Todd & Laurie’s Iceland Trip
This time last week my girlfriend Laurie and I were jetting off for our last European trip for the foreseeable future. We have been living in London for the past two years and are currently sitting on a long-haul flight back to Australia via Kuala Lumpur. During these two years we have talked about Iceland as a holiday destination quite a bit, and we are very grateful that we were able to get there before heading home. We had heard stories about just how expensive Iceland is from friends who had previously visited, so we decided to hire a camper for the week to cut costs on tours and accommodation.
This ended up being the best decision we made prior to going, and I strongly recommend it as getting around in Iceland isn’t very easy or convenient at all without your own set of wheels! We had the car for five nights, six days. While we were on the road we were constantly googling other people’s itineraries for roughly the same amount of time, to see how we could maximize our time with the car. With that in mind I’ve decided to document ours in a hope to help like-minded travelers. We have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit over the past couple of years, but this trip stands out as one of the most memorable. Iceland truly is a stunning country to visit!
Day 1 – The Golden Circle
I had originally arranged to pick the car up from the Rent.is office in Reykjavik. We arrived at Keflavik Airport quite late the previous night so we arranged to stay at an Airbnb close by, with the plan being to get a bus into Reykjavik the following morning to pick our camper up. When I looked at the bus timetable there were only three buses into the capital that day and they were all in the afternoon. We didn’t want to waste a day so I called Rent.is and they agreed to drive it to the Airport office for us (a 45min drive for them).
I’ve gotta give the company a plug here as they were absolutely brilliant and very understanding of our situation. They even drove the car out for us free of charge, which was hugely appreciated. We picked it up at 10am that morning and we were both stoked with it. It was a Nissan something-or-other that was decked out with two seats in the front and a really comfy double bed in the back, perfect setup for the two of us. It also had all cooking equipment, a cooler, 4G WiFi and a reserve battery that meant we could leave the heater on all night without worrying about a flat battery. I can honestly say that our nights’ sleep in the van were on par with home!
We set off driving and made our way into Reykjavik to pick up food and beer for our travels, before driving the famous Golden Circle route. Our first stop was at Þingvellir National Park where we took a short hike to the first of many waterfalls. There were many other hikes close by but we opted not to take them due to time constraints. You could easily spend a day here alone.
Our next stop was at the Geysir, about an hour drive from memory. This was an awesome sight to see, with the boiling hot water shooting up in the sky about every ten minutes. You can get fairly close to it too, just wear a waterproof jacket if you don’t want to get too wet! Check out the video below.
After spending 30-45mins at the Geysir, we drove on to Gullfoss. If you liked the first waterfall you are in for a treat here. The falls are massive and were covered in ice too, which added to their beauty. I think that was the coldest afternoon we had in Iceland, temp was -5º Celsius but the wind was really up so it felt like -15º. We lasted about 20mins there, took some snaps and got back on the road.
Our last stop in the Golden Circle was at Kerið, a really cool crater lake. You have to pay a small entrance fee there but it is worth it. You can first walk around the top of the crater before venturing down to the lake. As we were there in November, the lake had completely frozen over so we took our opportunity to do our best impersonation of Jesus walking on water (as you do). By the time we jumped back into the car the sun had gone down.
Winter days are obviously short in Iceland, with the sun rising around 9:30am and going down around 4:30pm. The Circle from start to finish took us around 6 hours with driving time, I wouldn’t recommend giving yourself any less time than that. After a brilliant day one, we drove east to Seljalandsfoss as Laurie had read you could go behind the waterfall and watch the sun rise from there. We found a campsite nearby and set up shop there for the night, enjoying a couple of beers and some delectable ham and cheese sandwiches before calling it a night.
Day 2 – Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Vik
So our waterfall sunrise idea turned out to be a bit of a brainfart. We got up in the morning after a great night’s sleep and headed straight for Seljalandsfoss. When we got there we realized the waterfall is facing west, making it impossible to watch the sunrise. Laurie googled it again and soon realized it was the next waterfall on the south coast where you could do this. After taking the mick out of her for a while, we went and checked out the waterfall and its surrounds.
Turns out we couldn’t get behind the water anyway as the rocks were super icy and I wasn’t exactly graceful on the ice (the below video will give you an idea). She was fine and really put me to shame in this regard, her Canadian blood pumping through her veins as she skated around like a penguin, simultaneously laughing at my ongoing battle between Adidas trainer and sheet ice. If you visit this waterfall, make sure you hike an extra 10mins to the left of Seljalandsfoss and you’ll find another really stunning fall/gorge. It was completely empty when we were there. You can climb halfway up the waterfall in winter, and all the way up the top in summer apparently. You can also wade through a small stream and go inside the gorge where the water flows.
We then jumped back in the car and drove on to Skógafoss. This was probably my favorite of the multitudes of waterfalls we saw whilst driving the south coast. It is MASSIVE, prepare to get soaked if you want to get anywhere near it. We took some photos down the bottom then took the easy stair hike up to the top. The view from the top is breath-taking wherever you look, so make sure you use the trails up there and take it all in.
After Skógafoss, we jumped back in the van and drove towards Vik, a small town right on the south coast. On our way, we stopped by the beach to check out the old plane wreck. At the end of an easy 30-40min walk, you’ll find a plane that crashed on the beach and was never removed. We also stopped in at the black sand beach and admired Reynisdrangar (basalt sea stacks on the beach) and the surrounds.
The landscape there is very beautiful! Once we arrived in Vik we realized that there was only one campsite there and it was closed for the winter, but when we drove to the car park we realized the owners had been very kind and left the kitchen and bathrooms open. The showers even had hot water which we really needed at that stage! Vik was a charming town and the locals there are super friendly, so much so that we had another night there on our way back.
Day 3 – Fjaðrárgljúfur, Skaftafell, Glacier lagoon, Diamond Beach
We woke up in Vik and went to a valley called Fjaðrárgljúfur where we went for a hike up the hill all the way to a waterfall. We spent about an hour walking around as the path was very icy. Again, not surprisingly, I wasn’t so graceful on the ice as the video below shows.
After the hike we went straight to Skaftafell, a massive glacier about an hour’s drive away. There is a short hike to the glacier that is definitely worth doing. There are also loads of glacier walking tours operating from the car park. They supply you with crampons and take you hiking on the ice for a couple of hours, or exploring the ice caves if the conditions are right. There are also hiking trails to another waterfall called Svartifoss, and beyond. You could spend days on end hiking around there and find some really amazing views! Unfortunately time was not on our side on this day, but we ended up coming back to Svartifoss on the way back and doing a short hike up the other side of the falls.
From there we drove on about another 45mins until we got to the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. They are pretty much in the same place but if you turn right off the main road you will get to the Diamond Beach, on your left the lagoon. Take your time exploring here, you will get plenty of nice photos and we were able to see lots of seals in the water.
After the Diamond Beach the sun was starting to set so we jumped in the van and drove to a little campsite in Höfn, a small town on the east coast.
Day 4 – Hotpot near Höfn & Svartifoss
After waking up in Höfn we had some breakfast and went and watched the sun rise over the golf course. This was honestly the most spectacular course I’d ever seen, with lakes all around and snow-capped mountains in the background. I’m glad I didn’t have my clubs with me, as a course that nice doesn’t deserve me hacking it up! Laurie and I decided that we needed to start making our way back towards Reykjavik, so Höfn was as far around the Ring Road as we got. We read that there was an outdoor hot spring about 15mins outside Höfn so we headed there first. If you google ‘hotpots Iceland’ there is a great site that shows you where all the hot springs in the country are. The hot pots provide a really good alternative if you’re on a budget and want to skip the Blue Lagoon. The one we visited was amazing, it had five outdoor spas (all different temperatures) and not another soul in sight for the hour we spent there.
The next bit of driving from the hotpot to Svartifoss went really quickly as we felt so relaxed, it was a great way to start the day! Once we got there we parked the van and checked the conditions of the hiking trails to Svartifoss. The guides recommended crampons but we didn’t have any, so we just decided to go as far as we could and turn around if it got too slippery or difficult. The hike turned out to be really cruisy. There were a couple of super slippery bits that provided a nice opportunity for a penguin slide, but apart from that it was very easy. Svartifoss is another really picturesque waterfall and definitely worth the half an hour walk. We hiked up a little bit past it and watched from the top of a mountain as the sun started to set.
After hiking back to the van we jumped in and drove back to Vik, and spent another night there in the campsite’s car park. There were a lot of like-minded travelers in campers there that night, which made us think that they could easily leave the site open all year round!
Day 5 – Blue Lagoon
The day before we had booked our ticket for the Blue Lagoon. We figured we would drive the van to the lagoon and then stay in Reykjavik that night, ready to return our camper the following morning.
The drive was supposed to be about 3.5hrs from Vik to the Blue Lagoon, but the weather wasn’t the best so we had to wait it out, then take it fairly easy as there was snow and ice on the road. We ended up getting to the lagoon about an hour before our booking time, but as it turned out we were glad we left Vik early as the roads really weren’t the best.
The Blue Lagoon itself is amazing. Yes, tickets are super expensive but we were happy we did it. The water and the surrounds are awesome, it’s easy to see why the place is such a big deal! The face mask and the sulfur in the water make your skin feel really nice for hours afterwards. It was pretty cold the day we went too, so it was the perfect activity for the afternoon.
When we left the lagoon, we drove into Reykjavik and went straight to the lighthouse. We were still yet to see the Northern Lights during the week and the Aurora Borealis forecast (I think it’s called Vedur) said they were going to be active that night in the area. The lighthouse is a great place to watch them as it’s very dark, away from the lights of the capital. As we were starting to lose hope of seeing them, right on 9pm a long green line started to fill the dark sky. We were super excited as it was our last night with the van, so it was perfect. We didn’t see them dancing around in the sky like you might see on the tourism videos, but it was still quite a sight! They only lasted about 10mins then disappeared, not to be seen again.
After we were satisfied that they weren’t going to reappear for us, we checked into a campsite in Reykjavik and had our last night’s sleep in the van.
Day 6 – Reyjkavik
Waking up that morning in the capital, we were a bit sad to give the van back. It truly was the best way to see so much of the south coast in just a week. Dropping it back was hassle-free, like the whole trip had been. I would definitely use Rent.is again if/when we make it back! The staff are really friendly and helpful, and the car itself was perfect.
We then caught a bus into the city center as we had booked a hostel for our final night in Iceland. The city center itself is quite small and easily accessible on foot. We went for a stroll down the main street, up the hill to Hallgrimskirkja (the massive church) and along the water which was really nice. By this point we were starting to run low on cash so we didn’t take advantage of the numerous happy hours, but it would be an ideal place for a pub crawl (just make sure your pockets are lined!).
Day 7 – Home
Day 7 was essentially a non-event, as we just got up and got the bus to the airport. I would recommend getting the public buses to the airport if, like us, you’re on a tight-ish budget. It saves you a mint as opposed to direct transfers! The locals all speak English and are all too happy to help you.
This trip was definitely the best way to cap off our amazing two years in Europe. Both Laurie and I would love to come back to Iceland in a few years’ time. Hopefully we will be able to give ourselves more time, hire another camper van and make our way around the whole Ring Road! If northern Iceland is anything like the south, we may just not want to leave…
Read more: Camping i November in Iceland
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