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I went on a magical trip through Iceland — here's what you should know before you go

GlacierLagoon_Can'tMiss.JPG iceland
Don't forget to stop at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Katie Lockhart

  • Renting a car is the best way to see the country
  • Watch out for hidden speed cameras, they can lead to big fines
  • Visit the lesser-known areas of Iceland
  • If you plan on visiting in the popular summer months, book things in advance to get the best deals

Iceland is hands down one of the most beautiful countries in the world. From catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights to walking the black sand beaches, snowmobiling up a glacier, and soaking in the natural hot springs; a road trip around the country is a bucket-list experience not to be missed.

I was lucky enough to go on my own trip and I learned quite a few things along the way. Here are my tips on how to make the most out of your epic road trip from start to finish.

Getting there is more simple than you might think. 

Arriving at my hotel.
Katie Lockhart

It always surprises people when I tell them it’s only a four-hour flight to Reykjavik from New York on Icelandair. With their stopover program, visiting the country for up to seven days before your next flight in Europe is a great option.

Most US flights land at KEF airport at around 6 a.m., so instead of driving straight to the city, make a pit stop at the famous Blue Lagoon. Reserve a ticket for when they open at 8 a.m. and you’ll basically have the place to yourself. This makes for a truly magical first experience in Iceland (with the bonus of saving you waiting around for your hotel check-in).

From there, you'll probably want to rent your car. 

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On the road with my SADcar.
Katie Lockhart

Once you land, you can pick up your SADcars rental at the airport and head to the Blue Lagoon or your hotel in Reykjavik. SADcars is among the most popular car rental services in the country, with newer model cars and 4-wheel drive options if you want to go off-roading. It comes with basic insurance coverage so if you plan on venturing off the paved Ring Road, you may want to consider getting an upgrade to avoid costly damage fees. The smaller roads in Iceland are full of large potholes and sharp gravel, which could cause damage to your car.

SADcars also have a portable WiFi device (well worth the few extra dollars) so that you can access directions anywhere you are. Their discount partnership with Olís and OB gas stations comes in handy because gas in Iceland can be expensive. Remember to fill up the tank before you drop your car back at the airport to avoid a fine.

What you do in Iceland depends on you. 

This is a tricky one because it really depends on how long you have in Iceland and how you like to travel. Technically, you can drive the entire Ring Road around the perimeter of the country in a week, but don’t plan on stopping at every destination. I spent nine days in the country and only made it to the inland West and as far East as Hofn.

But you can get a lot done in a long weekend.

Exploring the streets of Reykjavik.
Katie Lockhart

If you only have a few days in Iceland, you should explore Reykjavik with a Free By Foot walking tour and head to Hverfisgata 12 for dinner. The handcrafted cocktails are expensive (like everything in Iceland) but seriously good. I recommend staying overnight at the Sandhotel, a boutique hotel in a prime spot next to the cities most famous bakery. The next morning, you can grab an Icelandic donut and make your way to the Golden Circle less than an hour outside of Reykjavik.

The tomato soup from Fridheimar.
Katie Lockhart

I can also recommend stopping by Fridheimar, an affordable lunch spot serving homemade tomato soup made from the organic tomatoes and vines you dine next to. Inside a greenhouse, Fridheimar is one of the countries leading tomato producers. After lunch, you can drive to see the Geysir explode, walk along Gullfoss Waterfall, and spend a day exploring the beautiful scenery of Þingvellir National Park.

You can do even more with a week. 

The Golden Circle Waterfall.
Katie Lockhart

If you have a week off work, I recommend spending a day or two in Reykjavik, followed by two days on the Golden Circle. After that, you can get out of the normal tourist spots and head to West Iceland. Here you can see one of the countries tallest waterfalls, Glymur and stay a few nights, like I did, at a National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World — Hotel Húsafell.

Hotel Húsafell.
Katie Lockhart

Due to its close proximity to Langjökull Glacier, staying here a few nights during the winter is a surefire way to see the Northern Lights. They even have a complimentary service that will call your room when the rippling colors start to appear. During the day you can visit the posh Krauma Baths for a soak in geothermal water and ride the famous Icelandic horses at Sturlureykir Horse Farm.

An Icelandic horse at Sturlureykir Horse Farm.
Katie Lockhart

Iceland is well-worth multiple weeks vacation. 

As Americans with only two weeks vacation we have to spend it wisely, but trust me Iceland is worth it. I wish I could have made my way around the entire Ring Road to the stunningly remote East Iceland and to the top of the Island to see the fjords and quaint coastal town of Husavik.

One of the black sand beaches.
Katie Lockhart

Be sure to stop in Vik during the summer months to spot dozens of puffins on the black sand beaches. Don’t drive past Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. Take the time to stop and be sure to bring the camera they are truly jaw-dropping sights.

Blue Lagoon 8 a.m.
The Blue Lagoon at 8 a.m.
Katie Lockhart

Waiting in line for Iceland's most famous hot dogs.
Katie Lockhart

After spending some much time there, I have some insider tips. 

Snowmobiling in Iceland.
Katie Lockhart

  • It really doesn’t matter what time of the year you go. There are incredible things to see during the summer and winter. But keep in mind, driving is not as easy during the winter.
  • Stock up on alcohol in duty-free. It can end up being one of your biggest expenses while in Iceland.
  • Watch out for speed cameras. They are most commonly found around Reykjavik and going in and out of tunnels to the West and North. There are several positioned sporadically on the Ring Road, so always keep an eye on your speedometer.
  • While in Reykjavik eat Iceland's most famous hot dog at its most famous establishment. Don’t leave the island without ordering two from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.
  • If you plan on driving off the Ring Road, check this map so you know which roads are opened and closed before you drive there.
  • Pack snacks. You can drive a long way in Iceland before seeing a convenience store, so stock up when you do.
  • If you’re planning on visiting during the summer months, book a place to sleep well in advance to avoid high prices or sold-out accommodation.

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