The Land of Ice and Fire: 7 Days in Iceland on a Budget

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Iceland on a budget

Once overlooked for its mainland European neighbors, Iceland has become a hotspot for tourists flocking to encounter the country’s countless thermal pools, glacier dotted black sand beaches and mammoth waterfalls.

Small but mighty, with an awe-inspiring playground of the world’s most stunning natural features spanning the total of the country’s 40,000 sq miles, you’re far most likely to come across a gurgling geyser or wild, miniature pony than a fellow human being—unless you’re in Reykjavik.

The southwesterly located capital city is home to two-thirds of the country’s entire population and is the heart of Icelandic culture, government, and economics.

Despite its metropolitan status, Reykjavik radiates a quaint, small-town ambiance bolstered by the colorfully painted houses lodging boutique shops and gourmet restaurants that line its winding, narrow streets.

In reaction to the recent tourist boom, roundtrip flights to Reykjavik have become an economical staple nationwide on airlines such as Iceland’s own, WOW air, and Norwegian Airlines where individuals can fly nonstop for as little as $250 from select, major airports. When planning for an eight-day holiday to Iceland, it’s important to remember that the first and seventh day of your trip will be dedicated to flying, leaving you with five days to traverse and explore.

Make the most out of your time by booking an Airbnb in Reykjavik for the entirety of your trip, using it as a home base, and renting a car for day trips outside the city. Opting for an Airbnb near the city center or Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral will place you in the direct vicinity of the best restaurants, cafes, nightlife, and local thermal pools.

Iceland

Here is My 7-day Icelandic escape from start to finish:

Day 1 & 2: The flight to Reykjavik from the United States, depending on the exact departure location, can range from five and a half to nine hours. There are many advantages to booking an evening flight, the first that most people are more likely to sleep and thus alleviate the later effects of jet lag upon arrival, and the second, by landing in the morning you’ll still have a full day to explore Reykjavik.

Upon arriving in the city, head to Reykjavik Roasters for a cup of in-house roasted coffee and a small breakfast of oatmeal, bread, and cheese, or skyr—a traditional Icelandic yogurt. Afterwards, head to Austurvöllur park in front of the House of Parliament for a free walking tour of the city, organized by CityWalk. This is a fantastic way to get your bearings of the city while learning about its history, folklore, and culture from native history graduates, just make sure to reserve your spot ahead of time.

Before you get your well-deserved rest after a long day of traveling, stop for a bowl of celebrated and cheap noodle soup at the Noodle Station.

Icelandic escape
Barnafoss
Icelandic escape
Hraunfossar

Day 3: Before hitting the open road for Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls, grab breakfast at the cozy Stofan Café, whose wood lined walls, plush sofas, and antique lanterns are reminiscent of a log cabin. Once you leave the city limits, food, drink, and gas will be far and few between, which makes it imperative to stock up prior to starting the two-hour drive.

The journey to the waterfalls is almost as breathtaking as the destination itself, with a wide-open landscape dotted by soaring cliffs, wild floral, and snow-capped mountains. Hraunfossar is a collection of small streams that flow over a lava plain, forming countless waterfalls that range from a milky white color to a bright turquoise.

Barnafoss is located upstream and its name translates to the “children’s fall,” which stems from an old, Icelandic folklore about the unfortunate fate of two children.

Unlike the name’s origin, the waterfalls’ breathtaking hue and rock formation will have you smiling ear from ear from the wooden cross bridge above.

Skogafoss
Skógafoss at eye level
Skógafoss
Skógafoss from the top

Day 4: Hope you brought your bathing suit! Along the way to two of Iceland’s most notorious waterfalls, you can stop at Seljavallalaug, one of the many outdoor hot spring pools that passersby can enjoy for free. Unwind in the thermally heated waters underneath an open sky before hiking up the 370 steps to take in the roaring Skógafoss falls from the top of the overlooking cliff.

The waterfall originates from two glaciers and formed when the coastline receded inland; on most sunny days, a single or double rainbow forms because of the spray coming off the waterfall. As you’re leaving make sure to stop at Sveitagrill Miu (Mia’s Country Grill), a small food truck parked near the turnoff from Route 1, for a plate of the best fish and chips you’ve ever tasted. Right down the road is Seljalandsfoss, which from a quick look could easily be confused for Skógafoss, except for the fact that you can walk behind the immense falls and view its breathtaking beauty through a sheet of thundering water.

Fair warning, you will get soaked so a raincoat and boots are vital unless you want to sit in sodden clothes on the hour and a half ride back to Reykjavik.

Gullfoss
Gullfoss from the top of the ravine

Day 5: The 5th day of my Icelandic escape was a visit to Iceland’s Golden Circle. You’ll find a deep ravine where the Hvítá river branches off and plummets 100 feet to create the landscape of spraying waterfalls known as Gullfoss. Climb to the top of the ravine from the below parking lot or take in the falls at eyelevel—either way, you’re in for a visual treat.

On sunny days rainbows are a commonplace sight and the stark contrast between the rocky cliffs and roaring waters against the otherwise flat surrounding land makes the scene all that more breathtaking. About 12 minutes down the road is the world renowned Geysir, the name is the basis for the term geyser, which spits hot, sulfuric water 100 feet in the air every fifteen minutes or so. As you wait for the geyser to burst, wander the nearby grounds and explore the crystal blue thermal pools whose steam hovers over the ground like an endless cloud.

It is a scene like no other and while the rotten egg smell takes a bit of getting used to, the natural wonder of the geological forms is truly mind-blowing.

Sólheimasandur
Sólheimasandur

Day 6: In 1973 a U.S. Navy airplane made an emergency landing on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur. The crew was left unscathed, but the plane was abandoned and left to the harsh Icelandic elements. Over the last few decades, the dilapidated airplane—riddled with holes, missing wings, and filled with the beaches trademark black sand—has become a tourist hotspot, especially amongst those with an interest in photography.

The 40-year-old wreckage sits on the deserted beach, amongst towering, dark sand dunes, making it the ideal subject for a novice Instagram or professional portrait.

Day 7: An Icelandic escape would be incomplete without a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon. This man-made lagoon is filled with bright blue, geothermally heated water and chock full of silica, algae & minerals. Reserve a spot early, about four to six hours before your flight, and relax with a cocktail under an open sky and a little vitamin D.

The spa offers various packages that range from $60 to $520 and includes basic amenities from towels and complimentary drink to premium features such as a private lounge and exclusive Blue Lagoon spa products.

There it goes, I hope this article can help you with your planning if you decide on making that Icelandic escape in the future.

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Holding a BA in journalism from North Carolina's Elon University, Megan Cummins maintains a freelancing career from her home-base in the Massachusetts’ Bay area. When she's not writing or working full-time as a Quality Assurance lead for one of the East Coast’s top e-commerce companies, she is indulging in her in love of travel and exploring new places across the globe.

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