Your Iceland road trip begins in the capital city of Reykjavik, then passes through so many natural wonders that you’ll be left pinching yourself. One of the most popular driving routes in the country is known as the Golden Circle, as it follows a relatively quick path from the capital and out to several national attractions. The first leg of your tour covers most of this Golden Circle before joining up with the larger, equally famous route of the Ring Road. You’ll visit geysers, lagoons, spas, the country’s largest waterfall, and even the rift between two tectonic plates. As this motorhome tour of Iceland starts and finishes in Reykjavik, you can of course save this leg until last instead of doing it first.
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.