Iceland is the ultimate adventure of a lifetime! It’s perfect for solo travelers, seasoned travelers, and families. The locals are friendly, the scenery is breathtaking, and the Ring Road makes all of the tourist attractions easily accessible. I went on a road trip around the Ring Road in April 2018 with two of my closest friends chasing the Northern Lights, fighting blizzard conditions on the road, and warming up in geothermal pools. Iceland’s unpredictable weather makes it perfect for those seeking some spontaneity in their travels!
Ring Road, or Route 1, encircles the whole country covering 827 miles, which makes it very easy to stop and see as much as you’d like. You will find that many of the Ring Road guided tours are 10 days, so we were concerned about fitting everything into 8 days. Once we started mapping out our destinations, we realized we could do it all in our time frame, but at the expense of spending a lot of time at each stop. We agreed we wanted to see more of the country and it was SO. WORTH. IT!
PRO TIP: Iceland is a very expensive country. Although flights here tend to be reasonably priced, once you arrive, expect to pay a pretty penny for food and drinks – I’m talking $15 for a pint of beer! For our trip, we did a lot of shopping at the grocery store and made cheap meals on the road to save money and time!
When is the Best Time to Visit?
This is a difficult question to answer because it really depends on what you want to do and see. Here is the low down on their seasons:
April – May is considered their spring time. The snow and blizzards from the winter start to subside and turn to rain, gusty winds, and some sunny days. The days are starting to get a little longer. The temperature during the day is around 40-50 degrees, but the evenings can still go below freezing. The high winds also makes it feel a lot colder than it actually is. We went in mid-April and still wore winter attire for the entire trip.
June – August is considered their summer time. This would be the best time to go in terms of weather. Temperatures will hover around 50-60 during the day, the grass is green, and flowers have bloomed! You will have 24 hours of daylight! This is also the height or tourist season because most of Iceland is accessible and the roads are easy to drive. Expect crowds, surge pricing, and overbooked hotels.
September – November starts the season of the Northern Lights. Temperatures start to be come cooler and tourism slows down a bit compared to the summer season they just had!
December – April is Iceland’s winter season. You can expect snow, ice, blizzards, storms, and high winds. The average temperature is about 32 in Reykjavik, which is fairly mild compared to the rest of the country. Many roads will be closed during this time so you will need to check https://safetravel.is/ every day for updates. If you are planning to travel the whole Ring Road, I would advise you to not come during their winter season.
Tips for viewing the Northern Lights
- Northern Lights season runs from about Sept. 1st – April 15th
- Pure darkness (no light disturbance from the town or streets)
- Clear skies
- Track Northern Lights activity using Aurora Borealis app called “My Aurora Forecast” and the website Northern Lights Forecast
- Patience & luck
Day 1: Reykjavik
Iceland’s small airport is located in Keflavik, about 45 minutes south of Reykjavik. Most of the flights land extremely early in the morning (our flight landed at 5:55am). We walked about 3 minutes to the car rental headquarters where we picked up our car from Blue Car Rental and then hit the road! We were supposed to get a Suzuki Vitara, but Blue Car kindly upgraded us to Mercedes for free!
PRO TIP: We recommend getting a 4×4 if you plan on accessing the highlands, mountain roads, and unpaved roads, especially in the winter months. We would not have been able to access all the sites on this itinerary without it. Many sites can be accessed with a small car, so plan out your destinations first, then rent the appropriate vehicle. Rental places will ask you if you want gravel/ash insurance. We opted to get it because we were traveling in the South at the end of winter when it’s very windy. There is an extra fee for this, but it’s totally your call!
We arrived in Reykjavik around 8:30am, but couldn’t check into our AirBNB (use THIS LINK to get a $55 credit on your first booking!) until 3pm, so we had plenty of time to explore the city and all the wonderful sites it has to offer. I highly recommend this AirBNB, it’s centrally located in downtown Reykjavik, and the famous Hallgrimskirkja church is within view! Our first stop was at a cafe! We were in desperate need of some rejuvenation (and WIFI).
Points of Interest in Reykjavik
The city is very walkable, in fact, I recommend that you check out all these sites on foot if you have the energy. You will get to see way more of the city without having to worry about parking.
- Hallgrimskirkja & Tower: Iceland’s largest church. $7 to enter, but has the best view of the city!
- Solfar Monument (The Sun Voyager): Incredible steel structure overlooking Mt. Esjan
- Harpa Concert Hall: free to walk around inside. This place is quite the engineering marvel!
- Baejarins Bextu Pylsur: Iceland’s famous hot dog stand. I don’t even like hot dogs, but these $4 dogs were irresistible!!
After leisurely strolling around the city, it was time to find a place to eat and warm up. A quick search on the internet led us to what turned out to be the BEST soup place ever! Icelandic Street Food. They had UNLIMITED seafood soup and Icelandic lamb soup in bread bowls, FREE bite-size desserts, and not to mention, the friendliest staff.
We eventually made our way back to our AirBNB to unpack and nap (jet lag caught up with us) before leaving for The Blue Lagoon. There is much debate about whether to spend the time and money visiting The Blue Lagoon; after all, the water comes from a nearby geothermal power plant – not quite the “natural” environment one looks for when visiting Iceland. Despite this, we decided to splurge and got tickets to go!
In my opinion, it is worth it to visit The Blue Lagoon. The milky-blue water set against the black lava fields is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. When you arrive, you will be given your wristband and appropriate amenities based on the ticket you purchased (comfort, premium, or luxury). You will head to the locker room to undress and shower naked, before putting on your bathing suit and heading to the lagoon. Don’t miss the mud bar in the lagoon, where you can get a silica mud mask for your face, and swim up to the lagoon bar to retrieve your beverage (if included in your ticket).
PRO TIP: The Blue Lagoon is located 15 minutes from the airport and about 30 minutes from Reykjavik. Tourists tend to go first thing in the morning after they land. I recommend going in the evening when it’s less crowded. And, book your tickets in advance to ensure you get the lowest rate.
Showering (naked) before entering any public swimming pool in Iceland is mandatory.
You should 100% stop for food here!