Iceland is a beautiful country with millions of things to do and see. The country is full of geological wonders like huge glaciers, active volcanoes, thousands of waterfalls, black sand beaches, geysers, and more. To fully explore the entire island could take months if not a year but we only had 11 full days so we had to pick carefully. We wanted to focus on unique things Iceland has to offer. Also, have a back up plan in case weather is bad. Here are some useful tips for visiting Iceland in summer.
If you are visiting from northeast USA, like us, where there are hundreds of waterfalls, than maybe you might want to prioritize glaciers and geysers over waterfalls. After spending some time in Iceland, there are a few changes I would recommend to our almost perfect itinerary. We didn’t spend any time in Reykjavik. We also didn’t prioritize waterfalls. We prioritized glaciers which are melting at a record pace. We prioritized active volcanoes and geysers. We prioritized bird watching and hiking.
We visited Iceland in summer because I wanted to experience midnight sun. There are pros and cons to visiting during midnight sun. Because the sun never sets, there’s no limit to how many activities you can pack in each day. You can literally go on a hike at 10 pm and not need a flash light. It’ll still be bright outside. The con is that after a few days, you’ll start to miss the peaceful and satisfying sleep you get at night. Take an eye mask. It’s an absolute MUST! You also lose track of time and before you know it, all the restaurants will be closed.
Below is the itinerary we followed. I’ve also included a few edits to the itinerary we followed. Links to more details of each day are posted. Just for reference, we visited Iceland in summer of 2019.
We got started right away after landing at Reykjavik airport. Make a quick stop at Helgafell, then continue to Thingvellir NP. Don’t spend more than 2 hours here especially if you’ve been to Taughannock Falls in New York. Spend a little more time at Haukadalur Valley of Geysers instead. There are a few short hike options and I think it’s a better use of time. Gullfoss is a waterfall that deserves a quick stop and it’s not too out of the way either. Spend some down time in a thermal pool before continuing to Kerid Crater, a must see on Golden Circle. Read more.
Puffins are seen all over Iceland but Westman Island is by far the best place to see “the clown of the sea”. In summer, Puffin lookout point is a must. Even if you’re not into puffins, the views are worth the drive. Make a short stop at Vikin, black sand beach. Walk around Westman Island Golf Course for views of elephant rock. Hike Eldefell, the youngest piece of land. Either watch sunset from top of Eldefell or go back to Puffin lookout point. Note: Gott is a must eat at restaurant. You won’t be disappointed by their catch of the day. Read more.
Take a morning ferry from Westman Island and start the Ring Road drive. Ice Cave tour is a must in this region. We went with Troll Expeditions because they were the cheapest but you might want to consider another tour company for a more satisfying experience. If you want to prioritize glaciers, than go on another glacier hike tour or visit Solheimajokull. You can also hike the Seljalandsfoss. Take a short break at Laufskalavarda to stretch your legs and bring some good luck on your journey. Read more.
Spend time exploring Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland’s largest national park. There are options for hikes or check out Svartifoss waterfall. Glacier lagoon kayaking is a must, especially if you’ve never done it. You can also go on a guided glacier hike that range from easy to challenging. If you have time and/or energy, Diamond Beach is worth a stop. Note: Langoustine at Pakkhus is a must eat in Hofn. Read more.
If you didn’t get a chance to visit Diamond beach than it’s worth going back for. Keep in mind, you may not see as many diamonds in summer but it’s still worth it. Stop at Brunnholl for some deliciously creamy dandelion ice cream. There are hiking options at Zeolites at Teigarhorn. Make sure and stay on Route 1. Stop at the birdhouse on Oseyri Farms at the edge of a fjord. If the weather is nice, consider fewer stops so you can go on a short hike or two south of Egillstadir. Stay in Seydisfjordur. Read more.
Make an obligatory stop at the blue church and the rainbow walk to take pictures, walk around for a few minutes before starting the ring road drive. If you start early enough, you might have time to go on a short hike somewhere between Seydisfjordur and Egilsstadir. Drive to Krafla, go on a short hike around the crater lake Viti, then go to Namafjall Hverir for hot mud pools. If you are into Game of Thrones, go to Grjotagia next and check out the hot spring. Spend the night in Husavik. Read more.
Drive from Husavik to Dimmuborgir, aka the Black Fortress, for lava fields with unique rock formations. Go on a few short hikes. If you enjoy bird watching than Lake Myvatn, Hofdi is a must in the north, followed by Fuglasafn Sigurgeirs Bird Museum. Drive towards Akuryeri making a quick stop at Godafoss but it’s not a must. If you couldn’t get a reservation at Blue Lagoon, than there are options in the north. Spend the night in Siglufjordur. Read more.
If the weather is nice, go on a hike in the Troll Peninsula. Have lunch in Hofsos. There is another opportunity for enjoying thermal pool. Consider signing up with a tour company for sea angling and catching your own lunch. Visit Puffin and Friends exhibit in Saudarkrokur. We spent the night in Blonduos but this whole day could easily be skipped. Spend more time in just about any other part of Iceland. There really isn’t much between Siglufjordur and Blonduos. I suggest skipping this section all together. Read more.
Drive to Hvitserkur, aka Sea Stack. Drive to Grundarfjordur next. The drive from Blonduos to Grundarfjordur is about 3 hours and there isn’t much along the way. Overall, skip the entire section from Siglufjordur to Grundarfjordur. Maybe explore west fjords which we didn’t have time to visit. There is a lot to do in Grundarfjordur. I think there are sea angling options here also. Kirkjufell is also in this area. Note: must eat at Bjargarsteinn for dinner. Their seafood is amazing but reservation is required. Read more.
Spend some time looking at the graffiti and reading the creepy stories in Hellissandur. Spend a few hours exploring and hiking the Snaefellsjokull National Park. Get a map from the visitor center and pick a few hikes. After spending the day at the park, stop by the famous Kirkjufell falls. It’s one of the few places where the parking lot was full. You might have to wait a few minutes to get a spot. Read more.
Before leaving Snaefellsjokull Peninsula, make sure to visit Vatnshellir lava cave. It’s a perfect activity, especially if the weather is bad. Spend some time in Arnarstapi and hike around this cute little village. Hike from Hellnar to Arnarstapi was something I would have loved to do but we didn’t have the time. You can also stop by the black church for a picture. Olkelda farm is definitely worth visiting so you can have a sip of the naturally carbonated water with lots of iron. Watch a few seals at Ytri-Tunga before continuing to Reykjavik. We flew back home the next morning. Read more.