As you may have seen, I recently published a more leisurely version of my three-day Iceland itinerary. Knowing that many travelers, for many good reasons, might not enjoy the breakneck pace we employed, I narrowed the scope of the itinerary distance-wise. The great thing about Iceland, though, is that there are plenty of amazing sights and experiences within a short distance of Reykjavik. Therefore, you can employ the second itinerary and still have an incredible, otherworldly, once-in-a-lifetime Iceland vacation.
As it had been a while since I planned our trip, creating the second itinerary required some additional research. There were plenty of things that M and I had not experienced, either because we lacked the time or because we chose to prioritize our hours differently. Even though we both look back fondly, even wistfully, on our Icelandic adventure, diving back into the planning process really rekindled a flame for me. Iceland is a place that lodged itself in my heart, and I have been longing to return pretty much since we set foot on the plane home.
Toward the end of our trip, M and I briefly discussed the things we would want to do if we ever returned to Iceland. Researching last week’s article immediately piled more must-do’s on top of our little list. Today, I want to share with you the ten things I will make sure we do if and when we are fortunate enough to return to this unbelievable country.
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1.) Devote at least one full day to Reykjavik.
We enjoyed the time we spent in Iceland’s capital city, but we by no means truly experienced it. A few hours of walking the streets before our afternoon flight home just didn’t do the place justice. I went into a lot more detail in my second itinerary about all the great things there are to do in Reykjavik, but at the top of my list for a return trip would be to visit a few of the museums (specifically the Settlement Exhibition and the National Museum), attend a concert at Harpa, and, above all…
2.) Visit Hallgrímskirkja and see the view from the tower.
Not exploring Hallgrímskirkja was perhaps my biggest regret from our first visit to Iceland because it felt like something that we could have fit into our itinerary but just never did. I knew going into the trip that there would be a lot of things that we wouldn’t be able to do, either because they were too far away (the Westfjords), we didn’t have enough time (overnight hikes), or the season wasn’t right (ice caves). Because these activities were technically impossible to achieve, it was easier to be at peace about missing out on them.
Hallgrímskirkja, however, taunted us. It was only a twenty-minute walk from our hotel, with a tower that peered out at us from different viewpoints in the city. We saw it numerous times as we went about our breakneck business, but we never got the chance to give it its due. The closest we got was a nighttime visit; we had just arrived back into town after our long day of driving to and from Jökulsárlón and it had closed hours before. I was glad that we got an opportunity to walk up to the church and marvel at its size and architecture, but on my next trip, I will absolutely be taking a peek inside and experiencing the apparently jaw-dropping view from the tower.
3.) Drive the entire Ring Road.
The long drive to Jökulsárlón and back was probably our favorite day of the trip, and we were very grateful for the opportunity to see so much of the Ring Road in the short amount of time that we had in-country. On our next visit, I would love to build upon that successful day by completing the entire circuit around the island.
I can’t wait to probe the more remote corners of Iceland and immerse ourselves in even more incredible landscapes. The stretch of road between Vík and Jökulsárlón was the most stunning we experienced – the part of the trip where we truly felt like we had landed on another planet – so I can only imagine what additional wonders are in store beyond our endpoint.
Although it will mean a much longer time commitment (I’ve read that you probably want between 6-8 days to do the Ring Road properly), I really want to continue exploring the eastern and northern parts of the country. We were having such a great time that it was hard to turn back after Jökulsárlón, especially knowing that the next 80 kilometers to Höfn were described as “heavenly” in our Lonely Planet and the 105 after that as “impossibly scenic.”
4.) Spend time exploring the Westfjords.
The Westfjords was the region that I most disappointed we missed, but it was simply too far away for our three-day itinerary. We probably could have driven there and back to Reykjavik in a day, but it would have just been a tease. There is so much to see and do that we never could have done it justice on a day trip. By all accounts, this region is indescribably beautiful and bursting with opportunities for adventure. I can’t wait to see it.
5.) Stay in a rural guesthouse or remote hotel.
As M and I made our way south and east to Jökulsárlón, I was enchanted by the charming little villages and numerous small, rural guesthouses we passed along the Ring Road. While we loved our stay at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina, I found myself longing for a night out in the countryside. Not only would it be dark and quiet, but think of the possibilities for stargazing, sunrises, or northern lights viewing!
6.) See the northern lights.
It was the agenda item over which we had the least control, but I know that M was disappointed that we left Iceland without seeing the northern lights. They supposedly came out on our
On our next visit, I hope to have more nights available for more chances at seeing the phenomenon. I would love for M to experience the wonder of it, and I would jump at the chance to witness it again.
7.) Tour an ice cave.
I have walked on glaciers, but I have never explored underneath them. Touring an ice cave seems like one of the most unique and unforgettable experiences you can have in Iceland. (Not to mention one of the most pressing to enjoy before these wonders melt away.) I can only imagine how otherworldly it must feel to plunge yourself into a world of ice and how gorgeous the caves must be.
8.) Hike more.
Partly due to weather, and partly because we were trying to pack so much into our short time, we didn’t get to do very much hiking on our first trip. We did some trekking through the lava fields around Hellnar on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on our first day and a few small hikes along the Ring Road on our third, but on our next visit I want to devote some serious hours to outdoor activity. If we can squeeze it in, a multi-day trek would be ideal.
Preferred locations for this to take place? I’ll start with Vatnajökull National Park and the Westfjords.
9.) Visit outside of shoulder season.
If you know me, you know I’m a fan of shoulder season travel. I love heading overseas in the local spring and fall, when the weather is still decent and the crowds are minimal.
We visited Iceland in early April, which afforded us great prices and a dearth of fellow visitors at some of the most popular tourist spots. We don’t regret it, and I would encourage others looking for a less expensive time to visit Iceland to consider early spring. However, for our next visit, I would like to experience the island in one of its prime seasons: either winter, with everything covered in snow and plenty of opportunities for exploring ice caves and glaciers; or summer, when the whole place is green and gorgeous and you can spend more time outdoors. The summer season also allows you to check out some of the more remote areas of the country that are inaccessible in the colder months. Visiting in the summer would help us accomplish #8 above, among others, with the added benefit of that glorious midnight sun.
10.) Get out on the water.
From the black sand beaches of Vík to the magnificent cliffs along the lower rim of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, everything we saw of Iceland’s coastline was stunning. In future, I would like to experience the Icelandic coast from the water. I want to marvel at the northern and western fjords, stare up in awe as cliffs rise above me, and be amazed by the arches and sea stacks shaped by centuries of crashing waves.
With so few native land animals, most of the country’s wildlife watching occurs at sea. Depending on the season, whales, dolphins, seals, puffins, and other seabirds can be glimpsed offshore. The chance to see some of these massive, fascinating, and/or adorable creatures is another good reason to get away from the mainland!
And the one I’m still debating…
11.) Visit the Blue Lagoon
Although we didn’t have much time to devote to a trip out to the famous Blue Lagoon, I will confess that we didn’t make much of an effort to squeeze it in. This was partly because we knew we had the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths included in our Golden Circle tour, but also because we weren’t sure that it was worth it. It’s not cheap to access (I saw prices between $97 – $127 at the time), and I had read that the water is pumped in from the adjacent geothermal power plant rather than bubbling up from naturally-occurring, on-location hot springs.
However, everyone I know who has visited the Blue Lagoon has come back raving about it. In photos, my friends’ mud-covered faces, beaming through the steam rising above the teal-colored water, look anything but regretful of their decision and expense. My friend Michelle splurged on an in-water massage and counted it as a highlight of her entire trip. Social media is filled with glamorous photos of the place, which, to be fair, does look lovely and inviting. Even our Lonely Planet said that “[those] who say that it’s too expensive, too commercial, too crowded aren’t wrong, but you’ll be missing something special if you don’t go.”¹ There’s a reason I included it as a suggested activity in my more moderate Iceland itinerary: people seem to love it.
So will we make the Blue Lagoon a priority when we return to Iceland? It’s tough to say. I certainly intend to visit hot springs and thermal pools in beautiful locations around the country, but it might be a game-time decision as to whether or not the Blue Lagoon is one of them.
So, in looking at my list above, I’m thinking I need to start warming M up to the idea of a
I’m not sure when we’ll get back to Iceland, but I love knowing that there’s more to explore when we do. Isn’t it great that we live in a world so wide, beautiful, and varied that it would take a lifetime and more to experience all of it?
Here’s hoping that we each get to see as much as possible!
¹“Southwest Iceland & The Golden Circle.” Lonely Planet: Iceland, by Carolyn Bain and Alexis Averbuck, Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, 2015, p. 98.
Have you been to Iceland? What did you miss that you can’t wait to do on your next visit?
Is there a place that you are longing to visit again?
This post was originally published on May 28, 2018, and last updated on June 22, 2020.
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