Welcome to Iceland! The land where the sun never sets - or rises - depending on when you're here. The land of fresh fish, booze, and hotdogs! The one thing I always stress to people when they ask for advice about Iceland is: YOU NEED TO RENT A CAR. As I won't bore you with the monotonous details that is the car rental procedure, the one tip I will give you is that if you are visiting during the winter months is: make sure your car has studded tires. The last thing you need is to get stuck in a snow bank, or slide off a mountain road only to wake up in traction getting a sponge bath from a gentleman named Bjorn....I digress. At this point it's probably quite early as most flights from the states are red-eyes. Since most things in Iceland don't open till around 9 or 10AM, you may want to pick up a bit of breakfast. Head on over to Bryggjan cafe located at the harbor in Grindavik for a quick bite and a coffee. Upon leaving the
cafe with your newly sourced rental car, and a belly full of herring, head directly to the Blue Lagoon. It is the absolute perfect thing to do after getting off the plane. Plus, it's on the way to Reykjavik! You can't lose, finally! During the winter months, the Blue lagoon opens at about 9am, while in Summer they open at 8. Entrance tickets cost 35€, they also charge 5€ for a towel, 5€ for slippers, and 10€ for a bathrobe if desired. I suggest following the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy motto as you will need your towel later on anyway. Spend as much time as you deem appropriate sucking down Tuborg's, and making your friends jealous on Instagram all while relaxing in the incredible geothermal water, and rubbing mud on your face (everybody's doing it).
Spend the rest of your day walking around and exploring Reykjavik's downtown area which include such highlights as, SolfarAKA the Sun Voyager down by the harbor (you can totally climb all over this thing). Hallgrimskirkja, the famous MASSIVE Lutheran church (which can be used to orient yourself if you're lost around the city) which is opens 9am to 5pm and costs about 6 bucks (800 ISK) to go up in the tower. You can also spend some time strolling down Laugavegur Street which houses many of the cities' bars and shops. Some bar recommendations would be Dillon whiskey bar(specializing in brown liquor and cocktails),The Lebowski bar (obviously specializing in white russians), Micro barhas a fantastic craft beer selection (including Cantilllon). Finally, world famous craft beer gypsy, Mikkeller's, newest Reykjavik location, "Mikkeller & Friends" is one block up. After hitting a few bars, head back to the hotel to get ready for a world class dinner/tasting menu atFiskfelagid.
Going to Iceland for the first time and not doing the Golden Circle is like going to Bourbon Street and not drinking a hurricane (and a hand grenade). Most tours or itineraries usually list 3 to 5 stops along the route so I'll run right down the middle and suggest 4. Now, it's a good thing you listened to my advice in the beginning and rented a car, otherwise you would end up like the other ham and egger tourists chugging along on the embarrassing bus (for about $175 a person, total cost being about what you paid to rent a car for the week). Congrats, you won!
Thingvellir national park is where the first Icelandic parliament was founded which is basically the founding of the nation of Iceland. Here you can hike, learn about Iceland's rich cultural history, or if you're like us, you can can join a snorkeling trip at Silfra. During this trip, you get to swim in the fault line between the European and North American continental plate. Get me? You are literally swimming in a fault line where the earth has swallowed the ground like an all-you-can-eat buffet in Vegas. Mind you, it's cold in Iceland (especially in the winter when we did this) so you will be provided with a dry suit, as well as a "teddy bear suit". The tour company we booked this with was "Adventures.is" and lasted about 2 hours.
Geysir. Even if you have done the smallest amount of research, you have probably figured out that geysir is the name of the first, well geyser. Its the one that ALLLLLLLL the others get their name from. You may have also heard that geyser, no longer errupts. Luckily for you, when 1 door closes, another opens! Right next to the inactive geyser is the geyser Strokkur. This bad boy explodes every 5 minutes shooting boiling water about 100 feet into the air! It's a lot of fun and it makes for great pictures. (As a side note, if you're feeling a bit peckish, the gift shop next to the geysers tend to make a nice traditional lamb stew, as well as some smoked lamb on a pita. Enjoy with a shot of Brennevin!)
Gulfoss, or the golden falls, is often debated to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in all of Europe. If you happen to be there when it isn't raining, you will most likely get the treat of seeing a rainbow cresting over the falls. As you can see, there is quite a differece in the appearance of the falls depending on your time of visit.
Kerid is a volcanic crater lake that, if you follow my itinerary, is on your way back to Reykjavik. Look close for the signs cause it can be easy to miss. It takes about 15 minutes to walk the circumference of the crater and about 5 minutes to walk down to the water. If you're the adventurous type bring a bathing suit and hop on in if you don't mind the razor sharp volcanic rocks tickling your piggies, not to mention the ice cold freezing water.
Okay, so this is a super long day. So long, in fact that some of you may prefer to stay overnight near the glacier lagoon. We did in fact do this in 1 day, and were totally exhausted. Doing this in the summer gives you some obvious benefits, ie. the sun will be up faaaaar longer. Okay, so here we go, there are 2 ways to do this, what we did was leave at about 6am from Reykjavik, and drive directly to Jökulsárlón then made the other stops along the way home. We found that this way it helped us from falling asleep while driving!
Assuming you're following the same itinerary we did, you should arrive at Jökulsárlón around 11am. This huge glacier lagoon glows. Like for real, you can see it glowing a bright blue from about 10 miles away, it's pretty ghostly.
Basically, whats going on here is the tongue of Breiðamerkurjökull, a huge glacier, is breaking off baby icebergs and sending them straight into the good ol' Atlantic ocean. Most likely, it's like nothing you'll ever see again. There are numerous activities you can do around the lagoon such as boat tours and hikes or you can just enjoy the view! Across the street from the lagoon is a beautiful black sand beach where you can wave goodbye to the icebergs as they float into the sea.
After you've had your fill of icebergs, its time to start backtracking. The next stop is Vatnajökull/Skaftafell national park. At this point, I feel like a lot of people might want to either camp or find a hotel close to the park so they can explore a bit more. As we didn't have the time for this, we opted for a short hike to see Svartifoss waterfall. Svartifoss, or the black falls, is an awesome waterfall which gets its name from the giant black hexagonal basalt columns surrounding it. Now, you can hike directly from the visitor center to the waterfall on a well marked trail which takes about 2 hours round trip. Buuuuut, there is a shortcut if you don't have 2 hours to spend hiking. If you visit the park before June 1st you can park at the small public lot before the Bolti Guesthouse on the trail. This will save you a good hour and cut the time of your hike in half.