Europe | Iceland
On 3/11/18, Jenny and I went to Iceland for 10 days, after much anticipation, to do the famous Ring Road in a camper-van. In 10 days we covered 2195km and its safe to say the land of ice and fire did NOT disappoint.
Reykjavik - Seljalandsfoss - Selvajavallaug Pool - Skogafoss - DC3 Plane - Dyrhólaey - Reynisfjara Beach - Vik - Jokusarlon - Diamond Beach - Hofn - Stokksnes - Seydisfjordour - Dettifoss - Myvatn - Hverjfall - Godafoss - Hvitserkur - Kolugljufur - Kirkjufell - Arnarstapi - Budir - Reykjavik - Reykjadular
We never really leave home with a set budget in mind for a trip, but usually when we arrive somewhere, somehow, we seem to be extremely good at not spending much. I always keep track of everything money-wise, especially in expensive countries like Iceland where you could accidentally spend £100 in a supermarket for the essentials without realising.
Hopefully this is helpful for anyone going to Iceland as its the type of information I wish more people put out there. So, during our 10 days, not including the van's rental price, we spent £240 each and pretty much all of that was either on petrol, food or campsites, with the occasional treat like going swimming in Hofn or out for lunch in Reykjavik. Including the van we spent £520 (roughly) each. I'd be surprised if you knew anyone who's done Iceland's Ring Road for cheaper than that in a camper-van.
Although the cheapest in their range, the Kangoo was perfect for our needs. It was fairly kitted out, with a fridge, heater, 3 usb ports and all of the cooking essentials required. The interior lights and heater worked on a separate battery so you could use them over night and then they would recharge through the day while the engine was on, as well as the fridge. In regards to space, there wasn’t very much in the back. I’m 6”3 and fit in the bed lengthways fine, but sitting up was a struggle. Overall a good budget option and if you’re sly you can sleep most places for free. A rule we used was park when it’s dark and leave when it’s still dark.
Jenny and I landed in Reykjavik after what seemed like an extremely short flight. After 10-20 minutes of wondering where the hell our rental van company were we phoned and were told someone was on their way to pick us up (which they failed to tell us). We got a lift to the rent.is office and checked over the van, signing a disclosure which pointed out any existing damage. We paid (£550 roughly) for the Kangoo for 10 days.
After that we drove to the nearest Bonus supermarket in the direction of the city to stock up on the cheapest food and drinks. We got the essentials for 3700isk (£23) and went to “Reykjavik campsite”, located beside Reykjavik City Hostel, 50km from the airport. We paid 4800isk (£30) for a night and tidied the van, made dinner and got our bearings.
In the morning we showered before we left, knowing it would be the last one for a while. We left with the intention of stopping after 56km in Selfoss, at Kaffi Krus, but it was closed as it was a Sunday. From here we drove to Seljalandsfoss, the first real spot on the road trip. It was pretty busy, presumably because it was only an hour or so from Reykjavik so there was lots of tours and tourists. We walked in a circuit around the base of the falls and got some drone shots too.
Next, we drove 20km to Seljavallaug thermal pool car park. This is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland and is nestled away in the hillside. If you didn’t know it was there you would certainly not stumble upon it. After 10-15 minutes walking on flat terrain, we arrived. One thing to mention is that hot water smells pretty horrendous in Iceland because of the high concentration of Sulphur: it’s similar to rotten egg. The cold water is as fresh as you can get but never drink/boil the warm water. So, naturally, the pool absolutely stank but luckily we had no intentions of entering it. The scenery here is breathtaking and if you continue upstream from the pool you’ll discover a nice little canyon and witness hot water steaming and flowing down the hillside.
From Seljavallaug we drove to the mighty Skogafoss. Instantly we noticed a lot less people at this one, but still relatively busy spot. The waterfall is epic, at a height of 63m and a width of 25m and you have the option to climb the 500 steps up to the top viewpoint. There is a rock at the foot of the falls that is perfect for a photo if you don’t mind getting soaked, which neither of us did, so we got some awesome shots. After an hour or so of taking photos we headed to the nearby restaurant to charge our stuff and edit some photos over an extremely expensive hot chocolate.
From here we drove 7km at night to the car park for the DC3 plane wreck. Here we set up camp and hoped we wouldn’t get caught. It was on this night that the Aurora put on a show for us - and what a show it was! It took us a while to figure out what camera settings to use and Jenny was getting very frustrated at herself because it wouldn’t work, and then she realised she still had a filter on (lol). We took photos and admired one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world.
We woke up early with the aim of arriving at the Solheimmansdur plane wreck before the sun (and the tourists!). At some point on the 4km walk over a vast, empty black desert/beach the sun came up so we got the nice pink lighting on arrival and stayed here for quite a while. In the eyes of the Icelandic government, the plane wreck is neither considered a landmark nor private property. So, although there is a marked path to and from it, you are pretty much allowed to do what you want while you’re there. In fact, they actually encourage you to clamber over it... so we did. It’s pretty sketchy to get on top but it makes for awesome photos. Strangely, there was no wind at all and we seemed to get the perfect conditions.
From here, we drove just 17km To Dyrohleay Lighthouse for a view of a never-ending black sand beach. If you look very far into the distance you can see the tiny spec of the DC3 plane wreck.
The next stop was Reynisfjara (another black sand beach). This spot was probably the busiest out of everything we did in Iceland and the whole car park was packed with tour buses. A famous Game of Thrones film location, this beach hosts a large amount of basalt columns just as you leave the car park. In typical tourist fashion, if you go round the corner and walk along the beach for 100m you’ll find yourself completely alone. Don’t be a sheep! We took photos in some of the caves, on the beach and of the massive sea stacks at the end of the beach.
We drove 11km round the corner to Vik and stopped firstly at the iconic red church overlooking the town and then for petrol and to charge our laptops quickly inside. We drove towards Lomagnupur Mountain at sunset to find somewhere to camp away from the town. We drove passed Foss a Sidu, a large, underrated waterfall in someone’s back garden, before we found a quiet road just off of the Ring Road and decided it would do for the night.
The next day we woke up early and drove the short distance to Lomagnupur Mountain where we stopped to take a few photos and put the drone up. From here we drove about 30km to the carpark for Svartifoss waterfall. The walk was uphill for 1.25 miles and with the extremely strong wind and snowy conditions it was actually ridiculously hard. In summer it would be easy but damn, that wind made it sketchy. Svartifoss is a large waterfall surrounded by basalt columns, making it quite a sight to behold. On the way up to it you pass a few other smaller waterfalls too that are really pretty.
From here, 58km took us to Jokusarlon glacier lagoon and the Diamond Beach across the road. The glacier lagoon is a large, ever changing lagoon filled with ice bergs of varying size, most of which are bigger than a standard house. It’s also home to a lot of seals who frequently pop their heads up to say hey. Diamond Beach, actually called Breiðamerkursandur, is a volcanic black sand beach where the icebergs land on the shore after they leave the lagoon. It’s quite an awesome sight and they really do resemble massive, and totally transparent, diamonds. The contrast between the black sand and the whitey blue of the ice makes it one of the top 5 things to see in Iceland (in my opinion).
After that we drove 80km to Hofn where we went swimming in a heated outdoor pool. This was more of a tactical place to shower rather than actually wanting to swim, but swimming turned out to be good fun. It was also interesting to see some locals and get a feel for small Icelandic town life. After swimming we sat in the reception for a while to charge laptops and edit some photos and then got some fuel and left for Stokksnes. As it was dark and the weather was horrendous torrential rain and fog we didn’t really have any idea where we were in relation to Vesturhorn Mountain and decide to just go to the end of the road and park up. Nobody else was this car park and the only other light was from the nearby lighthouse. It was kind of creepy.
When we woke up the next day we still had no idea where we were. After checking TripAdvisor in the morning I had figured that, pretty much, we shouldn’t be where we were and the land owner can be quite aggressive so I woke up Jenny and in thick fog and rain, we left. Seeing Vesturhorn Mountain and Stokksnes was the only thing in the whole 10 day trip that we didn’t get to do and, although there was nothing we could do to change the weather, I’m gutted we missed it.
We started the long scenic drive up the east coast to Seydisfjordour which took us passed many picturesque fjords and waterfalls. The east coast is relatively sparse and so we didn’t stop that often. We drove passed a few groups of grey reindeer with huge antlers but every time we tried to get closer they ran away.
Seydisfjordour was relatively underwhelming, but it looks like the type of place that is buzzing in the height of summer. The snowy, mountainous pass came as a bit of a surprise and with better visibility the view would be amazing down to the fjord. Whilst here we got some more food and wandered the quiet streets around the church which is fairly Instagrammable with the rainbow path towards it. There was a large cruise ship in the harbour which was kind of strange to see next to all the small houses in the snowy valley.
From here we went back up over the mountain pass and hot-footed it closer to Dettifoss while we could still see to save some time for the next day. The landscapes in this part of Iceland have been said to be very moon-like, and its so true! Its just a vast, empty wasteland with the occasional crater or bump. We managed to find a perfect spot just 20km from Dettifoss.
We drove to Dettifoss which was extremely snowy and slippery, and also surprisingly busy compared to the past few locations we had been. It is the biggest waterfall in Europe (based on the volume of water). After a short but sketchy mile walk we arrived at the first viewpoint where you can get a feel for the size of the waterfall. It looked as though there would be plenty of other viewpoint in the summer that were blocked off, but for us there was 2.
We drove 60km to Hverir geothermal area. It’s kind of hard to explain but there’s rock piles and they are constantly steaming, as well as bubbling mud pools everywhere. It’s like we had driven from the Moon and were now on Mars. We drove round over the hill and down to Myvatn nature baths but we didn’t go in. It’s kind of like the Blue Lagoon but less busy and half the price. I think it was £25 in winter.
Next, we headed to Godafoss (52km). This waterfall was super snowy, like Detiifoss, but quite a lot quieter. Its a 1 mile return walk to the falls and theres also a viewpoint on the other side too, definitely worth a stop! Not far past Akureyri we found a place to sleep beside a monument, about 5km out of a small town so we could still get 3G.
The next day we got up early and started the long drive to Hvitserkur, which was 260km away, as well as 25km on an unsealed F-road that’s extremely bumpy - watch yer hubcaps! Hvitserkur is a strange formation, said to be a troll turned to stone after it was caught stealing from the church. We had this place all to ourselves but as we were leaving lots of people arrived. There is also a cafe and toilettes but I’m guessing the cafe is just a summer thing, the toilets were open though. Next, only 38km and you have the option to go and see the relatively unknown waterfall in a large gorge, called Kolugljufur. It was a great spot to break up the drive and to have lunch.
We drove another 200km to Kirkjufell, Stopping 18km before it at a large fjord, but it was already to dark to put the drone up over the bridge. At Kirkjufellfoss, we took sunset photos with the intention of coming back the next day in better light anyway, we just wanted to see it. We sat in the library and had hot chocolate while we charged our tech.
In the morning, we revisited Kirkjufell. It was quite bad light all day on this day, but I managed to put the drone up and take some photos on my camera too. Everywhere is so much quieter if you get up early! 50km takes you to the Snaefellsness peninsula, and Arnarstapi. Look out for a cute wee cabin on the mountain road to Arnarstapi.
In Arnarstapi there is a large natural bridge and an awesome coastline, packed with basalt cliffs and wild waves. We definitely should of spent more time around here as theres quite a lot to see, although as it is back to within a day trip from Reykjavik it was noticeably busy again. On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped at Budir black church which is so picturesque. We drove the last 170km to Reykjavik and checked into the same campsite we stayed in at the start, for £30. We used the facilities to charge stuff, edit and shower etc.
After having an evening chilling out freshening up, we decided to go back along the south coast for 50km to Reykjadalar hot river because we hadn’t been aware of it at the beginning. There was a long 3-4km uphill walk to get there but once there it was kind of surreal. You walk passed pools of water coming from the hillside, bubbling at over 100 degrees celsius. I believe the actual river sits at about 30 degrees but the further up you go the hotter it gets. Jenny swam but I just chilled out and took some photos of her and the surroundings. There was quite a surprising amount of locals there and few tourists. It strikes me as a long way to walk for a sesh but I guess how many countries do you get a natural hot tub river in?!
After this we headed to Bonus for some supplies (£10) and headed back to Reykjavik where we just parked up in the same campsite again.
Our last day in the land of ice and fire. First thing, we paid for another night in the campsite so we could use the facilities and pack the van later.
We walked 3.5km into the centre of town to go on a free walking tour. This is usually something we would do on our first day somewhere but we hadn’t spent any time in Reykjavik until now. Read about the walking tour with Thor the Thunder Guide here.
We went to the well renowned cafe called “Icelandic Street Food” where there are limited options, but you get free refills on your soups. We got the shellfish soup and paid extra for it to be served in a bowl of bread. It was equivalent to £18 but damn, it was good, and a couple of them will definitely fill you up too. This is apparently the cheapest place to eat in Reykjavik as well, so be careful!
In the morning we topped up the fuel and drove to the airport to return the van. A few days prior to this we had gotten a couple pretty bad chips/cracks on the windscreen which we were sure we would get charged for. A few people online said their rental company actually charged them for a whole new windscreen so yeah, we were shitting ourselves. Somehow, the guy walked around the van and in about 1 minute he was like “Yup, its all good, see ya!” and I was kind of like “Ehh, okay, bye!”. Anyway, top advice: get chip insurance, just in case!
We caught the minibus to the airport and flew back to Edinburgh.
Iceland is a country with so much to offer and I’m already set on going back at some point to do all the bits we missed out like Stokknes, the Highlands and the Westjfords. I would say, judging by the prices we saw, doing it in a van is way cheaper than hotels/Airbnb/hostels, so I would recommend you to do that.
See ya soon, Iceland!