Summer 6 Day Self Drive Tour | Circle of Iceland
Drive the whole circle around Iceland in only six days! If you don't have much time but still want to see as much of Iceland as possible, then this trip around the country is your best bet. It involves a lot of driving, but you are behind the wheel, and can forget about the pressures of tour guides and other group members.
To make your holiday relaxing as well as adventurous, you will lodge in full comfort with an ensuite bathroom and breakfast included around Iceland, so you can be certain that you will rest well between days of adventure.
On this trip, you will get to enjoy Iceland's most famous highlights, such as the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon, Reykjavík, and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. If you wish to avoid the crowds as well, however, to enjoy Iceland's peaceful, secluded places, you are in luck; you will receive a custom itinerary after you book, which will show you locations off the beaten path where you can truly get back in touch with nature.
You'll see many impressive waterfalls, geothermal areas, volcanoes, lakes, glaciers and charismatic Icelandic towns as you travel. The south, east, north, and west are all dramatically different from each other, so instead of focusing on one area, you'll get to know it all, one region after another.
Make the most of the long summer days and start early in the mornings and finish late at night. You should feel more energetic in the constant sunshine, and even if you do not, the spectacular scenery and beautiful fresh air will jolt your senses awake.
During the booking process, you can also add more exciting activities to fill the sunny days, such as cruising the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, buzzing along an ice cap on a snowmobile, descend into a stunning ice cave, or hiking the glacier at Skaftafell. You can even take a tandem paragliding flight over the incredible south coast!
Jump on this opportunity to see all parts of Iceland in record time! Check availability by choosing a date.
- Available: May. - Sep.
- Duration: 6 days
- Activities: Glacier Hiking, Hiking, Snowmobile, Whale Watching, Sightseeing, Boat Trip, Hot Spring Bathing, Cultural Activity, Bird watching, Self drive
- Difficulty: Easy
Akureyri, ‘The Capital of the North’ is a town in the fjord Eyjafjordur in North Iceland. It lies just 100 km away from the Arctic Circle. It is Iceland’s second-largest urban area with a population of about 17,800.
Akureyri is an important fishing centre and port, but in the last few years tourism, industry, higher education and services have become the fastest growing sectors of the economy.
An international airport is located about 3 km from the center. A large number of cruisers also stop at Akureyri. One of Iceland's best skiing sites is found by Akureyri, at Hlidarfjall.
Traditionally Akureyri has survived on fisheries and some of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, like for example Samherji, have their headquarters there. Other large companies include Brim, Nordurmjolk, and Vifilfell hf, the largest brewery in Iceland.
FSA/Akureyri Hospital is a major employer in the area and is one of two major hospitals in Iceland.
Akureyri has excellent facilities for travelers and is located a short drive from many of Iceland’s top natural, cultural and historical attractions.
Nature & Landscape
Akureyri is surrounded by mountains, the highest one being Kerling (1538 m). The area around it has rich agriculture and a beautiful mountain ring.
The innermost part of the fjord, Pollurinn ('The Pool') further lends the town a special character. The climate in Akureyri is generally very pleasant.
The islands Hrisey in the middle of Eyfjordur and Grimsey, straddling the Artic Circle, both belong to the municipality of Akureyri. Hrisey is often called 'The Pearl of Eyjafjordur' and Grimsey 'The Pearl of the Artic' and these beautiful and peaceful islands are highly popular with travelers.
History & Culture
During World War II the town was an important site for the Allies and the town grew considerably after the war, as people increasingly moved to urban areas.
Akureyri has a strong cultural scene, with several bars and renowned restaurants. Folk culture in general is more prevalent there than in Reykjavik. During the summer there are several notable festivals in Akureyri and its surroundings.
Sites of interest in Akureyri include the brand-new Hof concert hall and Akureyri’s many museums, The Nature Museum, Nonnahus, a.k.a. Jon Sveinsson Memorial Museum, for the writer, David's house or David Stefansson Memorial Museum, for the poet, Akureyri Art Museum.
Akureyri also has several churches, Akureyrarkirkja being the most notable, as well as beautiful botanical gardens. The old town is particularly charming, ideal for a nice walk.
Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon. Conveniently located in the southeast by Route 1, about halfway between the Skaftafell Nature Reserve and Höfn, it is a popular stop for those travelling along the South Coast or around the circular ring road of the country.
It stands out, however, due to the fact that it also fills with icebergs breaking from the glacier, some of which tower several stories high.
These icebergs, other than their scale, are notable for their colouration. Although they are, as expected, largely white, most are also dyed electric blue in part, with black streaks of ash from eruptions centuries past.
When the icebergs finally make it across the lagoon, they either drift out to sea or wash up on the nearby shore. Because of the way they glisten against the black sands of Breiðamerkursandur, this area has been nicknamed ‘the Diamond Beach’.
In spite of being a rather recent formation, Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in the country, with depths reaching 248 metres. With a surface area of 18 square kilometres, it is also growing to be one of the largest.
Jökulsárlón has not been around since Iceland’s settlement; it only formed around 1935. This was due to rapidly rising temperatures in the country from the turn of the twentieth century; since 1920, Breiðamerkurjökull has been shrinking at a dramatic rate, and the lagoon has begun to fill its space.
Today, the expansion of Jökulsárlón is accelerating. As recently as 1975, it was just 8 square kilometres, and now that size has more than doubled.
In the relatively near future, it is expected that the lagoon will continue to grow until it becomes a large, deep fjord.
Though a dark omen for Iceland’s glaciers and ice caps in general, the retreat of Breiðamerkurjökull has resulted in an incredibly beautiful, if temporary, site. This has not been overlooked by Hollywood.
Jökulsárlón has been featured in the James Bond films A View to Kill in 1985 and Die Another Day in 2002, 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and 2005’s Batman Begins.
In 2017, Jökulsárlón was enveloped into the Vatnajökull National Park, thus it is now fully protected by Icelandic law.
Because of the wealth of herring and capelin that the tides bring into the lagoon, Jökulsárlón is somewhat of a hot-spot for Iceland’s wildlife.
In summer, it is a nesting site for Arctic Terns; stay well away from this area, as these birds are notorious for the fierceness with which they protect their eggs, dive-bombing the heads of any they see as a threat. Skuas also nest on the lake’s shores in this season.
Seals can be reliably spotted here throughout the year, swimming amongst or else hauling out on the icebergs. Jökulsárlón provides them with a safe haven to rest and socialise, especially considering the waters of southeast Iceland are renowned for their population of orcas.
Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland and the third largest glacier in Europe, covering 8% of the island's landmass. Vatnajökull Glacier can be found in the south west of Iceland and is a popular spot for glacier hiking and ice caving tours.
Facts about Vatnajökull
- Surface: 8,100 km2
- Average thickness: 400 - 600 m
- Maximum thickness: 1,000 m
- Height: 1,400 - 1,800 m
- Highest peak: 2,200 m (Hvannadalshnjúkur)
Information about Vatnajökull
Vatnajökull Glacier belongs to the greater Vatnajökull National Park, which encompasses the former national parks Skaftafell, in the southwest, and Jökulsárgljúfur, in the north. Vatnajökull's highest summit is Hvannadalshnjúkur which rests on top of a stratovolcano known as Öræfajökull.
Underneath the glacier rests some of the most active volcanoes in the country, the most notable being Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull and Bárðabunga. Volcanic activity in the region has occurred on and off throughout the centuries, and many geologists believe that such a period is overdue for immediate future. If their calculations are correct, it would mean significant volcanic activity for Vatnajökull over the scope of the next half century.
The glacier boasts of over 30 outlet glaciers, which are channels of ice that flow out of ice caps but remain constrained on the sides of the valley. The major outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull include Dyngjujökull in the north, Breiðamerkurjökull and Skeiðarárjökull to the south. To the west, one can find the outlet glaciers Síðujökull, Skaftárjökull and Tungnaárjökull.
Glaciers are in constant motion underneath their weight; as they form over the centuries, the accession of snow exceeds its melting, creating a constant "push" on the ice cap. Each year, due to the melting ice water, new ice caves form that disappear come spring.
- Click here for a selection of Ice Cave tours
Numerous rivers run out of Vatnajökull, making up some of the greatest glacial rivers in Iceland:
- Tungnaá (west)
- Köldukvísl (west)
- Þjórsá (west)
- Jökulsá á Fjöllum (north)
- Skjálfandafljót (north)
- Jökulsá á Brú (north east)
- Jökulsá í Fljótsdal (north east)
- Jökulsá í Lóni (south)
- Hornafjarðarfljót (south)
- Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi (south)
- Skeiðará (south)
- Núpsvötn (south)
- Hverfisfljót (south)
- Skaftá (south)
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park, in its current state, was established in June 2008. The park now covers an area of 14.141 km2, making it the second largest national park in Europe. Vatnajökull National Park has 14% coverage over the whole island of Iceland.
Rivers divide the highland plateau to the north of the park; an area that sees massive glacial flows in the summertime. The volcanic table mountain Herðubreið towers over this particular region, along with volcanoes Askja, Snæfell and Kverkfjöll.
The canyon Jökulsárgljúfur was carved out by glacial floods centuries ago. At the upper end of the canyon, you'll find Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Further north, the horseshoe-shaped canyon Ásbyrgi is believed to have formed when Óðinn's horse, Sleipnir, stepped his foot down from the heavens.
East around Snæfell, one can find wetlands and ranges, home to roaming herds of wild reindeer and abundant birdlife. Steep mountain ridges make up the south side of Vatnajökull, where outlet glaciers crawl in between the ridges onto the lowlands. The sandy plains of Skeiðarársandur also lie to the south as they reach out to sea. The glacial river Skeiðará runs through this vast desert.
One of Iceland's most visited landmarks is the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which sits at the head of outlet glacier Breiðamerkurjökull. There, large icebergs that have broken off the glacier gather to float in the lake before ending up in the Atlantic Ocean, or on the nearby Diamond Beach.
- Click here for a selection of Jökulsárlón tours
The Future of Vatnajökull
The volume of Vatnajökull reached its peak around 1930 but has since been in a steady process of decline. Because of rising levels of global temperature, approximately over the last 15 years, Vatnajökull has on average lost about a metre of its thickness annually.
If temperature levels continue to rise, the glacier could be all but gone nearing the end of the next century, leaving only small ice caps on top of the highest mountain summits.
Vatnajökull and Jökulsárlón in Popular Culture
- HBO's Game of Thrones (season 2, 2012)
- Batman Begins (2005)
- James Bond: Die Another Day (2002)
- James Bond: A View to a Kill (1985)
Goðafoss waterfall is located the river Skjálfandafljót in north Iceland, the fourth largest river in Iceland. It is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, falling from a height of 12 metres over a width of 30 metres.
The fall's name means either waterfall of the gods or of the 'goði' (i.e. priest/ chieftain). It is said that when the lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði declared Christianity the official religion in Iceland, after his own conversion, he threw the statues of the old Norse gods into the waterfall.
Dettifoss, in the glacier river Jokulsa á Fjollum, flowing from the glacier Vatnajokull, is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
This thunderous fall has an average waterflow of 193 m3 per second. It is 100 meters (330 ft.) wide and plummets 45 meters (150 ft.) down to Jokulsargljufur canyon.
Skógafoss is one of the country’s biggest and most beautiful waterfalls with an astounding width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters. Due to the amount of spray the cascade produces, a rainbow is present any time the sun emerges from behind the clouds.
Located on the Skógá river, this mighty cascade is clearly visible from Route 1 and is an excellent place to stop and stretch the legs while travelling Iceland’s South Coast. The river below Skógafoss holds a large char and salmon population and is thus a favourite spot for fishermen in the summer.
The land underneath the waterfall is very flat, allowing visitors to walk right up to the wall of water; keep in mind, however, that this will get you drenched. Skógafoss can also be viewed from the top as a steep staircase leads to an observational platform above the cascade.
Skógafoss is located near the small village of Skógar, south of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano. There you’ll find the Skógasafn folk museum, an open-air museum with both old wooden houses and turf houses, as well as a regional museum with various artefacts from this area.
A part of the Skógasafn Regional Museum is the Museum of Transportation, which showcases the history and evolution of transportation, communication and technologies in Iceland. There, you can see how this nation evolved from the age of the working horse to the digital communications of the 21. Century.
The Skógasafn museum also includes a café and a museum shop, and in the village of Skógar, you will find both a hotel and a restaurant.
At the eastern side of Skógafoss, you will find one of Iceland’s most famed hiking routes; the Fimmvörðuháls pass. The 22 km trail leads you along Skógá river, between two glaciers, Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull, before ending in the beautiful Þórsmörk valley.
A gold ring is on display at the Skógasafn museum. According to legend, the ring is from a chest that was owned by Þrasi Þórólfsson, one of the first Viking settlers in the area. Folklore states that before his death in 900 AD, Þrasi buried a chest filled with gold in a cave behind Skógafoss waterfall.
Many attempts were made to retrieve the chest after Þrasi’s death, and years later, locals managed to grasp a ring on the side of the chest. As they pulled, the ring broke off, and the treasure was lost forever. The ring was then given to the local church before it made its way to the museum.
Geysir is a famous hot spring in Haukadalur valley in South Iceland. Part of the ‘Golden Circle', Geysir gives its name to hot springs all over the world.
Though Geysir itself is hardly active anymore, the area features spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur, which spouts a vast amount of water every 10 minutes, around 15-20 meters into the air, Smidur and Litli-Strokkur.
North of Geysir are fumaroles, i.e. unlike the hot springs that emit hot water, only steam and gas emanate from these. You may be able to observe bright yellow stains at the fumaroles, this is native sulphur, which crystallizes from the steam. At the southern part of the geothermal area, called Thykkuhverir, you‘ll find various mud pots. Such mud pots are actually fumaroles that boil up through surface water/groundwater and may become steaming fumaroles during dry spells, rather than the usual boiling mud pots.
About 2 km from Geysir is an old preserved natural pool called Kúalaug. One can bathe in it and it has room for 3-5 people at a time, but care should be taken, as the area around the pool is very delicate. The temperature is 39-43°C, depending on how you are positioned in the pool. The water is slightly muddy, as the pool is built on soil, and the bottom is slippery due to algae, so caution is advised.
In Haukadalur there has also been tree planting in recent times and today the forest Haukadalsskógur is one of the largest in South Iceland. Aspen, various types of pine, and other plants have been tried out there and experiments and research continue. We also recommend visiting the tree museum, built in the memory of forester Gunnar Freysteinsson. There are good paths and roads in the forest and the wood is specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Haukadalur has been a church site since ancient time. The current wooden church was last rebuilt in 1938 but the variety and appearance of the church dates back to 1842, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Iceland.
Haukadalur is indeed a historical place. It was settled during the age of settlement and scholar Ari “The Wise“ Thorgilsson grew up there. The first pastoral school in Iceland was also built there.
For accommodation, Hotel Gullfoss is about 7 km from the Geysir area, and closer still is the Hotel Geysir.
Gullfoss (translated to ‘Golden Falls’) is one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls, found on the Hvítá river canyon in south Iceland. The water in Hvítá river travels from the glacier Langjökull, finally cascading 32m down Gullfoss’ two stages in a dramatic display of nature’s raw power.
Because of the waterfall’s two stages, Gullfoss should actually be thought of as two separate waterfalls. The first, shorter stage of the waterfall is 11m, whilst the second stage is 21m. The canyon walls on both sides of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70m, descending into the 2.5km long Gullfossgjúfur canyon (geologists indicate that this canyon was formed by glacial outbursts at the beginning of the last age.)
In the summer, approximately 140 cubic metres of water surges down the waterfall every second, whilst in winter that number drops to around 109 cubic metres. With such energy, visitor’s should not be surprised to find themselves drenched by the waterfall’s mighty spray-off.
In the early days of the last century, Gullfoss was at the centre of much controversy regarding foreign investors and their desire to profit off Iceland’s nature. In the year 1907, an English businessman known only as Howells sought to utilise the waterfall’s energy and harboured ambitions to use its energy to fuel a hydroelectric plant.
At the time, Gullfoss was owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson. Tómas declined Howell’s offer to purchase the land, stating famously “I will not sell my friend!” He would, however, go on to lease Howells the land, inadvertently beginning the first chapter of Icelandic environmentalism.
It was Tómas’ daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who would lead the charge. Having grown up on her father’s sheep farm, she sought to get the lease contract nullified, hurriedly saving her own money to hire a lawyer. The ensuing legal battle was an uphill struggle; the case continued for years, forcing Sigríður to travel many times by foot to Reykjavík if only to keep the trial moving. Circumstances became so difficult that Sigríður threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if any construction began.
Thankfully, in 1929, the waterfall fell back into the hands of the Icelandic people. Today, Sigríður is recognised for her perseverance in protecting Gullfoss and is often hailed as Iceland’s first environmentalist. Her contribution is forever marked in stone; a plaque detailing her plight sits at the top of Gullfoss.
Restaurant / Cafe
Besides Gullfoss, visitors can enjoy the views from Gullfoss Cafe, a locally run delicatessen that serves a wide variety of refreshments and meals. The menu has options to tantalise everyone’s taste buds; hot soups, sandwiches, salads and cakes. There is also a shop on site where visitors’ can browse and purchase traditional Icelandic souvenirs.
Thingvellir is one of the most important sites to visit in Iceland for its landscape, history and cultural value.
The Icelandic parliament was founded in Thingvellir in 930 and remained there for centuries.Thingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range and is the site of a rift valley, marking the crest of the Mid-Atlantic range. Today it is a natural park, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and considered a vital part of the ‘Golden triangle’ (with Geysir and Gullfoss). Of particular note is the magnificent gorge Almannagja, which marks the eastern boundary of the north American plate and into which the beautiful waterfall Oxararfoss falls.
Other notable attractions within the park include the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, the Silfra fissure, one of the world's top dives, and Gjabakkahellir, one of Iceland's most interesting lava tubes.
Hraunfossar in Borgarfjordur district is a series of beautiful waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming from a short distance out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field.
The lava field flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjokull. The waterfalls pour into the Hvita river from ledges of less porous rock in the lava. These are some of the most magnificent falls found in Iceland and not to be missed.
Deildartunguhver, by Reykholt, in Borgarfjordur district, has the highest flow rate for a hot spring in Europe.
The flow rate of Deildartunguhver is 180 liters/second and water emerges at 97 °C. The place is also unique for being the only place in the country where the hard fern grows.
Skaftafell is a nature preserve in Oraefasveit. It used to be a national park of its own but joined the larger Vatnajokull National Park in 2008.
Skaftafell is notable for its rich flora, growing between sands and glaciers, and overall for its amazing and contrasting scenery. You can take short and easy trails to the waterfalls Svartifoss and Hundafoss, as well as Skaftafell glacier, with the mountain Kristinartindar and Morsardalur valley further off.
Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those seeking to climb Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnukur.
Hofn a Hornafirdi, is a fishing town in southeast Iceland, with a population of 1641 (as of 2011). It has a strong harbour and its main industries are fishing and tourism.
Of note are several interesting museums and the annual Humarhatid (lobster festival). The area is also rich and varied birdlife and migratory birds from Scotland land here around April and leave around August/September.
Reynisfjara is a world-famous black-sand beach found on the South Coast of Iceland, just beside the small fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal.
With its enormous basalt stacks, roaring Atlantic waves and stunning panoramas, Reynisfjara is widely considered to be the most beautiful example of Iceland’s black sand beaches. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara as one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet.
Reynisfjara is found around 180 km from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, and is a popular stop-off for those taking a sightseeing tour along South Coast. Driving to the beach is particularly easy, taking an approximate two and a half hours from the capital.
Upon visiting the beach, travellers will immediately observe rocky sea stacks sitting off the shoreline, known as Reynisdrangar. According to local Icelandic folklore, these large basalt columns were once trolls engaged in trying to pull ships from the ocean. However, as bad luck would have it, the dawn quickly arose, turning the trolls into solid stone.
Another legend tells of a husband whose wife was kidnapped and killed by two trolls. The man followed the trolls down to Reynisfjara where he froze them, ensuring that they would never kill again.
The sea stacks themselves are home to thousands of nesting seabirds. Species that can be found here include Puffins, Fulmars and Guillemots, making it a must-see location for all birdwatchers out there.
Visitors to Reynisfjara must be made well aware of the potential dangers present at the beach. First of all, the rolling, roaring waves of Reynisfjara are particularly violent, often pushing far further up the beach than many would expect.
Visitors are advised to never turn their back on the waves, don't go chasing after them and keep a safe distance of 20-30 metres.
Aside from these sudden and dramatic shifts in tide (known as “sneaker waves”), the currents off the shore are infamous for their strength and ability to drag helpless people out into the freezing cold open ocean. A number of fatal accidents have occurred at Reynisfjara, the last of which occurred in January 2017.
Vik in Myrdalur valley is the southernmost village on the Icelandic mainland, located 186 km from the capital Reykjavik.
Vik is important as a service centre for the inhabitants and visitors of the marvellous Reynisfjara beach.
Reynisfjara is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches on earth (see for example Islands Magazine). This black pebble beach boasts an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns called Gardar, which resembles a rocky step pyramid and out in the sea are the spectaculary shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar. The area has rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots.
Egilsstadir is the largest town in East Iceland, with a population of 2257 people as of 2011. It is located on the banks of the river Lagarfljot in the wide valley of the fertile Fljotsdalsherad district.
Egilsstadir is the main center for service, transportation and administration in East Iceland.
The town provides all basic services and features an airport, a college and a health center. Egilsstadir also has an annual jazz festival that we can recommend. The town is furthermore close to many of East Iceland's and indeed Iceland's main attractions and as a center of the area, many East Iceland tours are directed from there.
The area of Fljotsdalsherad has many notable points of interest, whether natural, historical or cultural. Click here for further information about those.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur (referred to locally as ‘Klaustur’) is a village of approximately 120 inhabitants in the Skaftárhreppur municipality of south of Iceland. Situated by the Ring Road, approx. 250 km east of Reykjavík, Klaustur is one of the few villages providing amenities—eg. fuel, post office, bank, supermarket— between Vík í Mýrdal and Höfn.
The history of Kirkjubæjarklaustur differs, in many respects, to the traditional Icelandic settlement. “Papar”, the Icelandic title for travelling Irish monks, were thought to have settled the area long before the Norsemen. In that tradition, it was claimed that pagans of no kind would set foot in Klaustur; this was a strictly Christian area.
Stories have permeated, with one telling of a pagan, Hildir Eysteinsson, who attempted to move there in the 10th Century. Upon setting foot across the border, he fell instantly dead and was buried on the neighbouring hill, Hildishaugur (“Hildir’s Mound.”)
Despite twisting the tongue, the full village name 'Kirkju-bæjar-klaustur' actually tells the story of the area well; 'Kirkju' means church, 'bæjar' means farm and 'klaustur' means convent. The word 'Klaustur' was added to the original name 'Kirkjubær' in 1186 AD when a convent of Benedictine nuns settled there.
In the 364 years leading to the Reformation in 1550 AD, Klaustur did much for the oral history of south Iceland. Systrastapi (Sister’s Rock), the Systrafoss waterfall and lake Systravatn all take their names from the nun’s settlement.
The folklore relating to these sites are rich in tales of religious heresy, superstition and death. Sister’s Rock, for instance, has been said to be the burial site of two nuns executed for sinful behaviour. Selling their soul to the devil, removing communion bread from church, carnal knowledge with men, blasphemy toward the pope; these were just some of the accusations brought against them. Guilty or not, the nuns were swiftly burnt at the stake.
Following the Reformation, one of the nuns was vindicated for her actions, and it is said that flowers soon bloomed on top of her grave. The other’s grave has remained barren, a continuing reminder of the lady’s ethereal disapproval.
Despite its petite size, Klaustur is an important crossroads to the attractions nestled at the centre of the island, namely the Laki Craters in Vatnajokull National Park and the Landmannalaugar hiking trails in the scenic Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Only a few kilometres from the village itself lies the spectacular Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.
A short walk east of Kirkjubæjarlaustur will take you to the fascinating Kirkjugólfið “Church Floor”, an 80 square metre flat of basalt columns, shaped and formed naturally by tide and glacial melts.
Reynisdrangar are rock formations situated near the shore of Reynisfjara beach by the coastal village Vík í Mýrdalur on the South Coast of Iceland.
The formations are large and impending sea cliffs, made up of the rock type basalt, that serve as a vital part of the area’s allure as they shoot dramatically out of the ocean under the looming cliffs of Mt. Reynisfjall.
- Visit Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar on these South Coast Tours
The village of Vík only houses around 300 permanent inhabitants, but on a daily basis, travellers scouting the South Coast make their way there to visit what has been voted as one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. The beach of Reynisfjara, however, can be highly dangerous if proper caution is not taken. As is evident from how the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash upon Reynisdrangar, the currents here are strong, and sneak waves can easily carry anyone that’s standing too close out to sea. The beach is not for wading, but for admiring, and especially the mighty surf bursting on the base of these rocky cliffs.
There is an Icelandic folk tale that explains the origin of the pillars’ eerie appearance. According to legend, a couple of trolls were busy dragging a stranded three-masted ship to shore when the sunlight hit them and turned them into pillars of rock for all eternity. In fact, numerous rock formations in Iceland carry with them tales of trolls or elves, and one has only to look at them to fathom why.
Surroundings & Wildlife
An alternative view of the bewitching cliffs and their surrounding sea can be enjoyed by venturing up Mt. Reynisfjall, by a road to the west of the village. The mountain furthermore functions as a puffin colony every summer, from April to September, meaning guests can enjoy the view in good company. Other birds can be seen gliding around the cliffs such as Arctic terns, fulmars and seagulls.
- See also: Puffin Watching Tours
Hvítserkur, sometimes referred to as the “Troll of North-West Iceland”, is a 15m (49ft) basalt stack protruding from Húnaflói bay, along the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula. Hvítserkur gets its name from the birdlife nesting atop it. In Icelandic, the name translates to “white shirt”, a nod to the colour of the bird droppings that cover the rock.
It should come as no surprise that Hvítserkur is often referred to as a troll. Folklore implies that Hvítserkur was originally a troll determined to rip the bells down from Þingeyraklaustur convent, an apparent allusion to the people’s stoic resistance to the Christianisation of Iceland. However, as goes the story, the troll paralysed by walking out under sunlight and quickly turned to stone. The Hvítserkur stack is all that remains.
The scientific community has another explanation. Erosion from the cascading sea water has carved three large holes through the basalt rock, sculpting and shaping it into what appears as some petrified, mythological animal. The base of the stack has been reinforced with concrete to protect its foundations from the sea, but this has not stopped visitors’ interpreting the rock’s peculiar shape. Some say Hvítserkur looks like an elephant, others a rhino. Some onlookers have gone as far as to claim the rock appears as a “dinosaur drinking.” Whatever the case, the rock is a nesting ground for seagulls, shag and fulmar, making it appear constantly in motion, further enforcing the idea that Hvítserkur is, in some way, very much alive.
To the south, visitors to Hvítserkur can detour toward Sigríðarstaðir, a location reputable for viewing seal colonies. Hvítserkur is also only a short drive from the historical and quintessential Súluvellir farm, a location that boasts incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
The South Coast of Iceland is the country's most visited sightseeing route, along with the Golden Circle.
The famed South Coast shoreline stretches from the greater Reykjavík area and is dotted with natural wonders such as cascading waterfalls, volcanoes both active and dormant, black sand beaches and glacier lagoons.
Geography, Nature & Wildlife
Iceland is divided into eight geographical regions. Out of these, the Southern Region is the largest, as it spans over 24.000 square kilometres with its administrative centre in the municipality of Selfoss.
What is known as the South Coast embodies the shoreline of this particular region. The area consists of a lowland that is mostly composed of marshlands, bays and cultivated pastures that are met by a series of black beaches where the estuaries to the east and west of the district close off the coastal body.
Underneath the soil rests a vast lava field, known as Þjórsárhraun. Its edges reach several hundred metres offshore where the ocean waves crash upon them, thereby protecting the lowland from the invasion of the sea. This results in the South Coast being unusually lacking in the deep fjords that so distinctly characterise the rest of Iceland's shore line.
The region boasts vibrant bird life during all seasons. It is not only rich with both marshland birds and seabirds but also migrating birds such as the North Atlantic puffin. Some species stay throughout the harsh Icelandic winter, including the northern diver, the loom and various species of gulls and ducks.
Highlights of the South Coast
The South Coast offers an unprecedented array of natural wonders that draw thousands of visitors each day. When driving the route from Reykjavík City, the highlights in their correct order are:
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
- Vestmannaeyjar; The Westman Islands
- Eyjafjallajökull Glacier Volcano
- Skógafoss Waterfall
- Sólheimajökull Glacier
- Dyrhólaey Peninsula
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
- Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks
- Coastal Village Vík í Mýrdal
- Skeiðarársandur Glacial Sand Plain
- Vatnajökull National Park
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
These attractions count for but a fraction of what the South Coast has to offer. The vast sand plains of Sólheimasandur are home to a crashed DC-3 Plane Wreck, and close to Seljavellir by the Skógar Village there's Seljavallalaug, one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland.
- Explore the many wonders of the area on these South Coast Tours
Iceland has one main ring road: Route 1. This ring road goes all around the island and is 1332 km long (828 miles). The road connects the capital, Reykjavík, to the second biggest city in Iceland, Akureyri, in the north of the country. Other notable towns that are connected via the ring road are Borgarnes, Blönduós, Egilsstaðir, Höfn, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Vík, Hella, Hvolsvöllur, Selfoss and Hveragerði.
A number of popular tourist attractions are also found by the ring road, such as Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Lake Mývatn and the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Goðafoss.
The ring road consists mainly of paved two lanes road (one each direction). Some parts of the ring road are still unpaved however. In various places the road contains single lane bridges, especially in the east part of the country. The speed limit is 90km per hour on the paved section of the road (lower when it passes through towns), but 80km per hour on gravel.
The road was only completed in 1974, with the opening of Iceland's longest bridge, that crosses Skeiðará river in southeast Iceland. In 1998 a tunnel below the fjord Hvalfjörður shortened the drive around Iceland by about one hour (or 45km along a winding fjord). Hvalfjörður tunnels are the biggest tunnels in Iceland, 5,8 km and 165m below sea level. The ring road has another tunnel called Almannaskarð in the southeast by Höfn and by 2017 the Vaðlaheiðar tunnels should be open in north Iceland, shortening the distance between Akureyri and Mývatn.
Some sections of the ring road are original 1940's country roads, and a number of sharp curves, blind curves, blind summits as well as single lane bridges mean that people need to drive cautiously. In wintertime most of the ring road is kept open, with the exception of a short passage in the east part of the country that may be closed due to heavy snow (a detour is needed to travel from the north to the east during wintertime).
Guide to Iceland would advise people to drive cautiously on the ring road both in summer and wintertime, but also to explore other roads leading from it to multiple attractions.
Starting time : Flexible
5 nights of accommodation (different levels available; breakfast included. More detailed info below)
Vehicle for 6 days (VW Polo or similar. Upgrades available)
CDW, SCDW and gravel protection insurance for vehicle
Blue Lagoon standard entrance (upgrades available)
Detailed Itinerary with fun and practical information on the nature, history and culture of Iceland
Hands-on travel agent to oversee your itinerary
What to bring:
Good to know:
Self-drive tours begin either in Reykjavík City or at Keflavik International Airport. A valid driver's license is required, along with a one-year long on-road experience. Please be aware that your itinerary may be rearranged to better fit with your arrival date and time.
Although it is summertime, the Icelandic weather can be very unpredictable. Please bring appropriate clothing.
Day 1 - Arrival in Reykjavík
After arriving at Keflavík, pick up your car and head towards Iceland's capital, Reykjavík. It's only a 45-minute drive from the airport, and on the way, you'll pass by the famous Blue Lagoon.
You can choose to bathe in healing, azure waters of the Lagoon on your arrival day, or leave it until your last day if you just wish to get into the city.
Explore the museums, restaurants, and nightlife of Reykjavík city, and get a good sleep at a cozy hotel in the centre of town before hitting the road early next morning.
Preferred accommodation in Reykjavík
The Fosshótel chain has four 3-4 star Hotels located in and around the city center of Reykjavík. There is a short walk from all of the hotels to attractions, cafés, restaurants, museums and the nightlife. All offer private bedrooms with private bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included.
Day 2 - Reykjavík to Lake Mývatn
Start your road trip by heading north, towards Akureyri, the capital of the North.
Although you will be driving for longer today than on any other day, there are many little side tours you can take en route. For example, it is only a short detour to the impressive Hvítserkur rock, which rises 15 m (50 ft) tall from the ocean in the shape of an elephant (if you're looking at the right angle).
The charming town of Akureyri has plenty of things to check out, such as an impressive church, a vibrant main street, a botanical garden featuring over 700 species, and a great swimming pool. After spending some time exploring, continue towards Lake Mývatn. On your way, you'll see the mighty Goðafoss waterfall and some impressive geothermal areas.
You'll want plenty of time at Lake Mývatn, as it is known for its impressive beauty. If you have time, it is highly recommended you look at Dimmuborgir lava fields, also known as the Dark Fortress, and the hot spring cave of Grjótagjá. You can also soak in the Mývatn Nature Baths if you feel like doing something relaxing in the late evening.
The time is no problem; they stay open until midnight in the summertime. Spend your night in Lake Mývatn or the town of Akureyri.
PLEASE NOTE: Today consists of approximately 6 hours of driving!
Preferred accommodation by Mývatn
Hotel Gigur is a 2 star hotel on the southern side of Lake Mývatn, right next to Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters. Private bedrooms with private bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included.
Day 3 - Lake Mývatn to Southeast Iceland
Spend the first part of your day exploring the gorgeous area around Lake Mývatn, the Námaskarð geothermal area, and the magnificent Dettifoss waterfall before continuing towards Egilsstaðir, the capital of the East. This drive will take you through the magnificent East Fjords, which have many spectacular vistas and a wealth of wildlife, including puffins, reindeer, and seals.
Near Egilsstaðir is Iceland's largest forest, Hallormsstaðaskógur, and the lush and popular camping spot, Atlavík, both of which are must-stop locations for avid birdwatchers. There is also a serene lake that contains Iceland's most famous monster, the Wyrm of Lagarfljót, a much older cousin to Nessie in Scotland's Loch Ness.
After enjoying these areas, drive to a quaint village in southeast Iceland such as Höfn, where you will spend the night.
PLEASE NOTE: Today consists of approximately 5 hours of driving!
Preferred accommodation by Jökulsárlón and Höfn
Jökulsárlón and Höfn Comfort
Hotel Höfn is a 3 star hotel centrally located within the town Höfn. Private bedrooms with private bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included.
Day 4 - Southeast Iceland to Vík
Begin your day by heading south to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon from your accommodation. If you are staying at, or driving through, Höfn, be sure to enjoy the views here of the stark Mt. Vestrahorn and the glistening Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe.
When you reach the glacier lagoon, nestled into the south side of Vatnajökull, you will see why it is such a popular attraction; the icebergs, breaking from the glacier and sailing across the water, are incredibly beautiful. Take your time exploring the lagoon and the nearby Diamond Beach, where huge pieces of crystal clear ice strand on the black, volcanic sand, sparkling in the sunlight like jewels. If you like, you can go on an optional boat tour of the lagoon before continuing your journey along the south coast of Iceland. You can jump on a zodiac, or an amphibious vessel.
Make sure you stop at Skaftafell Nature Reserve after you move along, and try out their numerous hiking trails. If you feel energised, take the longer trail to the impressive waterfall Svartifoss, which rushes down unique, hexagonal basalt columns. If you are feeling adventurous, you can opt into a glacier hike here.
Continue to drive to the stunning canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur, perhaps with a stop for dinner at the charming town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. From there, you will keep driving through an impressive diversity of landscape towards Vík, where you'll have a view of the sea stacks Reynisdrangar, and where you will spend the night.
PLEASE NOTE: Today consists of approximately 4.5 hours of driving!
Preferred accommodation by Vík
Hotel Katla is a 3 star country hotel that's situated 5km to the east of Vík. Comfortable private bedrooms with private bathrooms. Free access to a hot tub and a sauna. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included.
Day 5 - Vík to Reykjavík
A little further on from Vík you'll reach Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara beach, where you'll have an impressive view of long stretches of a black sand, all the way down the coast towards the nearby glacier Mýrdalsjökull. You can opt for an ice cave tour to Mýrdalsjökull glacier that departs from Vík.
There are many interesting geological features along Reynisfjara beach, and it is a popular place for watching puffins; just be cautious of the waves here, as they are notoriously unpredictable and dangerous.
After you have enjoyed the beach, keep going west along the south coast. Admire the beauty of Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, before driving to Iceland's most popular tourist attractions, Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geothermal area, and Þingvellir National Park, otherwise known as the Golden Circle. Each of these sites is world famous for a reason, and none of them should be missed.
If you want to soak in a warm pool as well, you will want to stop by the Secret Lagoon, in the town of Flúðir; alternatively, you could bask in the warm waters of the Fontana Spa at Laugarvatn.
There are three different tours you an opt into on this day; another glacier hike or a snowmobiling tour on Sólheimajökull, and even a tandem flight.
After an eventful day, head back to Reykjavík where you'll spend your last night.
PLEASE NOTE: Today consists of approximately 4 hours of driving!
Preferred accommodation in Reykjavík
The Fosshótel chain has four 3-4 star Hotels located in and around the city center of Reykjavík. There is a short walk from all of the hotels to attractions, cafés, restaurants, museums and the nightlife. All offer private bedrooms with private bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included.
Day 6 - Departure Day
Unwind in Reykjavík after a long, but incredibly satisfying, road trip. You may choose to go on an optional whale watching tour if you'd like one last glimpse of Iceland's incredible environment, or you can pamper yourself in the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon if you have not been already.
Return your car at Keflavík and have a great flight back home, full of memories of Iceland.
See our accommodation levels below and our preferred accommodation partners under each day in the daily itinerary. Single person bookings will be arranged in a single room, while bookings of 2 or more people will share twin/double room(s) or triple room(s). Guide to Iceland will provide you with the best available hotels and guesthouses at the time of your booking from our preferred partners. Please keep in mind that hotel quality in Iceland varies among locations and availability is highly limited. We always do our best to accommodate special requests, which may incur additional costs. The sooner you reserve the higher quality accommodation we can provide. Press choose a date at the top to find availability.
Rooms with a private bathroom in three star hotels or quality guesthouses. Very close to the best attractions at each location. Breakfast is included.
Below you can see the car rental options available for this self drive tour. All our vehicles are new or current models, maximum two years of age, and come equipped with a GPS, CDW, GP, and SCDW insurances. You can also upgrade to an automatic model, free of charge.
A small 2WD vehicle fit for basic travelling in everyday conditions, such as VW Polo, Toyota Yaris or similar. This vehicle does not have highland capabilities.
A medium sized jeep or SUV with 4WD (4x4) fit for most travel, and good for snow and off-asphalt travel, such as Toyota Rav4 or similar. This vehicle has basic highland capabilities.
This insurance guarantees that you can cancel the booking of this package and receive a full refund, minus the insurance cost of 5,000 ISK per person. The cancellation must be made within a minimum of 48-hours before the listed starting time. To cancel your booking and claim your refund, simply contact our service desk by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 48-hours before departure and declare the cancellation. Please note that this insurance only covers the full cancellation of this entire package. It does not cover cancellations of individual activities and services within the package. The cost of the Cancellation Insurance is neither refundable nor transferable.
The diversity of the landscape was totally amazing. Lush green meadows, gorgeous mountains, waterfalls and then this other worldly barren lands and lava fields. It was a fantastic trip with gorgeous views and landscapes that the camera couldn't even begin to capture! A fantastic experience with a great itinerary highlighting many of the wonderful sites along the route.