Road Tripping Iceland Solo: My One Week Itinerary
For my first solo travel adventure, I chose Iceland for a few reasons: beautiful sights, northern lights… and the world’s lowest crime rate - a comforting thing traveling alone for the first time. When I saw great flights for early March, I decided to rent an SUV and drive the south coast for a week to soak in The Land of Fire and Ice.
Iceland in winter is not for the faint of heart. The weather changes on a dime and is colder than the forecast lets on (it’s one of the windiest inhabited areas on Earth). If you are planning to road trip, be aware that storms frequently shut down the Ring Road (main highway). Driving conditions can be hazardous, and you will want to have experience driving on snow and ice. I want to stress this: if you are visiting Iceland in the winter, prepare to be flexible. I chose late winter in hopes for a compromise: glacier tours and northern lights, fewer blizzards. If you’re looking for a more predictable journey, go in the summer!
Day One: Reykjavik
Iceland tested me from the start. My flight into Keflavik, Iceland’s international airport, was delayed 9 HOURS due to a storm. Once landed, I bought a ticket at a kiosk and hopped on the Flybus Airport Shuttle for the ~45 minute ride into Reykjavik.
Lodging: KEX Hostel (private room)
KEX was highly recommended, so I decided to stay here at both the beginning and end of my trip due to its central location and laid-back vibes (some of the other hostels of Reykjavik appeared to be party havens - NOT what I was looking for). The main floor has a restaurant and bar with tables and couches. On my first night, I stayed in a single private room, and on my last two nights I stayed in a 6-bed female dorm. I preferred the dorm experience because I got to meet other traveling women and swap stories!
Good Eats: Early In The Morning (breakfast)
Day Two: Rent a car, drive the Golden Circle, stay at a horse ranch Airbnb in Hella.
The biggest (and best) piece of advice I gathered from former visitors was to rent a car and get out in the countryside to explore. The next morning, I rented an SUV from Reykjavik Rent-A-Car and hit the road. I highly recommend seeing Iceland this way, rather than staying close to Reykjavik and taking bus tours. You will see more, at your own pace and on your own time. I spoke to other travelers who signed up for both single and multi-day bus excursions and every single person said they wished they had rented their own car and done it without 40 other tourists and a strict time schedule. Iceland is a vast country with beauty around every turn - if you’re at the wheel, you can go see whatever you want.
If you’ve looked into visiting Iceland, you’ve probably heard of the Golden Circle. It’s a 300km circular loop out of Reykjavik that features a national park, geysirs, and waterfalls. It also features every single tourist in Iceland. I found the sites underwhelming compared to what I saw later in my trip, and standing around a geysir with 200 people taking photos on iPads and phones wasn’t my idea of getting out in the Icelandic wilderness. If I had to trim one day from my itinerary, this would be it.
Lodging: Airbnb Cottage in Hella
This little cottage in the countryside was part of a horse ranch, and it was one of my favorite places of the entire trip. The cottage had huge windows on all sides, perfect for aurora-watching, and there was a hot tub on the premises to sit in under the stars.
Day Three: Drop down to the south coast and take the Ring Road out to Hali.
I woke up this morning to a dusting of snow, and hit the road to make my longest drive of the trip along the coast out to Hali, where I had signed up for a blue ice cave tour the following morning. Along the way, I stopped at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which is like a picture out of National Geographic. If you’re on the south coast, this stop is a must! The total drive out to Hali was about 6 hours with stops.
Unfortunately, once I made it to my hotel (from which the ice cave tour departed), I was informed that the tour the next day was canceled, due to too much sun that the ice cave was melting and unstable. Fortunately, I was able to call around and hop on another tour for a different ice cave the following day.
Lodging: Hali Country Hotel
I was pleasantly surprised with how nice and modern the room was. The property is right on the water so I made sure to walk outside to catch both sunset and sunrise during my stay.
Day Four: Drive From Hali to Vik, stop in Skaftafell for a waterfall hike and glacier walk on Vatnajökull glacier.
This morning I drove to Skaftafell National Park to hike up to Svartifoss waterfall. The hike is relatively easy (under 2 miles round trip) and the waterfall is beautiful. It’s especially worth the effort because it’s not on the main road and tour buses can’t drive up to it. It’s nice and quiet.
In the afternoon, I did the Blue Ice Experience Glacier Walk with Icelandic Mountain Guides on Vatnajökull glacier - this was one of the highlights of my trip. If you’re in the area, do it!
Lodging: Icelandair Hotel Vik
Modern hotel, great room, excellent shower.
Day Five: Drive from Vik to Reykjavik
I started my morning at Reynisfjara black sand beach (you may recognize it from Game of Thrones). If you visit, don’t get too close to the water. The beach is known for “sneaker waves” that come out of nowhere and have actually swept away tourists in recent years.
On my drive back to Reykjavik, I stopped at Skógafoss waterfall, which is right off the road (no hiking required). Stunning!
Lodging: KEX Hostel (6-bed female dorm)
Day Six: Explore Reykjavik
I woke up early to go to the top of Hallgrímskirkja church to get a view of the city, then grabbed breakfast at The Grey Cat. I spent the afternoon/evening exploring the city with some women I met in my hostel.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I was hoping to see an aurora during my time in Iceland. Thanks to clouds, I didn’t have much luck. But on my final evening, my aurora-watching app alerted me that there was activity over Reykjavik. So at midnight, in pajama shorts, flip flops, and a puffy parka, I raced out of the hostel into the freezing streets and looked up. There it was: a green streak cast across the sky. My first aurora!
Lodging: KEX Hostel (6-bed female dorm)
Good Eats: Grai Kotturinn/“The Grey Cat” (brunch)
Day Seven: Hit the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport.
I shamed the Golden Circle for being a tourist trap, but I loved my experience in the instagram-famous geothermal blue water of the Blue Lagoon. This place is known for being crowded, so go when it opens. I booked the earliest time slot (8 am) and there was hardly anyone there when I first stepped into the water. An hour later, it was crowded. Another perk of booking the earliest time slot is I made it into the water just before sunrise, so I got a great view with the lagoon practically all to myself.
Book your tickets early. I made a big mistake by waiting and only Luxury tickets were available by the time I went to book. The upside: I had a private room and shower, access to an exclusive lounge with snacks and drinks, and a private entrance into the lagoon. The downside: I had to pay nearly $500 for it. I almost skipped the experience because of the cost, and then I reasoned that I may never get back to Iceland. So I splurged. I don’t regret the decision. If you are looking to splurge, it was really nice, but going early with a basic ticket should be fun too.
THINGS TO KNOW
Iceland is expensive. Gas was $8/gallon. Water bottles were $6. I brought a reusable water bottle and filled it in the tap. I also stopped at a grocery store and picked up fruit and snacks to cut back on dining expenses.
Gas station pumps require credit cards to have a pin number. If you don’t have a credit card with a pin (or a debit card, which I didn’t bring), you will have to buy a prepaid station card inside, available in set amounts. It was really frustrating not being able to pay at the pump for an exact amount and worrying about gas stations closing before I could get inside to buy a card. If you don’t have a credit card with a pin, bring a debit card!
What a trip! I loved my time in Iceland and the people were very welcoming. I would love to return someday during the summer months.
Have you been to Iceland? What were the highlights of your trip?