Jump into this camping adventure of a lifetime. This grand self-drive tour delivers you to some of the most remarkable Highland locations of Iceland. From the geothermal baths and hot springs of Landmannalaugar to the sheltered woodland paradise of Þórsmörk, you will get to see some of the rawest, most untouched parts of this incredible country.
It is not only the Highlands that will captivate you on this adventure, however; the tour also includes the South Coast. You'll have plenty of time to visit the plane wreckage of a 1973 crash, see puffins nesting in the seaside cliffs, and take photos of the magnificent waterfalls Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. When you are the driver, where you go and how long you spend in each place is entirely up to you.
Within the booking process for this trip, you can also add some extra excursions to create the vacation you've always wanted. Along the Golden Circle, you can snorkel in Silfra fissure, or shoot across the ice cap of Langjökull on a snowmobile. You can either hike across the surface of a magnificent glacier at Sólheimajökull, and take a ride on one of Iceland's beautiful horses. The choice is yours.
You’ve got a lot of ground to cover for your stay in Iceland, and this tour takes you to many of the most popular sites. You will also receive a custom itinerary after you book, however, which will show you to more secluded locations. Here, you can avoid the crowds, stand in the desolate, beautiful landscapes, and truly reconnect with the nature.
Do everything you'd imagined and so much more in Iceland this summer! Check availability now, by choosing a date.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and is the single most popular attraction in Iceland.
The water is rich in silica and sulphur that helps make your skin shine like a baby. The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility that helps find cures for skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.
The temperature in the bathing and swimming area is very comfortable, and averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). There´s a restaurant there and it´s a truly romantic and beautiful place one should not miss while in Iceland.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
Despite a small population (120.000 and more than 200.000 in the Greater Reykjavik area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever increasing number of visitors. It is the financial, cultural and governmental centre of Iceland. It also has a reputation of being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavik is located in southwest Iceland by the creek of the same name. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal. Much of the current city area area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Álftanes peninsula, while other areas lay under the sea. After the end of the ice age the land rose as the glaciers drifted away, and it began to take on its present form.
The coastline of Reykjavik is set with peninsulas, coves, straights and islands, most notably the island of Videy, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful. Mount Esja is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavik and lends its distinct feature to the whole area. This majestic mountain is also highly popular for climbing. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skardsheidi and on clear days one may even see as far to the legendary Snaefellsjokull glacier, at the end of the Snafellsnes peninsula.
The largest river to run through the city is Ellidaa in Ellidaardalur valley, which is also one of Iceland‘s best rivers for salmon fishing.
There are no trains or trams in Iceland, but most people travel by car. The city also operates a bus system. There are two major harbours in town, the old harbour in the centre and Sundahofn in the east. The domestic Reykjavik Airport is located at Vatnsmyrin, not far from the city centre and close to Oskjuhlid and Perlan. The international Keflavik Airport at Midnesheidi heath then lies around 50 km from the city. Cars, jeeps and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered.
The local arts scene is strong in Iceland, with both annual events and single ones, many of whom have hit the international stage. For the annual ones please check our articles Best Annual Events in Iceland and the Top Ten Festivals in Iceland. Major events taking place in Reykjavik include the Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavik International Film Festival), The Reykjavik Literature Festival, Cultural Night, the Reykjavik Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival and the Sónar music festival.
Among famous people from Reykjavik are artists Bjork Gudmundsdottir, Sigur Ros, writers Halldor Laxness (born in Laugavegur) and Arnaldur Indridason and mayor Jon Gnarr. For more well-known and fairly-well known Icelanders, check our article on the subject.
You might also want to check our article on some of the many things to see and do in Reykjavik, such as visiting the city‘s many museums, exhibitions and galleries, checking out live music, visiting the Harpa music hall or the theatres, visiting the lighthouse at Grotta, the main shopping street of Laugavegur, visiting the old harbour and the flea market, going on a bird- and whale watching tour or visiting Videy island. We also have a top ten list of things to do.
Make sure to visit the public square of Austurvollur, one of the city‘s most popular gathering places, where you‘ll also find the national parliament, Althingi, the state church a statue of independence hero Jon Sigurdson, as well as cafés, bars and restaurants. Austurvollur was central in the 2008 protests, along with Laekjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrimskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skolavorduholt, wherefrom you‘ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, greet the many birds that frequent the area and visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. The Hljomaskalagardur is a beautiful park that lies by the pond, it ideal for a nice walk and sometimes concerts get held there. Further off is the campus of the university of Iceland, the Nordic house and the Vatnsmyri wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful of not disturbing the wildlife there and keep to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nautholsvik beach.
Visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city‘s best swimming pools, as well as the Asmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden and a domestic zoo. A walk by the Aegissida beach, with it‘s old fishing sheds, in the west part of Reykjavik also holds a particular charm. The aforementioned Elllidaardalur valley is also a popular resort.
Another place that offers one of the city‘s best (and free) views is Perlan, up in Oskjuhlid hill. The hill itself is a popular resort, with over 176.000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling.
Travel to Alftanes to see the president‘s house at Bessastadir, which is also a historical site in it‘s own right, having been the educational centre of Iceland for centuries. Nearby is a beautiful lava field, Galgahraun, well worth a visit, though there is currently an environmental struggle going on as to it‘s future state.
The city is furthermore a short drive from many of Iceland‘s major attractions, most famously the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. In close vicinity you‘ll also find the Heidmork preservation area, a favourite pastime resort of the people of Reykjavik, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland‘s most beloved skiing venues.
Check our Best of Reykjavik guide further for tips on the best cheap things to do in Reykjavik, some of the best restaurants in the city, happy hours, the top ten value places to eat and our two articles on the famous Reykjavik nightlife; Nightlife in Reykjavik and Nightlife and mating.
Finally, we‘d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavik. Whatever you choose to do, we hope you‘ll be able to make the most of your visit and we wish you a pleasant stay in our capital.
Landmannalaugar ("The people's pools") is a vast area of stunning and unique beauty, the true heart of Iceland's southern Highlands.
Landmannalaugar is a truly rare area, both geologically and aesthetically. The area can be found nestled beside the raven-black Laugahraun lava field, a sweeping expanse of dried magma which originally formed in 1477. Landmannalaugar itself is made up of windswept rhyolite mountains, a rock type that creates a full spectrum of dazzling colour on the mountainside. Shades of red, pink, green and golden yellow all change their tone, keeping in movement with the sun rays and creating an area of wilderness that resembles no place else on earth.
Landmannalaugar is primarily known for its natural geothermal baths, hence its name "The People's Pools". For centuries, Landmannalaugar has served as an area of shelter and respite for weary travellers who use these soothing springs as a means to relax after tiring excursions. Today, visitors to the highlands should always bring a swimsuit and towel, just in case one of these naturally occurring hot pools should crop up along the hiking trail.
The area marks the northern end of the Laugavegur, one of Iceland's most popular hiking trails. It is also home to many other notable trails, however, including the path onto the mighty Mt. Brennisteinsalda ("Sulphur Wave"). Visitors can also traverse the trail up the Bláhnjúkur ("Blue Peak") volcano, whose summit allows for a sweeping view of up to five glaciers on clear days.
Multiple operators run daily tours to Landmannalaugar from mid-June to mid-September, during which time The Icelandic Touring Association operates a small shop, three camp sites and a mountain hut equipped with sleeping bags and accommodation for up to 80 visitors.
Nestled between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindafjallajökull is Þórsmörk (Thor's Valley), a nature reserve in the southern Icelandic highlands. Þórsmörk is one of Iceland's most popular hiking destinations.
Strictly speaking, Þórsmörk is a valley and a mountain range between the Krossá, Þröngá, and Markarfljót rivers. Locals, however, often use the name "Þórsmörk" when referring to a much larger region that is composed of the area between Þórsmörk proper, and the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano.
Contrasting vistas of lush oases and roaring glacier rivers cutting through black desert expanses not only make Þórsmörk unique to Iceland but to the entire world. Parts of the valley are rich with moss, fern, and Birchwood, while jagged mountain ridges and ice-capped peaks crown the horizon.
The valley's climate is warmer and calmer than usual in south Iceland, which often causes Þórsmörk's mountains to be cloaked in a veil of mist that materialises when the warm valley air ascends and mixes with the descending cold breath of the glaciers above.
Þórsmörk's surrounding hills, slopes and mountains are beset with small valleys and gullies that make for some of Iceland's most astonishing hiking routes. Experienced hikers, therefore, have a wealth of trails to trek, varying in distances and difficulty. In fact, Þórsmörk offers two of the most popular trails in Iceland, the Fimmvörðuháls and the Laugavegur.
Fimmvörðuháls is a 30km trail that takes you into the hills beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano and to the volcanic craters Magni and Móði, which are still steaming from the eruption of 2010. The 55 km Laugavegur path takes you from Þórsmörk to the Landmannalaugar geothermal area which is home to an incredible wealth of hot springs and rhyolite mountains of vibrant colours.
During winter (October 16th - April 30th) the road into Þórsmörk is impassable. In summer (May 1st - October 15th) a special 4x4 mountain bus runs three times per day from the BSÍ bus terminal in central Reykjavík. Once there you have the choice setting up base in a small hut, a private room, a dormitory or in Þórsmörk's campsite. Please note that the huts, private rooms and dormitories must be booked well in advance.
Skogafoss is one of the biggest and most beautiful waterfalls of the island with an astounding width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters.
This is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland for travellers to visit. It is located in South Iceland, not far from Skogar, which itself features a highly interesting regional museum. Due to the amount of spray the waterfall often produces a single or double rainbow on sunny days.
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.
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.
The 120 meter high promontory Dyrholaey is the southernmost part of the mainland, only a short drive south of the Ring Road. It offers a breathtaking view and features spectacular outcrops and rock formations.
A notable attraction is the massive arch that the sea has eroded from the heartland, giving the island its name (‘dyr’=door’). One daredevil pilot even flew through it!
Dyrholaey has an abundance of birdlife, the most common being puffins and eider ducks. You can also enjoy the black beach, where the waves can provide an impressive sight. As these can be very wild, we do however advise uttermost caution.
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.
The world-famous Reynisfjara shore, near the village Vik in Myrdalur on Iceland's South Coast, is widely regarded as the most impressive black-sand beach in Iceland.
To reach Reynisfjara you can either drive there yourself. Here you will find the largest and cheapest car rentals in Iceland. Or you can join this summer tour to the South coast, or this winter tour to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
Reynisfjara is a black pebble beach and features an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid, which is called Hálsanef. Out in the sea are the spectacularly shaped basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar. The area has a rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots.
The waves at Reynisfjara are especially strong and unpredictable, and fatal accidents have occurred at this beach, so people are advised to take extra care when visiting the area.
According to folklore, two trolls attempted to drag a ship to land but were turned to stone as daylight broke, turning them into the Reynisdrangar stacks, clearly visible from the beach.
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.
Starting time : Flexible
4x4 rental car with roof top tent for 6 days
Camping card for selected campsites
Camping chairs and Tables
Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. It is a highly fined offence. Avoid legal problems and make sure to stay on marked highland roads and paths. Believe us, this will already be adventure enough! Also note that highland roads are closed during wintertime, which normally open in mid-June and close in September.
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.
Pick up your car at the international airport in Keflavik. If you have had an early flight, you may want to wash away the stress of travel at the geothermal spa of the Blue Lagoon before driving to the capital Reykjavík. The warm, azure water, with its reputed healing properties, will fully recharge you for your adventures ahead.
Take the rest of the day to explore Iceland's vibrant capital, which is packed with cultural sights, restaurants, bars and boutiques; there really is something for everyone.
Remember that this vacation is all about doing what you want to, so just relax and enjoy your first day. Spend the night in the peaceful Reykjanes peninsula
Your journey begins properly on day two, and encompasses the magical Golden Circle, featuring some of Iceland’s most popular natural sights. Begin with a visit to the cultural and geological hotspot, Þingvellir National Park. Within this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can literally walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and see where the world's longest running representative parliament was founded. You can also opt into a snorkel tour within the world-famous Silfra fissure, which is regularly voted as one of the world's top five dive sites.
Next on your route is the geothermal valley where you can see Geysir - the original “geyser” after which all others in the world are named - and its more active neighbour, Strokkur. This geyser spouts boiling water up to 20 m (66 ft) high every ten minutes or so. End the circle with a visit to the dramatic and powerful Gullfoss Falls; you can approach it right up to the water's edge, and really get a taste for the power of Iceland's nature.
From Gullfoss, it is possible to take a snowmobiling tour up on the glacier Langjökull, an activity not to be missed by thrill-seekers. You can also use this free time to take a two-hour long horse-riding tour nearby.
A site that is often missed by those on the Golden Circle is the volcanic crater lake of Kerið. It is a stunning location, the crater coloured with rust-red and fire-orange rocks, contrasting against the azure blue of the permanent lake within it.
After a long day of exploring, you can spend the night camping in the Hvolsvöllur area.
On your third day, start with a drive to Iceland's most celebrated geothermal Highlands, Landmannalaugar. This incredibly beautiful region sports many fine options for hikes, and you will spend all day finding new wondrous paths. There are natural hot springs here, perfect for taking a long, relaxing bath, while revelling in the rustic, untouched beauty that surrounds you.
You can choose spend the night camping in the beautiful valley of Landmannalaugar, amongst steaming rivers and under a canopy of stars.
Day four will start with a drive along part of the south coast. On the way, you can stop at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which you can walk all the way around. Don't forget to stop at its lesser-known neighbour, however, the waterfall Gljúfrabúi. Gljúfrabúi falls from heights of 40 m (130 ft) and is partially hidden behind a large cliff; it is breathtaking and otherworldly. Keep an eye out as you drive on, since the infamous volcano beneath a glacier, Eyjafjallajökull, is in sight.
You can take the walking track that leads to the main area of Þórsmörk. Þórsmörk means 'Thor's wood' or 'Thor's land', and its incredible beauty will leave you in no doubt as to why it took the name of the most powerful of the old Norse gods. This incredible forested valley is sheltered by three mighty glaciers, meaning it is usually very temperate, perfect for hiking.
Spend the day exploring and drinking in some of the purest mountain air in the world, maybe even spend the night at Þórsmörk's campgrounds.
On day five, you will start to properly explore the South Coast. First along the way, you will find Reynisfjara, the black sand beach in South Iceland, considered the country's most beautiful stretch of coastline by many. Here you can see a wall of basalt rocks and the sea stacks of Reynisfjara in the distance. These impressive features are rumoured to be the remains of a pair of trolls who waded out into the water to catch a passing ship, and turned to stone when they were caught by the light of the rising sun. This area is also a very good location to see puffins, especially around the promontory Dyrhólaey, which is easily accessible from the small, charming village of Vík.
Further west is the plane wreck of Sólheimasandur, which has become a very popular attraction. It has been there since the winter of 1973, exposed to the elements and yet, like so many things in Iceland, has endured them steadfastly. A quick stop here allows for an excellent photo opportunity.
One of the most popular features on this stretch is the magnificent waterfall Skógafoss. It is 60 m (197 ft) in height, and after a heavy rain, can be a third of that in width. It releases so much spray that on a sunny day, the foot of the falls throws off many rainbows.
While travelling the south coast, you can opt into a snowmobile tour or glacier hike on Sólheimjökull glacier. Which one you take is entirely up to personal preference; you won't walk away from either with the feeling that you haven't done something extraordinary.
You'll spend the night in or near Reykjavik.
Depart from Iceland feeling truly satisfied, having seen some of the main and most beautiful attractions of this island up close and personal.
If you have time before your flight, enjoy a last soak in the geothermal spa of the Blue Lagoon, which is en route to the airport.
Don't forget to allocate some extra time to drop your car off at Keflavík International Airport in time for your flight.
The vehicles offered for our self drive camping tours are highland capable and equipped with a roof top tent and necessary camping equipment suitable for two people. They come with a GPS and CDW insurance.