A road trip around Iceland has been at the top of my must-do list for many years and I went into this trip with such high expectations.
Now as I look back at our experience I can say that it far exceeded those already lofty expectations and simply blew them away!
I have been in love with the Icelandic landscape ever since the release of the documentary Inside Job. For those non-finance geeks among us, this is about the Global Financial Crisis and opens with a summary of the Icelandic Banking Crisis which was one of the first triggers of the global recession.
While this has nothing to do with Iceland as a tourism destination, the footage includes some amazing sweeping shots from the air that really show off the natural colors, volcanic activity and unique rock formations that shape the country.
It was love at first sight, and now that I have been there all I can think about is going back!!
In this post:
- Our Vehicle of Choice
- Our Six Day Iceland Summer Itinerary
- Day 0
- Day 1
- Day Two
- Day Three
- Day Four
- Day Five
- Day Six
- Final Word
Our Vehicle of Choice
We chose to travel by campervan rather than a car. Having our little mobile home on wheels was so much fun!
Even with my own lack of patience for navigating small spaces I got into a groove after a couple of days. I learned how to minimize the hassle of organizing the space, packing and unpacking bedding, and getting things out of our enormous suitcases!
I would recommend this option to anyone who is looking for something a little different.
Traveling by car would be a great option too, and a 4WD would offer the most flexibility in terms of road access.
We have laid out a few of your options for vehicle hire, and a stack of other useful information that will help you plan your Iceland road trip here.
Our Six Day Iceland Summer Itinerary
Before we get stuck in I think it is worth pointing out that this is not a recommended itinerary.
We did not do much planning ahead of time. We hit the road and only created a rough plan each night for the next day.
As a result, we screwed up plenty of things along the way. We have gone into great detail with our experience to help you learn from our experience, or just get excited in anticipation of your own series of stuff-ups you will encounter.
If you are just looking for the shortcut then we have created a series of recommended itineraries based on what we learned on our trip (coming soon).
- Iceland Motor Homes -> Fitjar – 6kms
- Fitjar -> Iceland Motor Homes – 6kms
- Total – 12kms
We landed late in the evening and by the time we had driven to the campervan rental office and picked up our home on wheels I asked the staff if they knew the closest place we could park the thing and get some sleep.
He pointed to their secondary carpark and said that if we are comfortable doing so we are welcome to just pull up in there for the night.
Having traveled from Ibiza that morning on about two hours sleep we were more than happy to crash out as soon as possible and worry about the comfort of a hot shower the next day.
This was the first of my outdoor, cold, windy, bottled water showers…. But I sweat and in a small space it’s necessary for Anh’s sake!!
Before crashing out we needed some food and if possible some internet!
A quick drive down the Highway 41 led us to a small complex (Fitjar, Reykjanesbær) with a 24-hour subway and a gas station so we could stock up one some basics.
The Subway had free WIFI that was easy to log onto. This allowed us to plan out the following day…. At 1am while sitting in Subway.
With the closest major attraction being the Blue Lagoon we thought this would be a great place to start. What we didn’t know was that you need to book your time slot online.
We had two choices, 7am or 3pm. Obviously we weren’t going to waste a day sitting around so 7am it was!!!
- Iceland Motor Homes -> Blue Lagoon – 23kms
- Blue Lagoon -> Þórufoss – 80.7kms
- Þórufoss -> Thingvellir National Park – 18.1kms
- Thingvellir National Park -> Geysir – 60.9kms
- Total – 183kms
After a brief snooze the alarm was sounding and we were on the road five minutes later.
It was only a short drive to the Blue Lagoon. The terrain on the way there was a preview of what was to come in the week ahead!
The volcanic rocks, unusual colors, and the appearance of steam seeping out from the earth’s surface in random places built a lot of excitement despite our sleep-deprived state.
On arrival, the mandatory shower before entering the lagoon area was most welcome! Hot water baby!
We knew the second we stepped out of the dressing room area that the early start was the best decision we could have possibly made. The place was nearly empty and we had vast areas of the pools all to ourselves in that first half an hour.
The morning temperature in summer was still well short of 10 degrees (F?). So the walk from the bathroom to the water is a cold one and only made tolerable by the steam filled air that surrounds the thermal baths.
With the water temperature being 38 degrees (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) you will feel a soothing sensation as you gradually immerse yourself in the water. Which at first is on the edge of what is tolerable to your skin – but you quickly adjust.
The base of the lagoon feels awkward. The combination of rock and a thick silty layer that feels like heavily diluted wet cement.
Despite this, it is incredibly soothing to splash around in, and the photo opportunities are everywhere!!
Now, Anh loves a good photo/selfie – she looks far better in a bikini than I so I was happy to oblige.
But there was one couple there who took things to a whole new level! It would have been 20-30 minutes of this guy trying to take a photo his girlfriend liked in the same spot.
Props to the guy for the patience showed… But, who can pose for that long?!… Boring!!
After an hour we noticed more of a crowd arriving so we then moved on to the customary face mask included in the entry package (we discuss the package inclusions more in our full review of the blue lagoon).
This was my first ever face mask experience. Anh told me it was a good quality material(?) being used…. But I left with the same face, so not sure if it made any difference to me.
She still looked as pretty as ever of course.
The advantage of our early start was that we were done and back on the road by 9.30am. With the whole day ahead of us we decided to head to the Golden Circle, and keep going as long as we can.
This was the one circuit where having no map made things inconvenient.
We again hunted for some WIFI so we could decide on our direction and try and match up Google Maps screen shots on my phone, with our dodgy high level Iceland map.
This time we found a roadside KFC (Háholt) with excellent WIFI.
It was in the planning that Anh said one of the most Millennial comments I have ever heard:
“We need a zoomed-in map”
And then proceeded to do the finger motion on the map to demonstrate her point as if she was zooming on smartphone screen.
There was a supermarket and liquor store in the same complex so we were able to set ourselves up for the whole week before we left the Reykjavic area.
As we said goodbye to the city and headed inland, we felt that this was the real beginning of the road trip.
Our first stop was a small, but beautiful waterfall just a short detour off Highway 36.
The car park is perched up the top of the valley and provides a nice viewing platform for the waterfall. So if you are in a hurry you can be in and out in just a few minutes by admiring from a distance.
There is a rocky walking trail that descends towards the valley floor. From here you can take the short walk along the river up to the base of the waterfall.
A round trip will only take 20 minutes walking at an average pace.
This is not a super popular spot and you will not find many other tourists around. We spent 10 minutes admiring the view and taking pictures at the base, and for most of that time we were completely alone.
Thingvellir National Park
- Car park cost
To get the most out of your time here (include comments on activities and planning)
The scuba diving was one activity that raised an eyebrow. The lake didn’t look like much from the surface.
It was only when I researched this after the fact that the lake is on the edge of tectonic plates and you dive down between them.
As cool as this sounds I know that there was zero chance of me getting Anh into a lake when it was this cold!
We ended up hiking up to Aussichts-Terasse Lögberg lookout where there is a viewing platform overlooking the old church, with great views towards the lake.
From there we followed the pathway past the Kontinental-Spalte, up to the higher lookout near the visitor’s center.
This was an easy climb and gave some exceptional 270 degree views of the area, with the full lakes area visible from this spot.
The pathway leading up to the lookout was built over a massive crack in the mountainside. There are some pictures and information displayed on the way up that is worth a read.
What was initially discovered as a small hole in the path opened up into a deep and wide crack that could have swallowed up anyone unlucky enough to be walking over a weak point in the rocky cover.
So with that, we got back in the car and took off again. Based on our experience I wouldn’t rate the national park as a must see, but this would change if you had your heart set on some of the activities unique to the area.
The road out of the national park was narrow and challenging in some sections. This was a little taxing at the back end of the day and when combined with the lack of sleep, and physical activity we had packed in it became the wise choice to pack it in for the night in Geysir.
We stopped at the Geysir Camping Ground, which was just a short walk from the geothermal geyser area.
Geysir Camping Ground Info:
- Adults – 1,800 kr ($14)
- Children – 500 kr 8-15 years ($4); Under 7 free
- Hot showers – 500 kr ($4)
- Power cables for hire if needed for a caravan or RV – 900kr ($7)
- Self-service laundry available
- Credit Cards accepted
- Able to charge gadget in the main office area
- Communal sink area
We saved the walk for the morning and enjoyed our first evening preparing a home cooked meal out the back of our home on wheels, had a few glasses of wine and promptly crashed out.
- Geysir -> Gulfoss – 9.7kms
- Geysir -> Kerid Crater – 56.1kms
- Kerid Crater -> Selfoss – 15.6kms
- Selfoss -> Seljalandfoss – 70.4kms
- Seljalandfoss -> Skogafoss – 29.2kms
- Total – 181kms
Strolling around the park with geysers and pools of heated water nice and relaxing start to our day.
Aside from the smell of sulfur in the air of course.
It is fun to try and snap the perfect picture mid-eruption but of course, it requires a lot of patience. Plus a perpetual state of alertness.
Each eruption gives you just a few seconds of action and may only take place every 5-10 minutes with complete unpredictability.
So make sure your devices are fully charged so you are not worrying about conserving battery and can leave your phone or camera on and pointed at the target.
The only word of caution is to be very careful not to stand on the path of falling water.
It is hot!… Literally boiling hot!
As we pulled up to the car park we got our first glimpse of the massive glaciers that cover much of central Iceland.
Way off in the distance you could see a mountain that crept up and was capped with this massive sheet of ice that continued up to the horizon.
Until this point, we had seen nothing but greenery mixed in with volcanic rocks. This view was the first sign of just how inhospitable some of the Icelandic terrains can be when you venture off the beaten path.
But for now, we are on the beaten path and walked the opposite direction towards the Gulfoss waterfall.
Compared Porufoss this was an absolute monster of a waterfall!
Witnessing the sheer force of the water and the machine-like noise it generates was a highlight of the Golden Circle for us.
There is an elevated pathway that runs the length of the valley overlooking the falls area. This allows you to get a bird’s eye view from a number of viewing platforms.
The second option is a stairway that leads down to the rocky area immediately above the falls.
This walk is slightly more challenging but still manageable for all fitness levels. But, you should be aware that you will get wet!
It is a very windy spot and the spray from the white water churning beneath spits high up into the air and swirls around the viewing platform. But it is where you can be almost face to face with this mammoth wall of water and is definitely worth the trip.
As mentioned, the terrain does get rocky down here. My clumsy ass managed to bust open my thongs (flip flops), and I had to limp and hop my way back up on the rough ground.
Much to the amusement of everyone we walked past.
As I hopped away my only remaining thought was what would happen to this mass of water in the middle of winter when the snow and ice cover the area? I hope to come back and see it for myself one day!
We had now reached the pointy end of our Golden Circle loop and backtracked through Geysir to head south-west towards Selfoss via the Kerid Crater.
This is a very large hole in the ground with a very small sign on the road. Blink and you’ll miss it!!
We had to loop back twice before we could find the damn thing.
What really threw us off was looking on the wrong side of the road due to our dodgy map…. Duh!
Pro tip: If you are driving towards Selfoss the crater is on your left. Away from Selfoss, it is on the right!
The crater itself looks like the result of an almighty explosion. What remains is a near perfect circle with steep, rocky walls that lead down to the lake in the center.
Given the size of the crater, it really is difficult to get a photo that captures the steep pitch of the crater edge, and the width of it all.
I can assure you it’s far more impressive in person….
There is an excellent rock to get a picture about 50 meters the right of the entry point. It sits inside the rim and you have to navigate a slight dip to get to it. But it is large, stable, and very safe.
After a lap around the rim, we ventured down the staircase to the lake. On the way there you will find two platforms at various elevations to take pictures.
Then at ground level there is enough space around the lake to walk around if you feel like doing another lap.
Be careful of falling rocks if you do this. Even small ones will gather a lot of momentum by the time they roll down the rim so caution is advised.
Leave something in the tank for the walk back up. It is steep but not too long…. Anh struggled.
This was the end of the Golden Circle for us and we were headed south-east along the coast.
We decided to stop in the town of Selfoss for an afternoon cup of tea and a snack before moving on to the next leg of the drive.
The Hotel Selfoss had a café in the lobby which did a nice cup of coffee and pastries. Just the pick-me-up I needed to be able to drive well into the night (the well-lit night).
Free WIFI was available which enable us to plan out the next leg of our trip. This was a much simpler task with the Ring Road guiding the way and all we needed to decide on was the main sites where we would stop.
The hotel was adjacent to a river which would be nice for an afternoon walk. We were eager to push on though so we hit the road.
- Car park cost:
The road to Seljalandfoss is the first time we approached the enormous landmass that skirts almost the entire coast that we covered on our trip.
I don’t even know if you should call it a mountain, or plateau…. Tabletop maybe?
Anyways, it is an elevated mountain’ish thing that goes on forever. The glaciers that I mentioned earlier that we sighted from the Gulfoss car park no doubt are part of this same landmass.
All that ice and snow have to go somewhere in the warmer months (I use the term loosely). And it all cascades down the mountainside in a seemingly endless stream of waterfalls.
Some are just a trickle, others a monsoon…. Seljalandfoss was the first round of significant waterfalls we encountered and it was a beautiful sight.
There are three major falls spread out across about 1.5kms of cliff face. All are joined by a walkway and you will find a carpark at either end.
You will find a walkway that takes you behind the massive stream of water of the largest waterfall. This is a slippery and damp walk so make sure you dress for the occasion.
The noise and sheer force of the water is impressive from this close.
When you make it out the other side you again have some distance back to the cliff face and will find a picturesque bridge over a pleasant stream of pure mountain water.
Like something out of a movie.
Speaking of things straight out of a movie, our next stop took the cake for surreal waterfall views.
(I promise I won’t keep saying this – but I probably could)
Our last stop for the day was the waterfall at Skogafoss. As soon as you come around a bend in the road you cannot miss this enormous natural wonder.
Pro tip: If traveling anti-clockwise on the ring road the main entry will be the second turn off and after the falls. If want a picture from a distance right in the center of the falls then take the first turnoff. This is a bumpy dirt road, and may even be a private area so be wary of this.
You will find a number of a small but varied number of accommodation and food options on the street beside the entry road. This includes a hostel, guesthouse and restaurant.
We, of course, headed for the camping ground which was on a long strip of ground that was directly in front of the falls.
We had front row seats to the endless deluge of water through the windshield of our home on wheels. Not a bad backdrop for our evening, and a nice sight to wake up to.
And that white noise while drifting off to sleep. Amazing! If only there was some more darkness to actually sleep in.
The camping ground itself was very simple but adequate.
Skogafoss Camping Ground:
- Adults – 1,500 kr ($12)
- Hot showers – 300 kr ($3)
- Power cables for hire if needed for a caravan or RV – Unsure of cost here
- Credit Cards accepted
- Able to charge gadget in the main office area
- Communal sink area
It was getting late on arrival, but we had time to check out the falls. We initially walked up as close to the face as we could. By this time there were not many people around and we could enjoy the view as we liked.
It was cold, windy and wet from the water spray. But I’m not sure that would have changed much under the midday sun anyway.
We then walked up the long staircase to the top of the falls where there is a viewing platform that overhangs the cliff face.
On the way up I noticed some low clouds gathering at adjacent mountain and I was concerned that by the time we got to the top our view would be blocked.
The spray from the base of the waterfall appeared to lift in a haze and feed this low cloud… Looked very cool, but it turns out I was completely wrong about this.
After we reached the top, enjoyed the view, and headed back down this low cloud was gone and the sun hit the top of the mountain once again.
We returned to the van cold and wet. Eager for a hot shower and to settle in for the night.
- Skogafoss -> Vik – 33.7kms
- Vik -> Systrafoss – 72.7kms
- Systrafoss -> Skeiðarárjökull Glacier – 68.6kms
- Skeiðarárjökull Glacier -> Jokulsarlon – 53.7kms
- Jokulsarlon -> Haukafell Campground– 59.9kms
- Total – 288.6kms
This was an absolute monster of a day and a good case study in knowing where your closest accommodation is at all times!
That final 60km journey to the next campsite was one step too far in terms of fatigue and a real struggle. Luckily we found a great stop when on this last leg… But more on that later.
I woke up with one thought that had been in my head since we arrived. I wanted to lean out of bed, pull back the curtain and greet the morning with this magnificent waterfall.
And what did I see? Check the video below to find out.
Not an anti-climax by any means, but still a fail for a wake up video….
We headed off to our next stop in the town of Vik where we had booked an Ice Caving Tour for the morning.
When we initially researched this we found multiple websites telling us that Ice Caving was a Winter only activity. Not true! We booked with Extreme Iceland and found a tour no problem with only a couple of days notice.
Just before you arrive in Vik there is a turn off to head down to the black beach. We were short on time and said we would do it on the way back.
We arrived at the Extreme Iceland office and enjoyed a free coffee, and WIFI while we waited for our tour to kick off.
You all pile into a vehicle resembling a passenger monster truck before driving for 30-45 minutes off road and into the mountains.
On arrival, you put on your helmet and a pair of crampons and start scaling the side of an icy mountain.
Pro tip: Bring some waterproof gloves. We did it with bare hands and they got dirty as hell! Not essential, but nice to have.
The climb is intimidating at first but once you get on your way it’s actually quite easy.
As we approached the ridge we got a glimpse of a massive icy cauldron that we were going to descend in to.
The trek down is easy, but you do have to climb over horizontal ladders in some places over cracks. We didn’t encounter anything too dangerous but our tour guide told us that these cracks get wider every time he comes down as the ice changes shape.
So who knows what you will find there!
The cave started in a lower corner of the icy slope and in all honesty, it was probably the least exciting part of the experience – the climb and descent itself was lots of fun though.
It was only a few minutes from one side of the cave to the other and it opened up onto a ridge that overlooked a giant ice structure that looked like a doorway back to the outside world.
Given that it was the middle of summer I get the feeling that this structure was a lot bigger in the months leading up to our visit. It was still a very pretty spot and a unique view. By tomorrow it would look different again!
And with that we headed back out the way we came and started the trek back to our mountain monster truck.
On arrival back at the office we treated ourselves to a very nice but overpriced bowl of soup. I made the most of the all you can eat bread on offer – which tasted amazing in itself – so I was ready for the next leg of the drive.
They also offer a lava show, which looked interesting but also expensive. We didn’t have time to burn after getting our lunch down and giving our devices some time to charge, we were back on the road.
What we didn’t know at the time was that we were in for probably the prettiest stretch of road that we were to see in our Iceland adventure.
Quick disclaimer: Systrafoss is known for a stunning waterfall. Due to our poor planning and shitty map we didn’t even know it was there. So we didn’t see it.
I have included it here as it was the closest landmark to two of our favorite roadside stops.
The first was a ground-level river that cascaded down this tiered waterfall on the side of the road.
We had seen some impressive sights up until this point. But Anh turned to me without hesitation and said: “This is my favorite place in Iceland so far.”
It is funny she said that, because it was not much further into the drive that I found my favorite place in Iceland.
This whole stretch of road was bend after bend of lush greenery that covered the side of mountains that stretched into a haunting layer of low cloud.
The face of the mountains contoured from close to the road, to miles away, and back to the road again. Inside these inlets were usually a small village and of many of them were postcard perfect.
One in particular stood out to me. The mountain face was steep, and the cloud was low, and around it nothing but flat land. No town, no anything.
I hit the breaks, turned into the nothingness down a dirt road and parked the van. It was time for a late lunch and I could think of anything better than sitting here with my girl in complete isolation enjoying a view like this.
This was not just my fave spot in Iceland, but probably my favorite shares moment of the whole trip.
My only regret in telling you about these two spots is I cannot tell you exactly where they are. But, on this 140km stretch of road you will find countless places where you could have that same feeling.
So let the road take you to where you want and be ready to drop the anchors and have your own quiet roadside moment.
After such magnificent greenery the landscape turns noticeably baron. After going past the remains of a bridge, and then an elevated train line you could tell that this was flood prone land and that something had happened here to turn the landscape into this wasteland.
As we approached the Skeiðarárjökull Glacier
You can get a magnificent view of each stream of ice from the many roadside viewing areas. As the road gets closer you will see a dirt road that snakes its way right up to the face of them.
This road is dirt and very bumpy. We debated whether we should attempt this in a campervan. Off in the distance we spotted a very slow moving van making their way back so we thought F&%^ it. Let’s go!
Pro tip: This detour will cost you a lot of time – at least 1-2 hours if you are in a campervan.
If you are in a 4WD then you can be in and out in 20-30 minutes. But the van was painfully slow on this bumpy ass road.
Boy was it worth it though!!
We came face to face with an enormous glacier and were able to walk up along the side of the mountain alongside some of the massive icebergs that had made their way down this frozen river.
Nearby you will find tour operators that will take you into the glacier, and even helicopter flights over the area. If you don’t have the time or money for these then this little detour is well worth the time.
If Icelandic names are not your thing then you may know this area better as the location of the Diamond Beach.
Being such a famous location we had just been working on the assumption that there must surely be a campsite nearby.
How wrong we were…
We stopped briefly at Diamond Beach and didn’t find many diamonds at all. This was a huge disappointment (but don’t worry, we come back tomorrow).
Just over the bridge is the Glacier Lagoon. We were booked on a boat tour here for early the next morning so after a quick look around we just wanted to find somewhere to sleep.
We had not spotted a campsite for a long time on the way here. So there was no sense in backtracking.
We took off in the direction of Hofn thinking there is bound to be somewhere nearby.
10… 20… 30 minutes later. Nothing!
By this time I was really struggling to stay focussed on the road. It was getting late and we were 12 hours into a fairly strenuous day.
Then we spotted something… Roadside restaurant and brewery!!
At least we could get some dinner in a warm restaurant and sample some of the local beers.
The food was wonderfully hearty and just what you would expect in a cold climate on a farm with plenty of livestock around.
There was of course some free WIFI which allowed us to figure out where on earth we will sleep that night.
Luckily it was only another 15 minutes down the road to the Haukafell Campground.
Aside from our close encounter with an Icelandic Horse you would not be missing anything by not taking this route travelling this far down the road unless on your way to Hofn.
Haukafell Camping Ground:
The camping ground was primitive with no shower facilities that we could find.
There was a toilet block and a sink but that was all.
- Adults – 1,000 kr ($8)
- Children – Free
- No hot showers
- Cash only to a fixed box
- No main office
- Communal sink area
So, this was my second outdoor bottle shower… Invigorating!!
- Haukafell Campground -> Jokulsarlon – 60kms
- Jokulsarlon -> Fjaðrárgljúfur – 131kms
- Fjaðrárgljúfur -> Eldhraun – 10kms
- Eldhraun -> Black Beach – 57kms
- Black Beach -> Borgarnes Camping– 244kms
- Total – 502kms
Yes I know, that’s a lot of KMs to cover in a day! But there was one reason why we decided to halt our journey east and backtrack a day early.
I had to see Snæfellsjökull, and more specifically the Grundarfjordur. This was the site that put Iceland at the top of my list of must visit destinations.
We also skipped over some of the stops we wanted to make just so we could see how far east we could go, and also to keep something to break up the long drive west.
With so many daylight hours at hour disposal it was a lot of fun. And in true Team AJ fashion we made a few wrong turns and have an extra hour of drive time to talk about – with one funny story mixed with a stroke of luck at the end of our day.
Jokulsarlon Part II
We re-traced our 60km drive to the glacier lagoon and joined up with our boat tour. We booked online and were able to jump a sizeable queue that had built up.
We took the basic Amphibian Boat Tour because the Zodiac Tours had sold out in similar time slots. The latter allows you to get much closer to the icebergs and would be a much more unique experience.
So make sure you book ahead!
The Amphibian takes you around the lagoon but you don’t get very close to anything. Still, a better view than the surrounding shores.
On our return we had some exceptional lobster soup and a coffee before giving the Diamond Beach one last shot.
The overnight tides and colder weather had washed up a fresh batch of diamonds!
Our expected ten minute stop turned into almost an hour of chasing each other up and down the beach with ice, and balancing on chunks to avoid the freezing waves, and of course a stack of great photos.
For the middle of summer, this icy playground was a nice surprise after the disappointment of the previous evening.
With some ambitious distance to cover for the day and many more stops to make we were way behind our intended schedule by this time, so back in the van and on our way.
Finding this place was not easy with our dodgy map, and some directions from a local.
The sign pointing you towards the correct road also has ten other things on there with equally complicated names!
So we missed it the first time and in my haste to read and drive I will admit to briefly expressing my frustration in the direction of my lady…. Wasn’t cool, and I had to wear the cold shoulder for the next little while.
This led to us seeing Eldhraun before Fjaðrárgljúfur, but I have kept them in order here as not to confuse you if you are using this guide to plan your own journey.
The funny thing is when we looped back you could see this massive canyon off in the distance. Duh! How did we miss that the first time?!
Anyway, the canyon was probably the highlight of the day. The mix of colors was unique to the area, the depth of the canyon impressive, and the shape in which each side split apart was beautiful in its randomness.
The various viewing platforms take you right up to the cliff edges and provide excellent views.
Strangely the grassy areas surrounding the platforms are covered in walking tracks up to the various ledges.
I am not sure if this was previously permissible, or a symptom of Instagram’ers risking their neck for a photo and wrecking nature in the process.
If you do the trek along the canyon you get to a wider platform over looking a high, but small, waterfall. This was about 1km to walk to up a steady incline.
You can also hike down to the floor of the canyon. We chose to skip this due to time constraints. But I honestly could have spent half a day here walking around and enjoying the scenery.
It is a magical place.
Eldhraun (Lava Fields)
Only a few minutes down the road is a roadside lookout that had an elevated viewing platform to look over the endless surroundings of rock.
For Iceland, there is one thing that this stop completely lacks.
As you look out onto the cold and lifeless surroundings covered in this dried up lava rock you can only imagine what took place here.
The story is a fascinating one and the flow on effects global, back in a time when globalization was unheard of.
A massive volcanic eruption decimated the area and ruined crops for many miles, contributing to food shortages in Europe.
The flow on effects leading to the French Revolution of all things…. According to the on-site information anyway.
The butterfly effect in full… effect.
Black Beach (Vik)
The next leg of our journey took us back to Vik. By this time the drive was starting to take its toll, so we pulled back into the car park we had left days earlier of Extreme Iceland and I jumped in the back for a five minute nap.
It made all the difference to my energy and focus levels. Loving this home on wheels!!
Afterwards we decided to head to the Black Beach from the Vik side to view the rock formations at the headland.
We parked the car in the main shopping complex in town (you can’t miss it, as there is only one) and started to walk over to the beach.
There is a rock pier that is about a ten-minute walk down the beach that provides the best view of the rock formations. It is still a fair distance away though so I really wish we had the time to head to the opposite side of the headland for the close up view.
To get there you just drive out of the town of Vik heading back west, and when you come over a large hill there will be a turnoff down route 215 which will take you south until you hit the coast again.
We just didn’t have the additional hour it would have taken us to make the extra stop. But if we do come down this road again I will definitely make the detour!
The long Road to Borgarnes Camping
We still had 244kms ahead of us before our final destination for the night. It was pushing 4pm and we had been on the road for eight hours already. So it was time for some uninterrupted highway time.
I really enjoyed this part of the journey. The whole trip literally flashed before my eyes!
Anh dosed in and out of consciousness, as she tended to do on longer drives. She is very cute when she is sleeping. Especially when the odd awkward snore comes out.
All those memories we had created, and all those magnificent sites we visited… The funny thing was is that it actually didn’t take that long to cover the ground when we were not stopping every five minutes when we saw something cool.
After a quick stop over in Selfoss to re-fuel and get some food, we kept going to Borgarnes Camping Ground.
We looped around the capital Rejkjavic and headed to the west coast of the country. After navigating the steepest and longest underwater tunnel I have ever seen, we were surrounded by coastal lakes and more mountains.
Borgarnes Camping Ground:
When we eventually arrived at the destination we found that this was another campsite with limited facilities.
- Adults – 1,200 kr ($10)
- Children – Free
- Power access (no cables provided) – 900kr ($7)
- No hot showers
- Cash only to a fixed box
- No main office
- Communal sink area
Now I did promise a funny story – well probably not that funny, just stupid.
By this time it was around 8.30pm and we were stuffed! But we both wanted/needed a decent shower!
I thought to myself if we keep going to the next camping ground then we will start our day closer to the next destination anyway.
So, we sucked it up and got back on the road. And in typical James fashion, took the biggest wrong turn I could possibly have taken!!
The map said that the turnoff was nearby to head towards the Snæfellsjökull National Park. This is a popular place so surely there would be a big ass sign pointing at the turn off.
The very first roundabout was adjacent to an industrial area with factories and warehouses. Didn’t look like the pathway to a national park. And there was no sign. So I went straight ahead.
Have you ever been in that situation where you are waiting for a turnoff, and with every passing moment your anxiety grows as you know you have f&%cked something up but you are hoping for it to come good around the next corner?
Well, that was me….
After more than 13 hours on the road now it was not a good feeling.
We eventually found a sign pointing to a camping ground. Done! We will figure this shit out in the morning!
As we drove down a bumpy dirt road a car coming in the opposite direction was waving us down.
We stopped to talk to them and it was the campsite manager. The office was now closed and will not open until 10am the next day.
If we stayed, we would have to just leave cash or wait for the office to open again.
They said that we also wouldn’t have access to shower facilities, or pretty much anything else we had been seeking out.
Deflated, we turned around and started driving back from where we came from. Surely we had gone too far by this point!!
We had passed a large hotel looking complex earlier and tried to see if we could connect to their WIFI so we could figure out where we were.
As that little blue dot updated in Google Maps my heart sank…. We had driven so far past our intended turn off it was like a bad joke.
All I wanted was to sleep! It had been a long day.
So Anh had the idea of just asking the hotel if we could rent a room for an hour.
Its not what it sounds like!!
Just so we could shower and get ourselves cleaned up.
The hotel staff were wonderful and understanding. They let us go into the change rooms next to the pool area to use their facilities and didn’t charge us a thing.
This was an act of kindness that gave us the heart to let go of any frustrations from our self-induced predicament.
After a glorious hot shower we were back in the van and decided to just hit reset.
Sheepishly we pulled back into the Borganes Camping Ground again – two hours later – had a quick dinner, a well earned glass of wine, and crashed out hard.
The sunset view also made me feel much better.
Pro tip: Get a damn sim card, or GPS navigator… Stupid!
- Borganes Camping -> Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge – 113kms
- Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge -> Lóndrangar – 14kms
- Lóndrangar -> Djúpalónssandur – 8kms
- Djúpalónssandur -> Saxhóll Crater – 14kms
- Saxhóll Crater -> Grundarfjörður – 46kms
- Grundarfjörður – > Reykjavic – 177kms
- Reykjavic -> Iceland Motorhomes – 46kms
- Total – 418kms
After having driven two thirds of the way across the country we were positioned for one massive final day of taking in the natural beauty of Iceland.
Despite the fatigue of the week starting to set in, I was too excited to hit the road and head towards the Snæfellsjökull National Park.
So we threw down our breakfast quick smart and were on our way.
The experience of the night before really paid off that morning. We turned left out of the camping ground, then turned left again at the first f%&king street!!
If we gained nothing else from our prior screw up, it was that it prevented us from losing that time when it mattered most.
After driving for just over an hour the open flat surroundings started to turn greener, and more mountainous as we got closer to the national park area.
As we came over the top of another hill we found a roadside lookout with wide sweeping views over miles and miles of farmland that led out to the ocean.
From the high position it was windy as hell and too cold for Anh to even come out of the car. So I have a loan selfie at the top if the lookout.
I didn’t know it at the time but the small town of Hartnell was off in the distance and our first stop was just a few more minutes down the road.
The car park here was very long and narrow. We got lucky and managed to snag a spot right at the start of the walking trail that led up the hill towards the crack in the mountainside.
If you park further down this walk could double in length, so our tired legs were very grateful!
The color of the rocks and surrounding greenery reminded us so much of the (gully?) that we saw the day before. The obvious difference being that there is no wide canyon here, just the slightest of cracks.
Given how many cars were waiting outside we were surprised how few people there were and we had a few minutes almost on our own at the entrance to the Gorge.
The entrance is carved out by a little water stream which floods the entrance. You can only keep your feet dry by hopping between the rocks that sit just above the waterline.
It is a little tricky so if you are not light on your feet just bring some gumboots!
Once inside the rocky formation we entered a hidden chamber with views that stretched all the way up this narrow gorge. It was an impressive sight.
We wanted to explore deeper into the gorge but quickly found out where all of the people had been hiding.
There was a very slow moving line of people all trying to keep their feet dry as they jumped from rock to rock and head further into the gorge.
We waited patiently, but the two way traffic competing for limited rock space meant very little progress.
So we backtracked and headed out again.
Snæfellsjökull Mountain (Attempt!)
Ok, so this was one of the dumber things that we (I) attempted during the week.
There was a sign not far down the road that pointed to the route to get to the (mountain). In my excitement, I headed towards it in our heavy, two wheel drive campervan.
The road started out ok but quickly turned very steep and rocky. We found a ledge that looked back over the farmland that we had driven from and it looked even more spectacular from this height and angle… With an equally stronger wind!
After admiring the view we attempted to head further up this dirt road. We approached a small dip that led up to an even steeper section which didn’t look too bad at first. But once we started climbing I knew we were in trouble!
The wheels started to spin and we even drifted back a little before my dumb ass realised we were on a (4wd) road only and had no business being here in this thing.
I conceded and we rolled back down.
As we turned sheepishly and headed back out to a sealed – and more appropriate – road I started to think what would have happened if the road was equally steep and the entrance was downhill.
We would have been completely stuck… No way out, unless some kind soul had the heart (and equipment) to tow us out of there.
Lesson learned – stick to the sealed roads and read your damn map before heading into steep terrain on a dirt road…. Duh!
I was heartened a little by the fact that (mountain) was so damn big it was surely visible from just about everywhere we would be driving today… and it probably is if it were not for the cloud cover that followed us around.
After a very brief stop to buy coffee in the tiny seaside village of Hellnar we pushed on down the road.
Our next stop was the unique rocky formations of Lóndrangar. This series of coastal rocks jump out of the sea like dark, volcanic, shards of glass.
The sea that provides the backdrop feels like the edge of the earth… and with Greenland the next stop in that direction it pretty much is!
Despite the dramatic looking formations it is a very peaceful area.
There is a walkway that joins together two viewing platforms. One is close up and overlooking the edge of the cliffs, the other is higher and sticks out further into the ocean.
Great views are available from both.
What caught our eye was the unusual congregation of seagulls along the steep cliff face immediately in front of the viewing platform.
There was hundreds of them just sitting there. It was like a scene from Flying Nemo!
If you are looking for stops to cut out of your own itinerary you can probably give Djúpalónssandur a miss.
Although we may only be saying this because we had already visited the black beach in Vik.
The access is not great with one very narrow road with some awkwardly tight sections to allow two way traffic to pass.
This leads to a fairly crowded car park with a junction of walkways heading in different directions.
I am sure that some are nice walks along the coast, but our progress had been slow so far through the day so we headed straight down the path that was the shortest distance to the water.
We came to a viewing platform that looked up and down the beach. There were people scattered around the beach exploring and sitting don to enjoy the views.
It was all a bit plain though in comparison to our prior experience so we decided to move on fairly quickly.
We decided to stop here for a quick lunch. There are no restaurants or shops here we just wanted to whip something up in our mobile kitchen.
Anh was not keen on walking the long staircase to get to the top of the crater so she started on lunch while I made my way up.
I didn’t want to leave her alone for long so I started up the stairs with a light jog – a good time for some exercise – and made it about half way up before this became a slow trudge as the incline started to burn my quads.
When I reached the peak I thought I had reached the windiest spot in all of Iceland!
It was incredible!
People all around me were taking pictures leaning heavily into the wind and seemingly defying gravity…. But, no Anh here to indulge me in trying to do the same.
My main motivation for coming up the stairs was to see what the view was like back to (mountain?) and I crossed my fingers the whole time that there would be a break in the clouds.
The thick and heavy cloud wouldn’t budge.
I headed back down and after a campervan stir fry we were on our way. Not before I attempted to dramatize just how windy it was – which ended up in a massive fail….
The drive from here led us out of the national park and to the north coast of the peninsula.
The coastal road through this part of the country was amazing. It hugged the mountain cliffs and every bend that we drove around offered new and spectacular views of the coastline.
What we saw inland also became more unique as we drove with a number of steep mountains with unique formations flanking the roadside.
One in particular caught my eye off in the distance. We would have been driving towards this thing for 20 minutes and from the angle we were on it just looked like this chunky block of rock.
What I didn’t know was that it was the famous Kirkjufell Mountain. You just couldn’t see the curvature from this angle that is it’s signature.
It was only when we pulled up next to it that it struck me where we were…. And instantly I was grinning ear to ear.
This was the site that I saw in that documentary I mentioned in paragraph one of this post that made me fall in love with the Icelandic landscapes all those years ago.
And I was finally here.
It was one of those moments that still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.
Adjacent to the base of the mountain is a car park alongside a waterfall and river. The combination making it one of the more photographed sites in this part of the country.
And you can see why…. Unfortunately, our camera’s battery had died by this time so it was iPhone pics only.
As we got back in the car I was both satisfied and a little sad that I knew we had reached the end of our Iceland journey. It was time to backtrack once again and head towards the city to figure out where we would sleep that night.
On the way, we circled back to the campsite we left that morning for a pit stop. The sun was low in the sky and we set up our portable table to have a cup of tea and some chocolate to refuel.
Never was the fatigue more evident in my demeanor than when I was screwing the table legs in and when I had some trouble getting them to fit I instinctively called it a “?“.
I didn’t even realise I did this until Anh started laughing her head off…
“Did you just insult the table?”
We made it back to the capital at around 9pm and we were both just too tired to wander around the city.
Given that we were leaving early the next morning we thought that if we can find somewhere for a decent shower then we could probably just sleep in the car park again as we had on the first night.
After stopping in at another KFC with free WIFI we found a public swimming pool that we could shower at.
The Sundhollin Public Baths was going to open until 10pm. So we had some time if we hurried!!
This would cost 950kr (approx. $8) each and would save the additional expense of staying in a camping ground.
We had limited time before it would close. By the time we found it, there was only 20 minutes until closing time so I dropped Anh off at the front door so she would be assured entry.
The parking situation was not great and by the time I found somewhere to park the walk would have been close to closing time. So I didn’t bother and just waited.
Pro tip: The facilities are available for another 15 minutes after closing time so I could have made it!
No shower for me, so I knew what was coming….
Yes, another cold ass shower outside.
By the time we got back to the carpark it was around midnight and that cold midnight breeze was howling for me as I stripped down to give myself a rinse.
Anh took great pleasure in sneaking some photos of me along the way and laughing at my discomfort.
Not much to report on here except for a smooth rental return process and trip to the airport.
The departures area at Keflavic Airport was very modern and comfortable while we waited for our flight out.
I was amazed how much we were able to cram into our Iceland road trip itinerary.
We took full advantage of the extended daylight hours with most days involving 12-14 hours of sightseeing and driving.
This was a demanding routine but we were both driven by excitement every step of the way and loved every minute of it.
We know that this kind of pace is not for everyone.
Remember that we made this up as we went along. With very little forward planning and our immediate next steps determined whenever we found a WIFI connection we are confident that you can do a far better job than us!
But we hope that our story can help you frame an itinerary that will work for you.