Iceland is an epic destination. Few places on Planet Earth boasts the same variety of breath-taking landscapes and awesome activities. You have exploding geysers, active volcanoes, immense glaciers, bright blue ice caves, black sand beaches, iceberg-filled lagoons, an excellent chance of seeing whales, tölt riding Icelandic horses, soothing hot springs, vast lava fields, countless waterfalls and beautiful rainbow-coloured mountains! There is a good reason they filmed so much of Game of Thrones here and why they call it The Land of Fire and Ice.
It may sound incredible, but all this can actually be experienced in just a single week! Of course, the longer time you have in Iceland, the better. We were there for two weeks and could easily have doubled that. The first week we spent driving around the famous ring road that surrounds the island. The second week we spent hiking, deep in the magical highlands. If you are into hiking, we highly recommend the epic trek that we went on. National Geographic went as far as to call it one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. We have written a very detailed post about our personal experiences on the 4-day Laugavegur trail, which you can read right here. Spoiler alert: It was AMAZING.
For your first time visit to Iceland, the best way to experience the country is by driving and sleeping in a camper van. At least that is our opinion. This will allow you to get a good feeling for the island, seeing the biggest variety of sights. We did precisely that during the summer of 2019, and we had the trip of a lifetime. In this post, we share our full 7-day itinerary for visiting all the top sights, as well as go through our best tips and tricks for each place. We aim to give you all the info, in just one location. Read on and start planning your own legendary road-trip now!
First though, take a look at the travel video we captured throughout the 7 days. If it doesn’t make you want to visit Iceland in a campervan, we don’t know what will!
Even if you decide that camping sites are a bit too rustic for you, you can still follow our guide and book your own accommodation. There are plenty of hostels, hotels and Airbnbs waiting for you. No matter what you choose, we are sure you will love Iceland!
Read this guide from end to end, or if in a hurry, skip to the areas of interest in the overview below. We have also provided a map of the top sights or activities that we want to highlight. This is our longest post yet, so get comfy with a cup of coffee and enjoy!
- Day 0: Arriving in Reykjavik
- Day 1: The Reykjavik area
- Day 2: The Golden Circle
- Day 3: South Iceland
- Day 4: South Iceland + Glacier Hike
- Day 5: South East Iceland + Kayaking
- Day 6: North-East Iceland + Whale Watching
- Day 7: Back to Reykjavik
- Do you have more days?
- General tips and tricks
Overview of the trip
Day 0: Arriving in Reykjavik
Yeah, so we are aware that we cheat a little bit by putting on Day 0 on here. However, for our own trip, we arrived very early morning on Day 1, and so we had a full day. This might not be the case for you. We did this itinerary in 7 days only, but you might need an extra one if you arrive in the afternoon. Everything is new, and if you come from afar, you might be hit by some jetlag. It is probably better not to expect you have too much time on your day of arrival.
There are a few things you could do on this day, depending of course on when you arrive. The first thing will definitely be to leave the airport. But even before that, though, we have a word of warning for you!
Avoid being scammed by your ATM
It sucks being scammed, so let’s right away make you aware of the only scam we have seen in Iceland. Like most other airports in Europe, Keflavik Airport has been infested by the vile Euronet cash machines. Avoid them at all cost. If you absolutely need cash, wait until you get downtown and find a local bank instead. Picking Euronet will cost you dearly. In fact, when we noticed how they operate, we felt compelled to write a separate blog post outlining how to avoid getting scammed when withdrawing cash on your travels. We recommend giving that a quick read – you can find it here.
For this trip, you can just focus on avoiding Euronet. The best option in Iceland is actually to go cashless and just pay using your debit- or credit card. We didn’t need cash even once on our Iceland trip – it is pretty much a cashless society. Even then, always remember to choose your home currency when presented with a choice on the card machine. That will save you a ton of money over time.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s get on with the practical stuff.
Getting from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik
There are several ways to get to Reykjavik from the airport.
- Firstly, you might have booked a vehicle with one of the international car rental companies located in the airport, such as Avis, Hertz or Europcar. In that case, drive yourself.
- Secondly, you might have chosen to book with a local Icelandic car rental company. It will not be located in the airport, but it might be willing to transfer you to their office for free (or for a small fee). We were picked up by our local company for free – see more info in the next section.
- Thirdly, you can take a taxi. This will be very expensive, and we can’t recommend you wasting money on that. Not when the next two options are so simple.
- Fourthly, you pre-book a private or shared door-to-door transfer from a company such as AirportDirect.
- Fifthly, you book a scheduled bus. These can go to a central bus station, but can also be purchased with a hotel connection. AirportDirect also offers such trips, and the Flybus service from Reykjavik Excursions is very established as well.
If you can’t go with option 1 or 2, we suggest option 5. This can also be combined with a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon, but more about that a little later.
Choosing your rental car
No matter what, you need to get hold of your rental car. We booked our campervan through a company called Go Campers. It was an okay experience, but it could have been better. The most notable problems were that the seatbelts in the back didn’t work and that if you are seated in the rear, you would be facing sideways. If you wanted to look straight ahead, you could do this, but you wouldn’t be having anything to rest your back on. Not optimal for an almost 2,000-kilometre-long road trip. Regardless, this is the only company we have personal experience with, and they did get the job done for a fair price. Since the car had 3 seats in the front, the problems we had wouldn’t have been noteworthy if we were only 2-3 people. But we were 4 people, so we needed to use the backseats, and they were pretty horrible to be honest. It might be the same for other companies as well, but we suggest you shop around. Other reputable companies include Happy Campers, KuKu Campers and Motorhome Iceland. All these have received great reviews, including Go Campers.
If you want to sleep in hotels, or even camp in a tent, you can rent a much smaller car with one of the international chains. We tend to use rentalcars.com for that purpose. This will definitely save you some money compared to a large campervan. It will also be more comfortable on the road, so it is a noteworthy option. There is a bit of charm in driving around in a purpose-built campervan though, and even with a less than optimal vehicle, we had a fantastic trip we will never forget.
It was great that Go Campers came to the airport and picked us up for free. We went straight to their office, got our wheels and just around the corner there was a supermarket where we could stock up. Our car had a sketchy refrigerator which worked sporadically. But no problem, we just put in some ice cubes to handle that. We bought some snacks and bread, as well as cold cuts for sandwiches, and got on the road. There are several supermarket chains in Iceland, but people seem to prefer the Bonus brand. It is a discount supermarket, which is great in an otherwise expensive country.
Check-in to your accommodation
There are plenty of hotels and Airbnbs to choose from in Reykjavik. However, they are all quite expensive. We saved a lot of money by camping. We actually like to camp, and we never spend enough time in our hotels to justify the cost, so for us, this was a no-brainer. Other people are not so happy about it, and that’s perfectly fine. Feel free to find luxury accommodation and still use this itinerary – it will work out fine!
If you are camping in Reykjavik, there is essentially only one place available for you – the aptly named Reykjavik Campsite. We found it to be fine, having adequate facilities and a great location. Buses stop nearby going to downtown regularly, but because we were 4 people, taxies weren’t too expensive per person. Just give them a call, and they will be there within a few minutes. You can google or ask the reception for an up-to-date phone number.
Reykjavik isn’t a large city. We are hesitant to call it a city actually, it is more like a small town. That’s cool though because with this itinerary you won’t have a lot of time for city-life. So spend today walking down the main shopping street called Laugavegur as well as see the biggest tourist attraction in town – The ominously looking Hallgrímskirkja church. Later in this post, we have included a little fun fact about the design choice of that particular building. Hint: It actually all makes sense. By the way, there’s also great coffee to be found everywhere in Reykjavik!
Dinner in Reykjavik
We are quite avid users of TripAdvisor and found some great places in Reykjavik based on this. Our favourite was Íslenski barinn – The Icelandic Bar. The food and atmosphere there was so good, we had to come back another day for seconds. As you can see from the picture below, it doesn’t look like much. However, looks can definitely deceive! We can highly recommend the fish of the day, the burgers and the fish and chips. Oh, and the onion rings were epic too. Unsurprisingly, the beers were great as well. Although this is a pub, the food tasted like a gourmet restaurant to us.
Actually, we found food all over Iceland to be excellent! What a pleasant surprise. Especially the fish was out of this world.
Day 1: The Reykjavik area
Now the road-trip can start for real. However, what to do on Day 1 will depend on how much you accomplished the day before. And it will depend on your preferences too. This is to say that today’s itinerary is not set in stone, because you don’t have to drive from A to B. You will start and end the day in Reykjavik.
Day hike to Glymur falls
Epic day hike to the second-highest waterfall in Iceland. Not for the faint-hearted, but most people will be fine, and it is very memorable. It does require that you can walk steeply up and down for about 3 hours, and it might be scary in places for people with vertigo. Of course, we will ask you to push yourself and do this hike anyway. The views when you finally reach Glymur falls are extremely rewarding. It is about a 70 km drive, or 1 hour, from Reykjavik. The route there is next to a fjord and is quite scenic. You actually won’t get to drive on it for the remainder of your road-trip, so that’s an added bonus. We haven’t created our own guide specifically for Glymur falls yet, but a quick google search will give you many good blog posts.
If you don’t want to do this day hike, then read on for some less strenuous activities you can consider.
The Blue Lagoon
We are sure you have heard of this one. It is a true Icelandic icon. The water is a beautiful milky blue, and it’s warm even in the worst weather conditions. We had rain and wind during our visit, and it was no problem at all. It is quite pricy, especially compared to some of the other hot springs located all over Iceland. We will argue it is worth it though, especially if you have never been in hot springs before. It is highly commercial, and there are lots of tourists. That might put some people off, but it didn’t bother us much. Included in the entry is a drink, and there is nothing quite like enjoying a cold draught beer in the warm waters of one of the most amazing swimming pools in the world.
If you arrived early the day before, you might have had time to visit The Blue Lagoon there. You could actually book an airport bus that goes to the Blue Lagoon, have your luggage kept there for a small fee, and then be picked up by another bus. We did this the other way around when we left Iceland using Reykjavik Excursions, and it worked very well. If you have time after your road-trip, on the day of your departure, this is definitely worth keeping in mind. You can see on the map further below, why this could be a good idea. The Blue Lagoon is close to the airport, and the airport is quite far from Reykjavik, so you will save yourself a few hours of driving back and forth from the city.
Prior booking to the lagoon itself is essential, and the price depends on supply and demand on the time of your visit. Book early to ensure your desired timeslot.
Experience the tölt on an Icelandic horse
Icelandic Horses are unique, in that they are the only ones in the world who can do the tölt gait. We’re not going to talk more about that here, but if you do go for a ride, you will learn the whole story behind Icelandic horses and what makes them awesome. We hadn’t tried riding horses before, but it was a fantastic experience. And you get to ride surprisingly fast!
We hadn’t originally planned on riding horses. But we changed our minds and booked last-minute with a company called Islenski Hesturinn near Reykjavik. Very happy we did! As an added bonus, they included pick up in the price, and we were able to jump on just outside the Hallgrímskirkja church in central Reykjavik.
Note that you don’t need to worry about animal tourism, or animal welfare in general, when going on this tour. It was obvious that the horses were happy and very well treated.
If you didn’t have time for exploring Reykjavik fully on the day of arrival, today would be a good time to do it.
If you arrived early in the morning, you might have time to do all of the above in two days. If not, you might have a few extra days at the other end instead. You can save something for them. Another possible tweak to the plan is to ride the horses somewhere else on Iceland. This activity doesn’t have to happen near Reykjavik (but the others do). Worst case you’ll have to prioritize based on your own preferences. We didn’t manage to try out everything we wanted in Iceland ourselves, so we’ll just have to come back!
Driving distances for Day 1:
- Reykjavik Campsite to Glymur Falls (70 km or 1h)
- Reykjavik Campsite to Blue Lagoon (50 km or 45m)
- Reykjavik Campsite to Islenski Hesturinn (12 km or 15m)
Plotting in a roundtrip on google maps gives you 237 km or 3h 30m on the road.
That’s the end of day 1. From this day forth, we promise your itinerary will be more rigid. That often makes things a little easier, doesn’t it?
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Today you are driving the legendary Golden Circle in the south-western part of Iceland. It is a typical tourist route, but there are good reasons for that, and it shouldn’t be missed. Actually, if you only have a few days available in Iceland, this is the route you should be driving. As the name indicates, the route is a full circle. It is usually driven in a clockwise fashion, but we are spicing things up a little here and going the other way around. One reason is to hit the hot springs at the right time of the day, and the second reason is to move opposite to the big tour busses. Hopefully, that will mean the sights are a little less crowded.
Driving distance: 258 km (3h, 43m)
This is your first stop of the day! Kerið, or Kerid in English, is a sizable volcanic crater with a lake inside. It is actually a small detour from the Golden Circle, in that it typically isn’t included in the big tours. We don’t quite understand why, because it is a very easy stop to make and the crater is impressive. Especially if you haven’t seen a volcanic crater lake before.
The Secret Lagoon is not as much of a secret as the name suggests. But it is smaller and less busy compared to the Blue Lagoon. The water is nice and hot, and it feels more like a natural hot spring (although it is definitely a swimming pool). Right next to the water you will see boiling water spouting from the ground, heating the water to a balmy 38-40 degrees Celcius. One other notable difference is that you can’t bring a drink into this one. Good thing you are visiting in the morning then!
Lunch tip: Friðheimar
Here’s a little lunch tip for you, if you are getting hungry after soaking in the hot springs. There is a small restaurant nearby called Friðheimar which is located inside a greenhouse. It is a tomato farm, and so all their dishes are based on tomatoes. The setting is quite unique, the food looks great, and the reviews are stellar. We didn’t go because half of our party didn’t eat tomatoes. Instead, we utilised the facilities of the campervan and brought lunch with us on the road.
After the Secret Lagoon, it is time for your first waterfall. And you go big from the beginning. Gullfoss is one of the most iconic waterfalls of Iceland, and it is massive. It has 2 distinct drops, with the highest being just 32 metres. It doesn’t sound like much, but we pretty much guarantee you’ll be impressed when you see it. It is very powerful, indeed.
Geysir Geothermal Area
The Geysir Geothermal Area is named after The Great Geysir – a famous erupting hot spring. It was a beast of a geyser, spouting boiling water almost 100 meters into the air. Unfortunately, it is now dormant. The English word geyser comes from here, proving how spectacular it must have been. Luckily for us all, there is another active geyser here called Strokkur. It isn’t quite as powerful, but it is very impressive as well. Judge for yourself from the photo below.
It goes off quite often, maybe every 5-15 minutes. We can’t be more precise because the intervals changed wildly when we visited.
Þingvellir National Park
The last must-see stop on the Golden Circle is Thingvellir National Park. This is where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is thanks to these incredible forces of nature that Iceland even exists – and why it truly is a country of fire and ice. All its extreme geological activity can be attributed to the island’s position right in the middle of this continental drift. In fact, the plates are still moving away from each other under Iceland, at a rate of 2 cm per year.
The rift valley at Thingvellir is very noticeable, and it’s hard not to be impressed by the forces of nature present here. Curiously, the Icelandic government chose this very spot to convene at, back in the day, and Thingvellir actually translates to “parliament plains”.
You should stop here, and go for a walk inside the rift valley. If you have more time, it is also possible to go snorkelling (or diving) in a submerged rift called Silfra. The water is a near-freezing 2-4 degrees Celcius year-round, but you will be equipped with a dry-suit to stay warm. The water is crystal-clear, literally, with excellent visibility often in excess of 70 meters. It is the only place in the world where you can dive in the crack between two tectonic plates. We didn’t quite have time for this activity, but we won’t miss it the next time around! Check out the activity here.
The final evening in Reykjavik
You’ll sleep at Reykjavik Campsite again. Make sure to have a lovely dinner and go out for a drink or two. Reykjavik supposedly has very good nightlife. We didn’t stay up too late, because we were generally a bit exhausted from our busy schedule, but give it a go if you have the energy. Tonight is your last chance to go out in the city – tomorrow it is off to the country-side!
Day 3: South Iceland
Today it’s time to head out into the unknown. You won’t get back to Reykjavik when the day is done; instead, you will be 345km down Road 1 in the Icelandic country-side. It is advisable to get an early start because the day is packed with sights, and they are all must-sees.
Driving distances: 345 km (4h 50m)
Your first stop is a waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. This one is insane. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful and super tall with its 65 m drop but it also has a distinctive feature you won’t find on any other waterfall in Iceland. It can be fully encircled! You can basically walk all the way around the waterfall, even down to the very edge of the water. This really allows you to see it from all angles as well as feel its power up close. This might have been our favourite waterfall on the entire trip. You better wear your rain clothes by the way…
This one is a little-known waterfall, located right next to Seljalandsfoss. You just walk 200 meters west from Seljalandsfoss, and you will find a small canyon. There may be a handful of other tourists, but most people never make it here. Inside the canyon, there is a magnificent waterfall in which you can even bathe if you want. Walking through the small canyon to get here might get you wet feet if you are unlucky, but it is definitely worth it.
Skogafoss is a huuuuge waterfall. It is 25 metres wide and 60 meters tall. You can walk a set of stairs to the top as well as get right up and personal where the water hits the ground. This will get you soaking wet, of course. We do highly recommend it though, there’s nothing quite like feeling the true power of mother earth right in your face. It makes you feel incredibly small, and that’s quite healthy sometimes.
Skogafoss is also a big location from the hit TV-Series Game of Thrones. We don’t doubt you have watched it, but otherwise, consider this a spoiler alert. Skogafoss has a prominent part in the final season, where Jon Snow and Daenerys fly away on their respective dragons. They convene at a heavily edited Skogafoss, before exchanging a few lustful kisses. Daenerys mentions no one would ever find them there, but in the real world, that’s probably not quite true. Don’t mind the hordes of tourists though, Skogafoss is as impressive as waterfalls come.
Solheimajokull is an outlet glacier of the mighty Mýrdalsjökull icecap. It is located very close to the ring road, and to Reykjavik, and is therefore quite accessible. If you buy a glacier walking tour from Reykjavik, chances are you will be walking on Solheimajokull. You can also just make it a stop on your road-trip like we did, and admire it from afar. If you haven’t seen a real glacier before, you will be hugely impressed by the sight. Note that tomorrow there is a long 5-hour glacier hiked planned on your itinerary (albeit on a different outlet glacier). If you choose to do that, then there is no need for spending too much time walking close to Solheimajokull. But if you have decided not to do the glacier hike, we suggest you use some more time here to get up and close to the ice.
Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)
You might have heard about Iceland’s black sand beaches. Reynisfjara is the most famous of them all. This means a lot of tourists, but we still managed to find a bit of peace and quiet to enjoy the scenery. The thing is most tourists only just walk out onto the sand. Pretty much no one bothers walking down the coast for a bit. Sure there are other black sand beaches you can enjoy in Iceland, but we don’t see any sense in skipping this one. It really is incredibly beautiful. Of course, Game of Thrones couldn’t stop themselves from filming a little bit here as well. This is where they shot the scenes in season 7 of The Wall at Eastwatch-by-the-sea.
On the day we were there, a happy couple were getting their wedding pictures shot. What an amazing setting that is. The beach is so raw and dramatic, and the nuances between the white dress and the black sand must have been out of this world on the pictures.
If you look out to sea, you’ll see some impressive rock formations known as Reynisdrangar. In the right light, you could catch some epic pictures of those. We weren’t that lucky with the weather though, so all we caught was the below. Still, you can probably sense how theatrical they look in real life.
Ready for a little fun fact? If you turn around, instead of looking out to sea, you will see some tall cliffs with some basalt rock that looks like tall stones stacked on top of each other. These are pretty unique to Iceland and are what inspired the evil look of the Hallgrimskirkja church. The weird design of that church makes much more sense when you realise it was inspired by Icelandic nature.
Reynisfjara marked the southernmost point you will venture on this trip. Now we are making our way further east instead. Before reaching your destination for today, you will pass by Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, and it would be a sin not to stop here. The canyon is about 100 metres deep and 2 kilometres long. The walk up along the canyon to the 3 different lookouts is very rewarding, and should not be missed, in our opinion. It didn’t look like a lot of tourists bothered, though, and we don’t understand why. We definitely had a great time. It was already getting late when we arrived here, so we had our dinner down by the parking lot, with a phenomenal view of the surrounding countryside. Oh, how we loved to have a campervan.
On a negative note: The day we were there, a poor mother sheep and her lamb were caught down into the canyon. It was clear she had just given birth, but couldn’t find her way up. What a complete heartbreak… Kia hasn’t been able to eat lamb since.
Eventually, you will arrive at Skaftafell Campsite. Not much to report from here. We arrived late, so the office was closed. That is quite typical of Icelandic campsites. Some wardens will stop by your tent or car in the morning then and ask for payment. The facilities here are very basic, so hopefully, you remembered to shop for groceries.
Day 4: South Iceland + Glacier Hike
Already on day 4! Time flies when you are on the road. Today is another great day, with a long activity in the morning followed by a relatively short drive as you continue moving east.
Driving distances: 137 km (1h 55m)
Glacier hike at Skaftafell
The day starts off just a few minutes from your campsite. If you do exactly like us, you’ll have packed all your stuff and be at the office of Troll Expeditions at Skaftafel in time for their 10 am trip. We had booked a 5-hour glacier hike with them, and we loved every minute of it. We reckon most people will.
Our hike took place on Falljokull, an outlet glacier from the massive Vatnajokull icecap covering 8% of Iceland. Falljokull literally means”Falling Glacier”, and it was easy to see why. The ice crashes down like waves from the mountain top towards the sea. The ice is impossible to walk on using regular shoes, but once you put on crampons, everything changes. The crampons attach to your hiking boots and essentially puts spikes under your feet. As you can imagine, that comes in useful when walking on pure ice. They are quite easy to use, once you get the hang of them, and soon you feel like a professional glacier explorer.
A 5-hour trip means that you get further up than most other tourists. That doesn’t just provide some privacy, but also allows you plenty of time to really appreciate the surreal landscape up there, full of crevasses, weird ice formations and small streams of water flowing down and into countless holes scattered throughout the ice. As an added bonus, you can simply bend down and drink that fresh glacier water right from the ground. Tasted like heaven to us.
This might have been our favourite activity in Iceland, and in due time, we will write a full blog post about it! Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can check out the trip here at Troll Expeditions.
Svartifoss means Black Falls and is a waterfall located very near to the Skaftafell Campsite you were staying in yesterday. If you have time, you should go check it out. We actually missed Svartifoss due to a lack of time, but maybe you will be better at managing it!
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
It’s time for another of our (many) favourite places in Iceland. Jökulsárlón is an epic glacial lagoon filled with icebergs, and it looks absolutely stunning. We enjoyed just standing at the shore, enjoying the view. There are a ton of beautiful icebergs, and we even saw a few seals in the clear water. We regret not having more time to explore this place a little more. You may consider including an extra day in southern Iceland to be able to take a long walk on the shore of the lagoon. It is unlikely you will be back at another place quite like this one for a long time.
You can take a boat or kayak ride out into the lagoon, which we highly recommend. However, we decided to partake in a less touristed kayak ride the next day in a different lagoon. Read on to Day 5 to decide for yourself which lagoon you would rather sail around in. You should definitely do it in one of them! It is worth noting that this is the only glacier lagoon in Iceland with clear water. All other lagoons will have murky, brownish, water. The reason is that Jökulsárlón flows into the sea and thus, the sediment escapes. Which brings us to our next place on the itinerary.
What a unique place. The icebergs from Jökulsárlón drift out to sea and promptly gets picked up by the waves, flowing back to shore at the Diamond Beach. You can probably guess why it’s named so. There are hundreds of small, big and very big icebergs scattered across the black sand beach, shining bright like diamonds. A beautiful place that you’ll not want to miss. It’s located just on the other side of the road from the lagoon so it really couldn’t be easier.
We had a great view at Camping Höfn, but otherwise, there’s not much to report from here. Use your evening to take a walk down into the town of Höfn and find a suitable place for dinner. There were a few good options and from our experience in Iceland, they probably all serve delicious food. And then it’s off to bed because you’ve got an early morning activity tomorrow.
Day 5: South East Iceland + Kayaking
Today is a long driving day. You have to drive through most of the beautiful south-eastern part of Iceland, but first, there is a great activity planned for the morning.
Driving today: 320 km (4h 13m)
Kayaking in Heinaberg Glacier Lagoon
As soon as we started planning our Iceland trip, we knew we wanted to get up close to an iceberg. The best way to do that is via kayak. You have a choice of two places to do this. Either you sail at Jökulsárlón from Day 4, or you go to Heinaberg. We chose the latter because pretty much no other tourists go there. We imagined that a leisurely kayak tour would be a better experience without hordes of other tourists and we were happy about the decision. The sole drawback of Heinaberg is that the lagoon doesn’t feature clear water. If that’s what you are after, you need to choose Jökulsárlón.
We were very happy about our choice of lagoon. We went with a company called Ice Guide located on Flatey Farm. Their guides did an excellent job, and we have nothing to complain about. They use sit-on-top kayaks, which are very easy to use, even for complete beginners. We would know…
Heinaberg lagoon is fed by the Heinaberg glacier, one of 32 outlet glaciers from the massive Vatnajokull icecap. The waters are filled with icebergs. You might have heard stories about those tipping over easily, which are also true in some places, like in Jökulsárlón. However, in Heinaberg, the water is so cold that the icebergs melt too slowly to roll over suddenly. That also means you can safely go ashore on an actual iceberg and climb around on it. Of course, we had to take advantage of that. On the iceberg that was chosen for us, there was even a cool ice cave that we could enter.
Most icebergs and glaciers appear dirty from all the sediment, which in Iceland is ash-black. Then sometimes, you have clear white ice which looks absolutely awesome, especially in sunlight. But the best ice, aesthetically speaking, is the blue variety. It is so vibrant and beautiful, almost glowing with light. The magical light passing through the blue ice in this cave, on this iceberg, in this iceberg lagoon, was a sight we’ll never forget.
Fun fact about blue ice: It only occurs when snow falling on a glacier has been buried and compressed so hard that almost all air bubbles are squeezed out. The ice crystals then enlarge and absorb all colours, except blue. When you hack off a piece with your ice axe, the ice fragment is white or transparent again, since small quantities of water always appear colourless. It’s almost exactly the same reason why the sea is blue.
After that little 2-hour excursion into the glacier lagoon, it is time to get on the road again. Here we need to give a quick note on the route towards Egilsstadir. Watch out for google maps. It will try to direct you off Road 1 onto some gravel road (Route 95) which it thinks is faster. If you are not in a 4×4, it won’t be faster. Stick to Road 1 like in the map above. It is also a very beautiful route today, so it would be a shame to take a short-cut.
The campsite in Egilsstadir, like has been the case the other days, is fine but nothing special. It was raining heavily though when we arrived, so we didn’t exactly see the place from the best side. We just made some dinner in the campervan, shared a bottle of wine, and went to bed early.
We had planned to see this waterfall but ran out of time. The weather was also horrible, so we didn’t really push for it. It looks absolutely stunning on pictures though, so if you have time, we suggest you go for it. It is the third-highest waterfall in Iceland, so it is bound to be impressive.
During planning, we had decided to either see Hengifoss or Seydisfjordur on this day. It might be that you are already getting tired of waterfalls at this point, and so Seydisfjordur could be a better bet. It is a small village on the coast which is supposedly the most beautiful in Iceland. On the way there, you will pass by an impressive mountain pass – or so we heard. We never made it. You could drive straight past Egilsstadir to go here actually because they have a campsite in Seydisfjordur as well. The only problem there is you would have to double back the same way the morning after, adding an extra hour to the already lengthy drive.
Day 6: North-East Iceland + Whale Watching
Today is another long drive, especially considering all the stops you’ll be making. You will move from the easternmost point of the itinerary, Egilsstadir, to the northernmost point of Husavik. As usual, the drive is beautiful, and you will pass through a varied landscape. So buckle up and get on the road.
Driving today: 303 km (4h 31m)
Dettifoss & Selfoss
Ready for the mightiest waterfall in Europe? If not, you got a bit of a drive to prepare yourself. To clarify, Dettisfoss is the waterfall in Europe with the greatest volume of water – it’s, therefore, the most powerful. When you see it, you won’t doubt that claim. It is a beast of a waterfall, and it would be a big, big shame to miss it.
Having seen Dettisfoss, you can walk about 500m alongside the river to find a smaller, but still sizable, waterfall known as Selfoss. Make sure to check it out, even if it is raining and you are getting fed up with waterfalls. Otherwise, you’ll regret it when you get home.
There are two different routes leading to Dettisfoss and Selfoss. The road on the western side of the river is paved, whereas the eastern road is gravel. There are conflicting opinions on which side offers a better view, but we suggest you stick to the paved road unless you got a 4×4. If you do have a gravel-road-worthy car, maybe choose the eastern side just for the smaller crowds.
Námafjall Hverir Geothermal Area
Namafjall is an impressive, but disgusting, geothermal area that you will encounter soon after Dettifoss. The air is heavy with a strong sulphurous smell, and it is hard to completely enjoy the otherworldly sight when your nostrils are filled with a stench of rotten eggs. It is completely surreal, though, how the earth is boiling all over the place, with the different minerals painting the ground with a wide palette of colours. A good tip is to put plastic bags over your shoes – the ground here is extremely muddy, and it’s very hard to wash off. We speak from experience…
Hverfjall Volcano Crater
Hverfjall Volcano Crater is much bigger compared to Kerid Crater that you saw on Day 2. It doesn’t feature a lake though, and it can be hard to appreciate it’s massive size. It is still worth it hiking the 15 minutes to the top, not just for the exercise, but also for the expansive views of the surrounding area.
Myvatn Nature Baths
You probably thought you’d been to your last hot spring? Not quite so. Myvatn Nature Baths might have been the best of the bunch. The view of the surrounding area is excellent, and you can enjoy a cold beer in the soothing water. What better way to end a long day on the road? We can’t think of any! It is pricy, but it is oh so lovely.
Husavik Campsite was just fine. Well, actually it was great, considering it was free. It isn’t usually free, we reckon, but even though we tried as best as we could, we never found any employees willing to take money for our stay. So that’s that; eventually, we had to depart without paying. We are getting ahead of ourselves though because after arriving in the evening, we had the final activity of the trip planned.
Our final excursion was to take place in Husavik, nicknamed the whale watching capital of Europe. Located in a bay, in the northern part of Iceland, it is apparently the perfect place to find whales. That turned out to be true. Tour operators here have a pretty much 100% success rate in spotting whales on their trips, which must be quite unique. We definitely didn’t have any problem finding whales on our trip. We must have seen 5 or 6 different humpbacks. Having never seen a whale before, this was quite the experience.
We went on a tour in the late evening, called “Midnight Sun Whale Watching”. Actually, the name didn’t fit too well because it wasn’t midnight yet, and the sun was nowhere to be found. It was a dark, cloudy evening, with choppy waters. We went out at 9:30 pm in a small RIB boat that could seat 12 people, and started out by shooting across the water. Going full-speed in such a powerful boat, skipping over the big waves like a rollercoaster, was almost worth the ticket price alone. Then we slowed down to look at hundreds of Puffins, the national bird of Iceland, which was a nice added bonus. Just as we were looking at the pretty birds, though, a big school of dolphins appeared in the distance and off we were.
The dolphins were happy to put on a show, and were merrily jumping over and through the waves created by the boat. That was such a cool experience that we had never even considered a possibility on this cold, dark, evening.
There are many whale watching tours to choose from in Iceland. We went with Husavik Adventures, just because of the reviews, the location and the fact that they sail in fast rib boats. You can also go on a traditional fishing vessel, where the trip will be slow-paced and much longer. Which one you choose is up to personal preference, but you are almost guaranteed to spot a whale regardless. We were happy about our choice, though!
Day 7: Back to Reykjavik
Today is the lengthiest drive of them all. A mammoth 540-kilometre trip to be precise. Get on the road early, to ensure you are back in Reykjavik at a decent time. That will allow you to make it out for dinner and drinks to celebrate the end of your epic Icelandic road trip!
Driving today: 540 km (6h 42m)
Of course, there are a few final waterfalls to enjoy on the way. The first of these is Godafoss. This is a very wide waterfall, and since we have run out of adjectives, we are going to leave it at that. Since you will pass right by it on the way, there’s no reason you should skip it.
Hraunfossar could be the final waterfall of your trip. To be more precise, it is actually a very unique looking series of waterfalls, that all run over a beautiful stretch of lava rock. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Hraunfossar for ourselves, because we didn’t have time for the little detour it requires. We had to get back to Reykjavik early, to prepare for our hike in the Icelandic Highlands that we would depart on at 7 am the next morning.
Yet another evening in Reykjavik. It’s your last one, so make it count! There are so many great restaurants and bars to choose from, so take a look at TripAdvisor, and we dare say you won’t be disappointed.
Do you have more days available?
So that’s Iceland in 7 days for ya!
Patching the daily maps from above together, this is the full route you can look forward to (minus detours):
As you can see, this is a truly legendary road trip around the entire country. You will be driving for 24 hours, covering +1,700 kilometres in your sweet, sweet campervan. It is amazing what can be achieved in just 7 days. However, we would say that 7 days is the absolute minimum amount of time to make this itinerary work. You would have a more leisurely trip with 9-10 days available. That would mean more time for activities, more time at each place as well as less driving-distance per day.
Upping that to 14 days (or more) would allow you to go visit some of the notable places that are left out on the map. Notice how a big chunk of land in the north-west corner is unexplored, as well as pretty much the entire interior of the island. That would be the Westfjords and the Highlands, respectively.
Since we have only been to one of those places, we will especially highlight the incredible highlands of Iceland. Did you check out our post and our travel video about that magical place yet? Otherwise, now would be a good time.
We have also heard good things about the Westfjords. They are supposedly less touristed than the rest of Iceland and very beautiful.
When you go on any trip, there will almost always be sights or activities that you didn’t have time for. From our experience, Iceland has more of these compared to most other countries. Some can only be undertaken in the winter, so you may need to visit Iceland more than once to include everything. That is definitely our plan! Noteworthy activities that we didn’t manage to try ourselves (yet) include:
- Volcano caves
- Sled dogs
- Offroad ATV adventure
- Snowmobile adventure on an icecap
- Super Jeep tour
- Sightseeing flight
- Silfra dive trip
- Watching the Aurora
General tips and tricks
- Depending on where you come from, it could be advisable to bring some alcohol to Iceland. It can be bought there as well, in dedicated stores, but their opening hours aren’t great, and they are pricy.
- You might have heard that Iceland is expensive. This is true, to some extent, but it’s not more so than Western Europe in general.
- When in Iceland, make sure to order fish, langoustine or lamb. They are amazing at preparing these things, and they have some of the best products in the world.
- Don’t skimp on activities. That’s the stuff you’ll remember. Luckily, there are a ton of activities in Iceland, and they are all packed relatively close together.
- Don’t believe people who say there are too many tourists in Iceland. There are far more people in Rome or Paris, for example, or even in less popular cities such as Krakow.
- Gas stations are few and far between the further away from Reykjavik you get. The same is true for grocery stores. Remember to plan ahead.
- Download google maps offline – in some areas reception isn’t too good and you’ll need the GPS.
- Don’t worry too much about the weather forecast – it can’t be trusted.
- Be mindful of suicidal sheep. Seriously, they will kill themselves on your windshield if you let them. They roam the country freely during the summer months, so at any point, you can find sheep on the road. If they are grassing by the side of the road, expect them to launch toward your car as soon as you pass. Don’t know why they behave like this, sheep are just stupid, we guess…
- Speed cameras ALWAYS present in tunnels, and occasionally on the road as well.
- F-roads should only be used in a 4×4. You will recognise these from all the warning signs.
- Supermarkets open late and close early. Don’t be surprised to see them open at 10am, and close at 6pm. We weren’t always prepared for that.
- Rain clothes often come in handy, due to the unstable weather. But you can also use them at waterfalls, which will otherwise get you very, very wet.
- You are no longer allowed to wild camp in Iceland – you can only stop and sleep at designated campgrounds. Luckily there are soo many scattered across the country, you won’t have a hard time finding them. Even better, you don’t need to reserve a spot in advance. And they aren’t very expensive.