ICELAND// For the Girl Who Wants to Avoid (most of) the Tourists
Iceland is covered in two things. Sheep and tourists. While I love squealing at cute little white creatures, I do not enjoy yelling, "WOW! LOOK AT THIS PEACEFUL WATERFALL" next to hundreds of my closest tourist friends. Iceland has a tourist problem or... more like a tourist boom. It's why it seems like every other month, you spot pictures of glaciers from another one of your friends on Instagram. But, if you're a hot spring-lava field-waterfall-ocean-sheep loving type of girl, you need to visit Iceland. Last summer, my fellow mountain worshipping friend and I decided to ditch the hoards of travelers that cling to the Golden Circle, and road trip around the Iceland's Ring Road. Although, I didn't do this trip solo, 100% of the places we visited are solo traveler friendly.
The Ring Road is a (mostly) two-lane circular road that goes around the entire country. We opted to do the trip in 7 days and drove around 3-4 hours a day.
You do not need a 4x4 Jeep to drive around Iceland
Unless you are planning to explore the Westfjords or love to spend a ton of money on gas, a sedan will do you just fine. We opted for a hatchback sedan which was perfect, especially for car camping.
Opt for full coverage insurance
When you rent your car you will be offered sand, ash, and/or gravel protection. It's an added expense but having insurance gives you the freedom to venture off the beaten path every now and again.
Plan to road trip for more than a week if you want to spend time hiking, exploring, or visiting the Westfjords
Most of the tourists spend their time in the country's south and southeastern regions. The Golden Circle and its highlights like Gullfoss, Þingvellir, and Geysir are located in the southeast. The more north and west you head, the quieter the road becomes.
Eating in Iceland certainly isn't cheap. A reasonably priced dinner will cost you around $20 USD. To off-set the cost of eating and drinking in Iceland, we headed to a local grocery store to stock up goods before heading out on the road. I highly suggest doing this unless you want to eat a million infamous Icelandic hotdogs from roadside gas stations. If you're starting out your trip in Reykjavik, you have your pick of grocery stores. Bónus, with it's bright yellow sign with a pig on it, always seemed to be the cheapest. We ate breakfast and lunch on the road and ate dinner at local restaurants.
Silva, outside of Akureyri, for its vegan options and view of the fjords. Sydra-Laugaland | Eyjafjardarsveit, Akureyri 601
Kaffi Lára, in Seydisfjordur, has simple hardy food and SUCH a cozy vibe. We stumbled across the cafe while an attractive man, complete with a beard and puffy vest, was grilling fish outside. He asked if we were hungry. For him? Yes. For fresh fish? Yes, that too. Nordurgata 3, Seydisfjordur
Sæmundur í Sparifötunum, in KEX Hostel in Reykjavik, is a gastro pub with a twist. It's hip, fresh, and sources local ingredients. Make sure you try a local Icelandic beer while eating here. Einkstök's Arctic Berry Ale is refreshing and bubbly with a hint of sweetness. It goes along perfectly with a never ending Icelandic summer day. Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík
When planning our trip, my friend and I didn't put much thought into where we were staying. We knew we were on a budget and we had read that camping in Iceland was super easy. We decided to spend half of our nights camping and the other half of them in hostels (girl has got to take a shower at some point). Iceland may be a small country but, it has more than enough accommodation options.
KEX Hostel is a hostel we knew we HAD to stay at because, uh, not to be dramatic but, it's the most beautifully curated hostel I have ever laid my eyes on. Spend your mornings here lounging on the cute antique furniture, eating homemade bread, staring at the mountains. Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík
Hafaldan Hostel is a former hospital with beautiful historic bones located in tiny and scenic Seydisfjordur. It's bright Scandinavian designed rooms may make you never want to leave. Suðurgata, Seyðisfjörður
Dalvík Hostel in the northern fishing village of Dalvík is a small family run hostel that seems more like my favorite family member's house than a hostel. Vegamót, Hafnarbraut 14, 620 Dalvik
Campgrounds along the Ring Road are plentiful and relatively easy to find. Rent a tent once you get to Iceland or take the easy route and car camp. While camping in the middle of a field next to a waterfall sounds dreamy, respect the landscape and locals. Head towards designated camping areas. Most camping areas charge a small fee but, include amenities such as restrooms and sinks. If you desire something a little more rustic, head off the Ring Road to find quieter designated spots to pitch your tent.
It's almost impossible to get bored in Iceland. There are endless trails to hike, waterfalls to walk under, and black sand beaches to run around on. This also means that it's super overwhelming to plan out the spots that you want to visit. It seemed like there are a million hard to pronounce places that you have to go to before you die. Let me let you in on a little secret...Iceland is not that big. You can totally fit all 900 hundred waterfalls into your itinerary, just give yourself a week or more of travel time. After researching all the places I wanted to visit, I put the names into a Google Map, and surprisingly, almost all of them came up. I pinned each of them and wrote casual little notes next to them like, 'Waterfall #789 that I have to go to before returning to America or I'm going to lay on my death bed regretting it'.
Jökulsárlón, in the southeast, is a large glacier lake that offers amazing views of glaciers and the beautiful lake that surrounds them. Make sure you walk to the other side of the bridge to the black sand beach where you can see large pieces of ice floating from the glaciers to the ocean.
Seljavallalaug, in the south, is the most picturesque Tumblr-looking hot spring that I almost don't want to mention because it's so cool and tranquil. A short hike through the valley is required to get to the man-made pool. There's a small somewhat mud-filled changing room next to the pool filled with naked Europeans. Bring a towel, some confidence, and a camera because this place is seriously breathtaking.
Myvatn Nature Baths, in the north, are an alternative to the super touristy, Blue Lagoon. The baths are cheaper, lack the plethora of tourists (!!!), and the water is just as blue as the Blue Lagoon.
While a car or bike are necessary to explore the Iceland countryside, only your two feet are needed to explore both Reykjavik and Akureyri. Everything in Reykjavik is tiny, painted in primary colors, and very un-capital city like. Akureyri feels like a colorful village with troll statues in the middle of the street and wool sweater shops on every corner. The creative street art in both cities adds a vibrancy to the otherwise sleepy streets. You only need a couple of hours to explore Reykjvaik and Akureyri but, I would highly encourage you to get off the beaten path and wonder through the streets.
Reykjavik Roasters, in Reykjavik, is everything you dream of when you think 'cute coffee shop in Iceland'. Kárastígur 1, Reykjavík
Frú Lauga is a locally sourced food market. Visit the shop for fresh Icelandic goods and buy some Icelandic salt, made through a geothermal process, to bring home. Laugalækur, Reykjavík
Flóra is a beautiful concept store filled with homemade goods from Europe and Iceland. The perfect place to buy yourself some Icelandic herbs or that wooly sweater you have been dreaming about. Hafnarstræti, 600 Akureyri
Fróði fornbókabúð is a treasure trove of second hand books. Almost all of them are in Icelandic and organized in piles around the store. Go here to escape tourists and be transported back in time. Kaupvangsstræti 19, 600 Akureyri
Cover photo by Norbert von Niman