An Icelandic Roadtrip Itinerary
I recently took a trip to Iceland with my family and I thought I’d share with you what I think is a great starter itinerary for people visiting Iceland for the first time. This is my second time there, but it was my family’s first. Because of that, I put together something that showcased the island and all of the amazing things it has to offer. I hope this helps you if you’re planning a trip.
NB: We took all of these pictures, so if you’d like to use them anywhere, please ask first 🙂
A lot of travel agencies suggest you spend your entire time in Reykjavik and travel out of the city to do all of the tours. The first time we went to Iceland we did it that way and the second time we spent two days on a farm. I much preferred being out in the middle of nowhere. Reykjavik is very cool, but it’s a city. If you spend your whole time there you can’t get a feel of just how remote and unbelievable Iceland is as a place.
The beauty of Airbnb is that you can stay anywhere now. When I started researching where to stay, I knew we needed to be somewhere on the Golden Circle route. The Golden Circle is a popular ‘beginner’s route’ in Iceland. It covers about 300km and loops in Reykjavik. This makes it popular with coach tours, but more on that later.
We decided to stay 10km from the Geysir Geothermal field in a rustic farm stay Airbnb which I loved. Here’s a drone shot of the farm from above.
This farm is about 2 hours away from Keflavik International Airport. We didn’t arrive there until around 7pm. To see everything the Golden Circle has to offer, you will have to do that 2-hour journey at some point. People who go on coach tours from Reykjavik have to do that every day (which usually consists of a 5am pick up time), so we decided to opt for short term pain for long term gain.
Linda, our Airbnb host, had thought of everything. She was so responsive on the lead up to our stay and kept in communication throughout. You can see she’s passionate about interiors and has a very clear farmhouse aesthetic.
It wasn’t until we woke up in the morning that we truly realised how special the location we were in was. If you’re looking for a place to get off of the grid and relax in, this is your place. Although, they do have WiFi so you don’t have to be that off the grid.
One thing I should mention to people visiting Iceland for the first time; in certain areas, the smell of sulphur is very strong. Sulphur – for those of you who don’t know – smells like rotten eggs. If you stay in Reykjavik, the more advanced plumbing system means that the water is pre-filtered before gets to you. Out on the farm, though, it’s not. That means you are showering and brushing your teeth in it. I’ll be honest, it’s not great. But, I’ll take the shower to wake up to views like this on your doorstep.
We got quite lucky with the weather. It was very windy, but it’s always very windy. If you do choose to drive, you should take some sensible precautions. Because of how windy it is, the weather can change quickly, which is both good and bad. Don’t let that put you off, though. The only way to experience a more remote experience is to drive. Otherwise, you’re in the hands of the coach services taking people in and out of Reykjavik.
My main driving tip would be to use Safetravel. It tells you the roads that are closed, open, icy, snowy etc. Generally, the main roads around the Golden Circle hardly ever close. Icelandic people (unlike in the UK) are prepared for the bad weather and act accordingly.
We did a bit of research into the best car hire place to use. A lot of the big names (Avis etc.) were coming up expensive. We went for Lotus, based on the online reviews, and we were very impressed. There was quite a long wait for it when we arrived, but that tends to be the case with car rental places in general.
Phone signal is surprisingly great in Iceland, unexpectedly so. I mention this because you will need some form of sat nav to get around. Mostly, my phone did work for sat nav, but if you can get a car that has a built in sat nav then I’d do that. There were some patchy areas, but it was no different to the UK countryside.
Itinerary Day One
Geysir Geothermal Field
Being only 10km from Geysir was helpful. It meant we could set out around 9am as opposed to 5am. I know Iceland is an adventure holiday, but waking up at 5am every morning (like we did last time we went), really takes it out of you.
The Geysir goes ‘off’ once every 15 minutes and there’s a big visitor centre there where you can get food/warm up. This is such a unique experience, but get there early otherwise you’ll be sharing that unique experience with coach loads of other people.
Gullfoss is another 10km down the road from Geysir. What was really great about where we were staying is that we went back after the geothermal fields to use the toilet and get some snacks. Although the coach tours are great, you don’t get unlimited time to explore at each location, and I really loved that about this trip. We had no limit and we could work to our own schedule.
This waterfall is unbelievable, both in size and in power and you shouldn’t miss it. This – like the Geysirs – are part of the ‘golden circle’. Much like the Geysirs, there is a visitor centre. The earlier you get here the more chance you’ll get of experiencing it without all the people. The benefit of staying within the Golden Circle is that everyone else has to travel over 2 hours from Reykjavik to get there, so we managed to avoid the crowds.
After these two places, we went to Friðheimar for lunch. When Kim Kardashian and Kayne West went to Iceland they had the tomato restaurant closed so they could walk around it privately. Go there in spite of this information, not because of it. Ha.
We stumbled upon the Kerið crater by accident whilst we were on our way to Selfoss to get some beer (more on that in the food section). That’s the great thing about Iceland, you’re never far away from one of the most magnificent things you’re ever likely to see!
The Kerið crater is a volcanic crater lake. You do have to pay to get in, which I found a bit bizarre – it’s only £2, but still – you’re not really getting ‘in’ to anything. It is, however, privately owned land, so this helps the landowners protect and look after it.
The vivid colours of it make it unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The lake was almost entirely iced over when we went there, too.
Itinerary Day 2
We woke up and left early to get to Selandjafoss – it was about a 2 hour journey from just outside Geysir. You may’ve heard of Selandjafoss as the waterfall you can walk behind — it’s a pretty famous landmark in Iceland. So, like I’ve mentioned before, getting there early is important.
The journey from Geysir to Selandjafoss is unbelievable. James took the picture below on a random road during the trip. So, although it’s 2 hours long, it’s definitely not a boring drive.
I think my time at Selandjafoss was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. Not everybody chooses to do the walk behind the waterfall, but you should take some precautions if you do.
Firstly, there’s a relatively safe route that takes you around half of the waterfall so you’re directly behind it. You can then take that same route back. The other option is a bit more adventurous and involves climbing up some pretty precarious rocks and doing a whole loop around it. We did the rocks and they were very icy. I remember them being that icy when we went before, but I imagine they’re a lot easier if you go in the summer.
Also, it’s worth noting that the wind makes the water feel like little ice daggers whipping against your face, so be careful of that if you do go behind it. Saying this, I never felt unsafe or like I couldn’t do it. It’s more of a warning if you’re not very able on your feet or don’t like that sort of thing.
Þingvellir National Park
Both times I’ve been here I’ve found it to be completely breathtaking. It feels like the edge of the earth, it’s such a long, quiet drive to get there and it’s so high up.
It’s especially cold here, by the way, because it’s so high up. When we got there, I felt so cold I thought to myself ‘how am I going to manage this?’ but you do quickly warm up to your surroundings.
The only advice I can really give you here is just to have a wander. Get lost in how beautiful it is. There’s so much to see.
A cool fact; there’s a little house (I mean, tiny) next to the church. That’s the Prime Minister of Iceland’s summer house. Imagine waking up to that view every day.
I don’t have any pictures of the Blue Lagoon – it’s not exactly easy to take your phone in, and in any case, would you really want your phone in there?
If you tell anybody you’re going to Iceland they ask you if you’re visiting the Blue Lagoon. It’s a huge bucket-list tourist attraction.
That said, it doesn’t feel full in that stuffy standing-in-the-middle-of-Times-Square way that some tourist attractions are.
The first time we visited we went with a coach trip and I felt our time in there was really quite limited. So, if you are going, I’d strongly recommend going without an organised tour.
Also, I’ve been in the day once and in the night once and the night was so amazing. So, if you can go at night I’d really recommend it. It’s quieter, too.
Food and Drink
Let’s get down to the good stuff. I mean, it’s all good, to be fair.
Firstly, if you’re staying out in the sticks you’re going to want to get your food prior to arriving. This isn’t a suggestion, this is a must. The nearest supermarket to our Airbnb was a solid 45-minute drive.
If you’re coming into Keflavik, there are various supermarkets as you drive out.
People whine about food being expensive in Iceland, and yes, it is, but it’s comparable to (if not a little cheaper than) London, so don’t threat too much.
We got our supermarket shop from Kronan. I did a bit of research pre-trip and decided this would be the best option for us. It was described as a ‘budget store’ but lemme tell ya, it gives Waitrose a run for its money. It’s super fancy – at least the airport one is. And if you’ve got a dietary requirement (hi, me) this is the place for you. It sells Biona, FFS.
We spent £70 on a weekend’s shop for 6 people and we were not being frugal. We were throwing things in that trolley from all angles.
The one thing you can’t get from supermarkets is alcohol. In Iceland, they have shops designated to alcohol, much like we have the occasional wine merchants in the UK.
It’s a weird rule, but it’s their country, so dems the rules.
These elusive alcohol shops seem to be scarcely open (particularly at weekends) and we never actually managed to see one with our own eyes.
So you don’t make the same mistake as us, here’s a list of all of the alcohol stores in Reykjavik. If you’re not in Reykjavik then your guess is as good as mine.
The best burger I’ve ever eaten
There are tons of great restaurants in Reykjavik, but if you want something really special, you need to go to The Gastro Truck. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the best burger I’ve ever eaten.
Everyone I was with agreed, too.
The truck is inside Grandi Food Hall and there are plenty of other food options inside the hall.
And this isn’t your standard food hall, either. This is a really cool (Shoreditch type atmosphere) food experience.
Veggie options in Iceland can be few and far between, too, and they had a delicious vegan burger option.
Aside from that, we ate indoors. The weather in February isn’t really outdoorsy weather. You want to stay in, in the evenings and play boardgames. Particularily if you’ve had packed days like we did.
Let me know if you have any questions about Iceland, I’d love to help you out and offer my advice!