A Slow Road Trip around Iceland | Top Tips
I can’t quite believe that it’s been almost three years since our ten-day trip driving around Iceland’s Ring Road. It remains one of my favourite ever holidays, and I’d love to return one day to revisit some of our favourite places & see more of the country.
I get asked so many questions about our trip that I thought I’d pull a list together of my top tips for anyone planning an Icelandic adventure of their own. I shared several blog posts when we returned from our trip back in 2016 (which you can view here) but these are more journal-style, discussing what we did and saw day-to-day. If you have any questions that I haven’t covered here, please feel free to get in touch - I love talking about Iceland!
When should I visit Iceland?
We planned our road trip for midsummer, as we were planning on driving the entire Ring Road and didn’t want to have our plans changed due to bad weather. I know several people who have attempted the drive in the winter, only to be met with closed roads and complete white-outs. Even driving in summer, we passed towering snow drifts and encountered freezing temperatures in high altitudes on the north of the island. However, the main benefit of travelling in the summer is the constant light. Iceland is situated just below the Arctic Circle and during June, it never really gets dark. Sunsets seem to last forever, Golden Hour spreads late into the night and it’s possible to visit almost everything you want to see in the middle of the night. Our favourite night of the whole trip, we went on a whale watching trip during a never-ending sunset, before wading in a geothermal lake at midnight and sitting on the edge of Goddafoss on our own under a 1am twilight sky.
How long does it take to drive around the Ring Road?
We took ten days for our entire trip, including one day in Reykjavik and three days in a cabin in the north, near Husavik. We skipped the West Fjords and Snaefellsnes peninsula (I always like to a reason to return) and didn’t stray off the Ring Road two much. You want to give yourself at least five days for the journey, but allow longer if you want more chance to stop to take photos, admire the scenery and go on hikes. Ten days worked perfectly for us, allowing us to set a nice, slow pace.
Which direction should I drive?
It doesn’t really matter if you set off east or west from Reykjavik. We drove east, taking in the south coast first, and really enjoyed that route.
Is it really touristy?
I’m not going to lie, there were lots of other tourists and that was three years ago. The farther away from Reykjavik you get, the less tourists you’ll encounter. There were definitely long stretches of road where we were the only car and we kept bumping into the same people over and over again. If you’re looking for the ‘real’ Iceland, away from the tour buses, I would suggest avoiding the Golden Circle and not spending too much time on the south coast.
How did you plan your itinerary?
I spent a long, long time researching what we wanted to see and do, working out a route where we wouldn’t be spending entire days in the car. I then booked all of our accommodation through Booking.com, choosing places that allowed us to cancel with 24 hours notice just in case we deviated from our plan. I’d recommend staying in guest houses, as they were much cheaper than hotels and seemed to all offer breakfast. Food is expensive in Iceland, so we’d fill up for the day with huge complimentary breakfasts.
What was your itinerary?
We spent one full day (two nights) in Reykjavik, followed by a day driving around the Golden Circle , settling on the south coast in a guest house in the middle of nowhere. We then spent a day ‘doing the south coast’ (waterfalls, black sand beaches & glacial lagoons), spending that night in Hofn. Day four was spent in the east fjords, where we stayed in one of my favourite places, Seydisfjordur. We then drove north towards Husavik, via Dettifoss and Myvatn. The next three nights, we relaxed in a wooden cabin in the wilderness with our own geothermal hot tub, taking day trips to nearby places for walks, swims in geothermal lakes and an incredible whale watching trip. The last few days, we snaked our way back south, seeking out hidden hot pots and attempting to find seals.
Is it expensive?
Yes, but we’ve been to Norway three times since and found that much more expensive than Iceland. Outside of Reykjavik, food and drink wasn’t too expensive, and we just stayed away from restaurants for most of the trip. We tended to eat large breakfasts in our guest houses, and utilise Bonus supermarkets to buy food for lunches, snacks and to cook our own dinners. When we did eat out, we just did our research and didn’t eat in the more expensive places. Alcohol is really expensive, so we took our own in our suitcase so we could enjoy a couple of drinks in the evening. Petrol is also quite pricy, so make sure you budget for filling up your tank and opt for a hire car that is cheaper to run.
What is the drive like?
I don’t drive, so it was my boyfriend who sat behind the wheel and drove for miles each day. For the most part, the drive was pretty simple. The Ring Road is just one road which is easy to follow. The main thing to get your head around is that the edges of the road just sort of ‘stop’. There’s no curb or hard shoulder, the road just tends to drop down into a ditch, so you have to pay attention. There are also plenty of one-lane bridges, so you need to keep your wits about you. We didn’t have a four-wheel-drive so kept our experience of the gravel roads to a minimum, but one thing to remember is to definitely get gravel insurance in case flying grit chips the paintwork on your hire car. The scariest bits of road for us were the mountain pass over to Seydisfjordur (literally zero visibility & huge drops down to glaciers and icy rivers below) and a seemingly never-ending tunnel below the mountains.
Where did you go go whale watching?
We went on a whale watching trip on a traditional wooden boat in Husavik, sailing under a sunset that never seemed to end. It was incredible, one of my best ever travel experiences, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. Just make sure you book with an operator that obeys all the rules, giving the whales space and not directly approaching them or crowding them if other boats are in the area. We saw countless humpbacks, minkes and harbour porpoises, and we’re lucky enough to even see a humpback breaching (jumping out of the water) three times. My only regret was that there were blue whales in the area but they were too far out of the bay. If you want to see bigger whales, I’d recommend booking onto a RIB boat tour, rather than a sailing boat. Do your research to check where the whales are likely to be during your trip. We were there in June, when whales flock to Husavik due to the abundance of plankton in the water.