Iceland Travel Guide: Driving and Camping the Ring Road - Thyme Is Honey

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The Ultimate 10-Day Roadtrip in Iceland: Complete with itinerary and interactive map

We recently returned from a 10-day trip to Iceland. We started the trip with my mother-in-law, since she was visiting us in Copenhagen and had booked a stopover in Iceland through Icelandair (it’s free to add days in Iceland to your itinerary). So we started the trip by flying 3 hours from Copenhagen to Keflavik, renting a car, and then driving 2 hours north to an Airbnb in the town of Bifröst.

Bifröst is in the lava fields, so the terrain is rather dark and mysterious. Jagged, rocky terrain with aging magma that is now covered in green moss that gets super bright after a rain shower. We prioritized an Airbnb rental that was off the Golden Circle and had an outdoor hot tub. We were super happy with The House in Lava. The outdoor hot tub with great views was definitely worth it!

After the three of us explored western Iceland for 3 days, we drove my mother-in-law back to Keflavik for her departing flight, stopping in Reykavik to rent some camping equipment for the remainder of the trip, during which Josh and I would head south and drive 1700 miles on the Ring Road around the entire coastline of Iceland, including the southern part of the Westfjords.

We brought our own sleeping bags and tent in our carry-ons (it was impressive, lemme tell ya) but decided to rent a cooler, camping pads, chairs, jet-boil, and a small table from  Iceland Camping Equipment Rental in Reykavik. The cost of the rental was about $150 euros for the remaining 7 days.

The itinerary below is what we did, but obviously, if you don’t have someone with a departing flight midway through the trip, you might opt to start with either Western or Southern Iceland and complete the loop from there. Because of COVID, we didn’t really go to any bars or restaurants, but I included some of the ones we discovered in our research and would recommend them if it’s safe when you visit.

Below are some of the highlights of our trip around the Land of Fire and Ice, along with an interactive map that sorts our recommendations by layer. Hope these resources will help you plan your dream trip to Iceland!

Western Iceland

Day One

Arrival in Keflavik. Picking up a rental car. Everyone recommends getting all-wheel drive, and we’re definitely glad we did. Not getting it will limit you to the main roads throughout the country.Driving toward Bifröst. Stopping in Borgarbyggð for groceries and supplies.

Arrival at Airbnb and having some hot tub time!

Day Two
Hraunfossar Waterfall – You can see Hraunfossar and Barnafoss in the same stop.
Barnafoss Waterfall – Translates to “children’s waterfall” after two children who fell over the falls on Christmas Day and were never found.

Glanni Waterfall  – Surrounded by ancient lava fields with a nice viewing platform.

Optional: Krauma Hot Springs! We had appointments here but ended up canceling them because the hot tub at our rental was so good, and we wanted to make the most of it. However, we did stop here just to see the thermal activity, and it looked great.

 
Day Three

Grabrok Volkan  – This is an inactive volcano that you can hike to the top of. There are built-in stairs so it’s relatively easy and the view from the top is spectacular!

Benefoss Waterfall – This was our favorite waterfall we visited in Iceland. It can be a bit hard to find. Coming from the South, you’ll turn left before the A1 gas station. There will be no signage, but you’ll see a dirt driveway that goes toward a Bed & Breakfast called Fagrabrekka. About 100 yards before the house, you can turn left. It feels like a field drive, but follow that until you get to a fence. You can park along the fence line and should be able to see the abandoned A-frame house with a red roof (pictured below). You’ll hike about 300 meters along the water (crawl over the fence where the wooden ladder has been built) and continue following the water until you reach the falls. You can hike further upstream to see two more falls — Ankafoss and Attifoss.

Lunch at Sjávarborg Restaurant in Hvammstangi – Great waterfront restaurant. High ceilings and plenty of cubic space (quite COVID friendly during off-peak hours). Small patio if the weather is nice. Wonderful food!

Optional: The Icelandic Seal Center is below Sjávarborg Restaurant in Hvammstangi. There’s a little museum there, and you can also arrange to do seal tours.

Day four
Departing Bifröst
Driving toward Keflavik for an airport drop-off
Picking up camping equipment from Iceland Camping Equipment Rental in Reykjavik
Continuing south toward Vik, Iceland
Camping at Vik Camping for the night

South Iceland

The southern coast of Iceland is another popular destination, and it can be very busy, especially in the peak season (June-August). It was already getting busy when were there in mid-May. We opted to not spend a ton of time there and instead have an 8-hour driving day to get across it quickly. If you’re fine with crowds, there’s a ton to see! So you might decide to take a couple of days to traverse across southern Iceland. Personally, we were glad to have more time in less-traveled areas.

Day Five
Glacier Lagoon – A small inland lake that flows out to the sea, carrying small chunks of glacial ice with it. Great spot for photos!

Amazing View Point – This was a spot at the top of a mountainous road that gives you an amazing few of the valley below. We stopped there to sit in our camping chairs and enjoy our lunch. There’s a small waterfall, and you can hike around for some great sites.Gorgeous Roadside Waterfall  – You can park along the road here and walk about 3 minutes to find yourself at the top of a gorgeous waterfall. Definitely worth the stop!

Optional: When you stop at Glacier Lagoon you can also follow the water up to the seashore to see the black sand beach known as “Diamond Beach,” where the ice chunks wash ashore. When we went, the beach looked quite busy, so we skipped it.

Replenish groceries in Egilsstaðir, Iceland

Arrival at Nordic Natura Airbnb in Asbyrgi, Iceland. The location was central to a lot of things we wanted to do in central and northern Iceland, and the tap water was honestly incredible. Is it weird if that was a highlight of the trip for me? The Airbnb is located in Iceland’s “cold region,” and as the hosts explained, their tap water comes directly from a well on the property. It was so cold and delicious. I’m still thinking about it.

Northern Iceland

Day Six

See some puffins! They nest along the cliffs of Iceland starting in May and going through September. Although you can book boat trips to islands where you can view the cliffs from the water, there are also spots where you can view them on the mainland. We had great luck seeing them at this spot. If you walked out onto some of the ledges and overhangs, you could get a great view. It was so fun, we went twice!

Fish & Chips Takeaway in Husevik – This is a little spot slinging fish n chips out the back of a building near the fishing port in Husevik. They have some outdoor seating and picnic tables that are great, or you might wanna take it to go.

Æðarfossar Waterfall – This waterfall is down a private road, so it’s a pretty quiet spot. Just follow the road until you get to the waterfront, then look for the pathway down the hillside. There’s a small picnic table and a cave that are nice to picnic in.

Optional: Husevik is featured as Will Ferrel and Rachel McAdams’s hometown in the film “Eurovision Song Contest“. If you’re into this sort of thing, I recommend watching the movie before visiting. It makes walking around Husevik pretty entertaining. You can even visit the JaJa Ding Dong bar, where you can see some memorabilia from the movie, as well as a recreation of the Elf Huts that Rachel McAdams visits in the film. Here’s the movie trailer.

  
Day 7

Dettafoss – The largest waterfall in Europe (by volume). It’s huge but not super scenic (pretty baren), and it was very busy with tour buses. Wouldn’t have been upset if we’d skipped it, but was fun to see since it wasn’t out of our way.

Myvatn Geothermal Area – Josh loved this stop, I hated it. The geysers smell like rotten eggs and I was dry-heaving the entire time.

Lake Myatvn – This area is SO gorgeous! I’m glad we packed a picnic and were able to do a couple of short hikes. Definitely recommend hiking around Hofdi and stopping at this Panoramic Viewpoint.

GeoSea Thermal Baths – These ones are extremely nice and not full of tourists. You need to shower (naked) when you get in/out (don’t skip this, as its a tourist behavior that drives the locals/Europeans crazy). It was amazing, and our skin/hair is still soft from it. It cost about $60 per person, and there’s a swim-up bar. They’ll give you an electronic wristband when you arrive that will give you access to the changing room, steam room, and baths, and you’ll also use it to scan for drinks (then pay your tab before you leave).
Day 8

Driving the northern fjords of Iceland toward the Westfjords

Replenishing groceries and supplies in Siglufjörður, Iceland

Camping at the base of Illviðrishnúkur – My favorite night of the trip! This is a perfect spot for wild camping (not a designated site). Watch for a small drive to the left of the road. There will be a small clearing where you can park. From there, hike 10-15 minutes in any direction uphill for a great view of the Arctic Ocean in front of you and the snowy peaks of Illviðrishnúkur behind you. We had perfect weather and the midnight sun, which meant it was light out nearly all night.

Optional: We camped during this portion of the trip, but if you aren’t camping, consider these options –  I bookmarked Husevik Cabins when we drove through, as they looked great, and also loved the Siglo Hotel in the town of Siglufjörður, Iceland The town is adorable, and the hotel is right on the water with a view of the mountains. If we hadn’t been camping for that portion of the trip, I would definitely have considered either of those options.

 

Westfjords

Day 9
Continuing to drive toward the Westfjords – We stopped in the town of Siglufjordhur to see the rainbow houses (pictured below) and also The Black Church (the oldest church in Iceland).

Arrival at Malarharn Guesthouse in Westfjords

Lunch at Riis Cafe in Hafnarbraut – We stopped here mid-afternoon and had the place to ourselves (so we felt okay amid COVID), and one other patron came in while we were there. I’m sure it’s busier at peak meal times. Great food and drinks, and the owners were wonderful and friendly.

Pottarnir á Drangsnesi – Three geothermal hot tubs along the side of the road with ocean and mountain views. They are free, with a donation encouraged (so bring some money or be prepared to do a mobile transfer). There are small changing rooms where you should shower (naked) before bathing. Most of the folk we saw brought their own beverages. This is a very short and nice walk if you’re staying at Malarhorn Guesthouse.

Staying at Malarharn Guesthouse – We didn’t have a reservation here, so we just took what they had left. It was nothing fancy, and thankfully we didn’t spend much time inside. If I went again, I’d reserve one of their rooms with a water view and enclosed patio. But — the location is great and just a short walk to Pottarnir á Drangsnesi hot tubs. Make sure to eat at the restaurant, Malarkaffi. The fish soup was life-changing — really!

Reykjavik

Day 10

We didn’t really spend any time in Reykjavik, but we drove through before our departure to return our camping equipment and made time to stop for lunch and a quick walk past a few things. Here are some things we loved:

Hlemmur Mathöll (food hall) – We stopped here for a quick lunch before our departing flight. Several food options, and there are picnic tables outside for some COVID-safe dining.

Brauð & Co – Great little bakery near the Hallgrimskirkja church. Grab a pastry to go and walk toward the church to enjoy it.

Hallgrimskirkja (church) – Impressive church in the center of Reykjavik.

Dropping off our rented camping equipment from Iceland Camping Equipment Rental in Reykjavik.

Notes:

  • I’d work with the outfitter via email in advance of your trip if you are specific about what you want/need. We booked the items on their mobile website in the car on our way there, and it wasn’t super easy to navigate. We ended up with full-size camping chairs and a pretty bulky table, which was fine since we weren’t doing any lengthy hiking, but when dropping our stuff off, we saw that they had backpacking chairs and tables and would have likely opted for more compact options.
  • Alcohol is government-regulated in Iceland. This means you can only buy it at specific times from a government-run store called “Vinbudin”. You can find them in nearly every town. They often aren’t open on the weekends and their hours are usually something like 11 AM – 3 PM (but it can vary). You can save a bit of money by stocking up on your favorite beverages in the Duty-Free shop at the airport, just note that they have quantity limits per person (there are signs on the wall that explain this).
  • If you plan to drive, be sure to budget for gas. We happened to go during a time when gas prices were extremely high, and the cost to fill up was around $175-200 each time. Even with a hybrid vehicle and camping a few nights, the cost to drive around Iceland was significant. The electric charging stations didn’t seem to accept foreign credit cards (our Danish ones or our American ones), but we eventually figured out that we had to go to specific charging stations that had a separate payment stand where you could essentially buy credits for charging. Not sure if it’s like this everywhere in Iceland.
  • As I already mentioned, the roads in Iceland can be rough, and I highly recommend opting for all-wheel drive if you plan to drive. Many of the interior roads are gravel, and if you plan to hike or wild camp, you’ll need to navigate some of these. The roads are also prone to closures. Some roads were still closed when we were there in May. We used this website to check roads before planning our routes each day.
  • Food is expensive in Iceland, especially dining out. Bring or rent a cooler, so it’s easy to transport groceries around with you and pack picnics. You’ll also save money if you get used to eating lamb meat — it’s the most affordable option (versus beef and pork, which were quite expensive when we were there).
  • Bring binoculars! We were so glad we had a pair when we stopped to see puffins, but was also great for trying to watch for whales or seals, explore different types of birds, or enjoy the scenery of the lakes, ocean, or mountains.
  • If you will be camping from May to September, you might want to bring an eye mask! It’s light out all night, and it can be hard to fall asleep in a tent. We were there in Mid-May and then sunset around midnight and was back up by 3 AM.
  • Not a bad idea to bring a micro-fiber towel and flip-flips with you. They come in really handy when stopping at natural baths or roadside hot tubs! And for that matter, keep this stuff with you in a little go-bag when you’re doing day trips because you never know when you’ll come across a spot you wanna take a dip!

Iceland Travel Guide: Driving and Camping the Ring Road

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