This land of ice and fire, has one of the most stunning and varied landscapes! This 100 thousand square km sized island has enormous glaciers, roaring waterfalls, volcanos and hot springs. And no matter what time of the year it is, be ready to experience gushing wind, snow, rain, and sunshine all in a day.
While its 24 hours daylight during summer (which is super cool), the advantage of visiting Iceland during winter is that you get to witness the northern lights too.
Me and my friend did a 9 days long road trip around the entire ring road of Iceland; and we picked March, since that is considered to be the best month in winter, with snow, maximum daylight (sunset was around 1900) and enough nightlight for northern lights sighting.
We picked winter because we really wanted to experience the northern lights and also witness Iceland with ‘ice’ (snow).
Day 0: Land in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the international airport is located 45 minutes away from the city. Wow Air has frequent and affordable direct flights from both Europe and USA.
Taking a taxi is very expensive here, so renting a car is the cheapest and most convenient option to travel around the country. You can even hire camper vans, because it’s free to camp anywhere in Iceland.
For the non-drivers, book a seat on FlyBus for transfer into the city from the airport.
Beautiful Airbnb accommodation overlooking the Reykjavik city
Day 1: Do the Golden circle
One can spend an entire month exploring this country. But, if you don’t have the luxury of time, then a lot can be done over a weekend too. And the Golden Circle is on top of the list of things to do, and is easily doable in a day.
We were lucky to land in Iceland when it had just snowed like crazy, so the entire country was a winter wonderland!
Stop 1: Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is a favourite stop among travellers along the Golden Circle route. It has been a National Park in Iceland since 1930 and was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004.
It is the visible site of the mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and are being pulled apart at a rate of 2 centimetres (nearly an inch) per year, creating the Thingvellir Rift Valley. The geology here is not only interesting to learn about but also spectacular to behold.
Thingvellir is also home to Lake Thingvallavatn known best for Silfra Gorge, an extraordinary dive site where you are literally swimming between continents in clear, glacial water. It was too cold for us to try it on that day.
Stop 2: Strokkur geyser in the Geysir Geothermal Area
Strokkur is a fountain geyser located in a geothermal area in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavík. It is one of Iceland's most famous geysers, erupting once every 6–10 minutes.
A favorite stop along the Golden Circle is the highly active Geysir Hot Spring Area with boiling mud pits, exploding geysers. Strokkur is one of Iceland's most famous geysers, erupting once every 6–10 minutes.
Stop 3: Gulfoss waterfall
Gullfoss means ‘Golden waterfall’ and it is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland and part of the Golden Circle, and the waterfall is by many considered one of the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland.
The water cascades in two stages. In winter the view is spectacular when the waterfall freezes over into undulating waves of glistening ice and the visitors are treated to thousands of rainbows, a natural reaction with the clouds of spray from the tumbling falls.
Stop 4: Kerid Lake
Kerið is a volcanic crater lake with stunning neon blue water, located along the Golden Circle.
Night: A farm house in Arborg with Icelandic horses
Day 2: Continue driving to south
We connected back to Route 1 and continued driving south east.
Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss is a beautiful waterfall along the southern coast. It cascades over steep cliffs, which makes it possible for people to walk behind the waterfall, offering a spectacular view of the waterfall itself and the surroundings. It’s the only known waterfall in the world that it is possible to walk behind.
It is dangerous to walk behind the waterfall in winter, as the path is all icy and slippery.
Stop 2: Eyjafjallajokull
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is fed by melting water from the famed glacier-capped Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
Interesting fact: On March 20, 2010 Eyjafjallajokull began spewing molten lava in an uninhabited area in south-west Iceland, after being dormant for 180 years. On April 14th, 2010, after a brief intermission, the volcano resumed erupting from the top crater in the center of the glacier, which caused massive flooding. The floods required an evacuation of 800 people. This second eruption threw volcanic ash several kilometers up in the atmosphere, which led to air travel disruption in north-west Europe. The disruption lasted for six days, from April 15th to April 21st, which stranded thousands of travelers.
It happened again in May, which resulted in the closure of airspace over many parts of Europe. The eruption also created electrical storms. On May 23rd, the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Commission declared the eruption to have stopped. The volcano continued to have several earthquakes daily, with volcanologists watching the mountain closely. As of August 2010, Eyjafjallajökull was considered dormant.
Stop 3: Skogafoss
Skogafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skoga River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. Skogafoss is unique because the waterfall comes directly from two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull.
Climbing the 370 steps to the top of Skogafoss waterfall rewards visitors with an awe-inspiring view out over southern Iceland’s coastline. Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days.
Stop 4: Solheimajokulll
This is one of the easiest glacier tongues to reach. 4.2km off the Ring Road is a small car park from where you can walk the 800m to the ice along a wide track edging the glacial lagoon and reach the outlet of this icy glacier. Don't attempt to climb onto the glacier unguided.
One can go for guided glacier walks and ice climbing here, but we planned to do it on Vatnajokull glacier the next day.
Stop 5: Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
The Sólheimasandur airplane wreckage is located on Iceland's Southern coast between Skógafoss waterfall and the town of Vik.
In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived. Later it turned out that the pilot had simply switched over to the wrong fuel tank. The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea.
The scenery of this white abandoned DC on the totally black sand is quite cool and surreal and the landscape around is pretty amazing too. The sight is actually like from a science fiction movie.
From the car park it’s around an hour long walk (4 km) to the plane wreck each way.
thouseStop 6: Vik (couldn’t make it on time)
Since we spent a lot of time taking pictures around the plane wreck, we couldn’t make it to the black sand beach in Vik on time, and it was already dark when we got there. And the next morning, it was so foggy, rainy and windy, that it wasn’t safe to drive to the beach, so we just had to skip it and keep driving further to the next stops.
We couldn’t extend a day there mainly because we had our guided glacier walk and ice cave tours booked for the next day too. So, this is certainly a spot I will be coming back to during my next trip. :)
Link to the guesthouse a short drive away in Reynir
Day 3: Head to Vatnajokull glacier
Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland and the third largest glacier in Europe, covering 8% of the island's landmass.
Stop 1: Glacier hike on Svinafellsjokull
The Svínafellsjökull is a glacier of Iceland constituting a glacier tongue of Vatnajökull glacier. This is where we did our guided glacier walk with Glacier Guides (http://www.glacierguides.is/ ).
Stop 2: Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond beach
Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland's natural crown jewels, and people have calling the nearby black beach our Diamond Beach, as the ice chunks lying on it resemble diamonds glistening in the sun.
The Jökulsárlón lagoon is right next to Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. The lagoon is formed naturally, from melted glacial water coming from the glacier and is getting bigger each year, as big blocks of ice crumble from the ever decreasing glacier into the lagoon.
Although the lake is becoming more impressive as it increases in size, it takes its toll on the glacier, visibly demonstrating the effects of global warming. That makes the lagoon and the nearby glacier tongue even more special, since it will look different each and every time you go there due to the constant change of the Icelandic landscape. Each visit is unique.
The chunks of ice that fall into the lagoon slowly melt and drift out to sea, where the Atlantic waves crash on them at the black volcanic beach, Diamond beach.
Stop 3: Ice cave tour
The ice caves in Icelandic glaciers are a truly mesmerizing wonder of nature. Due to the melting of glacier, many natural ice caves are formed inside it. And some of them are close to the tip of the glacier and came with accessed, and one can enter inside it to have that extra-terrestrial experience. I was lucky to enter into a blue ice cave and a black one. These ice caves keep forming and melting every week, so it may look different each day. It is dangerous to access an ice cave without guide. And the tours are very much weather dependent. If it rains a lot, the ice caves get filled with water.
We did our guided tour with Arctic Adventures (https://adventures.is/).
Please note that all the tour companies provide the same kind of tours with not much difference, so pick one based on the pricing and availability of date and time that works best for you.
Höfn is an Icelandic fishing town in the southeastern part of the country and a good pit stop in the ring road drive, with some decent restaurant and accommodation options.
Link to the guesthouse in Hofn
Day 4: Drive towards east of Iceland
After a refreshing time in one of the local thermal pools, we started heading towards the east of Iceland on the ring road. It is the farthest one can go from the capital city, Reykjavik. Iceland’s impressively varied and sparsely populated east doesn’t announce itself as loudly as other parts of the country, preferring subtle charms over big-ticket attractions. The East fjords is the area’s most wondrous destination – the scenery is particularly spectacular around the northern fjord villages, backed by sheer-sided mountains etched with waterfalls.
Since it was a really long drive (as we were stopping every 10 minutes for pictures), we decided to stop and explore two of the well-known fjord villages on our way to the north. The landscape exhibits an extraordinary palette of colors (with the colourful houses) in a contrast of extremes with narrow fjords , jagged snow covered peaks, and majestic black sand beaches.
Stop 1: Djupivogur
Djúpivogur is a small coastal village located on the Búlandsnes peninsula, nestled between the picturesque fjord, Hamarsfjörður, and Berufirth in east Iceland.
Stop 2: Eskifjordur
Eskifjörður is a charming seaside village in the middle of the eastern Fjords. We came here with the hope of spotting reindeer, as we had read about it in some of the travel discussion boards, but the locals told us that its hard to spot them in winter. So, we have to be back in summer for it. :)
Random stops along the fjords
Egilsstaðir is one of Iceland´s youngest townships and has become the service and trade centre for most of East Iceland. That's it was the perfect place for us to spend the night. We had an amazing dinner over looking the semi frozen water body, and had really warm and comfortable studio apartment for some well deserved rest.
Link to the studio apartment
Day 5: More waterfalls and geothermal areas on the way to North Iceland
Stop 1: Dettifoss and Selfoss
Dettifoss is a waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, and is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. We visited the West bank side of it (there is an East bank side too). It’s around 15 minute walk from the car park. Another waterfall in the vicinity is Selfoss, which is around 10 minutes’ walk from the Dettifoss waterfall. Both are magnificent and powerful!
Stop 2: Namafjall geothermal area
The Namafjall geothermal field is located in Northeast Iceland, on the east side of Lake Myvatn. At this area, also known as Hverir, you may see many solfataras and boiling mud pots, surrounded by sulfur crystals of many different colours. The surface here looks like the surface of Mars!
Stop 3: Myvatn lake
Mývatn is a lake near Akureyri in North Iceland. The lake was formed during a massive eruption 2300 years ago. Today the area is best known for the huge numbers of birds that visit in the summer, and for the weird and inspiring volcanic features that surround the lake.
Stop 4: Godafoss
The name Goðafoss could be translated roughly as The Waterfall of The Gods. An impressive site any time of year, and is located just off the ring road route 1.
Link to the private cottages (please note that they charge extra cleaning fee if you use their bedding and towels and don’t leave the place clean. So, read all the details carefully). There are many similar cottages all along the fjord in Akureyri.
Day 6: Explore Akureyri
Akureyri nestles at the head of Eyjafjörður, Iceland’s longest (60km) fjord, at the base of snow-capped peaks. It’s the second largest city in Iceland after Reykjavik. With its relaxed attitude and extensive food and accommodation choices, once can’t miss spending a day here.
During summer, one can go for dolphin watching trips from here.
After a relaxing the misty morning in the private jacuzzi of our cottage, we exploring the town, and then headed towards the west of Iceland.
Grundarfjörður is a quaint town in Snæfellsnes. A mountain called Kirkjufell is near Grundafirði and is one of the most famous mountains in Iceland. It is a perfect pit stop for the night and to make an early start the next morning to the scenic spots.
Link to the accommodation
Day 7: Explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula
This 90- km long peninsula comprises a world of diversity. Friendly towns and villages, spectacular mountains, a multitude of bird species nesting on treacherous cliffs, beaches of sand and pebbles and one of the most spectacular waterfalls.
Stop 1: Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall was my favourite location on the Snæfellsness peninsula. The Kirkjufell Mountain as its backdrop makes the view perfect. The waterfall was almost frozen when we visited it, gave it a very magical feel.
Stop 2: Arnarstapi & Mt Stapafell
Arnarstapi or Stapi is a small fishing village at the foot of Mt. Stapafell. We took a walk along the coastline towards the pier and were surrounded by columnar basalt, ravines and grottoes. The landscape around the village is just spectacular. We could hear so many birds squawking everywhere around the cliffs.
A sculpture of Bardur Snaefellsas by Ragnar Kjartansson stands by the beach at Arnarstapi.
Stop 3: Staðastaður historic site
Staðastaður is one of the historic sites on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. But, I loved how the church stands tall with Snæfellsjökull glacier in the background.
Stop 4: Gerðuberg basalt columns
Gerðuberg was our last stop, a beautiful belt of basalt columns. Since Iceland is a volcanic island, it has many beautiful basalt formations, but at Gerðuberg, you will see one of the longest basalt column belts in Iceland.
We managed to book the same AirBnB again for our last 2 nights.
Day 8: Explore Reykjavik, relax in the Laugarvatn Fontana thermal spa and go on the northern lights hunting tour
A trip to Iceland can’t be complete without going to the top of its most famous church, Hallgrímskirkja. It is a Lutheran parish church that is among one of the highest structures in Iceland. For 800 ISK (approx. US$6) you can catch an elevator to the top of the church and see the best view in town. I enjoyed the views of the typical Nordic colorful houses, blue water and mountains in the distance.
After exploring the colourful neighbourhood around Reykjavik, we decided to spend the afternoon in Laugarvatn Fontana thermal spa. It is the second most visited, after Blue Lagoon (1.5 hour drive from Reykjavik) and not as crowded as the Blue Lagoon. The bonus is that it’s right next to a geothermal lake and surrounded by mountains.
Since we had no luck in witnessing northern lights on our own (we did not even pay much attention to them at nights to be honest, as we were so tired every night), we decided to let the experts show us the lights. So, on our last night we went on a guided northern lights hunting tour, and saw something absolutely magical and beyond words!
We did the Northern Lights hunting tour with Arctic Adventures (https://adventures.is/).
Day 9: Explore more of Reykjavik and then chill at the Blue Lagoon before heading to the airport
After a lazy start in the morning, we explored few more churches and neighbourhoods around Reykjavik, and then headed to the Blue Lagoon. Since we couldn’t make a reservation 1 week before (everything was fully booked), so we just walked around and dined at their restaurant, and headed to the airport.
P.S. make sure to book a slot in the Blue lagoon and also book all the guided tours as soon as you book the trip, because the trips per day and the number of people per trip are very limited.
More on Iceland
The Ultimate Guide to Iceland – I share my 11 reasons to visit Iceland with all the necessary details for The Travel Women website. It is a community for women by women to empower women to travel outside their comfort zone.