Iceland has been almost exponentially growing in popularity over the past few years. Thanks to the incredibly successful Inspired by Iceland marketing campaign – (bravo, Iceland’s tourism board) – the Nordic island country seems to have crept on just about every single must-travel list created post-2011… and do you know what? It deserves to be there. As I discovered on a 10-day winter road trip, Iceland is a beautiful, raw and wild country that is absolutely screaming to be explored.
10 days, 2,000km, 8 hotels
With an area of 100,000 km² and a population of just 350,000, road tripping is by far the easiest way to get around Iceland and see all the things you went to see. You can do it by coach tour… but
fuck that. There’s nothing I hate more than living on someone else’s watch and being grouped with a bunch of self-proclaimed ‘adventurers’. So, we chose the slightly less expensive self-drive option, rented a car and headed out onto the famous Ring Road.
Usually inundated with travellers in the summer months, we ventured to Iceland in the winter to see it in all its frozen magnificence. And it was, indeed, frozen. And it was, indeed, magnificent. We got lost on winding mountain roads and stopped to feed Icelandic horses big, fat apples, we stayed in little wooden chalets and stood mesmerised at the Northern Lights, we almost froze our limbs off checking out frozen waterfalls and got up close and personal with giant icy-blue glaciers.
Here’s how we did it.
REYKJAVIK – SELFOSS
Pick up the car on arrival to Keflavik Intl. Airport and drive to Selfoss. You’ll absolutely need a 4×4 in the winter and be prepared to spend more on car insurance than the rental itself.
SELFOSS – VIK
Depart early and head to the famous abandoned plane wreck (here’s how to find it), before wandering on Reynisfjara beach. Spend the night in Vik for a decent dinner and a sleep – there really isn’t much else to do here.
VIK – HOFN
Beautiful stop at the Hoffellsjökull glacier, where you can pay a million euros (*€150) to go ice caving and glacier walking for a couple of hours. We trekked to the glacier ourselves and flew the drone over the top. Rounded off with an awesome bowl of goulash at the mountain centre before driving to Hofn for a windy stay near the sea.
HOFN – SEYDISFJORDUR
With the guesthouse already deserted by 0800, we had an indulgent beautiful morning watching the sunrise at 10 am over the mountains and marshlands, then set off for a day of the most scenic driving on the whole trip. We had an hour to spare before the supermarket closed at 1700, and with it already pitch black, we cooked ourselves food in the – also, very empty – hostel and binge-watched Game of Thrones. (omgggg 2 months 2 months)
DAY 5 + 6
SEYDISFJORDU – AKUREYRI
Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland… aaand it has a population of 18,000. We stopped here for Christmas, and although yes, it was a beautiful place and we had a very white Christmas, there was nothing to do in the holidays. Everything was closed. When it’s not closed… you can go whale watching and skiing and hiking. Which all sound very fun. But, for the two main days of Christmas, it was wandering around in the snow and drinking expensive wine out of the mini-bar.
AKUREYRI – HVAMMASTANGI
Our first and only spot of the Northern Lights was camped out in the middle of nowhere in the Hvammastangi Cottages. Super basic wooden structures with little more than a bed, a sofa and a small washroom inside, it was the perfect, cosy little stop to take in the beauty of the Aurora.
HVAMMASTANGI – GRUNDARFJORDUR
First taking a little drive around the Vatsnes Peninsula, we ended the day at Kirkjufell Mountain in Grundarfjordu. As with most Icelandic towns, the town itself is very quiet and a little lacklustre in the winter months. We did at least find a great pizza place (Laki Cafe) and our hotel had a sauna, so… that was a plus.
GRUNDARFJORDU – REYKJAVIK
Pulling up at our final destination on our 10-day Ring Road adventure, we roamed shivered around Reykjavik, visiting a couple of museums, shops and restaurants. We took some nice photos and sidled on back to our hotel to look forward to basking in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon the next morning…
The number one tourist attraction in Iceland, which we had planned into our schedule. We happily arrived there early in the morning and queued for half an hour to be told it was full and that pre-booking is very necessary. WHAAAAT. The absolute fail. Awful. We couldn’t go in! What was supposed to be the cherry on the cake of our road trip! Curse this life. We ended up having a nice drive around the Golden Circle instead. But stiiiiiilllll. I am still bitterly disappointed about that one.
- Roads are dangerous and slippery. People are not exaggerating. Be careful.
- Your mobile data will work if you’re from the EU, so use Google Maps. If you don’t have a phone with data 1. Sucks to be you. 2. Rent a SatNav system from your car rental company
- EVERYTHING IS DANGEROUS! The waves literally sweep tourists off the beach. Glaciers are erupting at every corner. Follow local advice and tourist information. Iceland is not the country to go roaming on your own to find the most off-the-beaten-track place and awesome insta-shot
- IT’S FREEZING. Wear lots of warm things
- If you’re travelling around Christmas, stock up on food for the journey. Instant noodles, fruit, cakes, EGGS!, chips, cereal bars… You never know when you may be hungry and stranded in the middle of nowhere… as we were. Too often.
- €1000 CAR*
- €280 FLIGHTS
- €100 P/N ACCOM*
- €300 ORGANISED FUN
- €50 P/D EXPENSES
- €350 GAS*
For two people, this exact trip cost around €2000 each – a low/middle-of-the-road price for Iceland… You can, of course, do it a hell of a lot more expensive (Iceland is home to some seriously luscious luxury stays), and you can also do it a bit cheaper. If you’re with more than two people, where you can probably take €500 off the total p/p price. We opted to stay in guesthouses and B&Bs, but you can also bring costs down with staying in hostels.
I found Iceland totally worth the cost. Generally, it’s great to book things piece by piece, so you don’t really feel that it’s a more expensive trip than usual. Especially with the car and the flights – which, admittedly, we booked way too late. We could have saved another €100 if we had booked a month earlier, but hey. I didn’t have this blog to read.