Last winter, Octave & I flew back to Europe for the end of the year celebrations. As we would spend Christmas apart, each in our own family, I wanted us to have a couple days to ourselves before flying to Oregon and diving back into work. So I suggested we give a try to this Icelandair offer and stopover in this dreamy island for a couple days at no additional cost (the ticket was actually cheaper than a direct flight to Paris).
So, after having spent a couple days apart, we met at the airport in Paris and flew to Reykjavik to start our 7-days winter Iceland road trip.
Here is a map of our itinerary and the places where we stayed and visited (or wished we could have visited):
In winter time, most of the smaller roads are closed or hard and dangerous to access, so our itinerary was pretty simple, we sticked to the ring road and went around the island counter clockwise.
Day 1: Landing & Prep
We landed at Keflavík International Airport and picked up the 4x4 Toyota Rav4 we had rented. We chose this model because, according to our measurements, Octave would be able to lay down in the trunk once we pulled down the back seats. Did I mention that we planned to car-camp for most of the trip?
Should you travel during winter or summer, you'll want to rent a 4x4, either to drive in the snow, or explore the trails. I have to admit that I was surprised that no shovel was provided with the rental (we haven't had to use one during the trip, but I would have felt safer with one in the trunk).
We drove to Reykjavík to stock up on groceries and buy a propane canister to cook on the road. Later on, we tried to find a good restaurant for a well-deserved meal in town but all were packed, booked or closed. So we ate at a Mexican hole in the wall.
Then we headed off to spend our first night at an Airbnb a couple miles from the city. I remember having some work to finish by the end of the night and watching the fireworks through the living room window while Octave was sleeping and our flatmates were having fun in the snow... It was New Year's Eve!
Note: Check the Airbnb's "community cupboards". There's usually extra propane canisters that previous travelers have left there as they are not allowed on airplanes. Save some money and just grab a used one instead of buying a new one at the shop. Also, hot water smells like rotten eggs, you'll notice that when you take your first shower. Don't worry, it's safe.
Day 2: Seljafoss & Black Sand Beach
We got ready and started our day early. Some of you might know that the days are pretty short in Iceland in the winter (around 4 hours of light per day when we were there), so you want to make the most of it by doing most of the driving at night.
We first stopped at the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, then the Skógafoss Waterfall and finished our day trip by spending some time on the blacksand beach.
We then drove to Vik and parked our car on the Klettsvegur camping grounds.
Note: Camping grounds are closed for business in the winter, but some are still accessible. So whenever possible, we parked there, otherwise, we found a calm spot on top of a hill or outside the city/village to spend the night.
Day 3: Jökulsárlón & Höfn
After our first night in the car, we prepared breakfast and headed to Jökulsárlón. We hiked around the lake and Octave shot some time lapses.
We finished the day in Höfn.
Note: We would usually cook breakfast at our camp spot, picnic for lunch and have dinner at a restaurant or café, to get warm before our nights in the car and get some wifi to prepare our itinerary for the following day.
Day 4: East Coast
We drove most of the day and settled down in Eggilstaddir for the night.
Day 5: Hverfjall Crater & Myvatn Thermal Baths
We got up early and made our way to the Hverfjall crater. The road was covered by many inches of snow but we felt adventurous. We drove down the trail, parked our car and started our hike up the crater at sunrise. Driving back up the trail was finally less difficult than we had expected but our adrenaline levels definitely reached a peak.
We stopped for a moment at the Namafjall Geothermal Area and I convinced Octave to dip into the Myvatn Nature Baths. It was a great idea to make this kind of relaxing stop in the middle of our road trip and beat the usual crowds of the Blue lagoon.
Note: Don't forget to pack a swimsuit.
Day 6: Kirkjufellsfoss & Iceland horses
Once again, we spent most of our day driving but it might have been my favorite day as we got to watch the most beautiful and long-lasting sunrise. The skies were blush and purple, so surreal!
We stopped at the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and then got to pet the cutest horses.
As the sunset approached, we decided to treat ourselves to a night in the cutest cottage.
Note: We chased the Northern Lights during our trip but the forecast was not in our favor.
Day 7: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) & Reykjavík
We woke up well rested after a night in our warm cottage and started our last full day in Iceland, on our way back to the capital. We made a stop at Thingvellir and walked with the crowd in the Almannagjá Gorge.
Finally we made our way to Reykjavík for a walk while the sun was still up.
We had lunch at the Kex hostel. Then we visited the infamous Hallgrimskirkja and got coffee at Reykjavik Roasters.
We might have also got yet another coffee at the Laundromat Cafe.
Dinner was uneventful. Feeling unadventurous, we spent our last night in the same Airbnb as our first night, but in another room.
Note: Our friend Eva had recommended us the Grillmarkaðurinn and the Fish Market (Fiskmarkaðurinn). We're keeping them on our list for our next Iceland trip (probably in the spring or summer this time!).
Day 8: Krýsuvík & Taking off
During our last morning, we visited one last geothermal site, the Krýsuvík Geothermal Area. We passed the Blue Lagoon with no regrets and headed to the airport.
Note: Before leaving the Airbnb, we made sure to put our propane canister in the community cupboard for a lucky traveler to find. Also, we forgot an indie SoCal band's CD in our rental car and hope the next road tripper will enjoy it!
You will find some useful information about driving in Iceland on unpaved roads, highland roads and in winter conditions on this leaflet. Or watch this video.
You car rental company will also probably give you this flyer.
- Everyone must wear a seatbelt regardless of where seated in the car.
- Headlights are required around the clock, while driving.
- If you are not driving a 4x4, you are not allowed to drive on mountain roads (as identified on maps).
- Driving off-road is forbidden!
- Respect speed limits.
Use the Vegagerdin website to check the road conditions.
112 is the single emergency number in Iceland, representing all the response parties to accidents, fire, crime, search, rescue and natural disasters on land, at sea, or in the air.
Download the 112 app to call for help by pressing the red Emergency button. Your location will be sent by text message to the 112 response center. Remember that even though your phone shows no signal there is a possibilite that you can send text message. You can also press the green Check In button regularly to send your location so if something happens. Only the 5 last location’s are stored so it is recommended to check in regularly.
Fill up your tank whenever you can. You never know how far the next gas station will be. Here is a link to all you need to know about gas stations in Iceland, including a map.
With our US T-mobile contract, we had data at no extra charge. So we did not care to buy a local SIM card or get a paper map (also considering we were sticking to the main road).
Check out the forecast, be patient.
Stock up on groceries in Reykjavik before you leave for your road trip. We shopped at groceries and gas stations along the way, no complaints!
Here is our shopping list:
- In the bulk aisle: nuts, pistacchios, dried fruit, fruit.
- Apple sauce
- Fish jerky
- Toilet paper
- Gas can
- Hiking boots
- Ski pants & jacket
- Thermal t-shirt and leggings
Octave shot Four Hours, timelapse series, during our one week trip through Iceland during the month of January, 2016.
Have you ever been to Iceland? What was your favorite part? Where will your next road trip be? Pictures by Octave Zangs for Conscious by Chloé.