I am sure that if you are reading this it is because one of your big dreams as a traveler is to go to Iceland. Whether to see the northern lights or to enjoy the most wonderful landscapes you’ve ever seen, Iceland is a country that will leave you with your mouth open and your heart beating.
As we discussed in another post, there is no better way to travel around Iceland than with a campervan with a built-in bed and kitchen. It allows you to go at your own pace and improvise on the fly. If you do not like a place (rare in Iceland with such wonderful landscapes), you keep going. And if you like it too much to leave, you stay as long as you want. In a country where everything is very expensive, there is nothing better than to go with your own bed and with the possibility of preparing your own meals. This is our itinerary through the beautiful Iceland, in our campervan.
- 1 DAY 1: REYKJAVIK, A SMALL AND BEAUTIFUL CAPITAL
- 2 DAY 2: THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
- 3 DAY 3: GEYSIR AND GULLFOSS
- 4 DAY 4: SELJALANDSFOSS AND SKOGAFOSS
- 5 DAY 5: VIK AND THE ROAD TO SKAFTAFELL
- 6 DAY 6: SKAFTAFELL, GLACIERS, THE LAGOON AND THE WAY TO HÖFN
- 7 DAY 7: EGILLSTADIR AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
- 8 DAY 8: TO LAKE MYVATN
- 9 DAY 9: LAKE MYVATN TO AKUREYRI
- 10 DAY 10: VATNSES PENINSULA
- 11 DAYS 11 AND12: SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA
- 12 DAY 13: THE DAY WE ALMOST DIED
- 13 FINAL DAYS IN ICELAND AND CONCLUSION
DAY 1: REYKJAVIK, A SMALL AND BEAUTIFUL CAPITAL
The Icelandic capital is a very cosmopolitan and young city, full of street art and very pleasant to explore on foot. It is considered one of the cleanest, greenest and safest cities in the world. Its small urban center with houses of sheet metal and wood of different colors is a beautiful postcard of Islandic architecture. It is very easy to walk on foot.
WHAT TO SEE IN REYKJAVIC. A PHOTO GALLERY.
WHERE TO STAY IN REYKJAVIK
Our first night was spent in Camping Reykjavik, the most important camping in the city and most frequented by those travelers who prefer the cheapest and accessible lodgings in a country where you will not find something cheap around every corner.
The website of the campsite is http://www.reykjavikcampsite.is/. It offers the possibility of renting private cabins, in addition to the service for tents and motorhomes. The Wifi is free, it has a kitchen and showers.
DAY 2: THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
This park of extreme historical importance for the country (here the first parliament was celebrated and it operated for more than 800 years, and in 1944 the independence of Iceland was declared) is a first approach to the enormous geographical and natural beauty of the country. It is easily accessible from Reykjavik in little more than half an hour on Route 36, a route that is fully paved and in good condition (although you must always be attentive for some small bump).
In the park, there are five parking lots. The ideal thing is to leave the car in the parking lot near the waterfall and from there walk through the park to the top of the mountain from where you get a 360-degree view of the entire region.
For the more adventurous, the park can also be visited in the afternoon/evening, when it is said that the area is full of ghosts of those people who were executed in the park when the Icelandic law allowed the death penalty. Many people drowned there in the river that runs through Thingvellir. Many others lost their heads with a badly sharpened ax. Only suitable for the brave.
WHAT TO SEE IN THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK IN PHOTOGRAPHS
WHERE TO STAY IN THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
The Skjol Camping is the ideal place to tour the region as it serves as the ideal base for the surroundings of the park. The price is relatively accessible and offers the possibility of staying in the hostel they have, in addition to the service for tents and motorhomes. Free Wi-Fi, bar/restaurant and showers for free. The website is http://www.skjolcamping.com/.
For more information about the Thingvellir National Park, be sure to read our article: Thingvellir National Park.
DAY 3: GEYSIR AND GULLFOSS
GEYSIR, AMONG THERMAL WATERS AND EXPLOSIONS
We conclude the trip around the golden circle of Iceland, a classic deviation of Route 1. Geysir is a geothermal park. Unfortunately, the Great Geiser, which could throw water more than 120 meters high, and is considered the father of all the geysers in the world, is practically asleep and rarely erupts. This is mainly due to tourist irresponsibility. People threw stones, soap, and chemicals into the geyser to try to accelerate its eruptions, which caused them to stop going into action. Currently, the “attraction” of the place is also the wonderful geyser Strokkur, which can throw water up to 2o meters high and erupts every five minutes.
It is because of this park that all the geysers in the rest of the world take that name. It is an ideal place to take the children since they will be surprised with every explosion of water. Of course, you need to be extremely careful as the waters boil and, although everything is fenced, we must walk with extreme caution.
GULLFOSS, A TONGUE OF WATER
It is incredible to think that the Gullfoss waterfall was about to be sold to foreign investors to be used for the generation of hydraulic power. Luckily that sale did not prosper and the magnificent waterfall is protected and part of the National Heritage of Iceland.
This enormous waterfall, of great flow, belongs to the river Hvitá (white), which is fed by the Langjökull, the second largest glacier in the country. The water falls 32 meters in two different stages inside a canyon whose walls reach 70 meters in height. We were lucky enough to visit Gullfoss during a beautiful sunny day and enjoy the amazing rainbow show.
WHERE TO STAY IN GULLFOSS
Gesthús Selfoss (https://www.gesthus.is/) offers the possibility of staying in cabins with shared Jacuzzi, in addition to the service for tents and motorhomes. It has free Wi-Fi, kitchen, and showers for free use. It is one of the cheapest options in the place.
DAY 4: SELJALANDSFOSS AND SKOGAFOSS
The first stop on the day was the waterfall of Seljalandsfoss, already on Route 1. This famous waterfall of 60 meters high has a particularity that makes it unique: it can be seen from all possible angles, including its back angle. Of course, you have to be prepared to get wet from head to toe so it is advisable to bring rain gear or at least a change of clothes to change later. But the feeling of being behind the waterfall makes that shower worthwhile.
Further on, on Route 1, is another of Iceland’s wonderful waterfalls: Skogafoss, 25 meters wide and 60 meters high. It is difficult to approach without soaking and it sounds almost impossible to go behind to find the treasure hidden by Þrasi Þórólfsson, the first Viking settled in the region.
DAY 5: VIK AND THE ROAD TO SKAFTAFELL
Vik is a small town (291 inhabitants) at the southernmost tip of Iceland. However, despite its few inhabitants, it is the most populated place in 70 kilometers around, which suggests how uninhabited the island is. Vik is known for its striking black sand beach and the three large rock formations that emerge from the sea and, according to legend, are three trolls that after trying to drag a boat to the sea, were exposed to the sun’s rays and turned into stone.
It is one of the most dangerous beaches in Iceland, if not the most, so you have to be extremely careful even on the shore, as the waves are unpredictable and can drag you inwards. At the top of the village, on a hill, is the church of Vik, which would be the only surviving building in case the Kotla volcano, inactive since 1918, erupted and melted the ice of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which is located just north of Vik, which would cause a disastrous flood.
WHERE TO STAY IN VIK
PUFFIN HOTEL VIK: (http://www.puffinhotelvik.is/) Vik’s campsite was under reconstruction. You could sleep there but to travel with a child sometimes involves having to look for a certain standard of comfort out of respect for the little traveler. So we decided this time to enjoy a nice stay at this hotel in the picturesque village of Vik, 200 meters from the famous black beach. The rooms are very comfortable and they serve an excellent breakfast included in the price.
DAY 6: SKAFTAFELL, GLACIERS, THE LAGOON AND THE WAY TO HÖFN
The first thing you can enjoy is a walk through the Skaftafell Park to reach the Svartifoss waterfall, one of the most beautiful in Iceland. From the information center to the waterfall it can take about 25 minutes, and the views along the way are impressive. The beginning is a fairly steep road so you have to be patient to climb with children, but you can, and it’s worth it.
Then you can choose a long trekking through the park or a wonderful day through the Iceland of ice. The glaciers here are impressive and can be seen from up close, even walking over them if a hike is hired. From the road from Skaftafell to Höfn, it is worthwhile to deviate from Route 1 and take a 2-kilometer gravel road, despite its terrible condition, full of potholes and loose stones, to reach the tongue of one of the most beautiful glaciers in the park: the Svinafelljokull.
Following the road along Route 1, you will reach one of the most sadly beautiful places in the country: the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. “Sadly” as the huge icebergs and small blocks of ice that float in the lagoon were part of the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, a branch of Vatnajökull, which year after year shrinks more and more product of global warming. Even so, it is impossible not to be amazed by this landscape. There are several parking lots along the lagoon. The best thing to do is to stop in each one since you get very different perspectives. And you have to dedicate a good time to this place to really appreciate it and discover every angle and be able to spot the seals and birds that live there.
WHERE TO STAY IN HÖFN
HÓFN HOTEL (http://www.hotelhofn.is): we were invited to stay at this hotel and it was a very nice experience. It is an expensive hotel so it is not recommended for the traveler who is going backpacking, but after all, everything is expensive in Iceland so unless you sleep in campsites all the time, the Hofn Hotel is a very good choice with a very high-quality standard.
DAY 7: EGILLSTADIR AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
The road from Höfn to Egillstadir is one of the most impressive in Iceland, especially if instead of continuing along the coast, you take the shortcut through Route 939 that climbs a hilly gravel road. Even more impressive is when that road is invaded by a strong fog and you can not see more than two meters away from you. But it is part of the Icelandic adventure. The other option then is to follow Route 1 on its journey through the eastern fjords, just as shocking.
Egilsstadir is a small town on the shore of Lake Lagarfljót, which is said to be inhabited by a sea monster, the Lagarfljótsormur. In the surroundings is the largest forest in Iceland that, compared to other European forests, is very small; but we must bear in mind that in Iceland there are practically no trees since the reforestation process began a few years ago. Another point of interest in the surroundings of the lake is the house-museum of Gunnar Gunnarsson, the most famous writer in Iceland.
Egilsstadir is a great middle point between the south and the north of the island.
DAY 8: TO LAKE MYVATN
The route between Egilsstadir and Lake Myvatn, one of the most beautiful places in the country, requires a full day since the road invites us to stop very often due to its innumerable beauties that pass: from waterfalls, bridges, rivers, lakes, mountains and other natural wonders. It is an ideal route to bet on Slow Travel (take a break and read our article about Slow Travel here: Slow Travel, the art of taking it easy). Read it and I’ll wait for you …
Here there is no other itinerary than the one you want to build. But these are some of the things that are enjoyed along the way, and that is why we recommend dedicating an entire day to this beautiful route.
It is located in a region of intense volcanic activity and is the fourth largest lake in Iceland. Its thermal baths have nothing to envy the exploited Blue Lagoon, and I can say it is even better and without the mass of people. It is also an ideal place to enjoy the northern lights. Its name means “Lake of the flies” because of the immense amount of flies that show up during part of the year, which, despite not stinging, are quite annoying.
WHAT TO DO AROUND LAKE MYVATN
The region offers endless opportunities to discover the strangest natural places in Iceland.
Black Castles of Dimmuborgir
The black castles of Dimmuborgir are natural formations of black lava that solidified at different heights. There are many hiking trails to do in the park, of different difficulties and extensions. Being very well marked, the best thing to do is to let yourself be carried away by the views of those strange lava mountains that look like they are coming from another planet. Admission is free and being the northern part of Iceland, the presence of tourism is very scarce so you can enjoy a wonderful solitude surrounded by the strangest nature.
The pseudocraters of Skutustadir
It is a very strange landscape. We are before dozens of hills of solidified lava – due to its contact with the lake – covered with grass, and a path that descends and climbs around them. They are of all sizes and depths. The wind was so strong that we could hardly breathe, but it is another of those places in Iceland that leave you breathless in every way.
The geothermal zone of Hverir
No, we are not on Mars. We are in an area of intense geothermal activity, where the smell of sulfur permeates our noses and the smoke moistens our eyes. If you walk with extreme caution – the waters reach 100 degrees C – you can enjoy a time walking on what looks like another planet. You can ascend to Mount Námafjall, 482 meters high, to appreciate the view of the entire region and even Lake Myvatn.
WHERE TO STAY IN MYVATN
Undoubtedly the most beautiful place to enjoy a couple of days of relaxation and Slow Travel is the Dimmuborgir Guest House, on the shores of the lake, with complete first category cabins, with bathroom and kitchen and wonderful views. At night it began to snow so we woke up in the morning with everything covered in white and the lake at our feet. A delight
DAY 9: LAKE MYVATN TO AKUREYRI
There are many options to travel from the lake, such as the not so well known circular diamond route (Diamond Circle), the little sister of the golden route of the south but without the mass of tourists and wonders of the same level. But unfortunately, the snowstorms of that week had blocked the routes.
On the way to Akureyri, Route 1 gives us one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island and one of the least visited as it is only for those who make the full circle: the Godafoss waterfall. The environment of the waterfall is what makes it so wonderful because it is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. And the possibility of approaching the edge of the rocks and looking down and feel the chill of being on the verge of a mortal fall makes even the bravest tremble. But it’s worth it. Of course, very carefully. It is always better to avoid danger.
The route that takes us to Akureyri gives us a world of diverse landscapes of which one never ends up being surprised despite having been on the island for almost ten days. Mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, snowy landscapes, stretches of dry land, fields created by lava over the centuries … and the changing climate accompanies this mystical round trip of moving pictures so typical of Iceland.
After just over an hour we arrived at one of the most picturesque cities in Iceland: Akureyri. It is located at the base of the Eyjafjörður fjord and on the seashore, which gives it a spectacular setting. Its houses are colorful and it has a lot of bars and restaurants (not suitable for the sensitive pocket).
And just a few minutes away from the city, where it’s worth staying a while, you’ll find a very particular place in Iceland: Láufas and its typical Icelandic houses from several years ago. They are currently owned by the Akureyri museum and their visit is very interesting. The road from Akureyri to there is impressive and in itself, it is worth the ride. All the furniture and utensils inside the houses are original of the 19th century and you can appreciate how they lived then, beyond that these houses, in particular, are a little bigger than the typical ones of the time.
DAY 10: VATNSES PENINSULA
We were told that the north of Iceland is what the south was 25 years ago: wonderful nature without the mass of tourists bouncing their flashes with no objective other than being able to say “I was there”. And they were not wrong. In the circular route to the beautiful Vatnses Peninsula, you can barely cross cars and the unique sensation of Icelandic solitude is felt in every bend as the landscape walks through mountains, seas, lakes, asphalted sections and loose stone stretches.
Among the highlights of this region is the famous rock formation of Hvítserkur, which in Icelandic means “white shirt” because of the color provided by the guano of the hundred birds that live there. It looks like a dragon drinking water. The environment of the place is wonderful. Of course, you have to carefully go down to the beach since the path with loose stones is extremely slippery. They say it is an ideal place to enjoy the northern lights since there is no artificial light for miles around.
Along the way, you can stop at sites marked as “seal sighting sites”. With a bit of lu, k you can enjoy these animals in their natural state.
DAYS 11 AND12: SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA
The road between the Vatnses peninsula and the Snaefellsnes peninsula is one of the most beautiful in all of Iceland. The landscapes are unique and make you want to stop at every part of the route. Unfortunately there are not as many stops as one would like but enjoying the road behind the wheel in this particular route makes the driving time go by quickly.
Landscape-wise the peninsula is a beauty. It is worth to deviate from the main route and take, very carefully and slowly, the gravel roads, despite the potholes, to enjoy the most beautiful landscapes of the region within the Snaefellsness National Park, which surrounds its famous glacier .
And undoubtedly the most iconic place on the peninsula is Mount Kirkjufell and the opposite waterfalls. Depending on where you look, the mountain acquires one form or another. It stands out from the rest because it is alone, separated from the mountain range, and surrounded by water.
DAY 13: THE DAY WE ALMOST DIED
I am not going to go into many details in this article about this day because I prefer that you read it here: THE DAY I WAS BLOW AWAY BY ICELAND. So click on the link there, on that title, and I’ll wait for you.
FINAL DAYS IN ICELAND AND CONCLUSION
The last day is the most melancholic. You return to Reykjavik and the circle closes. But what remains within that circle is a series of memories of a wonderfully unexpected country. You already know before traveling there that Iceland is a country of landscapes, of mountains and glaciers, of waterfalls and volcanoes. But like any destination, the sensations are non-transferable. You can read in blogs and magazines about what to expect visually from each site. But nobody can tell us about what to expect emotionally.
I am encouraged to say that no one who has visited Iceland left the country as he entered. Something changes inside you after being on that island. I do not know if it is the mystical energy, or the goblins, or the sound of water and wind, or the desolation of certain landscapes. I do not know what makes Iceland such a magical and special place. Actually I know, but I find it difficult to describe it and I have trouble choosing it.
It is one of the few countries that are enjoyed on the same level on foot as behind the wheel, because in Iceland the destination is beautiful, but the road is unique. It is enjoying a snowy road and lowering your head for a while to raise it before a green and yellow landscape. It is fighting against the wind and the rain to discover the immense rainbow on the other side. It is walking hours and hours without crossing with any other person. It is going to sleep with the light of day and never knowing the night. It’s traveling to prehistoric times and imagining dinosaurs walking those trails.
Iceland is strange, but magically strange, and neither the cold, nor the wind, nor the rain, can stop you at the time of enjoying it.
If you are traveling with children, be sure to read this article: 7 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO ICELAND WITH CHILDREN.
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