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ROAD TRIP IN ICELAND: THE CLASSIC HIGHLIGHTS

Grétar Ingi Erlendsson
self drive road trip iceland

I often get asked what’s the best way to experience Iceland, and my answer is always the same: “Take a self drive road trip in Iceland and experience it like us locals do”. It’s the only way to go!

Although having a guide has it’s obvious perks like being hand fed information along the way without having to read, do any research, you won’t have to drive, and the safety of having someone around if god forbid something should happen, self drive tours offer something else instead…

Freedom!

Freedom to relax and take your time during your explorations, freedom to choose which places to see and not to see, and freedom to go “off the beaten path” and explore things that weren’t in your itinerary.

Click here and check out Nordic Green Travel’s selection of self drive road trips in Iceland

Taking a road trip in Iceland is what many, many Icelanders do again and again during holidays and summer vacations. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was a little boy, first with my parents and now with my own little family. I can’t emphasize it enough, self drive road trips are the absolute best way to experience the stunning nature of Iceland!

Road trip in iceland
Me and the family on a little road trip in North Iceland.

But how do you go about planning a road trip in Iceland? Should you plan it yourself or get a local travel agency like Nordic Green Travel to do the planning for you? If so, then which tour should you choose and what should you see and do?

Well it really depends on when you plan on visiting and how long you want to stay for, but a ring road road trip is always a good bet! Iceland’s most classic highlights are located by this famous route so you’ll be able to cross quite a few things of that seemingly endless Iceland bucket list!

In this article I’ll give you all the information to make up the perfect road trip in Iceland.

The world famous Golden circle

This famous tourist route has been popular among locals and visitors alike since the beginning of tourism in Iceland and should always, always, always be a part of your road trip in Iceland!

The name refers to the route from Reykjavík to Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. These three places are without a doubt the most iconic attractions in Iceland! They are not only geological wonders but also have tremendous cultural and historical importance.

Road trip in iceland
Gullfoss waterfall in all its glory. This is with out a doubt the most famous waterfall in Iceland.

In addition to the main “showstoppers” there are other lesser known attractions and places worth stopping at along the Golden circle. These places include the lesser known Faxi waterfall, a semi hidden gem just a small detour away from the famous route. Then you have the Kerið crater, an extremely picturesque volcanic crater, with its vivid color contrasts and pristine lake.

Kerið crater on the Golden circle in Iceland
Kerið volcanic crater has become a popular detour among guests here in Iceland.

If you’re travelling along the Golden circle, a stop at Efstidalur farm for some fresh, locally made ice cream is a must! Unless you are lactose intolerant then… well you might want to opt for the coffee and cake, after all you will be spending the day in the car so unexpected bathroom breaks can be difficult to fit into the schedule.

Last but not least a visit to the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir is highly recommended. There you can get some much needed R&R after a days worth of road tripping. This old pool is as original as they get and offers a great experience.

The South Coast of Iceland

The South coast of Iceland holds many of our most popular attractions and has become quite popular as an “all year” destination. No wonder as this amazing route holds majestic waterfalls, glaciers and glacier lagoons, beautiful black sand beaches, picture perfect canyons, and the famous plane wreck at Sólheimasandur beach. The sheer volume of spectacular places and interesting activities make the South coast the perfect setting for a road trip in Iceland.

skógafoss in Iceland
Skógafoss waterfall on the South coast, one of the most popular attractions in Iceland.

The South coast has it all and everyone can find something to their liking whether it be hiking on an ice cap glacier, sailing between ice bergs on a glacier lagoon, racing across a glacier on a snowmobile, or just plain sightseeing and enjoying the unrivaled nature of Iceland.

Road trip in iceland
I always recommend adding a glacier hike to the itinerary… to all my guests! There is just something about that experience. It’s absolutely nothing and something extraordinary at the same time.

The Majestic Eastfjords

Relax and enjoy driving through the glacier carved fjords of East Iceland. This area is all about taking it slow and take in the mesmerizing surroundings. In the Eastfjords you will find plenty of tiny yet extremely charming fishing villages. Each village has its own DNA but all have one thing in common, they are all surrounded by extreme natural beauty.

Road trip in iceland
Just East of Höfn, the Vestrahorn mountain welcomes you and you’ll see an immediate change in the landscape.

In Djúpivogur you can see the giant eggs in “Happiness bay” and taste delicious Icelandic fish at Hótel Framtíð. The next slice of heaven lies only a short drive away in Breiðdalsvík village. If you enjoy having a drink or two (or three… after all you are on a vacation), I highly recommend stopping for a pint of locally made craft beer at the Beljandi brewery For geology “nerds” a stop at Petra’s Stone Collection in Stöðvarfjörður is a must before moving along to the beautiful, “french” village of Fáskrúðsfjörður. This former trading post was once the main hub for French fishermen and is famous for its French heritage.

Entering North Iceland

Like other regions of Iceland, the North is rich with natural beauty. Which you will quickly find out once you stop at Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfalls. The immense power of the cascading water will put you in awe in an instance. Respect for nature instantly becomes fear… but in a good way… sort of.

Road trip in iceland
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Notice those tiny dots on either side? Well my friend… those are people! Kind of puts the grand scheme of things in perspective huh!?

Lake Mývatn and its surroundings is another fine example of awe-inspiring nature, but in a different way. Here you will find geothermal hot springs, towering volcanic craters, and of course the lake itself which is teaming with wildlife. Oh and if you are into caving, then the Lofthellir cave is something you might want to check out!

Close by you’ll find another extraordinary waterfall, Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods). Trust me, you’ll want to make a stop here and marvel at it for at least a few moments. But don’t linger to long as you’ll want to catch a whale watching tour in Húsavík before retiring to your accommodation. The Skjálfandi bay outside Húsavík is one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales in their natural habitat.

Road trip in iceland
Imagine being so close to these gentle giants! Truly an amazing feeling.

Before heading South to Reykjavík, our nations capital, you have to stop in Akureyri, the biggest town in Iceland outside the capital area. It’s well known for its vibrant cultural life and walking up the church steps is a feat that all visitors should try.

The Wild West of Iceland

As you start to make your way South you’ll drive through the Western region of Iceland. A stop at Mt. Grábrók, a 170 meter high volcanic crater, is always a good idea. Especially on clear days as it offers a spectacular view over the Borgarfjörður area. Close by you’ll find a fresh water pool called Paradísarlaut or paradise grove and of course the waterfall Glanni.

Keep moving and make a hard left towards Reykholt. On your way there you’ll come across the Deildatunguhver hot spring which is the most powerful hot spring in Europe! A little further is one of the prettiest (you’ll see what I mean) waterfalls in Iceland. It’s quite unlike any other waterfall in Iceland. The crystal clear, ice cold spring water seeps from under the lave forming a series of micro waterfalls, stretching over a distance of 900 meters!

Road trip in iceland
Hraunfossar waterfalls might not be the most powerful of waterfalls, but it’s certainly up for an award in the most pretty category!

If you are feeling extra adventurous I recommend going a little further inland and joining a excursion to the man-made ice cave in Langjökull glacier. It’s safe to say it’s a unique experience as it’s the only man-made ice cave in the world… at least to my knowledge.

Want to take a self drive road trip in Iceland? Nordic Green Travel can help! Check out this 8 day self drive road trip. They can also assist you in getting the most out of your travels by creating a custom itinerary that includes iconic highlights as well as off the beaten path attractions. Peruse their various tour options and get in contact with them here.

About the author

Grétar Ingi Erlendsson