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Driving the ring road was one of the things I was looking forward to in Iceland the most. All the pictures I had seen of Iceland convinced me that we had to drive it. The landscape seemed so ethereal that our visit would seem incomplete if we didn’t drive around the whole country. So I started researching as I didn’t want to miss out on anything. And research I did; I even had a spreadsheet of our road trip and all the places we HAD to see (it was a big spreadsheet too).
We had originally planned on having 5 days to travel around the ring road but since we thought we were renting a manual we decided to give ourselves an extra day to get used to driving (as we only had two hours of practice…). Instead the rental car company, SAD Cars, saved our asses and we ended up with an automatic. Now, in hindsight after having driven a manual from Amsterdam to Antwerp, it was a GODSEND that we got an automatic. We decided to head out east our first day because we had to be back near Reykjavik the next day in order to snorkel Silfra before we circled around west on the ring road. We didn’t have a plan really for heading east. I had a vague idea to get to Vik to see the black sand beaches so we just started driving.
*Now driving the ring road will only take you 14 hours if you drive straight around HOWEVER there is no way you can do that if it is your first time in the country, there is just toooooooo much to see. Because of this EVERY DRIVE took longer than we anticipated. We made it around in 6 days but the last day we were racing the closing of the rental car agency. So just something to keep in mind.*
As we drove out to Vik we were enraptured by all the different stunning landscapes and how drastically they changed in just the few hours we drove. We drove by volcanoes, waterfalls, lava fields, up and down huge towering cliffs, saw lots of sheep and of course the black sand beaches.
This was a very typical Icelandic view as we were driving the Ring Road, especially on the south coast which is much more populated than the rest of the island. By the way Iceland in Icelandic is Ísland.
On our way to Vik I saw this absolutely gorgeous waterfall off the side of the road and we just had to pull over. Luckily it was Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, so that got checked off the spreadsheet! Even with all the people there it was stunning! Plus you can totally walk all the way around it! (Disneyland’s Jungle Book Cruise has nothing on this backside of water!)
We then headed off for Vik and the black sand beaches. The beaches were just massive expanses of this pure, fine black sand.
Seeing the black sand beaches 100% made up for the ridiculous wind that we were confronted with while at Vik. I love how the church seems so normal in the midst of all the wild landscape. It is a touch of human presence amongst this challenging land.
The wind is basically holding Alex up at this point, that is how crazy windy it was! This statue is directly facing England and represents the two countries’ peace after the fishing wars. England should have a matching one somewhere…
Before we headed back we had to stop up at the church to get a bird’s eye view of the black sand beaches and I am glad we did because the sun cooperated with us for this picture!
At the end of Day 1 we had planned on camping (we had actually planned on camping the entire time but the weather had different plans) and we found a fantastic campsite right in front of Gljufurarfoss Waterfall which was located right next to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. I was hesitant to say the least about camping but as we had already blown our budget on accommodation four days in, I agreed. We set up our tiny little tent and then went exploring the waterfalls. It was fantastic to have them almost all to ourselves and to catch the glorious sunset at 11:45pm.
Seriously, Iceland??? This is stupid beautiful and the best part is, even though the sun officially set it still really never got that dark!
That is Alex’s encouraging face. It is saying “C’mon, it is not that cold out. It is just a little wind and the car will block it”. The car did not block it. Our little Toyota Corolla was not quit big enough to block all the Icelandic wind.
Gljufurarfoss was a super neat waterfall and although not as impressive as Seljalandsfoss, I think I loved it more. Most likely for the fact that I could climb up it and the golden light that shines on it when the sun is setting. Also I climbed all the way up here in my standard Iceland outfit of black jeans, a chambray top, black boots and a London Fog raincoat. Who says you can’t be fashionable while climbing waterfalls?
Day 2 dawned cold and despite waking up to the sound of waterfalls I was so cold and was only going to get colder throughout the day but it was the day we were snorkeling Silfra!
But first, the benefits of sleeping at waterfalls is you get them all to yourself, without any tourists and can catch epic rainbows!
In addition to snorkeling Silfra we also were going to explore the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most famous tourist attractions. After snorkeling we headed north to see the highlights but not before stopping in the small town of Laugarvatn to get some veal and tomato soup. This area of Iceland is actually known for its tomato soup because they have lots of greenhouses where they are growing all types of things (we were even told that Iceland is going to start growing bananas). The weather turned worse as we reached Geysir and we were pelted with rain and an icy wind. It was still worth it though to see the geysers going off but not going to lie, we were only here for about ten minutes. This California girl has no clothes for cold weather.
The geysers were beautiful but between the pelting rain and the wind it was a little hard to appreciate them. Plus I was worried my camera was going to get soaked!
After the geysers we continued north to see Gullfoss waterfall. We arrived around seven pm and it was fantastic. I can definitely see why this waterfall is one of the most popular ones. And the best part about a majority of Iceland’s sites is that they never close which means you can drive all night thanks to the midnight sun and see these places when they aren’t as tourist laden. Sometimes it is just nice to sit in the quiet and take in nature.
This waterfall was so huge that a photo cannot really do it justice. With several smaller step waterfalls and then the huge plunge into the canyon one small picture cannot encompass it.
So here is another view of the immense waterfall!
So much mist from the waterfall! We were soaked by the time we walked back!
After seeing Gullfoss we knew we needed to start heading west so that we were not driving for hours the next day, plus we had no where to stay. So we backtracked through Thingvellir Park and headed west. We managed to make it to Borgarnes but we were scrambling to find somewhere to stay and something to eat (the downside of light all day is you forget what time it is and when things close-thank goodness for 24 hour gas station Quizno’s….). Eventually we found accommodation back a ways at Hotel Harnarfjall. This hotel was fantastic because A. I could shower and B. It had ridiculous views of the sea and the mountains and C. A continental breakfast. We were so lucky to have found this place and even more lucky that they gave us a discount because we got there so late! Gotta love the Iceland motto of “Everything will work out”.
On Day 3 we kept heading west to tackle the western peninsula to see Snæfellsjökull. As we drove we veered off the ring road and were faced with desolate sea views, rolling lava fields and of course the giant glacier of Snæfellsjökull. I have to say that this was some of the wildest scenery we saw in the area.
The endless expanse of the Western Peninsula. It is dominated by views of Snæfellsjökull and while we never went inland to see the glacier it still dominated all of our views along our drive here.
And then suddenly in the midst of nothing there would be glimpses of life like this church.
The sea stacks of Londrangar which were formed when the remains of a volcanic crater eroded until they look like volcanic castles.
Kirkjufell Mountain came out of nowhere on our drive. It was perfectly encased in the clouds when we arrived and looked so gloomy and ominous.
Aren’t these falls beautiful?!? You think you would get sick of waterfalls while driving around the country but NOPE! Or at least I didn’t…
We also made a stop at the Shark Man in Bjarnarhofn to try the famous fermented shark. While this shark museum is no longer a secret spot, it is a great place to try true fermented shark. They do everything here and have a nice video which explains the process and then you get to try it. Personally, not a fan. Alex on the other hand loved it and had several pieces. We then walked up to the drying shed where all the fermented shark was hanging. I still remember the smell and it was not pleasant….
Quite possibly the worst smell ever. I can still actually smell it whenever I see this picture…
Alex actually liked the stuff and had three pieces. Crazy man!
And then the old man who runs the Shark Museum decided he wanted to dress us up and take photos of us, all of this being mimed to us and he doesn’t speak English. Each subsequent photo more props were added…. This was the final result….
After stopping at Shark Man we had to haul it up to Akureyri at the very northern tip of Iceland. This was probably one of the most difficult drives we had because as soon as we started going through the mountain passes it began to snow! So much for almost summer weather….
Such a scary drive! I had to document it…. Thankfully we were listening to The Dirty Heads to try to transport us back to warm California weather, at least mentally…
We eventually arrived in Akureyri around 11pm and just crashed from the exhausting drive at our Hostel.
The next morning we were up bright and early (aka 10am when we had to check out). We grabbed breakfast at a cute cafe and I got my fill of skyr-the best yogurt in the world and wandered around Akureyri. We didn’t have much time though because we were headed out to Godafoss waterfall and Myvatn Lake.
The town was so cute though! Probably our one regret was not scheduling more time in this quaint northern city! Plus our hostel, Akureyri Backpackers, was one of the best hostels we stayed in. Just keep in mind that hostels in Iceland will set you back about $50.00 a person and usually charge you for linen as well.
I mean how cute and adorable is this town? Shame we only had the morning there!
Finding Godafoss was a bit of a pain in the ass for us mainly because there are no signs and we drove right past the freaking thing. You can actually see it from the highway but we are blind apparently. And then I drove down the wrong road and almost got our tiny old school Toyota Corolla stuck in the mud. Just a tad frustrating but the ridiculous, stupidly beautiful waterfall more than made up for it. Plus if you head to the side where the cafe is there is a little path down to a black sand beach which is a phenomenal place to take photos without a dozen tourists.
So it was totally worth it to see, despite my little hissy fit.
I love that you have the ability to walk around this waterfall and see it from all different vantage points. There is so much going on here that seeing it from just one side doesn’t do it justice.
After backtracking to Godafoss we were back on the road and headed to Myvatn Lake and our first priority was food. By this point in the road trip I needed substance and was willing to pay for it. No more Icelandic hot dogs for this girl and MAN did we find an amazing place to eat. On Highway 848 which takes you the long way round the lake we stopped at Hotel Gigur for lunch. It was a modern cool hotel which seemed out of place considering how remote we were but the hotel was beautiful and the meal was even better! We started off with an amazing soup of sweet potatoes and red bell pepper and then moved on to the entrees.
Doesn’t it just look amazing? I am CRAVING this right now! Who wants to go to Iceland and pick me up some?
I had this out of the world chicken and for some reason the chef came out and personally apologized for it. I still have no idea why as it is seriously the best chicken I have ever had. It had a crispy herby crust and was so incredibly juicy and it was on top a bed of pearl couscous. SOOOO GOOD! Alex had the steak sandwich which also was incredible. Overall it was a much needed and delicious meal. If you happen to find yourself in this area, do yourself a favor and get lunch here and if you have time stop here for a night. The hotel looked absolutely gorgeous!
After the freaking incredible lunch we headed back on the road to drive around the lake. We had a vague idea what we wanted to see but really just drove and stopped off when we saw something interesting. Our first stop was the Höfði Lakeside Walk. At first I wasn’t too impressed but then we stumbled upon the lava formations in the middle of the lake and as usual per Iceland we were blown away. There also are several vantage points as well that give you amazing views of the surrounding areas.
This was the beginning of the walk. I personally found it a little dreary, most likely because it was freezing and all the trees were barren and it was the end of May! It was a little like being Snow White and running through the haunted woods.
This is where the elves live. Did you know about 90% of Icelanders believe in elves? And really after seeing all this crazy scenery I think I may believe in elves too.
And we found the lake! This nature walk is looking up 🙂
Crazy lava formations in the middle of the lake.
These lake views suck….. Or not. They are really awesome. You should probably visit Iceland.
After heading back to the car and divesting the myriad of layers we had on we kept soldiering on around the lake. Next we made it to the lava fields, Dimmuborgir, which is known for where The Yule Lads, Iceland’s version of Santa Claus live. Every December they gather here and children have the opportunity to visit these 13 mischievous trolls in their home. We decided to do what we do best aka goof off and take ridiculous photos.
Giant lava formations. You can see Alex climbing up one of them that formed a cave.
It is me! On a lava throne. Bow down peasants….
Alex thinks he is king of the castle… But he isn’t. It is me 🙂
As time was running out and we had to be in Borgarfjordur Eystri before 10:30pm we unfortunately had to skip the Myvatn natural baths; they are supposed to be like the Blue Lagoon but more natural and less touristy. Instead we hightailed it to Viti Crater. I was super excited to see Viti Crater, the first time I had seen pictures of this pure crystalline blue pool of water in the crater I was hooked. We had to visit. So we did.
And…. It was FROZEN OVER! Not blue at all! And it was freezing and starting to snow.
That is snow you see in the photo! SNOW!
I was disappointed to say the least but Alex rallied me out of it and we climbed up the side of the crater to explore the area a bit more. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this was watching Alex do this:
And we were off again and I thought I would never be warm again. (This was a trend throughout Iceland) We eventually made it to Borgarfjordur Eystri after driving on dirt roads and through sketchy mountain passes. I HAVE NO IDEA how people drive here in winter, it was bad enough when we were there.
We did manage to sneak in a quick photo shoot though. I was convinced I needed pictures of Alex’s shoes on the mountain for our packing article. Plus who doesn’t want photos of themselves on a ridiculous Icelandic mountain?
But it was all worth it because the next day we were seeing PUFFINS!!!! Plus the guesthouse we stayed at was so cute. The town is super small (only 130 people live there) and the Blabjorg Guesthouse used to be an old fishing warehouse. It has been completely renovated and is very bright and modern and even has a spa. Unfortunately we were only here for the night and couldn’t take advantage of the spa. But there is plenty of great hiking in the area so most people stay for a few days to see the puffins and go hiking.
Our room was so cute! And look at that view! How could you not want to stay here?
Plus little guy was just outside our room. I have about a hundred photos of him. He just sat there and posed for me 🙂
Puffins HAD to be the highlight of Iceland for me. We got up early the next morning and headed out to the harbor where they all hang out. I probably took over a thousand photos in the two hours we were there and I could have easily stayed the whole day. I mean look how cute they are!!!
A little afternoon stretching since all this posing takes work. Cute isn’t easy you know!
These two are wondering when in the hell I am going to stop taking about a thousand photos. But how could I? The cute moments are just too much!
Eventually Alex dragged me away and we continued east with the goal of reaching Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon. We just kept driving… And driving… And driving. It felt like we were never going to get there. Eventually we made it though and while gorgeous I felt like I couldn’t appreciate it. I was just too exhausted by this point and almost numb to Iceland’s beauty. Oh ya and I had to pee SOOOOOO BAD! Like never before and hopefully never again! And the gift shop with the bathroom closed at 7pm; we got there at 7:20pm. Looking back though it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Thank god for photos.
I was still completely fascinated by all the different colors in the broken off pieces of glacier and the fact that they were just drifting peacefully off into the ocean.
We decided at this point to keep driving until we reached our campsite back at the waterfalls as it was our final night. It was a little colder than the first night but still worth it. We had a delicious camping meal of pasta and pesto from the gas station and washed it down with some shitty beers. What else do you need while camping?
Before we reached our campsite we drove past this church covered in grass. It was built in 1884 and was one of the last turf houses to be constructed in Iceland. It is one of 6 that still exist.
The next morning we had one more thing that we wanted to do. Our good friend Quinton had sent us an article about a man made swimming pool in the middle of the mountains that was fed with water from a naturally heated spring so we had to find it. And it is officially Iceland’s WORST best kept secret. There was actually a tour bus there when we arrived but they left almost as soon as we got there. You however, will have to find it yourself. (Hint: Just google it…)
And that was the end of our grand Icelandic road trip. We didn’t die driving manual, it felt like we almost froze and we saw some of the most wild and untamed landscape that I have ever seen. This was an experience I will never forget. We can’t wait to go back and explore during a different season! I can’t even imagine what Iceland would look like as a winter wonderland!
Also if you were wondering what our exact itinerary was, here it is!
Day 1: Drove from Reykjavik to Seljalandsfoss and to Vik before camping at Seljanlandsfoss
Day 2: Drove from Seljanlandfoss to Thingvellir Park to snorkel Silfra. We then headed to Geysir and Gullfoss. We then headed west to Borgarnes and stayed the night at Hotel Hafnarfjall
Day 3: The Western Peninsula. We drove from Borgarnes to the Snaefellsness Peninsula and saw the sea stacks of Londrangar, kirkjufellsfoss, and the Shark Museum. We then drove all the way up to Akureyri.
Day 4: We left Akureyri to visit Godafoss Waterfall and Lake Myvatn. We stopped by the Höfði Lakeside Walk, Dimuborgir Lava Fields and Viti Crater before driving to Borgarfjordur Eystri.
Day 5: Puffin Harbor at Borgarfjordur Eystri and then heading East to Jökulsárlón. We ended the night by camping back near Seljanlandfoss.
Day 6: We visited Iceland’s worst best kept secret, the natural swimming pool, and then raced back to Reykjavik to return the rental car.
Was there anything we missed during our road trip that we should definitely see next time?
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**Also we did all of our Iceland bookings through Booking.com. It was the first time we had used the site and it was SUPER helpful especially since ALL of our bookings were last minute. We highly recommend booking through them, especially since they have a wealth of options for Iceland specifically!