Iceland truly is the land of fire and ice, where roads will take you from white-capped mountains and glaciers to volcanoes and 100-degree (F) hot springs.
There are an infinite amount of things to do and explore in Iceland and in this post I’m sharing some tips and an itinerary to help you get started with your trip planning. I saw Iceland by van and if this is how you plan to travel the country, this article might be particularly helpful for you.
Tips to Help Your Trip Planning:
Getting to Iceland
I flew WoW Air from London Gatwick Airport to Kevlavik Airport, which is a 40-minute drive from Iceland’s major city, Reykjavik. While WoW Air advertises discount prices (my flight was only £128), there are so many added costs that don’t really make it worth it – you have to pay additional fees for your seat, luggage (even for a carry-on bag), etc. Plus, they have possibly the worst customer service I’ve every experienced. And since my bad experience with WoW Air I’ve read quite a few other horror stories. If you can, fly into Kevlavik with Iceland Air. From Kevlavik Airport, you can easily buy a bus ticket (FlyBus) that will take you either straight into Reykjavik or, if you have the time, you can also stop by the Blue Lagoon on your way. If you plan to see the Blue Lagoon on your way, make sure you’ve booked a time slot in advance because they book up fast. This was a mistake I made on my trip.
Getting Around Iceland
To get around Iceland you really need a car! I would avoid any sort of group excursions or bus tours, as this will really limit your freedom to see some pretty spectacular spots, especially those that are a little bit off the beaten path. While it will be one of the main costs of your trip, it won’t set you back too far (around £35 a day depending on the season), and it’s necessary since most of what there is to do and see is outdoors (and free!) anyways.
Most people who visit Iceland rent a car. Blue Car Rental is by the airport and has come recommended by friends as a reliable service, plus they offer roadside assistance (that you hopefully won’t need). I also considered renting from SADcars, which is located both at the airport and in downtown Reykijavik. This is a cheap option, as they use slightly used cars. Not to worry though, they also offer 24 hr roadside assistance.
Another option is to rent a van! After doing research on car rentals and realizing that with the cost of a van I was both covering my transportation and accommodation costs, I decided that #vanlife was the cheaper and more interesting way to see Iceland! There are a lot of options for places to rent vans, including KuKu Campers where I rented from. I drove an automatic van (I named him Litil Leif from Iceland – hehe), which was 119 Euros a day. Don’t let cold weather discourage you either (well, maybe do if it’s winter) because there are extra heaters in the van to be used throughout the night.
Driving in Iceland
I found driving in Iceland to be very easy. The roads can be quite narrow though, and you do need to take different precautions depending on what time of year you are visiting. Also, there are only some 300,000 people living in Iceland so you’re likely to be passing many tourists when driving the Ring Road, who aren’t necessarily paying very close attention to their driving.
- GPS: Driving the Ring Road (N1) is quite easy to follow and it is well marked. I didn’t rent a GPS, I used an old school paper map or occasionally my cell phone GPS when lost in Reykjavik. When planning routes, keep in mind that everything takes longer to drive than you think.
- F-roads: While the Ring Road is very well maintained, there are F-Roads which branch off of this and they tend to be gravel or dirt roads. There are quite a few sites which are just off the Ring Road and will require you to drive these F-Roads a short distance. Many car/van rental places will say not to go on these roads, however I always found them fine to drive. Just make sure you have the right insurance in case of anything!
- 4WD: You don’t need 4WD to drive the F-Roads. I didn’t have 4WD during my trip and this wasn’t a problem. Depending on what you have planned for your trip and the season, you might consider this as an option though.
When to Visit
When to go to Iceland – the million-dollar question! There are a lot of factors to consider, including the weather, crowds and the amount of daylight. The high season is June-August, which is obviously when it is the warmest and you will have the looooongest days. The trade off is that there will be big crowds and MUCH higher prices. The low season is winter when it’s the coldest and mostly dark. I personally would avoid this time. The best time to visit is in early to mid-April. The days are longer, it’s getting warmer, there are fewer crowds, cheaper prices and you still have the potential to see the Northern Lights.
What to Pack
See my post here on what to pack for exploring Iceland. I’ve included particular items that are specific to seeing Iceland by van in the Spring, but most of my recommendations can be modified for any trip around the country. Pack light, pack layers and make sure you have some waterproof clothing and footwear!
Where to Stay
There are lots of options for accommodation along the Ring Road. In the high season, things book up quickly so you may need to do some planning in advance. One reason I liked seeing the country by van, is because it gave a bit more freedom to my itinerary. I wasn’t bound to stay in whatever hotel I had booked weeks in advance and instead I just showed up at whichever camping spot I felt like sleeping at.
- Hotels: There are many hotel options in Iceland, but keep in mind that accommodation is EXPENSIVE! One interesting hotel to give a try is the ION Adventure Hotel. I didn’t stay here but would like to next time I visit Iceland.
- Camping: My favorite option is camping. It was cheap (around £10 a night) and gave a lot of freedom to my itinerary. Plus, you can wake up with some pretty incredible views. If you are camping in summer, bring something to cover your eyes when you sleep because it won’t get dark! This website shows lots of camping spots around Iceland.
In the itinerary below I’ve indicated places I stayed or specific options for places to stay around the Ring Road. The prices I’ve included are based off the rates in April. I would double or even triple some of these for summer.
A 10-Day Itinerary:
The above tips should will help you prior to any visit to Iceland. Below, I’ve included a sample itinerary for exploring the entire Ring Road. Keep in mind that there is no ‘right’ way to drive the Ring Road – and you are likely to make a lot of unplanned stops along the way. Iceland is just too beautiful not to! I’d recommend using this as a guide, planning out your must-sees, and then allowing extra time for all those unplanned moments.
Day 1: Arrive in Iceland
As you are probably arriving in Iceland in the late morning or early afternoon, spend this first day picking up your car or van and preparing for your epic road trip! There are plenty of grocery stores to choose from, but I would pick up groceries from either Iceland or Bonus before you set off. I saved a lot of money by not eating out and making my own lunches and snacks instead.
Where to Stay: Kex Hostel, Reykjavik (£27 mixed dorm)
Day 2: Golden Circle
If you don’t have a lot of time, skip the Golden Circle and start straight down the South Coast. Given its close proximity to Reykjavik, this part of Iceland tends to be more crowded with bus tourists. However, if you have the time, there are a few sites that are worth seeing. Plus, you can make a pit-stop at a great hot spring on your way.
- See the tectonic plates at Pingvellir National Park. This is also a great spot to scuba dive the Silfra Fissure between the two continents!
- Visit the impressive Gulfoss waterfall
- See the Geysir geothermal area – to be honest though was not impressed at all by this
- Drive to the small town of Hveragoi for a hike to Rekjadalur hot spring (7km round trip)
- Drive the Ring Road (N1) to Seljalandfoss waterfall
- Have dinner at Gamla Fjosa. The volcano soup, hamburger and Viking beer are must haves!
Where to Stay: Skogat campsite by Skogarfoss waterfall (1000 ISK, £8 per person)
Day 3: The South Coast
The drive along the South Coast of Iceland was one of my favorite parts of the trip as it was filled with so many stunning sites in such a short distance. If you aren’t able to travel the entire Ring Road, at least try to visit the South Coast on your trip to Iceland.
- Wake up and have breakfast in front of Skogafoss waterfall
- Visit the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
- Explore Vik and the black sand beaches
- Climb along the Reynisfjara rock columns
- Take a dip in the Seljavallalaug Pool – the hike to the pool is about 10 minutes from the parking area (which is a few minutes down an F-road off of the N1)
Where to Stay: Hamragaroar Campsite (1250 ISK, £10 per person)
Day 4: Hofn
On the way to the cute town of Hofn, there are quite a few sites to see. If you have the time, you can also plan some adventurous excursions like ice climbing or a glacier tour.
- Drive through the mossy green lava rocks
- Explore the Skeidara-Jokull glacier (2 km down an F-road off of the N1) – maybe even go ice climbing!
- Watch seals at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
- Visit Svartifoss waterfall
Where to Stay: Hofn Campsite (1500 ISK, £12 per person)
Day 5: Eastern Fjords
From the Hofn area it’s a bit far to drive all the way to Lake Myvatn. Take the opportunity to visit the East Fjords on your way, which offers beautiful coastal views. Allow time for lots of stops to take photos and explore.
- Visit the small town of Seydisfjordur
- Explore the Laekjavik coast
Where to Stay: Stóra Sandfell Guesthouse/Campsite (1500 ISK, £12 per person)
Day 6: Lake Myvatn
The Lake Myvatn region of Iceland has a lot of geothermal activity, making it a particularly interesting area to explore. If you are visiting in the winter time, this area may not be accessible. I would advise checking routes before your trip.
- Visit Dettifoss waterfall
- See Lake Myvatn and take a tip in the Myvatn Nature Baths – much less crowded than the Blue Lagoon!
- Explore the Hverarond geothermal area
Where to Stay: Vogafjos Guesthouse (£150 per night)
Day 7: North Iceland + West Fjords Base
This is a long drive from Lake Myvatn but, like the rest of Iceland, all roads lead to stunning spots. So be prepared to make a lot of stops to take photos.
- Visit Godafoss waterfall, which is halfway between Myvatn and Akureyri
- Make a stop in the northern town of Akureyri, which is the second largest town in Iceland
- If staying in Hvammstangi, have dinner at Geitafell restaurant
Where to Stay: Hvammstangi Cottages (£120 per night)
Day 8: Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Along with the South Coast, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula was one of my favorite areas in Iceland. The roads here are much quieter than the Golden Circle route. You’ll also spot some pretty other-worldly churches throughout the country side.
- Hang out with the famous Icelandic horses (I just love them!), which you can see all along the side of the road
- Visit the Budir (black) church
- Have lunch in Grundarfjord, a small fishing town
- Hike around the Kirkufell waterfall, one of the most photographed spots in Iceland
Where to Stay: Bjsrteyjarsandar Campsite (1250 ISK, £10 per person)
Day 9: Reykjavik
Reykjavik is very walkable and a lot can be done with only one day in the city. Some people might recommend spending longer, but I found that it was small and I was able to pack a lot into one day. Spend most of your time in Iceland seeing all of the incredible outdoor sites instead.
- Breakfast at Baker Sandholt for fresh juice, pastries and coffee
- Take the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja Chruch (900 Kroner, £6) for sweeping views of the city and all the colorful rooftops
- Walk Bankastraeti Main Street and pop into all of the cute shops
- Try a hot dog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (‘The Best Hotdog in Town’). I didn’t know this before my trip, but hot dogs are a favorite in Iceland and you’ll find them all over the country. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik is one of the most famous spots in Iceland to enjoy a hot dog, and the majority of Icelanders have enjoyed one from here.
- Walk along the waterfront to the Sun Voyager statue
- A late lunch at Saegreifinn in the Old Harbour. It’s a tiny spot but the lobster stew is great.
Where to Stay: Loft Hostel, Reykjavik (£35 mixed dorm)
Day 10: Blue Lagoon
If you are leaving Iceland later in the afternoon, stop by the Blue Lagoon for a few hours before heading to the airport. The Lagoon itself is on the way to the airport and a convenient stop if you take the FlyBus, which can then take you straight to the airport later. The Blue Lagoon is expensive (I paid £80 in April), with the exact cost dependent on season and time of day. I found the experience to be well-worth it, but I would also visit some of the other less-touristy hot springs around Iceland.
Tip: Book your time slot for visiting the Blue Lagoon well in advance. It books up quickly and it’s not possible to get a ticket upon arrival!
I hope this post was helpful! Please feel free to share it and let me know in the comments below what some of your must sees are for visiting Iceland.