The perfect self-drive trip around Iceland

Iceland is the land of fire and ice with smoking volcanoes, black sand beaches, fringed horses, and dramatic scenery all packed into a small country. Here is the ultimate itinerary for a self-drive trip!

Itinerary

Rekjavik: 2 nights – Vik: 1 night – Hofn: 1 night – Seydisfjordur: 2 nights – Lake Myvatn: 2 nights – Akureyri: 2 nights – Reykjavik: 1 night

Iceland is best experienced by road-tripping and we made our way around it in 11-days. It’s best to drive east from Reykjavik. The only region we missed was the West Fjords, which I will definitely visit on a return journey. This was one of the best trips of my life!

Top tip: It’s crucial to book all your accommodation, it’s so limited and becomes incredibly expensive. Otherwise, you could end up with nowhere to stay, or paying $500 USD per night.

Reykjavik: 2 nights

Reykjavik was one of the highlights for me. It’s a cool coastal city with funky buildings, street art, and lively bars with great happy hours. For culture seekers, there are many galleries and museums to visit. National parks, waterfalls, and natural wonders are only a short drive away.

En route from the airport stop at the Blue Lagoon Geothermal spa to refresh, hit a museum in the afternoon, then do a bar hop that evening and find some live music. Spend the next day driving the golden circle and witness Gullfoss, Thingvellir National Park, and Geysir. Stop for lunch at the Tomato greenhouse, Freidheimer. Then enjoy dinner at one of the many world-class restaurants, like the Fish House.

Drive time: Rekjavik is 45-minutes drive from Keflavik airport.

MUST SEE:

Snorkel or dive at Silfra in the continental divide for an experience like no other. The water is crystal clear!

Visit an art gallery or museum – Saga (Viking history), Culture House, Maritime Museum, Punk Museum, Settlement Museum, Arbear Open Air Museum, Whales of Iceland, National Museum, or the Phallological Museum. There’s a Museum for everyone!

Do a tour of Langjökull Ice Cave & Lava Cave. It’s pretty unique to be able to walk inside a glacier. This mind-blowing experience is a full-day adventure.

Watch the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra at Harpa. At the very least check out this unique building.

Golden circle – Including Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir, and Thingvellir National Park.

STAY:

Reykjavik Residence Hotel: These lofted 1-3 bedroom apartments are some of the highest-rated in the city. From $200 USD/night.

Room with a View Apartments: Large apartments with balconies in a good location. From $180USD/night.

Ambassade Apartments: A cute 2-bedroom house in a great location, from $220/night.

KEX Hostel is cool but pricey for a private room! From $100USD/night.

EAT & DRINK

Best happy hours in Rekjavik: KEX hostel, Big Lebowski, Bar Ananas, and Boston.

Kex Hostel has a fun vibe, great beer, surprisingly good food, and it’s not too harsh on the wallet.

DILL serve Nordic cuisine and were awarded Iceland’s first Michelin star.

Fish Company is a cool space with good food. They sometimes have live music. Try the Icelandic scallops or arctic char!

Essencia is the place for super fresh Italian food.

Snaps is a stylish French restaurant with a hidden bar downstairs.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is the infamous hot dog stand that serve their dogs with an Iceland twist.

Vik: 1 night

Vik is a quaint town that makes for the perfect stopover. On the way from Reyk you will want to stop at Selfoss and Seljalandsfoss falls. Solvangur Icelandic Horse Centre is one of the best places to meet some infamous Icelandic horses! Vik is surrounded by incredible natural beauty. Don’t miss the viewpoint of Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey. It will take your breath away! Vik itself is picturesque with some nice restaurants and a classic Icelandic church.

Stay: Icelandair Hotel Vik embodies stark Scandinavian modernity. From $200USD/night.

Eat & Drink: Sudur Vik or Halldórskaffi

Drive time: 2.5 hours from Rekjavik

MUST SEE

Waterfalls: You must stop at Selfoss and Seljalandsfoss on the way to Vik. Walk behind Seljalandsfoss for iconic photos!

Solvangur Icelandic Horse Centre is a great stop for horse lovers. Pet the horses, or go for a ride! It’s 45-minutes from Reyk, near Selfoss.

Reynisfjara is a black sand beach with stunning rock formations. Make sure to visit the viewpoint of both Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey.

With dad at the Reynisfjara & Dyrhólaey viewpoint

Hofn: 1 night

Hofn is the next logical stopover. It wasn’t my favourite town but it does have a fantastic langoustine restaurant and a fun bar, Hafid. It’s also close to two stunning sights, Jokulsarlon and Stokksnes. The scenery is particularly breathtaking on the drive between Hofn and Sedisfjordur.

Stay: Hotel Hofn is a good 3-star option from $130USD/night.

Eat & Drink: Humarhofnin serves incredible langoustine at lofty prices. Hafid is a fun spot for a drink.

Drive time: 3.5 hours from Vik

MUST SEE:

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is not to be missed. Pre-book the boat trip and take a stroll on Diamond Beach, it’s littered with glacier fragments.

Stokksnes is a great stop just outside Hofn, for the back sand beaches, jagged cliffs, and the abandoned Viking Village film set.

Seydisfjordur: 2 nights

Seydisfjordur is a beautiful town on the east coast nestled amongst fjords with a fantastuc pub and lots of cute restaurants. The drive to Seydisfjordur is surreal, through a landscape that looks like mars. My favourite hike was in this area too, Vestdalsvatn & Vestdalseyri. The town is surrounded by waterfalls as far as the eye can see. We stayed in a cute house with views of the marina. This fishing village was one of my favourite stops.

Stay: Lonsleira Apartments are adorable cottages with water views on the fjords. Lonsleira is a gem! From $250/night.

Eat & Drink: Kaffi Lara is a lovely pub with good food and fun atmosphere. Nordic restaurant or Nord Austur sushi bar are both high quality.

Drive time: 3.5-hours from Hofn

MUST SEE:

Take a kayak tour in summer or go skiing at Stafdalur in winter!

Visit Tvisongur sound sculpture amidst the mountainside.

Take a boat trip for photographing wildlife or deep sea fishing!

Excellent hiking trails in Vestdalsvatn and Vestdalseyri, past many waterfalls surrounded by peaks.

Lake Myvatn: 2 nights

Lake Myvatn deserves at least 2-nights as there’s so much to see in this area, including lava fields, rock formations, active volcanoes, and hidden springs within caves. The town itself is quite desolate and the accommodation options here are extremely limited, so be sure to book early. I recommend a cabin with a kitchen, as there aren’t many options for eating out. We had one exceptional meal on a farm at Vogafjós.

Stay: The options are limited in Myvatn. Hlid Cottages are a selection of basic wooden cottages amidst a lava field. From $350USD per night.

Eat & Drink: Vogafjós Farm Restaurant is top-notch!

Drive time: 4-hours drive from Seydisfjordur

MUST SEE:

Myvatn nature baths are the northern alternative to the Blue Lagoon, at a lower cost with fewer people.

Hverir geothermal area is otherworldly, with bubbling pools and steam rising from the earth.

Hike up a volcano! Hverfjall is one of the most well-preserved craters on earth. Krafla Viti is stunning and filled with shockingly blue water. Both are relatively easy hikes, under 30-minutes to the summit. You can also spend more time walking around the craters.

Visit the lava rock formations of Dimmuborgir.

Grjótagjá cave has an indoor spring made famous by Game of Thrones! (Think Jon Snow and Igrit’s first love scene).

Visit Dettifoss falls, around 90-minutes from Lake Myvatn.

Akureyri: 2 nights

Akureyri, the capital of the north, is a charming city that has a buzz to it. After being in so many sleepy towns, it was nice to find some great bars and restaurants. We especially loved the R5 beer bar. It’s worth a drive to Husavik, a picturesque coastal town that’s famous for whale watching. It also has one of my favourite restaurants, Naustid, where I had the most amazing seafood soup!

We had our favourite day when we went whale watching with the oldest company in Iceland, in Huaganes, on their old fishing boat. We saw 3 humpbacks up close! We also fished off the side of the boat and enjoyed watching the fjords go by. We had lunch at Baccalá Bar, and met the owner of Iceland’s oldest fishery, along with some of his horses!

After lunch, we visited Bjorbordin beer spa for a treatment. Starting with a beer in their outdoor hot tub, before the main experience, a bath of hops. You can drink beer straight from the taps! We finished up in the relaxation room. It was a luxurious and unique experience that I can’t recommend highly enough. We then visited their brewery, Kaldi, and were lucky enough to chat with the charismatic owner.

Stay: Acco Apartments from $170USD/nt. We stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of town. It was huge with a kitchen and laundry. This was the best value hotel of the trip.

Eat & Drink:  Naustid is a fantastic restaurant in Husavik. Noa seafood restaurant is one of the best in Akureyri. Strkid has a rooftop patio and great views. Pylsuvagninn á Akureyri is the best stand for Icelandic hot dogs. Cafe Berlin is fun, cheap, and cozy.

Best happy hours: Mulaberg,  R5, Cafe Amour, Aurora

Drive time: 5-hours to Rekjavik

MUST SEE:

Visit Godafoss falls, only 40-minutes from town.

Whale watching in Huaganes or Husavik.

Bjobordin Beer Spa exceeded all expectations.

Catch some live music. Græni Hatturinn is a popular venue.

Go skiing in Hlíðarfjall in winter.

Visit Hof Cultural Centre, it’s an amazing building!

Rekjavik: last night.

We stayed the last evening in Reykjavik as we were flying out the next day and had a long drive from Akureyri of around 5-hours.

Travel tips for the best trip to Iceland

  • Pack warm clothes, no matter what time of year. It’s the second windiest country in the world. Bring a rain jacket!
  • Pre-book hotels, ideally 6 months in advance: everything sells out
  • High season (mid-June-August) is best avoided as it’s crazy busy
  • The best month is September. It’s not too busy or cold and you might see the Northern Lights!
  • Northern Lights season is September through to March. Sep & March being your best months
  • Buy food from Bonus grocery store to make meals & snacks
  • Drinking: Happy hour is the only affordable time to buy drinks. Pickup some duty-free alcohol on arrival into Reykjavik airport.
  • Driving is safe and easy. Pre-book your car and get a 4WD if you can.

In Conclusion….

Iceland is hard to beat. It’s easily one of the most beautiful and unique countries in the world. The variations in the landscape are unbelievable and the food is shockingly good. Yes, it’s expensive to eat out, but if you’re prepared, it’s not too bad. Plus all the jaw-dropping nature you see all day is free! This was one of the hardest trips to plan, but easily one of the best times of my life.

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