Iceland is the country of the elements: water, fire, earth and air and although many people choose to use Reykjavik as a base for day excursions, we knew that we wanted to see beyond the Golden Triangle and really experience the elements the country’s known for.
Well 10 days and 2900km around Iceland definitely did that for us! We went with no specific plan: we rented a car in advance and turned up with a suitcase full of camping equipment, giving us the advantage of making it up as we went along.
If you’re looking for a road trip idea, you’re in the right place (although we wouldn’t necessarily do it exactly the same way in hindsight!). We did a lot more kilometres than the 1332km the Icelandic ring road measures, but whether you follow our itinerary or not, you will more than likely do a least 1500km to see the main sights and do a few detours.
Read on to dicover our exact itinerary. We had so much to say that we had to split the post into 5 parts, so don’t forget to check them all out! Of course the journey starts with part one and our arrival in Iceland…
Flying into Keflavik
Day 1: Keflavik to Hverageròi
- Seltún Geothermal Area
We flew from Paris (where we currently live) to Keflavik in Iceland. Keflavik is about a 45-minute drive south of Reykjavik and it is also where the majority of flights land. There is an airport in Reykjavik but it is mainly for smaller, private airplanes. No need to worry though, you can rent cars at Keflavik or get a shuttle bus into the capital city if you don’t plan on renting a vehicle.
Arriving around 2pm, our first mission was to find freckles’ younger, twin brothers! They arrived from London with just 10 minutes difference so it was perfect timing for us. Meet in the duty free shop we said, and that is exactly what we did.
Why the duty free? Because that is where the cheap booze is! We had done a bit of research before setting off and one of the best pieces of advice we read was to buy alcohol at the airport because it is notoriously expensive in Iceland! However, when we say cheap, what we really mean is the cheapest alcohol in the country, which is still the equivalent of about 1500 ISK for 6 cans of beer. Expensive, huh? So we basically spent 8644 Icelandic Krona on 36 cans of beer. It seems excessive but we did not regret it because it was almost twice the price once we got out of the airport, and let’s face it, we weren’t going to go cold turkey on holiday.
With the beer stop out the way, it was a question of not looking like alcholics transporting it to the car we hired, which was easy to find on the free shuttle bus (if in doubt, it is the yellow bus). A short ride later we got to the rental zone where you can find all of the car companies. We did a lot of research for renting a car in Iceland and ended up going with the same website we always use, www.autoescape.com because it is often the cheapest. This time, we rented the car with Alamo (located at the Enterprise office) and actually got the exact car we had booked – a Volkswagen Passat A. It was much roomier than we had expected and did not regret choosing a model up with 650 litres of boot space. It ended up being our saviour on a road trip with camping equipment.
Time to hit the road!..but not before stopping at the Bónus supermarket just down the road to stock up on some food to accompany our beer. Bónus is the cheapest supermarket in Iceland, but we will write a dedicated article on how to save money in Iceland and grocery shopping at a later date.
Bonus supermarket near Keflavik
With the boring stuff over (just kidding, we love going to foreign supermarkets!) it was time to actually start exploring. Not wanting to head to Reykjavik until the end of the trip, we went south on the 42 for our first taste of rural Iceland. We had done absolutely no research in this area, but quickly stumbled upon Seltún Geothermal Area and got our first smell of sulphur, something we would never really get used to!
If you’re passing by, we would definitely recommend stopping at this geothermal spot because there were hardly any people there compared to other more touristic spots we saw. It was a real find!
Seltún Geothermal Area
Continuing along the coast and admiring the huge waves crashing against the cliffs, we eventually hit the main ring road (road 1) and the town of Hverageròi, where we unsuccessfully tried to buy a gas canister for our small camping stove. With sunset around the corner, we decided that it was a good place to start looking for somewhere to camp. At this point it is probably a good idea to point out that we are wild campers! Far from being a question of avoiding campsite fees, we just really enjoy the satisfaction of finding the perfect spot and camping in the pitch black the wild offers us.
A hiking trail led up into the valley where after about a 45-minute walk, you end up at the Reykjadalur hot spring (in a river!). We didn’t walk all the way before finding somewhere suitable and setting our tents up out of sight. Unfortunately the lack of a gas canister meant that it was the choice of salami sandwiches or salami sandwiches. But who cares when you can see the stars and you’re excited for your first night in Iceland?
Walking to Reykjadalur hot spring
Day 2: Hverageròi to Skaftafell
- Black beaches
Up early, we had a very calm night in the valley and a remarkably comfortable sleep for the first night in the tent. We didn’t even need to discuss the next part of the trip, we were so close to the hot spring river that we just had to carry on with the trail for a quick dip.
Reykjadalur hot spring
Getting up early was a saving grace because we had the entire river to ourselves – far from some of the photos we had seen online! The water was just lovely, even if it did feel quite hot at first. You should know that the water is not as hot further down (the end you arrive at) and we also thought it was cleaner at that end.
Waterfall on the way to Reykjadalur
Walking back down the valley after our little dip, we stopped on the way to take some pictures of the amazing landscape before having a spot of breakfast out of the car boot. On the road again, we managed to buy a gas canister at a petrol station just after Selfoss, then we continued to Seljalandsfoss waterfall, past the infamous Eyjafjakkajökull volcano that erupted a massive ash cloud over the majority of Europe and then to Skógafoss. This is when we realised that we would see a lot of waterfalls in Iceland, but not necessarily get bored of them because they all have their own charm!
By the end of the afternoon we made it to the black beaches near Vik, which we were actually a bit disappointed by if we are honest. Sure, the black sand is pretty cool and there are some spectacular rock formations to see, but beyond that it is mainly tourists trying to dodge the creeping waves.
Black beaches near Vik
Continuing on the road, we decided it was a good time to keep our eyes open for a place to camp for the night but with the majority of the landscape being lava fields, it was not going to be easy. In the end we powered on to Skaftafell, where we once again camped a good way along a hiking trail.
By this point we were really looking forward to a hot meal, but in traditional Frog & Freckles style, disaster struck. The gas canister was slightly too big for our camping stove. It was a question of about 5mm, but there was no way it was going to clamp on. By this point the twins were a bit fed up (they don’t normally camp!) and the cold hotdogs were not exactly lifting spirits. We can only suppose that a glimpse of the Northern Lights around 11:30pm was a gift from the gods! The sky was mainly covered, but some green light creeped through a few holes in the clouds giving us our first and only show.
Camping near Skaftafell
The south of Iceland is packed with things to see, but with its close proximity to Reykjavik, it is expectably busy. We know that a lot of people only really discover this part of the country because it is so accessible, but as soon as you get past Vik, the number of people on the road dwindles and the landscape changes completely, really making it worth continuing on towards the east.
You can read more about the next steps of our road trip using the links below and of course, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.
When did we go?: September 2016
Currency: Icelandic Krona (ISK)
Language: Icelandic, but English widely spoken