Iceland in a van
Iceland: September 20th-23rd 2016
“Iceland in a van? What were we thinking?!” This kept running through my head as we sat in the parking lot of the camper van rental company in the pouring rain. My legs were shaking as I tried to remember how to drive a manual transmission for the first time in 10 years. We had no plans and no destination. “Should we just start driving and see what happens?” My husband suggested. And that’s exactly what we did, for the next four days and three nights. And it was magical.
We had arrived in Iceland early that morning after an overnight flight and quickly become familiar with Joe and the Juice (excellent coffee and smoothies). We stocked up on booze at the duty free (the one recommendation we heard from multiple sources as a must) and hopped on a bus to the Blue Lagoon. I’d heard mixed reviews with some people calling it a tourist trap but man was I glad we went.
We stayed for about three hours, soaking, napping and taking advantage of the swim-up face mask and drink bars.
Afterwards, we were surprisingly rejuvenated, seeing as though we had zero sleep on the plane. After the Blue Lagoon we took another bus to Reykjavik where we met up with the staff from Rent.is.
Over the course of the first hour in our van, driving a manual transmission slowly came back to me as the rain slowly let up. Soon after we started spotting waterfalls and rainbows as often as we see gas stations, back home in Chicago. We had to make a conscious effort to stop taking pictures of them all, for fear of using up the space on our camera’s memory card on day one.
When the light in the sky started to dim we started to look for campgrounds to spend the night. A much easier feat than it sounds, as campgrounds frequently appeared on Route 1, the road that rings the island.
We were too tired to cook that night, but thanks to the electric cooler in the van, we had stocked up with sandwiches, cheese and Skýr (Icelandic yogurt and I have been forever converted).
We opened up a bottle of wine and Brennivin and explored a beautiful area that I could not point out on a map if I tried.
The bed in the back was surprisingly comfortable, especially for my husband’s 6’2’’ frame and after a long day of travel, we cranked the heat and slept like rocks.
Read more: What’s included in your Camper Van rental
The next morning, we pulled out the gas stove and made coffee and scrambled eggs.
We set out on the road on day two with a plan. The west peninsula of Snæfellsnes! Along the way we stopped for herds of sheep and Icelandic horses that shared a striking resemblance to Jon Bon Jovi. Could it be the hair? It was the hair.
We pulled over the van for picture stops at beautiful lakes…
…and places that looked like that face of the moon.
Our next stop was the seaside town of Stýkkishólmur,
on the north coast of the peninsula.
We explored the port and took a chance on the restaurant Narfeyrarstofa.
Here we had the best fish soup and mussels possibly of all time.
And the table next to us had the same opinion, so it must be true.
We then drove on Grundarfjörður, home of the photogenic mountain, Kirkjufell. The local information office gave us great advice on two-hour hike that followed the river up past waterfall after waterfall. We spend the afternoon hiking and playing with the timer setting on the camera.
Read more: Wintercamping in Iceland
We knew a few sites south of Reykjavik we wanted to explore the next day, so we cut across the peninsula and drove as far as we could before darkness set in, making sure to heed the advice about holding onto the van doors in the wind.
This night we took advantage of the free WiFi in the van and watched Netflix after plotting out our route for the following day.
The next day, after breakfast on the stove, we headed south on the ring road. The enormous waterfall Seljalandsfoss was our first stop, and it was spectacular. We were able to walk behind the waterfall for additional pictures and only got a little wet from the spray.
A little farther down the road we pulled off and hiked about 20 minutes through a gorgeous valley to Seljavallalaug, a pool built in 1923, fed by the hot springs. The air was chilly but the water was warm enough to swim. Of all the things we saw in Iceland, this was by far my favorite and most surreal.
Just a little father still down Route 1, we pulled off and walked to a glacier, which turned out to be Eric’s favorite site.
We didn’t have time to do a full tour/hike of the glacier, which looked like a lot of fun, but just being there was spectacular.
We didn’t make it as far as the town of Vik before we turned around to head back in the direction of the airport.
Our last night we cooked pasta on our camping stove under a sky full of stars that looked close enough to touch.
We drove back towards the Keflavík airport along the new south road through moss covered lave fields as far as the eye could see. We pulled off for a quick stop to see Arnarker cave. With no flashlight or the recommended helmets, we could only peer in and imagine what lay within.
The road taking us back to the airport passed the Blue Lagoon and a few more rainbows…
Before we even dropped off the van we already started planning our next trip to Iceland; what seasons we would visit in and what tours we would take. We packed what felt like two weeks of sites and experiences into three nights and we never would have been able to do it without the freedom of our camper van.
Read more: The Campervan Vulpix
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