The ultimate road trip in Iceland for first-timers

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Roadtrip in Iceland for beginners

It is hard to describe the incredible wild beauty of Iceland. There is something for everyone: powerful waterfalls, green hills full of grazing sheep and horses, breathtaking fjords or massive glaciers. We’re convinced that the best way to explore the country is by car. This post will give you an idea of how your road trip in Iceland should look like in case you’re visiting for the first time.

Our itinerary requires at least one week. However, in order to enjoy everything properly we suggest you reserve around 10 days for the trip. There are plenty of places to see and you’ll probably want to stop on the way many times. Your trip might also be affected by the capricious weather, but first things first.

Road trip in Iceland: things to consider

It’s not that long since Iceland became a popular destination. Most tourists only visit once because it is not a cheap holiday. We’re not going to lie to you: if you’re on a tight budget you it’s gonna be very difficult for you to enjoy all the island has to offer. Anyway, a little organizing might save you some money.

Back to our road trip in Iceland: before you throw yourselves into this big adventure you need to consider several things. There are many car rentals so finding a free car won’t be an issue. They will also instruct you briefly on how to behave on the road.

You will probably be too excited to listen so read carefully:

  • the speed limit in Iceland is 90kmph on paved roads and 80kmph on gravel roads. Don’t be mistaken by empty roads. There are speed cameras where you wouldn’t expect them and you surely don’t want to get a nasty fine after your trip.
  • get a complete car insurance: even small scratches not caused by you can affect the final price you pay. The traffic in Iceland is basically non-existent but things can get a little rough around the main attractions. A lot of people gather in relatively small parking lots and accidents can happen.
  • we experienced all kinds of weather in Iceland: hot sun, think fog, drizzle or strong wind. The last one can easily make your life bitter if you’re not careful when opening the doors of the car. Remember that no car insurance covers this damage.
  • unless you have a 4×4 car you should avoid gravel roads. Make sure you check in advance what type of road lies ahead to avoid unpleasant surprises. Many of these roads are actually closed in winter.
  • download the app maps.me into your phone. It is very helpful since you don’t need internet connection to use it.

A few tips on how to save money

Iceland is expensive. Here are a few verified tips on how to make your road trip in Iceland financially less painful:

  • most car rentals have an agreement with gas stations. It means you can get a discount each time you refuel. We also had a discount for meals and a free coffee. Gas stations are probably the cheapest places you can eat on the way. They have plenty of burgers, sandwiches, salads and snacks with a few veg options as well.
  • look for discounts on the internet: for example there are groups on facebook that cooperate closely with local tour operators and can provide you with a significant discount for their tours.
  • look for guest houses with a kitchen: once in a while instead of eating out you can stay in and cook something fast like pasta or soup.

Your perfect itinerary

So, now that you’re good to go let’s look at how your itinerary might look like. If you feel it is too packed, feel free to skip a few places or excursions. The advantage of a road trip in Iceland is that it’s even driving to see the most breathtaking landscape you can imagine.

Iceland has the only international airport which is Keflavik. Your road trip can start right from there.

Day 1

Geysir strokkur Iceland

STARTING POINT: KEFLAVIK

FINAL POINT: VIK

We have a day full of sightseeing ahead. The first stop might not be that impressive but it’s interesting to see anyway. The Thingvellir National Park is something like a bridge between America and Europe. You can see how the tectonic places divided and the place also has historical importance. The first general assembly in Iceland happened right there.

The second stop is another rare phenomenon that you can only see in a few countries around the world: geysir. The whole area is full of geothermal activity and hot springs. However, most tourists are curious mainly about Strokkur that explodes in the air every 6-8 minutes.

Gullfoss is going to be the first waterfall in Iceland to take your breath away. Do not forget your waterproof jacket, you could get soaking wet!

Now you have to head back and start driving towards Vik. There are a few more remarkable spots on the way. One of them is Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. You can actually walk all the way around the crater or down to the lake.

To end the day in a really spectacular way make Seljalandsfoss your last stop. This waterfall is special because you can walk behind its water curtain! It’s hard to describe this wonderful experience so you have it try it yourselves!

Stop for the night in Vik, a small and cute coastal town with a characteristic white church.

Day 2

Vik Lakla ice cave

STARTING AND FINAL POINT: Vik

On the second day you can slow down a little bit. We took an excursion to a nearby ice cave located inside the Katla volcano. Katla is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Its last explosion destroyed everything around and killed a lot of people. It was a very hot day and the ice in the cave was melting fast. The jeep ride to the cave is super exciting!

The tour will take a few hours and after you can start exploring the surroundings of Vik. Start with the waterfall Skogafoss in the middle of green hills. It is one of those waterfalls where you can really close to the water!

Now you should have some proper beach time. Just kidding, don’t even think about taking a bath: the water is freezing and you would probably get drown! However, you can visit the Black Sand Beach or Reynisfjara with its basalt stacks. Do not get too close to the water, the dangerous sneaker waves have killed several people in the last few years.

In the evening if you have any energy left you can walk up to the church of Vik from where you will get a nice view of the area. If you’re lucky you can spot some puffins on the beach of Vik!

Day 3

Skaftafell glacier walk

STARTING POINT: Vik

FINAL POINT: Höfn

It’s time to get you road trip in Iceland to a different level. You need to leave Hofn early in the morning as another excursion awaits you. In case you have never walked on the glacier before Iceland offers you a good opportunity to do so. There are a few operators (by no means try to go on your own) that organize glacier hikes, mainly in Skaftafell. You will need proper equipment but the operator should provide everything you need. It’s a whole new experience and you should do it at least once in a lifetime.

In the Skaftafell area you can find another beautiful waterfall called Svartifoss. You will need to hike there for 30-40mins but the waterfall will reward you with its fascinating basalt columns.

Another interesting spot on the way is Hofskirkja turf church with a tiny cemetery.

Most tourist look forward to seeing Jokulsarlon, the glacier laggon. It is filled with pieces of ice slowly floating on the water. It is probably more impressive in winter. We visited in mid-June and there was not much ice left in the lagoon due to the unusual heat.

After the lagoon proceed to Höfn where you can spend the night. This small town has many picture-perfect spots in the surroundings. You can reward yourself with a nice dinner in one of the local restaurants. Their fish and chips is a perfection!

Day 4

STARTING POINT: Höfn

FINAL POINT: Seydisfjordur

As you start driving further east the landscape will change radically. Just a few kms from Hofn you can find another black sand beach. This one has all the black sand dunes in it and a Viking village nearby. Now you’re coming into the land of fjords and most of them are truly impressive.

Our first destination that day was Djúpivogur, a small village squeezed between two fjords. However, we had to stop many times along the way to check all the stunning cliffs and lighthouses. If you start early from Hofn you will get to Djúpivogur around lunchtime. Walk around the village and have something to eat before going on.

All the pics that you see are pretty much all the anonymous places we saw on the way that weren’t even on our schedule. Yep, that’s the true magic of Iceland! The funniest part was getting to Seydisfjordur, our destination for the night. There is only road that leads to the village and you have to cross a mountain all covered in snow. We had to drive through the thickest fog you can imagine almost running over a few sheep strutting down the road. Anyway, Seydisfjordur will reward you with its loveliness.

Day 5

STARTING POINT: Seydisfjordur

FINAL POINT: Svínavatn

A lot of driving is expecting you today so you better wake up early. You need to take the same mountain road to get out of Seydisfjordur and then drive in the direction of Akureyri, which is the biggest town in the north. The first stop you shouldn’t miss is the Namafjall geothermal area with its boiling mud. These natural hot springs are not good for taking a bath. They would probably turn you into a roast chicken!

If you want to know what it’s like to take a bath in the hot springs and want to avoid crowds go for Myvatn Nature Baths! It is also much cheaper than the famous Blue Lagoon and you will have the whole place to yourselves. As the name says they are in the Myvatn area, which is a huge lake that you will surely spot on your road trip in Iceland.

If you keep driving west you will get to another beautiful waterfall: Goðafoss. The great thing about waterfalls in Iceland that you just cannot get tired of them since they are all completely different!

Apart from endless times we stopped on the way to enjoy breathtaking landscapes our destination for the day was the Svínavatn Guest House. This farmhouse in the middle of nowhere surrounded by green pastures with a lake nearby is a perfect spot to end a day full of driving.

Day 6

whale watching Olafsvik

STARTING POINT: Svínavatn

FINAL POINT: Ólafsvík

The first half of the sixth day was again dedicated to driving. We had to get from Svínavatn to Ólafsvík before 2pm. The reason for all the rush was another special excursion awaiting us. This time we boarded on a whale watching ship. First it looked like we weren’t going to see anything but after about an hour we spotted a group of five or six killer whales moving around the ship. A little later a lonely mink whale appeared for a few seconds and in the end a group of white beaked dolphins did quite a show for us. No sperm whales but hey, it was definitely one of the best moments of our road trip in Iceland.

In the evening we had a nice dinner in town and after that drove around the area a little bit. As you can see in the pics there are plenty of super nice spots!

Day 7

Kirkjufell

STARTING AND FINAL POINT: Ólafsvík

Get ready to see some mesmerizing spots around the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the seventh day. One day is enough to see the essentials. If the weather is clear start with the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall which is famous mostly because of the mount Kirkjufell in the background. Its presence in the photos has a very strong effect.

We are sure many of you have heard about a traditional Icelandic specialty: hakarl. It is basically fermented shark meat, which has a very strong ammonia smell. There is a shark museum that you can visit and where you can actually taste it. There are videos of people almost vomitting after eating a piece of shark meat. Trust us, it’s not that bad! Anyway, this is just a short and bizarre stop on your road trip in Iceland.

Now head to the south of the peninsula where Ytri Tunga lies. This beach apart from being really beautiful is also interesting because of its visitors: seals. If the weather is sunny you can see them lying on the rocks enjoying the sun. You will probably have to observe them from a distance since the beach is full of deep and slippery seaweed.

The seal beach is very close to the Black Church of Budir, which is an obligatory stop. We visited on the Icelandic National Holiday and we were invited for coffee and pancakes at the nearby hotel.

Budir church

After Budir a series of spots where you can see impressive cliffs follow. The first two are in the village of Arnarstapi. The views are truly divine but we couldn’t enjoy them because of a strong wind blowing.

Next stop in Djúpalónssandur. It is another black sand beach but this one has pieces of a wrecked ship all over. Be careful because there is also a great danger of sneaker waves!

If you’re still not tired then you can add one more stop to your road trip in Iceland: walking around a volcano. The Saxholl crater is on the way to Olafsvik and if you’re fascinated by volcanoes just like us then this is something not to miss.

All ends well..

On the eighth day you will probably head back to Reykjavík to return the car. Reykjavík is not huge but very enjoyable and has a few interesting spots. It’s gonna be a nice last stop on your road trip in Iceland and it will leave you the best memories.

We hope that you are going to love Iceland as much as we did. We are convinced it’s impossible not to fall in love with its landscapes, colours and untamed beauty.

Have you ever been to Iceland? What did you like the most? Let us know in the comments!

If you like Iceland then you might also enjoy Chile!

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