Iceland Road Trip

There are many countries that provide you with unforgettable experiences of new cultures and people. However, there has not yet been a country that I’ve visited that has left me more filled with magic and in awe of Mother Nature than Iceland. If you’re planning a visit, I’ll give you the best advice right now: Plan an Iceland road trip. There is no better way to see this breathtaking country than by road.

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It won’t take you long to start feeling the magic of Iceland. As soon as you step off the plane, there are statues of mythical Icelandic Yule Trolls in the arrivals hall. When you step outside, you are met with clean crisp air and the roll of rocky mountains on the horizon. You feel electricity start to build inside you as you grab the easy-to-use airport shuttle bus that takes you to the many car rental companies to pick up your chosen vehicle – Adventure is waiting and you cannot wait to start the engine.

Iceland quickly takes you under its wing and transports you to a completely different planet. As you journey through the country on your 4 wheels, you can find yourself trekking through dark volcanic landscapes one moment and then sliding on a frozen lilac lake in a Narnia-inspired ice crystal wonderland the next. Despite being a seasoned traveller, everything about my trip to Iceland felt new, foreign and exciting – and by hiring a car and carving out our own path, stumbling on unexpected treasures along the way, we allowed ourselves to truly explore it in the best possible way.

So let’s keep it simple: Here is the breakdown of our 9 Best Iceland Road Trip Stops.

No matter what route you choose to take, I guarantee it will lead you to exquisite views and unforgettable experiences. However, if you’re heading North from Reykjavík, your map should really look a little like ours:

1. Reykjavík (a short drive from Keflavík International Airport)

As your first port of call (and interestingly where the vast majority of the Icelandic population live), Reykjavík is a city that feels young, quirky and artistic.

You can easily spend hours walking along the colourfully painted streets nipping into eccentric art shows, picking up your Icelandic trinkets in the busy tourist stores, or grabbing a coffee or ice cream in a gimmicky cafe. Then, you can visit the outstanding concrete Hallgrimskirkja church and, if you’re lucky like us, be blessed with a live performance by the in-house organ player (it’s huge!).

*TOP TIP* – While there, you have to pay the Suarta Kaffid restaurant a visit. Fight your way through the busy crowd to try the national food staple: ‘Soup in a bread bowl’! Delicious.

Just outside of the city, near the village of Grindavik, you can check the country’s biggest tourist attraction off your list: The Blue Lagoon spa. What a beautiful result of the area’s volcanic activity. Take a relaxing swim in the geothermal waters and use the natural clay that lines them to cleanse and exfoliate your skin.

Make sure you pre-book your tickets as soon as you can though as this attraction almost always sells-out! Don’t do what we did and turn up as a group of 6 and expect to get in (fail…) Luckily for us, there is a much less-crowded alternative that save you money and gives you the same experience – Keep reading to find out more!

2.  Grabrokargigar & Glaumbaer Museum

After exploring Reykjavík to its fullest, we hit the road and headed towards our next stop: Hestasport (Varmahlíð). The drive was about 3.5 hours but it goes pretty quickly when you have breathtaking Icelandic views flying past your window!

Make sure you stop at the natural monument: Grabrokargigar. A perfect place to stretch your car legs as you climb the hundreds of stairs to the very top of the volcanic crater. You feel so small as you take in the views of the astonishing surrounding scenery.

After that, a MUST stop is the Glaumbaer Museum! I didn’t want to leave this place – Home of the famous Icelandic ‘grass’ or ‘turf’ houses, it’s like you’ve stepped straight into a fairytale. Is there a more picture-perfect place? Not bad for a pee-break!

3.  HestaSport (Varmahlíð)

After the long drive, there is no better reward than Hestasport!
Imagine waking up in an old rustic wooden cabin, wrapping yourself up in a thick fluffy robe and venturing outside to your own natural stone hot tub filled with water straight from a volcanic hotspring… Now stop imagining because this can be a reality when you make sure a visit to Hestasport Cottages is on your Iceland road trip itinerary!

The beautiful cabins are nestled within a vast mountain range. There is no sound to be heard around you and a billion stars to soak away your worries beneath:

This place was an accommodation of dreams
– And if that wasn’t enough, we woke up refreshed on our first morning and headed to the Hestasport horse-riding stables…

In our group of 8, we were given warm overalls and a brief starting class to riding before being assigned our strong and beautiful Icelandic horses. The original mode of transport of the Vikings, these horses were so patient and well-spirited that the fact that I’d never ridden before was quickly forgotten.

Our group spend an unforgettable morning exploring the plains and mountains of Skagafjörður valley; galloping across rocky mountain face, splashing through flowing rivers and along the top of thundering waterfalls. 

What an exhilarating and truly unique experience – and one that leaves you feeling like you’ve formed an unbreakable relationship with Iceland’s landscape. I could never recommend Hestasport enough.

4.  Akureyri

Very fresh-faced and full of energy, we peeled off our overalls, thanked the riding instructors and hit the road to our next destination: The city of Akureyri.

After checking into our incredible HomeAway rental (that made us feel like millionaires on an airbnb budget!) we ventured into the city and were recommended a restaurant by a local resident:  Rub 23.

As you’ve probably heard, Iceland is a pretty expensive country when it comes to food; so for most of our road trip, we bought our own groceries to cook meals.  Despite this, we agreed that it was important to dine out for at least one night in order to taste the country’s local cuisine. We therefore bit the bullet and spent approx. $50 each on a fresh fish entrée which was delicious and (nearly) worth the investment!

The next morning, we were raring to pack up the car and hit the road as we knew we had a full itinerary of hotspots to hit before darkness set in…

*REMEMBER* – Day-light hours can vary in Iceland. We had days of 10:00am4:00pm light so it’s definitely important to plan your Iceland road trip with this in mind!

5.  Goðafoss waterfall

Our first stop of the action-packed day was Goðafoss waterfall. An absolutely freezing visit to the point that we realised, after about 20minutes of exploring, that instead of walking on the rocky cliff face, we were actually walking along the top of the frozen-solid surging river leading up to the falls!  Goðafoss is an awe-inspiring waterfall that successfully reminds you of Earth’s mind-boggling beauty. An absolute must-see.

6.  Lake Mývatn (aka Narnia!)

Next, we had to pull over when the landscape slowly froze over around us and we spotted a large stretch of Lake Mývatn that was just too beautiful to drive past.

The ice crystals on the grass crunched loudly under your feet and the colours of the landscape were absolutely indescribable; as if we had stumbled into a mystical dream. 
Surrounded by the beautiful lilac and blue hues, our group spent some fun time together on the frozen stretch of water skating and trying to crack the ice.

Now THIS is what I imagined Iceland would be like!

7.  Dimmuborgir Lava Fields

Next on the itinerary was Dimmuborgir and I didn’t know what to expect… What does an old lava field even look like?

The answer to that question is an undiscovered planet in space!!

As I explored these out-of-this-world rock formations and caves with my loved ones, I came to the sudden and strong realisation that this trip had gone far beyond what my wildest dreams could have prepared me for.

Dimmuborgir is a place that you will never forget for the rest of your life. Covered in ice crystals and surrounded by an energy left behind by the volcanic activity that created it, there are no words to describe the wonder that the area instills within you.
Not to be missed!

Plus, legend has it that this is the home of the famous Icelandic Yule Trolls who cause havoc and mischief during the festive season. Call them and they may make an appearance! I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty jealous of their home…

Spot the boy…

8.  Dettifoss waterfall.

The last of our stops was Dettifoss waterfall located in Vatnajökull National Park.
You quickly see why these are the falls with the greatest volume in Europe!  After parking your vehicle in a designated parking lot, you walk along the marked trail for approximately 15minutes before reach the falls’ edge – But you hear them a lot sooner!

The water falls through a narrow crevice in the Earth, crushing and dragging large pieces of ice in its wake – and there are various viewing platforms to get a good angle. As a waterfall-obsessed traveller, this is definitely another incredible display of Mother Nature’s power that you must add to your itinerary!

8.  Myvatn Naturebaths

As promised, here is my best recommendation to have an authentic bathing experience in Iceland. Due to the fact that we didn’t pre-purchase Blue Lagoon tickets (oops), I was VERY grateful that we were recommended an alternative: Myvatn Nature Baths.

Our experience was in stark contrast to that of the Blue Lagoon near the busy city of Reykjavík. Instead of coaches of tourists piling through the doors every hour, we checked into these baths and shared the entire vast spring with only around 10 other people. As the stars twinkled above us, staff brought us beers to sip as we swam and we bonded ever closer as a group in the mineral-saturated waters. (You get used to the ‘egg’ smell, I promise!) 
If you miss the famous Blue Lagoon – Do not fear, make sure you pay these baths a visit instead – You won’t regret it.

So what are you waiting for? If I haven’t convinced you to add these stops to your North Iceland road trip just by the photos alone then… I don’t know what to say!

Iceland is a country that will remind you of the beauty of this planet that we are so lucky to call home. It will put your worries into perspective, open your eyes to the wonders of the world and reignite your passion for adventure. Rent your car and hit the road. Don’t wait. Do it now.

Which of these stops are you craving to visit the most?
Got a tip from your Iceland road trip to share?

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  • Reply
    Joanna Malcolm
    December 19, 2018 at 5:58 am

    So excited to put Iceland on my bucket list.

    • Reply
      Kate Johnson
      May 7, 2020 at 11:50 am

      Hi Joanna, 10000% worth adding to the bucket list! It’s an experience of a lifetime

  • Reply
    May 18, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    Thanks for this post!!!! I’m considering going to Iceland as my next big trip and this was super helpful 🙂

    • Reply
      Kate Johnson
      May 7, 2020 at 11:50 am

      Hi Lara, hope you get to Iceland soon!!! You won’t reget it

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