Iceland: A Nine Day Trip Around The Ring Road
Updated: Jan 30
This post is a long time in the making. We started planning this trip to Iceland around the time of my Dad’s 59th birthday, with the view that we’d be away for his 60th birthday the following year. There are a few other reasons this post has taken me so long to write. George and I have had a lot on our plates the last couple of months. Some incredible highs (I’ve recently interviewed for and secured a job I’ve dreamed of for a while, and we’re in the process of buying a house that we hope to live in for a really long time), but there have also been some real lows. We lost someone we love and care about so very much. All of that made me take a huge step back from the blog and social media in general. We just needed some time to heal.
But, I really really wanted to share this incredible family trip as we put so much time and effort into our research (where to stay, where to eat, how to travel Iceland without remortgaging a house and everything in-between). So without further ado…
Nine days Travelling the Iceland Ring Road.
We took an early flight out of Heathrow, meaning we landed in Iceland and cleared passport control before 11AM. The first thing to consider when heading close to the Arctic Circle in the winter is the amount of daylight you’ll have. We only had about five hours a day, which means you don’t have a huge amount of time to play with. Couple that with what could potentially be some really tricky driving conditions and you’re not in for a treat. Get a good rental car, follow weather and traffic conditions on roads.is and do your research on when sunrise and sunset is each day (specific for the location you’re in! It changes dramatically when you travel further north and west to east etc!)
Our first stop after picking up the rental car was a supermarket, to pick up some fresh ingredients. Now, my main tip for travelling in Iceland without breaking the bank is to pack food and take it with you. Food and drink there is incredibly expensive. My sister Hannah and I came to Reykjavik a few years ago and brought the absolute basics with us for a city break (a bottle of gin and some snacks in duty free etc), but spending longer than a week here took a little more planning. We pre-planned a few meals for when we were going to be staying in Airbnbs a bit in the middle of nowhere and brought all the non perishable ingredients with us. For example, I made a chilli one night and we bought the rice and chilli mix with us and then just picked up the fresh mince and veg from a supermarket we passed that day. We also bought snacks, soups, tea bags, coffee, biscuits and everything else we needed for when we were out on the road each day, along with flasks of hot water each morning - I did warn you this trip was a lot of planning!
So, back to day one. We nipped into a supermarket for supplies and headed straight on to do the "Golden Circle tour”. You’ll see this advertised by most Icelandic tour companies and it’s an easy day trip from Reykjavik (Han and I did it last time we were here). The Golden Circle compromises of Pingvellier National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir.
Pingvellier is worth a stop for the simple fact that it’s the place where the Americas and Euro-Asia tectonic plates meet, which is pretty cool. There is so much more about this place that I wouldn’t even know where to begin, but the tour guides are excellent and will give you a full history.
Gulfoss Waterfall is just simply breathtaking. Having been twice now, the sheer scale and volume of water is incredible.
We just made it to Geysir before sun fall, it was a close thing! Geysir is one of the most famous geysers in world (hence the name). It erupts every 10-15 minutes, but there’s also lots of other volcanic activity going on in the area, hot springs bubbling and streams of water over 100 degrees centigrade!
That night we stayed in this lodge (which had a hot tub, perfect for thawing out our frozen feet!)
The plus side of going to Iceland in the winter is that you get to lie in! Because nowhere gets light until past 10AM. So we re-loaded the car and left about 9 ish, to get to Seljalandsfoss for sunlight. This was a really special waterfall as you can walk all the way around the back of it. Watch out for ice! It was actually really mild during this leg of out trip (11 degrees!) but it was still really slippery in some parts, I can imagine that gets worse when it’s colder.
Skogafoss is breathtaking, especially from the top (but my goodness, those stairs! Just take a few deep breaths and prepare yourself). So worth it though, leaning out over the birds flying and nesting below is amazing.
This day was one of our tightest packed schedules and we actually ended up crossing the Sólheimasandur plane wreck off our list, as they’ve recently closed the road to get there. If it’s something you really want to see then leave lots of time to make the walk there and back.
We opted to head for the Black Beach at Reynisfjara, where the basalt sea stacks tower from the water. It’s got an amazing moody atmosphere, especially with the foggy weather we experienced that day.
Hannah and I spent a lot of time splashing about with our boots on.
Our last stop that day was the Fjadrargljufur Canyon, at over 100m deep it’s great to hike the mile up to the viewpoint and take in the sight of the canyon formed by a glacier in the Ice Age. The water below is a crystal clear turquoise.
We stayed in Skaftarhreppur that night, which is honestly in the middle of nowhere, so make sure you have supplies.
First on our itinerary today was Svartifoss, which was about an hour's drive from where we had stayed the night before. This waterfall is a fair hike up from the car park by the ring road, and at times quite steep. It’s worth arriving in the dark and starting the climb before the sun is up in order to save your daylight hours for later.
We wore crampons to help with the icy patches, and kept them on for our next stop at the Svinafellsjokull Glacier too. There is no way you’d get far without them here, there were sheets of ice that had formed from water running down the rocks.
Diamond beach, near Hofn, was one of my favourite places of the whole trip. The nearby glacier drops icebergs into the lagoon, which feeds them out into the sea and they wash up onto the beach. It was honestly like being on another planet, magical!
Some were so big you could climb up onto them. Anyone fancy a cup of tea on my new sofa?
In Hofn we stayed at the Skyjaborg Apartments.
This was mainly a driving day, but we made sure we picked out some good spots to have a cup of tea and a picnic on the way. The views of the fjords whilst driving the ring road were often stunning in themselves.
We pulled up at the Sveinsstekksfoss Waterfall for a cup of tea and a biscuit and not too much further along the road is Folaldafoss. This part of Iceland is far enough from Reykjavik that not many tourists visit, so you often have places to yourselves.
We stayed in Egilsstadi that evening, at this guesthouse.
A day of waterfalls! We really did see what Iceland had to offer today, with each fall just more impressive than the last. A good first stop is Rjukandi waterfall, right by the ring road and an easy ten minute hike up the mountain.
We then made the drive to Dettifoss and Selfoss, a pair of falls a bit of drive from the ring road. As long as you’ve got good winter tyres on you should be okay, but keep an eye on road closures online (I was so impressed with the almost constant phone signal in Iceland, so it was easy to keep track of the weather and roads).
You 100% need crampons here in the winter, I honestly don’t think we’d have even made it to the path from the car park without them. Waterproof trousers aren’t a bad idea either, as sometimes our feet went through thin ice into a really deep puddle underneath.
These waterfalls are worth the icy hike though. Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and the constant ‘golden hour’ light here reflecting off the water was just stunning.
We did have one location on our itinerary that day which wasn't a waterfall. At the Hverir Geothermal Area there's lots of boiling mud pots and fumaroles (openings near volcanoes where sulphur gas escapes). It was so so cool to see, especially with the sun setting behind, but the sulphur honestly smelt so bad I can't put it into words, my eyes were streaming (from the smell and from laughter!)
The last waterfall of the day was Godafoss, famous for the rainbow which can sometimes be spotted over it. The sun set at 3PM that afternoon, so we were on a tight schedule to get everything done before nightfall.
We pulled into Akureyri just as dusk was settling. We stayed in this lovely apartment and ate out at Strikid, which we really enjoyed. It was such a treat to eat out after cooking in each night so far.
We had some really exciting plans before we left Akureyri the next morning. We drove up the mountain to meet our guides at Inspiration Iceland, to go dog sledding!
George and I have been sledding before, but it was a first for Mum, Dad and Hannah.
After driving up the mountain a bit further to find some better snow, the sleds were unloaded and we got to meet the dogs. They were so friendly and excited!
It was really cold whilst we were with the dogs, so I was glad off all the layers I had on! Our guides were amazing and we had such a good time.
We were in for a treat when we got back to the kennels as there was a litter of puppies excited to see us!
And we were more than a little excited to see them!
After sledging it was a long drive to Grundarfjördur where we were staying for the night (thankfully with a hot tub as it was so snowy and cold on the drive). We cracked open some beers and kept our eyes on the skies for the Northern Lights (but no such luck!)
This was my Dad’s 60th Birthday and I think this may have been my favourite day of all. We drove right out into the West Coast of Iceland, on the Saefellsnes Peninsula for sunrise, and it was just perfect.
The sun was so low all day, it was a constant state of sunrise or sunset. With canyfloss pink and orange skies, the powder perfect white snow and the waves crashing against the cliffs it was honestly amazing.
Seeing the seals sunbathing and at Ytri Tunga beach was something special.
We saw frozen rock pools and snowdrifts in the sand, not your average beach day. We were wrapped in so much clothing as the wind was bitter cold.
Day Eight & Nine
The last stop on our road trip was back in Reykjavik! We had two nights here, taking in the sights and eating the best food Iceland has to offer. We had an incredible tasting menu at Grillmarkadurrin, one of mine and Hannah’s favourite memories of our trip to Reykjavik last time.
Our Airbnb apartment was really nice (although a serious marathon to get our luggage up the four flights of stairs!) but worth it for the view of Hallgrimskirja Cathedral from our balcony terrace.
Harpa Concert Hall is also definitely worth a visit whilst you’re in the city, it has great views out over the Greenland Sea and the modern architecture of the building is so cool.
We visited the Blue Lagoon on our last full day in Iceland. We picked the earliest time slot and were in the water before sunrise. It was so much nicer and quieter than the last time I visited, definitely worth going early. We mooched around the lagoon, picking up a drink and enjoying the facemasks at the mask bar. Make sure not to put your hair in the water as the silica will make it go really stiff, and give it a really good shampoo and condition in the showers on the way out.
On our last night we ate at a little French restaurant called Le Bistro. We had an amazing fondue all to share, a great end to our trip.
Happy 60th birthday, Dad!