Iceland Road Trip Itinerary
Between the countless waterfalls and black sand beaches, Iceland has always been on my travel wish list. I recently made the trek over with one of my good friends to van camp as we drove around the Ring Road. Most people suggest the road trip takes a full week but we were able to do it in five days with two nights to spare in Reykjavik.
After our excruciating flight with WOW Air --genuinely the most uncomfortable flight I’ve ever been on-- we were really excited to pick up our van and start exploring. We used Go Iceland for our van rental as it was one of the cheapest options. Each van comes with camping supplies, sleeping bags, and wifi. Highly recommend! We stopped at Netto to stock up on food for the week which mostly consisted of PB&Js and set off on our journey.
Considering that there is so much to see in the South and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time there, we mostly drove for our first day. The landscapes are absolutely breathtaking and our drive was super scenic. We drove to Akureyi and stayed at Camping Hamrar which was completely off the beaten path but totally worth it. You can camp alongside Route 1 at marked locations instead of paying to camp at an actual campsite, but having a real shower, bathroom, and kitchen were so worth it when spending multiple days living out of a van.
We started the day off with the first of many waterfalls. The water at Godafoss is so bright and icy blue, it was truly unlike anything I’ve seen before. Like a lot of attractions in Iceland, Godafoss is directly off Route 1 so it’s really easy to make a pitstop here.
Next we drove to Grjotagja Cave, now a popular tourist destination due to its appearance in Game of Thrones. It’s a small lava cave with a geothermal spring inside. A long time ago it used to be a bathing spot but in the 80s the water temperature rose drastically and swimming is no longer safe. You can scramble down boulders into the cave but won’t want to stay long as it smells really strongly of sulfur.
Continuing with the theme of the day, we decided to take a detour to Europe’s most powerful waterfall Detifoss. We took route 864 instead of 862 to get the closest view. After doing some research on which route to take, it’s clear that this is one of the most debated issues about Icelandic travel. Essentially, route 864 is entirely gravel and once you reach the parking lot you then follow stairs and a footpath to walk directly up to the edge of the waterfall. Route 862 is paved with a shorter walk to the falls and a viewing area, but you aren’t able to get as close. Detifoss is absolutely breathtaking so I’m sure either option is fine, just personal preference about the comfort of the road and how far you’re willing to walk.
We were able to smell Hverir before we could see it. The geothermal mud pits, bubbling pools, and steaming fumaroles smelled of sulfur and looked like something out of science fiction movie. We were joking the whole trip that we were on Mars and this pitstop completely felt otherworldly. We spent the rest of the day driving to Hofn and getting settled in our campsite.
Really hard to find but completely worth it, the Gonguleid hiking trail to Skálafellsjökull takes you to a tongue of Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Europe. The hike itself is really incredible. We hiked up a small stream and jumped over rivers, passing sheep along the way but only running into two other people. Since the glaciers are receding the trail markers stop quite far from the actual glacier, but you can hike further in to get a closer look.
At the top of my must see list for this trip were Jokulsarlon and Diamond Beach. Jokulsarlon is a glacier lagoon where you can watch chunks of ice break off and slowly float into the Atlantic. The chunks of ice often drift ashore Diamond Beach, one of Iceland’s many black volcanic sand beaches. Some of the icebergs are interwoven with black ash streaks from volcanic activity centuries ago.
Continuing along Route 1 we stopped in Vik to camp. This one of of my favorite campsites mainly for the showers. They were super reminiscent of Equinox locker rooms only coin operated and without Kiehl’s products. After subsisting on PB&Js for a few days we treated ourselves to beers and burgers at Smidjan Brugghus. The great selection of local craft beers, inviting atmosphere, and friendly staff stretched our quick bite into a several hour dinner.
We started the morning off at Dyrholaey, know for its historic lighthouse, impressive views, and puffin sightings. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any puffins but the Wes Anderson-esque lighthouse was really darling. Reynisfjara, Iceland’s most deadly beach, is known for sneaker waves: single waves much larger than the other ones that sweep people out to sea. The elements are really extreme here with jagged rock formations and basalt sea stacks. Really cool to see but we didn’t stick around for long.
An absolute must see, Skogafoss was one of my favorite waterfalls in Iceland. To the right of the waterfall you can climb up steps that lead to an observation deck at the very top. Once you’re at the top follow the trail to see at least ten smaller waterfalls. Every time we thought we were at the last one we would see another further down the trail.
Not far from Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss is another really impressive waterfall. You’re able to walk behind this waterfall as there’s a pathway that encircles it. Be prepared to get drenched. So glad that I brought a waterproof jacket and pants for this experience alone.
If I only had 24 hours in Iceland I would go to Seljavallalaug. This outdoor swimming pool is one of Iceland’s oldest, fed by a nearby hot spring and nestled in the hills. Despite the cold afternoon the water was pleasantly warm. It’s about a 20 minute hike in so definitely wear shoes and grab a towel. As you take a dip you have the most incredible view and are able to spot waterfalls in the distance.
We stayed at Gesthus Selfoss for the night and it was one of our favorite campsites. The communal areas were really homey and when we checked in there were souvenirs and Icelandic wool for sale. We had some time to kill in the afternoon and decided to relax at the Selfoss local swimming pool. The steam room, sauna, cold, and hot pools were so relaxing after a few days of travel.
The only attraction we paid to see, Kerio is one of Iceland’s many volcanic crater lakes. Trails encircle the crater and lead all the way down to the water. We were able to catch the sunset and it was stunning. Perfect detour if you’re planning on exploring the Golden Circle.
The obligatory stop Blue Lagoon far surpassed my expectations. I’ve heard mixed reviews since it’s a tourist destination and so many people spend the day there. Highly recommend upgrading one level to the Premium package as you get a bathrobe, slippers, complimentary drink, two face masks, and sparkling wine at their restaurant LAVA. We were able to enjoy the lagoon for a few hours before our reservation. A lot of guests went to the restaurant in their robes which we wished we would have thought of. We had the prix fixe Icelandic gourmet menu with arctic char and lamb fillet, finishing with a salted caramel dessert. Yum!
Continuing our rest and relaxation leg of the trip, we drove to the secluded cabin we rented for the night with Airbnb. Use this link to get $40 off your first trip. The place was so stylish and cozy complete with a fireplace! We caught up on reading and lounged around, enjoying soup in the perfect window nook for dinner.
After returning our van and busing downtown, we spent the remainder of our trip in Reykjavik. Check out my Guide to Reykjavik to read more about our time there.