In October 2017, we decided to return to Iceland after an amazing whirlwind trip in 2015.
However, this time we were determined to travel around the whole country via the ring road, rather than not venturing much further than Reykjavik. We hired a Dacia Duster 4×4 , loaded the boot up with cases and enough gadgets to make MI5 jealous and headed off on the ULTIMATE 8-day road trip.
Keep reading for our full itinerary and useful information to make your trip as COOL as possible 😉
We took an early morning flight from London Gatwick, arriving at chilly Keflavik airport by 10am local time. After grabbing our bags we jumped on the shuttle bus just outside of the arrivals hall to Geysir Car Rentals. We used Geysir for car hire during our previous trip and found them to be very reasonably priced without any hidden premiums for young drivers. Again, we had a very good experience with them with easy pick up/drop off and a very helpful representative who gave us a discount fuel card to use at Olis petrol stations that gave you money off fuel and food as well as free coffee at every stop. We went with standard vehicle insurance that is included in the hire cost but decided to add on gravel protection at a cost of … for the duration of the trip as we planned to use the dreaded F-roads which are not paved.
After we left the vicinity of the airport we headed straight to the Perlan, a glass dome that offers 360′ panoramic views over Reykjavik as well as various exhibitions throughout the year. During our visit they were holding The Glacier & Ice Cave Exhibition which illustrated the history and future of Iceland’s great glaciers as well as exhibiting a man-made replica ice cave that you can venture in to with an informative guide. Whilst they do provide thermal ponchos I would recommend wrapping up warm before you head into the -10c tunnels! The cost of the exhibition is 2.900 ISK for adults and 1,450 ISK for children aged between 6 – 15 years old. Children under 6 go free. Included in the price of the ticket is the observation deck although since we visited I am told that if you wish to visit the Perlan just for the observation deck you just need to register your email address at reception and they will give you access free of charge. There is also a restaurant and coffee shop on the very top floor but we decided to head straight into Reykjavik after the exhibition in order to make the most of our time there.
Once we arrived in Reykjavik, we were able to park outside our apartment we had booked for the night. The apartment was exactly what we needed considering there was 4 of us. 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (one an ensuite) and a large open space kitchen/lounge/diner. As well as being a really nice place to stay it was located very centrally in Reykjavik. V54 Harbour Apartments, Reykjavik
We would really recommend using booking.com for road trip accommodation as we found it so easy to book rooms in advance and not pay until we checked out. Booking.com also lets you cancel rooms without charging you a fee which is handy if you want to extend your time in a certain place or if you find yourself somewhere quicker than what was expected.
Once we dropped our bags off we headed straight out into Reykjavik to start having a look round. Alex and I had already explored Reykjavik during our trip in March 2015 but this was before we had the drone and in 2015 the weather was really bad for the duration of the trip meaning that this time everything looked quite different. We saw the main sites including the Sun Voyager, Hallgrímskirkja and the Harpa building. We also visited the many Christmas shops that were already open (much to Meg’s delight) and a small, family-run bakery that sold delicious pastries and danishes. The queue for this bakery was out the door and so we decided to queue to see what the fuss was about – we’re glad we did!
We decided to stay in Reykjavik for just 1 night as we we felt that it was long enough to see the main attractions on offer and we were keen to get on the road so we ate at the Hard Rock (obviously) and then headed back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep.
DAY 1 SUMMARY
Driving time: < 1 hour
Sites seen: Perlan, Sun Voyager, Harpa building, Hallgrímskirkja, downton Reykjavik
Accommodation: V54 Harbour Apartments, Reykjavik
After a relaxed start to the morning we jumped back in the Dacia Duster and drove to a nearby supermarket for essential road trip supplies (mainly crisps, biscuits and coca colas). The cost of everything in Iceland is eye-wateringly expensive and so if you plan to eat out every night you need to budget around £40 (5,550 Icelandic Krona) per person for a main course and a drink. However, on a few nights we planned to stay in cottages that were in very remote areas and so we knew this would not always be possible. So we picked up a few bits and pieces for the cottage stays (tea bags, coffee etc.) and made a point to do more supermarket shops when we stopped in the major towns on our route.
Our first scheduled stops were on the Golden Circle route – Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss. In 2015 we visited these sites with a tour company but now that we had a 4 x 4 (and the gravel insurance!) we headed to them without any worries. We needn’t have worried about the road conditions as they were absolutely fine – there was no snow or ice and the roads themselves were all tarmac. After a successful Golden Circle tour (see our 2015 blog post for more information on these stops) we headed for our last stop of the day – Seljalandsfoss. We did see this waterfall in 2015 but again, we made a stop here as it was on the way to our hotel for the night and it’s not every day you get to see such a beautiful waterfall that seems to just appear on the side of the road! It wasn’t any less beautiful than when we last saw it and actually looked quite different without the snow and ice surrounding it. We finally made it to our hotel just as it was getting dark which was a bonus. This was actually our least favourite hotel of the trip. The stay itself was absolutely fine and the staff here were really friendly but the rooms were very basic – Hotel Drangshild, Skogar
There is a restaurant at the hotel which is where we ate. The food was ok but the price to eat here was very expensive for what it was. However, we were literally in the middle of no where and so we didn’t have many other options for dinner (other than a feast of chocolate disgestive biscuits and monster munch crisps!). Our itinerary for the following day was absolutely jam packed and so we had an early night and set our alarms for 7am (way before the 8:30am sunrise!).
DAY 2 SUMMARY
Driving time: 4 hours
Sites seen: Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss, The Great Geysir, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss
Accommodation: Hotel Drangshild, Skogar
After having breakfast at the hotel we set off just as the sun was starting to come up and so decided to swing by Skogafoss waterfall as we could see it from our hotel and it seemed a shame to miss it. I was explaining to Alex’s family that when we last came to see Skogafoss waterfall a rainbow appeared right in front of it and it made for some amazing photos and as if on cue, the sun came up above the waterfall and the rainbow appeared! Skogafoss is still one of my favourite places in Iceland, purely for this reason.
Back in the Dacia Duster we set off for our first stop on our itinerary, the Sólheimasandur plane wreckage. In November 1973 a US navy plane crash landed on Sólheimasandur black sand beach in Iceland, just a few moles from the small town of Vik. All passengers survived the crash but the wreckage was never recovered. This was one of the first things we added to our itinerary when we decided to do the Iceland road trip and so after reading about the hike to the crash site online, this is why we decided to head out early to try and get the plane to ourselves. It is an 8km hike (round trip) to reach it but 100% worth it. You used to be able to drive there if you had a 4 x 4 but the land owners have since stopped this due to damage caused to the gravel road by the vehicles.
Driving instructions to reach the plane wreckage:
After driving past Skógafoss waterfall going East on Route 1, you’ll cross a bridge with flashing yellow lights and a dirt road to Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left. Keep driving East for about 2 kilometers and look out for another dirt road with a gate on your right – pull in here. (If you end up driving over a 2nd bridge, you’ve gone too far). It is then a 4km straight walk to the plane. The plane will only come into view when you are nearly on top of it due to mounds of sand blocking your view and so don’t be surprised if you feel like you are getting no where and then it suddenly appears!
This really was one of the highlights of our trip as although many people make the trek here every year there are no information boards, no signs pointing you in the direction of the plane and no tourists queuing up to take photos. It really does feel like a secret, undiscovered place. So much so that I can imagine that if you are completely alone with the wreckage it would feel quite eerie.
A few miles on from here is Vik beach. Similar to Sólheimasandur, Vik’s beach is black sand. It it without a doubt one of the most peaceful, calming places we have visited. Please read our 2015 blog to find out more about this special place.
Next was a short drive to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a canyon that was 100 meters deep and around 2km in length. The Fjaðrá river runs through it and it’s great to see if you have the time to stop. We stopped here for around 20 mins just to get a few photos but it is quite a strenuous walk up hill to get to the view point so bear this in mind. We then had a 1 hr 45 min drive to Jokulsarlon, a beautiful glacial lagoon filled with icebergs of all different shapes and sizes. The lagoon shines a brilliant blue when the sun shines on it and it makes for a really impressive site. We got there just as the sun was coming down which made it even more beautiful still. During the spring and summer months Ice Lagoon operate boat trips which look brilliant. This will definitely be on my bucket list to do when we next visit Iceland during the peak season. It was then an hour’s drive to our hotel for the night. It was one of our favourite stays, the rooms were lovely and modern and the breakfast the following morning was the best we had during the whole trip. Fosshotel Vatnajokull
DAY 3 SUMMARY
Driving time: 4 hours
Sites seen: Skogafoss, Sólheimasandur plane wreckage, Vik Beach, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
Accommodation: Fosshotel Vatnajokull
After a lazy start to the morning with a lovely breakfast we packed up the car again and got all the snacks ready. I was given the job of chief snack distributor as I was riding shotgun ;). We always knew that day 4 was going to be a day of driving so we put on the long road trip playlist and set off. Our first stop was only a 15 min drive away at the little fishing town of Hofn. We took this opportunity to stock up with food at one of the bigger supermarkets here as it was the first one we had seen in a while. We also filled up with Petrol as we knew that our drive through the East Fjords of Iceland was going to be very remote with no civilisation until we reached our next hotel. This was the only time we stopped at a Petrol garage and didn’t get hot dogs all round! They are served at every Olis garage and are the cheapest hot meal to buy that are actually quite filling. Costing only £2 (140 Icelandic Kroner) per hot dog – it’s safe to say we lived on them whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
Back on the road again we made regular stops where Alex just pulled over to the edge of the road to take in the views and scenery (and for photo opportunities). Not a lot of tourists visit the Eastern Fjords of Iceland unless they are driving the Ring Road because there is not much in terms of touristy things to see or do but it is without a doubt the most beautiful part of the island. One minute you are driving through rocky, magnificent mountains that soar way up into the clouds and within a few minutes drive you are presented with a flat, green landscape featuring brilliant blue, crystal clear lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see. It really made the long drive much less monotonous but we were glad to reach our Icelandair hotel after a 3 hour drive. This was another lovely hotel and the staff here were very knowledgeable about things to do in the local area. Icelandair Hotel Herad. They recommended we take the hike up to Hengifoss, the third tallest waterfall in Iceland, which would take around 90 mins to ascend. It was getting quite late in the afternoon and we were conscious of the sun setting very early during the winter but we decided to go for it. It was an extremely steep ascent and we had to take a few breaks to catch our breath but when we eventually made it the view was amazing and the 128 metre high waterfall was different to any other than we had seen in Iceland. The waterfall is surrounded by thin, red layers of clay between the basaltic layers which gives it a very unique look. Another bonus was having the waterfall completely to ourselves because of the time of day – Alex even managed to get the drone up to get some beautiful shots. The descent was much easier but still took around an hour to do and we got back to the hotel just as the sun went down, ready for more driving the following day.
DAY 4 SUMMARY
Driving time: 3 hours
Sites seen: Hofn fishing village, Eastern Fjords, Hengifoss
Accommodation: Icelandair Hotel Herad
Days 4, 5 & 6 were always going to be ‘driving days’ but we found a few things to see see on route to Akureyri, our next stop. We had a couple of hour’s drive through yet more beautiful, everchanging landscapes before our first stop at Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Something to bear in mind when you are travelling to Dettifoss is that the access road (Road 862) is closed during winter time due to the weather and does not open until late May or early June. We tried to make it down there in our 4 x 4 but the road was impassable and we could see other vehicles turning round in the distance. We joined the ring road again and thanks to Google we found that on the west river bank there is a new, paved road which is passable for all vehicles (however this road is not in service from January until the beginning of April). It was a 10 minute walk from the car to the waterfall but just before you get there you can hear the roar of the water and you can feel the vibrations underfoot. It is a magnificent waterfall and is one of those places that make you feel very small in such a huge world. We nearly had a terrible accident when Alex lost his footing near the edge of the waterfall that resulted in a few tears (from me!) but other than that it is an absolute MUST SEE. We were even treated to a perfect rainbow above the falls. Absolutely beautiful.
Back in the car it was another 90 minutes before our next stop – a geothermal field in the Myvatn area. Here, water at a temperature of between 80 and 100c beneath the earth causes the ground to hiss, bubble and steam. It’s a mystical sight to see and the sulphur level here is extremely high causing a very strong, quite unpleasant aroma!
Back in the car we stopped a few more times to admire the scenery and take some photos of Lake Myvatn and the Krafla Lava Fields. It was Instagram heaven – without the need for any filters!
Our last stop before Akureyri was at Godafoss – known locally as the waterfall of the Gods. Its name is said to have come from an old legend whereby a local parliamentarian, Þorgeir, decided to change the religion of Iceland to Christianity and threw his Pagan God statues in the falls to mark a new beginning.
Although it is not very tall, it is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland and when the water level is very high, smaller waterfalls appear below. To get a good view of the falls it is fairly simple to access however, during the winter months (when we visited), the surrounding rocks are extremely slippery. I took a tumble (much to Alex’s amusement) more than once and we were only there 10 minutes! Please bear this in mind if you do get close to the edge!
It was then around a 45 minute drive to Akureyri, our base for the night. After Reykjavik, the capital city, Akureyri is the largest town in Iceland. So we made sure to stock up on supplies as our next couple of stops were going to be in very remote locations (our next scheduled stop was in a town with a population of 266 people!). Our cottage in Akureyri was lovely and even had an outdoor hot tub which was interesting in the sub zero temperatures! We really noticed a drop in temperature on Day 5. We were used to around 1c/2c but in Akureyri and for the next few days of our road trip the temperatures were on average -3c/-4c. Saeluhus Apartments & Houses, Akureyri
DAY 5 SUMMARY
Driving time: 5 hours
Sites seen: Dettifoss, Lake Myvatn, Mount Krafla Lava Fields, Godafoss
Accommodation: Saeluhus Apartments & Houses, Akureyri
We spent the morning of day 6 having a wander around Akureyri. It is a charming little town with a 1940s church (Akureyrarkirkja) as its centre. Also in the town is an art museum and a 3.6 hectare Botanical Garden. It was the wrong time of year for us to visit the Botanical Garden and we are not art lovers and so we just enjoyed a quick walk around the town. We packed up the car and set off again mid-morning to our next stop in a very small little town called Búðardalur. It was a 3 hr 30 min straight drive and we planned to spend 2 nights here as we were going to visit the Dynjandi Falls which is situated in the Western Fjords, a very isolated part of Iceland. The drive to Dynjandi was going to take us around 3 hours each way so it made sense to have a base for a couple of nights. On arrival in Búðardalur we found our cottage (with some difficulty!) and met the owner who gave us the keys and some knowledge of the small town. Asubud Apartments, Búðardalur
There were 2 restaurants – one attached to a guest house and one family owned fish and chip shop! We decided to try the guest house restaurant for a late lunch and then the fish and chip shop for dinner later that evening. After lunch we took a 5 minute drive to a house located right on the ‘beach’ that the owner had told us about. Here, in the garden, was a large pool that was home to 2 baby seals! The seal pups were rescued from slaughter by a resident of Búðardalur after he found out that a zoo in Reykjavik could no longer keep them. He plans to let them go into the wild once they are old enough – only in Iceland would you find a story like this! Read more about them here – http://icelandreview.com/news/2017/11/01/rescued-seal-pups-doing-well
We then took a drive out to Erikstaddir, a small hut located just off the main road which tells a story of Viking Iceland. Eiríksstaðir is famous for being the place where Leifur heppni (‘Leif the Lucky’ – born in 980AD) lived. According to history books, Leif was the first European to discover America. During peak season it is possible to visit inside where staff (dressed in typical viking attire!) tell you the history of how the vikings from Norway eventually came to settle in Iceland. I would give this a go if you are able as I imagine it would be a bit of fun and the TripAdvisor reviews are great.
Dinner at the fish and chip shop was lovely but very expensive, although this was to be expected in such a small town. It was nice to meet the family who run the business. We headed back to the cottage in the pitch black for an early night, ready for our adventure to Dynjandi the following morning!
DAY 6 SUMMARY
Driving time: 4 hours (including the drive to Erikstaddir)
Sites seen: Akureyri town, Búðardalur town, Erikstaddir
Accommodation: Asubud Apartments, Búðardalur
This was the day that we were most looking forward to. Even though Alex had a LOT of driving, we were so excited to see Dynjandi! Voted Iceland’s most beautiful waterfall and having looked at hundreds of Instagram pictures (search #Dynjandi now to see what I mean!) we made sure all the cameras and drone was charged and set off. Although it was a long drive without any stops, it was straightforward and even though it was off the beaten track none of the roads were impassable for smaller vehicles. We are so pleased we made the effort of going out of our way as it was easily our favourite site of our whole trip. Photos really do not do it justice, it was breathtakingly beautiful. We climbed up to the base of the waterfall and got some photos. For a while we were the only people there which made it even more special. If you have the time to spare and you don’t mind a bit of driving make sure you have this on your itinerary as it really shouldn’t be missed. In a way, the fact that it is in such an isolated area makes it even more of a must-see without the herds of tourists queuing up for a selfie.
After a long day of driving in the Western Fjords we returned to our little cottage and spent some time organising our photos and videos from the last 7 days (all 2,000 of them!).
DAY 7 SUMMARY
Driving time: 6 hours 30 mins
Sites seen: Dynjandi, Western Fjords
Accommodation: Asubud Apartments, Búðardalur