When a deal comes along, you take it. I had been to Iceland twice already, both in winter, but I got a notification that tickets were the cheapest they’ve been from DC to Reykjavik, and over Memorial Weekend on top of that! I had wanted to see a green Iceland, and without all the snow and ice, and you can get passed Höfn to drive north.
Now, this isn’t for the faint of heart. You’re going to be in the car just as much, if not more, than out of it, but it’ll be worth it. If you’ve got a 3-Day weekend in Iceland, want to drive the entire Ring Road, here’s the best way to make use of it. And my fellow nerds out there – Game of Thrones locations galore!
If you’re just looking for some quick tips on Iceland, click here.
Iceland’s Route 1 “Þjóðvegur 1 or Hringvegur” is very easy to navigate. Since the tourism boom, there are well marked signs for most of scenic landmarks, and if not, you can follow just about any tour bus and get to where you need to go. However, a GPS is great, especially when you’re looking for gas/petrol or a food stop, whether it be a restaurant or grocery. Make sure you have a half a tank of gas at any given point in time, as gas stations become few and far between after Vík. Actually, fill up at Vík just to be safe! Also, this is especially for US travelers – if you’re planning on using a credit card, make sure you set up a PIN. This becomes necessary when you’re paying for gas! You won’t be able to use it otherwise at the pump.
A GPS can run you about $100 USD/day if you rent one with a rental car company. I’d suggest either you bring your own, or when you land, go to Duty-Free and get an Icelandic SIM card for $35-50 USD. It’s a 10GB SIM, which will definitely get you around the island and keep you up to date on your social media!
Another thing to keep in mind is that food is extremely expensive and grocery stores are limited to the larger towns, for the most part . Your best bet is to load up near Vík at a Karvel or Höfn. Another option is to bring what you can from home and eat out for one meal – you’ll want to try that Icelandic food! You can view my powerpoint I gave to my travel partners (nerdy, I know, but I’m an engineer…prior planning and all). There’s more information in there – maps, links to locations, grocery store stops, etc. Click Here to access the powerpoint.
Day 1: KEF to Höfn, Are you Ready for It?
Ready, set, go! One advantage of going in May-Aug is that you’ve got that midnight sun (or at least some of it!). We were up at 6am, ready to pick up a friend who flew in that morning at KEF, and off we went. We had light until about 11:30pm-12am, it got a little dark for a few hours, then dim, and back to light by 4am.
Now, we packed in quite a bit in 1 day – our journey for day one ended at midnight.
Where We Went:
- Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
- Dyrhólaey Lighthouse
- Vík Black Sand Beach
- Mossy landscapes of Eldraun
- Jokulsarlon Lagoon
I know what you’re thinking…all that in one day? Yes and if you want to make it around the entire perimeter of Iceland in 2 and a half days, you’ll have to do this too. It’s daunting and I wouldn’t advise trying to do it by yourself. Best if you can switch off drivers every couple of hours. Again, we were only able to get all this in because we had the midnight sun. We arrived at Jokulsarlon around 10pm and still had a lot of light.
The longest part of your day, or at least it’ll feel like it, will be the walk to the plane wreck. It’s mostly a straight walk on black sand, about 45 minutes – 1 hour, one way. Be careful as you’ll see people climbing around on the plane. From all the creaking and cracking, I wouldn’t want to walk on it. It’s completely rusted out and you could possibly bust through. Is it worth the walk out to this secluded spot on the beach? It depends. My one friend hated the walk and thought it wasn’t worth seeing the plane. Me? I’m a photographer, of course I wanted to get a shot of the wreckage! It didn’t seem too long, but it was like one of those endless hallways; you feel like you’re not gaining any ground. If you’re debating whether or not to go, I would say skip it to get more time at the glacier lagoon.
Day 2: Höfn to Varmahlíð
Ok, first, let me remind you about the gas situation, because we almost ran out and found a lonely pump outside of Höfn, coasting in on fumes. Don’t leave Vík without filling up your tank!
Where We Went:
- Vesturhorn Mountain
- Viking Village Abandoned Movie Set
- Black Sand Dunes
- Krafla Viti Crater
- Grjotagja Cave (Game of Thrones Location)
- Goðafoss Waterfall
On Day 2, we had more time out of the car, since we didn’t leave Höfn until after noon. We made our way to Stokksnes/Vesturhorn Mountain & Black Sand Dunes. Stop at the little visitor’s center, get a cup of coffee, and take a quick walk down to an “old Viking village” aka an abandoned movie set. It was actually really cool and we had the whole place to ourselves!
Then, right down the road, you can park and walk among the Black Sand Dunes with the amazing Vesturhorn Mountain as the backdrop. I didn’t think Iceland could get more beautiful after seeing Jokulsarlon Lagoon, but it just kept getting better and better!
After leaving Vesturhorn, there were endless amounts of waterfalls. We ended up stopping at 2-3 of them, hiking for a bit, and kept driving. I had buffered in time for “surprises” along the way, so we had plenty of time to explore.
Ok awesome nerds, here’s your Game of Thrones location number one – the cave Jon Snow takes Ygritte to…you know the cave… It was a bit underwhelming to see, as well as the next location, Krafla Viti Crater. The cave is extremely small and no one, at least at the time, was going into the water. If you want to see it for the GoT location check mark, do it. It’s not that far off Route 1 and won’t take away that much time. The crater, on the other hand, wasn’t worth the drive. Save your nose (it was super sulfur-y) and the drive time.
Our last major stop was the amazing Goðafoss Waterfall. Goðafoss translates into God’s Waterfall and it is definitely that. It’s just stunning and powerful. I do wish we had more time here, but we got there around 8:30pm and were exhausted.
Day 3: Varmahlíð to Rejakvik
This day…oh this day. The drive alone is going to be a literal headache for you, fair warning. When we started off, we were ready to go see Kirkjufellsfoss. It’s iconic Iceland. You’ve seen all the photos. As a landscape photographer, it was a must. After doing the drive in from the North, I don’t know if I’d do it again.
The drive started off pretty easy and we had plenty of things to see and you start to have more options for gas, food, etc. Then, you get the beautiful coastline down to Kirkjufellsfoss. And then it happens…the worst drive of my life. When are you going to get to this little hell on earth? A little after you turn onto Route 68.
All is well, and then you come upon the Pothole Capital of the World. We have no photos of these insane roads due to me concentrating on not popping off a tire and neither of the girls able to get a good shot off due to the bumps. We came across at least 3 cars that blew a tire. The drive is doable, but you’ll be mentally exhausted and have a killer headache. Just take it slow – don’t be one of those cars that couldn’t take it anymore and decided to speed up, only to loose a tire in the middle of nowhere.
Oh, but if you look at this “arrowhead” mountain, as The Hound called it, you’ll recognize the location to be Beyond the Wall…that’s right, another GoT spot!
The southern road leaving Kirkjufellsfoss was much better, so you don’t have to worry leaving. In retrospect, it’s worth going south to go north to skip the potholes. My advice to you is to take Route 1 all the way to Borgarnes, then head north on Route 54 to Kirkjufellsfoss. This is only if they haven’t fixed the roads. Anyone in Iceland that reads this and can confirm the roads are fixed going north to south, let me know and I’ll update!
Ok, next we were supposed to hike Glymur, if you’re following the powerpoint, but due to weather, we opted out. There’s a river that you have to cross that may or may not have a log you can use to cross, and with the rain we were having, I made the decision it might be too dangerous to cross once we got there. So, what did we do instead? Found an Icelandic Brewery, of course! Most people know of Einstök Ölgerð and Ölvisholt Brewery, but we found this tiny little brewery called Steðji.
If you want some weird, only in Iceland beer, and some gag gift to bring back for friends, this is the place to go. I’m not a beer drinker, so I had this alcoholic lemonade, but my friends had the flight. Among the beers were two that stood out – Hvalur 2 Þorraöl Steðji and Steðji Reyktur bjór. The Steðji Reyktur bjór reminded us of smoked sausage, which was interesting coming from a beer.
But, the one you want to bring home is the Hvalur 2 Þorraöl Steðji. This is from their website:
Hvalur 2 Þorraöl Steðji are even more controversial , again it was an ale purposely brewed for the season of Þorri, the Icelandic midwinter festival but instead of using milled whale bones we took it a step further and used sheep dung-smoked whale testicles from a Fin-whale mixed with pure Icelandic water, malted barley and hops.
You read that right…sheep dung and whale testicles. We brought back a six-pack.
From there, we made our way back to Reykjavik. Check out my winter Iceland post to see what to do while you’re there!
Well, you made it! You’re tired, but it was so worth it! Stop at the Blue Lagoon (make sure to make an appointment beforehand…they no longer allow walk-ins, and it sells outs) before your flight to relax those tired bones!