Where: Iceland’s Ring Road
When: March 2016 (Winter)
How: Rental Car
Iceland is a magical, otherworldly land of waterfalls, glaciers, geothermal pools and epic, non-stop views! It is relatively easy to get around the island, even in the book-end months of winter. Technically, you could drive the whole Ring Road in about 20 hours–We took 9 days and didn’t even come close to seeing everything Iceland has to offer! This is our actual itinerary, with some of the must-sees/dos we missed included below. Excuse the hodgepodge of old camera and crappy iPhone photos, you’ll get the point!
Day 1-Reykjavik, Head to Vik
- Arrival: 6:45am
- Pickup Rental Car
- Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is definitely a tourist hotspot but the warm geothermal waters were SO nice after a long flight! We timed it with our flight and got there right when it opened so that helped with the crowds a bit. We opted for the Comfort package, which included a towel, silica mask and 1 drink.
- Keldur Turf Houses
At the time, the road out here was dirt and there wasn’t another soul in sight, we definitely thought were were going the wrong way but we ended up finding them just fine. Although, it will feel like you’re pulling up and parking at someone’s home, in the middle of nowhere. It was a little eerie, for sure!
Selanjalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. If they aren’t shooting a Jackie Chan movie, like they were when we were there, you can walk up behind it!
Skogafoss is another of Iceland’s most photographed waterfalls, known for its rainbows. Go up the stairs and hike upriver for 20+ more waterfalls!
Overnight Accommodations: Hotel Edda Skogar, near Vik
Day 2-Vik, Head to Hofn
- Reynisfjara Beach (black sand beach & sea stacks), near Vik
- Fjodrarglilijufur Canyon (Grand Canyon of Iceland)
We had to walk most of the way in because of winter conditions, micro spikes were a life saver!
- Jokulsarlon (Iceberg Lagoon)
- Vatnajokull Ice Caves (blue ice caves)
Our tour left from Jokulsarlon Cafe, at the lagoon
Overnight Accommodations: Guesthouse Dyngia, in Hofn
Day 3-Hofn, Head to Egilsstadir
- Drive north, along the East Fjiords
Be sure to map your route before you leave your hotel in the morning. We had GPS but we were sent up a sketchy, closed summer road. Luckily, it was a clear day and we ran into a herd of reindeer!
Stop every chance you get! Once we got this far, we rarely saw other people and were able to stop in the middle of the road, doors wide open to take pictures.
Overnight Accommodations: The plan was to sleep at Blabjorg Guesthouse, in Bargarfjordur Eystri
We made it about 3/4 of the way before getting turned around. Again, it was a clear day and we still had some daylight left so we attempted the long, snow-covered road. It started off flat before heading up into the mountains. The road comes back down a bit before taking you along cliffs that plunge into the ocean. The road was icy, narrow, with no guard rails and we were losing light. We made the tough decision to turn back. I did a roughly 100 point turn on the edge of a cliff (one of my prouder moments) and headed back to the main highway. We stayed in Egilsstadir for the night.
Day 4-Egilsstadir, Head to Myvatn
- Explore Myvatn
- Dimmubogir Lava Field
There was a ton of snow on the ground here. We were able to explore some of the more packed down trails but snowshoes would have been a big help!
- Myvatn Nature Baths
The Myvatn Nature Baths are a smaller version of The Blue Lagoon. They are smaller and much quieter! Give me all the hot baths!!
Overnight Accommodations: Vogafjos Guesthouse, in Myvatn
There is a restaurant on-site and it was the best food we had the whole trip, get the lamb!!
This was also the only time on the whole trip it actually snowed. It was also the only night the Northern Lights were active. In fact, they were visible as far south as the UK and Montana but we couldn’t see them. I still cry about it sometimes.
Day 5-Myvatn, Head to Akureyri
You can “hike” to the bottom and the top of this big horseshoe-shaped waterfall. Godafoss one was my favorites of the trip!
- Explore Akureyri
Overnight Accommodations: Acco Guesthouse, in Akureyi
Day 6-Akureyri, Head to Grundarfjodur
- Dog sledding in Akureyri
Dog sledding was not as exhilarating as I thought it was going to be but it was still a blast and totally worth trying! We booked with Inspiration Iceland. What I loved about their tour is that we got to drive the sleds (vs riding on the front)! I got to race the former national champion!
- Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellfoss
Overnight Accommodations: The Old Post Office Guesthouse, in Grundarfjordur
Day 7-Grundarfjordur, Head to Reykjavik
- Drive around Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Climb Saxholl Crater
- Explore Reykjavik
Overnight Accommodations: Arcturus Guesthouse, in Reykjavik (Permanently closed!)
- The Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park-Tectonic Plates, Geysir, Gullfoss)
TOUR BUS CENTRAL! It is beautiful but honestly, I would recommend skipping. Even if you only have a couple days in Iceland, I recommend the south coast or Snaefellnes Peninsula over The Golden Circle.
Overnight Accommodations: See above
- Explore Reykjavik
Climb to the top of the church steeple for awesome 360 degree views of Reykjavik!
- Return Rental Car
- Depart: 5:10pm
Sights We Will Be Back For:
These are sights/activities we missed because we ran out of time, due to poor weather conditions or because of some other extenuating circumstance
- Gljufrabui Waterfall, near Seljalandsfoss on the south coast
- Black Diamond Beach, near Jokulsarlon on the south coast
- Dettifoss, near Myvatn
Winter conditions make it very difficult to visit this waterfall this time of year!
- Climb to the top of Hverfjall Volcano, near Myvatn
- Hraunfossar & Barnafossar, between Snaefellnes Peninsula and Reykjavik
- Reykjadalur Valley (hot spring river hike), near Reykjavik
- Pack lots of layers!
- Skip (if on a tight timeline) or save Reykjavik until the end
- Skip the Golden Circle
- Iceland is an island so food is more expensive! Grocery shopping is much more affordable–It’s all about that center console charcuterie life!
- You’ll want to stop every 10 min, do it!
- Sights are really well marked and many are practically road-side, which is great for winter exploring
- Rent a 4×4 or make sure the car you rent is fitted with studded-snow tires! We were told ours would be but wasn’t. When we tried to buy chains, we were told they don’t sell chains for cars in Iceland…
- Rent GPS but again, double check your routes before leaving every morning–Our GPS directed us onto several summer routes and we got ourselves into a couple tricky situations!
- Days are shorter in the winter so be sure to consider that when planning drive times and activities
- BE FLEXIBLE with your agenda in the winter
- Don’t set your heart on seeing the Northern Lights
There is so much to explore in Iceland, we just barely scratched the surface! We are hoping to get back this year for some summer backpacking, whale watching and to explore the West Fjords!
Cheers & happy planning!