Iceland has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I’d heard how beautiful the scenery was and decided I had to go check it out. This would be another solo trip for me so I knew I had to plan it out before I left to make sure I got the best experience out of my five days there.
Traveling solo in Iceland was an amazing experience and I highly recommend it for any traveler on the fence about it. When traveling solo, there are some countries where you can just buy your plane ticket and figure everything else out when you arrive. Iceland is not one of those countries. The country’s popularity as a travel destination has exploded over the past 10 years and unfortunately, the tourism industry is a bit behind. There can be a shortage of hotels, restaurants, and rental cars in the busy season so some planning ahead is necessary.
What do I need to plan?
At first, I planned on doing a long weekend in Iceland but the more I read about the country, the more I wanted to see the South. To not be rushed, I added on another night to my trip so I was there 5 days/4 nights total. Of course, I would have loved to stay longer but Iceland is an expensive country and traveling solo, you need to keep this in mind.
You can drive around Iceland, with stops in about a week. To do the South coast, you need at least two days to see the sights and not be too rushed. Add on another day for the Golden Circle drive (details below) and you are up to three days. You’ll probably want to spend at least a day in Reykjavik and the blue lagoon so there’s another day. So, I think 5 days is the minimum.
Car, tour bus or camper?
My recommendation is to rent a car even if you are traveling solo. Why? Freedom! You can stop where you’d like (you’ll want to stop often for pictures), eat when/where you’d like and stay where you’d like. Sure, renting a car on your own in Iceland isn’t cheap, but trust me, when you work out how much the bus tours cost and the amount of time you are on the bus, it looks much more attractive.
The bus was an option for me at first when I thought I would just tour the Golden Circle and Reykjavik. Tons of tours pick you up at 7-8 am from Reykjavik and drop you back in the city around 5 pm or so. You get to hit the major highlights on the circle and stop for lunch. Plus, it’s a good way to meet people.
Once I added the South on to my trip, bus tours were off the table. It was just too far to take a five-hour journey (one way!) down to the glacier and then back to Reykjavik in one day. There are of course some bus tours that go for a few days and those are a better option for long distances but by then the price is looking the same as a rental car.
If you still think a tour bus may be the right choice for you, here are some of the most popular:
Renting a car
I decided to use the RentalCars.com site to book my car. Their website lists all the big car rental brands and you can choose the car that’s right for you. Make sure you read all the terms and conditions, especially what is included for damage coverage. You can read a ton of horror stories on the internet about people renting cars in Iceland and having to pay a huge fee when returning them with damages. Wind damage and gravel damage being the main culprits. Don’t assume you are covered by your insurance- check your policy as some do exclude Iceland.
I opted for the extra insurance coverage that Rentalcars.com offered and was glad to have the peace of mind and not be stressing out when a stone hit my car.
You don’t need a massive SUV in the summer if you are sticking to the main highways. In the winter, you are probably safer to rent an SUV regardless of where you are going.
*TIP* Get the WIFI option if they have it. It’s basically a WIFI hot spot that you can carry with you everywhere. It was amazing and my best decision on the trip. I used it as my GPS as well as researching what I was visiting along the way.
Campers are a very popular choice for travelers driving long distances in Iceland. I can see the positives of not having to pay huge hotel prices and meals in restaurants but I also think as a solo traveler, it can be very isolating to be alone 24 hours a day. Don’t get me wrong, if this is what you are looking for- you do you, but for me, it would be a bit too much alone time.
In the end, a rental car was the right choice for me. I loved being able to stop and take pictures whenever I wanted to and drive at my own pace. I was very tired from all the driving, which is something you should think about when deciding what mode of transportation is best for you. I think if I was going to do the trip again, I would add on another day, just to cut down on the driving time per day.
The summer and winter in Iceland make a big difference to what activities you can do, types of driving conditions and number of daylight hours. Think about this when you are mapping out your itinerary.
I chose to go in the summer which gave me the advantage of about 20 hours of daylight in June. It allowed me to fit in a lot more sights during the day and then drive to my next accommodation later in the evening when it was still light out. If you visit in the winter you could only have about 4 hours of daylight so some planning around when you will see things needs to be done before the trip.
Where to go?
The majority of visitors to Iceland will just do Reykjavik and the Golden Circle route. This route is essentially a road that you can follow from Reykjavik that will take you to three tourist sites: Pingvellir National Park, the Geysir and Gullfoss waterfall.
To do the Golden Circle, you need at least a day. If you are solo, you can book a bus tour to pick you up from many locations in Reykjavik or you can be like me and rent a car.
If you have longer than a few days, I highly encourage you to venture down to the South or, if time allows, to complete the Ring road (the road that goes all around the country) to see all the sights.
Where I wandered
If you have the time, I highly encourage you to add on a visit to the South of Iceland. The landscape is completely different than the Golden Circle and you will be rewarded with seeing the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The glacier is a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik and while you can do a bus tour in a day from there, I would recommend taking a car or a tour that splits the drive into two days. Don’t underestimate the distances between towns in Iceland.
The plan-Day 1 Jokulsarlon
I took one day to drive from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon to do a zodiac tour of the lagoon. This was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I did it. Plan to spend a few hours here. I planned to drive straight down to the glacier and then slowly work my way back to Reykjavik, touring the Golden circle as well. This was a smart way to do it except next time, I would stay closer to the Jokulsarlon Glacier after seeing it so I didn’t have to drive anymore. I ended up driving a totally of 7 hours in one day and it was too much.
After leaving the glacier, I had to drive 2 hours back to my first night accommodation at the Glacier View Guesthouse which was a wonderful stay. I enjoyed eating dinner at a shared table and chatting with other travelers. After so much alone time in the car, this was exactly what I needed.
Interested in hearing more about where I stayed in Iceland? Read my Guide to Solo Accommodation in Iceland post here!
Day 2- Fjaðrárgljúfur, Svartifoss and Vik
The next day I went to the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon which was one of the highlights of my visit. A short walk uphill brings you to the gorgeous lookout where you can view the canyon below. I loved being there early in the morning and missing the crowds too.
After leaving the canyon, I made my way to my first waterfall of the trip: Svartifoss. This gorgeous waterfall falls over a semicircle of basalt columns and is worth the hike to see. This place was much busier thank the canyon so try and also get here as early as you can if this bothers you.
Vik is a city in the South of Iceland and a great place to stop for lunch, gas and stocking up on food. I ate at the Sudur Vik restaurant and highly recommend the burger! From Vik, it’s a short drive to the amazing Black Sand beach, Reynisfjara. You’ll want to spend an hour or so here and walk up and down the beach, checking out the amazing basalt stacks. Please be cautious of walking too close to the water as the waves can be unpredictable!
It was then time to head to my guesthouse Geldingaholt in Arnes, a tiny little town in Iceland that was just what I needed. The guesthouse is located on a farm in the middle of nowhere (common in Iceland) and has horses and sheep. I loved walking up the road, not a soul in sight besides me and the horses in the fields. So peaceful.
I planned to be at the Secret Lagoon in Fludir when it opened at 10 am and have it all to myself. This lagoon is often compared to the Blue lagoon and seen as a more authentic Icelandic spa experience. Unfortunately, about 25 other people got the same idea to show up before it opened so it wasn’t as peaceful as I had hoped. It was fun to walk around the boardwalk and see the bubbling pools of water though.
Next I drove to the Kerið crater, which is a volcanic crater with a lake that is a spectacular shade of blue. I did a quick walk around it and took some pictures and left. I would say this is not a must see stop but nice if you had some extra time.
Next, onto lunch, and a stop at the well-known tomato restaurant Friðheimar. All the tomatoes are grown onsite and the menu is all tomato-based. Of course, you need to make a reservation, which I didn’t do but I was still allowed to sit at the bar and have the soup and try a beer. They have tomato beer there too but they wouldn’t let me try a sample before I bought it so I passed. Anyways, it’s a beautiful restaurant with great food and I highly recommend.
The Golden Circle: Geysers and Waterfalls
After filling my face with tomato soup I made my way to the famous Strokkur Geyser. I think this was my least favorite stop in Iceland. The number of tour buses and people was outrageous. This was a very crowded place but you only have to spend about 10 minutes here to wait for the geyser to spout water and then you can be on your way. There is a great gift shop here which I enjoyed with about a thousand other people.
My final stop on my tour was Gullfoss. This is an amazing waterfall and worth walking to the end, although you will get wet! I was lucky to see it on a sunny day and there was a beautiful rainbow over the falls. A wonderful way to end my tour.
After this stop, I was exhausted and started the drive back to Reykjavik.
Day 4- Reykjavik
As a solo traveler, I found Reykjavik to be a very safe and walk-able city. I stayed at the Skuggi hotel which was very well located in the downtown core, had free parking and a great breakfast included. This was not a cheap hotel but you will find all accommodation in Reykjavik to be quite expensive. The Kex hostel is also a great alternative for those who enjoy the communal environment!
During my time in Reykjavik, I managed to take a fantastic food tour, Wake up Reykjavik which you can read about in a separate post I wrote. I love food tours because it usually covers one of my dinners and I get to meet other travelers who love food!
I also did a walk around the city and enjoyed the view of the city from the Hallgrímskirkja church tower. I enjoyed an amazing cinnamon bun from Braud and Co! It was so good I went back to buy some for the plane ride home! There are a few museums in Reykjavik and of course, bars that would keep you busy for a day or two but I wouldn’t spend too much more time in Reykjavik as most of the amazing scenery is outside the city.
On the way to or from the airport, make sure you tag on a trip to the Blue Lagoon. I went for a solo visit and loved it! You can read my post on it here! I would give yourself at least half a day to fully enjoy it. It was such a great way to end my trip!
Solo in Iceland
I really enjoyed my time in Iceland and if I was to do it again, I’d do it pretty much the same except I’d extend my stay and visit the north and west of the country. I’m sure I will be back there again soon to continue the adventure!
Pros for traveling Solo in Iceland:
- Very safe for female solo travelers
- Lot’s of daylight in the summer so you feel comfortable after dark and can see many things in one day
- Everyone speaks English
- Great nightlife- easy to meet people
- Lot’s of travellers- hostels are packed with solo travelers
- You can stop and take photos whenever you want!! It’s so beautiful you will want to every minute.
Cons for traveling Solo in Iceland:
- Expensive!!- try to bring some snacks from home if you are really watching your $$. Stay in hostels and try to ride share if you can.
- Winter can be brutal for weather- be careful driving and mindful of the daylight hours.
- Accommodation outside of Reykjavik is sparse so some planning is needed- make reservations before you go.
As you can see the pros definitely outweigh the cons! Solo travel is great in Iceland and I hope you decide to choose it for your next trip!