If you asked me what the most beautiful place I’ve travelled to was, I would not even hesitate in answering Iceland! Where else can you see the northern lights, volcanos and glaciers all in one week? Not to mention countless amounts of sheep, wild horses and churches! Flights are very inexpensive from Montreal, so no better time to visit. If you are travelling alone you might want to join group tours however it is much better to rent a car and do the driving yourself. It is the perfect place to just go with the flow and stop whenever you feel like it because there’s always something spectacular to see! Just make sure to pack a variety of clothes because the weather is ever changing.
Iceland is not a particularly large country, you can drive around the whole island in a week. We did. But if you visit these following spots, you will be very satisfied with your trip. Keep in mind we went in the off-season, so no access to the highlands; next time we go it will be to hike through Vatnajökull National Park.
First stop, since it’s close to the airport: The Blue Lagoon. It is a geothermal spa, and one of the most photographed places in the world. Go as soon as it opens or near closing time to avoid crowds and make sure you buy your tickets online! Also, be prepared for public showers *which are mandatory before going in*. You will have to be naked in front of strangers but eh…they have to do it too!
Once you make your way to Reykjavik, feel free to visit all the popular landmarks. Since Wifi is EVERYWHERE (no joke), you can just Yelp/TripAdvisor your way around town. Don’t miss Hallgrimskirkja, the immense church in the center of town which is absolutely stunning especially at night.
Make sure to reserve a day to complete the appropriately named Golden Circle. Which includes the following three stops:
- Pingvellir National Park
- The Gullfoss waterfall
- The Geysir
Here’s the map we used to do our own tour: Golden-Circle-Basic-Route
If you want to spend a night outside Reykjavik, you should do so on your way to Jökulsárlón. It is the furthest east you should go if you’re not going around the whole island and it’s about 4h30 away from the capital. It is by far the most spectacular thing I’ve ever witnessed : icebergs falling into the lagoon making their way to the ocean. Bring a snack and just sit and watch these giant chunks of ice float past you, it is truly a thing of beauty.
On the drive there you will have plenty of things to see like Seljalandsfoss & Skogafoss. These two waterfalls can be seen from the road and are totally worth the stop.
There is also the famous airplane wreckage that can be accessed by foot (4km walk)…I know it seems like a lot of walking just to see a broken down plane but if you’re into photography, you need to go ! But be patient; tourists are numerous and it can be difficult to snap a pic with no one else in it ! Finding it is like a treasure hunt, here’s an awesome link to help you find your way to it: https://expertvagabond.com/airplane-crash-wreckage-iceland/
The town of Vik is half way between Reyjavik and Jökulsárlón so it would be a great location to stay for a night. There you can visit the black sand beaches and the very peculiar basalt cliffs which house hundreds of puffins. The area is also home to a dormant volcano named Katla. It is covered by a glacier and hasn’t erupted in almost 100 years but it is said to be due to erupt soon…
Now driving in the opposite direction, Snæfellsnes National Park is 2h30 drive from Reykjavik. If you’re a fan of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, you will definitely appreciate the spectacular views this park has to offer. It is dominated by the Snaefellsjökull volcano (the setting of the book) and volcanic plains but also has a few hiddens gems:
- Hellnar at the Fjöruhúsið café
So if you are looking for an adventure, you enjoy sightseeing and picture taking you must absolutely book a trip to Iceland, it will blow your mind! I’ve added a couple more tips below (stuff I wish I had known before going) that I hope will be helpful for you!
- Beware of tourists traps! Do not eat puffin, whale or shark in restaurants because they encourage overfishing in the already decreasing population of these animals.
- Make sure to check the road map because some areas are closed off depending on the season and/or require a 4×4 car to access.
- Food is expensive but you can find delicious hot-dogs at any gas station at a very good price…It’s OK to have them 3 times a day, you’ll learn to love them.
- Alcohol is the same. One pint is about $15CAD so buy at the liquor store to drink in your hotel room or Airbnb before heading out.
- Cats, sheep and wild horses are everywhere and you will never get bored of seeing them.
- The country is extremely safe so don’t be alarmed if you see women leave their baby carriages parked outside (with their baby still in them), while they grab a cup of coffee with their friends.
- Most tourist attractions are free, for now, help it stay that why by being respectful of the environment. Clean up after yourself and do not trespass.