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 and experience Iceland like us locals do”. Although having a guide has it’s obvious perks like being hand fed information along the way without having to read or do 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 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 “grid” 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 road trips is what many, many Icelanders do again and again during holidays and summer vacations. That’s what I have been doing since I was a little boy, first with my parents and now with my own little rascals. I can’t emphasize it enough, self drive road trips are the absolute best way to experience the stunning nature of Iceland!
But which tour to choose and what should you see?
Well it really depends on when you plan on visiting and how long you want to stay for, but a road trip around the ring road is always a good bet! Iceland’s classic highlights are located by this famous route so you’ll be able to cross quite a few things of that bucket list that for some reason is getting longer and longer by each passing year.
In this article I’ll list up the perfect road trip to Iceland’s classic highlights.
The world famous Golden circle
This famous tourist route has been popular among locals and visitors alike since the beginning of tourism in Iceland (to dramatic?). 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.
In addition to these “giants” there are other lesser known attractions and places worth stopping at all along the Golden circle. These places include the lesser known Faxi waterfall, a semi hidden gem just a small detour off the famous route. Then you have the Kerið crater, an extremely picturesque volcanic crater, with its vivid color contrasts and pristine lake.
If you ever find yourself 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 than 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 self drive road trips 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.