Reykjavik is a great little city, but you can’t go to Iceland without exploring some of the countryside.
On my trip to Iceland, I did two road trips out of Reykjavik: One around the Golden Circle, and one down the South Coast. These road trips allowed me to see most of Iceland’s major attractions without having to travel too far from the city.
If you’re planning a trip to Reykjavik and want to see some crazy waterfalls, otherworldly landscapes, gigantor fissures in the earth, black sand beaches, and generally a whole lot of awesome nature stuff, then you should definitely take these two road trips in Iceland!
Road TRIP AROUND THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
The Golden Circle is the most popular day trip out of Reykjavik, and for good reason. The round-trip drive takes about 3 hours total, but you’ll be stopping many times along the way to take photos of the adorable Icelandic horses and the freakin’ spectacular scenery.
Here’s my suggestions for where to stop along the Golden Circle:
Kerið (crater lake): This crater was formed by volcanic magma beneath the surface being drained out by a nearby volcano eruption, causing the surface above it to collapse. You can walk all the way around the rim and down to the lake. There is a small entrance fee of 400 ISK (about 3.50 USD) per person.
Skálholt Cathedral: I’d read somewhere on the expanse of the internet that this cathedral is worth visiting, so I included it in our trip. The landscape around it was really lovely and a pleasure to drive through, though the cathedral itself wasn’t all that interesting (especially compared to Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik). At the very least, it’s a nice place to get out and stretch your legs.
Strokkur geyser: Unfortunately my camera battery went dead right as I arrived so I didn’t manage to get any photos of it erupting, but this geyser is guaranteed fun – who wouldn’t enjoy watching large amounts of boiling water shoot 15-20 metres into the air every 6-10 minutes? You also get to hear a hundred or so people make an ‘Ooohh!’ sound at the same time.
Gullfoss: This is arguably the most famous waterfall in Iceland. It’s absolutely huge, and the walking paths to the viewpoints will get you real close to the falls. This place can get pretty busy with tourists, but it’s definitely worth visiting.
Thingvellir National Park: This natural area is where the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate meet. It has some awesome landscapes with a giant gorge and fissure stretching for miles along the terrain. This is also where some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed! Set aside a few hours to explore this place.
Laugarvatn Fontana: If you’ve got time and aren’t doing Blue Lagoon, then these geothermal pools are a great alternative. The entrance fee is 3800 ISK (about 33 USD), and the pools are positioned right beside a gorgeous lake. Be sure to take your swimsuit.
Road TRIP ALONG THE SOUTH COAST
Of the two road trips we did in Iceland, the south coast was my favourite. This is where you’ll see some of Iceland’s best waterfalls and natural scenery.
It’s 2 hours and 15 minutes drive from Reykjavik to Vik, but as with the Golden Circle, you’ll be stopping constantly to take photos and do some exploring. For a more relaxed pace, you could break it up into two days.
Here are my recommendations for things to see along the Iceland’s south coast:
Seljalandsfoss: A truly awesome waterfall that you will spot from a distance way before you arrive at the turn off. It has a walking path that takes you all the way around and behind the waterfall. You are guaranteed to get wet from the spray, so take a raincoat!
Skógafoss: Another truly awesome waterfall, impressive from every angle. There’s a path that takes you all the way up to the top, and if you’re steady footed and not afraid of heights then you can stray from the path and climb along the cliffs to get some great photos (though please be careful!).
Vik: This is an absolutely gorgeous little town where you won’t be able to resist getting your camera out to take a few snaps of the super cute church. You can stay here overnight, or just stop for lunch. We dropped in to Halldorskaffi for a bite to eat.
Reynisfjara: A black sand beach where you can climb over giant boulders and explore caves in the cliffs facing the sea. It’s like a natural playground! This place is also a photographers dream.
Dyrhólaey: On the other end of Reynisfjara, there’s a car park and vista point where you’ll get awesome views of the black sand beach and rocky cliffs around it.
Solheimasandur plane wreck: The wreckage of a US military plane that crashed in 1973. There is no signage for it, only a gravel area where you’ll see a few cars parked by the side of the road. It takes 40 minutes to walk from the road to the plane wreck (and the walk is suuuuuper boring!) but it’s worth it for the photos.
Seljavallalaug Zwembad thermal pool: This is one of the oldest thermal pools in Iceland. Apparently it does involve a short walk to get there and doesn’t have fancy facilities like toilets or change rooms, but it’s very pretty, not too busy, and free to use!
some tips for driving around Iceland:
- Hiring a car is the easiest way to get around while you’re in Iceland. You can rent a car from the airport, or do what we did and collect one from the city for a few days of exploring.
- The type of car you’ll need will change depending on where/when you’ll be driving around Iceland. We had a little Chevrolet Spark from Sixt, but if you are planning on taking any of the highland roads or travelling during winter, you’ll probably need a 4WD.
- Fill up on gas before you leave the city. Gas stations are sporadic, and if you’re unlucky then you’ll end up in the situation that we were in when you’ve been on the lookout for a gas station and are freaking out because there has been literally nothing but sheep on the side of the road for 45 minutes straight. We made it back without running out of gas, but we definitely cut it close!
- Leave early in the day. These road trips with both fill up an entire day each, so push through and start early! There’s so much to see, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on something because you didn’t have enough time.
- Be responsible. Tourism in Iceland has become a hot topic lately, and many tourist are acting in a way that might harm the local culture or environment. Here’s how to be a socially conscious traveller in Iceland.
Do you have plans to do some road trips in Iceland? Are these two on your list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
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