Iceland is one of those amazing countries that capture the imagination of visitors from all across the globe. Its rich heritage, dramatic volcanic landscape of hot springs, geysers, black sandy beaches and, of course, its friendly people make Iceland the perfect country to explore.

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How To Get Around

One thing that stood out to me when I initially planned our (rather loose) itinerary was how ‘big’ Iceland felt. I created a list of point A, B, C…Z – that all required an element of travel that my feet could not achieve 🙁 The next best options were chartered excursions, which are a really convenient way to see lots of Iceland, but I feared my bank managers’ wrath that booking around 10-15 different excursions would push me way outside my budgetary constraints.

Thankfully, as four of us decided to explore Iceland together, we choose to rent a small hire car for five days. Not only did this work out to be the most economical option, it also gave us the flexibility to head wherever we wanted. Whoop! Whoop!!!

If you’re planning a trip to explore many of the dramatic landscapes and the Northern Lights, I would definitely recommend that you hire a car (driver and weather permitting, of course).

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What To See

1.) Whale Watching

As soon as we landed, we took a 35-minute drive to the capital, Reykjavik and headed onboard a Whale Watching tour lasting around three hours. It was a really sunny yet icy cold day so we wrapped up warm and headed in search of some whales. We found it really easy to grab our tickets and head off on one of the many excursions that Special Tours offers every day. We didn’t get to see ‘Moby Dick’ but we did catch a glimpse of some minke whales and dolphins. You can reserve your tickets in advance, just be prepared that there may be cancellations due to blustery or very windy weather.

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See More Photos & A Full List Of Prices, Activities and Whale Watching in Iceland Here


2.) Go To Vik & Dyrhólaey

Roughly a four-hour drive from Reykjavik, Reynisfjara & Dyrhólaey provide one of the most spectacular areas of coastline to explore in Southern Iceland. Take a short walk, or hike across the coastal paths that line this beautiful region. It is especially dramatic around sunset, when the glow of the sun seems to stand in contrast to the volcanic rock and sand. Beautiful.

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3.) Go Horse-riding in The Icelandic Tundra

One of the best experiences to have in Iceland has to be horse-riding through the magnificent Tundra. One of the best places to go to has to be Hestheimar, about 1.5 hours south of Reykjavik. Hestheimar is a family-owned horse farm lovingly run by Lea Helga Ólafsdóttir, her husband Marteinn Hjaltested and their three children, Ísak Freyr, Sunneva Eik and Hákon Snær. It’s a great place to stop and learn so much about Icelandic horses and actually venture out into the wilderness with a guided tour.

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Read more about our horse riding adventure across the Tundra


4.) Keep An Eye Open For The Northern Lights

One of the most magical experiences to have in Iceland is to see the Northern Lights. Much more visible in autumn and Spring, the Northern Lights are one of nature’s great wonders and a sight that will stay with you forever. We stayed in Hotel Laki, just south of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The hotel is beautiful, with amazing food; they even offer a nightly wake-up service to call your room if the northern lights appear. We spotted these around 3am and ‘hot-footed’ it straight out into the wilderness that surrounds the hotel.

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Read More about Hotel Laki & seeing the Northern Lights, here


5.) Travel The Gold Circle

Roughly a 300km round-trip – the golden circle is one of the best routes to follow if you want to see some of the dramatic landscapes of Southern Iceland. Places like Storkkur, Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir Hot-spring area and Thingvellir National Park that literally shows the point where two tectonic plates are pulling the island apart.

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6.) Get Wet Under a Geyser

Strokkura and the Geysir can’t be missed, erupting every eight minutes or so; you are guaranteed a great opportunity to see geo-thermal activity in action. Just don’t get drenched! 🙂

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7.) Walk Along The Gulfoss Waterfall

A short 15-minute drive west from Strokkur is the Gulfoss Waterfall. Here you will find a dramatic, and beautiful landscape, has been carved out by the powerful forces of the River Hvítá.

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8.) Warm Up in a Geothermal Bath at Laugarvatn Fontana

Head to the geyser hot spring area (on the golden circle) for a truly ‘warming’ experience in the naturally sourced hot baths of Laugarvatn Fontana. If you arrive around lunchtime, you can even watch and learn how to bake geo-thermal bread in the warm soils surrounding the baths.

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9.) The Blue Lagoon

Around 20 minutes from Keflavik airport, The Blue Lagoon is a beautiful place to relax, unwind and enjoy a day of pampering. Head here first thing in the morning if you want a quieter experience as at peak times and around lunch the pool(s) can become busy.

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10.) Walk behind a waterfall

Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss both provide the most dramatic opportunities to get ’up-close-and-personal’ with natures power showers. Seljalandsfoss provides a great opportunity to actually walk behind the waterfall and if you’re lucky, Skógafoss might even showcase one of its famous rainbows that it creates.

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11.) Enjoy Reykjavik

Reykjavik is such a great city for so many reasons including; hallgrímskirkja, the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall, Laugavegur and many live music venues. On a Saturday night there is an opportunity to explore some of Iceland’s best gigs! Take a wander down the main streets and enjoy the vibrancy that their music scene has to offer.

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  • Soooo gorgeous!!!! I really want to go to Iceland!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Angie, you will LOVE Iceland. You will love some of the restaurants too, including ‘Frost & Fire’ which serves some of the most delicious cuisine. Ever! x

  • Looks great, awesome job !! **heart eyes ** Gonna have serious troubles keeping my wanderlust under control after reading this article though 🙂

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Haha! Iceland is such a great place to visit! Honestly, you’ll love it – you should plan a trip in March or September time when the Northern Lights are most active.

      Lloyd & Yaya xx

  • So gutted I didn’t get to go whale-watching as it was cancelled! But I swam at The Blue Lagoon on Christmas Day and rang in my 25th under the Northern Lights. It’s BEAUTIFUL!!!
    Jabeen x
    http://www.spilling-the-beans.co.uk/

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Ours was cancelled 3 times before it went ahead. Wow Northern Lights on a birthday!!! This is a life goal right there! Sounds like the best experience ever!

      Thanks so much for sharing Jabeen!

      Lloyd & Yaya xx

  • Such amazing photos! I’d love to visit Iceland, it looks pretty cold though haha x

    http://www.wonkylauren.com

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Haha! It really is Lauren – I must admit it was very cold this time we visited, but nothing a few layers cant fix! 🙂

      Lloyd & Yaya

      xx

  • It sure looks like a lot of fun! I’m dying to visit Iceland, the combination of lagoons, Northern lights and the surreal landscape makes it somehow irresistible to me.

    Awesome shots!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Same! We’re always wanted to go back… I don’t think there is ever enough times to satisfy my Iceland travel lust!

      You will love it Andrea!

      Lloyd & Yaya xx

  • I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for a long time now and you’ve just moved it up my list ! Your pictures look amazing, how beautiful is the Blue Lagoon ?!

    Almost Everything

    • HandLuggageOnly

      The Blue Lagoon is honestly amazing! Such a magical experience that you’ll love!

      Lloyd x

  • Oh me oh my. I’ve been to Reykjavik once on a long layover. My taste of Iceland just made me desperately want more. It is such an incredibly beautiful and unique destination. This is probably gonna be my new bucket list or something : )

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Oh yes! Next time you do a layover, just rent a car for a day and explore the Gold Circle. It will be time pressured, but you could definitely do it in 8 hours
      xx

  • YES YES YES! I’ve only been to the Blue Lagoon and must go back. What a great list of to-dos to strive for!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      The Blue Lagoon is amazing isn’t it Jessica! So glad you liked it too!

      Lloyd x

  • Was only there a weekend, but hands down my favorite trip yet! Loved the people, the beauty, (but not the prices!). Would love to go back soon and knock more of these items off my list!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Oh yes! Those prices… We know totally what you mean! It is such a great place to explore! Can’t wait to hear more about your next trip!

      Lloyd & Yaya x

  • Two years of living here and I feel like I still have so much more to discover of this beautiful country!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      We so want to move to Iceland – even if we AirBnB it for like 3 months. Such a wonderful country. Did you feel like it was easy to adjust to Icelandic life?

      Lloyd 🙂

      • It is a wonderful country for sure! There are parts of life here that I adjusted to easily, but others have taken me a long time. The language is still a tough one for me! But I could imagine 3 months in Iceland would be amazing!

        • HandLuggageOnly

          I can only imagine how tough the language is to learn. I’m awful at picking up languages so I imagine it would be a struggle to do!

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  • Amazing! Iceland seems like one of those places that feels like it’s out of this world.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      It really does! Such a great place to explore!

  • Emily

    Great list, though I noticed an absence of any mention of Þingvellir. Yes, it’s part of the Golden Circle, but so are Gullfoss and Guysir and they got mentioned! Guysir ticked me off — I might have been one of the ones to get drenched — and Gullfoss was awesome, but Þingvellir is magical. The fairy pools (you can snorkel there), the views, the “suggested” do not cross lines…

    • HandLuggageOnly

      You’re so right Emily! So glad you brought that up. Þingvellir MUST be on the list too!

      Did you try the snorkelling? Was it fun? What time of year did you visit… I hope you didn’t get drenched in minus temperatures!!! 🙂

      Lloyd x

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  • Ahh this post brings up great memories, although we were unlucky with the weather (too foggy for the Northen Lights, too windy for Whale Watching) we still managed to do the Golden Circle, Southern Shore and Reykjavik. The waterfalls were just amazing, Gullfoss maybe pips it to number one for us because of the amazing power and beauty all wrapped into one, but walking behind a waterfall was pretty cool as well.
    http://whatwaytoday.com/europe/iceland/iceland-self-drive-beats-guided-tours-around-reykjavik-the-golden-circle-and-the-southern-shores/

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Ah sounds like you had an amazing time! We had to reschedule our Whale Watching about 3 times due to strong winds.

      It’s such a wonderful country to explore! So glad you loved it as much as we did! 🙂

      Lloyd & Yaya xx

  • Jeffrey Cline
  • Awesome post!

    It was fun to read about your perspective of Iceland and a good list overall. I’m definitely biased, since my family runs a camper van rental (www.happycampers.is), but my favorite way to explore my country is in a camper van. The freedom of a rental car and no worries about finding places to stay either.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      A camper van around Iceland! That sounds like a dream come true… and you’re family runs it… Okay, please adopt us NOW! Haha!

      Seriously though, that is such an epic way to see Iceland! 🙂

      Lloyd & Yaya 🙂

      • Hehe thanks, yes it is definitely pretty awesome. I can’t get enough of traveling around Iceland in a camper van 🙂

    • Mr. Sparkle

      Hello Þorsteinn — how would it be camping throughout November?

      • Hi Mr. Sparkle,

        Iceland can be pretty unpredictable and traveling in November just forces you to be a little more prepared. I think it’s awesome to travel during the winter months, as it really highlights the desolate and rugged Icelandic nature, but you just have to be aware of weather and road conditions. I always use http://www.road.is/ to make sure I won’t have any issues.

        The only other thing I would do differently is obviously bring warmer clothing and an extra sleeping bag. You can easily rent an extra sleeping bag if you don’t have enough room to bring one…

        • HandLuggageOnly

          Great tips! 🙂

    • SLJR

      I just looked you up and noticed the vans are not 4×4, will we be able to get around in early October?

      • True, they’re not 4×4 and that’s why we close from December through February. If people run into problems, 95% of the time it’s during these months, in my experience. We’ve had hundreds of customers use our camper vans in October and it’s very rare that they have issues. Just be careful and well prepared (we always tell people where to find info about weather and road conditions) and you should be good 🙂 If you want to explore the highlands and drive on the F-roads, of course you would need a 4×4 car, but that’s true for any season. Hope that helps.

        • SLJR

          Thanks for the quick response, we are still in the planning stage and not familiar with F roads. Where would you suggest getting a good road map of Iceland? And also are you allowed to park anywhere with the campers or will there be campgrounds available?

          • Cool, yea you got to start somewhere 🙂

            F-roads are basically all roads in the Icelandic highlands, that are only suitable for 4×4 cars and only during certain times of the year. Here’s some more info on F roads:

            http://www.road.is/travel-info/condition-and-opening-of-mountain-roads/nr/11933

            That’s also the best website for current information about road conditions.

            I usually stick with online maps like on road.is, but if you’re looking for a physical map, any tourist office, hotels, car/van rentals, and even the airport should have a good map for you to pick up. Happy Campers offers some free maps and then we sell our own map at the office, for example.

            And yes, Iceland just recently changed its laws so people have to spend the night on campsites. We give people a physical map of winter campsites, but I also put them online on this map:

            https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1wk_t105qo4BYqaBL7xTcLUz5uXQ&hl=en&ll=64.87248276231851%2C-19.323416500000007&z=7

            I’m actually currently working on adding every single campsite to that map, also the ones open for the summer, but they’re seperated by category, so you should be able to easily tell them apart.

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  • Did you drive the Golden Circle in one go and just jump out and stop as you went???
    We’re going mid November and think hiring a car sounds easier than doing tours – what do you think?

    • HandLuggageOnly

      We did drive, Holly – we personally think it’s so much easier (and less expensive) than doing the tours. It means you can stop at so many of the lovely spots on the way too and I would definitely recommend a car.

      You’re going to have an incredible time! 🙂

      Lloyd & Yaya xx

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