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The first few things that come to my mind when I think of Iceland are volcanoes, hot springs, insane landscape, and unpronounceable names. But the country is much more than that. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting when I bought the flights to this small island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, but it definitely exceeded all my expectations. It quickly became one of my favorite countries in the world after the first visit.

Here are just a few reasons why:

  • One of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes out there
  • Ever heard of Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, Interstellar, James Bond, Thor, etc.? Well they’ve all been shot here. It’s safe to say, that Iceland is becoming Hollywood’s new favourite playground. Pretty much anywhere you go in Iceland, you might recognize the landscape from at least one movie/TV Series you know.
  • Northern Lights. Your chance of seeing Aurora Borealis, especially in winter time is pretty high.
  • If you are an adventurous nature lover type of person then this is a place for you

1. Best time to visit Iceland

The busiest and most expensive time to travel to Iceland is in the summer months (mid-June to end of August). Which makes sense, since the weather in Iceland is generally the best at that time. But if you’re flexible when it comes to travel dates consider traveling off-season. You’ll avoid paying the highest prices and also avoid the most crowded time in Iceland. March may not be the best month to visit, mainly because of unpredictable and harsh weather conditions.

It’s not uncommon that places you wanted to visit become inaccessible or closed, which is exactly what happened to us. I have to admit I was a bit upset about that, but you just have to take it into account when traveling – the weather is something you cannot control. Keep in mind that roads also might close due to weather and make sure you’re constantly checking out www.road.is and www.safetravel.is for the info, if planning on road-trippin’.

However, Iceland in winter conditions can be stunningly beautiful. From the ice fields as far as the eye can stretch, through glaciers appearing more blue with the fresh snow on top, to partially frozen waterfalls, blue ice caves and icebergs + fewer tourists = not a bad time for a visit after all.

2. South Coast ”Cities”

Reykjavik

The world’s northernmost capital city and by far the biggest city in Iceland. Some of the main attractions we got to see:

  • Hallgrímskirkja –  the famous Lutheran church in town;
  • Harpa – a concert hall and conference center situated on the waterfront and one of Reykjavík’s most modern-looking buildings;
  • Brauð & Co.– hardly an attraction but their cinnamon buns are to die for

WHERE TO STAYVibrant Iceland Hostel 

Vík í Mýrdal

Vík is the largest town for 40 miles in all directions with a bustling population of about 300 people, which tell you a lot about the population in Iceland. In China, this place wouldn’t even be considered as a hamlet. Very beautiful, nevertheless.

WHERE TO STAYPuffin Hostel Vík 

Höfn

After driving through the desolate south coast arriving in Höfn truly feels like entering a metropolis. It was our last stop before heading back the way we came from.

WHERE TO STAY: House on the Hill

3. Best places to visit on South Coast

First things I need to get out there is that 5 days for visiting Iceland is most definitely not enough. To go around the island I think the minimum of 10 days would be required and you’d still have to leave out some of the sightseeing. In the limited time we had, we managed to visit most of the attractions on the South Coast, which are quite conveniently located near the Ring Road. And after compiling information from many different sources and spending hours spelling things wrong in the Google search bar, we came up with a pretty solid plan.

Waterfalls

Seljalandsfoss, tumbling over the huge rock wall, Seljanlandsfoss is definitely the one you shouldn’t miss. You can walk all the way behind the falls for some incredible pictures, preferably at sunset time ;). Sadly it was frozen and therefore closed this time around.

Gljufrabui, lying very close to its famous neighbor Seljalandsfoss.
Skogafoss, majestic is the first word that comes to my mind when describing Skogafoss. Prepare to get wet. You can also climb the stairs all the way to the top of the waterfall for some great views of the area.
Kvernufoss, the most hidden out of the 5 but in my opinion the nicest one, probably because of the absence of the crowds.
Gullfoss, located on Iceland’s Golden Circle Drive Gullfoss waterfall Is unique because you view the waterfall from above instead of below.

Glaciers

Jökulsárlón – a very cool place (pun intended).
Fjallsárlón – less famous and less crowded.

Beaches

Diamond Beach –  across the street from Jökulsárlón is a stop for the beach where the ice chunks wash up – hence the name Diamond Beach.
Reynisfjara Blacksand Beach – once ranked as one of the ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. The summer months in Iceland are prime puffin spotting season and Reynisfjara houses thousands of these little birds.

Other

DC3 Plane Wreck In 1973 a U.S. Navy airplane crash landed on the beach of Iceland’s southern coast. Why this is such a popular tourist area? Maybe because it’s very unusual and cool to see. But prepare yourself for a 45 min flat walk through the sand.
Northern Lights – this incredible phenomenon is elusive and unpredictable. You need a combination of dark skies, clear weather, and strong aurora activity.  We knew we’d have to get very lucky to spot them. And we did – in one of our hostel’s backyard, to be precise. We also monitored the Aurora forecast to evaluate our chances of seeing it.
Thingvellir National Park – Game of Thrones. A big enough reason to visit it.
Blue Lagoon –  Iceland is full of spots with geothermal water. You can enjoy them all year round, but I guess they give you the biggest pleasure during winter months. We visited the biggest of them tourist traps – Blue Lagoon. The entrance fee will set you back for astonishing 89€ (depends on the time and date). Would I do it again? No, not really. Do I think it’s worth it? No, not really. Am I glad we crossed off the list? For sure.

4. Iceland on a budget

It’s no secret that a trip to Iceland can make quite a big dent in your bank account. There would be no point in denying it. Prices are high in Iceland for a variety of factors, but particularly due to the isolated nature of Iceland’s location. I mean it’s an island in the middle of North Atlantic, the cost and time to import goods are high.

One good thing about visiting Iceland in winter is that the prices of some things, such as accommodation and car rentals, are often a bit cheaper, compared to the busier summer months.

We also got very lucky with a cheap flight via Wizzair – we paid 77€/per person for the return ticket from Vienna, baggage included. And when you see a good deal like that, you take it… and think about the rest later.

Iceland uses the Icelandic krona (ISK). There is no need to bring cash as you’ll be able to pay with credit card pretty much everywhere. I recommend getting yourself Revolut card which, which gives you the best exchange rate of a local currency.

There are of course different ways you can save your money in Iceland. These include finding cheap flights, drinking the free tap water, cooking your own meals, carpooling + most of the attractions are free anyways. In total, 5 days of traveling cost us a little more than 500€ and that includes the flights and transfer to Vienna.

5. Travel Tips

  • Book everything far in advance
  • Bring a water bottle. Icelanders claim their drinking water it the purest you can get.
  • Pack wisely to avoid unnecessary purchases
  • Rent a car
  • Buy food in budget grocery store chains, such as Bonus, Kronan and Netto (avoid the 10-11 convenience grocery stores, they are a lot more expensive). Also, make sure to stock up on food and snacks before heading on a long road trip.