Our road trip around Iceland

Iceland post cover

Our road trip around Iceland was probably one of our greatest adventures this year.

Why? Because it was so unlike anywhere else we had been before. The weather, the environment, the people made it different and fascinating to explore.

I have answered more in detail technical questions in my post Tips on traveling in Iceland. However, since so many people are planning a future trip. Or they are simply dreaming about going there one day, I wanted to share our detailed itinerary as well. This post is all about where we went and what we saw!

Cosimo and Emma building a snowman
Cosimo and Emma building a snowman

Driving in Iceland 

We like being independent when moving around so we decided to rent a 4×4 at Blue Car Rental. We loved it! This option gave us more freedom to move around especially when we found roads that needed 4 wheel drive. It was a bit more expensive than a traditional car but totally worth it in Iceland! The price included free GPS, which is a first for us. However, we also have google maps downloadable version. So when we were driving in areas with no connection we didn’t get lost!

One of the tips we received and always share is to get all the necessary insurances. The weather is so unexpected here. It can be extremely easy to damage the car! Don’t save money by skipping insurance in Iceland! On our last day, we did experience the strongest and scariest wind ever and our door almost flew off the car!

This was our itinerary for our first exploration of windy Iceland. The stops are based on where we slept each night. Due to the time of the year, which was still low season, we were able to book most places only a week before arrival. On the other hand, in high season I heard it would be impossible!

Drive time and distance:

  • Reykjavik to Snorrastöðum: 1 hour 27 minutes – about 109 km
  • Snorrastöðum to Akureyri: 4 hours 12 minutes- about 358 km
  • Akureyri to Húsavík: 1 hour – about 85 km
  • Húsavík to Mývatn: 50 minutes – 62 km
  • Myvatn to Reyðarfjörður: 2 hour 47 minutes – about 222 km
  • Reyðarfjörður to Höfn: 3 hours – about 223 km
  • Höfn to Hörgsland: 2 hours 15 minutes – about 189 km
  • Hörgsland to Keflavik: 3 hours 58 minutes – about 302 km

Reykjavik

We arrived in Iceland in the afternoon and drove to Reykjavik, which is about an hour away from the airport. This is something to keep in mind if you don’t book a car, you have to plan a way to get to the main city. If you are staying there. 

What did we see?

We didn’t have any plans for our full day here. We knew we were going to be a bit jet-lagged and probably still adjusting to the cold. But, at one point we did venture out anyway. We parked our car at the Hallgrimskirkja church, checked out the church, and got our ticket to go to the top. There is a beautiful view of the whole city. As you get out of the church the best thing to do is just walk around the harbor. There you will find plenty of shops (lots of tourists were buying last-minute souvenirs), lovely cafes, and restaurants. In addition, we found some pretty cool street art.

Downtown Reykjavik

Just as we were leaving the downtown area we stopped to see the Sun Voyager Sculpture. This is a steel sculpture on Reykjavik’s waterfront that resembles a Viking long-ship. This landmark, created by Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason, is a dreamboat and an ode to the sun. Close by you will see the Harpa Cultural Center which is a concert hall and conference center. What is fascinating about this building is its structure. It consists of geometric-shaped glass panels of different colors.

If you have extra time, don’t miss the Grotta Lighthouse. This is a small lighthouse at the north-westernmost point of Reykjavik. It’s a perfect place to enjoy the outdoors, go for a walk, or do some bird watching. If the weather is cooperating, it is also a great place to see the northern lights, since it is outside the city. 

Harpa Cultural Center and Sun Voyager Sculpture
Harpa Cultural Center and Sun Voyager Sculpture

Where did was stay? Blue House B&B. The property has 3 houses and guests can choose from guest rooms or self-catering apartments. The property is located in an ideal location for Northern Lights hunting. I got to see them directly from my room and take pictures without having to stand out in the cold for hours!

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Snaefellsnes Peninsula

I read a lot of great things about this area so we added it to our itinerary. Considering the never-ending lists of “must-see” we decided to book 2 nights. This would give us a bit more time to explore.

On the way there we also tried to stop at Glymur Falls, which are Iceland’s tallest waterfall. However, once we got there, we realized that hike might have been too much for our kids. We were still adjusting to the new environment and moved along.

What did we see?

We stopped for a lunch break on the way to the Peninsula at Borgarnes. We enjoyed a little history lesson about Iceland’s early days at The Settlement Center – Landnámssetur Íslands. They have a restaurant with a museum. The food was delicious and the exhibition very interesting!

Once you are on the Peninsula, take a drive to the Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs. They are a row of perfectly shaped hexagonal basalt columns that run along a cliff on the southern side of the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula. We also ventured up the road a little to see some of the lava fields and climb up a crater. As you drive down the Peninsula you will find one of the most photographed church in Iceland: the Black Church in Budir. We were lucky enough to be there right when a wedding was starting!

Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Snaefellsnes Peninsula

As our exploration continued, we went to a very unique beach: Djúpalónssandur, a black pebble beach. The waves are so powerful that while you are standing in front of them you have a feeling that you will be swept away. On the beach, we found iron pieces from a British trawler, which was wrecked on the night of 13th March 1948. Behind the rocks, there are two freshwater lagoons called Djúpulón and Svörtulón. Lagoons such as these are held in high regard amongst the Icelandic people as they are thought to possess healing properties.

A short drive from there was Lóndrangar basalt volcanic dykes sticking out from the ocean. These are the remains of a crater, which has been eroded to its present form by the sea. Another great stop is to climb up the side of Saxholl Crater. This is the perfect crater to visit for those who don’t want to do long hikes. It is approximately 100 m high with a walking path and steps in order to make the ascent as easy as possible for guests. If you like lighthouses from there you can go check out Öndverðarnes lighthouse which is at the westernmost point of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It is surrounded by large lava fields on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other side. For Icelandic fishermen, before GPS, a lighthouse at Öndverðarnes was crucial to guide them past this point at Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Where did we stay? Snorrastadir Farm Holidays. This property offered self-catering vacation homes. Each house has a full kitchen, seating areas with a TV, and a terrace. There is also a hot tub, a garden and barbecue facilities. Our kids enjoyed the spacious outside to run around.

Snorrastadir Farm Holidays
Luca at Snorrastadir Farm Holidays

The Westfjords – Akureyri and Husavik

The drive from Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Akureyri was pretty long. We officially got on Iceland’s famous Ring Road (or Route 1). It is 1332 km (828 miles) long. This route supplies plenty of fantastic scenery, especially if you don’t have time to take any side trips. We drove through lava fields, open valleys, close to the coast, up the snowy mountains, and what a view every moment! Our plan was to make the first stop in Akureyri. This is a lively and energetic town and home to around 20.000 inhabitants. It is by far the most densely populated community outside the Reykjavík area.

Akureyri
Exploring Akureyri

What did we see?

Since we were “only” 262 days away from Christmas, we stopped for a visit to the Christmas House Akureyri. It was actually closed when we got there, but the owner saw us outside and let us in any way! He turned the Christmas carols on too! It was such a magical atmosphere. We felt like we were walking into a Christmas movie. It took a lot of willpower to leave, but of course, we weren’t empty-handed: cookies and Christmas decorations came home with us!

We went to Eyjafjörður to see the Laufas, which were turf farmhouses, built in the 19th century. It is now a museum (unfortunately they were still closed for the season). However when in season you can actually visit these homes and have a better feeling of what they looked like.

We went to Eyjafjörður to see the Laufas, which were turf farmhouses, built in the 19th century. It is now a museum (which when we went was still closed for the season….). However when in the season you can actually go into these homes and have a better feeling of what they looked like.

While we were in the area, we also took a day trip to Husavik. Since whale watching season was approaching we were hoping to be lucky. Unfortunately, no one was around. Also, the puffins were still missing from Puffin island. For our tour, we booked with North Sailing. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales this time. However, now have a voucher to go back, in a better season and redo the tour. I guess we will just have to come back to Iceland then!

Husavik Whale watch
Husavik Whale watch

On our drive back to Akureyri we stopped at Goðafoss Waterfall. It is a spectacular waterfall, you cannot miss it!!! The name is the very fitting “waterfall of the Gods”. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters.

Where did we stay? Brúnalaug Guesthouse – Holiday Home. This cottage was in a beautiful location overlooking the Akureyri valley and the owner’s Paprika farm greenhouse. The host also gave us a tour of her farm and explained the whole process, it was truly fascinating!

Brúnalaug Guesthouse
Tour at Brúnalaug Guesthouse greenhouse

The Westfjords – Myvatn

On our way to Lake Myvatn we stopped to the Skutustadir Pseudocraters. These were formed when hot lava flowed over the wet marsh area causing steam explosions. You can hike up to a few of them or just walk around them all. Of course, Lake Myvatn if right in front, and the ice made it very tempting for some “boot skating” on it!

Close by you will find the Dimmuborgir Lava formations. This is a walk beneath large, strange, contorted lava formations caused when lava flows cooled. There are many different length hikes. We picked one of the longer ones. However, we didn’t realize how much snow and ice we were going to find on our way until we were too much into it. Of course, our kids didn’t mind doing a bit more ice skating!

Lake Myvatn and surrounding volcano craters
Lake Myvatn and surrounding volcano craters

At a distance, you can see Hverfjall Volcano, which you can hike up to and it is worth it! The view is breathtaking from up there both at the inside of the volcano as well as the surrounding area. Hverfjall is a tuff ring volcano with an impressive 1km in diameter crater. It was created about 2,500 years ago and it is connected to the very active Krafla volcanic system, which has been the cause of 29 eruptions since settlement.

After a long day of hikes and cold what better way to end the day than at the Myvatn Nature Baths?! These are Large geothermal pools with views down over the lava fields and the craters around Lake Myvatn.

On our way out of Lake Myvatn, we made a couple of extra stops. First at Krafla Viti crater, which is located near lake Myvatn and it is a circular crater filled with blue water and surrounded by a geothermal area and colorful mountains. Of course, there was only ice now, but it was still amazing to see and walk all around it.

Last but not least we stopped in Hverir. This is a geothermal spot noted for its bubbling pools of mud & steaming fumaroles emitting sulfuric gas. The kids had a blast running in and out of the steam. However, it smelled really bad!

Myvatn Nature Baths
Myvatn Nature Baths and Hverir Geothermal area

Where did we stay? Guesthouse Stöng and Cottages. This little cottage was in the middle of nowhere and with sooooooo much snow! However, it was amazing to see a completely white view all around us!!!!

The Eastern Fjords

Once we left behind the northern part of Iceland, we had another long drive ahead of us. We witnessed a change in the weather as well. Clouds started rolling in. We started having a better understanding of the strong winds we had been told about. We only stopped to see Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls. Dettifoss is one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls. Selfoss is a smaller waterfall located just upriver. They are separated only by about a one-kilometer hike walking along a cliff-top. What an amazing sight! 

Dettifoss
“Ice skating” at Dettifoss

Where did we stay? Reydarfjordur Apartment. This was a very well organized apartment in Reyðarfjörður. 

South Coast

There is lot to see in the southern part of Iceland. I think is also the most visited by tourists. It would be disappointing to just drive through it without stopping. So since we don’t like to backtrack, we did sleep in different houses every night, as we moved along the cost. 

What did we see?

First place on our bucket list was the famous Breidamerkursandur, also known as the Diamond beach. This is a black volcanic sand beach where icebergs from Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon drift ashore and create such an amazing setting. Blue, black, transparent and white icebergs sit on the beach and slowly melt. Right next to it you will find the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, which was formed from the icebergs that originate at the glacier Breidamerkurjokull. This is an outlet from Europe’s largest ice cap Vatnajokull. It is an amazing place to see!

A short drive away was the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This lagoon was even more adventurous then the other because you can get really close to the ice, our kids climbed on it  as well!

South of Iceland

After driving for a while, we were in need of a good hike and Vatnajökull National Park is the perfect place! You can walk all the way to the top to see Svartifoss, a thin waterfall surrounded by columns of basalt. The hike was 5km and along the way we enjoyed some amazing views. You can admire the ocean in the distance and a few extra waterfalls on the way. The most surprising aspect about it? We walked up that it was 6 celsius and walked back down 60 minutes later and it was 14 celsius, that is a big change of temperature!!!! The weather in Iceland is always so unpredictable!

As we drove through the south coast on route 1 we were fascinated by the scenery that goes from mountains, glaciers to black beaches to canyons and lots and lots of waterfalls! On the way, we did stop to see Skogafoss, which feels so close that all you want to do is walk right into it. However, at Seljalandsfoss waterfall, you can walk behind it! You have to be careful if it is windy because it might be easier to get soaked! What a stunning view from behind there!

One of our favorite spots in the south was our unplanned stop to Hjörleifshöfði. As we were driving towards Vik we saw an enormous rock covered by clouds sitting on a very black beach! This is the most beautiful black beach I have ever seen. It was cloudy, windy and it was also raining a bit but we just could not leave. This rock can be hiked up to enjoy amazing views (when there are no clouds) or if you drive around you will find two caves that are awesome for kids!

Dyrhólaey Peninsula is another great place from where to admire the amazing views of the never-ending black beach. This is of volcanic origin and was once an island before joining up to the Icelandic mainland. It is now the southernmost part of the Icelandic mainland.

South Iceland 2

If you are up for an adventure deep into the ground you could explore Raufarhólshellir, also known as The Lava Tunnel. This is one of the longest and best-known lava tubes in Iceland. They offer 2 kinds of tours, one perfect for families because it goes only part of the way in the tunnel and it is easily accessible but still amazing. Then they have the more adventurous one that takes you all the way to the end of the tunnel…..maybe in a few years, we will do that one too! This tunnel was formed during the Leitahraun eruption, which occurred east of the Bláfjöll mountains about 5200 years ago. It was pretty amazing! I’m not sure but at this point, I have a feeling that we have a special attraction to caves, this is the 4th we visited in less than a year in 4 different countries!

We ended our day at the Secret Lagoon, a much cheaper and simpler geothermal pool. It was raining so it was an interesting experience being in the water while it rained all around us!

Where did we stay?

For this part of Iceland, we decided to drive a short section every day and stop along the way. We booked a different room every night. These are the places where we stayed. They were all self-contained, so we could cook, sleep and be completely independent.

Golden Circle

The Golden Circle was the busiest area we found throughout our drive around Iceland. Many people that have only a few days to visit the country will do this drive. It is much shorter but will still give you a taste of what Iceland is all about. The downside is each place you visit will be much busier.

The first stop was to the Kerið Crater. This is the last lake volcanic crater, luckily this one had melted ice! Kerið is approximately three thousand years old, so it is a “younger” volcanic caldera here in Iceland. That is why the slopes are red in color, rather than volcanic black. At some point Kerið crater filled with water. The water is a very vivid blue which is so tempting to swim in. Of course, it isn’t possible! We managed to walk around it and right to the water and although the wind was getting stronger no one flew in the water!

Next stop was at the Great Geysir. This Geysir actually lends its name to describe this kind of spouting hot spring, giving us the English word ‘geyser’. It has been active for approximately 10,000 years! It erupts pretty often so we had a chance to, see a few of them. Cosimo also got soaked for standing in the wrong spot (I do believe that is what he wanted though)! The last two waterfalls we visited were Gullfoss (Golden Falls) with a beautiful rainbow and Öxarárfoss Waterfall. This is a lovely waterfall although I found out that it is actually human-made. The river Öxará was moved hundreds of years ago, to channel the water into the ravine Almannagjá in the ninth century. The purpose was to provide water for the members and visitors of the Icelandic parliament Althingi in the 9th century. Who would have thought!

Golden Circle

Finally, we could not leave Iceland without learning a bit more about Vikings! We went to Keflavík at Viking World museum.

To complete our trip we made one final stop at the famous Blue Lagoon. You always see images of people relaxing in this beautiful blue/turquoise water, with a drink and a mask on their face just chatting while moving around the pool…..well remember the winds I talked about earlier? They were even worse the day we were there! The blue lagoon felt more like a day at sea with very rough water. There were actual waves and often the water would simply whip you in the face! But we did get to put a mask on, although it didn’t last long. We did get a drink, but there was more lagoon water in it than beer! It was a truly once in a lifetime experience and we will never forget it, it made our time here much more exciting!

Golden Circle 2

Where did we stay?

Úthlíd Cottages, lovely cottages with a beautiful view on the valley!

Base Hotel by Keflavik airport, great place to stay when you have an early flight out!

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