I spent a week in Iceland this spring, almost on accident. When I was searching for flights to Switzerland last fall I realized it was cheaper to fly through Iceland on Iceland Air than directly to mainland Europe. The airline’s website didn’t have to do much prompting to get me to book a “stayover” for the full 7 days. Once my flight was booked I spent a few months talking Robb into coming along to explore the island. Eventually, he gave in.
We met at baggage claim in the KEF airport at 7am with exactly two things planned out for our trip — a camper van rental for 6 days/5 nights + a hotel in Reykjavik for 2 nights. That’s all. We opted to figure out the rest along the way.
General knowledge implied the highlands regions would be off-limits — our camper van wasn’t allowed up there [not 4WD or equipped to cross rivers] + many of the roads were still closed for the season. This has us sticking closer to the coasts. We also knew we wanted to spent some quality time exploring on foot, rather than just driving around the island. This influenced our decision to *not* do the full Golden Circle loop around the island. Instead, we stayed within roughly 3-4 hours of Reykjavik.
This is where our camper van [+ then rental car, because we got bored with Reykjavik in about 4 hours] took us in the week we spent exploring Iceland. One stop at time, one photo per stop…
Random Roadside Recliner
When you drive by an ocean inlet + spot a random recliner…you whip a u-turn + go sit in it, stoically. Then you walk along the beach following bird footprints + wonder where the epic part of Iceland is hiding. Spoiler: behind the fog!
We tip toed over the ice into the belly of the first waterfall we spotted! We also had the pleasure of watching people operate their drones + fancy cameras…from the *wrong* side of the obvious “protected fauna” ropes. Why!?
Our breakfast, from the van…after a night shared with our camper van strangers + a hike up past the Skogafoss waterfall. Hike beyond the waterfall, you find equally epic rapids + deep ravines.
Solheimasandur Plane Crash
The shell of a plane, on a black sand beach, a bajillion miles away from the highway with an icicle of a girl in a dress…presumably there for fancy photos, but hiding from the wind under a jacket.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
We totally missed this turn + got a second shot at perfecting our u-turn skills. We found columns of basalt, an ocean known for having “sneaker waves” that kill people + a beach of perfectly smooth black stones.
There are our best stoic faces. We are not good at being stoic. We’re better at smirking. Just past the columns above we found a cave surrounded by rocks that had the same jagged look of the Game of Thrones throne. We’re royalty!
Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks
We found a better vantage point of these guys by dodging the incoming tide + scrambling over a jumble of jagged basalt to find a second beach. All the white specks are birds. There were so many birds! Everywhere!
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
This was an impulsive trip + oh so worth it! We got to watch an iceberg calve a massive chunk then roll itself over in slow motion from the overlook. Then we walked the black sand beach as the sun sank behind the glacier.
We camped in a the Vatnajokull National Park + set out for a hike in the morning, dodging rain drops. The basalt columns were incredible, especially those right above our heads — the just roll over at the top, but the others don’t.
En route to this glacier we had high hopes to have a chance to touch a glacier, but we were thwarted by a river of glacier + snow runoff. We were also really missing the sunshine as we danced between raindrops…again.
We found a glacier we could touch! I was not that stoked on this stop at first…then I saw the glacier + all of its black + white contrast. Oh, we also go to touch this glacier, but just the edge because apparently glaciers are dangerous!
This was a completely “on the whim” stop because I needed snacks + a second outside of the van for a change. The rock formations were just a bonus with a lot of interesting Icelandic history.
There was a lot to see on this peninsula…we are told. We saw clouds + fog surrounded by jagged black cliffs + crashing ocean waves. We made a few stops, hiked out to the ocean a few times + then drove through fresh snow!
Random Mountain Pass
This was another “ugh, snacks” pull off + it was well worth it. We were treated to a waterfall we could touch + walk under with a river we could trek along. It was hands down my stop on the entire road trip. I was/am in love.
This little harbor town was discovered when we missed a turn + opted to see what we’d find at the coastline. We found a harbor, a lighthouse + a pier cat that wanted to be our friend!
Another coastal town situated on an inlet + another adventure cat that purred its way into our hearts! This was our windiest night in the van + we were quite certain our latest adventure cat would get blown away!
Englandshverir Hot Springs
We opted against any “pay to play” hot springs while in Iceland + went searching for our own. Luckily we weren’t overly attached to the idea of sitting in hot springs as the spring snow melt + run off cooled all the hot springs down!
Thingvellir National Park
This was a quick stop + mostly a drive through…except when I got a little stir crazy + needed to use my legs. Go hike along the “fisherman trails” near the lake, you will not be disappointed. It’s stunning!
We picked this camping spot based upon proximity to returning the van the next day. The peninsula offered up two lighthouses + a stunning sunset. We also learned that working lighthouse lights look really cool when it’s snowing!
This was a bit of a “check the box” visit because it was a “must do” on so many lists. It was a big waterfall…surrounded by insanely strong, gusting winds. We could hardly walk in the 50+ mph winds!
En route to the aforementioned waterfall we passed by a field of geysers, so we had to stop. Another “check the box” visit…worth it! We watched the bigger geyser explode twice, but the other hot spring pools were pretty awesome, too.
We almost didn’t make this stop, then we nearly turned around multiple times during the 2 hour hike. In the driving rain + gusting wind we trekked up to the beginning of the valley, through literal fields of bubbling hot springs!
Oh, the city. It was a city…but then we’ve never been great at museums or architecture or…anything that requires cleaning up + looking presentable. We did, however, spend some time eating Icelandic food. Including hakral…
We drove roughly 2,161 kilometers/1,342 miles, averaging a guestimated 80kph/50mph…meaning we spent roughly 27 hours driving for the week. Basically, I was a part-time Uber driver for Robb! No complaints — it was around a foreign country full of glaciers, mountains + waterfalls. Also, I probably owed him at least that much chauffeuring after he spent a full winter dealing with car-less me.
I’m not much of one to tell you how to go about doing your own version of vacation or adventuring but I am willing to make recommendations. If you’re comfortable sharing a small amount of space with someone + you’re flexible with your hygiene standards I’d highly recommend getting a camper van while you’re in Iceland!
You’ll have a lot of freedom with how + where you travel simply because you don’t need to get to a specific location to have a bed at night. You’re literally driving your bed around with you! Keep in mind, there are laws regarding where you are allowed to sleep at night. That said, even in the off-season, there are many camping areas to choose from that offer restrooms, showers + restaurants. Plus, a camper van comes with a cook stove + mini kitchen which means you’ll save a bundle on food by cooking your own.
I’d also recommend Happy Campers rentals. Our overall experience with their staff + rental process was positive from start to finish. The layout of the van was also more logical than I saw in other vans. The Happy Camper was set up with a couch during the day + a bed at night. This meant we could cook from our couch on rainy days. Or just sit back for a bit, rather than having our only van downtime be in the front seats or in a bed.
There you have it…our week in Iceland, in just 23 photos + 1 map. We danced through millions of rain drops as it rained every freaking day we were in Iceland. Over few days, we’d get a few hours of sunshine to dance around in as well. Balance. Or something. We barely scratched the surface of everything Iceland has to offer…so I guess we might return. Probably.