I am absolutely in love with Iceland. I haven't made this a secret, so people ask me about it a lot. I decided to put all the recommendations in one place. Hopefully it's helpful!
I've only been to one part of the West Fjords, and stayed in the town of Stykkishólmur. I drove from the airport, included a lot of exploring out of the way, and it was about a 4-5 hour drive. There are many beautiful areas in this fjord, and I've only heard wonderful things about the one north of it as well. Hótel Fransiskus Stykkishólmi is a great, affordable option in this area. It's an old hospital, but central in town, clean and cheap. Skurinn is great for a bite. Búðakirkja is the church shown below.
Akureyri is the 2nd largest 'city' in Iceland. It still feels pretty tiny. Akureyri Fish & Chips might be the best I've ever had. Akureyrarkirkja is the church overlooking the city, which was designed by the same man who designed the very famous Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik. It's a fun little area to explore, with the Christmas Garden about a 10 minute drive away. Though I haven't done them, I've heard good things about the whale watching tours out of Akureyri. And the drive FROM Akureyri to the east on Ring Road, is quite stunning.
More beautiful things to see. Goðafoss, closer to Akureyri, to the east, is an amazing waterfall with some pretty cool history. On this particular trip, I stopped in Seydisfjordur to break up a long driving day, and FELL IN LOVE. Though it was a quick visit, it's one of my top favorite spots in Iceland. An adorably welcoming and quaint town, they have great food, adorable shops, and fantastic landscapes. The drive here is only about 20 minutes off of Ring Road, and up the mountain ranges, and back down into Seydisfjordur is worth it on it's own. Visit Kaffi Lara or Norð Sushi for lunch, and stop in the GULLABÚIÐ boutique.
the south - Höfn + surrounding areas
One of my favorite life experiences happened in this part of the world. If you're here in the winter, PLEASE BOOK A GLACIER HIKE. It wasn't cheap, but was absolutely worth every penny. We went with Iceguide.IS, and I also booked my summer iceberg kayak tour with them. They were absolutely fantastic on both occasions.
Hofn is a great fishing town, treat yourself to some langoustine (Icelandic lobster, freshly caught) at Pakkhus.
Stokksnes (the awesome mountains behind me in the first photo) are about a 10 minute drive from town. The drive itself is on the old ring road, and you pull up to a fake viking cafe. There is an entry fee (for both Sokksnes and the unused viking set for a film that you can walk through) but it's worth it.
You also get fantastic views of the Vatnajökull glacier that seeps through the mountains. About an hour drive West on the South Coast is Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which is an awesome site to behold. The water from this lagoon goes out to Diamond Beach, which has broken pieces of icebergs on black sand. I'd say this area of Iceland is a can't miss.
THE SOUTH - VIK + SURROUNDING AREAS
About an hour east of Vik is Fjaðrárgljúfur. It is an incredible canyon that is ridiculously easy to get to. You can make it more of a hike, or park and walk to see the opening. Regardless, I highly recommend it, because it's beautiful.
The famous black beach you ALWAYS see in photos is in Vik. There's a great cafe at the restaurant to the beach. Grab a cup of coffee a piece of Skyr Volcano cake.
In Vik, there's also a huge store called Icewear. There are way smaller locations in Reykjavik, but I'd recommend doing a lot of your souvenir shopping here. They also have a great cafe on location. For another food option, there's a great brewery called Smidjan.
Skógafossis a beautiful waterfall that you can walk straight up to, right off of ring road, about 20 minutes West of Vik. If there's sun, there will be rainbow and it'll be magical. You can camp on the grounds, and there's also a hostel and hotel, literally seconds away.
THE SOUTH - REYKJAVIK + SURROUNDING AREAS
Ironically, I've never done the official Golden Circle, so I can't speak to that. BUT I did go snorkeling between the tectonic plates with Dive.Is, and they were fantastic. It's very cold (I went in Summer), so just mentally prepare. You wear tons of gear which helps significantly.
Another close jaunt from Reykjavik is the Blue Lagoon. I'd recommend going either pre or post airport. We went when we arrived. MAKE A RESERVATION AHEAD OF TIME. Also, if you show up early, if there aren't lines, they might let you in before your scheduled time. Ladies, slather that hair with conditioner ahead of time, and try not to let it get wet. I'd definitely recommend going to experience it, but I will say from my personal experience, I think it's a one-and-done kind of adventure.
Reykjavik is great. It holds 2/3 of Iceland's population and still feels like a small city to me, (blame New York) but I love it. Walk down Laugarásvegur, grab a hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, grab a coffee from Reykjavik Roasters on your way to Hallgrímskirkja church (the bakery across the street from Reykjavik Roasters is fantastic too)... Try the fermented shark just to say you tried it, get the Icelandic Christmas Cake if you can find it because it is the best. Just explore!
For accommodations, Kex Hostel is a hot spot, that's relatively center to a lot of the action. I'd say that anything within walking distance of Hallgrímskirkja church puts you pretty close to the center of town.
1. Yes, it's expensive. Just plan for it. Many hotels and hostels provide breakfast. Eat out for lunch or dinner. Go to the market (Bonus and Netto tend to be the cheapest) otherwise. Bring protein bars. You'll be good.
2. DO NOT JUST STAY IN REYKJAVIK. If you do this I will cry. I really like Reykjavik, but it might be my least favorite part of Iceland. It's such a beautiful country, and you'd miss out on so much.
3. Northern Lights 'season' is September - April. Midnight Sun is June/July. Know the season you're going in. Don't go in the winter JUST for the Northern Lights, as there is no way to guarantee you'll see them. Think of them as a happy cherry on top. Also, as an FYI The Northern Lights will not be as bright as you've seen in photos. (Below is an example of that.). They are INCREDIBLE to see in real life, but most of those photos are taking professionally OR taken with a long exposure.
4. Yes, you need a power converter (Europlug, 2 round prongs). No, you don't need to convert your money as everyone accepts credit cards. Yes, everyone speaks English.
5. If road tripping, try not to ever let your gas tank go below half. It'll save you stress when you're driving for an hour+ and haven't seen anything.
6. ICELANDIC HORSES! They are everywhere, and so cute. Feel free to pull over and say hello. They are super friendly and love when people pull over and say hello. Just don't feed them, their owners don't love that.