It’s been four years since our last Iceland road trip and we have another one coming up in October. I figured it was about time that I stopped procrastinating and started writing a blog post about our past itinerary while plotting the next one. It’s not a perfect itinerary and we did have to backtrack a couple of times, but it’s completely doable if you go between May and August and it allowed us to see a lot of Iceland. I wouldn’t recommend this itinerary for a winter trip because of the limited hours of daylight, potentially poor road condition, and tendency for sketchy weather.
We spent 13 nights on the road (and 2 nights in Reykjavik at the end of the trip) in May of 2013, driving the ring road anti-clockwise. We didn’t have enough time to visit the Westfjords, unfortunately. Someday we’ll get around to exploring the Westfjords and experiencing its wild and amazing landscapes first-hand. In the meantime, I’ll just keep dreaming about it. :-)
Here’s a colour-coded map of the places where we stayed and some of the highlights of our trip (each colour represents a day of travel):
Tip: If you follow all the tips in the itinerary below, you should be able to shorten the trip down from 15 nights to 10 nights!
Day 1: Keflavik Airport to Selfoss
We arrived at Keflavik airport early in the morning. We picked up our rental car from Blue Car Rental near the airport and decided to explore the Reykjanes peninsula to kill the time (we couldn’t check in to our accommodation until 4pm). After doing some sightseeing, we decided to go for a dip in the Blue Lagoon, hoping that it would make us a bit more awake (in 2013, you could just walk in; you’ll have to book online in advance now). Well, it ended up being so relaxing that I fell asleep in the car while my husband was driving us to our accommodation in Selfoss. We slept for over 12 hours that night!
Day 2: Selfoss to Hella
Highlights: The Golden Circle (Keriđ crater, Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, Gullfoss).
Where We Ate: Cafe at the Information Centre in Þingvellir National Park, Kaffi Klettur in Reykholt.
Where We Stayed: Guesthouse Nonni (TripAdvisor reviews)
We woke up in the morning refreshed and with no signs of jetlag. After breakfast, our host gave us some recommendations on places of interests around the Golden Circle, which we appreciated. We headed out to the Golden Circle after saying hi and goodbye to some of the farm animals. Other than almost missing the Thingvellir National Park (we drove past it without realizing it), it was a pretty uneventful drive. We headed down to Hella (pronounced Hetla) after having dinner at Kaffi Krus, where I had my first bowl of lobster soup. Yum!
Day 3: Hella to Vik
Highlights: Seljalandsfoss, bus tour of Heimaey island in Westman Islands, Vik black sand beach.
Where We Ate: Vinaminni Kaffihus in Heimaey and Restaurant Vikurskali in Vik.
Where We Stayed: Guesthouse Vellir (TripAdvisor reviews)
This was the only time in the whole trip that we had a kind of awkward breakfast in which we all shared the same dining table. The highlight of the breakfast was when Nonni complimented my pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull. I’m still pretty proud of it. :-) Anyway, this was the day we took the ferry to Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands, on a day trip. On our way to the ferry terminal in Landeyjahöfn, we saw Seljalandsfoss so we made a quick stop there before moving on. Fast forward to Heimaey, the weather wasn’t the greatest that day so we decided to go for a bus tour instead of a boat tour. Good choice! We were the only people taking the bus tour that day. We loved the private tour!
Tip: If you have no interest in taking the ferry to Heimaey, you could spend this day doing many other things. We had to miss visiting the DC9 plane wreckage and doing the Sólheimajökull glacier walk because I just HAD to go to Heimaey (I have a thing for little islands). Other things to see in the area include Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the hidden Seljavallalaug swimming pool, Skogafoss waterfall, Dyrholaey, Reynisfjara beach, and the black sand beach in Vik. If you did all these on this day, you wouldn’t have to backtrack your way the next day like we did.
Day 4: Vik to Hornafjörður
Highlights: Seljavallalaug, Skogafoss, Dyrholaey, Reynisfjara, Svartifoss, Jökulsárlón.
Where We Ate: Restaurant Vikurskali in Vik and Kaffi Horniđ in Höfn.
Where We Stayed: Guesthouse Skalafell (TripAdvisor reviews)
We were starving when we were back on the mainland from Heimaey the day before so we just drove past some attractions and head straight to Vik to get something to eat. That was the reason we had to backtrack a bit to visit Seljavallalaug, Skogafoss, Dyrholaey, and Reynisdrangar on this day. After visiting all those attractions, we had lunch in Vik and then continued driving east, stopping at a lot of scenic locations (don’t worry, you’ll see them), including Skaftafell National Park to see Svartifoss (from afar anyway). Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon, was definitely the big highlight of the day, and so was the Diamond Beach across the road from it. The guesthouse we were staying for the night is about 30 minutes east of Jökulsárlón and 35 minutes west of Höfn. Höfn is the closest town with restaurants. Thought I’d mention it.
Tip: If you have a plan to visit Fjallsárlón, do it on this day instead of the next day like we did. It would save a couple of hours of your time.
Day 5: Hornafjörður to Breiðdalsvík
This was another day on which we had to backtrack our route. This time it was because I wanted to see Fjallsárlón, Jökulsárlón’s less famous cousin. It’s located about 40 minutes drive away from the guesthouse, westward, so it really added to the driving time. We also made another stop at Jökulsárlón before driving to Höfn to have lunch and continuing driving East. We made a quick stop in Djúpivogur to check out its stunning waterfront. It was the only town between Höfn and Breiðdalsvík big enough to have all the amenities. We had to eat out of our snack bag that night because there were no restaurants close to our hotel and the weather was a little stormy that night.
Day 6: Breiðdalsvík to Borgarfjörður Eystri
Highlights: Hallormsstaður forest, Lake Lagarfljót, Skriðuklaustur, Borgarfjörður eystri, Hafnarholmi.
Where We Ate: Klausturkaffi in Skriðuklaustur, a bakery in Fellabær.
Where We Stayed: Blabjorg Guesthouse (TripAdvisor reviews)
This was a pretty eventful day as far as animal sighting goes. We saw a big herd of wild reindeer in the morning as we were driving towards the mountain pass and away from the hotel. Another animal sighting was of two horses running in the middle of the road towards the highland near Skriðuklaustur. My favourite sighting, of course, was of the puffins in Hafnarhólmi harbour. They were so cute and one of them practically posed for me. I must’ve taken at least a hundred photos of it. It was a lovely, sunny day and the lunch buffet at Klausturkaffi was amazing! It was also another night of eating out of the snack bag due to the lack of restaurants near the guesthouse. The guesthouse location is quite remote but I loved it because it’s right by the sea and surrounded by mountains. My kind of place. :-)
Tip: If you’re planning a shorter Iceland vacation, skip Borgarfjörður Eystri and Ásbyrgi and head to Mývatn instead. On your way to Mývatn, you could still visit Hallormsstaður forest, Lake Lagarfljót, Skriðuklaustur, and have the amazing lunch buffet at Klausturkaffi. Additionally, you could also visit Dettifoss waterfall, Namafjall, Krafla calderas, and have a dip in Mývatn Nature Baths. Your next day would be Day 9.
Day 7: Borgarfjörður Eystri to Ásbyrgi
Our driving route on this day was a bit weird due to some road closures, but we made it work. Our original plan was to drive along the coast all the way north and then west towards Asbyrgi. That was a no-go because the road north (off the ring road) was still closed so we had to stick to the ring road and then drive north from Mývatn towards Husavik and then Asbyrgi. On a happier note, the road to Dettifoss that had been closed was open that day so we took advantage of our good luck to visit the most powerful waterfall in Europe! Well, it was an okay place. I would suggest you visit it in the summer or autumn when there’s not a boatload of snow around. It would make for a better view and a better experience, in my opinion.
Day 8: Ásbyrgi to Mývatn
Highlights: Ásbyrgi Canyon, Kopasker, the Arctic Henge, Hraunhafnartangi lighthouse, Krafla caldera, Mývatn Nature Baths.
Where We Ate: Gamli Baukur in Husavik.
Where We Stayed: Vogafjos Guesthouse (TripAdvisor reviews)
This day’s driving route was also a bit weird. There were places east of Asbyrgi that we wanted to visit and that we would’ve had if the road north had been open the day before. The plan was to drive as far east as Þórshöfn but we only made it up to Raufarhöfn before turning around. The road condition was pretty bad. It would’ve taken us forever to get to Þórshöfn. We did a little hike to Hraunhafnartangi lighthouse, which is the northernmost lighthouse in the mainland Iceland. Now we can brag that we’ve been only 800 meters away from the Arctic Circle. :-) When we finally arrived in Mývatn where we’d be staying that night, we climbed up to Krafla’s Viti crater before soaking up our weary bodies in the hot water of the Mývatn Nature Baths. It was the perfect end to the day.
Day 9: Mývatn to Akureyri
Highlights: Grjótagjá, Dimmuborgir, Höfði, Goðafoss, Akureyrarkirkja.
Where We Ate: A non-descript restaurant between Myvatn and Godafoss, Greifinn in Akureyri.
Where We Stayed: Skjaldarvik Guest House (TripAdvisor reviews)
Time to visit some natural attractions around Myvatn! You could even do your own Game of Thrones tour if you’re interested. A lot of walking was done this day. I get tired just thinking about it. :-) My favourite part of the day was seeing Goðafoss. It was my favourite waterfall in Iceland for a couple of days (fell in love with another one later). The walk around Höfði was a close second. After Goðafoss, we headed up to Akureyri, Iceland’s second biggest city. Unfortunately I was already too tired to do much exploring in Akureyri. We checked out the big Akureyri church (Akureyrarkirkja) up on a hill, visited a book store, and then checked ourselves in at the guesthouse. The guesthouse is located a little outside Akureyri but only about 10 minutes away. We had dinner in Akureyri that night.
Day 10: Akureyri to Skagafjörður
Highlights: Laufas, the Herring Era Museum, Hofsós swimming pool, statue of Jon Osmann the Ferryman.
Where We Ate: A non-descript restaurant in Siglufjordur, Ólafshús in Sauðárkrókur.
Where We Stayed: Guesthouse Hofsstadir (TripAdvisor reviews)
We woke up bright and early in the morning because we had tickets to a whalewatching tour from Dalvik that day. After breakfast (the homemade skyr was to die for), we headed out to Dalvik only to learn that the tour had been cancelled due to bad weather (it was raining). Disappointed and a little peeved because they hadn’t bothered to email us about the cancellation, we retraced our way back through Akureyri and to the other side of the fjord to visit Laufas. Then we went back to Akureyri, stopped at a bakery, checked out a couple of thrift stores, and continued our journey through the Tröllaskagi peninsula, stopping in Siglufjörður to have lunch and visit the Herring Era Museum, and in Hofsós to check out the very cool swimming pool and the basalt columns nearby. After checking in to the guesthouse, we went out for dinner in Sauðárkrókur.
Tip: If you’re planning a shorter Iceland vacation, skip Skagafjörður and head to Grundarfjörður instead but do visit the Day 11 highlights on your way there. Your next day would be Day 12.
Day 11: Skagafjörður to Grundarfjörður
It was our wedding anniversary and the sun was shining! Hvitserkur was the big highlight of the day for me. After seeing so many pictures all over the Internet of this unique rock formation, it felt great to finally see it in person with my own eyes. It was a bit like seeing an online friend in real life. :-) Another highlight was seeing the seals sunbathing in Svalbarð. We made the mistake of not sticking to the ring road and took a road that, in theory, would take us to Snaefellsnes peninsula faster. Except it didn’t. The road was so full of potholes. It cost us a lot of time because we had to drive slowly. On the bright side, by taking this crappy road, we got to visit Eiriksstadir, the home of Erik the Red and the birth place of his son, Leif Eriksson. As the Icelanders would say, “þetta reddast” (it will all work out okay)! But seriously, your time in Iceland is valuable. When driving between Vatnsnes and Snaefellsnes peninsulas, stick to the ring road! You’ll be glad you did.
Day 12: Grundarfjörður to Snæfellsbær
Ugh. I hate writing about this day. It was the day we were supposed to take a whalewatching tour from Olafsvik. I was really excited about it, especially since our tour from Dalvik was cancelled a couple of days back. We arrived in Olafsvik ahead of time just so that we’d have enough time to have lunch prior to the tour. After lunch, we stood at the marina waiting for the boat. Except it was the wrong marina, which we learned from a local lady. She told us follow her truck to the place where we were supposed to board the boat. Alas, the boat already left without us. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed some tears. I was in a foul mood for the rest of the day but forced myself to check out some sights anyway. I especially enjoyed Djúpalónssandur beach and Buđakirkja, the black church at Buđir. No restaurants near the guesthouse so it was another night of making dinner out of some snacks.
Tip: If you’re planning a shorter Iceland vacation, skip Snæfellsbær and head to Borgarnes instead. You would have the option to either visit this day’s highlights listed above or Day 13’s highlights. Your next day would be Day 14.
Day 13: Snæfellsbær to Borgarnes
Highlights: The Settlement Centre, Snorrastofa, Hraunfossar, Deildartunguhver.
Where We Ate: Settlement Centre restaurant and Matstofan in Borgarnes.
Where We Stayed: Hotel Hafnarfjall (formerly Hotel Bru) (TripAdvisor reviews)
It was raining pretty heavily when we left the guesthouse in the morning. We decided to spend the morning learning about the history of Iceland at the Settlement Centre in Borgarnes. After having lunch at the Settlement Centre restaurant, we headed out to Reykholt (not the Reykholt we went to have dinner on the second day) to learn more about Icelandic history at Snorrastofa. Having had enough of Icelandic history for the day, we decided to check out some natural attractions nearby before heading back to Borgarnes for hotel check-in and dinner. Hraunfossar was the highlight of the day. It was, in fact, my most favourite waterfalls in the whole Iceland, and I had seen more waterfalls than I could count by then! Don’t miss it.
Day 14: Borgarnes to Reykjavik
Highlights: Hvalfjörđur, Alafoss wool store, Reykjavik.
Where We Ate: A non-descript fast food joint in Mosfellsbaer, Mokka Kaffi and Noodle Station in Reykjavik.
Where We Stayed: Airbnb apartment (sign up to Airbnb using our referral link to receive $50 CAD/$40 USD on your first qualifying stay; we’ll receive some credits too!)
It was almost the end of the trip (boo-hoo!) and we were heading out to our final destination: Reykjavik. We took the long way there. Instead of taking the tunnel that would’ve taken us to Reykjavik in 1 hour and 30 minutes, we took the scenic route through the Hvalfjörđur (the Whale Fjord). I didn’t really care how long it would take us to get to Reykjavik. I didn’t want the road trip to end. Anyway, if you’re a fan of the Netflix series Sense8, you might recognize the church, Hallgrimskirkja (no, not the one in Reykjavik). The cemetery in the churchyard is the final resting place of the Riley Blue character’s baby and husband (boyfriend?). Hvalfjörđur is worth a detour if you like desolate places of natural beauty.
Tip: If you’re planning a shorter Iceland vacation, skip Hvalfjörđur, take the tunnel, and head to Reykjavik instead. Spend the rest of the day exploring Reykjavik. You can do the things we did on Day 15 on this day. Your next day could be the day you leave Iceland.
Day 15: Reykjavik
Highlights: Kolaportiđ, Penis Museum, Harpa, Hallgrimskirkja.
Where We Ate: Buddha restaurant (out of business), Vegamot in Reykjavik.
Where We Stayed: Airbnb apartment (sign up to Airbnb using our referral link to receive $50 CAD/$40 USD on your first qualifying stay; we’ll receive some credits too!)
Our top-floor Airbnb apartment was awesome! It was on the street right in front of the big Hallgrimskirkja church, only steps away from it. We had a great view of the church from the balcony. After staying in guesthouses and hotels for almost two weeks, it was nice to stay in a place that feels like home. On our last full day in Iceland, our goal was to find me a lopapeysa, the traditional Icelandic jumper. We heard that you could find one for cheap at the Saturday flea market, Kolaportiđ. I didn’t see anything I liked there. Long story short, I found one with a design I liked at Thorvaldsens Bazar. I wore it straight out of the shop. It was drizzling outside and I ended up smelling a bit like a wet sheep in my pure Icelandic wool jumper. In the evening, we went to see a one-man comedy show in Harpa called “How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes“. It was a hoot! You should see it if you have a chance.
Plan Your Iceland Road Trip
We took a direct flight to Iceland from Toronto with Icelandair. It was a red-eye and I saw the Northern Lights as we were flying over the Canadian Arctic! Best in-flight entertainment ever. We rented a Suzuki Swift with an automatic transmission from Blue Car Rental for our road trip. It was small but it did the job. We didn’t rent a 4×4 because we had no plans to take on any of the F-roads or the central highland mountain roads. We booked most of our accommodations through Hey Iceland (formerly Icelandic Farm Holidays), except for the ones in Hella and Grundarfjörður. I think their off-season rates (valid from October to April) are quite reasonable, and they include a continental breakfast buffet.
Driving around Iceland is a pleasure. The sceneries keep changing, and so does the weather. You can see a lot in a two-week Iceland road trip if you go between May and August because the days are long and it barely gets dark. I know we did when we went in mid-May. We shall soon see how much we’ll be able to see when we go in late October, which is the beginning of the winter season. I’ll keep you posted! If you have any questions about our itinerary, feel free to ask in the comment section below and I’ll try to answer the best I can.