Iceland. Where do I begin? One of the most stunning and unique places I’ve been lucky enough to experience. And the best part is that I got to see it in a campervan, an adventure I’d been crushing on for a while. Road tripping the entire Ring Road was such a cool way to see Iceland, and I didn’t want to leave.
Things I loved about vancamping: lots of picnics, waking up to a view every morning, stopping to take in the beauty every 10 minutes, singing along to playlist after playlist (although I had no voice the first couple of days which hampered my ability to bust out Whitney Houston and 90’s alternative), flexibility, spontaneity, and adventure. It was everything I thought it’d be.
This trip sparked my love of photography that’s been sitting relatively dormant this year and left me in a constant state of awe for this earth and what it’s capable of creating. There are some iPhone photos in here when I didn’t have my camera with me, but for the most part, my camera was a permanent appendage for eight days.
Recommended Resources When You Go
Rick Steves’ Iceland Travel Guide Book was super helpful to learn the history behind the sites and figure out a plan for each day.
The iOverlander app was a lifesaver (thank you Instagram and all of the vanlifers I follow who recommended it). When you get to a point in the day when you’re ready to find a place to sleep, you can pull up the app, see what’s nearby, what’s offered there (showers, pet-friendly, potable water, etc.), and put it into your map.
There was a small chance of seeing the Northern Lights in late August, so the Aurora app came in handy to track nearby sightings and the probability of seeing them. No luck with the Northern Lights on this trip, but now I’ll just have to go back.
Day 1 | Exploring Reykjavík
Our flight landed early in the morning and we spent a full day exploring Reykjavík before picking up the campervan the following morning.
Did a walking tour in Reykjavík (guided by Rick Steves), checked out Hallgrímskirkja, the beautiful Lutheran parish church where you get a 360 view of the city, and ended the night at Vinyl for some warm beverages and live music. Seeing a retro 80’s band, complete with long, flowy hair and spazzy dance moves, was icing on the cake.
Day 2 | West Iceland
We picked up the van in Reykjavík and headed north. We used Solstice Campers and they were awesome. The campervan had everything needed for the trip including a heater that you could set to turn off automatically after it heated the van at night.
Grabrok Crater & Deildartunguhver Thermal Springs
First Icelandic crater and geothermal springs didn’t disappoint.
Hraunfossar & Barnafoss
What I remember most about these two waterfalls is the piercing blue color of the water. No filter needed; the colors are this vibrant in real life.
This will also forever be remembered as the place where I left my tripod. Leaving your tripod at the very FIRST waterfall you see in Iceland is comically unfortunate. I saw more waterfalls here than I’d ever seen before, so I had to go old school and set my camera up on rocks, the ground, fences, you name it, so I could get some dreamland-y waterfall shots.
Day 3 | North Iceland
The Glaumbaer museum was right by the campsite in Varmahlíð from the night before and made for an interesting stop. There’s a fee to get into the museum, but it’s worth it to see how the native Icelanders lived. Seeing a small room with eight tiny beds where 22 people slept will definitely make you rethink how much space we think we need to live.
My first black sand beach and the place where I met my first Icelandic seal. Not pictured: Icelandic seal.
Hofsós in Skagafjordur Fjord
I’d read about the hot pool in Hofsós in an in-flight magazine (yes, I read those sometimes). It had a local feel and was less expensive than some of the other hot pools and nature baths. The views were amazing, and the town of Hofsós had some pretty sweet lookouts as well. I couldn’t get over the rock formations – how does this earth create things like that?
Somewhere on the side of the road, Iceland
One thing I loved about driving in North Iceland is that it felt wild. Scarcely populated. So much natural beauty.
Rule of thumb: if you see an epic waterfall, pull over. They’re all different in their own ways.
Bonus points if you can see the tiny people picking berries next to the stream. The berries were all over the ground at this stop.
Pulled off the road on the side of a mountain and hopped a guardrail for this shot. Worth it.
The thing about Goðafoss is that you can see it from both sides, and can walk along the top and the bottom, giving you different perspectives to take in its breathtaking blue water.
Day 4 | North Iceland
Also known as the land before time. I half expected to see a dinosaur in this prehistoric-looking place. The midges, or giant gnats, are no joke in Myvatn. But luckily as soon as we got some beautiful photo opps, it started raining and the midges went away. Good timing, nature.
Walked through the Dimmuborgir lava formations. I called it Demogorgon (Stranger Things anyone?) because everything I tried to pronounce in Iceland was slightly offensive to the ears. Pretty cool little walk, although not a strenuous hike if you’re looking for something more difficult.
Nature’s Stairmaster. 25-minutes of burning thighs will get you views of Myvatn and Hverfjall Crater, both of which are stunning. Don’t be fooled though, the walk around the crater is longer than you think, so your thighs won’t stop burning until you’re back at the bottom.
Hverir will make you feel like you’re legit walking on another planet. Steaming earth, bubbling pools of mud, and an insanely colorful backdrop. The sulfuric gas will catch your nose a little off guard, but you get over it quickly because this place is pretty rad.
Myvatn Nature Baths
Less expensive than the Blue Lagoon, and just as cool. Less touristy and great views. And yes, it’s cold before you get in and when you get out. You won’t want to linger outside for long.
On our way to Dettifoss we looked in the rearview mirror to see this. I’ll always be one of those people who gets excited over sunsets, and every now and then I’ll be able to capture a small glimpse of how I felt in that moment.
It was getting late and we didn’t know if we could make it to Dettifoss before dark, but we drove out there anyway and I’m so glad we got to see it at dusk.
I listened to the deafening sound of rushing water as the mist hit my face and the sun lingered low in the sky, and this quickly became a spiritual experience. I felt so small and insignificant, and it was one of those moments you know is rare.
After staying at Dettifoss until dark, there weren’t any nearby camping spots so this became my first sleeping on the side of the road experience. Didn’t rough it too hard though; there was a porta potty complete with hand sanitizer. Score.
Day 5 | East Iceland
This place was quirky and colorful; a small town a little off the beaten path. It’s set in the mountains and was full of fog and quiet mystery. It would’ve been nice to have spent a little more time exploring Seyðisfjörður when the art studios and boutiques were open, but I’ll take what little time I got to see it. The drive there is supposed to have some of the most incredible views, but unfortunately, the fog was so heavy that the entire drive there and back was blanketed in white.
Road trip across the Eastfjords
This was the longest road trip day, but full of insanely beautiful country. I like to think I’m a good road-tripper; I grew up with lots of practice. The cool thing about the east coast of Iceland is that you’re driving along the winding fjords and end up stopping every 10 minutes to take it all in.
I’d read about this place on the Jess Wandering travel blog, and I’m glad we made this stop. This is one of my favorite photos from the trip, and although we didn’t pay to get into the private beach, it was a beautiful 20-minute detour off Ring Road.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Glacier lagoons are insane. They’re picturesque and calm, but fierce in a way. We got there just in time to book a boat tour and it was surreal to see the lagoon from different perspectives and get an up-close look at the icebergs floating right in front of you.
Across the road is Diamond Beach where pieces of the glacier wash onto shore. Give me diamond beaches over diamond rings any day.
Down the road just a short drive from Diamond Beach is a smaller, less crowded glacier lagoon that’s every bit as stunning.
Spent the night at Vatnajökull National Park and woke up to this. Take me back.
Day 6 | Southeast Iceland
This day is affectionately known as glacier hike day. It was the first time I’d worn crampons and got to carry an ice axe, and I felt like the biggest badass. Until our guide walked up to me and turned my helmet around because I was wearing it backwards.As if climbing Falljokull Glacier and looking down into its crevasses isn’t freaking cool enough, I also got to rappel into an ice cave. The cave had become large enough for our group to rappel into and walk through if we opted into this adventure. When given the option for adventure or no adventure, always choose adventure. I got so excited about the ice cave, I forgot to take off my sunglasses the entire time I was underground.
The tour company was Icelandic Mountain Guides and our guide, Henke, was amazing. Highly recommend.
In case we didn’t burn enough calories on the glacier hike, we hiked to Svartifoss in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. We did one of the walking trails, and had some good views of the park and surrounding glaciers tongues.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This place was INCREDIBLE. Giant sneaker waves, insane rock formations, cliffs populated with puffins villages, sunsets, and lighthouses. I didn’t want to leave and we stayed until dark, which is why this night was also spent on the side of the road. But waking up to an awesome view that was covered in darkness the night before is a memorable experience.
Day 7 | South Iceland
Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)
Heimaey Island almost didn’t happen, and now I can’t imagine not experiencing this place. It was a fallback option after a different day trip fell through. Riding the ferry out to the island was fun in itself (easy to please over here), but hiking up Eldfell Volcano was awesome.
The volcano erupted in 1973, and the lava created a whole new part of the island. When we got to the top of the volcano, we could feel the heat and see steam coming out of the ground. There’s a sweet lava museum in the town and an aquarium where we met a puffin (!!).
Also, somewhere on this island is my beanie. Another travel casualty lost to Iceland.
This was my first time walking behind a waterfall. A Rick Steves tip: check out Seljalandsfoss in the afternoon because of the way the light reflects on the waterfall at that time of day. Good call, Rick. Beautiful.
I wanted to get a few shots of the horses before leaving, and we nearly took ourselves out making a u-turn to see this guy up close. I walked over to the field, and he came right up next to me and let us pet him.
We ended the night camping by another horse farm and made even more quadruped friends.
Day 8 | Golden Circle
Reservations for the Blue Lagoon were made before getting to Iceland, and doing this on the last day may have been one reason why it felt missable. After seeing all of the amazing natural Icelandic sites, this touristy manmade hot tub (although relaxing and beautiful) didn’t necessarily feel worth the $90 admission to get in (totally in my opinion). I’m still glad I got to see it though.
Golden Circle day was a whirlwind but we managed to see all the major sites along the way. There’s a lot of historical significance at Þingvellir, and it’s cool to see the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. South Iceland is definitely more touristy overall, but well worth seeing all the sites.
Ice Cream at Efstidalur
If you have time, stop in and eat some ice cream at Efstidalur. Family-owned farm and the ice cream is delicious. Yes, that’s fudge mint, one of the best double scoop combos.
I’ve decided that catching the super high geyser eruptions on camera is impossible; the geyser gods know when your camera’s ready and will wait until it’s down to really show off. Caught this one though, not the highest but still pretty cool.
The last waterfall. I remember being kind of sad at Gullfoss because I knew it was likely the last waterfall I’d see on this trip. There were waterfalls all along the road in the north and east, but once we started driving along the south side they became less frequent. Nothing beats the pure power of Dettifoss, but Gullfoss was beautiful.
Seeing the Kerið volcanic crater lake at sunset was the best way to end the trip. The colors were vibrant and it’s a short hike down to the bottom to see the lake up close.
Until next time
The golden light from the sunset was our backdrop as we ate one last meal of chicken and quinoa (cold, because there was no more gas for the stove). After taking it all in, it was back to Reykjavík to sleep one more night on Icelandic soil before flying home.
Until next time, Iceland. Thanks for the trip of a lifetime.
Send me a note if this is a trip you’re planning or want to start planning and I’m happy to share any other resources I have!