We set out on a 10 day adventure around the Iceland Ring Road trying to fit in as many volcanos, glaciers, waterfalls, Northern Lights, Icelandic horses, and elf turf houses as we could. We got stuck in blizzards, drove through foggy white outs and torrential rain… I even got electrocuted by a fence at a horse farm and ate dinner at a steak house with a glass wall straight into the dairy farm. It was an unforgettable 10 days and here is how we did it! We started in REYKJAVIK, which is one of the coolest, most hip cities on the planet. From the colorful rooftops, staggering mountainous backdrop, to the trendy cafes, shops, and restaurants, this ocean front city is like no other. The Hallgrimskirkja Church has the best views and can help you get a grasp of the city from above. It’s the largest city in Iceland and has endless history about the Vikings who settled one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
FROST AND FIRE HOTEL was the first stop on our journey. The hotel is just a quick 45 minutes from Reykjavik and is surrounded by hiking trails overlooking the Varmá River. The hotel is in Hveragerði, which is the hot springs capital of the world! You can see the steam from them all around the hotel. We parked right next to one and could hear it hiss and bubble. The hotel has a steam room, several hot tubs at the foot of the rolling hills, and a heated pool! The Restaurant Varmá on sight serves delicious Icelandic food and a massive breakfast buffet to fuel you for a day of sight seeing. We got to try the steam bread that is cooked in a hot spring on site! Ps. If you’re a cat lover like me, you’ll love this place. It has two friendly roaming cats that aren’t shy at all.
HAIFOSS is located in the Þjórsárdalur Valley in the south of Iceland. You absolutely need a 4×4 vehicle when driving as the roads are very bumpy! It’s named the second highest waterfall in Iceland at a shocking 122m. The staggering cliffs surrounding the waterfall have a sheer drop so be very careful when taking a peek! Also be weary of strong gusts of wind that can quite literally knock you off your feet. Along the drive we passed the ancient farm houses, waterfalls and secluded magical places like Gjáin. The massive volcano Hekla on the other side of the valley makes up for a stunning backdrop.
SKÓGAFOSS & SELJALANDSFOSS are two of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland and are actually very close to each other. I believe both are worth visiting (if you don’t mind bus loads of tourists.) I would definitely recommend wearing rain gear because, even if it isn’t raining, you will probably be drenched from the mist from the waterfall anyways. Skógafoss is 60m high and has a great short hike (up a bunch of stairs) to the top of the river mouth of the waterfall. Seljalandsfoss has a great walk right behind the waterfall. If you’re taking camera equipment, you definitely need a plastic bag to cover it.
VIK BEACH is an incredible sight with vastly contrasted black sands and powerful white crashing waves. They have signs everywhere for “sneaker waves” which I thought was just an over precautionary warning until we saw a lady get toppled by a wave that came out of no where. Even if you’re far away from the shoreline, keep a good eye out because they can really take you by surprise and be extremely dangerous.
SÓLHEIMASANDUR was a United States Navy plane that in 1973 had to do an emergency landing due to dangerous weather conditions. It has since then been abandoned and left for tourists to see and explore. Vehicles have recently been banned from the main road to the site so you must walk 4km to see the aircraft. The haunting site is worth the trek- you feel like you’re in a movie scene from Interstellar.
SELJAVELLIR GUESTHOUSE is a family owned guesthouse and is the perfect stop along your way on the Southern Coast of Iceland. It is very close to the town of Höfn and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is also a short drive away and was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip. We loved the breakfast buffet and the huge comfy beds, not to mention the epic views of the mountains in the backyard.
JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON is filled with melted ice chunks from the Vatnajökull. We saw chucks of ice crash into each other and seals swimming around in the lagoon as well. We made it there just minute before sundown to watch the ice chunks flow by. Next time we would definitely recommend a boat tour through the lake around the massive ice structures and to the glacier tongue which feeds the lake with ice.
THE EASTERN FJORDS are supposed to be one of the most breathtaking parts of the country. Unfortunately on our drive that day it was a sheer white out of fog, so we were unable to snap any photos. The glimpses and peaks we got in-between heavy clouds were incredible. I’d recommend spending several days here so that one day of bad weather doesn’t set you too far back.
ICELANDAIR HOTEL HERAD is one of 8 chain hotels around the Iceland Ring Road. This region is known as the reindeer country! We didn’t get a glimpse of any this time but we saw the Northern Lights very early one evening from our hotel window! We then set out and were incredibly lucky, getting to watch them for hours. This hotel is located in the northeastern part of Island – among lakes, snow capped mountains, and incredibly vast skies. I couldn’t get enough of the decor the of Icelandair Hotels – each one was so eclectic and modern with tasteful, unique design that was unforgettable. The breakfast buffet was also delicious and detailed, everything an adventure-seeker could want in the morning. They also offered fish oil capsules!
HOTEL LAXA is an other-worldly hotel near Lake Myvatn. I think our jaws dropped when we pulled up to the retro hotel in the middle of endless barren terrain. The hotel is large enough to cater to the big tour bus groups- it’s the perfect stop for photography tours since you’re further away from towns with minimal to no light pollution. Also, we were so stoked when asked if we’d like to receive a “Northern Lights” wake up call! There is also a great happy hour in the afternoons if you need to relax before an evening of Polar Light hunting.
MYVATN area and the Myvatn Lake form the center of a volcanic landscape with countless different geological gems, like the massive Hverfjall Crater, the Krafla Region (an active region with bubbling, steaming mudpots and a power plant!) to just mention a few, which are just around the lake from the hotel. We explored around the lake, wandered in a forest, walked around the pseudo craters from natural gas explosions, and again watched the Northern Lights from our hotels for hours (we had an extremely lucky week).
ICELANDAIR HOTEL AKUREYRI is based in the North of Iceland, surrounded by mountains, fjords, and the perfect stop along the ring road. I couldn’t get over the ultra modern cozy room and bathrooms. You could literally step from the bed into the shower. We also saw the Northern lights right above our hotel! The hotel has plenty of lounging area to visit with fellow travellers as well.
VOGUR COUNTRY LODGE is a very remote and stunning hotel right near the ocean, with snowcapped mountains in the backyard. We hiked up from the hotel to the top of a waterfall (which we actually drank from) and had views over the hotel, farmland and mountains. The region has endless places to explore and could be a good base if you’re wanting to work your way up to the West Fjords.
SNÆFELLSNES PENINSULA is where the weather was not in our favor… to say the least. So many people recommend it, and I can imagine why, but two years ago when visiting Iceland and I came here it was torrential rain and a pretty terrifying drive. This year we set out from our hotel (about 2.5 hours away) at 6AM to catch the sunrise over the famous Mount Kirkjufell but we ended up in a nasty blizzard the entire way there. You could hardly see the dramatic volcano peaks and moss covered lava fields. Better luck next time!
ICELANDER HOTEL REYKJAVIK MARINA was one of the coolest hotels! The eclectic and tasteful design that makes you equally feel like you’ve stepped back in time or been catapulted into the future. Each room is different and the several lounge areas give everyone space if they want to curl up by a fire with a good book. There is even a cinema in the hotel! Along with a restaurant, breakfast room and cafe. The hotel even prepared a take away lunch for us when we had an early flight to the airport. Customer service at it’s finest!
THE BLUE LAGOON… to go or not to go? The infamous question. DO IT. Let me repeat. Seriously, do it. It is worth the price. It truly makes you feel like you’re on another planet. The whole process of the high tech locker rooms, showering before entering the pool, the swim up bar, silica and algae masks… Incredible. We had a blast and I would recommend it to anyone. They’ve expanded it and there is so much more room for people to swim about, lounge in private nooks, hit up the sauna or the bars, etc. It will be the most epic spa day of your life. We drank champagne, green smoothies, took selfies in silly masks, and it was an absolute blast.
MANA saved us on this trip. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But unless you’re Beyonce, you better plan on how you won’t blow your entire bank account on food alone in Iceland. For example – 2 sandwiches from Subway costs nearly $25. Not only is the food more expensive than any other country I’ve been to, but you will drive for hours and hours without any restaurants or gas station. MANA is a healthy balanced meal replacement that is seriously delicious and such a time saver. I thought I would get sick of it after several days, but now that I’m back in Berlin I find myself wanting it for lunch again rather than bothering trying to get a table at a busy restaurant.
My EMBER & EARTH Rain coat was the perfect outer layer for the trip! People always warn you about the bipolar and wicked weather of Iceland but no one can really prepare you for how crazy it truly is. Even if it’s not raining, you’ll be getting sprayed by the ocean wave for a waterfall instead so having a rain jacket handy is super important.
SIXT Rent A Car was so great to rent from for the Ring Road trip! They were super helpful with getting us the best car for what we needed for the crazy Icelandic roads and weather. I would highly recommend getting insurance for gravel! They had so much information about what we needed to know before setting off on our journey. The driving laws can be a bit different (it’s the law that you must have your lights on all day, everyday.) I would also recommend getting a 4×4 car, after researching and reading it was not clear if we would need one for sure, but after driving 2,500km in Iceland, we were more than happy to have the extra bottom clearance (that comes with a 4×4) for the numerous unpaved roads leading to magical places that you don’t want to miss because your car can’t make it there. For more important tips on driving in Iceland check out their advice here.
In the end, I’m impressed with all that I was able to pack into 10 days! In order to take your time and keep things a bit more relaxed, I would recommend 12 days to do the entire ring road. Here is a map of our journey: