Despite it being the middle of winter I was determined to roadtrip around Iceland before making the long journey back to Australia! The following article will be looking at car safety, car rental, accommodation and itinerary tips for you to get the most out of your time in this magical country 🙂
Car Safety in Winter
While there are companies in Iceland that offer multi-day and full day tours during winter they are often very expensive so I would highly recommend renting a car during your trip. The big drawcard of this (as I found out after completing a lot of online research), is that people advise heavily against driving in winter as the cold weather conditions can be extreme in Iceland. This made me really worried but because I had so much that I wanted to do ‘on my own time’ I decided I would take the risk anyway and I am SO glad that I did.
To give you some context for this decision. I was on my P-Plates which means that I did not have a full Australian license at the time. I had never driven on the right hand side of the road before and I had only ever seen snow once before in my life. Taking all this inexperience into consideration you can see why I was hesitant about throwing myself in the deep end and embarking on the trip. However, despite all this, everything went to plan and here is some advice I have for those of you who are unsure –
- Firstly, in regard to driving on the right hand side of the road this came surprisingly easy and Icelandic roads really accommodated for a ‘first timer.’ What I didn’t realise before hopping in the car was that roundabouts are much easier than intersections. This is because on a roundabout it is very clear where the exits are because of the circular shape of the road leading into the exit. In comparison, when making a left turn at an intersection, especially because there wasn’t many cars on the road, it was very easy to ‘switch’ back to Aussie road rules and go to turn into the closest lane to the left rather than the furtherest. Even writing this I am sure my expression here in explaining this may be confusing but trust me, when you try it out you will see what I mean! My point however is to emphasise that Iceland is full of roundabouts which made things ten times easier.
- Secondly, I made sure that I rented a 4WD. This meant when it came to snow, ice, strong winds and general isolated terrain issues I felt completely at ease. This was also my first time driving a car bigger than my old Toyota Echo back home, so I would really recommend having faith in your abilities to adapt quickly to new driving conditions.
- Finally, get car insurance for peace of mind! I will go into this in more detail in the car rental section of this article, but in short having that backup will made you less apprehensive about possible problems along the way.
I stayed at the Laugabjarg Guesthouse which is located a 5 minute drive to the centre of Reykjavik but is also conveniently located right next to the (1) which is the highway I used on a daily basis to drive out of the city to the various sights and activities.
The owners of this Guesthouse are absolutely lovely, so accommodating and friendly! There was a grocery store walking distance from the house and the petrol station was 500m down the road.
I used Go Iceland Car Rental during my time in Iceland as it was the cheapest at the time that also provided comprehensive insurance and a 4WD option.
Make sure to get full coverage insurance (including things like sand and ash) because while I didn’t have any huge issues during my trip, the car was definitely put through some extreme conditions! Especially in terms of the winds which got upto 40km/hour.
Go Iceland Car Rental is about a 5 minute walk from the departure hall of Reykjavik airport but you can pay an additional fee to be picked up from the exit if you are worried about the weather conditions at the time of your arrival.
Day 1 – Airport, Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik
After arriving at Keflavik airport I went to the Go Iceland Car Rental office which was about five minutes walk away from the departure hall. After getting the keys and signing the papers I drove to the Blue Lagoon. I recommend doing this either as soon as you arrive at the airport or on your way back to the airport before departure because of its close proximity. This saves you going out of your way back to this area on another day of your trip.
I was sceptical about how much I was going to enjoy the Blue Lagoon because it seemed like a bit of a tourist trap. I also have never really been one to have ‘spa days’ or seek out relaxation activites when travelling. I was consequently really surprised at how much I loved the Blue Lagoon. Not only is it absolutely beautiful (bright blue water, soft mist, snowy mountains in the background) but it was really calming and relaxing.
Make sure to wander about the entrance before or after your time in the lagoon because it in itself is gorgeous. I would also recommend booking in advance on the Blue Lagoon website to avoid long lines and the chance that they are sold on your date of choice! After three hours it was time to head to Reykjavik and check into Laugabjarg Guesthouse.
Day 2 – Snorkelling in Þingvallavatn Lake (Silfra Rift)
On the second day of the trip I decided to take the once in a lifetime oppotunity to dive in between the tectonic plates in the Silfra Rift! This is the only place in the world you can see the tectonic plates. Silfra is filled with 2 degree glacier water so you can literally look down as far as the eye can see between the plates. The colours beneath the water are also exceptionally vibrant.
After much research I came to the conclusion that most companies offered similar prices and packages, however the cheapest I was able to find was Dive.Is. For a full breakdown of the tour, what to expect, how to book and tips to get the most out of the tour click here.
Before and after the dive you will be able to check out the surrounding area of Silfra, which is located in Þingvellir National Park. The lighting on the clear glacier water lake was stunning!
After the tour on the way back to Reykjavik I was able to make a pit stop to say hello to the most photogenic and majestic animals in I have ever encountered, Icelandic horses! They have long beautiful manes are so friendly and cute!
One of the best things about Iceland was the fact that even though there were long drives, the scenery along the way was consistently stunning which helped me stay concentrated and not tired when driving.
This was the first night that I attempted to find and photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful on this night which was really disappointing, the next day however turned out to be the perfect weather conditions to view them!
Day 3 – Golden Circle (Strokkur, Geysir, Gullfoss, Kerið)
Today I completed the most popular tourist route in Iceland, the Golden Circle. On this road you are able to view some of the country’s most stunning landscapes and surreal sites. While I always had a map handy, you literally just have to follow the one road on this route and it is very clear where to stop (because of the cars parked, signs and often it’s the only place that has a ‘building’ or cafes for tourists for miles). First up was Strokker and Geysir geyser’s in the geothermal area beside the Hvítá River. It is approximately ten minute intervals between when they ‘explode.’
Next up was Gullfoss waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. Because of the white snow, the bright blue water was a striking contrast. It was really icy however so be careful walking around this area in winter.
While I had ‘set destinations’ in mind like Strokker, Geysir and Gullfoss there are many rest areas along the road where you can park and take in the scenery. Make sure not to just pull over anywhere however because this can be really dangerous for other cars (two way roads). Because of the amount of snow it is also really easy to misjudge how deep the snow is once you go off the road and you don’t want to get bodged.
The final thing I wanted to tick off along the Golden Circle was Kerid crater. This is the only site that you have to pay to go up to but it is a really unique natural landmark and very different compared to anything I had seen before.
After going up to the crater I wandered the area for a bit to stretch my legs (the drive from Gullfoss to Kerid was the longest of the day).
After this it was time to head back to Reykjavik to have a nap and set my alarm for 10pm to go in search of the Northern Lights.
The Northern Lights were everything I could have ever hoped for, and more. It was an absolutely magical experience and I highly recommend trying to see them during your travels, the long nights and long drives are more than worth it. The Northern Lights ranks #1 in my top 20 most amazing travel experiences to date and a full article on how to find and photograph the Northern Lights can be found by following the link!
Day 4 – Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Vík í Mýrdal
Today I headed south-east toward Vík í Mýrdal. This is a great drive that has some awesome sites along the way.
First stop was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The weather wasn’t ideal but it was still an epic site.
The unique thing about Seljalandsfoss is that you can climb up behind the waterfall. In winter this was really slippery, wet and cold though so be careful!
Unfortunately my camera died on the way to the next stop, Skógafoss waterfall. Apologies for the quality of photo (I used my phone in lieu).
Final stop was Vík í Mýrdal. Vik is unique because the beach is covered in black basalt sand. It was really cold when I arrived so I didn’t spend much time here but it was nice to stroll along the coastline before heading back to Reykjavik.
Day 5 – Hallgrímskirkja, Departure
The morning before departure was spent in Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital. Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church that is renowned for its unique architecture which is said to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape
Hallgrímskirkja bell tower arguably has the best views of Reykjavik. From here you can see the colourful rooftops and mountains in the distance.
Thic capital has a very laid back atmosphere and was a lovely way to end my time in Iceland. The process of dropping off the car at the car rental office before departure was very simple (hand back keys, check car, walk to departure hall).
Things I missed out on that you should consider for your itinerary!
- Because I was travelling in winter I was unable to complete the Ring Road around the country because many of these roads are closed because of the snow. This is something I will definitely do in the future when I visit again in summer.
- On the last day I had originally planned to head north to Kirkjufell. Unfortunately due to the flight departure time I would have been cutting it a bit too close to make it back to the airport in time. This is something that I will therefore have to do when I return to Iceland.
- I would honestly redo my entire itinerary when visiting Iceland again! Why? Because from summer to winter Iceland looks like an entirely different country!! I would really enjoy seeing all the amazing sites I visited but in a completely different light.
Overall, roadtripping around Iceland in winter became one of my favourite trips to date and I would highly recommend this destination to anyone seeking breathtaking scenery and once in a lifetime experiences (even in the middle of winter!!).
Feel free to comment any questions or queries below!
Suitcase And I was not commissioned to write this article. As always, the opinions in my review are my own.