There’s a term Icelanders use a lot: “Þetta reddast” (pronounced: thetta rettas).
It means “it’ll fix itself”.
I can’t help but think of the phrase as I stand in line at a car rental in Reykjavik. The keys fall into my sweaty palms as I nervously sign off on the car. I’d just taken on an over-ambitious plan to drive Iceland’s Ring Road in just 7 days. I had never driven on this side of the road before (Sri Lanka drives on the left side of the road, just like in the UK) and had about 2,000 km ahead of me. Oh, did I mention my 4-months pregnant wife was coming with me too?
“Þetta reddast”, I reassured myself.
And it sure did. I drove the whole of Iceland. I saw so much natural beauty, matched only by some beautiful people. I stepped into craters. I traversed otherworldly rock formations. I tasted some of the best food ever. I touched the melting glaciers. I stood behind majestic waterfalls. I got a whiff of heaven.
It was amazing.
If you’ve only got a week off work, and are thinking of a unique adventure, then road tripping through Iceland should tick all the boxes. Here’s how you can get the maximum out of 7 days around this breathtaking country.
Our trusty steed:
The route (with major stops and cities – doesn’t include detours for sites):
After you’ve landed in Keflavik Airport, and stocked up at the duty free, you can head out to the 40-50 minute journey to Reykjavik. If you’ve organized to pickup your rental car at the airport itself, then great. But if you haven’t, an easy way to get to your base in the city is FlyBus, a comfortable and regular bus service that will pretty much guarantee you get dropped off at your doorstep (the main FlyBus from the airport will drop you off at a bus terminal in Reykjavik, and then smaller minibuses will take you to your exact location – all covered under one ticket of about $20 per person).
The city is very small and walkable, but for convenience make sure you find a place to crash around the Reykjavik 101 neighborhood, which’ll make walking around super easy.
To really make the most of the day, I would highly recommend Free Walking Tour Reykjavik, which is a 90-minute free tour (yes, FREE!) in English. The guides are always quite funny and know some interesting snippets about landmarks and buildings around the city. They do accept tips, so be generous at the end of the tour – they totally deserve it!
If you so wish, you can also hit the usual tourist attractions: the almost unpronounceable, organ-shaped Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, the iceberg-looking Harpa concert hall, and the very-beautiful-at-sunset Sun Voyager steel boat sculpture, which are all walking distance from each other.
Psst! Keep your eyes open for the little toys on top of road signs through the city – a local artist has been putting them up. See how many you can find!
For your first meal in Iceland, you’ve got to try their legendary hotdogs. Running at about $4 a dog, it’s probably the cheapest meal you’ll have on your trip, and they’re available at almost every gas station around the country. I tried my first one at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur by the harbor (locals will point you to it).
Icelandic hotdogs are unique: the sausage is a mix of lamb, beef, and pork, and a “hotdog with everything on it” comes with ketchup, sweet mustard, mayo, fried onions and chopped plain onions. Vegetarians: don’t fret – all hot dog sellers will gladly give you the bun with sauces and other toppings without meat for a lower price :)
After you’ve tasted this Icelandic staple, you can taste some of its craft beer culture. Once again it’s not cheap but Skúli Craft Bar has an interesting selection of beer floats.
All that beer made me crave something to nibble on. So we headed to the harbor area to try some seafood soup as well as sample a small mink whale steak! It was REALLy good – kinda the same texture as beef with a slight fishy taste.
I also checked out Mikkeler & Friends, which is also another cozy little restaurant and bar that almost feels like you’re drinking in a friend’s upstairs room.
You’ll probably need a hearty breakfast before you begin your Ring Road adventure. You can’t go wrong at Café Retro by the harbor. Try the plokkfiksur, a tasty Icelandic fish stew that’s the perfect way to start the day, and at a decent price too.
The first stretch of the Ring Road can be the easy drive from Reykjavik to the northern town of Akureyri. The drive is nothing short of breathtaking …and you’ll probably stop numerous times for pics!
Places to check out on the way:
The Skrifla hot spring in the town of Reykholt: It’s right around the church as you pass through town, so you can’t miss it. This is basically a small area of geothermal activity, including a hot spring pool called “Snorri’s Pool” (after the famous Icelandic historiographer who lived on the church premises and bathed there often). I was more amused by the cute hobbit hole that acted as a storage shed!
Grabrok crater: Worth a small detour to walk around this large crater.
Akureyri is a gorgeous small town that’s absolutely picturesque. Check out the view from the room we stayed in:
If there’s one place to eat in town it’s the highly rated, and tad expensive, RUB 23. However, for the money you pay, you certainly get an unforgettable dining experience in a nice atmosphere. The flavors and presentation were really out of this world. I tried the lamb fillet, which was one of the best meals I had in Iceland.
BONUS: Even though it was early September we were lucky to catch the Northern lights in Akureyri, as we stayed a bit away from the city lights. Watching the ethereal green lights dance for about 20 minutes was an experience I’ll never forget.
Akureyri is also known for its whale-watching and puffin tours, which is something you can take advantage of. However, you might want to check on what the best seasons for tours are. You can also wait till you head further down the road to Husavik, which is supposed to be even better.
After breakfast with our host, we headed back on the road again. This time, our stretch to drive was Akureyri to Husavik.
Once you get to the coastal town of Husavik, you can have a wonderful meal at Salka. Their lobster soups is warm, fulfilling, and oh so good!
Places to check out on the way:
Godafoss: One of Iceland’s famous waterfalls.
Dimmubogir: Literally translated, the “Dark Castles”, these unusually shaped lava fields are both eerie and majestic at the same time. Make sure you get to the rock formation called “the Church” – walkways are clearly marked so you certainly won’t miss it.
We took a break from our journey to spend the night at a guest house which was not too far from Husavik. Our hosts were a fantastic family, and they let us roam around their dairy farm, and introduced us to their very friendly Icelandic horses!
Icelandic horses are one of the most pure-bred horses in the world. The early Viking settlers banned the importation of horses around 982 AD, which means these horses have been bred pure in Iceland for the past 1,000 years.
The next area to explore on the route is the area around Lake Myvatn. It’s full of important sites to see.
Places to check out on the way:
Hverfell: This massive crater is about 1km in diameter and is just a short trek to the top (make sure you’re wearing comfy shoes with good traction).
The Grjotagja Caves: Whether you are a GoT fan or not, these beautiful caves are well worth checking out. Remember the cave where Jon Snow and Ygritte have an intimate pit stop? Yep – this is the location where it was filmed:
Myvatn Nature Baths: There are hot baths to take a dip in all around Iceland, but Myvatn is less touristy and crowded than the much talked about Blue Lagoon. Tickets to get in cost around $30, but after a long day on the road, it’s well worth it!
Dettifoss waterfall: You can’t miss out on Europe’s most powerful waterfall – Dettifoss. Its sheer force generates so much spray that you’re almost always guaranteed a rainbow when the sun is out!
While you can stay at any number of places along the route, we chose to stay in the pristine east coast town of Reyðarfjörður (Ray-duh-Fi-oh-dur). The drive to get there was possibly one of my favorite stretches on my trip (though it’s impossible to choose just one in Iceland!). Check out the view from the room we stayed in … breathtaking!:
We headed out from Reyðarfjörður to the southeastern fishing town of Höfn (pronounced “Hop”). The drive was fantastic, going from misty mountains to a rocky coastline with black sand beaches:
Höfn is a charming coastal town. If you’ve worked up an appetite, you can enjoy an excellent lobster soup or their catch of the day at the Pakkhus restaurant.
We headed on from Hofn and attempted to drive all the way to end our day’s trip at Hella (SUGGESTION: Reyðarfjörður to Hella is a LONG 7 hour + drive for one day, but ideally, you should see if you can break for the night in Vik instead of Hella, this should give you the chance to see Vik’s famed black sand beaches and interesting rock formations)
Places to check out on the way:
Jökulsárlón: This is a world-famous glacial lake that is a must-see. You can witness the beautiful blue ice formations on the lake and touch a piece of glacial ice with your own hands!
Svartifoss: Located in the Skeftafell preservation area, and a bit of a trek (it’ll take you about 40 -50 minutes to walk there and back) is the very impressive, basalt-column formations of the Svartifoss waterfall.
As mentioned earlier you could easily break for the night at Vik, even though I proceeded to gun it to Hella.
The final stretch from Hella to Reykjavik is a very short one, but I had to go back on my tracks to a check out a few more sites before hitting the very popular Golden Circle, which has a lot of the touristy “must-sees”.
Places to check out on the way:
Seljalandsfoss: Though I had to drive back on the Ring Road to check this out, it was well worth it! This beautiful waterfall is famous because you can walk right behind it, and it just makes for a great photo op.
Kerid crater: While not awe-inspiring, this crater has a small lake in it, and so we decided to check it out – It was quite easy to find off the Ring Road so wasn’t a major detour.
Gulfoss: Probably one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, and by this time you probably figured they’ve got a bunch! Part of the very touristy “Golden Circle” route, this waterfall is famous for the beautiful way it cascades down – flowing down one step, and then taking a sharp turn for its secondary fall.
Geysir: Probably Iceland’s most important contribution to the English language (yep – that’s why we call them geysers), this area consist of numerous bubbling hot pools and geysers, including the Great Geysir (which erupts about 8 times a day ) and the Strokkur geyser (which erupts every few minutes).
Þingvellir National Park: Pronounced “Thingvellir”, this World Heritage Site is home to the world’s oldest parliament (another first by Iceland). The Althing, or national parliament, was first established in the year 930 and Icelanders would meet frequently in the area till 1798. The entire park is quite big but make sure you make your way via the pathway between the rock columns to the site of the Icelandic flag, which is where laws were passed for the country’s earliest citizens.
We then proceeded to Reykjavik for the evening after a short hour’s drive from Þingvellir.
We decided to visit the highly rated, and often packed Ostabúðin restaurant, where I sampled a few different Icelandic beers (Gull is the staple, but Einstok and Viking are also very good). We then enjoyed a fabulous meal that was, as we had come to expect in Iceland, packed full of flavor (seriously, there must be some great culinary school all Icelandic chefs go to!):
You can spend the evening just relaxing in Reykjavik, mostly strolling around the trendy Laugavegur main street, where there’s no shortage of bars, restaurants, and clubs to suit any taste.
We were really sad that our road trip had come to an end but we used the day to walk around town a bit more, and breathe in the fresh air one more time. We also had to stock up on some Icelandic chocolates and their amazing butter (try it – you won’t believe how good it is!) as well as some other souvenirs. The only thing left was to pack our bags, and bid one last adieu to this beautiful country, and hope that our paths will cross again one day.
Lastly, I have to mention one thing. Our trip wouldn’t have been so awesome if not for the Icelandic people we met along the way. Icelanders are relaxed, easy going, tough, outdoorsy, minimalist, practical, and super helpful. They literally went out of their way to help us on our massive road trip, and were always warm and hospitable. When you’re in town, always remember to be respectful of their culture and beliefs, and make sure you leave only footprints behind in their beautiful country.
Also, don’t forget to check out my rundown of useful tips to remember when traveling through Iceland – which I am sure will save you a lot of trouble (and a few bucks) when on the road.
If you’re worried about if you’ve got time to see the whole of Iceland in just one week, don’t worry. Just pack your bags, book your ticket, and take a leap of faith … Þetta reddast!
Have you been to Iceland recently? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below.