A guide on how to enjoy some of the world‘s most beautiful scenery in only 5 days.
Iceland is a must-see on many people‘s bucket list. Just like New Zealand, it also attracts a lot of more expressive statements, such as „to really enjoy Iceland, you have to spend several weeks there“. Which is absolutely fine if you can afford that. However, if you do not have that many holidays (as for example most Americans) or you cannot afford a whole month in one of the most expensive countries in the world, you may want to consider doing an intense road trip for a week. In my case, I was visiting a friend and we only had 5 days in total before we both had to return to Germany. We considered the pros and cons of doing a circle around the whole Island in 4 days and we were unsure whether it would be too stressful or not. Doing research on travel websites, most people told us not to do it, because we‘d simply be sitting in the car the whole days. On the other hand, Icelanders told us to definitely do it. In fact, they said, you could even do the whole Island in just two days, if you really wanted to. All you have to do is take the Ring Road 1, which will safely lead you through the whole of Iceland and has a total length of 1.332km.
After counting kilometers, we realized that yes, this would mean that we‘d have to drive approx. 400km every day for four days. But, doing this trip with another friend, we divided the 400km by 3, which meant that every one of us would only have to actively drive about 150km/ 2 hours every day. The rest of the time, we could enjoy the scenery either by walking/wandering through it, or simply by passing it by car.
We also decided to camp, because it is a safe and cheap option in Iceland. This also meant that we‘d have more time in the open nature.
Here is our time calculation:
8 hours of sleep
5 hours driving
1 hour preparing the tents
2 hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day
= 16 in total
Considering that every days has 24 hours (and the days are very long in August in Iceland), that still left us 8 hours every day just for walking, wandering, hiking, etc. Which, considering the amount of walking you normally do during the day, is still a lot.
So, in case you‘re wondering whether you should give it a try or not, I say: hell, yeah!
If you come to Iceland, 99.9% of you will come by plane and land in Reykjavik/Keflavik. Better pre-order a bus ticket to pick you up. Icelandic infrastructure is very well organized, which means that you will have to be organized yourself to get around the quickest. Without a ticket bought in advance, it might be difficult to get on the coach, since it will simply be full of other people – who pre-ordered.
Bus transfer can easiest be organized and ordered here.
There are many good car rental options in Iceland. However, we decided to choose Route 1 Car Rental, because it was the cheapest option when we searched. Special vary with every season, so you better keep an eye open for what suits your needs best.
Camping and clothing
Even though we went in the beginning of August, the climate in Iceland is subarctic. Which means: it can get freaking cold at night! Consider this when you pack your stuff. You will definitely need a good, isolating camping mat, warm bedroll, proper clothes and a tent to keep you safe from wind and rain. During the days however, it can reach up to pleasurable 20°C, so don‘t forget your sunscreen if you‘re sun sensitive.
If you go with friends, a 5 day road trip through Iceland will be fairly inexpensive. Especially when you do it the right way. I was lucky enough to spend the first night with friends. However, Reykjavik has great Hostel options for those traveling on a budget. Divide the costs for a rental car by three, add gas, the costs for camping and food (we mostly picnicked) and again divide it by three: In total, we all paid an amount of approximately 250€, so definitely doable for five days. The only thing that was really expensive were the flights: 400€, bought 3 months in advance. Maybe you’ll be luckier and find something cheaper.
Day 1: Reykjavik
In comparison to the landscape you‘ll see, Reykjavik is not exactly a jewel. Still, you might want to consider taking one day to arrive in Iceland, enjoy some local foods and see the capital.
To start your day in Reykjavik, take a bus from where you are and get off at the Tjörnin, which is a little lake at the city council. From there, you have great walking options to see the city center, Austurvöllur, Aðalstræti, Laugavegur and Vesturgata. Don‘t forget to check out the Hallgrímskirkja, Sonnenfahrt as well as the concert building Harpa with its glittering and glistening windows. An extra treat is a beer at the KEX (Skulgata 28), an old cookie factory, that has now been refurnished into a fashionable youth hostel and bar. If you want to give yourself a sweet treat, go to Valdis, a beautiful ice cream parlor in Grandagarður 21. The ice cream tastes best when you enjoy it with the sun going down in the background.
Reykjavik has many great museums. If you‘re a friend of literature, I recommend visiting Gljúfrasteinn: the home and workplace of Halldór Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. It is a bit outside of the city, so you might need a car to get there. It will also give you a first impression of the beautiful nature that awaits you in the upcoming days…
Day 2: The adventure begins…
The first day, we focused on the south of the country. The south is also where you will find an unbelievable amount of beautiful scenery, son don‘t start your day too late!
You don‘t have to start on the ring road immediately – when you drive out of Reykjavik, it is definitely worth doing the Golden Circle by car as well. When you take a bus tour, the Golden Circle will take you a whole day. If you don‘t want to spend that much time on it, taking a car, stopping by when you find something interesting and leaving again after 20-30 minutes is definitely a great option.
Take Road 36 until you reach Thingvellir, a beautiful National Park. You will automatically come across several parking spots, which we used to get out of the car, stretch our legs, take some photos, enjoy the sunshine and breath the fresh air. Beautiful as it is: there is so much more to come. This is why we decided not to spend a whole day in Thingvellir but to keep on going the first day.
Follow Route 365 until you come onto Route 37 to experience the famous Geysir Strokkur and a little later the astonishing Gullfoss. Take Road 35 to go back down and you will find the Sellfoss and Urridafoss back an Road 1. The first day, you will also pass the famous Eyjafjallajökull as well as the Selljalandsfoss, Porsmörk , Skogafoss and the beautiful Myrdalsjökull. The lava fields in this area are amazing, as well as the green nature and absolutely astonishing water falls.
I honestly do not remember where we set up camp the first night (which is a shame, because it was a great campsite).
However, when you follow the Road 1, you will see various signs directing you to good quality camping sites. We stopped somewhere close to Kálfafell, and I do not recommend driving further that day. You will be so filled with impressions that you won‘t be able to relish the surrounding beauty any longer.
Day 2: The East
Whatever you do: do not skip the Jökusarlon Iceberg Lagoon and its black beaches! Honestly, for me these were the most amazing sight of the whole trip. The rest of the day, we simply followed Road 1, and there are no particular signs to recommend. Not because there is nothing beautiful to see, but because around every corner you will be so amazed by what you see that it is impossible to make a list of do‘s. There are no dont‘s. A few of the stops we made were the Black Beaches in the Bay of Lon, Bjarnarnes, Djupivogur and Berufjördur. We made a stop in Breidalsvik to go grocery shopping, which was very helpful. After this little village, you leave the coast and drive into the countryside (still following Road 1), passing Egilsstadir, the Ranga Lake, Mödrudalur and Myvatn.
That day, we camped in Myvatn, which again was a great camping site. To treat ourselves, we visited the Nature Bath, which is open until 12PM and much, much cheaper than the overcrowded, touristy Blue Lagoon. Don‘t be surprised: It can be a bit tricky to get the smell of sulphur out of your hair afterwards…
Day 3: The North
Day 3 was also the coldest day, driving through the north of Iceland. Again, it was a day full of beauty and adventure. We decided to leave Road 1 for a while, and drive up to the very north on Road 87 to visit Husavik: a beautiful little town. Our friend did whale watching, while the rest of the two of us decided to drive a little further north and explore the landscape a little more. Back on Road 1, we passed Ljosavatn as well as Akureyri, which is the second biggest city in Iceland. Due to our trip north, we didn‘t have time to stop and walk through the city. However, it looked very nice and busy, so it might definitely be worth a visit if you come around.
That day, we again camped somewhere in the nowhere. Just choose whatever campsite looks convenient to you.
Day 4: The West
Day 4 was also the day we flew back to Germany, which was why we had to be back in Reykjavik around 6pm. It was a day where we enjoyed a lot of countryside views but did not get out of the car that much. We decided to take a little detour to see Hvitserkur, a huge basalt rock in the Ocean. The rock itself was not that exciting, the detour itself was though. Definitely recommendable is also the view on Hörgardalur as well as Lake Hraunvatn, Reykjavoss and the little grass houses in Glaumbaer.
If you have another spare day left, I can recommend doing a tour through the Snaefellsnes area. I haven‘t been there myself, but heard only the best about it.
Let me know if you‘re doing something similar. If you‘d like to see more of our Iceland trip, click here