Southern Iceland is the most accessible part of the country. There are plenty of gorgeous sights and incredible experiences to be had. I was lucky enough to spend six days road tripping around the area visiting famous places like Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and Jökulsárlón. Read on for more of the perfect southern Iceland itinerary.
Day One: Reykjavik
Opinions on the value of city passes vary widely, with some people viewing them as tourist scams and others seeing them as huge savings. When I was planning my visit to Paris, I did a lot of research into the options available and decided against the city passes I saw offered and instead bought just the two-day museum passes. The transportation, cruise, and Eiffel Tower add-ons that come with the city passes didn’t provide nearly the same value as the museum passes alone did based on our travel plans.
Are they right for you?
I absolutely fell in love with the little town called Arromanches-les-Bains, near what was code named Gold Beach. It’s an incredible combination of natural beauty and history. You can walk on the same beach that Allied troops stormed on D-Day and marvel at the remnants of the war that still line the shore more than 70 years later.
Dawn on the beach
The next morning was when the excitement really kicked in. I got to watch the sky light up over the beach with the remnants of the mulberry harbor while the rest of the family got ready. It was fascinating thinking about the fact that men were storming the beaches at dawn in almost this exact spot on the morning of D-Day. Our room was located directly in front of one of the largest remaining pieces and it was very cool to get to see the breakwaters further out appear along the horizon as day broke.
We wanted to hit the ruins at low tide so we could really explore them, so we headed straight out to the beach without eating breakfast. I was very glad we did because within a few hours, a lot of the ruins were submerged and the rest had enough water around them that we wouldn’t have been able to see them up close had we waited.
Even though I was in AP History and have read extensively about WWII, I had somehow never heard of the Mulberries until I began planning this trip. Now I’m thoroughly fascinated with the ingenuity that sparked them. The D-Day landing sites were chosen for surprise – the Allies wanted locations that the Germans wouldn’t expect them. Since ports and harbors were the most valuable, the Germans had those heavily fortified with mines and men.
The Allied leaders knew that they would have to find a way to supply the troops that landed on the beaches until they could capture one of the harbors on the French coast. In order to do this, they devised the ingenious mulberry harbors – artificial ports that could be used to offload reinforcements and supplies. Giant concrete breakwaters were towed across the English Channel and sunk along with some decommissioned ships to protect the harbor, and floating docks and bridges that were designed to rise and fall with the tide were installed and used to offload thousands of men and supplies for the growing Allied landing force. They were supposed to be built at Omaha and Gold beaches, but a bad storm blew through before they could be finished, and the one at Omaha was so thoroughly destroyed that the Allies abandoned it only the Gold Beach mulberry was used. The idea of “hey, we need a harbor here, so let’s just build one and tow it across the Channel” is mind-blowing to me.
We strolled back along the sea wall, enjoying the view and posing for pictures. We were pretty cold by that point thanks to the wind and were in need of some hot beverages and a breakfast that ideally involved a lot of pastries.
Musee du Debarquement
Around the back of the museum, we found a piece of one of the mulberry bridges that had been moved to replace a damaged bridge over a nearby river for over 50 years. After that bridge was decommissioned in 2004, the span was returned to Arromanches-les-Bains to be displayed.
After a few minutes of souvenir shopping and some more sea wall pictures, we hit the road to continue our tour of Normandy.
Where to stay
We had some trouble finding our hotel – Hotel de la Marine – because it turned out to be off of a pedestrian only zone which greatly confused our GPS. We ended up dropping my brother off nearby and he went in search of the hotel. Their website says they don’t offer parking, but they actually have a few hidden spots that you have to drive through the pedestrian zone and along the sea wall to get to. We were lucky that it was an off-season, and I wouldn’t count on getting one during the busier summers. The parking area was tiny and pulling in and out of the spaces required quite a few back and forth passes. Getting to drive along the sea wall was kind of neat though, even if it was only for a couple hundred feet.
We were absolutely thrilled with the location of the hotel. It would be the perfect spot for a summer visit with its location right along the sea wall. We almost didn’t find it because we were doing all of our bookings through Expedia and it’s not listed on there. It wasn’t until I tried a search on Booking.com that I located it. I would strongly recommend doing searches on multiple websites to make sure you find everything available because no search engine is comprehensive. We had to have two separate rooms because they could only accommodate two people in each room, but the staff made sure we were right next to each other. We even lucked out with a killer view of the beach.
The hotel had a nice restaurant that we chose for dinner, largely because there didn’t appear to be much else open in town. It seemed expensive, but that was because we hadn’t had any other meals in France yet. (I’m not counting lunch at McDonald’s.) In hindsight, it was pretty much on par with the prices we paid elsewhere in France, and I’ve come to the conclusion that food just costs a fortune there. I ordered a creamy pasta dish that I didn’t particularly care for, but everyone else seemed quite pleased with their food. We split a bottle of wine and toasted to the start of another grand adventure.
The rooms themselves were decent – tiny by American standards, but on par with most places I’ve stayed at in Europe. There was some trouble with the glass around the shower in the room I stayed in that resulted in water leaking all over the bathroom floor, but my brother and sister in the room next door reported no issues with theirs. My only real complaint was the fact that the long curtains covered the radiator so we had to choose between having the room warm, having it dark, or having it both warm and dark until the curtains caught fire. We chose warmth sans fire.
Read more about Normandy:
We landed in Paris early in the morning – I am a huge fan of overnight flights when heading east – and grabbed a rental car and hit the road to drive up to Normandy. I’m a big history buff and I’m particularly interested in World War II because my grandpa fought in the European Theater. We sort of inadvertently ended up following in some of his footsteps on this trip, which made it even more interesting than it would’ve been otherwise.
Our first stop was, embarrassingly, a McDonald’s we found along the highway. I’m normally very opposed to eating at places like that when overseas, but we were starving and needed something fast if we were going to get to do anything in Normandy that afternoon. We did enjoy the novelty of getting to order a “McBeer” with our combo meals though. American readers will be happy to know that Mickey D’s chicken nuggets taste the same in France as they do back home.
We once again hit the road and made it to Caen, a city whose pronunciation we debated until finally looking it up on Youtube. None of us had been right. Though our stated purpose for visiting Normandy was to see WWII attractions, our first stop on vacation was a step much, much further back in history. We were going to see the Abbey where William the Conqueror’s tomb is located.
Admission to the abbey was free, and there was also a small art exhibition going on in one of the wings. We wandered through the cloister for a few minutes before setting out to actually enter the main building. In order to get inside, we had to walk back out the front entrance we had come in through and go all the way around the outside of the church until we found a tiny, unmarked door. We would’ve missed it if another group of people hadn’t exited as we were walking by.
William the Conqueror’s tomb was right in the center of the altar, though I found out later that his body isn’t actually there anymore. It was evidently removed during religious wars in the 1500s and all but one thigh bone was lost.
After we finished wandering inside the abbey, we walked over to another church we had spotted on the way in. It was called Eglise Saint Etienne-le-vieux and had been heavily damaged by bombs during WWII and you could see the striking remains from quite a distance away. The main tower still stands, but much of the rest of the building lies in ruins. The proximity to the main abbey that survived the war really drove home the randomness of the destruction that the war brought as the opposing armies battled across the continent.
A little further down the road, we stopped at the Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie in Bayeux. It was starting to get late, so we only had about an hour and a half to see everything. The museum had a lot of army vehicles and uniforms that were used in the battle, but I wouldn’t consider it a must-do. One of the cooler things was an old mobile radio truck that could be used to monitor communications from anywhere on the battlefield. I also liked seeing a tank crew uniform because my grandpa was part of a tank crew and I’ve seen pictures of him dressed the same way.
We stayed until close and then once again hopped in the rental car to continue our journey to our hotel for the night.
Read more about our trip to France, Belgium, and Luxembourg:
- Why Any History Buff Needs to Visit Arromanches-les-Bains
- What to See in American Normandy
- Disneyland Paris – Sequoia Lodge
- Disneyland Paris – Disney Village
- Disneyland Paris – Walt Disney Studios
- Disneyland Paris – Disneyland Park
- The Best Time to Visit the Eiffel Tower
- An Evening on the Seine
- Should You Buy a Paris Museum Pass?