~ So you’ve decided to embark on an adventure through Iceland, the land of fire and ice? Here’s my ultimate 5-day road trip itinerary so you don’t have to source the interwebs for hours like I did ha~
The important and semi-boring useful tips before you go
In terms of transportation, hiring a car is going to be the most cost-effective way of getting around. You will also have the luxury of being able to visit all the secret and harder to get to spots. If you plan on going off-road, I would recommend getting a 4 x 4 – especially in Winter. We went with Budget for our rental car hire which cost on average $600 for 5-days including insurance. There were lots of camper vans too which is worth looking into.
However, if you don’t intend on driving a car throughout Iceland, or you’re not comfortable driving in the snow, I noticed a few tour groups that will take you to where you need to go, pending your budget and time like Reykjavik excursions, BusTravel Iceland or Arctic Adventures. I’ve also created a Google Maps itinerary showing you the exact pinned locations of our journey, some of which we never actually got to visit but worth looking into if you have more time.
With Iceland’s continuous rise in popularity, I advise for you to book your accommodation as early as possible. We were not as organised as I had hoped, and missed out on a lot of wonderful places. Here’s a very useful article which lists some of the best AirBnB’s in Iceland for you.
Now if you’re like me and DYING to see the Northern Lights, the best time to actually go is in the month of October and March but the season runs from late August to mid-April. Although it’s still possible to see the beautiful spectacle, the temperature needs to be very cold with a clear sky for visibility. There is never any real guarantee in seeing them as it depends on the solar flares.
We took our chances and travelled mid-November and didn’t have the best of luck with the weather. That’s another thing about Iceland you have to take into consideration…the weather is unpredictable. We literally had four seasons in one day. It’s just something you’ll have to take with a grain of salt but definitely come prepared.
Day 1 of our trip had us arriving via Ryan Air rather late in the afternoon. In our convoy of four, we opted to stay in Reykjavik at Central Premium Luxury Apartments. I have to stress that accommodation in Iceland is not cheap, reaching well above $100USD per night, sometimes even more. A lot of the grocery stores were already closed but we had dinner at Svarta Kaffid, a well-known joint serving local soup from a bread bowl.
Our first Icelandic destination on day 2 is the infamous Golden Circle route. Did you know that the sun rises around 9:45AM and sets 4:30PM during the colder and winter months? Your best bet is to set off early so you can get to your first destination by the time it gets light. The roads were in pretty good condition accompanied by mind-blowing scenery everywhere. We couldn’t help ourselves when we noticed the tiny Icelandic ponies on the side of the road and stopped to feed them and take a photo.
We arrived in Thingvellir National Park by about 10AM and the crowds had already started. There is a walk that will take you max 80 minutes to complete. What’s so special about this park is the way it’s been formed, lying under two tectonic plates between North America and Eurasia. Pretty fucking cool if you ask me – not many places in the world where you can say you stood between two continents at the same time.
It was freezing here but if you’re a pro-diver, you have the opportunity to go diving here, considered a top ten diving spot in the world with up to 100 metres of visibility. The Silfra dive takes you into the continental rift between North America and Eurasian tectonic plates, opening you up to crystal clear waters that fill the canyon.
The second stop of the Golden Circle was the Geysir Geothermal Area, a popular hot spring in south-west Iceland that sprouts hot water hundreds of feet into the air.
Our final stop of the Golden Circle was Gullfoss, a tiered waterfall with the highest fall reaching a height of 32 metres. Try to get here early to avoid the crowds.
There are a few places to stay after the Golden Circle loop, but if you’re continuing your journey to the South Coast, it’d be wise to stay in either Hella or Vik as opposed to going back to Reykjavik. If you’re doing it this way, there are a few more awesome waterfalls to check out along the way. My favourite was Seljalandsfoss, I mean, there aren’t many places in the world where you can stand behind a 65-metre waterfall is there?
We decided to continue on and stay in Vik this night at Black Beach Suite Apartments. Interestingly, upon arrival, we noticed a cool and cosy hostel opening up for the first time. Look up ‘The Barn’ if you plan on heading out this way and searching for a more affordable option.
Day 3 of our Icelandic adventure had us travelling from Vik to Hof (biggggg day of driving).
We started our day by visiting Reynisfjara, a world-famous black sand beach on the South coast. I had never seen anything like it before – really – huge basalt stacks and panoramic views of the Atlantic. It was rugged, wild and I remembered taking a mental note that I’d never felt so alive at this moment. I was so happy to be in Iceland!
During our drive towards the east, we stopped at Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. It was an overcast day but luckily no rain. The Fjaðrá river flows through the canyon and it was believed that 9000 years ago, during the last Ice age, the glaciers formed this breathtaking canyon that is 100-metres deep. Definitely, one you shouldn’t miss as it was one of my favourite views in Iceland and not exactly on the tourist trail. There are three viewing points here and the walk takes approx 20-30 minutes (with stops) so make sure you walk to all three as it offers different vantage points that become more dramatic the higher you go.
Next up, was something I had found from another blog – Svínafellsjökull Glacier, a place where you can see a glacier tongue up close. The drive to get there is not recommended for small cars as the road was filled with potholes for approximately 10-mins. I would probably skip this if the weather is shitty and you’re not a strong driver but pictures below for reference and as always – worth doing your own research and making the call.
By this point of our journey, the skies were getting darker by the minute. We stayed at the Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon (literally in the middle of no-where) to settle for the night. This was a highly rated hotel with a hefty price tag ($400USD a night for a standard room) and with such a price you expect a high quality of rooms but it looked more basic than it appeared on photos.
Day 4 involved a jam-packed day for us as we drove all the way to Hofn to visit Stokkness beach and Vestrahorn mountain and then back to Vik.
Along the way, we visited Jökulsárlón and Diamond beach for sunrise (around 10AM). This is easily one of Iceland’s greatest wonders as we watched icebergs melt away across to Diamond beach.
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In awe at seeing Jökulsárlón for the first time, one of #Iceland’s greatest natural wonders. The glacial lagoon floats on a lake and icebergs (more than 1000 years old) continually crumble from the shrinking glacier partially due to #globalwarming. It then slowly drifts out to the sea and forms #Diamondbeach. As you can see the glaciers take on various shapes and colours, from transparent to white or my favourite – a light blue shade due to the way it’s been formed. A spectacle indeed 😯#iceland #guidetoiceland #wheniniceland #jokulsarlon #culturetrip #suitcasetravels #gltlove #girlslovetravel #earthmood #dametraveler #passionpassport #cntraveler #ourlonelyplanet #icelandtravel #adventure
Diamond beach is just across the road where you’ll see glaciers in many shapes and colours – from transparent white to a light blue shade due to the way it’s been formed. Easily one of my favourite locations throughout Iceland and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
After a good hour here, we continued on to Stokkness, a charming little town in Southeast Iceland which stretches back to the 9th century where supposedly Vikings had once lived. But unlike most of Iceland’s attractions, you have to pay about 800kr per person as I believe it’s set on private property.
Alas, we paid and here I understood why Vestrahorn mountain is every photographer’s dream – the landscape is dramatic, vast and breathtaking to say the least.
Unable to go any further due to time constraints, we headed back towards Vik so we could start making our way towards Reykjavik.
Day 5 we needed to get back into Reykjavik from Vik. This drive took approximately 2.5 hours this day but we were caught in a storm and could hardly see the roads so ultimately still no luck with the Northern lights and didn’t leave much room for sightseeing.
Day 6 we managed to squeeze Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik’s Most Famous Church and Blue Lagoon as our final stop before our late flight at night. You must pre-book your time slot for the Blue Lagoon to avoid missing out.
Now if you’re looking for more in-depth information, check out Guide To Iceland. I found a great deal of extra information here that you may find useful when planning your next trip.
THINGS WE MISSED I WOULD RECOMMEND LOOKING INTO
- Reykjadalur natural river hot springs – This “steamy valley” is an under the radar spot which is completely natural and free. A hot stream runs through the lush green valley of Reykjadalur where you can soak in the numerous pools. Due to poor weather conditions, we weren’t able to go here but it looks like an unbelievable experience.
- The abandoned DC plane wreck on the black beach at Sólheimasandur. In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone survived but the plane remains. From the main road it takes about an hour to walk here but I can imagine it’d be worth it if it looks anything like this! Wouldn’t recommend doing it alone or in winter through heavy snow.
All in all, Iceland is a destination to put on your bucket list if you love the open road and adventure. The wild and rugged landscapes matched with unpredictable weather makes for a beautiful journey no matter your reasons for visiting Iceland and how much time you have.