What are you looking for?
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Icelandic Road Trip: Our 2 Week Itinerary

We just got back from an epic two-week road trip around Iceland. We rented a motorhome and drove the entirety of Iceland's main highway called the Ring Road, and we also took detours on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and in the Westfjords. While Iceland is a very popular tourist destination, my overall impression was that the country was struggling to adapt to its popularity. This was the third major international road trip we have embarked on-- the others being a 21-day road trip in New Zealand and a 10-day road trip in Taiwan-- and surprisingly, this one is the only one I likely wouldn't undertake again. That said, we had a great time exploring Iceland's rugged terrain and trying something new as a family. Below is our itinerary, which was affected by a few factors. First, we traveled with our 16-month-old daughter. Second, wild camping is no longer legal in Iceland, so every night, we camped in an official campground. Third, we based our daily travels on the weather because we were driving a bulky motorhome. Therefore, you may notice this itinerary looks a little different from other Ring Road itineraries.

Duration: 2 nights
Since our motorhome was not available for the duration of our trip, we spent the first two days exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula with a jeep and an AirBnb. We stayed in the small village of Grundarfjörður, which is located right on the slopes of Mt. Kirkjufell. The drive from Keflavik Airport to Grundarfjörður was a three hour, intense introduction to driving on Icelandic roads, which are far narrower than any we had driven before. While on the peninsula, we explored a few waterfalls and Snæfellsjökull National Park. We also somehow managed to tear our jeep's passenger side door off its hinges due to intense wind. Luckily, we purchased the best travel insurance possible in advance, so we didn't have to pay a cent of the $2,000 damages. Phew. We didn't let the wind ruin our time, and this was easily one of our favorite stops of the trip!

Duration: 1 night
By the time we returned our jeep and got our motorhome, it was already late and very, very windy and rainy. When you rent a motorhome in Iceland, the first thing the rental company tells you is not to mess around with the wind. We were given a number, and if wind speeds reached that number, we were told to pull over immediately. We were even given a wind reading tool by the rental company. That's how serious the wind is, which we already learned from having our jeep's door ripped off its hinges. Every year, however, some people refuse to listen, and they and their motorhome are blown off the roads. We didn't want to be those people, so we found the closest campsite to Keflavik Airport, which is in the coastal town of Grindavik, and hunkered down there for the night. We didn't even go outside because the winds and rain were so strong and rocking our motorhome. When we woke in the morning, we discovered the campsite shared a fence with a sheep farm, and Ruby just loved getting to know these fluffy guys!

Duration: 1 night
After the winds died down a bit the next day, we booked it to Búðardalur, a small village at the entrance to Iceland's Westfjords. To get here, we had to drive through a 6 kilometer, underwater tunnel and through towering mountain passes. The campsite in Búðardalur was at a school, which worked out really well for us because it had a playground and walking trails. Ruby loved the beach here because there were so many playful seals! In Búðardalur, we hit up a local grocery store to stock up our motorhome's mini fridge. The whole time we were in Iceland, we only ate out twice. Otherwise, we cooked food in our motorhome and ate either inside at the table or outside using the camping table and chairs provided if the weather was decent. This saved us a lot of money!

Duration: 1 night
We left the Westfjords and headed north. We stopped in the coastal town of Hvammstangi to get coffee, but we ended up staying for hours after the barista told us about a great hiking trail into the mountains. We ended up wandering the mountainside for hours. We stumbled across a beautiful church and a horse farm. Getting to pet Icelandic horses was the highlight of the whole trip for Ruby (and me). The horses were so friendly and calm, especially in the face of a squealing baby. After roaming the countryside for half the day, we decided to get back in our motorhome and head further along the Ring Road. We ended up camping in the little village of Varmahlíð for the night.

Duration: 1 night
In the morning, we discovered that our campsite had a walking path that led up into the mountains. The was no map or sign, so we decided to just start walking to see what we could find. After randomly taking a series of right's and left's, we ended up on top of a glorious mountain with a vantage point for tourist with English signs and picnic tables. After our hike, we headed east to Lake Myvatn. It was a long drive through some of the most remote, moon-like countryside, and signs on the road even warned us about filling up on gas so that we wouldn't run out of it. We got to Lake Myvatn, and the first thing we noticed was the bugs (and the cold). We took a twilight hike along the lake in a beautiful forest full of trees turning red, orange, and yellow.

Duration: 1 night
We left the lake early in the morning to head to the small village of Seydisfjordur. While not along the Ring Road, this is the village to visit in the Eastfjords. At least, that's what everyone we talked to told us. I think part of its popularity is due to the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was partially filmed in this town. The drive through the fjords was long and winding and a little nerve wracking for Sean since we had such a large vehicle. However, the village itself was totally worth the visit. In the end, this was my favorite town in all of Iceland. There is a ferry that runs weekly to take people to Denmark. We came on a ferry day, so the town was packed. After the ferry left, the town became a little ghost town. There are waterfalls everywhere (literally), and the main drag in town is lined by a cobblestone, rainbow walkway. I am not sure it gets better than this in Iceland!

Duration: 1 night
The next day, we didn't feel ready to say goodbye to the Eastfjords like we originally planned on doing by heading to a national park. Instead, we decided to stay in one of the last villages in the Eastfjords, which was Djupivogur. This town had one of our favorite campsites of the entire trip; it was located on a hill overlooking the water and fishing harbor. We went on a long walk in a bird watching area right on the water, and we climbed up into the mossy hillside on walking paths. This town was quiet and sleepy, and everything was closed by 8 p.m. when we tried looking for a place to eat dinner. This was also the only time we had to drive on an unpaved section of the Ring Road, and this section of the road also had one-lane bridge after one-lane bridge. This stretch of the Ring Road headed west back to the capital is the most popular stretch of road for tourists, and this is also where we saw the worst behaved tourists. On our drive to Djupivogur, we saw many tourists parking their car in the middle of the road to take photos. I feel like it's obvious, but this is really, really dumb, and we talked to quite a few people who almost caused us to get into accidents. We were pretty irate about it since we had our infant in the car.

Duration: 1 night
As we left the Eastfjords and headed west, we came across the wondrous Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. This lagoon is full of icebergs floating off to the sea. The lagoon itself is literally beside the Ring Road, so it is impossible to miss. We spent about 1 hour walking around the lagoon and watching the icebergs break off and float away. It was truly a beautiful site to behold. We then continued driving for about one hour and ended up staying overnight at the Skatfafell National Park campsite. We didn't know it when chose to stay there, but the campsite was about a 30 minute walk away from one tongue of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier. Getting to walk within feet of the glacier was a spectacular experience! While here, Ruby fell off our motorhome's bed on to stairs, and we were worried that she had sustained a head injury due to her lethargy. The people working at the national park were so helpful. They waited with us while an ambulance came from 45 minutes away, and they were so kind and supportive. In the end, the paramedics and on call doctor decided that Ruby, who was acting normally by the time they arrived, was fine and in no need of treatment or tests. We were so grateful for the staff and paramedics' compassion and care.

Duration: 1 night
After the scare at Skatfafell National Park, we headed to Vik, which was my husband's favorite town in all of Iceland. This had a lot to due with the fact that there were great rock climbing opportunities for him nearby. This town is really, really popular with tourists because of its black sand beaches and horseback riding opportunities. While both of those aspects of the town are great, what I loved most about this town was its nice weather and large grassy fields that we could run around and picnic in. There is also a little shopping center for Icelandic products such as sweaters and snacks.

Duration: 1 night
We left Vik thinking that we would be spending the night in the capital. However, after arriving at the campgrounds in the capital and finding it trashed, we decided to look for somewhere cleaner and quieter to stay. In the end, we backtracked and found the cute town of Hveragerdi along the Ring Road to call home for the night. This town is a geothermal town. Puffs of steam rise from the hills, and signs on walkways caution visitors to stay on paths. We walked through the town's main park, which has informative signs in English about the town's waterfall, public pool, garden, and random historic people. One person celebrated was an everyday school teacher from over one century ago, and I thought that was really cool! We loved this little town and were so happy we stayed here instead of the capital.

Duration: 1 night
Because we had to return our motorhome early the next morning, we decided to stay in Grindavik again so we would only have a 20 minute drive to the airport. We said "hi" again to our fluffy and friendly sheep neighbors. We also spent much of our last day repacking our bags, finding Ruby's toys that had somehow spread to every nook and cranny of the motorhome, and reflecting on our trip. This was our first true international travel experience as a family of three, and while we had a few bumps along the way, we were very impressed with how flexible and adaptable Ruby was, and we were even more impressed with how kindly the people of Iceland treated us, so while Iceland is not on our list of places to revisit, we will always think back on our trip fondly.

-----

Stay tuned for more posts about our Icelandic road trip. 
They will cover topics such as our packing list for motorhome travel with an infant, cooking tips and meal ideas, popular tourist attractions, and reviews of Icelandair and Europcar.

Add your comment

  1. Very interested in your experience! We did the South Coast in a camper two years ago and I see we stayed at a few of the same campgrounds (Hveragerdi and Skaftafell). I would be curious why you felt it wasn't on your list to revisit. I had a rough first go of Iceland in 2011 but the aforementioned second time felt like redemption. Sad to hear you had to deal with tourists stopping in the middle of the highway -- that is absolutely nuts. I hope they will find better ways to deal with this huge influx of tourists soon.

    ReplyDelete