Following up on my last entry, here are the specifics of our Iceland ring road trip. The map below shows how far we drove and where we stayed each night. I alternated the colors of the drive for each day, and included some of the more significant detours.
"The first thing to consider is whether the ring road is what you want to do."
Don’t take this map to mean that I suggest you follow this schedule, or that I consider it optimal. We arrived in Iceland with a very different idea of how our ring road drive was going to go, but quickly allowed weather and other factors to change our route direction and schedule. Our Yellow Van with Clouds
"We did the loop in 8 nights and I wouldn't recommend doing it in any less time."
Ring Road or Not
The first thing to consider is whether the ring road is what you want to do. Don’t let the fact that it’s an “island” fool you - Iceland is vast and full of wonderful areas, each of which you could spend days or weeks exploring. The wonderful drive around the ring road does take you close to many of the famous landmarks, with some others just a small detour away, and proved to be a great way to get a small taste of many things. We did the loop in 8 nights and I wouldn’t recommend doing it in any less time; it would be possible but in my opinion would feel rushed and you would miss out on too much. I wish we had allowed for twice as much time, but even a few more nights would have been welcome. As long as you don’t expect to take big detours off the ring road, and the weather cooperates, 8 nights should work. For a shorter vacation, I would recommend more specific destinations, such as a couple of nights in the Snæfellsnes peninsula and/or 2-3 nights along the southern shore between Reykjiavík and Jökulsárlón.
Our Ring Road Trip, Day to Day
Highlights: Búðakirkja church, beaches and rock formations around Snæfellsjökull, Kirkjufell (too crowded midday, decided to come back for sunrise the next day).
Campsite 1: Ólafsvík campsite, just east of the town, which had lots of room for our van and newer clean facilities.
Highlights: Kirkjufell at sunrise, coffee in the picturesque town of Stykkishólmur, a detour to the Barnafossar and Hraunfossar waterfalls, another detour to Hvitserkur, and the town of Akureyri (ok, so we pretty much didn’t see it as it was buried in fog). This was our long driving day, as we drove through not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 intense fog clouds, some of which lasted for over an hour and slowed us down significantly.
Campsite 2: Fossholl Ehf campsite, walking distance to Góðafoss! We arrived late and tired, and we missed the campsite on the first drive through, as it is located behind the gas station and the guesthouse.
Highlights: A great hike in the Mývatn area that included the Grjótagjá cave and Hverfjall crater, the Dimmuborgir lava rock formations, and a relaxing swim at the Mývatn Nature Baths.
Campsite 3: Vogahraun guesthouse on Lake Mývatn. Campsite with a pizzeria on site (that has beer!) after a couple of days of dehydrated meals: Priceless.
Campsite 4: We were going to stay at the Stöðvarfjörður campsite, but the lack of hot water and small facilities made up push up to Fáskrúðsfjörður. We were glad we did! It is a great campsite nestled at the end of the fjord with wonderful private showers and beautiful scenic surroundings.
Highlights: Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón, picking up a hitchhiker.
Campsite 5: Skaftafell camping is huge, but that does not mean better. We experienced significant wait for bathrooms, not all of which had hot water. But location is great, especially the easy hike to Svartifoss, which we did first thing next morning.
Campsite 6: The campsite at Vik was big and crowded. The facilities felt older and we had to stand in line for showers, which were double stalls (no privacy). There was no hot water, as it had run out.
Campsite 7: The small campsite at Kaffi Langbrók had a nice bar with a friendly host as well as basic facilities. There was only one shower (inside what seemed to be labeled as the women’s bathroom, but was naturally being used by both). The shower was not draining properly and water accumulated several inches. It was a nice place otherwise and seemed frequented more by Icelanders than tourists.
Highlights: Gluggafoss, Hjálparfoss, Stöng Viking longhouse runis, Þjóðveldisbærinn (a recreation of Stöng), Haifoss, and Geysir.
Campsite 8: Skjòl Campground is a newer facility and large campground with very convenient access to Gullfoss and Geysir.
Highlights: Gullfoss at sunrise, then back to return our Snail! We spent the afternoon in Reykjavík and night #9 at the guest house owned by the Snail company. Be sure to check out the Harpa concert hall and Hallgímskirkja church!
And that's basically it! We saw so much, and yet missed so much more! Aldeyjarfoss was very high on my list, but we had to make a call to skip it for schedule reasons. Same for the town of Seydisfjordur. Other big parts of the island, such as the West Fjords or the harder to reach inland areas, are bigger commitment destinations and I am sure are worth visiting as trip destinations all by themselves. I hope these blog entries will help those of you planning an Iceland visit. There are many wonderful sources of information, yet Iceland can still seem like a little bit of a mystery until you experience it for yourself. Please feel free to leave comments, reach out to me with questions, and help me share this blog with anyone who may find it helpful. I would also love to hear some of your favorite places and any recommendations you have for my next trip! Also, check out my images from the trip (as well as our additional Iceland trips) in the gallery below, and let me know if you need help with a custom print:
Iceland Photo Gallery