If you’re on the hunt for a place to go on an epic road trip – Iceland it is. If you’re a lover of nature, adventure, beautiful landscapes… and sheep – driving the Iceland ring road will be the trip of a lifetime.
My road trip went 100% to plan and was one of the most amazing experiences from my travels. I’m going to start off by saying that I did not drive the entire loop. I started in Reykjavik and finished in Akureyri – 3/4 of the country. Not too bad though huh?
I had a bit of difficulty planning my journey; I was unsure about driving conditions, what to see, where to stay etc. But now that I’ve done it, I thought it would be an amazing chance for me to share my knowledge with you. Here’s part 1 of my 3 part Iceland road trip series!
Day one of the road trip will 99% of the time begin in Reykjavik. The only international airport in the country is here, so that is definitely the place where the magic will start.
TIP – Before you go to Iceland, check the road conditions! Depending on where you want to go and the time of year, there are areas where 4X4’s are necessary. I drove around the ring road in a Volkswagen Golf, and was perfectly fine. But you’re better to be safe than sorry!
The drive from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik is 45 minutes. A very easy drive to and from the airport. Signs are very easy to follow thank goodness! The best part is that you’ll drive straight past the iconic Blue Lagoon, a great place to relax after an uncomfortable flight, especially if it was a long one.
Unfortunately for us, the blue lagoon was booked out until 7-pm so we were unable to stop by on our way, but that was no problem!
TIP – Pre-book the Blue Lagoon well in advance! I would highly recommend visiting here on your way to or from the airport if possible, as it really is so close. It’s a very busy attraction, so booking is a must. You can do so here.
Once finishing our 45-minute drive, we arrived in Reykjavik! A very small and expensive city, but so full of character. There are plenty of hotels to choose from – but be prepared to be paying more than expected. We dropped off our bags and went out to explore on our only day here.
We arrived on a Sunday, and unfortunately, this is the only day of the week where 90% of the shops are closed; and those that aren’t, don’t open until midday!
TIP – Visit Reykjavik on a weekday. The city is very small but is absolutely packed with beautiful, handmade, quirky shops that are definitely worth the visit… Most are only open full hours on Mon-Fri.
All around the city, you will find beautiful architecture, hand-painted art on the walls, museums, beautiful views and lots of cafes and restaurants (joining a food tour is a great option for those wanting to eat some quirky cuisines). For more advice on what to see and do, here are some more tips on how to spend 1 day in Reykjavik!
So because of the day of arrival, we opted to visit a museum from the limited list that of attractions were open. We decided to go for ‘Whales of Iceland’ – a beautiful expedition on the coastline that teaches you about all the whales that live in the area; how they live, migrate, what they eat and more.
It’s super interesting and a great way to learn about what lives in the Icelandic waters. It’s only about a 20-minute walk from Laugavegur, the main street of town.
On the way back we walked along the harbour, admiring the beautiful views. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re in a major city or in the middle of nowhere, you could never be disappointed with the views here.
A lovely lunch overlooking the harbour, where we learnt just how expensive Iceland really was.
TIP – Be prepared to spend a lot of money. Iceland will drain your bank if you’re not careful.
Like I said earlier, we were unable to visit the Blue Lagoon on our way to the city due to late bookings. So we drove back towards the airport to visit this beautiful attraction. There’s really no hassle if this happens to you… Having a dip in the blue lagoon is definitely worth the drive!
We arrived at the tranquil blue water, soaked in the luxurious thermal bath with a free drink from the swim-up bar in hand – Life is great!
– Golden Circle
The first day of real road-tripping! We left Reykjavik early morning to make the most of our day.
We headed in an anti-clockwise direction on the ring road, but today was the iconic Golden Circle. This is the major sightseeing attraction in Iceland. All tourists will do this no matter how long their stay in Iceland is; it’s basically a must.
The first stop was at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. This National Park is around 40km north east of Reykjavik, and is once again.. a very easy drive!
Once arriving at the beautiful place, there are a lot of walking trails that will take you through the canyons, to waterfalls, the iconic church and waterways. It really is beautiful!
From then on it’s a 54km journey to the next major attraction Geysir!
Although the major attractions are marked on all the maps and signs, there are always things that will make you stop on the side of the road and take millions of snaps. I wanted to stop at all the sheep and Icelandic ponies. But after driving the first day I realised I’d be spending my entire time with sheep… There really are soooooooo many of them.
After the beautiful journey across the stunning terrain, you will arrive at Geysir; an active geyser field with boiling mud pits, steamy water and exploding geysers. It smells pretty funky but it was amazing to see, super active and even had a great lunch stop!
This spot, in particular, is also a huge highlight for those travelling in Iceland with kids!
From Geysir, only a 15-minute drive will take you to an extremely impressive waterfall, Gullfoss.
This waterfall is one of the biggest I saw in Iceland. The water plummets 32 metres into a huge rugged canyon that is so incredibly beautiful. There are a lot of people but you could admire this place for a long time without feeling smothered.
TIP – Be sure to pack a light rain jacket! There are a lot of places in Iceland where you will more than likely get very wet. To save yourself – and your beloved camera – a light showerproof jacket is essential.
The next stop on the road is 56km away, at Kerid Crater. A 55-metre volcanic crater that is 3000 years old. A short walk to the top of the hill where you can observe the green water and take in the surrounding mountain ranges. You can walk down to the lake or the entire way around the perimeter of the crater.
For most people, this is the last attraction of the day…
TIP – If you’re worried that 200km of driving may be a little too much for you. I would bunker down in Selfoss, only 16km from Kerid.
For us, we continued on to Seljalandsfoss. A huuuuge waterfall that is a major attraction in Iceland. You cannot miss this place – number one because it’s too amazing to skip, number two because it’s right on the ring road. You would literally have to blind to miss it.
It’s a 71km drive from Selfoss, so it’s definitely up to you if you’re up for it in a day.
This waterfall was definitely one of my favourite attractions. It even has a path that allows you to walk behind it and observe its power from a completely different perspective (again, that light raincoat will certainly come in handy).
From there we headed on Road 1, stopping at the many sightseeing spots that you will be bound to witness. The landscapes here are beyond words, and there are so many opportunities to get out of your car and take them all in.
The next stop was Skogafoss. Another very impressive waterfall that was once again, so very beautiful. This one was very powerful and eery.
You’re probably thinking – that’s a lot of waterfalls in one day. Yes, you’re right – we saw 5 waterfalls on day one. But let me tell you.. you’ll see so many more.
Skogafoss was the last attraction for day 1! Only 15 minutes down the road and we were at our beautiful cottage on the coast.
Our ‘hotel’ was situated only 15 minutes from another major town Vik. Our nights stay was at Mid Hvoll Cottages, an absolutely amazing, quaint cottage on a local farm. The drive from the main road is only a few minutes through roaming sheep, Icelandic ponies and more.
A short walk from the cottages was a beautiful black beach, which we had entirely to ourselves for the most beautiful sunset imaginable. The cabins had an amazing view of Drahólaey, Myrdalsjökull Glacier and mountain ranges. It really was picture perfect. If you’re thinking about doing this trip, please stay here.
TIP – Do a grocery shop before your road trip. A lot of the hotels around the ring road are equipped with a kitchen/kitchenette. Eating out can be very expensive (eg. $35 AUD for a terrible bowl of pasta) so cooking your own food is a great way to save money!
The best part of the entire day was seeing the most beautiful Northern Lights display from our cottage. The night was clear, crisp and the sky exploded with green. We could even watch them from the comfort of our bed.
This is not the best photo – but I have a post coming soon all about the Aurora – got to save the best for last 😉
[ READ NEXT: How to Experience the Northern Lights ]
Altogether, from Reykjavik to Vik was 4 hours of driving. It was not difficult by any means and we arrived at our cottage by 6-pm. Perfect timing for the sunset!
The first 2 days of the Iceland Ring Road were busy, scenic and absolutely beautiful. But, the best is yet to come…
[ Day 3-4 are next >>>>> ]
Where has been your favourite road trip location?