Midnight sun piercing through the tall crevices of Fjallsárlón in southern Iceland

An Itinerary for Iceland

Bleak sunset across alien black rock nothingness. South Iceland
Bleak sunset across alien black rock nothingness. South Iceland

Iceland is a different planet. The whole country can be considered as a large National Park. Or many. If you have lost faith in landscapes or nature, just buy a ticket to Iceland.

When 

We visited Iceland in the middle of summer. When the sun didn’t set. Well, it did, but it was always bright. That posed a ton of challenges and opportunities. 

As for opportunities, the light after 10pm right through 5 am was spectacular. Constant golden hour. The glow of the midnight sun was unlike anything we had ever seen, casting the longest shadows we had witnessed. It was eerie. That is, whenever the sun was out in the first place. 

Golden light is eternal and pervasive after 10 pm. An abandoned house in West Iceland
Golden light is eternal and pervasive after 10 pm. An abandoned house in West Iceland

But this posed incredible logistical challenges since we were traveling with kids. They, surprisingly, get hungry at dinner time, tired at bedtime, and cranky, and fidgety, and tend to scream and shout when that happened. Who knew? So there were very few days where we could realistically drive around after 11pm. 

If we were to do it again and without kids or with older kids, we would sleep all day and drive after 10 pm. But that would bring up logistical challenges. Checkout times were still at 11 am and checkin after 3pm. Breakfast ended at 10 am, while restaurants closed by 9 pm. Grocery stores closed after 9 pm as well. You would need to plan ahead, stock food, and probably catch naps in the car in between hotels. 

One would think that you shouldn’t head over there during summer at all. That’s a choice which will give you incredible seasonal variation (winter is beautiful if you can handle it), but also limits the number of hours of daylight massively. And though it might look small, Iceland is massive.

Millions of purple lupines in full summer bloom across the volcanic landscape of South Central Iceland
Millions of purple lupines in full summer bloom across the volcanic landscape of South Central Iceland

Where

Do not skip any part of the country. Its not like if you have seen a section, you have seen it all. Why would you think that? Are the Sierra Nevadas the same as Death Valley? Check out our articles on the West, South, East and North for a better feel of what can be found where.

I would make a controversial and rather unhelpful comment. You can skip the Golden Triangle if you can. We should have. There are 3 things in the Golden Triangle that people flock to – Gullfoss, Geysir and the tectonic plate rift. See Dettifoss, Myvatn and the rest of the country instead of those. The Golden Triangle is over crowded, just like the Yosemite Valley is.

You can also skip Reykjavik and spend some time in Akureyri instead. 

Solitude. After Midnight. West Iceland
Solitude. After Midnight. West Iceland

How Long

We stayed 8 days, and it was horribly short. I would give it 2 weeks at least. We captured only 10% of what we saw, and we must have seen a tiny fraction of the country. We were always too rushed to get to the next spot, or found it too difficult for a quick visit.

Plus the weather is highly unpredictable. The spectacular Godafoss was covered in pouring rain and bland gray skies the entire evening when we were there. We didn’t even have the hours to visit it again in the morning when it cleared up.

Gravel, chewed and spit out from Langjokull Glacier in Iceland
Gravel, chewed and spit out from Langjokull Glacier in Iceland

Logistics

Get a 4×4 even if you don’t plan on going on rough roads. There will always be gravel and mud. Cars are pretty battered with all the gravel, so check your car well and note down every scratch and dent upon renting. Check Google Maps to see if you are going on secondary roads. These can be an adventure, if you want one. 

The country is safe as heaven. Hotels could be anywhere and look spooky (and could be, if they were in the US), but not in Iceland. In Reykjavik, we left our car unlocked with windows rolled down and one of our suitcases inside all through the night, and nothing happened.

There are no dangerous animals, reptiles or insects. There are annoying flies. There are sheep and horses and people. Combine it with the statement above, and you can literally walk, drive, bike, anywhere at any time.

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