Reykjavík to Reykjavík: Driving in circles
Reykjavik to Reykjavik
Est Driving Time18-21 days
- The Blue Lagoon
- Thingvellir National Park
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- Reynisdrangar black sand beach
- Blue Ice Caves
- Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
- Dettifoss Waterfall
- Krafla Viti Crater
- The Dark Castles of Dimmuborgir
- Myvatn Nature Baths
- Godafoss Waterfall
- Kirkjufell Mountain
- Deildartunguhver Hot Springs
- Barnafoss and Hraunfossar Falls
Leg 1 Reykjavik to Vik via the Golden Circle
Est Driving Time6 hrs
Got your Reykjavik motorhome rental and ready to hit the road? Not so fast. It would be a crime to leave this compact and cultural capital without taking a look around first. To start, take a look to see if there are any festivals or events on during the time you’re in the city. Reykjavik is known as a hotbed of experiences, with an annual calendar that overflows with music, art, food, fashion and design festivals throughout the year. Even if you miss out on these fests, there are still plenty of other things to do in Reykjavik. Take a walk around the heart of the world’s most northern capital to see the historic buildings and old port, or jump on a bike for a chance to explore the city’s coastline on two wheels. The city is home to the National Museum, which is where you’ll find a complete history with relics dating back to early settlement up until now, and the Art Museum, which has so much art that it’s all split over three separate sites. Plus, Iceland is known for its salmon fishing, so if nothing pleases you more than a strong bite at the end of your fishing rod, Reykjavik is the place to make it happen. Easily the most iconic structure in Reykjavik, however, is the Hallgrímskirkja church. It might be a handful to tag on your Instagram photos, but this towering structure is a unique and much-visited landmark that offers an expansive view over the city.
Out on the peninsula to the south-west of Reykjavik is one of Iceland’s most visited attractions - and it’s only a short detour from the city. The Blue Lagoon Spa is situated on a striking blue lagoon that was formed by volcanic activity almost 800 years ago. It’s where you can bathe in the warm waters, smother silica mud over your skin, and simply relax in this Icelandic wonderland. The facility also offers tours to learn more about the region’s history, as well as full wellness packages and lagoon products.
Turn back around and make your way through Reykjavik and on to the Thingvellir National Park via Route 1 and 36. Less than an hour from the city, you’ll come across this place of extreme national importance, and international geographical acclaim. The Thingvellir National Park is a World Heritage Listed location that was once where Icelandic people would come to settle disputes during two weeks of the year from 930 until 1798. The assembly was known as Althing, and today you can still see fragments of roughly 50 booths, as well as agricultural remains from the last few centuries. The other reason this area is so wonderful is due to its geographic mysteries - here the land straddles the rift between the tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Range where the Eurasian and North American plates meet. And the coolest part? You can literally see it. There are many rifts across the land, the biggest of which - Peningagjá - is full of startlingly clear water, and is where many stop to throw coins, as you can see them lying at the bottom. Two other rifts that are filled with water make for two of the most fascinating diving spots in the world. If you plan to dive here, be sure to acquire the correct permissions before you take the plunge.
Along Route 365 you’ll come across the small town of Laugarvatn. There might not be much to the town, but the Fontana Spa puts this place on the map. Situated right on Laugarvatn Lake, a soothing rest in the pools or sauna offers a view equal to the experience itself. There are three interconnected outdoor mineral baths to soak in, and as the site is open late into the night throughout summer, it’s an idyllic spot from which to catch the Northern Lights should they be out.
Continue driving around the Golden Circle by heading along Route 36 and turning onto Route 365 towards the geothermal area that is Haukadalur. This bubbling, steaming, writhing area is home to geysers that have been active for more than 1,000 years. The Stokkur Geyser is famous for its massive plumes which rise 30 metres into the air every six minutes or so. Nearby, the Geysir is less active, but is literally the namesake of every ‘geyser’ in the world, making it something of a special spot. And if just looking at these spectacular sights isn’t enough, try the ‘hot spring bread’ experience, where you help an on-site chef use the geysers to boil eggs, then enjoy a picnic with those eggs and bread that’s been cooked in the hot earth.
Just a little further around the Golden Circle route is the magnificent Gullfoss Waterfall. Let’s get this straight - this is not your average waterfall. Gullfoss, meaning ‘golden’, is a behemoth of raw power and beauty. In summer, it’s a raging torrent of water that drops 32 metres over two drops, and if you catch it on a sunny day, it often comes complete with a sparkling rainbow so vivid that it barely looks real. Come winter, the snow and ice gives Gullfoss an ethereal quality that’s impossible to put into words. This is Iceland’s biggest waterfall, and it doesn’t get much better than this.
As you head out of the Golden Circle and on to the Ring Road, you’ll first follow Route 30 then turn onto Route 1 towards Vik.
There is only one known waterfall in the world where you can walk around the cascading water, and, you guessed it, it’s in Iceland. The Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is a mainstay of Earth porn images, with a 60-metre high slim chute of water falling prettily into an awaiting pool below. Walk around the falls and capture one of the most unbelievable photographs of your trip, or wait until nightfall for a sunset or Northern Lights image that’s worthy of international awards.
Before you arrive in Vik, make a final stop on this leg at Cape Dyrholaey. Meaning ‘Door Hill Island’, the cape is famous for a natural stone arch worn into the cliff by the relentless ocean. The arch is big enough for boats and small planes to pass under, and the whole area is surrounded by black sand beaches from years of volcanic activity. If you are in Iceland any time from late April and through summer, this cape will also have another fantastic attraction - puffins. Iceland is home to more than half the world’s population of these comical-looking birds, and they tend to nest on coastal areas around the country.
Leg 2 Vik to Hofn
Est Driving Time3 hrs, 30 mins
The village of Vik makes for a quaint rest stop on your tour around Iceland. It’s the southernmost village in the country, and is a popular stopping point for travellers along the Ring Road. There are just 450 or so inhabitants living in this village, so it’s a peaceful break from a busy itinerary. Vik’s beaches are easily its most popular attraction. Its main beach is a swath of black basalt sand, and not far from the village are more beaches such as Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjara, which have incredible cliff faces and sea stacks intruding across the skyline. Reynisdrangar literally means ‘troll’s fingers’, and you’ll see why when you spot the hundreds of ‘fingers’ sticking straight up from the ground. Another iconic beach spot is the old crashed navy DC 3 plane that landed on the coast just out of Vik in 1973. These days it’s nothing more than an empty shell, but it’s a beautiful walk just getting there, and a great spot for keen photographers.
Make sure your camera batteries are fully charged, because you might just use them up completely on your next stop at the ice caves of Svinafellsjokull in the Skaftafell National Park. These caves exist largely thanks to the nearby Vrffajvkul volcano, which compressed the air out of this centuries-old ice as it moved down the glacier, giving it a mesmerising blue hue that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The cave has a wide entrance that you can walk into before it tapers off to a small nook at the back where you can listen as the ice cracks and groans eerily around you. You are most likely to see the blue at the end of winter after plenty of rain, which is also when it’s safest to visit as the ice is frozen solid. This Vatnajokull Glacier is the largest in Europe, with an estimated 3,300 cubic kilometres of solid ice to its name.
Also connected to the Vatnajokull Glacier is the Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon. This is a smaller, lesser known lagoon than its famous big brother (more on that shortly), but it’s no less visually arresting. It’s set against the backdrop of a volcano, and is essentially a glacial lake dotted with countless icebergs small and large that float around before slowly melting. It’s a stunning place, and one where you can get even closer for a better look with a guided boat tour of the lake. Note that tours typically operate from May through to September.
Just 10 kilometres east of the Fjallsarlon Glacier lies the more famous of the two, the larger Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon. It’s one of the most popular places in the country as you can also jump aboard a boat to sail across the smooth waters of this lagoon, see the ancient ice up close, take a bite out of it (literally), and possibly even spot a seal or two. Again, the tours only run for a certain time (generally May to October, weather dependent), but you can stop by and see the lagoon for yourself during winter. There is also a small cafe on-site where you can grab a hot cup of coffee to keep you warm!
After your glacier excursions, it’s a quick drive up the coast on Route 1 to Hofn.
Leg 3 Hofn to Myvatn
Est Driving Time7 hrs
Hofn was once nothing more than another small fishing village in the south of Iceland. Thanks to its location right next to the Vatnajökull National Park, its glaciers and lagoons, and a spot on the Ring Road, Hofn has become something of a booming tourism town. The appeal is largely in its simple beauty, as it’s set on a small outcrop of land that sits upon serene waters with picture-perfect craggy mountains all around. It’s a good place to set up at a camping site for a day or two to explore the surrounds, and it even has a maritime museum, multiple hiking tracks, visitors centres for further information, restaurants for a good meal and shops where you can stock up on supplies. If you’re there during summer, see if you can catch that annual lobster festival!
The drive between Hofn and the next big attraction (Dettifoss Waterfall) is a long one, so be prepared with plenty of food and drinks, and fill up with petrol before you go. Stop (safely) whenever you feel the need to stretch your legs and take photos.
Rumour has it that Dettifoss Waterfall, roughly 30 kilometres off the beaten Ring Road on Route 864, is the most powerful in Europe. It’s 100 metres wide and falls 45 metres before crashing into a roiling, frothing foam at the bottom. The road is generally better maintained on the east side of the River Jokulsa, so it could be a good idea to approach from this end, as the west (Route 862) is far more rugged. In either case, check the road conditions before you drive, as winter travel can become difficult in this area. If you do get close enough to the water, try tasting it - you’ll be amazed at just how fresh it is!
For another quick and gorgeous detour from the Ring Road, take a right off Route 1 and head to the Krafla Viti Crater (keep going past the power plant). Viti - literally meaning hell - is a crater full of azure blue water that was created after a five-year-long explosion from the Krafla volcano in the 1700s. It’s a beautiful spot with the bright crater rim running around the 300-metre lake, but be sure to stick to the walking paths and avoid the jets of steam issuing from the ground.
Practically everyone and their mother is a Game of Thrones fan these days, which is why most people will love the chance to visit Dimmuborgir, a film location from season three. It was used to shoot a scene ‘beyond the wall’ where Ygritte and Jon Snow consider hiding away in a cave - you know the one. Long before Game of Thrones, however, Dimmuborgir was a popular attraction in its own right. It means ‘Dark Castles’, which perfectly describes the endless fascinating lava formations in the area. From cones and pillars to keyholes and chimneys, this 2,300-year old geological site is a great place for hiking and photography. Of course, such a place in Iceland comes with its own folklore, and in this case it’s the tale of evil-spirited Gryla and her family. Like many stories, this one was originally believed to have been told to scare naughty children into good behaviour.
Leg 4 Myvatn to Stykkisholmur
Est Driving Time5 hrs
Myvatn is a small town next to a large lake, and it’s a great place to stop for a rest on your Icelandic motorhome tour. It’s known primarily for its hot pools, but has also made a name for itself as a mecca for waterbird enthusiasts and a place of jaw-dropping beauty. The hot pools, known as the Myvatn Nature Baths, are situated on a manmade lagoon and filled with water that comes from a bore hole in Bjarnarflag. When it arrives, the water is roughly 130 degrees Celsius, but by the time you slip in for a soak, they are at a heavenly 35-40 degrees C. The attraction also has two steam baths and an on-site restaurant. As well as a visit to the lake, check out the Vogafjos Restaurant and Farm while you’re in Myvatn. This family-run business has a fantastic restaurant, a cafe that’s inside the cow stable where you can drink the freshest milk you will ever taste, and a guesthouse if you’d like to stay the night.
When you leave Myvatn, continue on the same Route 1 of the Ring Road and make your way to the Godafoss Falls.
‘Godafoss’ translates loosely as ‘The Waterfall of the Gods’, and is known as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. It has a fraction of the power of the mighty Dettifoss, but has been charmingly named the ‘beauty’ to Dettifoss’ ‘beast’. The history of these falls is an important one, too, as they are tied up with Iceland’s religious switch from the old gods to Christianity around the year 1000. At the time, a lawmaker named Þorgeir literally threw the statues of the old gods over the falls to symbolise the acceptance of a new faith in the land, and if you believe the stories, this is how Godafoss got its name. Enjoy a meal at the Fossholl guesthouse next door before continuing on along the Ring Road.
The ‘capital of North Iceland’, and the second largest city in the country is Akureyri, and it’s your next stop along your motorhome tour of Iceland. In 2015, Lonely Planet named it the number one place to visit in Europe, citing its relaxed buzz and its perfect location for adventures. The Botanical Garden in the centre of town contains nearly every plant found in the entire country. There’s a medieval trading post just 11 kilometres out of the city, a stunning Lutheran church that’s something of a symbol of Akureyri for its unique design, several museums, and endless tours available from the town. You can go skiing at a the Hlidarfjall Ski Field just outside the city through winter, or check out the bird watching and boat tours in summer. It’s a good place to stop and rest for a day or two before stocking up on supplies and carrying on with your road trip.
It’s a long, stunning drive along Route 1 before turning right at Stadur onto Route 586, then Route 54 towards Stykkisholmur. Before you arrive at your destination, however, make a stop at Helgafell just out of the city.
Helgafell is a Holy Mountain that, according to local legend, grants visitors three wishes. You’ll need to climb to the top of this 73-metre hill, and as you’re admiring the phenomenal view across Breidafjordur Bay, you make your wishes. There are just a few catches - you must not look back as you ascend the mountain, nor speak. Plus, you’ve got to face east as you send your wishes out into the world, and you’re not allowed to tell anyone about them! Make sure you get it right the first time, too, as it only works for first-time climbers of Helgafell. Once you’ve ticked all your wish boxes, you’ll be free to explore the remnants of an old monastery from the 12th century.
Leg 5 Stykkisholmur to Reykjavik
Est Driving Time5 hrs
Stykkisholmur is ‘The Town of the Thousand Islands’, located at the north of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west of Iceland. The locals believe it’s the prettiest town in the whole country - but it’s up to you to decide if they’re just a tad biased, or perhaps that it’s true. There are more islands around the town than you could feasibly count, so there are endless opportunities for sea tours, island hopping, ferry rides and other water-based adventures to be had. The Volcano Museum is one-of-a-kind and will help you make sense of this diverse landscape, while the Library of Water adds a unique and fascinating art installation in the heart of the city. The church, Stykkisholmskirkja, is another example of creative architecture and is located in a beautiful clifftop location, perfect for a walk or sunset picnic.
When you leave Stykkisholmur, you’ll have the choice of heading south on Route 56, or taking the longer route around the peninsula. If you decide to opt for the scenic Route 54 (it will only take an extra hour or so of diving), you’ll be able to visit the spectacular Kirkjufell.
Put on your hiking boots, because Kirkjufell is one mountain you can’t go past without walking to the top. Kirkjufell’s lonely spot out on the sea and its symmetrical cone shape make it the most photographed mountain in the country, and the view of this mountain is matched only by that of the view from the mountain. You can either take the easier route walking around its base, or hike for approximately 1.5 hours to the top, where you can find bird and fish fossils if you know what to look for. It’s another 1.5 hours back down the mountain, and it’s recommended only to attempt this walk if you have a good level of fitness.
On your way to Deildartunguhver, you’ll drive through the small town of Borgarnes, where you can easily make a pit stop or rest up for the night. The real destination, however, is Europe’s largest hot springs at Deildartunguhver. It naturally produces 180 litres of water every second - all of which is a piping hot 100 degrees Celsius. They use it for central heating in two nearby towns, so if you take a shower anywhere near the spring, you’re actually bathing in its water!
After these hot springs, continue west on Route 518 to the town of Reykholt. Reykholt is home to another ancient geothermally heated pool, named Snorrastofa after Iceland’s most famous author Snorri Sturluson who lived there in the early 1200s. There is also a cultural centre that offers tours and historical exhibitions. Plus, the local restaurant Mika reportedly has the best pizza and hot chocolate in Iceland, and it would be a shame to miss out on trying them!
As you travel up Route 518 towards your last destination before heading back to Reykjavik, consider what the most fitting finale would be to your Ring Road tour of Iceland. Surely, without a doubt, it would be one last waterfall - or two, one after the other. Barnafoss and Hraunfossar are two sets of falls found on the Hvita River in western Iceland. The first you will come across is Hraunfossar, which aptly translates to Lava Falls as the water plunges out from under mossy lava rock into the river below. Follow the track upstream to Barnafoss (Children’s Falls) for some final cascades and a walk across the footbridge for the best view of the water.
Hot springs, glaciers, bird watching, lagoons, mountains, and ancient folklore - there’s a magic to Iceland that you can’t quite imagine until you get out on the road and experience it for yourself. This motorhome tour that encompasses both the famous Golden Circle and Ring Road routes is the best way to see as much of Iceland as possible, catching every unmissable attraction and scenic view along the way. Due to its circular nature, you can easily turn it around and go in a clockwise direction instead of the anti-clockwise one mentioned here!
- Plenty of extra toiletries
- Water and food
- Swimming gear year-round
- Warm clothes
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