I’m just going to put this out there. Iceland is ridiculously beautiful. There’s been a rise in tourism there and a ton of hype. Over these past 5 years, you couldn’t go on Facebook without seeing one of your friends sharing photos of Iceland. I needed to see for myself and now that I’m back, I can confidently say that everything they say is true. This Iceland road trip is one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. Overrated? Hell no!
The inspiration for this 8 day Iceland itinerary guide came from the trip planning process. There was a lot of information out there on individual attractions and of the country. So if you also just so happen have 8 days to work with in Iceland, this is for you. Even if not, I think there’s a ton of insight here as I was pretty careful about writing down every small detail about the trip along the way where I went “this would be TOTALLY helpful for my readers”.
Deep dive into planning your Iceland trip
- Top 5 Hotels in Rekyjavik on a Budget
- 12 Best Things to do in Iceland
- The 6 Day Iceland Itinerary
- Reasons to go to Iceland
- 12 Icelandic Souvenirs You Need To Buy
How to get the best deals in travel
- Hottest deals – Bookmark the travel deals page.
- Car rentals – stop getting ripped off and learn about car rental coupon codes.
- Hotels – Use corporate codes or get Genius 2 tier with Booking.
- Flights – Have you ever heard of the “Everywhere” feature?
- Insurance – Make sure you’re covered and learn more about where to buy the best travel insurance.
Table of Contents
This Iceland guide is broken into three main parts – trip planning decision points, the comprehensive itinerary and my personal planning tips.
Getting Started is a small section devoted to some of the trip planning struggles that I encountered and my thought processes around it. Itinerary covers the 8 day journey on the island in September. Valuable Trip Planning Advice started as a laundry list of notes I typed into my phone as the trip unfolded. It contains the need to knows, things you probably didn’t think about, and everything else in between that’ll make your trip kickass.
- Getting Started
- 8 Day Iceland Itinerary
- Valuable Trip Planning Advice
GETTING YOUR ICELAND ITINERARY STARTED
I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this and if I were to sum up into words what makes Iceland so incredible, it’s this – Every corner of the land is so vastly varied and completely stunning because it’s a a visual wonderland of landscapes that covers all the elements. Iceland is somewhere you thought only possible in fairy tales or science fiction movies but it’s totally real.
I was skeptical before the start of the trip. I mean how could I not be. Everyone and their Mom has been to Iceland. Could it be really THAT good? The worry I had was whether it was going to be over-hyped or just a haven for tourists.
Having gone there and back, I can safely tell you that my trip there was everything I was hoping it would be and more.
Trust me, Iceland is a place you have to go. It’s the best road trip you’ll ever go on.
The section below details out some of the basics that you’ve already been thinking about as you start planning your epic Iceland road trip. It covers the high level stuff but if you want to get into more details, I have a Valuable Trip Planning Advice section which has even more information.
If you’re a fan of this itinerary, make sure to check out other incredibly detailed ones like this. Here are a few to get you started:
- Greek Islands 14 day itinerary
- 12 day Japan itinerary
- 14 day Tahiti itinerary
- 12 day Taiwan itinerary
- 10 day Patagonia itinerary
To Ring Road or Not?
Iceland is almost perfectly designed to allow drivers to fully explore the island. At 1,332 kilometers, you can easily just start driving on Route 1 and if you don’t stop, you’ll arrive back at the same spot that you started 17 hours later. The entire island is insanely beautiful all the way around so it’s a no brainer to do the full loop right?
Thing is, it was a much more complicated question than that and at the beginning of putting together this 8 day Iceland itinerary, this was probably the most hotly debated topic. With 8 days to work with, it seemed completely do-able to drive the Ring Road but the more and more I dug into it, the more and more it didn’t make sense. The bottom line is that it was possible but we’d be rushing from one place to the next. We’d be crunched for time which would mean less time for random stops (oh we made many) and we’d have to make careful choices about what to see and what to skip.
Here’s why we didn’t do Ring Road:
- Excursions – Once you introduce any sort of excursion, this was almost out of the question. The problem is that almost all activities originate from Reykjavik so if you plan on doing any of them (most are full day), you’ll have to plan to base yourself in the capital for a few days before hitting the road. The only exception for us was our ice climbing experience in Skaftafell which we were able to meet with them on-site.
- Pick and choose – As I was building out a test itinerary for doing the Ring Road, it felt that I was continuously making compromises on where we could stop. For instance, if a secret hot spring was too far from the main road and add too much time, you just had to cut it even if it was spectacular. FOMO completely taking over in this case.
- Race to the next destination – What I didn’t like about doing the Ring Road in roughly a week was the fact that every day seemed to be a rush to get to the next hostel. The prospect of seeing only a few things along the way and the rest focusing on getting to the next town would be too stressful.
- Weather – This wasn’t much an issue for September but it definitely crossed my mind. There was some risk that if there was heavy snowfall that roads would be closed and that we’d be snowed in or have to bypass an area.
Ultimately for us, it made more sense to do a smaller portion of the island really well than to rush through it all just to check off the list.
That being said, it totally sucks we didn’t get to do the north or Westfjords. I really wanted to go there but couldn’t swing it. If we had 12+ days, I think we could’ve done it but it is what we had to work with. More of a reason to go back right?
Do I regret not doing Ring Road? Nope, not at all.
When To Go?
When planning your Iceland itinerary, it’s pretty critical to think about what time of the year you’re going to be going because it will make a big difference. The three main factors to think about are: weather, northern lights and seasonality. These will dramatically change the type of experience you’ll have in Iceland.
For all intents and purposes, you can think of Iceland as having two primary seasons – cold and not as cold/borderline warm with frequent weather changes sprinkled in. For simplicity, let’s just call it summer and winter.
Seriously though, Iceland is not as chilly as its namesake sounds.
During the summer months, the weather is actually quite pleasant. Hovering around 20C (70F), you’re totally in the t-shirt zone but of course, the fickle nature of the climate means that things can change on a dime and before you know it, you’re in the middle of torrential downpour.
Another thing that is unique to the summer months is that you’re looking at almost continuous daylight. Midnight sun can totally trip your sleep schedule but what’s great about this is that you have all 24 hours to do and see stuff if you really wanted to. Imagine that! That being said, you will not be able to see the aurora borealis because it relies on darkness and clear skies.
Summer is of course high season. This means that there will be a larger amount of tourists on the island which drives prices up and the bring large crowds to the popular sights.
All roads are open in the summer and ferry schedules are better so you can get to pretty much every part of the island. In particular, Westfjords becomes very much accessible and places like Hornstrandir (Iceland’s northernmost peninsula, situated in the Westfjords) open up.
If you’re hoping to see puffins, you’ll find them from May to August each year.
It gets cold in the winter especially when that polar wind sweeps its way down. That means you’ll want to make sure you bring ALL of your warm clothing and then some when you come in this season between October and April.
Winter is pretty much the polar opposite to summer. Instead of midnight sun, you get extremely shortened days (4-6 hours). This means less daylight to explore but you have extremely high probability to see the northern lights.
What you’ll need to deal with in the winter is the fact that there will be road closures due to snowfall. Areas like Westfjords will be difficult to get to because the ferries basically don’t run there and access to any areas that are way off the Ring Road may be blocked off.
There will also be fewer tours offered in the off-season so self-drive becomes the most viable option. With that though, you’ll have to be very careful behind the wheel because the roads can be hazardous and there’s always the possibility of small towns being snowed in.
However, what you gain in the winter is the majestic ice caves which aren’t accessible in the summer due to structural stability. The snow covered landscape is also stunning and gives the island and completely different look.
As the low season, you’ll deal with much smaller crowds and prices to drop (particularly flights). Don’t expect any price breaks on car rentals except if you use the Blue Car Rental coupon code which you’ll find in the Driving in Iceland tips.
In between you have the shoulder season in May and September. These are the transitional months between summer and winter. What’s great about this season is that you get the best of both seasons.
With light becoming normalized with sunrise at 7PM and sunset at 8PM, you get decently long days but with enough twilight to get the chance to see the northern lights. Depending on the year, you might also
What you’ll have to contend with is more tumultuous weather though. During our time in Iceland in September, we experienced many overcast days where we were always on the precipice of rain (made for a lot of rainbows though). The rain was very on and off though where some pockets of the island would be rainy but if we kept driving along Ring Road, it would clear up.
What’s great about shoulder season is that tourists drop off in these months pre and post summer so you don’t have to deal with as many crowds. Temperatures are also quite reasonable in the high teens (C)/50s (F). This is a great time for an Iceland road trip.
How Many Days Do You Need?
As many as you can take would be my answer to everyone that asks. There’s a temptation to treat Iceland as a stopover destination based on how flight packages are bundled these days but seriously Iceland is the main event – there’s no question.
I may be a bit biased here but I feel that you need at least 7 days to see a substantial part of Iceland. This gives you time to do at least one excursion and at a minimum see the southern part of the island which is where a majority of the popular destinations are located.
If you have less than 7 days, you will have to decide whether you want to base yourself in Reykjavik the entire time and do day trips through tours or you have to hit the road right away and see what you can along Ring Road and the Golden Circle.
For the full Ring Road, I’d recommend at least 12 days for a road trip itinerary.
Things To Pack and Prep
Lots of layers – Weather is constantly changing in Iceland and you never know when it’ll change. The best way to handle this and pack efficiently is to bring layers. Bring t-shirts for when it’s warm and layer up with base layers, sweaters, hoodies, long johns, and jacket as necessary. More must-pack gear can be found in the Valuable Trip Planning Advice section.
Waterproof everything – There’s no rainy season per say but chances of rain peak in October – February. I would include September in the mix as well from personal experience. Since everything you’re doing in Iceland is outdoors, I was so glad I was fully decked out in waterproof exterior clothing. I was so glad to have my Columbia waterproof jacket and waterproof pants, and Keen waterproof shoes.
Mapping – You’ll quickly realize that as simple as it is to drive around Ring Road, finding places is not as easy as you think. The reason is that Icelandic names are crazy difficult to pronounce and type in. As a result, GPS is a must. You’ll rely on GPS to either do an address, point of interest or coordinate search (your first time I am sure). When that fails (oh and it will), you’ll want a backup and that’s when your phone comes in. Assuming you don’t have any cellular data like us, we heavily relied on the Google Maps app to pre-pin our daily itinerary and use the “OK maps” trick to save maps offline. Since GPS signal is free, you can track your blue dot and use that as a navigation signal to get to where you need to go. If I knew about the app beforehand, I would’ve used the maps.me app on this trip.
Track the weather – Particularly important in the winter, you’re going to want to know the weather and road conditions. There is a super helpful aurora borealis tracker that will tell you what the chances are of seeing the northern lights. What you’re looking for is white space. This page also gives very accurate weather forecasts for the entire island. For road conditions, you’re going to want to head here to figure out whether the roads you’ll be driving are passable or not.
Money – I didn’t believe at first when my friends told me but Iceland is dominated by the credit card. I withdrew 10,000 ISK at an ATM in Reykjavik and that was it. I honestly can’t remember any instances where I was forced to use cash. The only time that it came in handy was the toll for the Hvalfjörður Tunnel when we made our way up to Snaefellsnes. However, this tunnel is now free as of September 2018!
Where to Stay?
Accommodations in Iceland get scooped up quick. Once you lock in your dates and your itinerary, you’ll want to making your bookings ASAP.
In some ways there are a lot of choices for accommodations and in other ways, it can be quite limited. There a couple of routes that you could take. There’s the traditional hotel, youth hostels, Airbnb, guest houses, and campervans. The underlying thing about all of these options is that you’re not really going to find a “bargain” in Iceland. Account for every night to be at least $100 USD a night.
Hotels are typically going to be the nicest in terms of providing full-service accommodations. They’ll be clean, provide all the basic facilities, and usually have an attached restaurant. The flip side of them is that they’re typically the most expensive option in Iceland.
Luckily, I still have a stash of hotel points and I found a pretty good cash & points rate with the Hilton .
Hotel we used:
Hostels, Guest Houses, Airbnb
The truth is that you won’t find too many big hotel chains outside of Reykjavik and that means you’ll have to look at other options. In the absence of big properties, Icelanders have gotten pretty savvy in terms of converting property into guest houses or hostel type accommodations. With the vast amount of land and space, old farms are looking to tourism and so you’ll find a lot of farm holidays as options. Airbnb has also grown significantly on Iceland.
For us, most of all of our searches started with Booking.com which seemed to have the most complete inventory. We then augmented this with searches on Hey Iceland, and Airbnb. Ultimately it came down to what was available in the location we wanted to end off in each day and picking one that had low cost without going into sketchy territory.
With the exception of the youth hostel, I was pleasantly surprised about every guest house we stayed in. The guest houses in Iceland are very well done in terms of the renovation work, cleanliness, and service. A few even had free breakfast included which was always a nice bonus.
In regards to Airbnb, you’ll of course find a ton of options between the airport and Reykjavik. Beyond that circle, you’ll see diminishing results. In certain parts of the island such as Snaefellsnes, you’ll barely find anything and in the south you’ll find a bit more.
Ultimately farm houses were way out of budget for us so we never got to stay in one. Our most expensive accommodation ended up being the one by Skaftafell (Hof 1 Hotel) simply because there aren’t many options in that area.
Alternative accommodations we used:
- Öxl in Budir
- Hostel Sjónarhóll
- Hekla Room No. 2. (Airbnb)
- Hof 1 Hotel
- Hofn Guesthouse
- Private Room with Private Entry Airbnb in Reykjavik (Airbnb)
Camping and Campervan
If you’re looking to rough it out a bit more, a potentially cheaper option for you that also gives you more control in terms check-in/check-out time and where you can stay. By camping or renting a campervan, you can literally sleep right where you want to be the next morning to catch that beautiful sunset and hit the ground running.
Campervans may not be for everyone but these vans that have their own beds built into the rear compartment are going to be your best bet in terms of saving money because you’ll be able to combine the cost of a car rental and accommodations all together. It may not be glamorous but it is very practical and if I were to do Iceland again, I’d definitely go this route. Give companies such as Happy Campers and Campervan Iceland a browse!
You’ll find out in our itinerary below that we picked up a few hitchhikers along the way and what we learned from these ambitious kids is that camping is totally viable. What’s beautiful about Iceland is that there’s this culture of camping and so the country has built a ton of facilities around the island which gives you free access buildings where you can clean up and land to set up camp. On the hitchhiking front, they told us that they had a lot of trouble getting rides especially when in more remote areas.
8 DAY ICELAND ITINERARY
Now with the basics out of the way, you’re part of the way through your planning. The next step is to start figuring out how you’re going to be laying out your Icelandic adventure.
The following is a high level outline of everything we did, sights we saw, and all the things I learned that I wish I knew. By no means is this meant to be a copy and paste job but if you’re tight on planning time, you’re certainly welcome to it and grab the spreadsheet by signing up.
For a more personal recounting of our Icelandic experience head over to my other article.
Day 1 – Black and Blue
If you’re coming in from North America, you’ll most likely land super early in the morning as we did. Pick up your rental car at the airport and head into the city. You’ll be tempted to take a nap but try your best to stay up. The best way to do this is to book an adrenaline-filled excursion like Black and Blue which combines lava tube caves with snorkelling Silfra. Crash early your first day and get ready for tomorrow.
If Black and Blue isn’t available, this is a recommended snorkeling experience that just focuses on the Silfra fissure.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Booze – Before you leave the airport, make sure you pick up your alcohol supply. This is the duty free that you have to cross through before you get your bags and not the duty free that is in the gate area. You can’t miss it.
- Check before you drive off – Make sure everything works in the car and you do a thorough walk around.
- Renting cars in Iceland – Make sure you read the Car Rental section below to learn about companies I researched and the importance of built-in insurance coverage.
- Excursions in Iceland – Most excursions start and end in Reykjavik so when you plan your itinerary, make sure you plan things out accordingly.
- Snack on – Always have a healthy stash of snacks with you. Particularly for Black and Blue, it was nice to have a bunch of bars on hand since no food was included
- Black and Blue – It’s not very clear in any of the trip instructions but you’re going to want to make sure you wear long johns and drifit-type top. One thing to note is that there’s no private area to change so expect to be stripping down out in the open or in the Arctic Adventures van. In terms of valuables and your shoes, you’ll be able to leave everything behind in the van which will be guarded by your driver/guide. They recommend brining waterproof clothing but you don’t necessarily need it. I ended up taking off my waterproof pants in fact and just went into the drysuit with my long johns. Oh and if you’re planning on recording the experience, don’t make the same mistake as I did and use a head mount. You’re better off using putting your GoPro on something like a XShot Pro Pole.
- Alternative Black and Blue – Similar tour offering can be found on Guide to Iceland.
Day 2 – Exploring Reykjavik + Buubble
Reykjavik is a vibrant and artsy city that has much to offer. Spend the day to get to know the capital. I recommend orienting yourself by taking a free city walking tour with CityWalk. Make sure to try the hotdogs here.
While you’re in the capital, also make a point to do any of the shopping you want to do and to buy the Icelandic souvenirs for yourself of friends and family back at home. This could also be your only opportunity to buy any outdoor gear you forgot.
Before you hit the road, stock up on supplies at the Bonus grocery store in town and start making your way towards Selfoss. Grab dinner here like we did and then make your way to one of the most unique stays here – the Bubble Hotel. Time permitting, you can also squeeze in 1) a shower and 2) relaxation at the Secret Lagoon.
While there were no guarantees when I made the booking at Buubble, we were lucky enough to watch the Northern Lights this evening. It was a light show to remember.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Parking in Reykjavik – There a few quasi-lots in the city but these are really just street parking spots by North American standards. We did our drive around to see if there was any free parking which we were told were closer to the residential areas but we couldn’t find them so we just settled for a spot right off of Laugavegur.
- Free Walking Tour – Make sure you reserve your spot ahead of time online. There are a number of time slots available and I’d recommend doing this at the beginning of your trip as a way to orient yourself in Reykjavik.
- Secret Lagoon – I thoroughly enjoyed this hot spring experience. Sure it was $30 (2,800 ISK) but I would take this any day over Blue Lagoon to deal with less crowds, a much more natural experience, and the ability to bring your own booze. We learned afterwards that the Secret Lagoon was also a brilliant idea when paired with our Bubble night because we didn’t have shower facilities there. Coming out of the hot springs, we showered at the lagoon and head back just in time for the northern lights show which worked out beautifully. Note, no need for a combination lock here since it’s one of those lockers that give you a key.
- Bonus – The go-to grocery store to pick up supplies in Iceland. We literally planned our resupply trips around when we could drop by a Bonus. More on this in the Eating section below.
- Bubble Hotel – More details about Buubble to be more precise can be found in my review post.
- Northern lights – There’s no real formula here other than to get yourself outside of the city which we did. September is tough because it’s overcast all the time so the best you can do is just give you the most chances to see them and check the aurora borealis tracker religiously.
What Should You Pack?
Not sure what to pack for your trip? Make sure to check out our handy packing list for Iceland!
Day 3 – Golden Circle
Every Iceland itinerary is going to have the famed Golden Circle. Despite this route being heavy on tourists, you can’t miss the trio of Geysir, Gullfoss, and Thingvellir National Park.
The awesome thing about our bubble is that it’s right along the Golden Circle so all you have to do is hop in your car and start driving counterclockwise.
From here you’ll be making the drive all the way up to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to get away from the crowds and part of the country that has some of the most epic dynamic landscapes. Arrive in the Budir area and crash for the evening.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Golden Circle – The big bus tours are pretty much unavoidable but I’m sure if you start right at the morning, you should be able to dodge most of them. Another thing to note is that you’ll definitely want to account more time than you think you’ll need here (kind of applies to everything in Iceland). Blame the photography.
- Driving to Snaefellsnes – The drive itself is pretty straightforward but if you set yourself to get there in the shortest amount of time, the GPS will take you through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel. This used to be a tolled tunnel but it is now free (as of September 2018).
- Gullfoss – For the most part, we didn’t have any bathroom problems but I do distinctly remember that the washrooms were paid here so make sure you relieve yourself at Geysir or at Thingvellir’s information center.
Day 4 – Snaefellsnes Surprise
Weather permitting, I personally feel that the 4th day around Snaefellsnes offers the most stunning of landscapes. You’ll be driving along the coast and making many stops along the way. Start the day off with the Arnarstapi hike and make your way around to eventually the iconic view of Kirkjufell. End off in Stykkishólmur to close out the day.
On a personal note, this is the day that I proposed to my now wife. The weather didn’t quite co-operate but it sure made a memorable proposal.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Rain – I’m speaking from September experience here but rain definitely puts a damper on things. Good thing I had waterproof gear on me or otherwise, we would have skipped a ton more spots along the way. With Iceland, you have to be prepared and just work with what the weather gives you.
Day 5 – Foss and Truly Secret Pool
On this day, you’ll be leaving Snaefellsnes and dropping down to the south. Watch the landscape dramatically change as you make your way along this popular route. Here, waterfalls are going to dominate your view including the impressive Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss.
If you can swing it, look for Seljavallalaug Pool which is set in the middle of a canyon and quite the tranquil experience. Best part is that it’s free.
What You’ll See
- Stykkishólmur town
- Seljavallalaug Pool (Seljavellir)
- Bar Bistro (by Skogafoss) – We ended pretty late this day and there weren’t many options so we ended up at this casual restaurant. Prices are reasonable and the Skyr cake was phenomenal.
- Hekla Room No. 2. (Airbnb)
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Seljavallalaug Pool Directions– This one was one heck of a place to find. As you’re driving along the ring road and going eastbound, you’re going look for Road 242 marked Raufarfell. Start looking for it right after you pass by the Iceland Erupts exhibition that will be on your right. Take the road all the way to the end and there should be a sign that says Seljavellir (GPS: 63.558878 N, -19.622353 W). Park your car in this large dirt lot and you’ll want to walk 20 minutes. The trail is not marked at all and for us we were thankful to bump into various people along the way to confirm we were going the right way but looking back on it, we were essentially hugging the left side of the valley, crossing a few small streams and hiking over a rocky ground. You won’t see the pool until the very end so keep going and you’ll eventually see it. Just before, you’ll also pass by a small water pumping machine. If you’re heading there near sunset or sunrise, make sure you bring headlamps.
- Seljavallalaug Pool Facilities – In terms of facilities, it’s pretty bare bones here and the concrete building there is in a bit of decay. There are “rooms” with doors but don’t expect to find any benches. What they do have are some hooks so you can hang your clothes inside. Other people simply changed at the back of the building away from the pool.
Day 6 – Beauty of the South
Continue the drive along the south and feast your eyes on unique basalt columns, gorgeous canyons, and rugged plains. Luckily there isn’t too much driving until you make that final stretch to Skaftafell National Park. There aren’t too many accommodations in this region unfortunately and in fact Hof 1 Hotel turned out to be the most expensive of the entire trip.
There will still be quite a bit of tourists along this section with day trip tourist busses from Reykjavik so be prepared for some crowds.
What You’ll See
- Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
- Service station cafeteria just outside of Skaftafell National Park
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Dyrholaey– I thought there wasn’t much to see here other than the arch but turns out there are a lot of interesting view points here no matter what direction you’re looking at. Make sure you account for more time here.
- Reynisdrangar– Similar with Dryholaey, I found ourselves spending more time here than I thought we would. We were here a good 1.5 hours and some of that was accounted by us posing around the basalt columns. Also note that there are bathroom facilities here and they are free.
- Fjadrargljufur Canyon– This one may seem hard to find as there isn’t too much information on it but right off of Ring Road, past the small village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur is Road 206 that goes to Lakagígar. Once you’re on this road, you’re only 2KM out. Eventually you’ll make it to an intersection where left will lead to the canyon and right leads to Lakagígar. I remember the signs to be pretty clear here so you won’t get lost. Technically after, this turns into an F-road but to be honest it’s doable with any car. Just drive slow and carefully. While we only hiked the top part of the canyon, the bottom of the canyon is accessible and in the summer a great spot for wading in the river. There’s also an eco-friendly bathroom here which is free.
Day 7 – Glacier Climbing
The whole reason why you want to stay near Skaftafell National Park is so that you don’t have to do a long drive in the morning to make the glacier climbing excursion. Expect most of the day to be dedicated for this.
At the time of our visit, we were on Falljökull Glacier which is in Vatnajökull. The names can be a bit confusing but to set things straight, Skaftafell National Park was integrated with the newly established Vatnajokull National Park in 2008 so they’re really one and the same. Most tours don’t mention the glacier you’ll be on but a popular one is Falljokull.
I highly recommend this 4 hour glacier experience which also includes ice caves if they’re in-season.
If you want to make sure ice climbing is included, there’s ice climbing on Vatnajokull from Skaftafell which is very close to what we did. The other one I’d recommend is ice climbing Solheimajokull which is a slightly different location.
The tour we did was called Glacier Xtreme which has been rebranded as Blue Ice since they operate out of Solheimajokull now.
Finish the day with a sunset at Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon before driving the furthest east as you’ll go in Iceland.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Glacier Xtreme– The costs were adding up for Iceland but this was one of those experiences we didn’t want to miss out on. On top of glacier hiking, this was the only one where you could also ice climb as well. When talking to the locals, they said the Falljökull Glacier was much better than the others due to less traffic and being able to get way closer to the icefall. How about things to pack and all of that? I found that the booking sites weren’t very good about explaining this so let me clear the air. Do you need waterproof pants? I would say no unless it’s raining that day. We had a beautiful sunny day and so any hiking appropriate pants are fine. What else should I bring? Bring gloves. They don’t necessarily have to be waterproof but the ice can be sharp when you’re trying to keep balance or even during the ice climbing. Also bring sunglasses. The sun will reflect intensely off of the white ice but more importantly you want your sunglasses to protect you from the flying chips of ice that will be coming at you when you dig your ice axe into the wall. Any other tips? That main parking lot at Skaftafell fills up FAST. I would show up early to get a good spot in the main lot. Otherwise you’ll have to go to an adjacent one that is a bit farther away.
- Glacier Guides – The operator that runs Glacier Xtreme is Glacier Guides which in turn is owned by the larger company, Arctic Adventures. That is why you can’t find a separate website for Glacier Guides if you’re as confused as we were.
- Jokulsarlon Lagoon – This place gets pretty busy around sunset so you might have to jockey a little for tripod space. From a photography perspective, don’t be afraid to move around as there are a ton of different angles to shoot at. If you’re not doing a whole lot of photography here, you could be done in 15 minutes or if you’re like me, 2 hours. Lastly, be on the lookout for seals in the water. They pop their head up once in awhile or sometimes you can catch them swim. Let me know how many you find! If you’d rather get out on one of those boats that take you right up to the icebergs, I recommend tours like this amphibian boat tour.
Day 8 – Rewind
The last day has a lot of driving but the nice part about it is that you’ll be able to hit up all the spots that you missed. For instance, you’ll be able to do Svartifoss and the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. Treat yourself at the very end with a little bit of rest and relaxation at Blue Lagoon.
What You’ll See and Do
- Mossy Lava Rocks
- Vik Red Church
- Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck (aka Crashed DC 3 Plane)
- Blue Lagoon
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Svartifoss– From the research, I always thought these falls were like the others where you could drive up to alas it’s a 20 minute hike there and back. Instead of the up and back down path that we took, there are alternative paths you can take on the way down to make it more of a loop. We read that these had some pretty good views and interesting sights along the way but unfortunately they would’ve taken too much time so we had to do the most optimal route. When you get to the falls, there’ll be a metal barrier to prevent you from going closer to the falls.
- Plane Wreck– The specific GPS coordinates are 63.4912391,-19.3632810, but nowadays this is such a well-known sight in Iceland that you’ll be able to find the pin on Google Maps and you’ll also see the pile of cars on the side of the road (past Skogafoss if you’re coming from the west). Yes it’s true that the landowners have fenced off the area from cars to drive through (can’t blame them). This means that you have to do the 50 minute hike each way so make sure you have plenty of time to work with. Also, remember to relieve yourself before going because there isn’t going to be a bush out there to use since it’s completely flat there. Lastly, while we were taking photos of the plane, I remember seeing a big truck pull up at the end of the road, presumably to patrol the area and make sure nobody somehow gets passed the fence by vehicle or does anything stupid at the plane. Photography wise, I recommend bringing a tripod as the lighting may not be the greatest if it is as overcast as it was for us. Read the latest reviews to see what the situation is like.
- Blue Lagoon– Everything in my research about Blue Lagoon was true. Sure it’s a bit of a zoo but it’s still a unique experience that can be a great way to relax. With that in mind, I had decided that it made the most sense to put this at the very end of the trip which allowed us to do all the (in my opinion) better ones earlier. The one thing that everyone suggested was to reserve in advance and I’d say the same thing. You’ll notice that bookings 2 hours prior to closing are cheaper so if you want to save a bit of money, I’d go with that. We only needed 1.5 hours and I felt like we got to see and try all the different spaces. Bonus on top of that is that if you go at 6PM, you’ll be able to watch the sunset as well. Package wise, I’d recommend getting the Comfort package which primarily is good for that free drink and extra algae mask. There’s the towel too but I was very frustrated with the fact that our towels were flat out stolen when we finished up at the lagoon. I can’t blame the person that did it but that area in front with all the towel racks is not a good solution with the amount of people that are there. It’s hard to remember where you put it and of course all the towels look the same. If I were you, put your towel in a separate area away from everyone else’s. Lastly, show up 30 minutes earlier than your time slot because there’s going to be a line to check-in. This way you can maximize your time.
How The Iceland Itinerary Changed During The Trip
The fun part about travel is just how unpredictable it is sometimes and how you’ll need to improvise and adjust based on things that happen along the way. You might meet some interest people along the way, bad weather might roll in, or maybe you love one place so much that you decide to stay longer.
For us, the Iceland itinerary largely stayed the same with a few exceptions. As with what happens with my trips every time, I always took too long at every single destination. Thank goodness I loosened up the itinerary to account for this, all the random side-of-the-road-stops, and surprise view points/monuments that we encountered. In most cases, you need to account for at least 2 hours in each main spot and Google Map drive times need to be bumped up by 30 minutes. The lesson: Being less ambitious is a good thing.
Where I had to make adjustments to the schedule:
- I had naively assumed that the hike to Svartifoss inside Skaftafell National Park was few minutes walk from the parking lot. It is in fact 20-30 minutes away. Since we got to the park pretty late on Day 6 there was no way we could complete it. Instead, we used our make-up day to see this waterfall.
- We spent too much time at Dyrholaey and Reynisdrangar on Day 6 that we had no time to stop in Vik. Again, we remedied this by visiting on our way back.
- On Day 3, I thought we were going to have enough Kerið Crater but as it turns out, we passed it along our way up to the Bubble Hotel. In the interest of time, we started Day 3 by going counterclockwise up to Geysir first instead of dropping down to Kerið and then back up.
- There were a number of lunch restaurants selected initially but as the days went on, we realized that 1) proper lunches were too expenses and 2) we couldn’t afford the time to stop and it’d be more efficient to eat while driving so we more or less cut all of them from our itinerary.
- Originally there was the idea that we could do sunrise at Jokulsarlon for sunrise on Day 7 before the Glacier Climb but as the trip went on, sleep was more precious and we ended up doing this as a sunset. The same can be said for Sólheimasandur plane wreck where I thought it’d be cool to do this for sunrise. I’m glad we didn’t because it would’ve been quite miserable to walk the entire 50 minute stretch in the dark.
- Mossy lava rocks was on our itinerary and we would’ve stopped by on Day 6 but we had no idea how long the stretch was in the south and whether there’d be a better place to stop ahead. That’s why it make sense to do it on our way back on Day 8.
- Lastly, rain did a number on several days where we really had to quickly run out of the car to take a peek or brave the pouring. I wish we got to see more of the cliffs in Snaefellsnes and had better views Dyrholaey but it is what it is.
Why This 8 Day Iceland Itinerary Kicked Ass
This was honestly the perfect 8 day Iceland itinerary road trip in September. We hit up everything we wanted to see and we did it at a pace that wasn’t crazy. Sure, the weather could’ve been more cooperative but that’s kind of what you’d expect during the shoulder season.
Initially I thought that we’d be doing a lot of wasted driving because we had to double back twice – once to go up to Snaefellsnes and then another in the south, driving all the way out to Hofn and back. What ended up being a disadvantage of not doing the full loop around the island turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We never felt rushed throughout and in the south, we had the advantage of skipping a few things (some due to weather) on the way out east to Hofn and making them up when we drove back to Reykjavik.
The Iceland itinerary itself was very well balanced between seeing the natural beauty of the country and also trying out local activities. It was also a balance between the popular sights that were tour bus central to a few spots that we really struggled to find and when we were there, the path wasn’t clear or marked – going truly off the beaten path.
Budget wise, we controlled it as best as we could without roughing it too much. Ultimately cost cutting came down to food where we snacked on grocery food for breakfast and lunch, and “splurged” on dinner.
VALUABLE TRIP PLANNING ADVICE
Oh so much information I want to share with you guys here. As I was travelling I literally had an Evernote note set up just for tips and tricks. I’ve cleaned it up considerably and so here’s everything you need to know before you go to Iceland.
Driving in Iceland
Driving is a must in Iceland. The only other way to get around to see the island is through tour buses and you really don’t want to go there. With your own car, you will have the freedom to follow your own schedule and more importantly, stop whenever you wish. Trust me, you’ll want to stop A LOT.
When picking a rental car, you’ll have to decide on a few things including the car rental company, transmission, whether you want a 4×4 or not, and size.
Read this first: We have a full guide on how to rent a car in Iceland including secret car rental coupon codes.
Car Rental Companies
I researched a number of companies when I was looking for my car rental including the large international brands and the smaller local ones.
While price is one thing you’ll have your eye on, what’s more important to pay attention to is the insurance coverage that they offer and build in. There are a lot of unknown factors when driving in Iceland and you want to make sure you’re covered because I’ve heard stories of other travellers wishing they had the insurance or glad that they had it.
We cast a wide net when looking for car rentals in Iceland. We started with what we knew and checked out companies like National and Avis but we found that they didn’t include any extended car insurance so then we turned to local car rental agencies. That’s when we discovered Blue Car Rental. They had the most positive reviews, actually had good availability, and reasonable rates.
Most Popular Car Rental Company in Iceland
Blue Car Iceland is the most reputable brand in Iceland and we would definitely rent from them again. Book through our special link below to save 2% on your rental until August 31, 2023.
Blue Car Rental as a base includes:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) Insurance – This covers the bodywork of the car.
- Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW) Insurance – Deductible on bodywork damage in collisions is 90,000 ISK on 2WD and 120,000 on 4WD.
- Gravel Protection (GP) Insurance – This protection includes damage to windscreen, headlights and the car when gravel or rocks get thrown on the vehicle by another car. The deductible is 20,000 ISK.
- Theft Protection (TP) Insurance – The likelihood of this happening on Iceland is low but this covers theft of rental. No deductible.
There’s an option Sand and Ash Protection (SAAP) Insurance which covers against ash and sandstorm damage but we elected to not add it. In retrospect, we learned quite quickly how erratic the weather can be in Iceland. While we didn’t encounter any sand or ash damage, I could totally see it happening out of the blue.
Some rental car companies also have a Liability Waiver (LW) which brings down the deductibles down to zero.
Something they also made clear is that the the underside of the car nor damage caused by wind pulling hard against the door is covered. This means that you want to be careful when there are heavy winds and also be careful driving on gravel roads and potholes.
The bottom line is to make sure you do your research and run the math on total cost of renting a car. Some companies bundle insurance together while others make it an option.
Most cars available will be in the manual transmission format. I wasn’t surprised about this since most of Europe is like this. What this means is that there’ll be more affordable options and increased availability if you’re able to drive a manual car. If not, you’ll definitely want to make sure you reserve early.
Do I Need a 4×4?
The reason why you’d want a 4WD is because you can only drive on Iceland’s infamous F-roads which are mountain roads in the highlands. These are off-road terrain roads that have restrictions on the type of vehicles that can drive them, are only open certain times of the year, and also have restrictions on time of day. Only an SUV can power through these roads and you certainly don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere.
That’s great and all if you take one of these roads but I’ll be honest with you, the itinerary that I followed didn’t take us through any of these types of roads. Our path stuck primarily to the main roads and there were only a few times where it felt like we actually went off-path.
I remember the road to Saxoll Crater and Fjadrargljufur Canyon were perhaps the most bumpy and pothole ridden but everywhere else was well paved and easy to get around. While it was certainly nice to have the spaciousness of an SUV for our road trip, we would’v been just fine with a compact sedan. In fact even on the most challenging roads, I saw the tiny cars get by just as fine with a little careful driving.
Driving The Roads
Driving in Iceland isn’t hard per say but as with anywhere, you need to be smart and careful. A few things you’ll want to be mindful of are lane passing, singe lane bridge crossings, side of road stops, gravel driving, and night time driving. Each of these of course get augmented in the winter time when you have to deal with snow, limited visibility and black ice.
- Lane Passing – Icelandic roads are thin and mostly one lane. Pass when safe and definitely not at bends or uphills. Common courtesy is to signal to show intent, speed up, and once you’ve passed the vehicle, turn your emergency blinkers for two flashes to thank the driver behind.
- Single Lane Bridge Crossing – There quite a number of single lane bridges especially in the south. Make sure you stop where at the drawn line in order to wait for oncoming traffic to come through. When crossing, double check to make sure there are no cars on the other side or they have stopped. At night time, be extra careful here and flick your high beams or use your horn to let other cars know you’re crossing.
- Side of Road Stops – The week I was in Iceland, there was a fatality from someone stopped at the side of the road to take a photo at night. Look out for side roads to stop safely and turn on your emergency blinkers. When getting in and out of the car, make sure there are no cars on the highway.
- Gravel Driving – Some areas are going to have pretty deep potholes so make sure you drive slowly over them, take them at an angle, or avoid them altogether if possible.
- Night Time Driving – There aren’t any street lights outside of the main towns so expect to rely on your low-beams and high-beams. Make sure you obey high-beam etiquette as to not blind any oncoming drivers.
For safety, make sure you also know where you spare is and you know where your tools are. Worst case, you get a flat while on the road and you’ll need to replace the flat on your own. Also make sure you know what the emergency and roadside assistance numbers are.
Another common question I get is about speeding and cops. Officially the speed limit is 90 km/h on the highway. Unofficially 100 km/h is acceptable as long as the roads are clear. On empty roads though, I was cruising upwards to 120 km/h. During our time in Iceland, we did not encounter any speed traps but I have heard from people that they have gotten ticketed. The only police we saw were typically around the larger towns.
There are actual speed cameras along ring road in the south in and around towns. There are signs that warn you about upcoming cameras along the road. Some are real and others are duds. To be cautious, I’d recommend slowing down when you’re in a speed camera zone.
Filling Up Gas
This was supposed to be an easy task but for some reason we had a ton of trouble filling up at the N1 gas stations. Whereas we had no problems entering the PIN number for our credit card on the machines at the pump, N1 was just not going to take any of our cards. We tried ALL of them.
Ultimately, at N1 specifically, we needed to buy their prepaid cards inside the station first. They sold the cards in 3,000 and 100,000 ISK denominations. Since we didn’t know if we’d spend 100,000 (we did), we just bought 3,000 every time we filled up at N1. With the prepaid card, we were then able to pay at the pump.
We later learned that debit cards worked without any issue so give that a shot if you’re okay with that.
I’ll start off by saying that the food in Iceland is amazing. I don’t know what blog or review I read that said the food is terrible but having spent 8 days there, I can definitively tell you that you don’t need to worry about having good food.
Now where you’re going to have a bit of a shock dealing with is the exuberant price you’ll be paying for a meal in Iceland. Throw away everything you know about your own standards of eating back home because it’s easily double and often times triple here.
The good news is though that despite dishing out Michelin-restaurant level money for meals, the quality of the food makes it all a bit more swallowable. Something about the freshness of seafood and world-class chefs has something to do with it. I don’t remember any meal where we came out of it disappointed. The way we thought about it was that every dinner was equivalent to a nice meal out in the city. On average, dinners were on average $50 a person.
The way we offset this was to have less full meals. This meant we ate our own breakfast and lunch using the supplies we brought from home or purchased at the grocery store. We picked up things like sandwiches, fruit, cookies, snack bars, juices, and yogurt to keep our energy up during the day and we’d reward ourselves with a good meal at the end of the day.
The friend we met up with in Reykjavik strong encouraged us to only pick up food at this grocery store. We were warned not to be tempted by the convenience of the 10-11 convenient store which can be block to block. As a result, we more or less stuck with Bonus throughout the trip. Look for the piggy logo. You can’t miss it!
Food You Have To Try
Being a seafaring nation, anything related to seafood is a must. We found that time and time again, fish whether grilled or fried was a winner.
Other recommendations would be:
- Water – Don’t buy water EVER on the island. I can’t believe I’m raving about water but seriously the H2O in Iceland is the freshest I’ve had. Pro tip: Before filling up your water bottle at the tap, run the cold water for 10 seconds to lush out the hot water since some parts of the island bring them in from a local spring which may have some traces of sulphur smell.
- Skyr – This has to be my biggest find of the trip. Think Greek yogurt but even richer and thicker.
- Icelandic hotdog – The most popular hotdog stand in Reykjavik is of course Baejarins Beztu Pylsur but there are other places in the city where you can try these traditional hotdogs topped with ketchup, a sweet brown mustard, raw onions, fried onions, and remoulade.
- Fish jerky – This may not be for everyone but we very much enjoyed trying different types of dried fish. They made for great snacks on the road and sometimes to keep me awake during those long night time drives.
- Fish and chips – The restaurant Icelandic Fish and Chips in Reykjavik we had on our last day was delicious. The Halibut in particular was very tender and flaky.
- Langoustine – These are large prawns with claws or miniature lobsters that Hofn is well known for. They’re expensive but I hear is quite succulent.
- Liquorice – Not sure what the story is here but liquorice is everywhere here. Almost all the chocolate here involves some sort of liquorice as well (so be careful if you’re not a fan).
If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t have any issues with eating shark, whale, puffin, or horse, those options are available although we stayed away from these.
While packing for a trip like Iceland was business as usual as I cover in a number of my packing guides, it was also challenging in a number of ways because of the time of year we went and the constraints we had to work with since we were flying WOW Air.
NOTE: WOW Air has since gone under so your best way to fly to Iceland is with Icelandair or your own local carrier. In Canada for instance, Air Canada does have direct routes to Reykjavik.
Suitcase or Backpack?
A common question. Do you you lug around a big suitcase or do you go nimble with a backpack? The easy answer is that it honestly doesn’t matter on a road trip like this because you’re going to be travelling with a car the entire time. You’re going to have the luxury of space and you won’t be running around with everything on your back.
I say if you prefer to travel with a backpack, go for it. Otherwise, a suitcase will suit you just as well.
The only thing to consider is a case like ours where we were flying WOW Air and it was the most economical to check in one bag. With us sharing the space, a suitcase was just a lot easier organizationally.
I’m not going to list out everything we packed. Instead, I want to focus on the things that you absolutely have to have on any trip to Iceland. For some items, we learned the hard way that we wished we had packed them.
- Waterproof everything – I debated for a long time whether I should bring my waterproof pants along with waterproof jacket and shoes. I’m so glad I did because we needed almost every day of the trip. My fiance didn’t have waterproof pants and it really sucked. Things got so desperate that one point, we had to make our own make-shift pant cover out of clear plastic bags. Waterproof all the things. I highly recommend Columbia’s OutDry collection including their pants and jacket that I wore all trip.
- Gloves – These are necessary to keep your hands warm. Experiencing as much rain as we did, I wish I had more than just my thin fabric gloves. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely bring waterproof gloves.
- Layer layer layer – Weather is dynamic out here so have layers to stay warm when you need to and strip down when it gets too hot. Layers also allow you to pack more efficiently. I recommend a thermal base layer + t-shirt + zip-up + fleece + jacket to complete all your layers.
- Good hiking shoes – This goes without saying. My Keen Aphlex hikers were amazing at keeping my feet warm, provided grip even in slippery conditions and were also completely waterproof which is a mandatory feature in my opinion for a trip like this.
- Headlamp – This was super handy when we were staying at the Bubble Hotel where we were out in the dark.
- Swimsuit – This one’s easy to forget but remember there’ll be all those hot springs in Iceland.
- Towel – Glad we packed this one as it was a must-have when we went to Seljavallalaug Pool.
- Flip flops/sandals – In the same vain as the towel, you’ll want flip flops if you’re going to Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon to avoid having to walk around bare feet. Also, if you’re staying at anywhere other than a hotel, you’ll want flip flops to act as your slippers and also something to wear to the communal bathrooms.
- Snacks – You’ll see below in the cost breakdown that food is a heck of an expense. The more you can bring from home, the better. I recommend bringing granola bars, trail mix, and chocolate.
What about long johns? September wasn’t quite cold enough to need these thankfully so we did not pack them but I can see these being necessary as you go deeper into winter.
I’d say this is pretty much inevitable so you might as well be prepared to do this during your trip. Thing is that you just won’t have time to waste finding a laundromat. In fact, I don’t think I saw any at all.
The good thing is that you won’t be sweating a whole lot out here so you won’t need to wash as often. What worked for us is a daily routine before we slept where we washed our underwear and socks. To dry our clothes, we made good use of the radiator heaters that are used all over the country (thanks to all the hot springs) by draping the clothes over them. By morning they were usually fully dry and good to go.
If you haven’t yet, check out my video on how to wash your clothes while on the road.
Throughout our trip, I did our best to keep a tally of our expenses. I may have missed a few things here and there but this should give you a high level view of how much it would cost to spend 8 days in Iceland.
For simplicity, I’ve converted everything to USD. Also keep in mind that these are for 2 travellers.
- Air – $1,316.82 (includes stopover in Alicante)
- Accommodation – $781.52
- Car Rental – $792.08
- Auto Expenses – $202.34
- Souvenirs – $139.45
- Food and Drink – $697.59
- Excursions – $895.37
TOTAL = $4,826.17 ($2,413.09 per person)
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, unless you’re planning on doing some serious roughing out and you don’t care for any excursions, be prepared to pay a lot of money on this trip.
Iceland is not a cheap trip. Flights are getting cheaper and cheaper to get to the island but what most people don’t realize until they get to Iceland is just how expensive everything else is. Food is expensive. Gas is expensive. Excursions are expensive. Hotels are expensive. Car rentals are expensive. You get the picture.
There are definitely ways to cut costs through food and car rental/accommodations hacks to a certain extent but once you introduce any sort of guided excursion and the inevitable good meal here and there, it adds up quite quickly.
To Tip or Not To Tip
The simple answer here is that no. There are no customs or expectations of tipping and you are completely in the clear if you leave no tips. Of course, it’s not illegal to tip so if you’ve had exceptional service, feel free to round up or leave a bit extra behind.
If you buy 6,000 ISK or more at a single store, you’re eligible for tax refund (only at certain stores). You’ll want to take advantage of this since you can get a whopping 24% back in tax.
It goes without saying that the photography here is out of this world. There are so many opportunities and special moments that you’ll want to capture. Landscape wise you have the waterfalls, black sand beaches, mountains, glaciers, cliffs, volcanoes, canyons, icebergs and northern lights. In Reykjavik, you get you fix of urban photography with its abundance of interesting architecture, sculptures, and graffiti. Then you have the wildlife where you’ll have a ton of fun shooting sheep, Icelandic horses, and of course the puffins.
Planning vs. Spontaneity
While travelling, I always struggle with wanting to plan for specific shoots because light and time of day matters but the truth is that if you’re not on a photography-centric trip, you’ll drive your travel partner(s) mad and you’ll limit the flexibility of what you’ll see.
That being said, if you’ve got a specific shot in mind, you could totally plan it in your schedule. Just remember to make sure you watch the time because it’s so easy to spend a lot of time in one place or likewise very easy to get away with side of the road stops.
Sunsets and Sunrises
As much as I wanted to do a sunrise, it never ended up working out for me because we were simply too tired or good weather wasn’t a guarantee. If you’re up for it, I’d definitely try to work one or two in.
Sunsets are a lot easier to see but from my experience hard to schedule just because you’ll always be on the go and it is hard to be disciplined with time. For us the only time we got to watch the sunset was at Jokulsarlon Lagoon which as far as sunsets go was average because of the amount of overcast we had.
The most important part is that you want to have all the gear you need to be set up for success in Iceland. Here are a few things you’ll want to think about and the specific gear that I brought.
As much as you can, make sure your gear can stand the wild weather that Iceland can and will throw at you. Rain is going to be your biggest enemy both in damaging your gear and getting rain spots all over your lens. Luckily my Olympus set up is fully weather sealed but it was incredibly frustrating when it was almost impossible to keep the front of the lens clean. I got to the point where my Lenspen and microfibre cloths were completely useless because they would either create water streak marks or were completely soaked with water. I didn’t come prepared with enough it and it got to the point where I was forced to use the inside of my thermal layers or my Buff.
Cold is another aspect you’ll want to think about. Freezing temperatures do a number on batteries whether it be for your camera or your phone. One second you’ll be at 80% and the next it’ll be completely dead. Now this only applies if you’re travelling to Iceland in the winter but make sure you account for this and either bring lots of batteries or have a way to keep your batteries warm. I suggest travelling with a lot of these heatpacks.
What You’ll Want to Bring
- Camera – I am the least likely to discriminate the type of camera you bring. I’m going to be focusing on mirrorless and DSLR because those are what I know best. For those wanting a super lightweight set up, I’d recommend micro four thirds.
- Lenses – Unless you’re shooting puffins, I feel that bringing a long zoom lens will be a waste. I’d recommend a good all-around lens in the 24-70mm range (12-40mm in the M43 world) and pair that with a super wide angle like the 16-35mm (7-144mm for M43). A fun addition for your trip would be a fisheye lens. I brought the Olympus 8mm f1.8 Fisheye which worked out very well for my northern lights shoot.
- Filters – If you want to have any hope of shooting silky smooth water shots, you’re going to need to bring the right ND filters. I’d recommend an ND8 at a minimum. Another filter that you’ll want to have is a circular polarizer to cuts glare and reflections, allowing deep, natural colours to show through with great saturation. Lastly, if you have the money, you can also invest in a more sophisticated glass plate kit such as the one by Formatt Hitech.
- Tripod – Key for any sunset, sunrise, star trail, geyser, long exposure water, or northern lights shots. I recommend bringing a lightweight carbon fibre one to make it easy to carry in your pack while hiking. I travel with the Sirui T-024X which isn’t exactly a well known brand but it is affordable, sturdy, and gets the job done when travelling.
- Microfibre cloths – Bring lots and lots of these. As I mentioned above, all of mine were soaked when I was out shooting in the rain.
- Lots of batteries and memory cards – Depending on your camera, bring what you think you’ll need and then some.
- Car charging accessories – Remember you’ll be driving around the island in a car and to keep up with my battery demands, I always made sure I was queueing up the next dead battery.
- Protection from water – If your camera isn’t weather sealed, you’ll want to protect it somehow. If it’s your camera, you should consider picking up rain sleeves. If it’s your phone, one of these waterproof cases should do.
- Carrying bag – Last but not least is a good backpack. Yes it’s true that you’ll have the luxury of keeping your gear in the car most of the time but once you’re out and about, you’ll need to bring your selected gear with you. I travelled with the discontinued Kata 3N1-30 which I quite liked. I’ve since retired it and right now the best travel bag out there on the market has to be the Peak Design Everyday Backpack which I review here.
Want to learn how to shoot the northern lights?
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