Doing a Roadtrip around Iceland would have to be the best thing I have ever decided to do. I spent 14 days in Iceland all up and 10 days driving around this awesome country. Visiting Iceland has been on my bucket list and finally getting there was a great feeling. If you are trying to figure out what/where your next holiday is going to be, then look no further. Iceland is an amazing country and it has so much to offer.
Just some quick info on this beautiful country. Iceland has a population of about 332,000 people (2016) and 122,000 of those in the capital – a groovy city called Reykjavik. There are so many fun facts to know about this country, for example they produce 100% of their energy from renewable resources (mainly geothermal) from all the volcanic activity they have in the country. Iceland is also home to the northern lights and the midnight sun, and the majority of present-day Icelanders believe in the existence of elves and trolls. There are many stories and legends about these creatures that you will hear throughout your travels around the country.
Iceland has some of the most beautiful natural scenery you will ever see with breathtaking waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes – this country is truly spectacular. If you were to describe the country in one word it would be “alive”. While you drive through this crazy place you really feel like that everything around you is thriving with life and even the ground beneath you feels like it’s breathing.
Let’s get down to nitty gritty details of my time in Iceland.
First thing you need to know about Iceland is that it is STUPIDLY expensive and you need to be prepared to spend some money.
There are soooo many options to choose from for hiring a car/ camper van / 4 x4 and I spent ages trying to find the best services for a good price, and was quite happy with the final decision. I went with a company called Kuku Campers. For me, they ticked all the boxes. I decided to go for the Camper van style cars that I did not involve a significant amount of setting up and packing up everyday. This camper van had a bed in the back and storage and camping gear underneath. You will either have to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow or you can hire everything from Kuku themselves.
Total price for the car hire for 10 days and some extras was 1,982.00 EURO approx $2950 AUD, what this included was:
Week(s) rental x 1 (1,155.00 per week) €1,155.00
Day(s) rental x 3 (165.00 per day) €495.00
Camping card x 1 (110.00per item) €110.00
Camping Chair x 2 (5.00 per rental) €10.00
Camping Table x 1 (12.00 per rental) €12.00
Insurance SCDW (20.00 per day) €200
The only issue with having the camper van style car is that you can’t go to the highlands and drive on certain type of roads. If you are someone who wants to do a bit of off road driving and get to explore the highlands then maybe a 4×4 option is better. We weren’t able to drive down some roads but that didn’t really affect what we wanted to see on our travels.
For accommodation I obviously slept in the back of the van and I also purchased a camping card. What this card gets you is a “pass” into certain campsites all around Iceland and Kuku Campers provide you with a book and map off all the spots that are included. The camping card is a great thing to get if you have the option because it does save you some money per night at camp sites (you are still required to pay tax for every campsite). You can take the risk of not getting a card and hope the camp manager doesn’t come around but you will have to pay for accommodation for the night if they do. We had many nights where the camp manager never came and we didn’t have to worry about it and everyone there that night that didn’t have a camping card got a free night’s accommodation.
The campsites themselves were pretty good, the facilities in some were lacking the essentials essentials (what?) but most were really good. Obviously not all campsites have showers or washing machines but I’m sure you can tough that one out for a day or two.
I think camping is a good option if you are weighing up between hiring a car and paying for accommodation every night. I spoke to many people that were paying for accommodation every night and they seemed to be bleeding money and most weren’t overly happy with the quality of the rooms for the price. You do have to keep in mind that some areas of Iceland are very isolated and there really isn’t much out there once you leave Reykjavik.
Knowing where to go and what to see
Best thing I did before my trip was a lot of research so I knew exactly what I wanted to see and do. I sat on my computer Googling for hours. So even if you are plan on using this blog as a guide I would still recommend researching everything you want to see and do in Iceland beforehand so you can make the most of your time there. After hours of research I found a company called “Nordic Visitors” that basically hit all of the attractions I wanted to see and do. They offered a “DIY drive around Iceland” and it is a good option but I wanted to camp (they included accommodation every night).
Basically all I did was download and print out their itinerary and that gave me a rough guide of where things were and what I was seeing each day. I did add to this itinerary because they do not go up north and I really wanted to see a waterfall that was a little out of the way. Each day at our final attraction/destination we would find the closest campsite that was included in the camping card and head in that direction.
Before I left for Iceland I knew it was going to be extremely expensive and I knew that if I was going to be traveling for 2 weeks that I needed to save money where I could. Here are a few ideas for saving money.
- Hiring a camper van and camping around Iceland. To give you an idea of cost for one night stay you’ll be looking at around $200-300 AUD a night for a very basic room. For me, camping was the best way to experience Iceland properly and a lot of people you speak to say the same.
- Use the recommended fuel stations Kuku campers recommend, because they give you a discount fuel card, and i think it gives you 20% off the price. Also you get a free cup of coffee and 20% everything else you buy (or at least this was the case when I was there).
- For food I would 100% recommend you cook your own food (and if you’re camping then that’s really your only option). For what I would spend on one meal I could feed myself for about 2-3 days breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Buy all your hiking and weatherproof gear before you leave, as I said, Iceland is so expensive. I forgot a drink bottle and I needed to buy one once I landed in Iceland and it cost me $50 AUD.
- Don’t pay for extras unless you really want to… Sounds a bit stupid doesn’t it… BUT! most of the attractions Iceland has to offer are free. The only thing we found that was extra was a whale watching excursion and some hot spring (but you will find there are plenty that are free along the drive). If you are lucky enough you will see whales while you are driving through the Fjords. We did and we stopped for 30 minutes watching the pod of whales just swim into and out of the Fjord and there is a very high chance you will see some there is heaps around Iceland.
- Do not pay for a “self guided” tour around Iceland. There are plenty of companies that offer a “do it yourself” drive around Iceland. You can download their Itinerary from their website along with their map and just use that without paying a cent! It gives you all the information including what you’ll be seeing that day and what area of Iceland you should sleep at that night.
What to expect in Iceland
Expect to be amazed, this country changes every corner you turn, incredible fjords and beautiful landscape, it really feels like you are on a different planet. It is truly a place you have to experience to understand how great it is. Before going to Iceland I really only knew that it was going to be cold, it rains a lot and that at the time I would be there the sun doesn’t set. Well everything I expected I got. So be prepared for that it will rain everyday, not always the whole day but most days we got rain at some point. The 24hr sun is something else. If you have a sleeping mask then you’re set. The Camper van did have blinds but it didn’t really do too much. There is really nothing you can do to prepare yourself for 24hr sunlight. It is a very unique experience but does eventually take a toll on your sleep and your body. However, night time toilet runs in the dark will not be a problem you have to face!
One thing you need to know about Iceland is that it is COLD! SO SO COLD! Coming from Australia it gets kinda cold but the wind chill in Iceland is something else, it is so so icy and it goes straight to your bones.
If you do not have hiking boots I would recommend you to buy a pair. A lot of the trails are really muddy and wet. Plus most of the time you are walking in the rain and having wet feet is not the most enjoyable thing. So in saying that, make sure you have wet weather gear and warm clothes.
- A good shell
- Warm down jacket
- Warm socks
- Weatherproof pants (I didn’t have these and you do need these occasionally). Especially at Skogafoss if you want to go to the base of the waterfall.
We did have days that were perfect weather and we were able to hike in shorts and enjoy the sun, but it was still only 9-10 degrees. It is funny how quickly you acclimatise to the area, by the end of it we were walking around in pants and a tshirt and it was 10 degrees windy and raining.
What time of the year to go
So I went in June, and that is “summer” in Iceland. Summer meaning a max of 15 degrees if you are lucky. It pretty much rains every day in Iceland but not all day just in patches, so you can’t let the weather stop you from doing something that day, you just have to brave the conditions and hope for the best. In saying that, if it is pelting down with rain I’d hold out. It’s all about patience and picking your timing. Depending on what type of experience you want, depends on when you go! If you want snow then maybe later/ earlier in the year is better for you.
Must see sights
For me, everything was a must see in Iceland, but if you don’t have the time and money to be able to do a 10 day drive around the whole country then this is a list of things I would highly recommend.
I would explore the whole city. It isn’t very big at all and easily done in a day but is still really good to see.
48 km from Reykjavik (roughly 40mins drive):
Make sure you book your time in early with the Blue Lagoon. This place is probably the most popular spot in Iceland and it sells out fast. I forgot to book mine and ended up going at 10pm at night which was the only available time. However; for me personally, I didn’t mind that time because it was still a great experience and it wasn’t overly busy.
Now can be done as a tour if you want and that will cut out a day or two of you driving around it yourself and gets you a proper guide of the area. I actually did a golden circle tour that included snowmobile ride across the largest glacier in Iceland (I would high recommend you doing this, Click here to check it out) and it was actually awesome. It’s not everyday that you get to ride across a glacier, especially if you are from Australia like I am. Doing the Golden Circle tour cut out a couple of days of the drive and I was able to head straight for the south coast and this also allowed me to use those days up to get as far north as possible later on in the trip.
42.5km from Reykjavik (roughly 40min drive)
This is a 3km hike to a geothermal river, and it is so worth the hike. We were told if you go as far as you can the water is the warmest. Some words of advice… do not go as far as you can, it’s way way way too hot to the point that the water is almost simmering. But if you go in the areas where most people are then you will be sweet. There is a cool stream that flows into the hot springs and makes half the river a perfect temperature. This spot is definitely worth it, and it’s all free!
South coast is where it all happens. All those amazing waterfalls and canyons you expect to see are in this place! If I was going to say one area to go and visit it would be the south coast, hands down. It has some of the most amazing natural and picturesque places you will ever see.
What the south coast offers (in order from closest to furthest)
Seljalandsfoss – Waterfall – 121 km from Reykjavik (roughly 1hr 30mins drive)
This is a beauty. You can walk behind this waterfall but expect to get wet (totally worth it). If you keep walking down a little further you get to another waterfall where you have to hop, skip and jump through two rock walls and over some rocks and water to get to the base of the waterfall and it’s amazing! So many great photo opportunities here.
Skogafoss – Waterfall – 149km from Reykavik (roughly 2hr drive)
Now this is the most impressive waterfall I have ever seen! It is massive and beautiful. You can climb to the top of the waterfall and have a bird’s eye view of it. There is also a trail that you can walk up and I do recommend you walk the trail for a little bit as it is pretty nice.
Black beaches of Vik – Beach – 180 km from Reykjavik (roughly 2hrs 30mins drive)
This is something that really interesting to see. Quite different from the white sand beaches i’m used to in Australia, the black beaches of Vik are really different and pretty unique. There is also a rock formation on the beach which is pretty interesting.
This was pretty awesome. This is a canyon with a beautiful river running through it. Crystal clear water with black rock making the green grass look amazing. It’s something just so different.
Skaftafell – 319 km from Reykjavik (roughly 4hrs drive)
This area is full of hiking trails and small waterfalls. You can hike the area and get to the tongue of the glacier that is there. There is one waterfall that is worth the hike and that is Svartifoss. This is a pretty cool waterfall and is unique compared to some of the other waterfalls you see. If you go here there is a guy who has a seafood takeaway shop near the camping area and also right near the info desk and it is THE BEST fish and chips I have ever eaten. It was expensive but totally worth it. Fresh and locally caught fish made for amazingly good food.
Glacier lagoon – 372 km from Reykjavik (roughly 4hrs 40mins drive)
This would have to be one of the most impressive things I have seen. Coming from Australia you don’t really see ice and snow compared to some countries. This Glacier Lagoon is something else. The size of the icebergs in the lagoon are HUGE! Some are literally floating past you whilst others are that big they don’t really move. You can get a boat ride that takes you through the icebergs but it is pretty pricey.
I know you’re probably thinking after reading this that I’ve mostly recommend you see waterfalls. Trust me I thought the same thing when I was researching Iceland but once I got there and saw each one I was blown away, every waterfall is unique and just amazing.
If you have extra time
I added this amazing waterfall to the itinerary while we were on the road trip. I knew I had a couple of days to spare and I had heard that this was a must see place, and believe me it was! It was so worth seeing this awesome waterfall if you have the time I highly recommend it.