It’s hard to articulate what Iceland really feels like. Everything is alive. There are bubbling springs, colorful rainbows, endless waterfalls, active geysers, and a landscape so vast within minutes of starting your road trip you will feel like you have been transported to another world.
A lot of people visit Iceland during winter months to catch the elusive Northern Lights but we opted for the fringe month of October (and we STILL got to see the Northern Lights!) But of course, you can also visit during the summer when the sun almost never sets. Having access to the “midnight sun” can be a perfect companion for driving the 830-mile Ring Road that circles Iceland.
The adage ‘the journey matters more than the destination’ is nowhere truer than in Iceland. We spent long days driving around the country and slept side-by-side in a campervan. It wasn’t always glamorous, but hey, that’s what makes it an adventure!
Day 1: Renting a Car for Your Iceland Roadtrip
As soon as our flight landed at Keflavik Airport, we headed straight to pick up our bags and then to get our pre-booked campervan with Go Campers. We also made sure to include the necessary camping add-ons (cooking tools, sleeping bags, etc).
Sleep: We recommend either spending your first night in/around the Keflavik Airport or get a head start and drive towards Reykjavik. Make sure you stock up on groceries at one of the large supermarkets in this area because there aren’t too many of them once you set out on your drive.
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Our road trip began by exploring the famed Golden Circle. The Thingvellir National Park, the site of the ancient Icelandic Parliament, is the first stop on this day. But what fascinated us more was the fact that the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet at the Thingvellir National Park. The rift is clearly visible and you can actually cross over from one continent to the other.
Next up, the hot-springs area of Iceland. The original Geysir, after which all other geysers of the world are named, is dormant but there are a number of hot springs and geysers in the area. Make sure you wait for Strokkur, the highest Geysir in the area, to erupt while you are there.
The third attraction on the Golden Circle Tour is the Gullfoss Waterfall. There are no shortages of waterfalls in Iceland and each is more beautiful than the next. Wrap up today’s drive with stops at a couple of other waterfalls – Skogafoss or Seljalandsfoss. It’s even possible to take a walk behind Seljalandsfoss really take in its beauty.
Sleep – Sleep at the base of Skógafoss. Though it was a chilly (and windy) night, there was nothing cooler than waking up to a view of this gigantic waterfall.
Day 3: Glacier Hike and Plane Wreck
We spent this day pursuing something straight out of our wildest dreams. We went hiking on the Sólheimajökull Glacier with Arctic Adventures.
The guides got us prepared with all the necessary gear (helmets, crampons, etc). The next four hours were spent hiking on the gorgeous blue ice of the glacier. We think that this is a must-do for everyone’s trip to Iceland. Make sure you’re wearing warm waterproof clothes because it rains over 200 days/year in this area!
After the glacier hike, drive about 5 minutes down the Ring Road and park because it’s time for another hike (this time on flat land). Though you might be tired, the sight you will see will be worth it. Here you will find the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. It is an abandoned plane that crashed back in 1973 and you’ll definitely get your Instagram fix.
Sleep – Drive about another 2 hours and camp at the Skaftafell Campgrounds at Vatnajokull National Park.
Day 4: Vatnajokull National Park, Jökulsárlón, and the Eastern Fjords
We started our day at the campground and got our blood circulating by hiking up to another gorgeous waterfall named Svartifoss. The hiking trail to the waterfall is a quick, about 2 miles, and starts at the visitor center. Make sure to stop along the way because you’ll see many opportunities to snap some photos.
Pack up the van and start heading towards 2 glacier lagoons. The first, Fjallsárlón, is smaller but had some pretty amazing panoramic views. But for us, the highlight of the drive on Day 4 was the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. It is one of Iceland’s most visited landmarks and a necessary stop on this road trip. There are a number of floating icebergs at this huge lagoon that is surrounded by black volcanic sand. Here is where you can truly understand why Iceland is called “The Land of Fire and Ice.”
Hop back on the road and hit up the little fishing town known as, Hófn. They’re known for their langoustine (lobster) so treat yourselves and devour it along with some local beer made with glacier ice and Arctic thyme. Delicious.
Now prepare to wrap they say with a 4+ hour drive through the Eastern Fjörds. For us, the end of this drive got a little sketchy when we hit gravel roads winding around cliffs and sheep crossing the road at every turn. But we survived! (Note from Michael: Huge potholes, sheep darting across the road in complete darkness, and me at the helm. Good practice on the stick shift. Tara has eagle eyes and yelled out “sheep!!!” As I slammed on the brakes barely missing 2 sheep and a black ewe.) The adventure never ends!
Sleep: After a long day, set up camp in Egilsstadir (known as the capital of East Iceland). Make sure to bundle up because this was easily the coldest night of our trip.
Day 5: North Iceland and Myvatn
Wake up early and hit the road to start the long drive from East Iceland to the North and as one friend put it, the “Lake Tahoe of Iceland.” Fill up your gas tank before heading out (trust us).
Lake Myvatn is the 4th largest lake in Iceland, it is said to have more species of ducks than anywhere else in the world. It was about a 140 km drive from the last gas station in Egilsstadir to Myvatn, and we only had a half tank of gas. We also took a detour to Detifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe (although not as visually stunning as Gullfoss in our opinion). When we visited, a storm rolled in. This will likely be a recurring theme for your time in Northern Iceland, as well. Because of the crazy weather, we hoofed it 10 minutes to the waterfall, took our selfies, and attempted to absorb the natural beauty in the least amount of time possible. And then we hightailed it back to the car!
At this point, you will start a whirlwind tour of stops around the Myvatn area. Hit up the geothermal plant and visit the Viti volcano that has a lake in the middle. Walk around boiling mud pots, sulfur springs, and fumaroles that featured turquoise mud and an intense smell of millions of rotten eggs called Hverir.
Finish off your evening at the Myvatn Nature Baths. This luxury geothermal spa has panoramic views of the lake and surrounding area. Plus, it’s much less touristy than the famed Blue Lagoon. We spent about two hours here relaxing and soaking in the hot springs while indulging in some craft Icelandic beer.
Sleep – Camp in the Myvatn area.
Day 6: Dimmuborgir
After camping on the lake for the night, wake early for a day of hiking. Spend the morning hiking around Dimmuborgir. Dimmuborgir is home to the Yule Lads (13 mischievous trolls who torment children for 13 days before Christmas). Thousands of years ago it was a lake that was covered in lava from the nearby volcano. As air pockets escaped, spires of lava were formed, leaving a really dramatic hiking experience through 20-foot high lava towers. It felt like Grendel’s home from Beowulf.
After Dimmuborgir, visit the geothermal hot spring where they filmed a scene from Game of Thrones. It was the location where Ygritte deflowers Jon Snow. Then get those legs ready to hike about 90 minutes to the top of a nearby volcano. Once you’re at the top, you can also walk the rim.
Once it’s time to rest your legs, hop back in the van and head to Husavik, a famous whaling town in Iceland (about 45 minutes north of Myvatn). Grab some food at a local restaurant and book a whale watching tour for the following day.
Sleep: In Husavik
Days 7 & 8: Husavik and Akureyri
Get up early for a morning of whale watching. Unfortunately, we had such bad weather and our whale watching tour was canceled. But we have heard this is not to be missed so book if you can!
After the whale watching tour, it’s time to head towards Akureyri. We decided to treat ourselves and book a cabin for a couple of days after a week of living in a camper van. And boy was it worth it! On our first night, it was storming, but our cabin had its own personal geothermal spa on the deck, shielded from wind and rain. We enjoyed a few glasses of wine from our spa as we looked out on the rocky bluffs and snow-capped mountains. This area is so picturesque, with open green fields and a white farmhouse with red roofing. We have one more night here before hitting the road for the final 2 nights of our driving tour.
Sleep: Sleep in the Akureyri area. We slept at Ytri Vik cottages (heaven on Earth). This is a good place to stock up on groceries for the remaining duration of your road trip because Akureyri has quite a few large supermarkets and restaurants.
Days 9 & 10: West Iceland and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Snaefellsnes Peninsula is a fairly long drive away from Akureyri. A majority of our ninth day was spent driving through snow-clad roads, gurgling streams, and woodlands. This route is lined with idyllic fjords – Grundarfjörður (a small town that even the orcas love to visit in winters) is so peaceful that it deserves a mention on any itinerary of Iceland.
We spent Day 10 driving around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Make a stop and go for a short hike up the Saxholl Crater. This is a fun walk but it can get pretty windy, so be extremely careful. Next up, visit the Hellnar Arch, a natural rock formation comprised of basalt sheets. The rock arches over a lagoon and it is populated with dozens of screeching birds. Have a meal/coffee/beer at the cafe right opposite the Hellnar Arch as you soak in the beautiful views.
Another option for food is the Kirkjufell mountain. This famous mountain is the highlight of a drive around the Snaefellsnes area. Pack a picnic and enjoy it next to the waterfall by the Kirkjufell mountain. So idyllic!
Sleep – Sleep in the Snaefellsnes/Grundarfjörður area.
Days 11 – 14: Reykjavik
Now it’s time to head back to Reykjavik. This can be bittersweet at the end of your long Icelandic road trip. While you have access to more restaurants and overall civilization, there is something to be missed about the adventure of the open road.
We made the most of our time in the capital by going out to dinners (we recommend treating yourself to a meal at Kopar), reading at coffee shops (we love Reykjavik Roasters) and of course, visiting the famed Blue Lagoon. But the most memorable part of this trip was getting Dry Suit (scuba) certified!
We have been scuba certified for some time now and absolutely love doing it whenever we travel. So Iceland was not any different (except for how FREEZING the water is). So we decided to get Dry Suit certified with DIVE.IS. The course consisted of a pool dive and two open water dives in Silfra, meaning you get to dive between the tectonic plates that separate Europe and America! This was a truly memorable experience and we are happy we did it, but man, I don’t think we’ve ever been so cold in our lives! So remember to keep that in mind if you’re thinking about giving it a shot!
Sleep: We stayed at a local Airbnb while we were in Reykjavik but we noticed quite a few hotels being built while we were here. So be sure to check out what makes the most sense for your budget.
As you can tell by the length of this post, we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent in Iceland. As seasoned travelers, we often get asked what our favorite country is and truthfully he dread that question because we have been to so many amazing places. But if we are being honest, this has to be one of the best trips we have ever taken. Even though it is getting more and more touristy, if you’re contemplating a trip to Iceland – go for it!.