After the insanity of two weeks in Southeast Asia, I thought I would have a little time to decompress and relax, right? Well, I was wrong. I had only three days before I was set to jet to the mystifying and obscenely expensive land of Ice.
At the time of departure, Scotland had it’s biggest snowstorm in years, to the point where over 90% of flights flying out of the Edinburgh airport were canceled. Thankfully, I was one of the five or so whose flights did not get canceled! After a 10-hour delay and £15 of food vouchers later, I was finally off to Iceland.
I went to go see my best friend Katie, who was also coming to visit in Edinburgh. She flew through Icelandair, and got a multi-day layover, so we figured, why not do a road trip?
We were blessed to have not one, not two, but four fully sunny days in Iceland! It added a completely otherworldly feeling to the country. I feel like when people use “otherworldly” when it comes to landscapes, it often draws a dreary, dark connotation. But in this sense, it’s almost what I imagine Heaven would look like. The landscape was dominated by blindingly bright whites, dramatic blues, verdant greens, and earthy browns to try and remind us that we’re not in some fantasy-land.
With our short timeframe, we did all we can to get the most out of 4 days, so here’s our guide to an amazing 4 Day Iceland Road Trip!
The one glaring flaw about Iceland is that it is EXPENSIVE. IT. IS. SO. EXPENSIVE.
- Food: The cheapest meal you’ll find will be $20. Instead, I basically survived off $3 bags of Doritos, $4 bags of delicious supermarket cinnamon rolls, free hostel coffee, and $3 bowls of blueberry skyr, or Icelandic yogurt. Also if your hotel has breakfast like mine did, eat everything you can. I had 3-4 plates of food at our two nights in hotels and guesthouses and it held me over for most of the day. Also, when filling up gas, see if the gas station has hot dogs. They’re Iceland’s street food and they’ll only cost $4-6.
- Total: $30-70 per day.
- Accommodation: Still very expensive, but not much more than accommodation in an average Western country. Hostels in Reykjavík will run you $25-50/night, and when you get to the remote parts of Iceland on the roadtrip, a hostel will set you back $70/night, and a hotel or guesthouse will be $80-200/night. Breakfast may be included but if not, it will be around $20 extra.
- Total: $140-500
- Car + Gas: Our car cost us $30/day, but the extra insurance cost $40/day, so the total came out to about $300. A full tank of gas will cost you about $65 for a small sedan.
- Total: $480
- WARNING: DO NOT PRESS THE FULL TANK SETTING AT THE GAS STATION. THE GOVERNMENT WILL CHARGE YOU A $360 STIPEND FOR NO REASON. PRESS THE 5000KR and 1000KR OPTIONS INSTEAD. This happened to Katie and she’s in the process of getting her money back from the Icelandic Government.
- Total: $480
How Much I Spent: excluding a $40 trip to a geothermal hot spring, $350 over 5 days and 4 nights, or $70/day, on a strict budget.
Day 1: Golden Circle
Depart from Reykjavík and head eastward to the Golden Circle. This path is a very popular day-trip from Reykjavík because it features a lot of the quintissentially Icelandic natural wonders. Mainly comprising of Þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir), Geysir, and Gullfoss, you’ll get sky-piercing mountains, crystal-clear rivers, sulfuric geysers, and waterfalls all on the first day.
On this whole trip, there are gonna magnificent sights you see while driving so if you see a few cars parked ahead of you, don’t hesitate to stop! Some of the most beautiful sites I encountered were totally random road stops.
- Þingvellir National Park – This natural beauty doubles as a historical site because it’s where the Vikings decided to implement a democratic political system in Iceland for the first time in 930 AD.
- Geysir – 50 minutes driving leads to Iceland’s most famous geyser, it blows its top every ten minutes or so and it smells strongly of sulfur. When we saw it, it didn’t blow, rather it coughed a little steam. If you decide to skip anything, this is the one. Maybe it was just our luck; we’ve heard that it can blow a lot harder than what we saw.
- Gullfoss – The first of many waterfalls you’ll see, this mammoth waterfall is basically in a gorge, and you can only see it from above. While absolutely spectacular, the sheer energy Gulfoss produces made for the most chaotic winds we encountered in Iceland. Definitely a highlight!
- Fontana Laugarvatn – This was our one splurge. We eschewed the Blue Lagoon’s steep $100 fee for this
still expensive$40 geothermal hot spring instead. You can also rent a towel for 800KR. The spring contains four pools at varying temperatures with water directly from the neighbouring hot spring. It also features a part of the Laugarvatn lake if you want to jump in a freezing lake at the end of winter like us. It also comes with a steam room, sauna, and a shower (with amazing herbal soaps so you can skip your hostel shower).
- Cultural Point: Icelanders are way more comfortable with nudity than most, especially Americans. When you change at any hot spring, you’ll see all sorts of parts in your vicinity, and you have to take a shower fully naked before entering a hot spring. There may be a closed-off stall or two, but it’s likely to be filled.
Day 2: Waterfalls and Beaches
After driving 75 minutes from Gulfoss to the incredible River Hotel in Hella, where we saw the Northern Lights the night before (!), we drove 20 minutes to our first waterfall.
- Seljalandsfoss – Probably Iceland’s most famous waterfall, Seljalandsfoss actually consists of the one large waterfall and three smaller ones. The one on the far left is actually climbable to get some secret views of the waterfall!
- Skógafoss – My favourite waterfall. 20 minutes driving from Seljalandsfoss, this is one behemoth of a waterfall, and the light hit the waterfall perfectly so a rainbow formed at the base! There’s also a long staircase on the adjacent hill where you can see the above river turn into the waterfall, which is a truly priceless view. Not to mention this incredible natural wonder is accompanied by a striking mountain as a backdrop.
- Sólheimajökull Glacier Park – A small stop in between Skógafoss and Reynisfjara, you can actually go glacier-walking for an additional fee, but as we were pretty much broke by now, we just decided to walk around the park and take pictures. It features black sand beaches, massive glaciers, and incredible hills in the background.
- Reynisfjara Beach – Sounds like an ordinary beach right? It mostly is, except the sand is jet black. And it’s adorned with futuristic geographical pillars seemingly etched onto a giant rock
By this time, you have a long, 2.5-3 hour drive to your accommodation near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Guesthouse Skaftafell ($73/night per person). Take the rest of the night to rest.
Day 3: It’s not called ICEland for Nothing
Unfortunately, today’s the last full day of the road trip, which means you have to make the 4 hour, 45-minute trek back to Reykjavík. Thankfully there are many stops you’re going to make on the way to break it up!
- Jökulsárlón – This Glacier lagoon is basically a nicer version of Sólheimajökull; it lies at the forefront of Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland’s biggest national park. If you have cash to burn, you can also go glacier-walking here and even explore their unreal ice caves, which apparently shimmer with a dreamy blue hue. Maybe when I get a full-time job I can do that!
- Diamond Beach – Just across the street from Jökulsárlón, this black-sand beach gets its name from the jagged ice blocks that dot the shore.
- Svartifoss – Surrounded by dark lava columns, This waterfall borrows the hexagonal pillars of the Reynisfjarsa Beach pillars that makes a 40-minute round-trip hike completely worth it. This is the first stop on a popular hike in Vatnajökull so if you have more time, explore the other sites ahead!
- Fjaðrárgljúfur – Another road stop, this 40-minute hike round trip leads to a truly spectacular canyon with a river flowing through it. I didn’t know about this until Katie told me about it and I highly recommend!
Day 4: Missed Stops + Reykjavík
This schedule is a lot more intense than it looks. Were there any stops you didn’t get to see for any reason? On the way back, go back and see them! Or revisit something that was particularly striking! If not, Reykjavík’s a pretty small town so you may not need your car to tour it. Why not take a day-trip to the famous Blue Lagoon? If none of these sound interesting, then go ahead and return your car and celebrate with an overpriced beer.
Congrats, you just road-tripped across Southern Iceland!
I’m very glad we did this in March. Not only did we completely luck out with the beautiful weather, we still got to see the Northern Lights and see the sights while they had their winter coat of ice on. Truthfully, I prefer the winter aesthetics over all the green Iceland gets in the summer. Saying that, I could really go without my hands being in constant pain from the bitterly dry wind!
Iceland is the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited, hands down. Prices aside, it’s a country unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited; a week later, I’m still unable to truly process everything. I keep looking at my photos and asking myself,
“is that really me? Or did a professional Photoshop me in front of these places?”
I just can’t believe I was in a place so magnificent. However, I’m a bit nature-d out so I’d love to return to Iceland, but in a few years. I felt that for I wanted to see, this 4 day Iceland road trip definitely covered all the spots I wanted to hit and more.
If you ever want to imagine what Heaven looks like, this is the closest you’re gonna get!