A budget friendly guide to Iceland’s Ring Road
If you’ve done any research about Iceland you’ll probably have figured out two things: Iceland is awesome and expensive. The experience is worth the expense and there are so many amazing things to see that don’t cost anything at all. We spent nine awesome days in Iceland seeing all the sites while managing to keep our trip costs surprisingly low thanks to camper vans from Rent.is. We made all our meals ourselves (except for a Reykjavik hot dog), bringing our own food and staying at low cost campsites when available.
Budget Friendly Tips:
- Go in the low season, which starts in September. Our visit at the end of September was slightly brisk, but worth seeing attractions with fewer tourists.
- Bring food from home – 3kg limit per person, although no one checked this at the border
- Buy alcohol from the duty-free when you land
- Bring a thermos – most gas stations will sell it or give you free hot water when you buy gas
- Use the gas cards that come with your rental to save a few cents per liter
- Use a credit card that offers travel insurance and/or car rental insurance
- Raid the Rent.is shelf that has other travelers have left behind – some seriously good and useful supplies here
Our Iceland Diet
Before we left we calculated that we would need to eat about 36 meals while in Iceland. Generally we ate a combination of Skýr (Icelandic yogurt), muesli, bananas and coffee for breakfast. Lunch and dinners were either canned tuna or tofu and some form of carbohydrate. Couscous is a filling item to bring that requires little cooking, just a bit of hot water. Although we brought a lot of food with us to Iceland, we bought a few vegetables and canned beans to incorporate into our dishes to ensure we were eating “healthy”. We also bought groceries to try some of the fun Icelandic foods. Definitely try Skýr, it’s like amazingly thick yogurt. Kleinur are these Icelandic twisted donuts, which were really good, especially when chocolate covered. We also tried a supermarket version of the Icelandic lamb soup, it was good and significantly less expensive than a restaurant version. We ended up only “eating out” at a single “restaurant” in order to try the famous Icelandic hot dog. I was very happy with this hot dog and I could have eaten found or five more.
We were prepared to go either clockwise or counterclockwise depending on the weather forecast. We ended up going counterclockwise to increase our chances of seeing the Northern lights.
Day 1: Golden Circle
After landing in Keflavik airport, the complimentary shuttle from Rent.is picked us up and brought us to their office. We quickly collected our camper van and then we were off on our adventure. We decided to leave Reykjavik for the end of our trip to ensure we were close to the airport on our final day. We spent the day doing our custom version of the Golden Circle and getting used to Iceland. Day 1 was filled with rain on/off for most of the day. Whenever we finally got dry it would start raining and we’d be soaked again.
- Þingvellir National Park
- Strokkur Geysir
- Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river
Our favorite highlight of the day was probably Geysir and the awesome hike up behind it. We got a few moments of sunshine when we got to the top of the hill and it was an amazing view.
Day 2: Southern Iceland
We survived our first night in the camper van and if anything the heater worked too well. It was extremely toasty.
- Seljavallalaug hot springs
- Sólheimasandur plane crash
- Reynisfjara Beach
Our favorite spot today was either going behind Seljalandsfoss or the hike above Skógafoss. The crashed plane was also really neat, but it’s a very long, flat walk and very busy.
Day 3: Southern and Eastern Iceland
On day 3 we finished exploring South Iceland and tried to cover some ground towards the East Coast.
- Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
- Svartifoss waterfall
- Svínafellsjökull view point
- Diamond Beach and Glacier Lagoon
Hands down our favorite thing today was the Glacier Lagoon. It was amazing watching the glaciers slowly drift out to sea and the seals swim playfully around the icebergs. It was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
Day 4: Eastern Iceland to Lake Mývatn
Today was one of the big driving days, the majority of which was through these amazing mountains that it was actually a really enjoyable experience. We didn’t stop at many attractions while driving through Eastern Iceland, but the views were surreal. One tip is stick to the number 1 highway if driving at night, as the shorter route that leaves the number 1 is a winding mountain road.
- Námaskarð hot springs
- Grjótagjá cave hot spring
The highlight today might have been the views while driving through Eastern Iceland. Krafla might have gotten the top spot, but the extreme snow and wind made it hard to love.
Day 5: Lake Mývatn
We spent the night close to Lake Mývatn and planned to spend the whole day here. A threat of a snow storm prompted us to leave a bit early to ensure good driving conditions.
- Skútustaðagígar lava craters
- Goðafoss waterfall
Today’s highlight was definitely Dimmuborgir. Walking around the moss covered landscape was great, especially off of the paved trails and onto the difficult path. We completely lost ourselves in this other world.
Day 6: Akureyri to Western Iceland
We ended up staying in a guesthouse the previous night so we were able to completely recharge and prepare for the remainder of our trip. We could have easily stayed another night in the camper van, but we needed to use up some hotel points and wanted a dry spot to recover from the elements.
- Akureyri Botanical Gardens
- Grábrók crater
- Glýmur waterfall
Today was another big driving day. It wasn’t as breathtaking as Eastern Iceland, but it was still pretty beautiful. No real highlight today, everything we saw was pretty cool in it’s own regard, and it was a nice mix of things.
Day 7: Spa and Snæfellsjökull Peninsula
Using the WiFi hot spot in our camper van we had been keeping an eye on the weather. Due to the high chance of rain we decided to take the first half of today as a spa day.
- Krauma spa
- Hellnar coastal walk
We arrived at the Krauma Spa when it opened and spent the majority of the day soaking and relaxing in warm geothermal waters. It was a clear winner for the best thing we did that day.
Day 8: Snæfellsjökull Peninsula and Reykjavik
The best part about today was finally getting to see Reykjavik. Walking around the city and finding one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever had.
Day 9: Reykjavik and Home
We had camped just outside of Reykjavik and so we returned to see the city for a few more hours before heading back to the airport to conclude our trip.
We expected to spend more money than we actually had. Our trip cost about $1100 CAD (99,000 ISK) per person including flights, $330 CAD per person was on flights. We found we were able to save a lot on accommodation by getting a camper van through Rent.is that included linens, cooking supplies, and WiFi, so we didn’t need to buy anything extra except for a few groceries and gas. It cost us just over $800 (72,000 ISK) for nine days. We didn’t splurge too much, but with so many amazing things to see for free it didn’t feel like we were missing out. We ended up spending about $400 CAD (36,000 ISK) on gas for our trip.
Hopefully this helps you with your planning and budgeting. Traveling around Iceland in a camper van was awesome. It let us easily change our itinerary based on weather and energy levels. There were so many good campsites spread around that it was easy to change everything on the fly.
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