Just joining us? You can read Philipp and Helena’s introduction, as well as their tips for getting started in planning your Ring Road journey here. – Mariana
One of the major advantages of Iceland in the summer are the long nights. Even in the middle of the night the sunlight never disappears. At 3 or 4 am you still see as you would during a sunset’s twilight in Europe or Northern America. If you get distracted along the way far from your hotel, you can take advantage of the long days and still drive late at night – this happened to us multiple times.
We decided to opt for going north out of Reykjavik, so below you will see the itinerary for doing the Ring Road clockwise. Which way you go is up to your preference. We chose to go north first because there are some big sights in the south that we wanted to save for the end.
We used this day mostly to get settled and organized. We arrived mid-afternoon in Keflavik outside of Reykjavik, drove to town, checked in and bought some groceries and staples. We then strolled through the capital, saw the harbor and went up Hallgrímskirkja, the big church at the center of Reykjavik. It is definitely worth going up to the top to see the whole town.
Dinner: Sea Baron – this small shag by the harbor is an institution in Reykjavik. It is very cozy and seems authentic despite being popular among tourists. We had an amazing lobster soup, grilled salmon and a whale steak (because…when in Rome!?)
Hotel: Reykjavik Residence Suites – a small house with a few rooms. Very well equipped in a great location. We can highly recommend it!
We started the day ready to go and headed north for Snæfellsnes peninsula. This is already the first detour from the Ring Road (Route 1) we did, but we can highly recommend it. A hidden gem is definitely the Lysuhólslaug, a natural water spring with carbonated water. Definitely make sure you stop for Raudfeldsjá – a small hike along the river up through a cleft to get into a stunning gorge. Another great hike is through the lava fields between Hellnar and Arnarstapi – just leave your car in either one and hike along the coast.
One of the postcard perfect highlights of Snæfellsnes is Kirkjufell, a cool and popular mountain.
Dinner: Narfeyarstofa in Stykkishólmur – the town is one of the biggest on Snæfellsnes and has a few restaurants, making it a perfect stop before getting a few last miles on the road to your final resting place. We opted for one of the nicer restaurants (call ahead!) and had the most amazing slow cooked salmon, mussels and a great chocolate cake desert (they are famous for their desserts). Afterwards we needed to hike off the calories with a quick climb up to the lighthouse.
Hotel: We opted for an AirBnB in one of the villages east of Snæfellsnes, in our case Búdardalur
This was perhaps the most driving-intensive day for us, which worked great because the weather was quite bad. We drove first to Hvammstangi to then take a detour of the Route 1 around Vatnsnes peninsula. This was the smaller of our two detours that day. If you are pressed for time, go for Vatnsnes instead of Tröllskagi, the larger of the two peninsulas. On Vatnsnes you can find Hvítserkur, a really cool black sand beach with a giant arch that is super fun to climb around on. Tröllskagi on the other hand is quite cool for whale watching We stopped along the coast and found some friendly whale watchers between Ólasfsfjördur and Dalvík.
Ultimately, the goal was Myvatn, one of the great starting points for sightseeing in the north. Before arriving there, we stopped one last time at the Godafoss waterfall.
Dinner: Akureyri Backpackers – we wanted to stop in Akureyri for a quick stop. This hostel is a nice hangout and serves great salmon burgers
Hotel: Hotel Reynihlid in Myvatn – now this hotel, despite having seen better days, deserves only our best recommendations. It is super conveniently located to start the adventures around this magical area. But most importantly, the staff is the most friendly we have encountered. Not only did they take a really long time to help us plan our trip through Myvatn, they also mailed Phil’s iPad to Reykjavik by driving it to the airport (all the way in Akureyri) after we forgot it there.
This is one of the highlights. If we could have extended our trip, the northeast (along with a side trip to the Westfjords) would have been where we would have allocated more days. Myvatn is an indescribable wonderland full of marshes, hot springs, volcanoes, and lava fields.
We opted for an unforgettable hike through Dimmuborgir (lava fields) up to the Hverfell volcano. We spent some time in the nature baths in Myvatn knowing that we wanted to pass on the more popular Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik. Definitely go see the mud pots, seeing the earth bubble up with a highly pungent sulfuric smell is something very different.
On our way out of Myvatn, we stopped and did a quick hike through the snow up to the famous Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls. We headed over through the desolate landscape of the northeast on the way to Seydisfjördur. This drive is spectacular and perhaps the reason why we opted for Seydisfjördur instead of Egilsstaðir, which is really just a service-station type city. You drive through snow-capped mountains back down to the Seydisfjördur valley where ferries from the Faroe Islands stop. The change in scenery within 30min or so, is really something different.
Dinner: Café Lara – we arrived super late but lucky because this bar specializing in board games and a daily menu of grilled burgers/steaks and the catch of the day was quite lively. This was the perfect relaxed evening to an action-packed day. We ended one of our favorite days with hearty food, beers and betting on dice games.
Hotel: Hafaldan HI Hostel – we had to register with HI hostels to stay here. It is an average well run hostel, nothing special but clean, a nice breakfast area, very friendly and private rooms.
This day was our least planned but ended up being that much more exciting as a result. We wanted to drive up and hike as close to the impressive Snæfellsjökull as we could. However, the roads had not completely thawed yet and we could not even get there. Yet, the drive along Lagarfljót lake and especially the hike up to Hnegifoss, Iceland’s second highest waterfall, is worth the trip.
We ended at Snaefellsstofa, the foot of Snæfellsjökull, where the friendly visitor center staff convinced us to drive back up to Borgarfjördur Eystri, the northeastern most corner of the island. This place, famous for its puffins, had made it on our short list but we scrapped it for more time in Myvatn. But we were very wrong to do so. The drive up north is gorgeous – impressing with its steep cliffs and untouched nature. Borgarfjördur Eystri itself has an amazing scenery and Helena was obviously happy to fulfill her dream of meeting some puffins.
On our way back south to Hofn we found a long black sand dune as the sun was setting. We couldn’t find the name but somewhere between Egilsstadir and Hofn is a surreal long stretch of black sand that was completely abandoned. Obviously, we took full advantage of being able to frolic around.
Dinner: We arrived too late in Hofn to make it to any of the famous lobster restaurants. We opted for some sandwiches, fries and Youtube in bed.
Hotel: Guesthouse Dyngia – a very quaint guesthouse with one of the best breakfasts we had in Iceland. The rooms were a bit oldschool but the staff was nice, despite our late arrival.
Our last full day on the road and we certainly made the most of it. The big highlight is Jökulsárlón, a lagoon with crystal blue water full of icebergs that just calved off the adjacent glacier. We wanted to do a zodiac tour of the lagoon, but we did not book ahead and all were booked out that day. We went on an amphibian tour instead. Hearing icebergs crack, seeing them turn over and watching seals swim by was still totally worth it.
While this experience was breathtaking and unique for sure, it also reminded us that we were getting closer to Reykjavik. The peaceful desolation that we found in the north and northwest was over. Here you will start seeing tour buses again, all roads will be paved, but the scenery is no less stunning.
On our way west we passed by Kviárjökull glacier and headed for the Vatnajökull National Park. Here, we hiked over to Skaftafellsjökull, the glacier at the heart of this park, and then looped to Svartifoss waterfall on the way back. At the end of the trail back at the park station is a great food truck serving some of the best fish and chips…after Phil ate half of Helena’s order we had to go back for seconds!!!
Dinner: Halldorskaffi in Vik– we arrived quite late again but found this gem open. The soup was great and the lamb and salmon were decent.
Hotel: Farmhouse Lodge in Skeiðflöt – Now we were prepared to stay in a barn because this place is out in the middle of nowhere. But when we arrived at this friendly farmhouse super late, the staff was really friendly and showed us to our surprisingly modern room. This was probably our favorite place on the whole trip, perhaps because we expected nothing and were so positively surprised – regardless we highly recommend staying here if you are on your way to Reykjavik and need a last resting place.
As Germans say: “All things have an end, only the sausage has two”.
The last day for us was our route to the Golden Circle. We stopped at the popular Skogafoss waterfall just off route 1 and then continued to Seljalandsfoss, a cool waterfall you can actually walk behind, and Gljúfurárbui – a slightly more remote waterfall that requires a bit of hiking. We had lunch in Stokkseyri, thanks to the recommendation of a friendly Icelandic resident in Geneva we met on the plane. We had the best lobster bisque at Vid Fjörubordid. Then on to the Golden Circle, where we made sure to hit all the tourist spots you can find everywhere: Geysir, Gullfoss, and Laugarvatn lake.
Before heading home on day 8, we went shopping along the popular Laugavegur Street and enjoyed the artsy parts of Reykjavik.
Dinner: Back in Reykjavik we ate at the Public House Gastropub – we can highly recommend this Icelandic tapas style pub. Local beers from all over the island along with reindeer Carpaccio, Icelandic dumplings, fried duck, … make sure to book. We wanted to eat here our first night and ended up being denied so we booked one week in advance.
Hotel: Hotel Holt – one of the oldest hotels in Reykjavik, quite famous as a result. We found it a bit overpriced and out of date…we definitely lowered the average age of the guests quite a bit. But the breakfast was great!
Phil and Helena
P.s. Thanks a ton to Mariana for letting us use her blog. We hope you all enjoy Iceland as much as we did!