The land of fire and ice, Iceland has turned out to be the most incredible country I’ve visited so far (It has trumped Switzerland in being my favourite and that’s saying something!). Dramatic, and extremely varied landscapes, massive glaciers, volcanic craters and lava fields, hot springs and geysers, and stunning waterfalls – Iceland’s sharp contrasts are something you need to experience to believe!
Read on for a detailed guide on planning your trip to Iceland.
Plan your trip to Iceland
How many days to spend in Iceland
You need at least 7-8 days to cover the entire loop around the country. Any less and it can turn out to be too rushed. The itinerary below covers the highlights across Iceland in 8 days taking an anti-clockwise loop.
If you have less than 7-8 days, it might be better to explore the areas around Reykjavik – the Golden Circle or the Snæfellsnes peninsula. See the itinerary below for days 1/ 2 or days 7/ 8 to carve out your plan.
How to get to Iceland
Fly into Leifur Eiríksson International Air Terminal in Keflavík, the primary international airport in Iceland, located ~50 km from the capital city of Reykjavik. From the airport, you can take a bus (multiple companies such as Flybus, Gray Line etc. run frequent services that you can book in advance or you could try the public bus #55) or taxi (these can be pricey though since Iceland is a very expensive country) or a rental car.
How to get around Iceland
Renting a car and driving around the country is the best way to explore Iceland. It gives you the flexibility of making your own schedule and spending more time at the sights you enjoy (which will be a tough thing for you to narrow down on, trust me!). The easiest option is to book a car that you can pick up from the airport itself (or book with a rental company that gives you a ride to and fro from the airport).
Another option includes booking a tour which handles your transportation. Or you could also use the public bus transportation system but you’ll need to be really organized to pull it off.
We booked a car with Lagoon Car Rental and chose a 4 wheel drive since we wanted to visit a few difficult locations that require it.
When to visit Iceland
Summer (June – August)
Summers are cold in Iceland with average temperatures around 10-12° C. This is also the time when you can witness the midnight sun with nearly 20 hours of daylight every day!
Summer is the best time for all outdoor activities – hiking, etc. and for visiting nearly every part of the country. The ample daylight also ensures that you have plenty of time to visit each sight without rushing. The downside, of course, is that everyone has the same idea and it can get crowded!
Fall (September – November)
The weather starts getting colder and rainier. Temperatures fall from ~11° C in September to <5° C in November. Daylight also reduces from 12-13 hours in September to 5-6 hours in November.
September is one of the best months to visit Iceland – the crowds are much smaller, the day is still long enough and there’s a chance you can get to see the Northern Lights too!
Winter (December – February)
The weather in winter is cold and foggy with temperatures <2-3° C and 4-5 hours of daylight in December-January and 8-9 hours in February. Winter is the best time to visit to spot the Northern Lights and also to take in the Christmas & New Year festivities. The Icelandic Christmas period is a beautiful mix of traditional and religious folklore.
Spring (March – May)
The weather starts getting warmer (by Icelandic standards of course!) in March & April and the average temperatures are around 5° C. May is milder with average temperatures around 5-10° C, with lower chances of rain. Hours of daylight increase from ~11 hours in March to 18-20 hours in May. Spring is a beautiful time to visit Iceland – you get to enjoy most of the summer activities without too many crowds.
Iceland in 8 days: Road trip itinerary
We visited Iceland in September and had an amazing time. The weather was clear and not too cold – it rained for just 1 day during our entire trip and we got to see the Northern Lights twice! Here are the broad highlights of our trip,
Day 1: Golden Circle – Reykjavik, Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Öxarárfoss, Geysir, Gullfoss), Fludir
Day 2: Volcanic/ South Coast – Volcanic crater Kerið, Seljlandsfoss, Gljufrabui, Skógafoss, Sólheimajökull Glacier, Dyrhólaey Viewpoint, Reynisfjara black sand beach, Eldhraun Lava Field, Fjaðrárgljúfur
Day 3: Glaciers – Vatnajökull National Park, Svínafellsjökull Glacier, Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Vestrahorn
Day 4: East Fjords – Sveinsstekksfoss, Folaldafoss, Breiðdalsvík, Seydisfjordur, Egilsstaðir
Day 5: Diamond Circle – Rjukandi waterfall, Selfoss, Dettifoss, Asbyrgi, Hljóðaklettar
Day 6: Lake Mývatn – Hverfjall Crater, Dimmuborgir, Hofdi, Skútustaðagígar, Goðafoss, Aldeyjarfoss, Akureyri
Day 7: North Coast – Hvitserkur rock formations, Kolugljúfur Canyon, Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs, Kirkjufellsfoss
Day 8: Snæfellsnes peninsula – Snæfellsjökull National Park, Malariff Lighthouse, Hellnar sea cliffs, Budhahraun lava fields, Black Church of Búðir, Ytri Tunga, Hraunfossar/ Barnafoss Waterfalls, Reykjavik
Day 1: Golden Circle
Key highlights: Reykjavik, Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Öxarárfoss, Geysir, Gullfoss), Fludir
Total driving distance: ~155 km
Start point: Reykjavik
End point: Fludir
Stay at: Fludir
Plan to arrive early in the morning to start off your first day or late at night a day before. We had arrived a day before since we wanted to rest before getting started. Picking up our car from the airport, we headed towards the city and stayed at Blue Mountain Apartments.
Start your first day with a quick exploration of the capital city of Reykjavik (don’t worry, you’ll still have time to visit more of the city when you get back on the last day). Head to the Sun Voyager sculpture along the waterfront. There are multiple parking lots across the street from it. The waterfront is a beautiful area and you can go for a long walk here. Once you’ve had your fill, head in towards the Hallgrimskirkja, the tallest church in Iceland and among the tallest buildings in Iceland. Its unique shape will leave you awestruck and you can spend time marvelling at it both from the outside and the inside. Spend the rest of the morning strolling through the downtown area.
Head next towards Thingvellir National Park by mid-day – it is only a 45-minute drive away from Reykjavik. Thingvellir is a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the most important historical and cultural sites in Iceland. Iceland’s parliament met here from the 10th to the 18th century. Thingvellir is also unique for its geological feature of having the boundaries of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
There’s no entrance fee to enter the park, though you do have to pay for parking. Plan to spend about an hour or two here. There’s also a restaurant here in case you need to pick up lunch. There are a number of walks/ hikes that you can head on – check with information for the one most suitable for you. We did a very short walk down from the main viewing platform towards the canyon.
Continue your Golden Circle tour by heading next to Öxarárfoss which is about 15 minutes away. A short 10-minute walk, slightly uphill will bring you close to the waterfall. Since this is the first waterfall you’ll see in Iceland, you’ll be struck by how beautiful it is (it will definitely get upstaged by the more spectacular waterfalls later!). Plan to spend about 30 minutes at this stop.
From Öxarárfoss, head to Geysir which is an hour’s drive away. The original Geyser, which lends its name to the natural phenomenon of hot springs is now dormant, however, there are Strokkur and Litli-Strokkur which put on quite the show. Strokkur ‘erupts’ every 10-15 minutes and is a spectacular sight to take in.
We’ve seen geysers in action in the Rotorua region of New Zealand, however, we found the ones in Iceland far superior since we could see them up close.
There’s no entrance fee to the Geysir Hot Spring Area. There’s a large restaurant here as well as a gift shop. Plan to spend about an hour here. (We had originally planned to spend only 30 minutes in the area, but watching the hot spring in action was so much fun we couldn’t pull ourselves away!)
The last stop on our Golden Circle tour is Gullfoss, a gigantic waterfall located only ~10 minutes from Geysir. On the Hvítá river flowing directly from the Langjökull glacier, this waterfall will take your breath away. Flowing over two stages, the first one a short 11-metre drop and the second one a huge 21-meter drop, Gullfoss is spectacular.
From the car park, you can walk down towards the multiple viewing platforms and can get so close to the waterfall that you can actually touch the water! (The barely-there rope boundaries did make me a bit nervous though!) There’s a restaurant and a gift shop on site here.
To round up your day head towards the Flúðir area to stay overnight. We stayed at Austurey Cottages which was a set of 5-6 cottages located in a large field next to a lake. It was the most peaceful place we’d ever stayed at – completely silent with beautiful scenery all around and sheep grazing right outside our door. We were able to watch the Northern Lights here as well!
Since the first day involves the immensely popular Golden Circle, prepare to meet crowds at every stop. As you continue along on the trip through the crowds will start thinning out since a lot of people visit only for a short few days and do not head around the country. You’ll also not need to pay for parking/ entrance at most places as you continue along the loop around the country.
Day 2: Volcanic/ South Coast
Key highlights: Volcanic crater Kerið, Seljlandsfoss, Gljufrabui, Skógafoss, Sólheimajökull Glacier, Dyrhólaey Viewpoint, Reynisfjara black sand beach, Eldhraun Lava Field, Fjaðrárgljúfur
Total driving distance: ~300 km
Start point: Fludir
End point: Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Stay at: Kirkjubæjarklaustur
This will be one of the longest days so it’s best to start early – also helps beat the crowds at the initial few locations!
First stop today is the Volcanic crater Kerið – a rusty red crater with a small lake in the middle of it. It’s quite an impressive sight and one that does not take too much time. Plan to spend around 30 minutes here. There is a small entrance fee to be paid while the car park is free.
Head next to Seljlandsfoss which is a waterfall located about 1 hour 15 minutes away, though you’ll be able to see it in the distance long before as you drive towards it. This waterfall is located right next to the road and is one of the most easily accessible waterfalls in Iceland. With a drop of 60 metres, Seljlandsfoss is quite the sight. You can even walk behind the waterfall, though prepare to get wet if you do this.
There is no entrance fee however you need to pay for the car park. There is a small cafe on site here.
A 10-minute walk from Seljlandsfoss is the beautiful hidden waterfall Gljufrabui. Do note that you have to walk inside a canyon, up a river to get to this waterfall so it’s gonna be wet and slippery. I didn’t fancy getting all wet so it was only Milind who made his way in but he claimed it was worth it! Plan to spend about an hour visiting these 2 waterfalls.
A 30-minute drive away is the even more spectacular waterfall, Skógafoss. As you drive towards this waterfall, not only will you be able to see the rushing 60-meter waterfall but also the icy glaciers around it. Skógafoss ended up being one of my favourite waterfalls in Iceland (and that is saying something given the enormously spectacular waterfalls that Iceland has!). Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we got rewarded by 2 stunning rainbows in front of the waterfall. I’d never seen rainbows quite as vivid as these before. Rainbows actually soon became a recurring theme on our trip since we spotted them nearly every day of our trip!
You can either spend time close to the waterfall at the bottom or walk up (the many, many) steps to the top of the gorge for a different view of the waterfall. You can guess what we did – such a long climb was not happening for us!
Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour here. There’s no entrance fee and there was no charge for the car park either. There is a cafe on-site here. Also, fun fact, the song ‘Gerua’ from the movie ‘Dilwale’ was shot at this waterfall.
The next stop Sólheimajökull Glacier is just a 15-minute drive from Skógafoss. Here you can see the base of the Sólheimajökull Glacier’s tongue with just a short walk from the car park. It’s an incredible sight, especially since this is the first glacier you’ll spot in Iceland (you’ll soon be spoilt for choice for these too, just like the waterfalls! Did I mention already how incredible the landscapes in Iceland are?!)
Plan to spend around 30-45 minutes here. There is a little bit of walking involved at this stop and since it’s an open treeless landscape it can get very windy and very cold, so make sure you are well dressed. There are also several glacier hikes that start from here in case you’re interested.
Head on next towards Dyrhólaey Viewpoint which is a 30 minutes drive away, the last section of which is on a steep dirt road which would require a 4×4 vehicle. The bumpy ride up is totally worth it though for the incredible views in every direction that you get from the top – The long coast stretching along the black beach on one end, rock formations including the famous arch on the other side and beautiful mossy hills inland.
We had planned to spend 30 minutes at this stop but ended up spending close to an hour since the panoramic views were just incredible!
Head towards Reynisfjara black sand beach next, just a 30 minutes drive away. This stunning beach makes an incredible sight with its fine black sand contrasting against the white-blue water. Even more spectacular are the basalt columns along the edge of the beach and the rock formations in the water – reminded me of the 12 apostles in Australia.
There’s no entrance fee, nor any charges for parking here. There is a restaurant on-site here.
About an hour’s drive out, you’ll start seeing the Eldhraun Lava Field on both sides of the road. Mossy rocks, stretching as far as the eye can see, these fields are an incredible natural phenomenon. This is the largest lava field on Earth formed after a huge volcanic eruption in the 18th century. There are multiple parking stops along the route for you to stop and admire the view.
About 10-15 minutes drive more will bring you to Fjaðrárgljúfur, the last sightseeing spot for the day. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a 2 million-year-old river canyon and is an incredibly scenic location. Start with viewing the canyon from the bridge near the car park and then take the ~20-minute walk uphill to more viewpoints. A slightly tiring walk, especially after a long day, but totally worth it.
Plan to spend about an hour at this stop. There are no cafes here but toilet facilities are available.
Head on towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur to spend the night. We stayed at Fosshotel Núpar which was on the outskirts and we again got to see the Northern Lights that night! In fact, the hotel gave us a wake-up call when the lights were visible and we were able to take some great pictures.
Day 3: Glaciers
Key highlights: Vatnajökull National Park, Svínafellsjökull Glacier, Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Vestrahorn
Total driving distance: ~310 km
Start point: Kirkjubæjarklaustur
End point: Djúpivogur
Stay at: Djúpivogur
Today’s the day to get up close to the glaciers that you saw all along your drive on Day 2.
The first stop is Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland covering ~10% of the country. The Vatnajökull National Park’s Skaftafell region is where you need to head to visit this glacier. This area has multiple walks and hikes that bring you close to the glacier. Visit the information centre for maps and guides on which walk to do.
Plan to spend a couple of hours at this stop. There is no entrance fee here but there is a charge for car parking. There is also a cafe here where we stopped for breakfast and for loading up on food supplies.
Next stop is Svínafellsjökull Glacier, 15-minutes’ drive away over a bumpy, dirt road. Svínafellsjökull Glacier is one of the outlet glaciers of the large Vatnajökull and you can see it from several great viewpoints. Take the short hike up over some rocks to take in a beautiful panoramic view of incredible, gigantic ice walls.
This was one of my favourite stops of the day since there were very few people there (possibly because of the difficult access road) and the glacier was within touching distance. Plan to spend ~30 minutes here. There’s no entrance fee nor any car parking charge. No facilities either.
The Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a 45-minute drive away and is another spectacular spot. You need to walk ~10 minutes from the car park to see the glacier up close. No entrance fee nor parking charges. Plan to spend ~30 minutes here.
The next stop, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was my favourite spot not just of the day but of the entire trip! It’s located ~15 minutes away and you can already see the icebergs floating in the water as you approach it. The Breiðamerkurjökull outlet from Vatnajökull forms this lagoon. The lagoon is a spectacular sight – giant blocks of ice against the shimmering blue water with seals prancing about! You’ll also be able to see blocks of ice falling away and floating out to sea here.
You can take a boat tour here to get close to the icebergs but they seemed too crowded and hardly worth it to us. We were happy to take in the view from the shore.
Once you are able to tear yourself away from the view, walk across the road to Diamond Beach. You’ll be able to see icebergs floating off the shore here, as well as several blocks of ice right on the beach itself. In September when we went, the beach was full of ice blocks and they made for a stunning sight!
Plan to spend at least 2 hours across these two sights. There is a car park at both locations as well as cafes and toilet facilities.
Head on next towards Vestrahorn, about an hour’s drive away. This is one of the most stunning mountains along the coastal drive. You can see it either right from the main road (Route 1) or head on close to it. We were too tired to walk up to it so we enjoyed the drive towards it which was nothing short of spectacular.
Drive the last hour towards Djúpivogur to overnight. We stayed at Krákhamar apartments, a series of cottages on a field, away from the town and right across from the water.
Day 4: East Fjords
Key highlights: Sveinsstekksfoss, Folaldafoss, Breiðdalsvík, Seydisfjordur, Egilsstaðir
Total driving distance: ~215 km
Start point: Djúpivogur
End point: Egilsstaðir
Stay at: Egilsstaðir
A more relaxed day today to make up for the hectic previous 2 days! This day involves more of driving along the coast and stopping wherever your heart desires! It’s a breathtaking drive unlike any you may have experienced so far. Stay on Route 1 for this drive, even if google maps suggests route 95 which might be shorter but not quite as scenic.
The first stop of the day is Sveinsstekksfoss, a beautiful, small waterfall with stunning views all around it. It is right by the road so you do not need a long walk to see it. No entrance fee or parking charges. Plan to spend about 20-30 minutes here.
The next stop, Folaldafoss is about 15-minutes away and is a much more impressive waterfall. This 54 feet waterfall falls into a stunning turquoise pool below which is another small cascading fall. You will need to walk about 10 minutes from the car park to reach close to the waterfall. Not the easiest walk since you’ll need to scramble over small cliffs and a lot of rocks & boulders. No entrance fee or parking charges. Plan to spend about an hour here.
Enjoy the drive along the stunning coastline as you head towards Breiðdalsvík, a small fishing town on the coast. Walkthrough the charming village and grab some food since the next stop is some distance away.
Head next to another charming town, Seydisfjordur, about 1.5 hours away. This town is located at the innermost point of the Seydisfjordur fjord. The drive to the town from Egilsstaðir (which you will cross but come back to explore and overnight at once you’ve visited Seydisfjordur) is one of the most stunning we’d ever seen. There are a few parking stops along the way for you to stop and admire the view.
The fjord town of Seydisfjordur is idyllic and simply stunning. Talk a walk along the water admiring both the beautiful architecture and natural beauty. There are several parking lots in town for you to park and explore the area. Plan to spend a couple of hours in this town.
Head next back to the town of Egilsstaðir, the largest settlement in East Iceland. Drive or walk along the beautiful lake and take in the sunset. This will be one of the larger towns you will stay in across the next couple of days so load up on food!
We stayed at Gistihúsið – Lake Hotel Egilsstadir, a charming hotel right at the lake (and one of the only places we stayed at that offered free breakfast, yay!).
Day 5: Diamond Circle
Key highlights: Rjukandi waterfall, Selfoss, Dettifoss, Asbyrgi, Hljóðaklettar
Total driving distance: ~280 km
Start point: Egilsstaðir
End point: Mývatn
Stay at: Mývatn
Start your day with another waterfall (yeah I know, I know, more waterfalls but trust me the ones today will not disappoint!), Rjukandi, 40-minutes from Egilsstaðir. Located right at the road (and one of the larger ones of the many many you will see along the road as you drive), this waterfall is easily accessible. Walk 5-10 minutes up to get close to it. Plan to spend 30-40 minutes here.
Head next to Dettifoss, one of the biggest highlights of the Diamond Circle. This gigantic waterfall has two entrances – the Eastside accessible through route 864 which is a gravel road and the Westside accessible through route 862. Our itinerary covers both so no need to decide! But if you had to choose, pick the east side – it brings you right next to the waterfall, close enough to touch.
From Rjukandi, the East side of Dettifoss is about 1.5 hours away. The drive close to the waterfall is quite stunning – barren and desert-like for long stretches with a large no. of interesting crater formations. It’s hard to imagine a large waterfall to be anywhere close by! Since it’s in a canyon you don’t see it till you are right there. Even from the parking lot, it’s hardly visible. You need to walk downhill for about 10-15 minutes to bring you close to the river and the waterfall. It’s a completely open area with not even any rope fencing so be careful! Both the waterfall and the canyon stretching away from it are incredibly spectacular.
There’s a large parking lot and toilet facilities on this side. Plan to spend a couple of hours here. Another stunning waterfall, Selfoss is close by too – you can walk towards it from the Eastside or wait and visit it from the Westside (which I think was a shorter walking distance).
Continue on the Diamond Circle towards Asbyrgi (the scenery on this drive is beautiful and you can take time to stop and some of the smaller waterfalls along the way), about 40-minutes away. Asbyrgi is a horseshoe-shaped glacial canyon, steeped in myth and folklore. As per Norse mythology, this 1-km wide canyon is believed to have been a hoof-print left by Odin’s eight-legged flying horse! There are several hiking trails in this canyon, you could also drive quite a fair distance into the canyon. Plan to spend between 30 minutes to a couple of hours here.
From Asbyrgi, you have 2 options,
- Continue on the Diamond Circle and visit Húsavík (about 50-minutes from Asbyrgi) on the north coast of Iceland. Spend time exploring the town and whale watching and overnight there. Or,
- Head back South towards the stunning rock formations of Hljóðaklettar and the West side of Dettifoss and Selfoss and overnighting in the Lake Myvatn area.
Since we had already done whale watching in Sydney recently, we chose option 2.
So, the next stop today is Hljóðaklettar, 20-minutes away from Asbyrgi. Columnar rock formations are the highlight of this place. There are several walks that you can do here to see these stunning formations. We only did a short one though since the mosquitoes weren’t leaving us alone! Plan to spend between 30 minutes to a couple of hours here.
From Hljóðaklettar, the west side of Dettifoss is only 20-minutes away. This side of the waterfall is more organized with multiple viewing platforms than the east side though the falls are much further away. You do need to walk about 15 minutes from the parking lot to get to the viewing platforms though. Also, take the 15-minute walk to Selfoss from here. Framed by basalt columns, this waterfall makes for a stunning picture.
There is a large parking lot as well as toilet facilities here. Plan to spend a couple of hours here.
Head towards the Lake Myvatn area next and make a stop at Hverir, a geothermal spot located about 30 minutes from Dettifoss West. You’ll be able to spot the steam rising from the area from miles away! Bubbling pools of mud and steaming fumaroles are the highlights of this geothermal field. There is a large parking area here, free of charge. Plan to spend about 30-minutes at this stop.
Head into Mývatn, about 15-minutes away to overnight. We stayed at Icelandair Hotel Myvatn, a cosy place located right across the lake.
You can also enjoy the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths which are very similar to the famous Blue Lagoon, with a beautiful view across the lake.
Day 6: Lake Mývatn
Key highlights: Hverfjall Crater, Dimmuborgir, Hofdi, Skútustaðagígar, Goðafoss, Aldeyjarfoss, Akureyri
Total driving distance: ~175 km
Start point: Mývatn
End point: Akureyri
Stay at: Akureyri
Start your day with some brisk exercise today! Head to Hverfjall Crater, a volcano crater which is 1 km wide and requires a ~20-minute steep uphill walk. The views of the crater and the surrounding scenery from the top are stunning. You can also take the hour-long walk around the crater for more views. We were happy with the views from where we were (and a bit winded after the steep walk!)! Plan to spend a couple of hours at this stop.
Make your way next to Dimmuborgir which is a lava field with incredible rock formations. There are a number of walks here (all well marked and laid out on a map as you enter). We took the shortest one (of course!) and ended up extending it into one of the longer ones since it was all so stunning.
There’s a cafe and toilet facilities on site here. Plan to spend an hour here.
Drive 5 minutes to Hofdi which has more interesting rock formations, these ones jutting out of the water. There are a number of walks you can do here as well – we took the short route right up to the lake and spent about 30 minutes here.
Head next to Skútustaðagígar, about 10-minutes away to see a series of pseudo-craters left after explosions of gases in the flowing lava. There is a marked trail that you can follow to take you around these craters. The views all around these craters are just as stunning as the geological phenomenon.
There’s a large parking lot as well as a few restaurants and ice cream stores here. We picked up a tourist brochure at one of these and ended up adding Aldeyjarfoss to our itinerary for the day, which turned out to be a great decision since it ended up being our favourite waterfall of all!
Leave behind the volcanic phenomenon as you head towards Goðafoss, about 40-minutes away. This horseshoe-shaped gigantic waterfall with its clear bluish white water makes for a stunning sight. There are two parking lots to visit both sides of the waterfall and you can easily walk from one to the other. Plan to spend a couple of hours here.
Head next to Aldeyjarfoss, 45-minutes from Goðafoss on a mainly gravel road. The last couple of kilometres are only accessible on a 4 wheel drive vehicle. So make sure your car is capable or plan to hike/ hitchhike the last stretch. We picked up a hitchhiking couple in our car and gave them a lift both ways. From the parking lot, it is a 10-15 minutes walk down to get close to the fall. When we went there were just 4-5 people other than us, compared to the tens (and even hundreds!) of people at every other waterfall so far.
Aldeyjarfoss is the most stunning waterfall I have ever seen. Framed by uniquely symmetrical basalt columns, this narrow waterfall is situated in a completely bare landscape making it seem out of place! Plan to spend at least an hour here, if not more.
Once you are able to tear yourself away from Aldeyjarfoss, make your way to the city of Akureyri, about an hour and fifteen minutes away. Explore the city and overnight here. We stayed at Manahlid Apartment, a lovely apartment close to the city centre.
Day 7: North Coast
Key highlights: Hvitserkur rock formations, Kolugljúfur Canyon, Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs, Kirkjufellsfoss
Total driving distance: ~480 km
Start point: Akureyri
End point: Grundarfjörður/ Snæfellsnes
Stay at: Grundarfjörður/ Snæfellsnes
A long drive to start off your day today as you make your way towards the Vatnsnes peninsula in North Iceland. A ~2.5-hour drive from Akureyri, the last stretch on a gravel road will bring you to the Hvitserkur rock formations. This extraordinary structure is 15 meters tall and juts out straight from the water. Its unique shape makes for quite an incredible sight.
From the parking lot, you can walk to the viewing platform to take in the rock formations. You can also walk down a steep path to reach the beach to see the rock formations from up close. It was pouring rain when we had reached there so we skipped heading down to the beach. Plan to spend about 30 minutes to an hour here.
Head next to Kolugljúfur Canyon, 45-minutes away. This gorge in the Víðidalsá river is 1 km long and has a series of waterfalls along its length. This is a relatively lesser-known spot and there’s a good chance you’ll have the whole place to yourself! Walk along the canyon for some great viewing spots. Plan to spend about 30 minutes here.
Make your way to Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs next, about 2 hours and 15 minutes away. This row of perfectly symmetrical hexagonal basalt columns is quite an impressive natural phenomenon. Stretching for about half a kilometre along a cliff, these columns are 12-15 meters in height. A short walk from the parking lot will bring you close to these columns. Plan to spend about 30 minutes to an hour here.
Drive about an hour to reach one of the most iconic locations in Iceland (though arguably not THE most scenic which you’ll realize after spending so many days in this beautiful country!) – Kirkjufellsfoss. The conical Kirkjufell framed against the set of waterfalls does make for a beautiful sight though. You’ll be arriving there close to sunset so you’ll have the best lighting for your pictures! The drive up to this spot is also very scenic and you may end up making several stops.
The parking lot at Kirkjufellsfoss is not large enough to accommodate the crowds though (and it indeed was crowded when we went!), A lot of folks had parked right on the road due to lack of space. Plan to spend about 30 minutes here.
Overnight in Snæfellsnes or in the area around the town of Grundarfjörður. We stayed at Dis Cottages, a wonderful cabin overlooking the sea and the iconic Kirkjufell.
Day 8: Snæfellsnes peninsula
Key highlights: Snæfellsjökull National Park, Malariff Lighthouse, Hellnar sea cliffs, Budhahraun lava fields, Black Church of Búðir, Ytri Tunga, Hraunfossar/ Barnafoss Waterfalls or Reykjavik
Total driving distance: ~370 km
Start point: Snæfellsnes
End point: Reykjavik
Stay at: Reykjavik
Start your day with the Snæfellsjökull National Park – continue driving on route 574 west of Kirkjufellsfoss to enter the National Park. The giant Snæfellsjökull glacier is located in this park and is visible from everywhere on the peninsula. The drive through the national park is absolutely stunning and you will want to stop for pictures every few kilometres.
One of the most beautiful stops is the Malariff Lighthouse located on the southwest of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. You can walk down to the rocky cliffs and watch the waves breaking. It’s a breathtaking sight to watch the roaring waves from atop the cliff.
There is a large free parking lot as well as toilet facilities here. Plan to spend about an hour here.
About a 10-minute drive away are the Hellnar sea cliffs – super impressive rock formations which you can walk close to. Walk up the cliff for some great views around the coast. Plan to spend about an hour here.
As you continue driving along the coast you’ll come across the Budhahraun lava fields – vast, mossy rocks stretching for miles. Iceland is blessed with superb geological phenomenon – so varied and yet so unique!
Continue driving towards the hamlet of Búðir to visit the famous Black Church of Búðir. Situated on a hill among the lava fields, with the sea behind it the church makes for a very scenic spot. Plan to spend about 20-30 minutes here.
The last stop on the peninsula is Ytri Tunga beach known for seals. Walk down the beach to spot some cute seals lazing around on the rocks. We managed to get close to one of the seals and got some great pictures. Do be careful of the seals though since they may bite – there were a few people trying to touch one of the seals for some reason, don’t be them!
Plan to spend about 30-minutes here.
From Ytri Tunga, you have 2 options,
- Drive the 1 hour 45 minutes to Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls and then another 1 hour 45 minutes to Reykjavik (to overnight since there wouldn’t be much time left to explore the city), OR
- Drive the 2 hours 15 minutes directly to Reykjavik and spend time exploring the city
We decided on option 1 since the hitchhiking couple we had picked up at Aldeyjarfoss had just visited the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls and had raved about them. Plus I love waterfalls more than cities so it wasn’t a hard choice!
So, drive 1 hour 45 minutes to reach the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls. The first waterfall Hraunfossar was one of the most unique waterfalls I had ever seen. A series of waterfalls stretching for almost a kilometre, the water originates from the lava field and drops into the Hvítá river.
The second waterfall Barnafoss is just a 5-10 minute walk up and is an incredible sight as well.
Drive back to Reykjavik through some more stunning coastal scenery and overnight. We stayed at the Airport Hotel Aurora Star since we had an early morning flight the next day and the hotel was walking distance from the airport!
- Visa – Iceland is covered by the Schengen visa
- Currency – Icelandic Króna is used in Iceland though you can get by using your card
- Weather – Iceland is cold throughout the year, even during summers! Make sure you are wearing layers and have a cap/ scarf. It can also be very windy – in fact, our rental car guy had told us to always check the wind direction before opening the door so that the door doesn’t get ripped away! Apparently that happens a fair bit and is not covered by insurance!
- Food – Iceland is expensive so it might be a better idea to cook yourself. Also, restaurants/ grocery stores are few and far between so carry packed lunches with you and stock up as often as you can. In a similar vein, toilet facilities are few and far between to make use of them when you can!
- Petrol/ Diesel – Same as food, stock up as often as you can. There are long stretches with no civilization whatsoever where you do not want to get stuck! We filled up our car’s tank nearly every day. You can get fuel discount cards from your rental company to save on the pricey fuel.
- Important websites to track daily
- The emergency number for Iceland is 112
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