Before we decided to go to Iceland, we hardly knew anyone who has been there except for Carolyn and his other half. Iceland seemed like a faraway land laced with mythical tales and rumours about the great outdoor wonders it offers. Little did we know, Iceland is actually very accessible from any part of the world and is not as foreign as we thought. The only challenge we had with Iceland was with transportation and the extreme weather. I’ll explain further on how to plan your trip to Iceland on a budget in this article as we go along.
OUR 14-DAY ICELAND ITINERARY
Our journey in Iceland started from Reykjavik. At first we decided to go around the whole island (except for West Fjords) clockwise, but after doing some research we realized that the journey in the South is less challenging than the North. Going anti-clockwise is a great build-up to our driving expectations so we don’t get any surprises from Mother Nature. Ideally, you’d want to spend more than 14 days in Iceland so you can take your time in each place if you’re circling the entire country. However, if you have about a week or so to spend, I’d suggest to concentrate on the South as it has beautiful places to offer as much as the North (and it’s easier and nearer to get around too). We drove in winter so daylight was only from 10am – 4.30pm. Plan your driving according to season. There’s much more time to spend when you travel in the summer as the sun sets at midnight.
Our itinerary were as per following:
Day 1 – Reykjavík (Arrival)
Take a bus from Keflavik airport, stop at the Blue Lagoon (optional). Head to city to accommodation and explore Laugavegur street in the city. Get early dinner or buy groceries and rest.
Day 2 – Reykjavík
Explore Laugavegur shopping street, grab an Icelandic hotdog if you prefer. Explore the museums and theater. Walk up the tower of Hallgrímskirkja church for a view from the top.
Day 3 – Hvolsvöllur
Pack up, grab the rental car and get ready for a roadtrip. Drive to Hvolsvöllur (about 2-3 hours from Reykjavik) with short pit stops along the way for photos and enjoy the change of scenery from the city. Visit the Selfoss waterfall along the way.
We stayed at Eldsto Art Cafe in Hvolsvöllur and rest for the night.
Day 4 – Vík
Rise early, have breakfast and get ready to hit the road. On the way, stop by at the Eyjafjallajökull Erupts visitor centre, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Stop by and find the Sólheimasandur plane wreck if you’re feeling adventurous (location is only available on Google Maps and it’s off-road). Arrive at the small town of Vík í mýrdal black sand beach. See the basalt rock formation and walk along the beach. Retreat in the town of Vík. We woke up at 1am to see the Northern Lights (depends on forecast).
Day 5 – Öræfi
Wake up early as the drive to Öræfi will take approximately 2 hours or more, stop by at Skaftafell National Park. Go on a glacier walk (subject to booking and availability) or take a self-guided hike around the walking path provided. We woke up at 12am to watch the Northern Lights again (depends on forecast).
We stayed at Nónhamar cabins, just 10-15 minutes away from the National Park.
Day 6 – Höfn
Rise early and drive to Höfn. Take a pit stop at Cape Ingólfshöfði for some bird watching. Iceland is well known for their population of puffins. Drive to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and take a short boat trip on the lagoon if you wish. Arrive at Höfn and have a meal of their famous lobster at a local restaurant. Go to the Hoffell’s geothermal hot tubs after dinner to refresh, relax and unwind.
We stayed at Dyngja Guesthouse in town.
Day 7 – Egilsstaðir
The drive to Egilsstaðir will be a challenging one especially in Winter as you will go to a higher ground. Expect lots of snow and be careful when driving at night. Go skiing at Stafdalur ski area on Fjardarheidi heath, just 17km away from town. If you’re here in the Summer, go for the ten day Ormsteiti festival. Visit the Hengifoss, third highest waterfall in Iceland. If you intend to go for a hike, spend a full day at Dyrfjöll mountains, where 2.5 hours of hike from the Vatnsskarð pass will take you to Stórurð, gigantic tuff boulders, charming meadows and attractive ponds.
We retreated at Lyngás Guesthouse in Egilsstaðir.
Day 8 – Mývatn
Start your drive from Egilsstaðir heading West. Stop by at the mythical Lagarfljótsormur lake where the supposed Iceland Loch Ness resides. Once in Mývatn, plan accordingly your visit to Dettifoss, Hverfjall, Lofthellir Ice Cave (paid tour), Namafjall, Krafla and Dimmuborgir. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, give the GOT tour a shot where the guide will bring you to the places they filmed the series (and the guide is the same guide that brought the filming cast and crew around). We did not sleep in Mývatn due to the weather condition but if you do, go for a public hot bath to unwind before bedtime.
Day 9 – Akureyri
On your way to Akureyri, drop by at the Goðafoss (Falls of the Gods). We drove straight to Akureyri and reached at night after a long drive in the snow storm. If you have more time to spend, you should take a stroll in town as it is the second biggest urban town in Iceland. Note that their traffic red lights are heart-shaped. If you wish to skip Akureyri, drive up North to Dalvik instead.
Day 10 – Dalvik
Dalvik is a beautiful small fishing town North of Akureyri. From here you can take a boat to Grímsey island situated right on the Arctic circle for bird watching. You could also go skiing on Böggvisstaðafjall mountain, well-known amongst local skiers as one of the best spots for the sport. If the weather permits, go for the Arctic Sea Tours excursions from Dalvik and set sail into the Arctic ocean to watch blue whales, Arctic whales or to experience sea-angling.
We stayed in Dalvik Gimli Hostel and the owner Bjarni is a ball of fun to chat with.
Day 11 – Hellissandur
We decided to stay around Hellissandur as it’s located in the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. Snæfellsnes is the place that inspired Jules Verne’s sci-fi novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Here you can spend days going for the glacier walks, hiking trails and ice-caving at Snæfellsjökull National Park. Outside the National Park, there’s always options to check out Hvítserkur, Gufuskálar, Djupalonssandur, Bárður Snæfellsás, Bjarnarfoss waterfall and Rauðfeldsgjá gorge.
We stayed at Hotel Hellissandur for the night.
Day 12 – Borgarnes
Since we spent so much time in Hellissandur, we decided to not drive straight to Reykjavik especially at night so we stopped halfway and stayed just along the shore of Borgarfjörður, not too far from Reykjavík. There was also a chance to see the Aurora the night we were there so we went out to a camping site around the area to be in complete darkness.
Day 13 – Reykjavík
Drive to Reykjavík early morning to go around the Þingvellir National Park for the Golden Circle attractions. From here you could go for a dive at Silfra lake, see the Geysir and Gulfoss. Drive back in the evening to return car rental, and check into our Airbnb accommodation. Dinner in town and do last minute grocery and souvenir shopping.
Day 14 –Reykjavík (Departure)
Took a bus just off Laugavegur street to the airport, there’s also an option to stop at the Blue Lagoon if you missed it during your arrival. If paying hefty amount for a public bath isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of public pools in the city as alternatives.
FLYING TO ICELAND
There are plenty ways to fly into Iceland from most European countries and the United States. Iceland has two major airlines that flies into their Keflavik airport – WOW Air and Iceland Air and also other airlines from Europe and United States at very reasonable prices. Iceland Air even offers a free stop-over for those flying with their airlines from United States to Europe or vice versa. This is a great opportunity to get a quick whiff of the super fresh Icelandic air. A flight from Europe only takes about 4 hours so if you feel like extending your European trip, Iceland is a great place to add in your stop.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Iceland on a budget – guesthouses, couchsurfing, hostels and our favourite Airbnb. The average range per room per night would be about $100 on most guesthouses but it could go up during peak seasons. Best is to share a cabin for more than two people, so you can split up the cost. In the summer, you could also set up tents at camp sites, some with a small fee (facilities provided) or some at no charge (pretty much just you in the wild). We found great places to stay – clean and inviting during our last trip to Iceland. Here are the places we stayed in that we were sponsored by:
- Address: Austurvegi 2, 860 Hvolsvelli
Food was probably our biggest challenge in Iceland. No doubt that their quality of food is off the charts but the prices can also take a big chunk out of your budget. Eating out in Iceland aren’t exactly cheap hence why most travelers would find it easier to cook their own meals. Most accommodation also provides cooking facilities so you could just stock up on necessities at Bonus, their supermarket chain or bring packed food from home.
We brought basic camping food from home and also bought some bread, rice, smoked salmon, jam and caviar from nearby supermarkets. Most of the days were spent being outdoors or in the car, so we’d usually have pre-made sandwiches and snacks to munch on during the day while we cook at night. Most accommodation also provides basic breakfast so you should take full advantage on this. Do note that most restaurants only operate in summer so your choice of eating out will be limited in winter.
Transportation can be quite tricky in Iceland. The vast landscape and the amount of people at a certain time does not justify for them to have major public transport system like in any other big cities. However, they do have amazing bus system which connects major cities and within town itself. Going on the shuttle is the best way to get from or to the Keflavik airport (they make a stop at Blue Lagoon too if you want to fit it in your itinerary), and they would usually drop you at the nearest point to your destination within Reykjavik. Buses are limited from one city to another in winter, so do check on the schedules for available buses between your stops.
Click here to view bus schedules in Iceland.
If you choose to explore Reykjavík by bus you might also want to consider investing in the Reykjavík Welcome Card. The card gives you 24, 36 or 72 hours unlimited travel on the city busses as well as admission to major attractions and discounts at shops and restaurants.
For the roadtrip we had a car rental sponsorship from Route 1 Iceland. Read more about our driving tips and experience in Iceland.
Route1 Iceland Car Rental: www.route1carrental.is
Road Conditions: www.road.is
Weather Forecast: www.en.vedur.is
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
You would not be short of things to do in Iceland! There are plenty of activity tour companies available online offering great tours of the landscape and if you feel like doing nothing, there’s always time for a cuppa while enjoying the view of the mountains when you’re in the outskirts.
Click here to read top 10 tours to embark on in Iceland.
Most of the major attractions are free to visit but if you’re up to pay a fee, there’s a bigger chance you’d find more things than if you do it yourself. However click on the image below to see a list of attractions you can visit for FREE in Iceland.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I know a lot of my friends and strangers have tried to reach me to ask questions about Iceland as they plan to visit this beautiful country. If you have any questions that we can help with, just leave a comment in the comment box below and we’ll try to get back to you as soon as we can.