Once upon a time, I was reading a travel blog and on that blog, I read a few posts about Iceland. I also learned that visiting Iceland could be an expensive affair. However, a budget trip is possible given that we plan well in advance.
Months passed and I almost forgot about that trip. However, during one fine moment, I saw a wallpaper of the northern lights and heart started chanting the name of that wonderful place once again and again. We discussed and finalized the dates, after a week we booked the tickets and at last booked the camper. Our trip took us 13 DAYS which was a comfortable amount of time.
Consideration #1 - Skipping the Blue Lagoon
I assume people are not living under a rock. The Blue Lagoon is a famous geothermal pool in Iceland and it attracts over a million visitors per annum and the ticket is whopping $60 per person! In our opinion, the Blue Lagoon is a kind of tourist trap. Consider going to one of Iceland’s natural thermal pools for a swim and relaxation.
Blue Lagoon is not natural, its hot water is the runoff of a geothermal power plant which is in the near area. This fact is not advertised on their website, but it is as true as their clear water! To me, it seems kinda stupid to go to the expensive and artificial pool in Iceland, a land littered with clean natural pools.
Consideration #2 - Things do not go as planned
This is applicable all the time while traveling. We wanted to visit the famous black sand beach of Reynisfjara near a village called Vik. That beach was on our list but we missed it as the weather was not favorable after reaching the town, the wind was blowing at 40 km and was pouring rain with strong gusts. So instead, we visited a nice burger place in the town. So, be flexible.
Consideration #3 - Getting a good camper
Iceland is a peaceful destination to travel so opting for a self-driving road trip was the best idea and a good camper is essential while on a road trip. With a rented camper, we had the freedom to stop when and where we wanted.
Within the camper, we were able to cover our accommodation and transport. Most of the camper comes with all one could need. It had a heater for the cold nights, running water sink, a small fridge, and enough space.
Consideration #4 - Gas stations
Be prepared to shell out some more cash while on the trip. Fuel is expensive. Make sure to be aware of the distances between the next few stations because sometimes it could be 200 km apart. One needs to be quite careful and keep checking fuel gauge while driving.
Consideration #5 - What to eat? Where to sleep? What to pack?
Before we hit the road, we filled our camper van up with the groceries from the supermarket called Bónus. We found several Bónus stores along the ring road, so we were able to stock groceries whenever required.
Our camper covered our accommodation. However, if required make sure to book accommodation in advance. The high season in Iceland could be intense!
Iceland is cold. So one should bring along a winter coat, windcheater and other items including a wool sweater, a raincoat, gloves, socks, caps, hiking shoes, and a scarf. Of course, make sure to pack a good travel camera.
13 DAYS Iceland Road Trip (Snaefellsnes Peninsula & Ring Road)
The ring road spans around 1400 km and circumnavigates most of the area. The route can be completed in about 20 hours if we drive non-stop without having a break. However, I would recommend at least a week.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula is almost a two-hour drive from Reykjavik and the main attraction is Kirkjufell, a famous location as seen in Game of Thrones. We spotted northern lights at the same location and it was once in a lifetime kind of moment for us.
Golden Circle includes Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir. Few spots like Kerið crater and Hveragerði town are also good and can be accessed around the same route. However, we missed visiting the hot river near Hveragerði town.
DAY 01 - Keflavík > Reykjavík > Esjurætur > Eldborg
We arrived at Keflavik airport around 01 am from Prague and spent the entire night in the airport. Later at 07 am we took a bus to Reykjavík to pick up our camper at 09 am. We wanted to have some rest after a full night at the airport, but we continued.
At first, we stopped at “Esjurætur Hiking Center” and it is a nice location with multiple hiking trails, we chose a short trail and observed the view of road along the sea from the top.
Next, we stopped at Bónus supermarket and purchased required food items including veggies, bread, butter, fruits, milk, and sugar. Soon afterward made our approach to the Snaefellsnes peninsula. It is also known as little Iceland and it is one of the best regions to explore in Iceland.
Our final stop was “Snorrastadir Farm” and that is a campsite near Eldborg volcanic crater. We wanted to be there for an overnight halt, the drive to the campsite took us about three hours as we stopped in-between for images. There was a direct 2 km trail from the campsite to the Eldborg crater but we were quite tired and hence skipped it and instead roamed around.
There was a water stream flowing in-between that campsite farm and that was a good sight to hold. We covered a short distance as we were somewhat tired and slept for almost 12 hours.
DAY 02 - Landbrotalaug > Tunga > Budakirkja > Rauðfeldsgjá > Arnarstapi > Kirkjufell
After making breakfast at the campsite, we drove to Landbrotalaug. It is a natural hot spring for a quick dip. However, due to some unknown reason that hot spring was closed. Without losing time we ventured towards Tunga beach for seal watching. That was a pleasant experience and we observed a couple of seals in open area.
Soon we headed to Búðakirkja, a small wooden church that dates back to the 19th era. Around the church, there are various hiking paths and graceful white sand beaches.
Later, we went to visit Rauðfeldsgjá. This gorge lies between two mountain rocks and extends about 40 meters into the mountain. While entering we experienced cold water streams and it was a little scaring experience. It is advised to wear waterproof clothes and good hiking shoes.
Our next destination was Snaeffelsjokull. However, the road condition was quite bad and not suitable for our camper, so we skipped that due to the risk of the camper being damaged. After skipping the glacier, we made our move to Arnarstapi. We spent a good amount of time facing the sea and doing nothing, it was quite romantic as well.
Our next stop was Kirkjufell. However, once we reached there it was quite dark so we headed to Grundarfjörður, a town with a nice campsite. We were having noodles and then we heard knocks on our camper and it was a campsite ranger. He came to inform us about northern lights, we stepped outside and a pleasant experience was waiting for us!
Northern lights were not so clear due to an intense amount of light present around the campsite. Light pollution was affecting our view and so we headed outside of the town to experience the live performance of mother nature. No words to describe that experience.
DAY 03 - Kirkjufell > Selvallafoss > Stykkishólmur > Deildartunguhver
We explored Kirkjufell in the morning and experience the sunrise and headed towards Sheep’s Waterfall aka Selvallafoss. Sometimes the road could be more beautiful than the destination and the same happened in this case. There was a sea on the side of the road and we were driving alone, there were fewer cars.
After having some break at Selvallafoss we headed to Stykkishólmur, a small town situated at the northern point of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. It is a beautiful harbor town that looks the same as it did in the 19th era. However, most of the shops were closed but we roamed around on our own, had a coffee and went on to visit Hraunfossar.
However, on the trail to Hraunfossar, we saw some steam fumes on the roadside and stopped our car out of interest to check the place, and it was Deildartunguhver, a natural hot spring. That place is not well known among the tourists and we were not aware of it so it was our accident hunt.
Right next to Deildartunguhver, there is a place called Krauma. It is a geothermal pool with a fantastic view. We were not able to resits and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at the poolside. We spent that night at Hverinn campsite which is less than 5 km from the pool.
DAY 04 - Hraunfossar > Husafell > Grabok > Hvammstangi
We visited Hraunfossar at around 6 am. Out of all the waterfalls we saw during this trip Hraunfossar was kind of most unique because it is a collection of hundreds of small streams originating beneath the surface. It was a real serene as there were not numerous tourists in the morning. We prepared some tea and had our breakfast right next to Hraunfossar.
If one is brave enough then there is a walking trail from Hraunfossar to Husafell and the Husafell is a great base for exploring the surrounding area. In the surrounding nature, we were able to spot woodlands, waterfalls, glaciers, rugged lava fields, a small airstrip, clear springs, plus remarkable archaeological pieces. We went for a small hike in the near field.
One can find hiking trails ranging from 5 km to 25 km and Husafell is a good base. We skipped hiking. Otherwise, a long trail to Ok volcano was our choice. Guided tours are operating from Husafell to lava caves viz Surtshellir and Vidgelmir, but we also skipped that as we wanted to move ahead.
At around 2 pm we reach Grabok crater. There is a total of three craters side to side, but one got eroded due to mining activities and two are still well-shaped. It has a small parking lot for hikers and a patterned path which is quite steep to climb. The hike is short and takes around 30 minutes.
After some rest, we moved ahead as our next destination was not fixed so kept driving. On the road, we saw a beautiful Baula mountain and the Svartá river. Stopped at N1 Staðarskáli for refueling and coffee, at the end we stopped at Hvammstangi village. It has a rather beautiful campsite with a full view of the sea from the top of a hill.
DAY 05 - Akureyri > Laufás
In the morning we got refreshed at the local municipal pool also known as sundlaugin á hvammstanga, which means swimming pool at Hvammstangi in the Icelandic language. Our next destination was quite far so we kept driving all the time until we reached Akureyri, the second largest town in Iceland and a place worth exploring.
We started again and had a small stop at Laufás. It is a heritage site as old as the human settlement of Iceland. It was a church during an old-time and was rebuilt in the current form during the 18th era. We stopped at Artun guesthouse for that night. As an alternative one can also pick a campsite near the Goðafoss, it is a nice location.
DAY 06 - Goðafoss > Mývatn > Námaskarð > Dettifoss > Möðrudalur
We drove to the Goðafoss in the morning and that fall is quite famous among the tourists, we lingered there till late afternoon and were so fascinated that we could not leave that place. Goðafoss translates to the waterfall of the Gods and has an interesting historical memoir associated with it.
It is said that the Goðafoss witnessed the decision to choose the official religion of Iceland. At that time, a pagan priest was given the task of deciding whether the people would continue to worship their native Norse gods or to embrace new religion and be Christians!
Then we went on for Mývatn and admired that natural lake with clear blue water and went ahead for Krafla volcano, Námaskarð, and Hverir. All these mentioned places are part of a large geothermal area, a meager drive from Mývatn.
After exploring and taking some amusing pics at Hverir we started towards the Dettifoss and it is the second most powerful waterfall in entire Europe. One should not miss this waterfall, it reminds the power of nature as the sound of water is audible far from the actual fall.
It was so dark while we were leaving the Dettifoss and so instead of going ahead, we rested at Möðrudalur campsite during that night.
DAY 07 - Egilsstaðir > Road 939 > Djúpivogur
We wanted to cover a huge distance on so we did not stop often and our first extended stop was Egilsstaðir aka the capital of the east. We also found a local swimming pool there and spent some time in their hot bubble pool! Also, it has a slide, sauna, pool, and a cold plunge. We also stopped at several places for quick views.
We went ahead and got on Öxi pass aka road 939 for some adrenaline rush. That mountain route offers a short cut to drivers en route from Egilsstaðir. The pass cuts about 70km off the Djúpivogur field and gives some fantastic views. It is a narrow gravel road and is not advised in bad weather and even for nervous drivers. The road remains closed during winter but it will give adrenaline rush during summer.
We stopped at Framtid campsite in Djúpivogur for that night. There was a high wind alert and expected to rain during that night so we wanted to be at some safe place and Framtid campsite was a good option.
DAY 08 - Djúpivogur > Eastern Fjord > Jökulsárlón > Skaftafell
Djupivogur village has wired egg-shaped sculptures at the shore known as “Eggin i Gledivik” and those are fun to visit. We started driving around and I must admit that the area around the Eastern Fjords is quite calm as not usual tourists are visiting this part.
Lækjavik beach was our next destination but the weather was not on our side. Once we reached that Lækjavik beach it was raining with high wind. So instead of going outside, we experienced the view from our camper. We started again and stopped at Skálafell for some snacks.
We got to our main place that afternoon. Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon and has clear blue water dotted with floating icebergs from the surrounding Vatnajökull. Diamond Beach is right across the street and can be covered while walking! Jökulsárlón flows into the Atlantic ocean, leaving chunks of ice on a black sand beach and forming an appearance like diamonds from the distance. We were quite surprised to experience those white and bright blue icebergs.
We spent that night at Skaftafell campsite, it is on the main road and has all the facilities we need including washing machines, running hot water, clean restrooms and bathing areas.
Skaftafell is an ideal place for trekking and exploring. One trek is leading to Svartifoss, a waterfall with black hexagonal surrounding basalt columns. We skipped it along with the rest of the places like Sjónarnípa and Ingólfshöfði.
DAY 09 - Skaftafell > Stjórnarfoss > Fjaðrárgljúfur > Vík > Skógafoss
We started for the Stjórnarfoss in the morning. On road, we had a look at the Lómagnúpur, famous for its unique shape. Mt Lómagnúpur has a vital role in a few Icelandic folk tales, the mountain was believed to be the home of a giant named Járngrímur.
And there was a flop show! When I parked our camper on a side of a gravel road to capture a beautiful moment but camper got stuck in coarse gravel and we were not able to get back on the main road. There were not several people on the road and the outside temperature was around 2 Celsius. A few other roadies helped us, around 30 minutes and 20 peoples later, we were back on the road. Those people were like angels in disguise.
The next target was Fjaðrárgljúfur, an iconic pass in Iceland that is well worth a stop. However, the road towards the pass was quite rough and not suitable for 2x2 vehicles so we skipped that part. We shifted our sight to Reynisjafara, it is a wild beach with black sand, two massive sea stacks, and basalt columns as seen in one of the SRK movies. Guess the name!
Once we reached the Vík, the weather turned its face and started raining with powerful gusts. Forget about roaming on the beach, it was not possible to get out of the car. So, we decided to chill at a burger place in Vík. Upon asking a fellow couple, we learned that the weather is quite good at Skógafoss, a small drive from the Vík and soon we were on the road again.
Skógafoss is super amazing. We advise spending ample time here taking photos, hiking up its origin on the upper side, and having a coffee together. There is also a campsite right in front of the waterfall. We lingered there, had our dinner together and experienced the natural song that whole night.
DAY 10 - Mýrdalsjökull > Sólheimasandur > Gljúfrafoss
Though it was quite hard to leave Skógafoss, we went ahead to explore the Mýrdalsjökull. Snowmobile tour on Mýrdalsjökull is an amazing experience. The tour goes to the top of the glacier, an icecap covering one of Iceland’s largest volcano, Katla. Mýrdalsjökull is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland. One needs to plan well as the tour requires a reservation. However, we were lucky and got a spot on the spot. The snowmobile tour is a must-do in this area.
Late in the afternoon, we went to Sólheimasandur. It is the famous crash site of famous DC3 aircraft. The aircraft crashed there in 1973 and its rusting frame on black sands with limited sunlight during evening forms a haunting location.
Later we started again and spent that night at Hamragarðar campground near the quite famous Gljúfrafoss and Seljalandsfoss. We were not aware of the campground near these waterfalls so that campsite was our accidental finding.
DAY 11 - Seljalandsfoss > Selfoss > The Secret Lagoon
In the morning, we explored Gljúfrafoss and Seljalandsfoss, both are situated right next to each other. Gljúfrafoss aka Gljúfrabúi is a bit smaller than the Seljalandsfoss. One can follow a trail to enter the narrow gorge for hiking.
The Seljalandsfoss drops from 60 mt and has its origin in the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. Visitors can walk behind the fall and it is quite a new experience.
Later that afternoon we started on Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a 300 km route and includes three main attractions named Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. We recommend stopping at Kerið crater along the route as well. The Golden Circle is a popular route, so there were lots of tourists.
Along the road to Selfoss, a town on the banks of the Ölfusá, we stopped at Almar Bakari for lunch and that place is one of the best places to have food in Iceland. Soon we had a quick stop at Kerið crater and started ahead for The Secret Lagoon. It is a geothermal pool with a bar and an eating area. This lagoon was created in 1891 and is one of the oldest pools of Iceland.
We spent the entire evening in the geothermal pool. We stopped and spent that night at the Skjòl campground, it is a nice campsite with good facilities and surroundings.
DAY 12 - Geysir > Gullfoss > Þingvellir National Park > Reykjavík
We wanted to avoid hordes of tourists so first in the morning we visited Geysir and spent some time there, later we visited the Gullfoss waterfall.
During the afternoon we were at Þingvellir National Park. The good thing about the golden circle is that all attractions are quite near to each other and one can cover them all in a few hours.
Soon we started back to Reykjavík and slept at Reykjavík Eco Campsite. This was a fantastic campsite with almost all the facilities and it is quite near to all the main attractions of the town. There were many travelers staying at the same campsite so it is also a good place for networking.
DAY 13 - Reykjavík > Keflavík
We did almost nothing apart from eating and spending time around the campsite, we had to return our camper van at around 4 pm but we completed all the formalities at around 3 pm and started for Keflavík airport. End of the trip! Our flight was at midnight so spent the rest of the time at the airport :)
Icelanders speak Icelandic, but almost all locals we came across spoke English. But it is good to know some basic greetings. Halló!
The locals use the Icelandic króna (ISK) and credit cards are accepted at most places, even on top of the mountain so no need to keep much cash. Tipping is not customary in Iceland.
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. However, it is always important to use common sense. Check the weather before planning and before starting long hikes.
Iceland has a strong internet infrastructure and one should be able to easily be connected, but it is advisable to share a travel plan with someone at home if you are going for a long hike.
Sometimes it is nice to have a real guide book while traveling. We recommend a Lonely Planet travel book. Locals are helpful, be humble while asking.