Escape to another planet without leaving this one.
Keflavic airport to Skogafoss
Drive to Skogafoss
One of the biggest decisions you need to make as you plan Iceland is what car you will rent. Iceland is about as large as the state of Kentucky. But how often do you circumnavigate Kentucky? 830 miles round trip will take some time, especially as you are constantly interrupted by the sheer beauty of your surroundings. Impromptu sight seeing is very common along ring road. Two quick notes on car rentals:
- If you know how to drive a manual you will save money. Manuals are more common place in Europe, getting an automatic makes prices go up.
- For the Defender, they book fast, and you may have to coordinate directly with a rental agency. We used Enterprise
Here are the rough price ranges for an 8 day trip rental car:
- Non 4-wheel-drive car: $500-$600
- 4 wheel drive car: $1,000-$1,200
- "Big bertha" - LandRover Defender: $700-$850
You must also account for gas. Below are rough price ranges for propulsion:
- Non 4-wheel-drive car: $100-$250
- 4 wheel drive car: $200-$350
- "Big bertha" - LandRover Defender: $500-$650
If you opt for a car that does not have 4 wheel drive you limit your ability to make certain Impromptu sight seeing. If you don't rent the same car as my brother and I, then you limit your ability to see the once in a lifetime vistas. Don't get me wrong, a non 4 wheel drive car will get you to most places around ring road.
I strongly recommend renting a 4 wheel drive vehicle. To truly make this trip memorable, I recommend renting this behemoth.
Modified Golden Circle
A lot of folks wait to do many of the golden circle activities until the tail end of their ring road trip. I strongly recommend getting these attractions done first. My primary reason to take this route is because the golden circle is not far out of the way of your final destination the first day, but is sort of out of the way on your way back to Reykjavik. This should free up time on other days to do cooler interior Iceland activities. The second reason I recommend this route is because driving gets old after about day 5 or 6. Don't get me wrong, Iceland is gorgeous, and the sense of adventure you get driving around the island can't be recreated. But still, driving gets old, I like to punch it the first day and do the longest driving of the trip the first day. I recommend you do the same (unless you are still jet lagged - safety first)!
Expected drive time = 4.5 to 5 hours (excludes activity time).
Here are the sights along this route, feel free to pick and choose from these. Each activity should take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
- Þingvellir National Park
- Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
Hotel Skogafoss is a recommendation primarily made out of location. After a ten hour day being a bad ass - adventuring the hell out of Iceland - all on terrible airplane sleep the night before, you will be pooped your first night in Iceland. You could drive to Vik and stay at Hotel Icelandair, but that is another 30 minutes on a long day. In addition, day two is the centerpiece of the trip, and if you go to Vik, you have to back track a half hour to get to Skogafoss. It is better to wake up right outside the trail head and get started on the hike. Hotel Skogafoss is a nice little hotel and you will not be disappointed, but it is not a 5 star hotel. Location trumps whatever small short comings Hotel Skogafoss has.
Trek of a lifetime
Skogar to þórsmörk
One of the top hikes in the world. You start your journey at the base of Skogafoss where you then climb about 350 steps to the top of the falls. There you climb over a fence with a makeshift ladder and begin your wilderness journey. The variety and sheer beauty of the landscapes you traverse on this hike are impossible to imagine. You will see stunning waterfalls, barren mountaintops, blue glaciers, lava rocks, and sheep munching on efflorescent greens. You can do all of this while barely seeing a soul.
This is your only real activity for the day. If you are looking to complete the full hike you must start early, which is why I recommend staying at the Skogafoss hotel the first night. It is just under six hours up to Thórsmörk clocking in at 22.8 km or 14 miles. Do not let this figure overwhelm you. Doing any portion of this hike is worth it. You will be so amped up from the beauty surrounding you, you will make it. It will take about 4 hours on the way down. If you do not have it in you to do the full hike, then I strongly recommend at least getting to the passage between the two glaciers. The trail is well marked so do not get worried about getting lost unless you are going in the winter months. Bring snacks and a rain jacket, it is highly likely it will rain or mist heavily on you. You have the whole day, pace yourself, eat and hydrate along the way (you can fill up water on the trail from natural potable melt water), enjoy yourself.
If you have any energy left I recommend swinging by the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash (photo by). It is nine minutes from Skogafoss on the way to your final destination in Vik for night two.
Icelandair Hotel Vík
This is a wonderful hotel. The rooms are modern, quiet, and comfortable. You can't ask for more in a hotel. You will need the comfort and quiet as you will be wiped out after your all day, best hike ever, day.
If that were not enough, food is very good. The breakfast is a highlight. For dinner you get spoiled on meat consumption; the fish, lamb, and beef are all extremely good. This will be your first introduction into how expensive food is in Iceland. Expect a reasonably portioned dinner to cost around 80 dollars for two people! The rooms are modern, quiet, and comfortable. You can't ask for more in a hotel.
This will be sold out fast. Book early! Prices are around $150 to $220 per night depending on how early you book and their traffic. If this is not an option, consider staying at Hotel Skogafoss again. Alternatively, you can push further down Ring Road and stay at an AIR B&B.
Vik to Hofn
Hofn to Mývatn
Lake Mývatn splendor
I recommend punching it from Höfn to Lake Mývatn on day 4. This means you are skipping the splendor of the Eastern Fjords. I do this knowingly. My goals is to make this the most bad ass trip to Iceland you can possibly make. Thinking you will only visit Iceland once. The Eastern Fjords are beautiful, but you will not see anything you have not already seen at this point.... perhaps puffins. Much like the West Fjords, they are worth skipping because it is just too far to drive for such little pay off. The coastal roads wrap around the fjords and you drive three hours just to see a tiny town of 100 people and hikes that pale in comparison to the badass hike you already did on day two. I am trying to sell you on this idea on purpose. If you push it to Lake Mývatn, you set yourself up for a once in a lifetime day five. Here are the activities to accomplish on Day 4:
- Dettifoss Waterfall
- Lake Mývatn
- Viti Crater
- Krafla Power Station
- Hverarönd/Namafjall Geothermal
- Hverfjall crater rim
Sel Hotel Mývatn
This is a great little hotel. It is reasonably priced, situated away from Route 1, and above all - quiet. A breakfast buffet is included that has a great selection. I would avoid dinner here though.
There are only a few places to stay in this area. Prices can range from $130 to $200 depending on the season. There are various deals throughout the year so be mindful. Booking.com is a good resource here.
Askja and Outerspace
Adventure, my name is Askja
Day 5 is all about getting to Askja. Askja is a complex of calderas on the under-explored interior of Iceland. The landscapes here are so foreign that NASA have run training missions to prepare for moon explorations in the past. If you rented "Big Bertha" then you can do this solo. Otherwise, I recommend taking a super-jeep tour.
If you are going solo, your goal is to drive from road 1 to road 901 and onto mountain road F905. Onward to F910 to Drekagil. On this route you will drive through two fords! Be mindful of the water level, as many tourists get stuck trying to cross the fjords. Depending on the flow a smaller 4X4 vehicle will be able to cross. From Drekagil you take mountain road F894 (8 km) to the car park at Vikraborgir. Here, you will be able to hike up the Askja volcano and take a dip in the Viti crater pools for the best natural hot bath you can experience. This will take about 3 hours.
Sel Hotel Mývatn
Same as day 4.
Mývatn to Hvammstangi
Drive to the west coast
Before you get started on your drive to the West Fjords base, I encourage you to finish up any Lake Mývatn activities you did not get a chance to see over the course of the prior two days. Because you move around so much on this trip, it is easy to run out of time to see everything. Take the morning to explore all there is to offer in this rich landscape. You should still have plenty of time for the 3 and a half hour drive to Hvammstangi.
Visit any sites not completed on day 4:
- Dettifoss Waterfall
- Lake Mývatn
- Viti Crater
- Krafla Power Station
- Hverarönd/Namafjall Geothermal
I believe that the drive to Hvammstangi is the most beautiful section of ring road. You begin to meander through the curvy roads of the Western Fjords presenting breathtaking coastal views, wild horses, endless waterfall capped mountains, and luscious green grass ranges. This is a more relaxing day, you do not need to stop your car and jump out multiple times a day to catch the views. Reflect on all that you have accomplished so far. Contemplate how lucky you are to be driving the wide open roads of this beautiful landscape.
One important thing to see along the way is Goðafoss. It is right off of ring road on your way to Hvammstangi.
I recommend Hvammstangi Cottages I really enjoyed the cottage stay experience. Since this is Iceland, things book up fast as there is a limited selection of places to stay. I recommend using AirBNB for your stay even if Hvammstangi Cottages is booked for the nights you are trying to reserve as there is not a major hotel to stay at. Prices range from $100 per night to $270 per night. The people of Iceland are some of the nicest people in the world, do not hesitate for a second staying in someone else's home here, even if this is your first experience with it.
Hvammstangi to Reykjavík
Option 1 - Surtshellir/Stefanshellir caves.
These caves are far less popular than other attractions in Iceland and it escapes me as to why. These are really cool. These are actually lava tubes - caves formed from when lava bored long tubes through the ground as it moved across the landscape. The Surtshellir caves are free to access and you can climb down and through many of the passages. If you are an avid climber, bring gear and go nuts. If you are just there to see some caves, there are certain portions that are still easy to descend into and have a caving experience. Because they are not as popular, you might be the only ones there like my brother and I. This creates such a wonderful sense of adventure, I highly encourage it.
option 2 - Snæfellsjökull Peninsula
On day 7, I believe you have to make a choice. You can choose to go to Snæfellsjökull Peninsula, or you can choose to go East part way into the interior again. These locations are spread out from one another, and you still have to make it to Reykjavík. I don't recommend doing both even though it is possible.
Snæfellsjökull Peninsula is often called Iceland in miniature. This usually is in reference to the variety of sites you can see in such a short expanse. There are breathtaking vistas to be had here. Having said that, you have already seen most of Iceland. Much of this will look similar to what you have seen. It is still a worthwhile choice, mind you.
Day in Reykjavík and cry as you leave
Reykjavík is a very cute city. It is not large, although it contains most of Iceland's population. I recommend heading to the Parliament building and then walk down the shore line. You can see old fishing shanties and the bustling part of the city. I would then strongly suggest participating in the tip funded walking tour. This is a wonderful way to see the city and support the tour guides. There are many coffee shops, college court yards, random park to explore and take a break to people watch. If you need a sense of direction you can always geocache to point you in a particular direction!
If you have avoided hot dogs until now, congratulations! If you have not and are sick of them, I still recommend eating at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It is a fun experience because of how popular it is. It also happens to be a great value considering how expensive food is in Iceland.
One of the best places I have eaten at, period, is Glo - non-meat eaters rejoice!