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Graduation trip! Advice on 12 night itinerary in May

My husband & I decided only last month (March) to surprise our daughter with a college graduation trip to Iceland! I panicked after seeing on this forum that so many plan 1 year in advance. However, I was able to find and reserve the most important piece, lodging (mostly Airbnb).

  • We are a family of 4 w/our daughter (22) and son (19) traveling in mid-May. We're so excited to see this beautiful country for ourselves!
  • My daughter & I outlined our itinerary preferring to do the Ring Road counter-clockwise, deciding to hit the more crowded south while we have the energy level (and patience) to deal with crowds
  • Our itinerary includes 3 nights at the end of our trip in Snaefellsnes where we can explore but also relax before we head back home
  • We are taking snacks (granola and protein bars, tuna packets, almonds, etc) and plan to get a few other groceries so that we can limit eating out for breakfast and lunch but then splurge on dinners out
  • We don't want to visit Blue Lagoon, but hope to fit in another thermal bath, such as Voks or Hvammsvik (prefer one that has at least a few private showers)

Day 1
Arrive, pickup rental car (Lotus), check in to Freya Guesthouse, explore Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja Church (top floor closed), shop, get groceries for next few days, dinner options include Skal! (in food hall), Messinn and/or Icelandic Street Food

Day 2
Snorkeling at Silfra (reserved), explore Thingvallier rift valley, Thorufoss Waterfall, Öxarárfoss, Kerid Crater, Geysir (optional), dinner reservations at Ingólfsskáli Viking Restaurant, sleep at AirBnB Arabær Holiday Home

Day 3
Ægissíðufoss Waterfall, Skógafoss Waterfall and/or Kvernufoss Waterfall, Reynisfjara Beach (and Gardar), dinner at Smiðjan Brugghús in Vik, sleep at Guesthouse Carina, also p/u groceries for breakfasts/lunches in Vik

Day 4
Revisit Black Beach if didn't have time, Gígjagjá (optional, may need 4x4), Fjaðrárgljúfur and Mogafoss waterfalls, Múlagljúfur Canyon, Diamond Beach, pick up dinner Nailed It Fish and Chips (check hours), sleep at Fagranes Guesthouse 

Day 5
Glacier hike (reserved) and possibly Fjallsárlón Iceberg Boat Tours (did not reserve so playing this by ear), Diamond Beach, more exploring if there's time (Múlagljúfur Canyon, Fjallsjökull, Skaftafell), dinner at Jon Riki (check if open), sleep at Lækjarhus Farm Holidays

Day 6
Stop on the way as time allows: Viking Village Prop for Movies (I know this may be cheesy but the kids want to go) and walk around Stoksnes (plus lighthouse), Fauskasandur black sand beach, Nykurhylsfoss (optional), fishing town of Djúpivogur (optional), hike around Hallormsstadhur forest (not sure if there will be time for this), dinner at Askur Pizzeria, Voks Bath (optional), sleep at Vinland Guesthouse in Egilsstaðir

Day 7
Rjúkandi Waterfall, Stuðlagil Canyon and Stuðlafoss Waterfall, Detifoss Waterfall, Selfoss Waterfall, dinner at Vogafjós Farm Resort (kitchen closes at 8), sleep at Slow Travel Mývatn

Day 8
Explore Myvatn area (Lava field Dimmuborgir, Hverfjall, Grjótagjá optional, Hverir), Viti Crater (optional), Gothafoss Waterfall, dinner in Akureyri, sleep at Airbnb in Akureyri. Another option is to cut down the time in Myvatn so we can visit Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi Brewery (north of Akureyri) as my husband likes beer and would be fun to check out Iceland's first brewery.

Day 9
Head to Snaefellsnes Peninsula for 3 nights at Tanginn Airbnb. This is the longest drive of the trip but then we'll have plenty of time to slow down, relax and explore the peninsula (Kirkjufell, the Black Church at Budir, Snaefellsjokull National Park, etc) and maybe take a ferry to West Fjords or do the Viking Sushi Tour. Dinner at Sjávarpakkhúsið and/or Skipper.

Day 12
Head to Reykjavik for shopping and last night at Freyja Guesthouse, dinner options include Skal! (in food hall), Messinn and/or Icelandic Street Food

Thank you!

Posted by
76 posts

You have a wonderfully ambitious plan. It looks great to me. But I would suggest maybe prioritizing things just in case you don't have time to do everything you hope in one day. For example, I hoped to explore Thingvallier, Gullfoss, Kerid Crater, and Geysir with lunch at Friðheimar in one day. There just wasn't enough time (granted, I was traveling with my elderly mother who moves very slowly and I like to just stop and look for long lengths of time and try to remember all five senses to make a deep impression in my mind). We ended up skipping Kerid.

Back to prioritizing. When I too both my mom and daughter to England, I had both of them (and me) pick three top three things. So we made sure we got all nine top three in the trip. That might be something you can use too so that everyone walks away feeling like they got to do and see what they wanted to do and see.

I think you are wise to find ways to skip breakfast. When I was there, it seemed like the other meals where worth the price, but breakfasts were overpriced for what they were. I ate at Icelandic Street Food, it was a great value for what you get (I had fish stew).

I am not sure if you are interested in a man-made lagoon or not, but Sky Lagoon in Reykjavik was wonderful and they have an option for private dressing rooms. I don't think their seven step ritual is worth the extra cost, but I don't regret paying for it either (I would just probably never do it again).

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you @CAE for your suggestions. Yes, we need to prioritize all the things! As much as I want to cover several places each day, realistically our family typically can do two big things per day, but there's so much to see in Iceland. ;-)

Glad to hear you liked Icelandic Street Food. So many great food options in Reykjavik.

I'll be sure to check out Sky Lagoon. I also have Vok Baths as another option.

Thanks again!

Posted by
2215 posts

I’ll write my later, but I’m at the airport and only have my phone so it’s a tad harder:)

Overall this looks good. We have been 6 times, with our 7th trip coming ip soon. When we did the ring road we also had 12 nights and had our 3 adult kids with us (in their 20’s)skal!, Ingolfsskali, Messinn, and Vogafjos were all excellent. Skipper was just ok. We are opting for a different restaurant for this trip.

I would suggest buying items for breakfast and self cater. We bought skyr(sooo good!), fruit and some form of bread or pastry and that worked great. Very affordable as well.

You should be able to see a bit of the Westfjords. The roads up there are rough so I would opt for a 4WD/AWD as those tend to have higher clearances. We don’t 10 days up there last summer and were very happy we opted for a 4x4.

On your way back down do not miss Hvammsvik. It is hands down our favorite commercial hot spring and we try to experience as many as we can on every trip, FWIW.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you @mikliz97! 6 times?! Wow that’s incredible. Any other tips for traveling with adult kids? Also, I’m taking crampons in case there’s ice, especially around waterfalls in the north. Is that a possibility in May?

Thanks for the restaurant recommendations, I’ll definitely check them out!

Hvammsvik Is on my list but glad to hear you recommend it.

Our rental car was approved for the highlands so I think if we decide to go to Westfjords then we should be good.

Our trip is coming up soon and I’m getting nervous about the weather. Especially if roads in the north close due to snow. Not sure what we’d do and if Airbnbs will issue a refund. I guess it’s all an adventure!

Posted by
2215 posts

Yes, Iceland is absolutely amazing and you will see why we keep returning;) Our son has been twice and our daughter has been 4 times.

Crampons are for glacier hikes and mountain climbing, so you don't need those. Normally Yaktrax is what one may need in the winter, but even that I would not bother bringing for a May trip. Just have good hiking boots with a rugged sole.

Good to hear about the rental car:)

Normally, if roads close the rentals are good about letting you stay put since the next guest can't get there anyway. The odds are in your favor though for weather and time of year, but you are smart to think about a plan b.

The one thing that is a bit harder with adult kids is that it just takes longer to get out the door each morning. What we did was the guys usually showered at night, so that saved time in the morning. We did a lot of compromising as my husband and I are early to bed but very early to rise, and the kids are opposite. So having the cottages was perfect for that. We tried to make it so that every few days we had very lazy mornings, so the kids didn't feel like they had to be up and moving earlier than they liked every day. Having breakfast items on hand in the cottages also worked great since it saved money, but was also just easier than all trying to go to a restaurant. Having coffee and skyr while lounging on the couch or sitting on the porch was so relaxing.

You have the right mindset with it being ad adventure! I am excited for your family!

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you @mikliz97 for the tips! It's funny that my husband is the only early riser in our family, but we all adjust when on trips. We definitely want to get the most out of each day but balanced with enjoying the unexpected moments and family time. Which means we won't get to do everything I planned in my itinerary and that just means we'll have to return! We also have 2 nights in Hofn and then 3 nights in Stykkishólmur to help catch our breath.

I said crampons but they're really the Yaktrax spikes I planned to take. So you don't think it will be icy in May? That'll save us some room in our luggage.

I'm nervous and excited! Thanks again and happy traveling!

Posted by
2215 posts

TT--No, I would not bring those. I only take them for late fall and winter trips. If weather turns, you can buy those at the gas stations. The gas stations are not like here, they have food (good too!), fishing poles, gloves/hats, ice cleats (Yaktrax style), you name it.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks again @mikliz97!

I'd heard that the gas stations have good food but it's hard to believe. Glad to know we have access to quick snacks during our road trip. Weather forecast is looking like rain most of our trip but I hope the sun makes an appearance occasionally. Wish us luck!

Posted by
2215 posts

TT--Do not worry about the forecast yet, those are only good there about a day in advance. Plan for everything and anything;) I know, gas station food at home would never be considered, but over there it is quite good!