Last month we spent 10 days driving around the beautiful highway 1 in Iceland. It’s more famous nickname is Ring Road, because it spans (for the most part) the outer ring of the island. Before leaving the airport, we picked up a pre-paid sim card (with data) to use in my husband’s unlocked iPhone (it’s not special, but purchased directly from Apple, not a carrier like AT&T). He swapped the sims out and we had enough data to get us all the way around the island. We broke our days up into an average of 3 hours drive time for each day, and spent lots of other time exploring and stopping along the way.
Above: Skógafoss Waterfall & Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyons
Day 1, Keflavik to Kirkjubæjarklaustur, South Iceland.
Estimated 3 hours, 40 minutes.
Our flight arrived at Keflavik International at 9AM, had a quick breakfast at Joe & the Juice (missed this from Denmark!) and after getting our rental car situated, we were on our way around 11AM. Our first stop was at a grocery store to load up on supplies and have a quick lunch. We chose to drive counter clockwise around the island, so that we’d always be on the outer side of the road. The speed limit on paved roads is only 90km/h, a slow and steady pace to get you around the island. The weather was a little dreary, with some light rain here and there.
Low height waterfall. We didn’t make a stop here.
Tall waterfall with a trail that leads behind it.
Seljavallalaug Zwembad Swimming Pool
Built in 1923, this is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. It is free to go but requires a hike. We didn’t go because it was pouring rain and it’s one of my only trip regrets.
Skogar, Vik and Myrdalsjokull, Iceland
A place to stop and view the volcano. There is also a museum.
Huge waterfall that you can nearly walk right up to the base of. Also a trail to the viewing platform at the top via a lot of stairs (feel the burn!).
Gönguleið um Fimmvörðuháls, Iceland
A glacier you can drive, and walk right up to. Again, we missed it.
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
The remaining parts of a wrecked plane. It looked very busy and not that impressive so we didn’t bother to stop and hike out with the kids.
Path to Wrecked DC-3 Plane on Sólheimasandur, Iceland
Dyrhólaey Nature Park
Black sand area near Vik, has a natural arch. Take road 218 to get out there. Also includes Kirkjufjara beach, look for puffins!
Road 218, Iceland
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
We took road 215 to the end to get out here and it was pouring rain and super windy. I got out to snap a few photos but didn’t do much exploring. There is columnar basalt cliffs and a beautiful black sand beach.
Cairns of Laufskálavarða
Travellers crossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time would pile stones up to make a cairn for good luck.
Beautifuly mossy canyons with a river running through them. Absolutely recommend a stop here.
63.771224, -18.171678, Unnamed Road, Iceland
Modern hotel with restaurant (we ate dinner here) and area to explore.
Svartifoss Waterfall & Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Day 2, Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Höfn, South Iceland
Estimated 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Although the drive was shorter on this day, we had a couple of lengthly stops that required a hike or two so I’m glad we had spare time. After eating a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we were on our way again. We made quite a few stops and did some hiking to get to Svartifoss waterfall. Once we got into the town of Höfn, we were able to relax a little and stock up on much needed supplies.
The tops of columnar basalt, looks like a church floor.
Skaftafell National Park
National park with volcanoes, glaciers & campsites, plus adventure hiking trails for all abilities. We ate lunch here in the car before our hike to Svartifoss waterfall.
In Skaftafell park, there is a trail that leads to this waterfall. Surrounded by columnar basalt, Svartifoss (Black Falls) is said to have inspired the architecture of the famous Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland. The hike itself is a 40m ascent in 1.5 km (takes around 45 minutes each way), and although it is steep at times the trail is paved and easy enough if you pace yourself.
Eastern Region, Iceland, 64.027532, -16.975154
Another glacier you can drive, then hike to. It’s very close and has it’s own lagoon. Not a great stop for kids to explore much beyond the trailhead.
Svinafellsjokulsvegur, Iceland, 64.008772, -16.881690
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Smaller than it’s larger companion, Fjallsárlón did not look as impressive to us when we drove by.
Fjallsárlón, Iceland, 785 Öræfi, Iceland
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Large glacial lake on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Well worth a stop, be forewarned that it is very cold here!
Jökulsárlón, 781 Höfn í Hornafirði, Iceland
Black sand beach in Southeast Iceland.
Day 3, Höfn to Neskaupstaður, South to East Iceland
Estimated 3 hours, 37 minutes.
Having an AirBnb made it pretty easy to eat a warm breakfast this morning. During this drive the scenery drastically changed. We left through the last of the black sand beaches and came out on a coastline that looked much like California’s own highway 1. After passing through, we ended up in the eastern fjords on gravel and curvy roads along the water. To finish out our drive, we drove through a one-lane tunnel at the top of a mountain before descending down into the small town of Neskaupstaður.
The Red Chair
This is just a pull-out on the side of the road with some rocks, but it also has this wonderful bright red chair bolted down. What a perfect photo opp!
Þjóðvegur, Iceland, 64.341729, -14.928522
Black Rock Beach & Lighthouse
We stopped here for a picnic lunch and came across a wonderful black rock beach and lighthouse.
Eastern Iceland, 64.406317, -14.550643
Sveinsstekksfoss & Múlafoss Waterfalls
These are easily accessible just off of highway 1.
Unnamed Road, Iceland, 64.754245, -14.482385
This waterfall didn’t have a name but was on our west side next to a picnic area just after coming out of a tunnel almost where 96 and 955 meet.
Suðurfjarðarvegur, Iceland, 65.013334, -14.202419
From here we stayed off of highway 1 and continued east. There were lots of waterfalls and beautiful views everywhere, so we were just happy to take in the scenery. To finish out our drive, we drove through a one-lane tunnel at the top of a mountain before descending down into the small town of Neskaupstaður.
Stay at Hildibrand Hotel
We stayed in an apartment style room here, and really enjoyed the little town. We had dinner at Kaupfélagsbarinn, at the bottom of the hotel. I would have loved to stay here longer.
Hafnarbraut 2, 740 Neskaupstaður, Iceland
One-lane tunnel and windy road down from the Fjord.
Day 4, Neskaupstaður to Vopnafjordur via 917, Eastern Iceland
Estimated 2 hours, 34 minutes.
Another short drive for us, so we chose to take road 917 instead to see the scenic route. It turned out to be very scenic. The entire road was gravel (Not an F-road) and included a drive straight up a 2,000ft tall mountain pass with more switchbacks than I can remember. It felt crazy at the time but the sense of accomplishment once we got to the top was wonderful. We didn’t make a lot of stops on this trip, but did enjoy the scenery.
Breakfast at Nesbær Kaffihus
Cute little coffee shop with sandwiches, pastries, and local-made goods.
Egilsbraut 5, Neskaupstaður, Iceland
Nettó Grocery Store
These were one of my favorite grocery stores in Iceland due to their selection and cheaper prices. I also liked the Krónan stores because they carried many substitutes for my dairy allergy.
6, 700, Kaupvangur, Egilsstaðir, Iceland
We had to stop here at the top of the mountain to take a few photos.
Hlíðarvegur, Iceland, 65.715078, -14.435010
This is where we pulled over to make sandwiches for lunch and stretch our legs. There is nothing here, not even a picnic spot but it made for some beautiful views.
Eastern Region, Iceland, 65.753269, -14.566779
We checked into our place a little early for the night, Ásbrandsstadir Cottage, a small cabin on a local marshmallow farm. Ok, not really a marshmallow farm, but the rolls of grass wrapped in plastic look like giant marshmallows. We cooked dinner here on our own since there is not much around. There was a little play area next to our cabin and we saw our first glimpse of the moon since we began our trip in Iceland.
Above: Hverarönd Geothermal Area & Mývatn Nature Baths
Day 5, Vopnafjordur to Akureyri, Eastern Iceland
Estimated 2 hours, 46 minutes
I’m not sure, but I think we drove to Mars at this point. We had breakfast in our small cabin and continued on our way. As we drove the surrounding area became very dry with lots of red dirt and only patches of greenery. Fewer sheep tried to run across the road in front of us than before, and I saw one of the largest sun dog I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I took photos of it but it’s really hard to grasp the scale unless it’s in front of you.
This is just a pull-out area on the side of the road, but it offers spectacular views of the Mars-like terrain. Here we saw the biggest sun-halo I’ve ever witnessed in my life, and learned about the Bishops Cairns spread all around Iceland.
Eastern Region, Iceland, 65.457290, -15.807096
At the start of road F88, there is an information area, and a hike to an old crater filled with water. I think it’s a nature preserve, we chose not to hike out.
Öskjuleið, Iceland, 65.625788, -16.251034
Hverarönd Geothermal Area
A really interesting area full of geothermal activity (and tourists). There were lots of walking trails, steam vents, mudpots, and plenty of sulphur smell.
If you get the chance to park and hike out to this enormous crater, you should do it. We had other priorities at the time (hello hot springs), but if we had more time this would have been on our list.
You can drive up to visit this area if you’d like, there have been 29 recorded eruptions.
Unnamed Road, Iceland, 65.717607, -16.758690
Dimmuborgir National Park
We only made a quick stop here and decided not to explore much. It was very busy but looked cool. Parts of Game of Thrones was filmed here. My husband just wanted a photo with the sign (ha!).
Dimmuborgir, Iceland, 65.591809, -16.914059
Mývatn Nature Baths
Our first hot springs experience was here, and though they are much smaller than the Blue Lagoon, they hold a certain amount of charm on their own.
Unnamed Rd,, Reykjahlíð, Iceland
One of my favorite waterfalls on the island, the color of the water and ease of proximity both being factors.
Check into Ice Apartments in Akureyri
Beautiful and well-furnished apartment in the heart of the city. Would have loved to stay longer.
6,, Hafnarstræti, Akureyri, Iceland
Dinner at Strikið
Puffin was on the menu but we refrained. The reindeer burgers were great.
Skipagata, 600 Akureyri, Iceland
Above: Gravel roads & horses in Northern Iceland
Day 6, Akureyri to Hvammstangi, Northern Iceland
Estimated 2 hours, 21 minutes.
This drive was another one of our shorter ones, but after breakfast and some light exploring, we didn’t leave until about noon. Then on our way we managed to take a detour on a dirt road out to Hvitserkur rock. We learned quickly that the weather really can change in 5 minutes in Iceland, because for most of our drive it alternated between pouring rain and wind, and blue sunny skies. Eek.
Breakfast at Kaffi Ilmur
Great coffee and even greater waffles. Was conveniently across the street from our hotel.
Hafnarstræti 107b, 600 Akureyri, Iceland
Grettislaug Thermal Baths
We didn’t make it this far, and the weather was a little crazy, but would have loved a stop at this family run place.
Sveitarfélagið Skagafjörður, Iceland, 65.880956, -19.737214
This rock shape sticks directly out of the water and is a cool hike down, especially at low tide when you can walk right up to it. The drive to get out there can take awhile off of highway 1, as it is all gravel.
Dinner at Sjavarborg Restaurant
Nice atmosphere and location right on the water. When we came out there was a Summer festival going on and a wonderful Summer hygge feeling.
Stay at Hvammstangi Cottages
Very small, but well furnished and thoughtful cottage space above the town.
Kirkjuhvammsvegur, Hvammstangi, Iceland, 65.401185, -20.931855
Highway 56 & Hellnar, Iceland
Day 7, Hvammstangi to Hellnar via Stykkishólmur, Western Iceland
Estimated 3 hours, 20 minutes.
After a quick stop for morning coffee at Hladan Kaffihus(Brekkugata, Hvammstangi, Iceland) in Hvammstangi, we were on our way. I wanted to make a stop at the tiny town of Stykkishólmur because it looked great in the photos I saw (logical thought process, no?). Along the way we made a few stops to view the water and take in the scenery. We also loaded up on groceries before heading to our Air BnB Cabin in Hellnar.
Ytri Tunga Beach, and Reykjavik from above
Day 8, Hellnar to Nesjavellir via Reykjavik, Western Iceland
Estimated 2 hours, 57 minutes.
Up until this point, we saw no puffins. I know it’s hard to believe, but they have certain areas they come back to every year and we just hadn’t been in any of them or knowledgeable enough to know how to find them. So I booked a last-minute Express puffin tour in Reykjavik, which means we really needed to make good time coming out of Hellnar.
Stay at Ion Adventure Hotel
Beautiful, minimal, modern hotel with a mineral pool below in a geothermal area of the Golden Circle. A favorite.
Nesjavellir, 801, Iceland
Ion Adventure Hotel & Geysir geothermal area in Iceland’s Golden Circle
Day 9 Nesjavellir to Stokkseyri via Gulfoss Falls
Estimated 2 hours, 20 minutes.
The Blue Lagoon & a mossy lava field.
Day 10 Stokkseyri to Grindvik and back.
Estimated 1 hour, 56 minutes.
The Blue Lagoon
An experience you can’t miss during a trip to Iceland. Near the airport too if you have a lengthy stopover. There is an outer lagoon you are free to walk-around, but for a soak you must pay to go inside.
Southern Peninsula Region, Iceland, 63.882677, -22.457154
Raufarholshellir Lava Cave
A really cool (and long) lava cave, easy enough to explore on your own or with kids. A hardhat and flash light are recommended for more heavy duty exploring.
Þrengslavegur, Iceland, 63.940568, -21.398585
The Barnhouse in Stokkseyri
Day 11 Stokkseyri to Keflavik International Airport
Estimated 1 hour, 16 minutes.
Our drive to the airport wasn’t too bad, but it was very early. The sun was rising when we left Stokkseyri, and our rental car drop-off and airport check in went smoothly. There were lots of dining options, so at least there’s that. I think this morning was very surreal because we weren’t quite ready to leave Iceland yet. I’m already hoping for another trip back, it was pure magic.