell we were getting closer to our first destination, Jokulsarlon when we saw bright icy chunks gathering on the black beaches.

We decided to take the first tour of the day and pulling into the lot with the two company stations, we found there weren't many others around. We leisurely took a few photos by the inlet to the sea and were shortly followed with large tour bus crowds.



At this point, through a terrible comedy of errors, we hit our first real travel moment. You know the kind that induces the level of vacation stress that has you desperately trying-to-hold-it-together-in-front-of-the-other-tourists? Having to sprint across an open field and struggle into a bodysuit while a bus of angry Norwegians looks on (or awkwardly having to apologize for your spouse who looks like a fool for holding up a bus of rightfully judgy Norwegians) will quickly get you there.



Whew, let's just say our glacial lagoon tour had an icy start. Thankfully, the beauty of the boat trip quickly brought us all back together as happy traveling friends.


Everything about the lagoon was breathtaking.


Loud blasts from falling ice echoed off the quiet water as we cruised in and out of icebergs in all shades of stunning turquoise.
We learned that the black marks were dirt and ash layered between years of snow pack.


Many of the bright blue bergs were really just crystal clear, reflecting the color of the water below as they went rolling away out to sea.

Paying for this boat tour is a must! To top off an already amazing experience, we came across a group of playful seals that swam and jumped around our boats as we headed in to shore.


One of our all time favorite travel moments!

We warmed up over lattes shared with a wild bunch of elderly Italian tourists, then hit the road. Our next stop was at a quaint turf church in Hof, one of the remaining few in the country. It was eerie and peaceful.
The afternoon was spent making our way back towards Reykjavik.


Since we were making good time, we took a detour into the village of Hveragerdi. We loved this quiet little berg, but were there for a hike at Reykjadalur. Talk about highs and lows.


The inclines weren't just gradually upward; instead the rocky trail dipped up and down into valleys (hence not easier going on the way back). It was also full of horse poop and swarming sweat flies. We had more than one moment where we thought we might turn back, but instead were drawn on by the tempting hot springs ahead.


Finally, we saw the steam billowing up from the earth and new we had made it.


It's hard to describe how peaceful and soothing the warm waters felt after a chilly hike. Just a note- you have to embrace the European way and get comfy with the open air changing partitions. (There were a few au-natural Icelandic grandmothers who also were soaking in the river). It was easy enough to find your own quiet corner of the pools to rest in though, and not so hard for Americans if you just wear your suit under your hiking clothes on the way (bring a wet bag for the way back).


We hadn't quite dressed for a four mile hike and were worn out as we made it to our car to leave. The peaceful fishing village cabin we chose in Alftanes for the evening's lodging really seemed the perfect restful remedy.

While on the outskirts of town (actually by the Presidential compound), we picked it for that and hoped it would afford good Aurora views. Cleaning up gave us our second wind and we were excited for our dinner reservations in Reykjavik.


Grillmarkadurinn is beautifully designed with moody Scandinavian accents.


The crowd was split between international and local guests, and every plate that went by looked enticing. We sampled the odder meats on the menu, but the fresh langoustine and cod were most memorable.

An evening walk through town, while chilly, was exhilarating. Reykjavik seems quaint and exotic, all at once, and is fantastic to do on foot. It's fun to walk around and wish you lived in one of the beautiful walk-up flats in this uber cool place (okay maybe just from May-September).


Back in our cozy little cottage, we kept our eye on the night sky. A strange green tint rimmed the horizon late in the night, but we didn't ever see the vibrant rippling effect we were looking for. Still, not a bad end to a full day!