The midnight sun is a natural phenomena. It is something that everyone should truly experience at least once in their lifetime. There is something magical about exploring the outdoors past midnight with the sun never truly setting, but barely touching the horizon and making its way back up to the skies around 3:00 in the morning. The midnight sun can be seen all over the arctic circle through out the summer, but what better place to have the experience than Iceland? While Iceland’s tourism has been booming since the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull (no idea what the hell that says) Volcano in 2010 and the thousands of pictures posted everyday through out social media, it has become an epicenter for many people’s “bucketlists”. Not just the increased popularity alone, it is a very short 5 and half hour flight from New York City. Iceland is the perfect destination for a little midnight sun road trip.
A lot of people do Iceland wrong. I am saying this because the country is beyond expensive, and you can easily get caught in a tourist trap where you will quickly lose all of your savings. It is very simple to do Iceland on a bit of a budget which will also allow you to make the best of your time spent there. Too many people get caught up in booking tours through out their trip and lose valuable time, money and most importantly of all, scenery. The best way to see Iceland, especially when it is the midnight sun season is by taking a road trip.
You can spend as much time as you want in Iceland and it will always feel like you saw so much, but there was still so much you didn’t see. I spent four days driving through out the South and West of Iceland and thought it was just about the perfect amount of time, but I could absolutely do more. Whatever location and length of time you spend in Iceland is up to you, but it should be well planned out. This is an example of a four day midnight sun trip in Iceland and everything you MUST see.
Day 1: Reykjavik and Drive to the West Coast (Grundarjfour or Olafsvik)
When you arrive to the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik, the first thing you want to do is rent a car and get out. I am not saying Reykjavik is a bad stop, it is a great city! There is a lot to do there, but you don’t want to spend too much of your trip in the city. Reykjavik is absolutely gorgeous, but there is way too much to see outside of the city. Reykjavik is best to be used as a hub for sleep, a place to recharge, and grab some of the ridiculously expensive food. A couple hours of exploration in Reykjavik is all that is needed as it is a pretty small town.
Must eat in Reykjavik:
Eat the fish everywhere. It can be expensive, but it is some of the most fresh and delicious fish you will ever have. You will mostly find Salmon, Cod, Halibut and Arctic Char. You can also find Red Fish in some places which is an absolute must have. If you are more up for delicacies you can try fermented shark, whale, or dried fish.
You can find Skyr just about everywhere in Iceland as it is one of the most
popular snacks. It is a very cheap and delicious option for anyone except those who are lactose intolerant and don’t want to fart all day. Skyr is a greek yogurt that I believe is much better than Chobani. It is extra creamy, thick and very refreshing. I had about 8 Skyrs in the 4 days I spent in Iceland because I couldn’t get enough of them. Coconut was my favorite flavor
You can find some very fresh meat through out Iceland as the cattle and sheep are very abundant. Lamb is the most popular and you can find it on just about every menu. You can have smoked lamb, lamb jerky, lamb burgers, filet of lamb, etc. If you want to eat lamb or any other meat for that matter, prepare to have your pockets full because it will be very hard to find any of it for under $45-$50. If you want to be adventurous and try one of the most famous delicacies, you can eat an entire sheep head. That should help you ‘sheep’ at night…
Must do in Reykjavik:
Walk the streets and window shop. I would say shop, but it cost about $200 for a sweater. Oh, and don’t forget to take home your $15 keychain as a souvenir! All joking aside, Reykjavik has some very pretty streets that are full of restaurants and are very nice to walk through. Just make sure you bring your jacket as there always seems to be a chance of precipitation and it is typically a bit chilly outside.
Make sure you visit the Hallgrímskirkja (no clue what that says either) church as it is very unique and is probably the symbol of Reykjavik. Hallgrímskirkja (yeah… no) is the tallest church in all of Iceland and one of the tallest structures. The very unique shape and structure of the church was built to model the landscapes of Iceland
After you have satisfied your hunger from your long flight and are acclimated to the new time zone, it is time to head out of Reykjavik and to the West or South Coast. You can choose either part to start with as they are similar in distance. I chose the West Coast as a starter point.
Drive to the West Coast to Ólafsvík/Grundarfjörður:
The drive out to the West coast is estimated to take about 3 hours, but I can promise you it will take more time as you are going to want to stop and marvel in the landscape. As you have just landed in Iceland, maybe for the first time, there should be some adrenaline rushing through your veins to get out there and see some of the things you have seen all over Instagram. The drive out to the West Coast is one of the prettiest drives I have ever been on. The drive goes through wide open roads where you won’t see other cars for miles. You basically have the roads all to yourself at moments and really have the opportunity to take everything in. The drive on Highway 1 towards Ólafsvík is full of mountains, coast line, rivers, waterfalls, volcanos, lava fields, sheep, horses, flower fields, etc. Stunning might not be a good enough word to describe it. There are some very good spots to stop on the side of the road. I especially enjoyed the bridge Borgarnes, the small waterfall nearby to Borgarnes, the lava fields, another waterfall I could not find the name of right before you head up into the mountains in Snæfellsnes, and the roads through the unique mountains before heading down into Ólafsvík.
Once you are at the end of your drive, and through the mountains, you can choose to stay in one of two towns, Grundarfjörður and Ólafsvík. Grundarfjörður (pictured below) is the more popular and expensive option because it sits beautifully at
the base of the famous Kirkjufell mountain. No surprise that most people want to stay in this town as the mountain is what originally attracted me to Iceland as well.
Although Grundarfjörður is a beautiful and quiet little town, Ólafsvík (pictured to the left) is a better option. It is much easier to find a place to book and will be cheaper. On top of that, you won’t have as many crowds and is only a 15-20 minute drive away from the Kirkjufell Mountain.
When you arrive to Ólafsvík and your hotel, it is probably a good time to clean up and sleep a bit. You were just on a plane for five or more hours and made a three hour drive. We arrived to the hotel around 9pm and went right to bed with the plan to wake up around 4:00 am. This is the best advantage of the midnight sun. There is light 24/7 and you have to take advantage of it. The reason you should stay in one of these towns on the West Coast is to be able to wake up early enough to beat the crowd to Kirkjufell Mountain.
Day 2: Kirkjufell Mountain and drive back to Reykjavik/ Golden Circle
We arrived to the base of the mountain and the famous Kikjufelfoss (foss means waterfall obviously) around 5:00 am. It was the perfect time to get there as we only encountered 1 other person while there. We had the mountain completely to ourselves without having to fight for a picture or good look. Kirkjufell Mountain is the reason I have always wanted to visit Iceland and it did not let me down. It seems as if it rises out from the Greenland Sea with its lush green grass and a very unique curving and towering shape. Not only is the mountain jutting out in the background, you have the beautiful sound of the Kirkjufelfoss rushing beneath your feet in the foreground. It is a dream spot for a nature or photography lover. I could have spent all day sitting and crying from the beauty, but it was about 35 degrees Fahrenheit and the winds were howling around 20 mph off the ocean so eventually my body felt like it was going to fall apart and it was time to go.
The drive to and from Grundarfjörður from Ólafsvík is not a let down either. You spend the entire drive winding through roads with mountains and waterfalls on one side and the rugged coast line on the other. The area is nothing short of stunning. When you have gotten your fill of the West Coast and have taken enough pictures of the many waterfalls and mountains, it is time to head back towards Reykjavik with a few pit stops of course.
On your way back towards Reykjavik, it is very easy to make your way out to the famous Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is beautiful and has a lot to offer, but I honestly think it is something you can pass up. The Golden Circle is full of people as it is an easy day trip for people only staying Reykjavik, a long layover, or the worst, tour groups. We got the Golden circle after about 3 hours of driving from Ólafsvík and decided to not continue on as we were tired and had already seen so much in the morning that we felt a bit overwhelmed.
What makes Þingvellir National Park very unique is that it is the point where the American and European continental plates touch. You can even book a scuba tour at Silfra to swim between the two plates and literally touch both at the same time. The National Park is also the home of the largest lake in Iceland as well as some historical points where Vikings would have meetings hundreds of years ago. I mostly just enjoyed the Öxarárfoss waterfall, which is no surprise.
The one thing I missed out on in the Golden Circle was the Gulfoss waterfall and some of the Geysers. The Gulfoss falls are massive in size and dump tons of water everyday. Keep in mind that the waterfall is an extra hour away from the National Park itself. I would recommend doing The Golden Circle at night time to get away from all of the tour groups. After you have your fill of the circle it is an easy hour and a half drive from Þingvellir back to Reykjavik to sleep.
Day 3: Reykjavik and The South Coast
Sleep like a baby and relax a little bit in Reykjavik for the day because a midnight sun trip out to the South Coast might be one of the best road trips you ever take. We spent the day relaxing in Reykjavik and were lucky enough to watch Team Iceland play in their first ever World Cup Game against Argentina. Iceland finished the match in a tie with Argentina so naturally the locals were very excited which added for a cool atmosphere through out town.
After relaxing until about 9:00 pm, make your way out the Southern Coast on a gorgeous and unique drive. You will start off the drive by riding through some mountains and lava fields where you can see some smoke coming out of the ground in spots as well as smell the sulfur. Next, you will ride through massive and wide open fields for about an hour. After driving about an hour and a half, you have made it to your first stop.
The Seljalandsfoss waterfall is very unique as it has a cave behind it that gives you the ability to walk behind a waterfall with an incredible view. Visiting this waterfall during the midnight sun is key. You are rewarded with an incredible view of the midnight sun sitting behind the powerful and beautiful waterfall. Not only do you have this incredible view, you have the waterfall to yourself. There is no one around and you are free to do whatever you want. Who knows? Maybe you can even get naked for a picture… 🙂
After you have spent ages having fun at the waterfall and taking some nudes, your next stop will be the Skogafoss waterfall about 30 minutes away. This is another high and towering waterfall that is very unique in its own way as it sits deep in the back of a little alley way between two hills. The waterfall is gorgeous, but what most people don’t take the opportunity to do here is walk up the very steep steps to the right of the waterfall and walk around on one of the most gorgeous hiking trails I have ever seen.
The trail that sits on the top of the Skogafoss waterfall offers views to some very unique valleys and river gorges as well as some smaller waterfalls that are possibly prettier than Skogafoss itself. Not only is the land in the area gorgeous, you can meet some sheep to add some cuteness to the adventure. This is an
amazing place to be during the midnight sun as you can watch the sun rise at 3 am over the mountains and the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano as well as have the area completely to yourself to listen to the sounds of the waterfalls rushing through out the gorges and over cliffs. Hiking this trail is an absolute must do.
After spending a few hours running around a beautiful hiking trail and playing with sheep, it is most likely 4 am and you start to realize you should probably move on to the last stop, Reynisfjara (Black Sands Beach). The beach is about 30 minutes from Skogafoss. After being in quiet valley with trickling sunlight, the drive to Reynisfjara becomes very dark and ominous.
There is no doubt, the beach is kind of creepy, Reynisfjara is dark. The sand is absolutely black, that is not a lie. The rock structures that jet out of the ocean make you feel like you’re in a spot where a viking brought you to die. The winds come in howling off the freezing Greenland Sea right in your face and the pull of the current makes the beach one of the more dangerous in the world. Don’t get in the water. The next stop is Antarctica and you’re going to be frozen alive quickly after falling down in the pounding waves. I’m not trying to make the beach sound scary, that’s just the reality of it. That is what makes it so gorgeous. It is unique and feels like an alien world.
When your finished freezing your butt off at the beach and realizing it is now 5:00 in the morning, it is probably time to make the drive back to Reykjavik. It should take about two and a half hours, that is if you don’t stop on the side of the road to see more gorgeous valleys of flower fields with beautiful mountains in the back ground or the Sólheimajökull glacier…
Side note: The better option for sleep after this trip is to stay in Vik for the night which is a small town next to Reynisfjara beach, but I decided to just stay back in Reykjavik because why not?
Day 4: Blue Lagoon
You should arrive back to Reykjavik in the early morning where it is time to sleep your little midnight sun road trip off through out the morning and early afternoon. Your next and final destination in your 4 day midnight sun trip of Iceland is to the world famous, Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most popular tourist destination and for good reason. I was a little bit hesitant on going to the Blue Lagoon at first because I knew it would be full of people and a ticket is about $90, but it is very worth it.
If you know you’re going to Iceland, book a trip to the Blue Lagoon on-line as early as possible. I was able to book mine the day before, but it made it a little bit more expensive and forced me to go later in the night, but that was fine with me. You want to make sure you have a time booked for the lagoon so you have a guaranteed entry. Too many people miss out on getting in because they only let a certain amount of people into the lagoon each hour. You can book three different packages for the lagoon. I booked the basic that came with entry, towels, free mud masks, and one drink of your choice. Keep in mind, the Blue Lagoon is a full out spa as the waters have different minerals and vitamins full of healing powers to help your skin.
Once you enter the Blue Lagoon, you are free to stay until closing time Although, 2-3 hours is the perfect amount of time as the heat from the hot springs will begin to make you feel exhausted or light headed if you stay in the waters too long. When you enter the lagoon, you are asked to shower to clean yourself. After showering, the Blue Lagoon is yours to enjoy. It is full of people relaxing, taking pictures, drinking, putting on mud masks, etc. It is a very unique experience and one that is unforgettable. It is really cool to feel the cold wind blowing all over your mud mask covered face while the rest of your body is under some of the most comfortable and relaxing waters on the planet. DO NOT visit Iceland without a trip to the Blue Lagoon! It is expensive, but it is well worth the money!
After four days driving around the Southern part of Iceland, it is sadly time to leave. In four days you can do so much, but it will also feel like so little as there is so much to see in this beautiful country. Iceland is on many peoples “lists” for good reason. It feels like another planet. The landscapes cannot be seen anywhere else on Earth. In just a 20 minute drive, you can pass through 5 completely different landscapes from mountains to beaches and waterfalls to lava fields. It is no doubt out of this world and truly follows the phrase, “You need to see it to believe it”. I highly recommend Iceland to anyone as well as visiting during the midnight sun season and taking advantage of exploring through the night. Get away from the crowds and get out there!!!
Midnight Sun in Reykjavik
Some small notes on a road trip in Iceland:
Gas is very expensive and can cost up to $100 or more for a full tank. Be careful!
Food is very expensive and it can be very difficult to find a grocery store outside of Reykjavik. Bulk up on snacks if you’re in it for the long haul.
Flights to Iceland are very cheap out of many cities through out the year. I got mine for $300 round trip out of New York!!!
The roads are incredibly fun to drive on
Eat Skyr all day or you will be poor
Don’t buy liquor. If you want alcohol bring it with you or buy it at the airport when you land!!! Bottles of rum out of all things cost well over $60. Yeah, good joke.
EXPLORE! Skip the tour groups! Explore on your own time!
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Enjoy the video!