Just about a year ago, Emily and I decided that our big trip would just have to be to Vietnam. She had never been to Asia (and the only Asian country I had been to was Singapore, which is basically “Asia light”), and we wanted a big, two-week trip to push us out of our comfort zones and help us really escape the grind that’s been life in DC.
So we did it. And oh, did Vietnam push our comfort boundaries. To start, we were a little worried about the flight situation — DC to LA is 6 hours, LA to Tokyo was 14, and then Tokyo to Ho Chi Min City was another 7 hours. So to say the least, we were trying to find all the hacks in the world to make this bearable (fwiw — this hack was a game changer for me).
In November, I aggressively road tripped across the south of Iceland over five short days. And while it was one of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever taken, it was incredibly difficult to see everything we wanted to see when we were constantly chasing daylight and spending 75% of our time driving. So when I returned a few weeks ago in March, I had planned our itinerary a little differently for our quick little journey.
The main difference was that in November, I hopped from Airbnb to Airbnb – but in March, we stayed in one apartment in Reykjavik the entire time. I highly recommend staying in a different city each day for a longer trip, especially if you are traversing the whole Ring Road. But if you’re limited to a few days, I’d say staying in Reykjavik is the way to go.
Another thing you should keep in mind with this itinerary is that I was fairly confident that my travel buddies would be up and at ‘em every morning, and easy to mobilize out the door. And if your friends like to sleep in and take their time, go to Iceland when there’s a little more daylight to spare 🙂
Here’s how I planned out our March adventure, and we generally lingered in our apartment until 11 am or so – plenty of balance between rest and adventure.
Day 1: Arrive, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik
If you’re flying Wow Airlines from Baltimore, you’re probably going to be landing in Reykjavik just after 5 am. Not gonna lie – it’s a rough start to a trip. But if you pack some Zzquil and stock up on coffee when you land, you’ll breeze through. Take your time in the Keflavik airport (Joe and the Juice has great music, comfy seating, and handsome baristas that will gladly supply you with multiple lattes and ginger juice shots).
Grab your rental car around 6:30 or 7 am, and head over to Midlina, nearby the Blue Lagoon. It’s literally a bridge between the European and North American tectonic plates, so you can pull together a great Snapchat story of you running between the continents.
By the time you’re relaxed and all pruney from the Blue Lagoon, you’ll have a 40 minute drive back to Reykjavik, where you’ll want to eat and nap. If you wake up and it’s a clear night, check the aurora forecasts and take advantage of your jet lag by hunting for the northern lights.
Not gonna lie – I felt pretty meh about the Golden Circle. The views were cool, but having driven across the southern coast before, the attractions on the Golden Circle weren’t super exciting. THAT BEING SAID – we ended our tour at a little hot spring in Fluðir called the Secret Lagoon. It’s eerily quiet considering it’s an organized, pay-to-enter structure, but it made the Blue Lagoon feel like Disneyland on a crazy day. I would do the Golden Circle tour again just to spend a couple more hours in Fluðir.
Day 3: South of Iceland to Vik
This will be one of the most amazing drives of your life. I promise.
One of the highlights of taking three girls who had never been to Iceland before was watching their reactions to seeing the southern coast en route to Vik – because every time the road turns, the landscape completely transforms from snowy wasteland to endless fields of furry ponies to majestic cliffs and waterfalls to jagged mountains that soar in the distance.
Things you should absolutely stop for on the road to Vik (this order worked out really well for us) – I’ll write up more details about these spots in a later post.
Seljalandsfoss + Gjulfrafoss + Skogafoss
Basalt columns from Reynisfjara beach
View of Vik and its cliffs from the town church
DC-3 plane wreck, which is now said to be closed off because travelers were tearing up the “road” (we never really found a road – markers were knocked over and we basically just tried to drive in tracks)
Seljavallalaug – a warm swimming pool built into a cliff
Day 4: Hike to the Hot River at Hveragerdi
On our last full day, we had trouble deciding what to do. But after some research and being mostly fed up with spending hours in a car, I remembered seeing photos of a hot river that was only about a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik. The hike was described as a rigorous 45 to 60 minutes, but honestly, we’re all pretty damn fit and it took us 90 minutes – perhaps you should add time for climbing through mountains covered in snow.
You’re pretty much ascending the entire way, but once you’re there, it’s quite the sight to be seen – a hot spring river with a wooden boardwalk and small pools built from stones. Make sure you pack sandwiches, bourbon, and water. The hike in is no joke, but at least you get to soak in the incredible views in a hot river. There’s nothing like it. Read more about the hike at Hveragerdi here.
Day 5: Coffee in Reykjavik, Depart
Again, if you’re flying Wow Air to Baltimore, they have limited flights, so you’ll likely be leaving in the afternoon. Pack your bags, explore the design shops and cafes in downtown Reykjavik, and cry as you head to the airport. I’m pretty sure you’ll spend that 40 minute drive thinking about when you can plan your next trip back.