Iceland in just 7 days…we must be CRAZY!!! Actually, we’re not and we can assure you that we accomplished our goal of exploring the Land of Fire and Ice in seven amazing days (and nights!) during our recent EPIC Iceland road trip. I am not going to kid you and say that Iceland should be experienced in only a week because the reality is, you could easily spend much longer exploring this gorgeous country.
However, we are not all fortunate enough to live the nomadic lifestyle where we can take our time exploring a country slowly. Instead, we want to share our experiences and the itinerary that we followed in order to see a plethora of amazing natural attractions, enjoy a number of wildlife encounters and much more during seven hectic but incredibly enjoyable days.
Iceland Road Trip – Epic or Crazy?
Ok, let’s take a step back and take a moment to look at our thought process prior to visiting Iceland. We have been fortunate to visit Iceland previously, so we at least had an idea of what to expect on our return trip. However, the caveat to this is that we visited in completely different seasons.
The reality is, if you are visiting in summer as we did on our recent trip, it is 100% polar opposite to visiting in the depths of winter. Both seasons are gorgeous and we would encourage everyone to visit Iceland during both times of the year.
Back to our goal…we wanted to see EVERYTHING! Realistic right? Maybe not but when we set our mind to achieving our goals, we do everything possible to achieve them. We had a plan in our mind to drive the ring road in our rental car and then spend some time along this route exploring many of the iconic attractions while also stumbling across some spontaneous, hidden gems as we always do.
Iceland may appear to be a relatively small country but when you start looking at the numbers, it is still pretty sizable, particularly if you are looking at an ambitious road trip in just one week. Throw into the mix one solitary ring road that is partially gravel in certain spots and well, it makes this an experience that neither of us has encountered before.
Armed with our camping gear that we had purchased for this trip, we were ready to explore Iceland! Let’s see how this journey went.
Day 1 – Keflavik to Golden Circle
The Journey Begins…
7 Days…1625 miles (2616 km)…countless waterfalls…whale and puffin encounters…and much, much more!! That pretty much summarizes exactly how our Iceland road trip went but I am sure you want a little more detail.
It all started when we landed at Keflavik International Airport following a pleasant flight over from Toronto courtesy of Air Canada and we headed to the car rental desk in search of our vehicle for the next week. We quickly realized we were not the only ones with this idea. The first word of caution, be prepared to wait A LONG TIME when you rent a car from Avis during July!
A little over an hour in line, we eventually picked up our rental car keys and headed outside (not before visiting the very American Dunkin Donuts but with an Icelandic twist!) to find our Hyundai I20. We had two pretty large bags with us, one with all our camping gear and the other with our clothes and other essential items…we were ready for our adventure to begin!
Our first stop was the capital, Reykjavik. We spent a couple of hours here walking around downtown after parking on the seafront. I mentioned that we had previously visited here but with very little daylight in winter, it was difficult to get many pictures. We wanted to capture some better shots on this visit, so we started at the gorgeous architectural masterpiece, the Harpa. This concert hall is one of Reykjavik’s iconic landmarks.
We headed into the heart of downtown Reykjavik and experienced watching some locals enjoy a water slide that was set up on the Laugavegur. We walked up the main street visiting some of the local souvenir shops before heading to another of Reykjavik’s distinguished landmarks, the Hallgrímskirkja (the church on top of the hill!).
Our first visit to the Bonus supermarket chain (low-cost option for buying groceries) saw us buy enough food for the day along with some snacks for the rest of the week.
The plan was to spend our first night somewhere along the infamous Golden Circle route. Having experienced the Golden Circle with Time Tours Iceland during our previous visit, we had an idea of where the “must-see” landmarks were but we added a couple of spots during our self-guided tour.
- Kerið is a volcanic crater that you can hike around and climb down to the edge of the lake to enjoy the gorgeous landscapes. It’s no surprise to hear that this is one of the most-photographed features around the Golden Circle.
- Faxi is an underrated waterfall as it frequently lies in the shadow of the popular Gullfoss waterfall that everyone refers to on the Golden Circle.
- The Geysir geothermal area is a popular spot among visitors, particularly with the Strokkur geyser frequently erupting every 7-12 minutes.
- Gullfoss is perhaps Iceland’s most famous landmark and understandably so, as this waterfall is a stunning spectacle from a variety of overlooks.
- Thingvellir National Park is home to a number of spectacular landscapes and we also stumbled across another incredible waterfall, Oxarafoss.
Day 1 Route
Our first day saw us drive 238 km (148 miles) before we arrived at Thingvellir National Park where we stayed the first night.
Below is a map of the route that we took on our first day in Iceland.
Where Did We Stay
Thingvellir National Park Campground – We had a ‘mixed’ experience here on our first night! After paying the equivalent of $25 for the two of us, we headed to an area by the lake and found a secluded spot that was sheltered and an ideal location to pitch out tent. When you think about ‘idyllic’ camping locations (can you even have those when you are sleeping under canvas?), this really was the epitome of perfection!
Unfortunately, the view from outside was a little different to our experience inside as we underestimated both the temperature and comfort level of the tent…add the fact Iceland in July is 24-hours daylight and well, it was pretty tough to get any more than a couple of hours sleep on day one!
Day 2 – Thingvellir National Park to Hellissandur
Although day 1 was an awesome adventure, much of what we experienced was a rerun of our previous visit to Iceland…except this time, we had the opportunity to take a self-guided tour rather than an organized day trip courtesy of Time Tours Iceland. If you are visiting Iceland and don’t want to drive, we strongly recommend Time Tours Iceland for great daily excursions from Reykjavik.
Day 2 was when our Iceland road trip really started because we ventured into the unknown as we left Thingvellir National Park and Reykjavik and started to head north to the northwest region of the country.
Akranes and Borgarnes
The first part of the drive from Reykjavik saw us venture along the west coast passing through the towns of Akranes and Borgarnes. As we approached the town of Akranes, we had the option of taking the longer route around the Hvalfjörðu fjord or heading through the tunnel to bypass about 50km. We opted for the latter, quicker option though in hindsight the longer route would have given us the opportunity to see Iceland’s tallest waterfall – Glymur.
Borgarnes was a town that we stopped in twice during the second day. We visited both the local Bonus and Netto stores to stock up on food for the day (you will quickly realize that both these stores became our favorites during this Iceland road trip!) before heading inland to explore Hraunfossar.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
Located just 45 minutes from the town of Borgarnes, the gorgeous Hraunfossar waterfall known as the “lava falls” is a must-see attraction for anyone exploring the west coast of Iceland.
In addition to Hraunfossar, visitors will have the opportunity to see Barnafoss also which may not be quite as spectacular but when you hear the story behind this waterfall, it’s well worth experiencing.
On our drive back to Borgarnes, we visited the village of Reykholt which is one of Iceland’s iconic historical sites. Reykholt is renowned for being the home of Iceland’s best-known author Snorri Sturluson between 1206 and 1241.
If you have any interest in medieval history, this is well worth exploring as it is one of the last remaining medieval sites preserved throughout Iceland.
Don’t you just love the name “Snaefellsnes?” After hearing Apple guru Craig Federighi reference “Snaefellsnes” at WWDC 2017, I think it’s fair to say that both of us were ready to check out this area of Iceland for ourselves…and it certainly didn’t disappoint!
This region is pretty scarce in terms of population but it makes up for with gorgeous landscapes and natural attractions waiting for us to explore.
Waterfalls, breathtaking coastal landscapes, volcanic activity and much more are all things you can expect to discover on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit here and debuted our new DJI Mavic drone in this part of Iceland.
I won’t go into too much detail except for saying we both felt a little concerned when we saw it flying 200 meters above us and then we lost sight of it!
Day 2 Route
We drove 392 km (244 miles) on day 2 before arriving in the town of Hellissandur where we stayed overnight.
Below is a map of the route that we took on our second day in Iceland.
Where Did We Stay
Hellissandur Camping Ground – Although we opted to stay at this campsite, we actually slept overnight in our car following the “uncomfortable” experience the previous night in our tent. Staying at a campsite enabled us to have a shower and other amenities the following morning and given that we didn’t have to pay anything to stay here (we didn’t arrive until shortly after Midnight), it worked out well for us.
Day 3 – Hellissandur to Akureyri
The drive from Hellissandur to Akureyri was eventful in more ways that one. The first part of the drive was relatively pleasant as we stopped at yet another gorgeous waterfall and hiked to the summit and around the side.
However, shortly after leaving the town of Grundarfjörður (this town may not be the most famous on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, but the iconic mountain surely is!), we hit our first potential obstacle…a gravel road!
We hadn’t anticipated or planned on hitting too many gravel roads and certainly not driving 40-50km which is what our GPS indicated. However, we pushed on and despite our Hyundai resolutely fighting through the dirt and gravel, it certainly left it needing a clean once we arrived in Akureyri later that day.
The coastal village of Hvammstangi is renowned for being the ideal spot for seal watching. We caught a glimpse of one as we approached the harbor but unfortunately, that was our only experience. The Icelandic Seal Center is worth visiting to learn more about the seals in the area and the Vatsnes peninsula.
One of the hidden gems that we referenced was the Kolugljúfur Canyon that we found just a short drive from Hvammstangi. The Kolufossar waterfall is aesthetically appealing but perhaps the highlight here is the gorgeous canyon that you can look through from a bridge that crosses the gorge.
This is a relatively quiet spot as it is off the beaten path and we used this as an opportunity to fly our new drone. Unfortunately, having used this for the first time the previous day we had very little battery left so our descent into the canyon was cut short!
The town of Akureyri is the second largest in Iceland behind Reykjavik and it’s fair to say that we quickly fell in love with this place. We enjoyed our stay here so much that we actually stayed two nights here and use this as a base to explore the rest of north Iceland.
Whether we were enjoying delicious fish and chips or sampling the finest Icelandic ice cream, Akureyri was the perfect place to recharge our batteries for the second half of our Iceland road trip adventure.
Day 3 Route
We drove 429 km (267 miles) on day 3 before arriving in Akureyri and I would estimate that 50 or 60km were on gravel roads but easily accessible with even a car (4WD not required for this route!).
Below is a map of the route that we took on our third day in Iceland.
Where Did We Stay
Icelandair Hotel Akureyri – Having spent the first two nights without the comfort of a bed, we opted to stay in a luxury accommodation option. The Icelandair Hotel Akureyri was our first experience with this brand and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The bed was incredibly comfortable though this was perhaps slightly biased given our previous two nights under canvas and in the car.
The hotel is perfectly situated to explore Akureyri’s old town historic district but just as a word of caution, if you choose to walk down to the harbor area, it’s a pretty steep climb back as you pass the Akureyri Church. Definitely a great way to burn off the calories after indulging in fish and chips and Icelandic ice cream!
Day 4 – Akureyri to Husavik (and back!)
Akureyri is the ideal place to stay if you want to explore this part of Iceland. Our fourth day in Iceland was probably the most relaxing and rewarding at the same time. We spent the first part of the morning relaxing in Akureyri before heading out to explore some of the nearby landmarks – our first stop, Godafoss!
“The waterfall of the Gods” is how Godafoss is translated and when you visit, you will notice that there is something quite magical about this waterfall. It doesn’t have the power of Dettifoss or the height of Skogafoss but what it does have is a gorgeous composition unlike any other throughout Iceland.
Skeptics will argue that Godafoss is a bit of a disappointment but I would argue the opposite and the reality is, we are all entitled to our opinion. Visit this waterfall for yourself and don’t let anyone cloud your judgment.
Husavik is renowned as the “whale capital of the world” so you would be crazy to not have this on your radar. If you visit during the summer months, you will also have the opportunity to enjoy puffin sightings which are another cool experience.
We made a last-minute booking on the Whale and Puffin tour courtesy of North Sailing and are 100% delighted that we made this decision! We were a little hesitant to spend $100+ per person on this without any real guarantees of seeing wildlife but it didn’t take us long to realize we made the right choice.
Day 4 Route
We drove a distance of 193 km (120 miles) on day 4 on our loop from Akureyri to Godafoss to Husavik and back.
Below is a map of the route that we took on our fourth day in Iceland.
Where Did We Stay
Hotel Kjarnalundur – Another night in Akureyri but this time we stayed in a hotel that was slightly further away from downtown but affordable and still conveniently located within 5-10 minutes of everything.
Day 5 – Akureyri to Egilsstadir
We left Akureyri with a hint of disappointment but knowing that we would return again in the future. An action-packed day ahead of us with the likes of Lake Myvatn, Dettifoss, and Selfoss on our schedule, we soon realized that there was plenty to look forward to.
Despite experiencing the worst weather of the week, we had an awesome experience exploring Europe’s most powerful waterfall – Dettifoss. A number of hiking trails are available for visitors to enjoy a variety of overlooks and get pretty close to the edge of this amazing natural attraction. You can certainly feel the power of Dettifoss and be prepared to get pretty wet as the spray from this waterfall is pretty intense.
A short hike from this waterfall leads you to another, Selfoss, which is about 1km upstream and much smaller. However, this should take nothing away from the beauty this waterfall possesses.
Day 5 Route
Day 5 saw us venture to the East region of Iceland and we drove 314 km (195 miles) until we reached Egilsstadir where we spent the night.
Below is a map of the route that we followed on the fifth day in Iceland.
Where Did We Stay
Hotel Hallormsstadur – Located on Lake Lagarfljot, 25 km south of Egilsstadir, this was perhaps our best find in terms of accommodation during our Iceland road trip. We had our very own private cabin/cottage overlooking the lake at a very affordable rate ($120 USD).
The location was a little further out of Egilsstadir than we anticipated when we made the reservation but given this was just one night, it worked out perfectly.
Day 6 – Egilsstadir to Vik
Our penultimate day in Iceland saw us drive to the south coast and continue until we reached the town of Vik, just so that we could enjoy a relaxing final day in Reykjavik. The southeast corner of Iceland is yet another incredible landscape with the undoubted highlight being our experience at Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon and nearby Diamond Beach.
The incredible sight of icebergs floating around in a glacial lagoon is just as spectacular as it sounds. In fact, I would argue that pictures and videos can never give Jokulsarlon the justice it deserves. It’s one of those natural landmarks that you have to see for yourselves in order to appreciate the true beauty surrounding this location.
As we watched the icebergs floating out of the lagoon and down the river to the ocean, we headed to the wonderfully acclaimed “Diamond Beach” to see some of the chunks of ice on the beach. It’s incredible to see especially in July because it’s not something you expect and many of these icebergs are like glass sculptures.
Just a short distance from Jokulsarlon is yet another glacial lagoon but in terms of popularity, Fjallsarlon is much less visited. However, we had an awesome experience here exploring the lagoon and even had the opportunity to see a shift in the glacier (the sound was intense!).
This area of Iceland was substantially colder than anywhere else that we experienced during the week, so be prepared to endure all four seasons at any time of the year when visiting the Land of Fire and Ice!
Day 6 Route
We drove a distance of 461 km (286 miles) on day 6 as we started our journey back to Reykjavik.
Below is a map of the route that we followed on our penultimate day in Iceland.
Where Did We Stay
Vik Camping – Another night sleeping in the car but again, this was primarily because it was pretty late when we arrived and we had made the decision to stay in another hotel the following night before heading home.
Day 7 – Vik to Reykjavik
An early morning start on our final day in Iceland saw us explore Vik by heading to the beach and checking out the basalt columns. We also visited Reynisfjara and the gorgeous basalt columns there.
One of Iceland’s iconic waterfalls is Skogafoss and after visiting for the second time, we realized why this is at the very top of our favorite natural landmarks not only in Iceland but throughout the world. A hike to the summit of this waterfall (475+ steps) is rewarded with breathtaking scenery, not to mention the sight of a rainbow by Skogafoss if you are lucky.
Our final stop before heading back to Iceland was Seljalandsfoss. It was fitting that a waterfall was the final attraction we experienced because as we have mentioned before, Iceland could likely be referenced as the Land of Waterfalls and I don’t think anyone could argue against this.
Hiking around the back of Seljalandsfoss was a unique experience and one that we cherished, despite both getting pretty soaked from the spray and clambering the slippery rocks!
Day 7 Route
We drove a distance of 195 km (121 miles) on our final day as we arrived in Reykjavik to stay overnight before heading back to the airport the following morning.
Below is a map of the route that we followed on our final day.
Where Did We Stay
CAZE Reykjavik Central Luxury Apartments – I think we saved our best accommodation until last! If you are planning on spending several nights in Reykjavik, this is definitely a great option because you can enjoy self-catered accommodation at an affordable rate. A great location on the Laugavegur main street and within walking distance of pretty much everything you need in Reykjavik.
Are you exhausted following this amazing Iceland road trip adventure? It was INCREDIBLE! Yes, it was quite a bit of driving in a relatively short amount of time but the beauty of visiting Iceland in July is that you have unlimited amounts of daylight, so you have to take advantage of it.
We found it pretty difficult to sleep for more than a few hours every evening, though of course, it was nice having the opportunity to stay in affordable hotels on several occasions. Our initial plan of camping for a week didn’t go quite as we intended but we were flexible enough to change our itinerary and we both agree that it worked out better.
Sleeping in a car may not be the most appealing way to spend a night but it’s a great way to save money, plus we were able to stay warm!
Iceland is an unbelievable country in both summer and winter. It’s hard to say which we prefer because we love it all year round. We look forward to our next trip to Iceland and one thing is for sure, we will likely have a whole new experience again!
What are your experiences in Iceland?
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