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Friday, September 8, 2017

9 Days Iceland Summer Road Trip - Guide and Itinerary

Why Iceland?

I never once dreamt that one day I would travel across the magical world of Iceland, also known as the Land of Fire and Ice. Right now, I'm pretty sure that the opening theme of Game of Thrones is playing in your mind now. Let me tell you, the name is darn apt, as active volcanoes and glaciers lay just beside one another in this land of 300,000 people.

I don't even know where to start, a while ago, Lady M and I were planning to explore the outskirts of London - Oxford, Cambridge, York, Windermere. Turned off by the exorbitant rail prices, we looked to explore Dublin, but it looks rather boring. We zoomed out on Google maps, and we saw an island just located 3 hours away from London. We looked at each other, and the next moment, we were booking our air tickets. You know what? We even prepped ourselves by watching "Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and listening "Dirty Paws" (by Monsters and Men) again. Prepped might not be the right verb, but it certainly made us 400% more hyped about this trip.

Seljalandsfoss (don't ask me how to pronounce this)

The idea of travelling the whole ring road may sound daunting, especially those who do not even drive in my homeland (yes, that's yours truly). Oh, for those who have no idea, Ring Road (a.k.a Route 1) is their main road which covers various major attractions, such as Seljalandsfoss, Reynisfjara (black sand beach), Jokulsarlon (glacier lagoon), and Myvatn (volcanic lake). If those attractions sound really unfamiliar, fret not, I will be covering them later on.

Source: zigzagonearth

This Guide

The total duration of our Icelandic trip, or shall I say, pre-honeymoon, lasted 9 days. Although it is possible to cover the whole ring road in a day, you might not want to do that because you will, and I am sure, that you will stop every now and then to enjoy the beauty of this island. We went in the end-summer periods in mid-August 2017, when crowds have started to die down but prices are still considered high. We explored Iceland, starting from their capital Reykjavik and going in an anti-clockwise direction. I hope this guide serves as an overview and valuable add-on for your Icelandic itinerary.

Chillin' at the coast of Reykjavik

General Information

Before anything, let's get you familiarised with some general information to prep yourself!

Jökulsárlón (Diamond Beach)

Weather in Iceland is crazily unpredictable, like my fiancee (just kidding). They have a saying, "if you do not like the weather, wait five minutes". I thought it was bullshit till I experienced it firsthand. It could be sunny in one moment, and raining like no tomorrow in another. During summer (June to August), expect to experience the midnight sun phenomena, when sun sets only near midnight, providing long daylight hours - perfect for more exploration. Yet, this drastically reduces your chances of catching the aurora borealis (a.k.a northern lights), which peaks in September to mid-April.

I highly recommend the apps: Vedur (for weather) and Vegagerdin (for road conditions).

Heavy rainfall on the first day of road-trip (just look at the fog!)

Travelling around.
There are several options to travel around Iceland. Starting with the best options to the worst adventurous options (in my opinion), they are:

1. Rent a car and explore ($$$). Renting a car in Iceland is really convenient as there are lots of companies providing car rental service. Want to spend a few more moments in your favourite waterfall, travel off the main roads, or perhaps skip the less exciting attractions? You are master of your own adventure. Despite horror stories on car rental, our ride was very pleasant. A tip is to do your research beforehand (I will be sharing more about our car rental and driving in another post).

2. Book tours to travel outside main cities ($$$$$). Tours ain't cheap, but provide the convenience of travelling without much stress. Everything is pretty much planned for you. Several companies provide daily tours to main attractions, like the Golden Circle, glacier lagoons, and even northern light tours. Domestic flights and ferries are available if you want to travel outside Reykjavik.

3. On two wheels ($). Not on motorbikes, but bicycles. Recent years have seen an increase of bike enthusiasts coming to Iceland to conquer the Ring Road. Bring the right equipment, expect rough terrains, and unpredictable weathers.

4. Hitchhike ($). Not the best option, but for the adventurous or the extremely-budget traveler. Basically, you just stand along the main roads, do a thumb-up signal to oncoming cars, and hitch in the direction of your travel. Chipping in a little for fuel is optional but definitely a nice gesture.

Happy boy with his (rented) car

Road conditions. 
Talking about road conditions, Iceland is pretty populated in cities such as Reykjavik and Akureyri, but besides that, cars are rather sparse. There are two things you need to note here.

Speed limits - you are highly prone to speed especially when there are no cars on the roads. Yeah, there were a few moments I went fast and furious 8. If you think the fine in Singapore is hefty, try Iceland. In general, speed limits are 90 km/h on paved roads, 80km/h on gravel roads, and 30-50km/h in populated areas. 

Off-the-road driving - this requires a 4 x 4 (a.k.a 4WD - four wheel-drive). Vehicles of this calibre are much more expensive but it allows you to tackle the harsher road conditions such as crossing a lake or mud pits. Some hidden attractions may require this, but for us, a basic 2WD is sufficient to explore the ring road.
Battle scars after driving gravel roads

Iceland is often considered the most expensive on Earth, especially if you are visiting during their peak season (June to August). Car rentals, petrol prices, accommodation are all jacked up due to the influx of tourists. I am planning a dedicated post on the prices, but to start with, an egg in a supermarket costs S$1 and the cheapest meal, which is probably a basic pylsur hotdog bun costs S$8.
but it's so god-darn delicious.

Itinerary (In a Glance)

Day 1: The Capital of Iceland - Reykjavik
Explore Reykjavik (translated as "Smokey Bay"), the northernmost capital of Earth, where you get to see sights such as the Hallgrimskirkja and Harpa, all within walking distance.
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Step outside the concrete jungle of Reykjavik to explore what Iceland is really about. The Golden Circle is perfect for a day's tour - Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss.
South Iceland brings the most scenic attractions to almost every itinerary in Iceland. Wake up early, prepare yourself as you drive along Route 1 for a myriad of amazing sights - waterfalls, beautiful towns and beaches.
Day 5: East Iceland - Coastal Routes and Small Towns
Embark on a scenic coastal route and exploring small towns on the fifth day. We self-took some of our wedding photos on this day (with FAQ too!).
Day 6 - 7: North Iceland - Bigger Waterfalls and Geothermal Baths
North Iceland is home to two magnificent waterfalls (the "beauty" and the "beast") and the Mývatn geothermal area. Wake up early on Day 6 to prep yourself for what's to come.
Day 8 - 9: West Iceland - Beautiful Rock Formations, and back to Reykjavik
Last sprint before heading back to the capital!
If you were like me, who wants something more than your usual makan-and-shopping trips or Disneylands, the answer is Iceland. Grab a few friends or the love of your life and embark on a journey like no other.