Iceland? Talk about NICE-land! In October 2019, I went on the road trip of a lifetime around the beautiful country of Iceland with my two best friends. We traveled in a counter-clockwise direction from the capital city of Reykjavic around the Ring Road (Route 1) in eight days. From north to south and east to west, we explored the stunning waterfalls, glaciers, canyons and more! Continue reading to check out our itinerary and travel tips.
Before You Arrive in Iceland
Although the name of country will make you think of icy temperatures, in reality it's not always cold in Iceland. Before your arrival, look into the weather pattern across the country. This may be the deciding factor of whether you drive in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction around the Ring Road. If you decide to drive clockwise, you can follow this guide in reverse, starting from day eight.
At the beginning of October, temperatures were between 2°C to 5°C. In Iceland, you can experience sunshine, rain, heavy winds, and snow all in one day, but if you pack right you will have nothing to worry about! Also, as you get closer to the winter months, hours of daylight in Iceland become shorter.
DAY 1: Golden Circle
We arrived at Keflavik International Airport at 6:30 a.m.. After picking up our rental car and loading our luggage, we were ready to hit the road!
We started our trip with the Golden Circle. For many travelers visiting Iceland, even just for a stop-over, the Golden Circle tops the bucket list of must-see sites.
Thingvellir National Park
Our first stop along the Golden Circle route was Thingvellir National Park. This has been a national park in Iceland since 1930 and was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004. When the Viking settlers arrived in the 10th century, Thingvellir was chosen as the meeting place, becoming the world’s oldest parliament.
This park is also where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The plates are being pulled apart by approximately one inch every year, creating the Thingvellir Rift Valley.
You may recognize this park from scenes in the TV show Game of Thrones.
The park itself does not have a fee, but parking was ISK500 per vehicle.
You geyser going to love this! Make sure to have your camera ready. Approximately every ten minutes, Strokkur erupts an incredible amount of bubbling hot spring water reaching heights exceeding 60 feet.
Parking was free at the visitor center and gift shop parking lot.
All your waterfall chasing dreams will come true in Iceland! Start with this golden waterfall in the upper part of the Hvita river. From the parking (free), there is a walking path which will guide you to a beautiful view of the waterfall.
For many centuries, Skalhold was the center for Iceland’s cultural and spiritual life. Christianity became the religion of Iceland in 1000AD and the country’s first bishop settled in Skalholt. Pilgrims continued to flock there after Iceland’s conversion to Lutheranism.
This volcanic crater with slopes of red volcanic rock and clear aqua blue water will take your breath away. Walk around the perimeter of the crater and then take the path down to the water to enjoy the crater from different angles.
There was an entrance fee of ISK400 per person which helps to preserve the site.
Our last stop of the day was for some much-appreciated R&R at the Secret Lagoon Nature Bath. We went in the evening time and were able to relax under stars. It was unbelievable!
The Secret Lagoon was quite different from the popular Blue Lagoon. It is in a more quiet and natural setting. The water is not the milky blue that you see at the Blue Lagoon or Myvatn Lagoon, but feels just at nice. The Secret Lagoon was my favourite hot spring!
The Blue Lagoon was sold out on the days we were in Reykjavic, so unfortunately, we did not get to check it out. We did get to go to Myvatn Lagoon in the north which is similar to Blue Lagoon. You can pick between Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon this day. Or better yet, if you have the time, go to both!
The entrance fee for Secret Lagoon was ISK3,000. To save some money, take a towel with you to the nature bath to avoid paying ISK700 for a rental.
Stay the night in Reykjavik.
DAY 2: Reykjavik to Vik
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most incredible waterfalls I have ever seen! Don’t just stop to look at if from the front; take the path which encircles the waterfall. You may wish to take a poncho or rain coat with you as the mist from the waterfall will spray slightly.
Continue walking the path to Gljúfrabúi which is a hidden gem of this site. You get a mystical feeling as you walk through the small valley in the opening of a cliff and see the sunlight shining through onto a small waterfall.
There was paid parking at this waterfall which was ISK700.
At our next stop we found the ice in Iceland! Solheimajokull glacier sits between the volcanoes Katla and Eyjafjjallajokull. Although we did not get too, if you have the time, I would recommend taking a guided glacier hiking tour to fully experience the beauty of this glacier. People we met on our trip who had done this tour had very good reviews and it is something that I will make sure to try on my next trip back to Iceland!
Abandoned DC Plane on Sólheimasandur
On November 24th, 1973, the US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane was forced to crash land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach for reasons still unknown. Luckily, all seven crew members aboard the aircraft made it out safely. To this day, the wreckage remains unmoved.
The hike to the plane and back is over 7km on flat terrain. However, for those who do not want to do this hike, there is a shuttle service which will take you from the parking lot to the plane wreck and back within approximately 15 minutes. Shuttle tickets are sold at the parking area of this site, costing ISK2,900 per person for a round trip at the time of our trip. There is no cost to walk and see the plane.
We visited the site in the early evening and the walk was extremely windy. Be prepared for Iceland’s changing weather patterns. With a long walk ahead of you the weather can change drastically from when you leave the parking lot to when you return. However, the view of the plane and the pictures will be worth it!
Seeing this majestic waterfall was an unforgettable experience. Standing at the base, you feel the mightiness of nature and the big world around you. Once you take in the sights from below, climb the steep trail of steps beside the waterfall to the top to catch a panoramic view of Iceland’s south coast.
While I was taking in natures beauty here, I also got the chance to see the beauty in humanity. Iceland is known for its natural beauty. This can make it challenging for travelers with physical disabilities to maneuver through the tourist sites. However, when we were at the waterfall, I encountered a gentleman in a wheelchair who was determined to see Skogafoss from up-close. Where there is a will, there is a way…and he got his way! That day, dreams came true.
Stay the night in Vik.
DAY 3: Vik to Hofn
Our first stop of the day was at Reynisfjara which is the most popular black sand beach in Iceland is. In the distance, you can see Reynir’s pillars poke out of the ocean giving the beach its distinctive appearance. The black sand of the beach is created from volcanic ashes, where the hot lava meets the cold ocean water. The lava explodes forming the black sand.
Keep in mind that this is one of the most dangerous beaches in Iceland. While the waves of the beach are enticing, they can be very large and strong. Iceland’s weather also changes unexpectedly. The day we went there, heavy rain and winds almost swept us off our feet. Make sure to follow all the safety tips noted at the entrance to the beach!
This stunning canyon is a must see! The canyon is approximately 100 meters deep and about 2 kilometres long with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it.
It is well known for being the location where musician Justin Bieber shot the music video for his song “I’ll Show You”.
When you arrive at the canyon there is a clearly marked trail with rubber and gravel footings to prevent you from slipping. The trail will lead you to a waterfall. When the water is low you can also walk through the bed of the canyon.
Svartifoss translates to Black Waterfall in English which refers to the beautiful basalt rock formation which frames the waterfall. Park the car at the Skaftafell Visitor Center and take the scenic hiking trail to the foot of the waterfall to enjoy an up-close view. There was a parking fee of ISK600 per vehicle.
This area is part of Vatnajökull National Park and has a variety of hiking trails if you have the time and are up for the adventure.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
Our final stop of the day was my favourite stop of the day! Icebergs which have broken off the glacier float toward the Jökulsárlón lagoon and then to the shore. You get this surreal feeling as you look out at the contrast of the black sand beach with the icy blue icebergs with waves in the background crashing towards you. It’s truly an amazing sight!
Stay the night in Hofn.
DAY 4: Hofn to Egilsstadir
This day was mostly a driving day for us to make our way from the south-east towards the north-east of the country. As you drive, take in the glow of the country’s east coast!
We made a stop at Studlagil Canyon along the way. This beautiful canyon is lined with basalt columns on either side while glacial river water flows through the middle. If you stop here, I cannot stress how important it is to wear good hiking gear and be very careful as you walk towards the edge of the canyon to catch the views. The path is mostly mud and on a rainy day (like at the time we were there) it will get very slippery. There is no fencing or safety precautions in place. Stay safe!
Stay the night it Egilsstadir.
DAY 5: Egilsstadir to Myvatn
Day five will take you on a journey around the Diamond Circle of Iceland. Iceland has the popular Golden Circle (Day 1) in the south and the Diamond Circle in the north.
Our first stop of the day was at this small lava cave filled with crystal clear geothermal hot spring water. You can climb into the cave and explore around the rocks. Locals used to enjoy this hot spring for decades, however, its not permitted to enter the water anymore given the unpredictable geothermal forces of Iceland.
Some believe that Goðafoss, the “Waterfall of the Gods”, gets its name because of its God-like beauty. However, legends say that the Viking leader Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði threw his Pagan statues into the waterfall when Christianity became Iceland’s official religion.
Park your car and walk along the paved path to the waterfall. Once you get to the end of the path, you can walk along the rocks to get up close to the waterfall and see for yourself why they call it the “Waterfall of the Gods”.
Dettifoss is said to be the most powerful waterfall in Iceland and second in all of Europe. You can walk along the rocks in the area all the way to the edge of the waterfall. There are no barriers, so be careful as you step across the rocks. The thunderous sound of the waterfall as water gushes down from the Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacier river into the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon is incredible!
You’ll know that you’re arriving at this next destination as the sulfuric rotten egg smell seeps into your car. Walk around this geothermal area where you will find many boiling mud pots and fumaroles. You’ll notice that the land is barren of any vegetation because of the geothermal activity and gasses.
We spent our evening with some R&R at Myvatn Nature Baths. The lagoon is a beautiful milky blue surrounded by the scenery of mountains and lake Myvatn. It is less commercialized than the popular Blue Lagoon which leads to it being less crowded for a much more relaxed experience. The entrance fee changes depending on the time of year that you travel Iceland. At the time of our trip, we paid ISK3,500 which gave us access to the lagoon itself and the steam rooms. To save some money, take a towel with you to the nature bath to avoid paying ISK850 for a rental.
Stay the night in Myvatn.
DAY 6: Myvatn to Akureyri
Husavik is quaint small town known to be the whale watching capital of Iceland. Depending on the time of year that you travel, you may also spot colonies of puffins perched on rocks along the coast.
We spent the morning on a spectacular whale watching tour with North Sailing company. Our guide and crew on board the oak fishing-boat were very friendly and knowledgeable on the aquatic wildlife in the region. We saw a couple of minke whales and many dolphins while sailing through Skjálfandi bay. At the end of the excursion, the crew served us yummy hot chocolate and cinnamon buns!
The Arctic Henge is located in one of the most remote and northernmost villages of Iceland, just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle. The Artic Henge project has been a work in progress since 1996. The stone arches on site function as a sundial capturing light of the midnight sun as it moves across the summer sky. The stone formations are also said to be inspired by the dwarves of Norse mythology which are mentioned in the eddic poem Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress).
We spent our evening walking around and exploring the charming town of Akureyri. There are many shops and restaurants in the area.
Stay the night in Akureyri.
DAY 7: Akureyri to Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Blönduóskirkja As we started our day, we made a quick stop at Blönduóskirkja. Park the car in the church parking lot and go for a walk around and inside this interestingly shaped house of worship. The architectural look of this church was inspired by the mountainous landscape of the region. Kolugljufur Soak in the breathtaking sight of this waterfall and gorge as you walk across the viewing platform. The name, Kolugljufur, comes from the tale of a giantess named Kola who was said to sit on a ledge of the gorge and use her bare hands to catch salmon. Sometimes she would toss the salmon in a nearby hot spring to cook. Kirkjufell As you drive along the coast, Mt. Kirkjufell will come into clear focus. This is photographic hotspot is said to be the most beautiful mountain on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The name Kirkjufell means Church Mountain as it is considered to resemble a church. A folktale about the Kirkjufellfoss waterfall tells of a woman who lived on Kirkjufell farm. She had two sons who both drowned in the Kirkjufellsfoss while fishing. The woman then cast a spell that no fish would ever be caught in the river and that no one would drown there. Park your car at the waterfall parking lot for free and take the gravel path around the waterfall glancing back to view Mt. Kirkjufell from different angles. Budakirkja (Black church) On the south coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, there’s a village with only a hotel and a tiny black church called the Búðakirkja. The beauty lies in the simplicity and minimalism of this area. You can walk through the unending lava fields and trails. Many hiking trails begin from the church and I wish we have more time to explore them. Arnarstapi We ended our day with a long easy stroll along the shores of Snæfellsnes peninsula. The cliffs and rock formations are a spectacular sight. You can park your car near the statue of Bárður Snæfellsás and follow a paved path. My favourite formation was the Gatklettur (Arch Rock).
Stay the night in Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
DAY 8: Explore Reykjavic
This was our final full day in Iceland. Following breakfast, we drove from Snæfellsnes peninsula to Reykjavic. We spent the day exploring the capital city of Reykjavik by foot. I think parking the car and walking around is the best way to discover and get lost in this beautiful city.
Hallgrímskirkja Church Towering over the city of Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. Prior to our trip, I would refer to the building as the spaceship church because of its design being like that of a space shuttle. However, the true story behind its unique look is that architect Guðjón Samúelsson was fascinated by the elements of Iceland’s nature which inspired the shape of lava cooling into basalt columns. Take a ride to the top of the tower to get a 360 degree view of the city. While entering the church is free, going up the tower has a charge ISK1,000 for adults and ISK100 for children age 7-16. Hallgrímskirkja was open to visitors Wednesday to Saturday from 12:00pm – 3:00pm and on Sunday from 10:00am – 3:00pm. The church is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Kolaportið If you’re looking for some Icelandic souvenirs, this flea market located in the old harbor area is the place to go. It’s indoors and open every weekend from 11:00am until 5:00pm. From traditional Icelandic food to clothing, you can find everything under one roof! Harpa Concert Hall You can’t miss a stop at this striking cultural centre. If you’re a music lover, make sure to catch a concert here. However, even if you don’t get the chance to see a concert, taking a walk through the building is worth your while. Surrounded by mountains and the ocean, this is a great spot to take some pictures! Sun Voyager Finally, stop by the Sun Voyager statue as you walk along the waterfront. The Sun voyager is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun, symbolizing a promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. Night Life We ended our trip with a girl’s night out in Reykjavic. It worked out perfectly that we were there on a Saturday. We didn’t do any research on where the hot spots were; just walked the streets and followed our ears for the place with the best music. We stumbled upon a bar lounge called B5 where a live band was playing Icelandic music with locals and tourists partying together. What a great night! One thing to keep in mind is that alcohol in Iceland is expensive! The cost of two pints of beer converted to CAD$28.00. But, try not to think about the dent it will make on your wallet. It’s not everyday that you’re in Iceland! With a wonderful journey behind us, our flight to come home was scheduled for the next morning. Our eight-day trip took us 3,050km around Iceland for the road trip of a life time! I hope that our experience will help you in planning your trip to this stunning country.