Driving Around Iceland in One Week
So, you’ve been seeing your friends post on Instagram about their amazing Iceland trip, or falling for Iceland’s amazing advertising campaigns...and now you’re researching how to get there and what to do. We opted for a road trip around the entire country. Here’s the itinerary.
While one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Iceland has its fair share of dangers and things to watch out for. Before you embark on your journey, here's a few things to keep in mind:
Depending on what time of year you travel, you'll see vastly different conditions in Iceland. During the winter, many roads become impassible and conditions can change at the drop of a hat. You'll want to budget extra time in your trip if you're traveling any time between September and May, and possibly even in the summer.
There's nothing like having a 4x4 in Iceland - lots of the best sights (and the ones with the fewest tourists) lie a bit off the beaten path, down poorly-maintained dirt roads filled with potholes. We opted for a lifted Nissan Patrol from Icerental, but many other rental companies will be able to help you out. Get gas whenever you can - gas stations are few and far between when you reach the areas with less population.
(Note: LSTN does not endorse or receive compensation from any company mentioned in this overview. Do your research thoroughly before committing to any venture)
Everything on Iceland is pricier than on the mainland, but nothing as noticeable as adult beverages. The duty-free store at Keflavik Airport is your friend here. Restaurants also tend to be on the expensive side - if possible, go to the local grocery store as much as you can - it’ll help immensely with costs. Remember, don't start drinking until you're done driving for the day!
Outside of Reykjavik, cell and internet service is spotty at best. You'll want to have a wi-fi hotspot to keep your maps working, and to stream epic music for your journey (we recommend Of Monsters and Men and plenty of Led Zeppelin, personally). Most car rental shops will offer these, so make sure to ask about it. If you can't find something on Google Maps, make sure to check the location on the local version, and get real-time road and weather updates through http://vedrid.is/ - there's an app, too!
Temperatures will vary wildy, even in the summertime. Make sure to bring plenty of layerable items, and warm boots and jackets for sure. No vacation is complete without music, so make sure to grab your favorite LSTN speakers and headphones, too! (shameless plug over)
If you're chasing the Northern Lights, you'll want to visit in the wintertime, but later than October can get tricky - cloudy nights will become more common and also, cold. You'll want to check the aurora forecast to see the likelihood of the lights, and find a dark area to settle in and watch the skies (not tough once you're in the wilderness).
Icelandic is a notoriously difficult language, but it certainly helps you to learn a bit about pronunciations and some common phrases. The locals will appreciate the effort, and it can help you find directions to out of the way places. It's pretty tough to ask for directions to somewhere like Fjaðrárglúfur on the first try with no practice. It'll also help you to know what common word endings mean - 'Foss' is waterfall (Gullfoss, Skogafoss, etc), 'Fell' is mountain (Kirkjufell, Skagafell, etc.), 'Jokul' is glacier, and so on. Soon it'll become like second nature, and you'll be saying Eyjafjallajokul like it's nothing. Some phrases you may wish to remember:
- Hello - Halló
- Thank You - Takk
- How do I find... - Hvernig finn ég...
- Help - Hjálp
- Will you dance with me? - Ætlarðu að dansa við mig?
- This gentleman will pay for everything - Þessi heiðursmaður greiðir fyrir allt
Day 1: Reykjavik - Vik
After landing at Keflavik International (in the morning, preferably), grab a taxi to your car rental outlet of choice and prepare for the road trip of a lifetime. Day One is where you'll see Iceland's famed 'Golden Circle,' and will give you a great taste of your adventure to come.
Geysir at Haukadalur
The namesake of the word geyser, these semi regular vents shoot superheated water from the Earth's crust in a magnificent display
Iceland's largest waterfall by volume, and one of the most breathtaking, make sure to check out both the high and low lookout points at this amazing waterfall
- Kerið Crater Lake
Yeah, there's a cave behind this waterfall, and you can go into it. Need we say more?
At 180' (60 meters) tall, you can walk right up to the base of this stunning waterfall or view it from a higher vantage point. When the sun comes out, be on the lookout for the near-constant rainbow created by the mist at its base.
A crashed plane on a picturesque black sand beach will provide you the perfect Instagram photo op. Tread lightly, though, to keep the place looking good for fellow travelers and Icelanders alike.
As you close the day approaching the sleepy town of Vik, there's a couple more things you'll want to check out:
A picturesque Icelandic church that looks great in photos
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
A gorgeous beach made of volcanic sand, Reynisfjara might look like you've seen it before - it's been used as a filming location for both Game of Thrones and Star Wars: Rogue One
Vik is the last service station between Skógar and Skaftafell, so stop for gas here. The gas station is a self-service pump that accepts credit cards only and a Pin is required. There is also a small tourist information center and cafe. An Icelandic hot dog is a great snack if the cafe is open! The Wool Center is worth a visit and features a second level balcony where you can see women hand-knitting Icelandic sweaters. Spend the night at the Hotel Edda Vik, and try the delicious restaurant before getting a good night's sleep
Day 2: Vik - Höfn
After leaving Vik, you'll find yourself on Iceland's southern coast. Get ready for canyons, moss-covered lava fields, and one of the coolest beaches you'll ever see.
A total must-see, where a glacier flows into the sea leaving diamond-like chunks of ice strewn across a black sand beach. Watch your footing, and enjoy one of my personal favorite places in all of Iceland.
A waterfall surrounded by hexagonal rock formations formed by Iceland's volcanic past
An incredible canyon carved out by a tiny river, covered in centuries-old moss. Make sure to stick to the marked paths - not only could the fall literally kill you, but tramping over the moss kills it imediately and ruins the locale for everybody. This moss can take hundreds of years to reach maturity - don't be a selfish jerk who ruins it for everyone just because you want a cool photo
After an exhausting and exhilarating day, recharge your batteries (literally and figuratively) at the Glacier Hotel Höfn
Day 3: Höfn - Egilsstadir
This day will have you venturing into the fjords of Iceland's southeast before pivoting inland to see the only real forest in Iceland.
When checking out the lighthouse, make sure to stop and see the waves crashing over the volcanic rocks on the shore. Just take care that the wind doesn't rip your car's doors clean off!
Sometimes called 'Monument Beach" due to the massive rock formation found there, Lækjavík is the perfect place to rest your feet before continuing your drive
An adorable little coastal fishing town. Stop and warm up with a coffee here!
Iceland's largest (and basically only) forest, right on the shores of Icleand's largest lake, Lagarfljót (which holds it's own Icelandic version of the Loch Ness Monster, the Lagarfljótsormurinn)
You can stay in the town of Egilstadir, on the main ring road, if you like. However, I opted for the local experience found at the Múlavegur í Fljótsdal Wilderness Center further inland. The locals will even cook you a traditional Icelandic dinner if you want!
Day 4: Egilsstadir - Myvatn
Make sure to bring some air freshener, because day 4 will have you strolling through sulphur vents and seeing the geothermal wonders of Iceland up close and personally.
Námafjall Geothermal Area
Steam rises from natural vents in the Earth in this amazing place. If you thought Geysir was cool on day 1, this will blow your mind.
A crater lake and geothermal power plant just a stone's throw from Námafjall
Myvatn Nature Baths
After 4 days on the road (and with more to go!), nothing will feel better than taking a dip in these natural hot springs, cracking open an Einstok, and relaxing a bit. Much less crowded than the more famous Blue Lagoon outside Reykjavik, this is the spot to kick back and enjoy some R&R on Iceland's east coast.
The Waterfall of the Gods is just a short drive from the nature baths, and is absolutely a must-see. Rock outcrops allow for stunning views of the falls below (just watch your step!), and the falls truly earns it's nickname of "Beauty" contrasting the nearby Dettifoss which is called "Beast".
"The Beast" is the most powerful waterfall in all Europe, sending the waters of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river more than 126 feet (44 meters) down a 300 foot wide (100m) cliffside.
Day 5: Myvatn - Borðeyri
As you round Iceland's northeast corner, you'll venture into an alien landscape filled with volcanic formations, beautiful vistas, and fjords galore.
It means "Dark City" in Icelandic, and these volcanic rock formations will certainly live up to the name.
One of the most picturesque fjords in northern Iceland
One of Iceland's oldest churches, still made in the traditional thatched-roof style.
You've reached the true wilderness of Iceland on this day - be prepared for a long driving day, without much in the way of rest and gas stops. Hotels are scarce, but that just gives you an option to find a great local Airbnb to stay at and truly experience Iceland. Tell Björnkörn I say hello!
Day 6: Borðeyri - Reykjavík
Depending on how good your time is, you have some options here. You can venture south to begin the drive back to Reykjavik, or turn northward to Iceland's wild Westfjords. You really can't go wrong either way.
A stunning waterfall and mountain right on the shore of the Atlantic. A bit out of the way, but absolutely worth the drive.
Sometimes called "Iceland in Miniature", this peninsula showcases a lot of what makes Iceland great, including massive Snæfellsjökul volcano.
Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum
If you've ever wanted to eat a 400-year-old shark that tastes slightly like aged cheese (and also slightly like ammonia), this is the place. Run by a third-generation shark fishing family, it's a great way to learn about the traditions of Iceland, and how the original inhabitants found their food in such an inhospitable environment.
Iceland’s tallest waterfall, at 650 feet. Hopefully you're not sick of waterfalls yet!
Once you arrive back in Reykjavik, you'll find tons of amazing hotels and restaurants to enjoy. Here's a list of some choice highlights, though I'm partial to the Kex Hostel, personally - it has a great restaurant / bar on the ground level.
Day 7: Reykjavík
Though home to only around 300,000 people, the capitol of Iceland will likely feel like New York after your road trip around the country. With a plethora of museums, restaurants, and historical sites to see, you owe it to yourself to take at least a day to see the beautiful capital city of Iceland. Here's some of my favorite things:
- Try some of Iceland's native beer and wine!
- If the season is right, take a one-day ice cave tour
- Visit the stunning Hallgrimskirkja - you may even be lucky enough to catch the pipe organist practicing
The Blue Lagoon
If you didn't take our advice on day 4, you'll want to stop at these world-famous hot springs for rest, relaxation, and selfies.
I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights on my last day in Iceland, from this little park outside of Reykjavík. It was an incredible sight to see and an amazing conclusion to the trip.
And that's it for your trip! The only thing left to do is fly home, and feel incredibly sad because that was the best trip you’ve ever taken.