This off-the-beaten-path road trip is especially great during summer months when peak crowds head for Iceland's south coast and Golden Circle (and accommodations can be hard to find). Instead, you'll escape to more remote areas of the country, traveling from Reykjavik all the way to its sunnier north coast with stops in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the Westfjords (by way of car ferry), Husavik, and Lake Myvatn. There's plenty of time to experience unique geological features along the way with lava fields, volcano hikes, massive waterfalls, and geothermal pools, not to mention cool Scandinavian culture and cuisine.

Highlights

  • Stop for fish soup at a small café in Hellnar while exploring the west coast  
  • Hike the jagged cliffs at Látrabjarg, home to some of Iceland's most active bird life
  • Paddle Iceland's crystal clear Westfjords with a guided kayak trip
  • Board a traditional oak boat for a whale watching adventure in Husavik
  • Hike to geothermal pools, lava fields, and volcanoes around Lake Myvatn

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown Reykjavik
Day 2 Glymur Falls, Borgarnes & Snæfellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 3 Volcanic Snaefellsnes Peninsula Reykjavik
Day 4 Ferry to the Westfjords Patreksfjörður
Day 5 Southern Westfjords: Látrabjarg & Dynjandi Isafjordur
Day 6 Isafjordur or Hornstrandir Hiking Isafjordur
Day 7 Eastern Westfjords: Isafjordur to Holmavik Drangsnes
Day 8 Drive from Holmavik to Akureyri Akureyri
Day 9 Godafoss, Whale Watching & Big Waterfalls Lake Myvatn
Day 10 Geological Wonders of Lake Myvatn Lake Myvatn
Day 11 Drive from Akureyri to Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 12 Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown

Walk the streets of Iceland's vibrant capital
Walk the streets of Iceland's vibrant capital

Welcome to Iceland! Upon arrival at Keflavík International Airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive 30 minutes into Reykjavik. Since many international flights land in the early morning hours, you'll likely want to start your adventure with a hearty breakfast. There are café and restaurant options in the city center that open early. 

From here, you'll have the rest of the day to explore the world’s most northerly capital city. 

Things to do in Reykjavik: 

  • Walk through Reykjavik’s compact downtown area and check out the unique street art scene.
  • Head to the waterfront to see the Sun Voyager Sculpture and Harpa Concert Hall with its cool glass architecture.
  • Visit Hallgrimskirkja church on the hill and take the elevator to the tower for panoramic views of the area.
  • To escape inclement weather, consider visiting a few museums such as the Northern Lights Center, the Saga Museum, the Marine Museum, or the Whales of Iceland Exhibition. You can also join a whale watching tour from the Reykjavik harbor, and snack on a world-famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

In the evening, enjoy a variety of top-tier fish restaurants and Reykjavik’s nightlife. 

Day 2: Glymur Falls, Borgarnes & Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Get ready for frequent stops on today's route north of the city
Get ready for frequent stops on today's route north of the city

After breakfast in Reykjavik, you'll pack up the rental car and head north to experience Iceland's west coast and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Both of these areas see fewer visitors compared to the Golden Circle and south coast and will provide you with a bit more time to take in the sites at your own pace.

First, stop for a hike at Glymur Falls, Iceland's tallest waterfall (2 hours out and back). You’ll hike beside a narrow canyon which makes for some great photographs. 

Continue on your drive towards the peninsula and stop in Borgarnes where you can learn about the Settlement age of Iceland at the Settlement Center, or simply walk along the shore path near the water. If you have extra time, make some stops at the other quaint historical towns like Reykholt and Hvanneyri

If you had an early start and it’s not yet late afternoon, stop by Hraunfossar (“Lava Falls”) and Barnafoss (children's waterfall), regarded as some of the most unique and spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, where clear subterranean water seeps through the lava fields, pouring out of the rocks.

Once you get to the peninsula, head for the Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs, where strange basalt columns rise up out of the earth. Park the car and walk around exploring and getting a closer look. Next, walk through the start of the Budhahraun lava fields on the coast, covered in moss or snow depending on the season.

Keep driving until you get to the village of Hellnar where you can stop for dinner at the small café near the water to taste their delicious fish soup and enjoy the setting.

Day 3: Explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall

Today, you'll continue your peninsula explorations with the cliff-side trails at Arnarstapi where you can get up close to some great views, lava formations, and arches in the rocks. In fact, you can walk the trail all the way to Arnarstapi from Hellnar, starting from either direction. 

Then, head for the Londrangar lava formations, which you can view from afar or up close (about 15 minutes by foot). A little further along the road is the Visitor Center for the peninsula where you can learn more about the volcanic system and the area.

If the weather is dry, take a stroll along Djúpalónssandur black sand beach with debris from a shipwreck (tip: photograph the rusted mangled metal pieces on the black sand). Here you will find four stones of different sizes, which were used by sea captains to test the strength of people wanting to join their crew. While facing the water, look for a small trail on the right-side cliffs that leads to the site of a major fishing operation. 

As you near the westernmost point of the peninsula, look for signs for Saxholl crater. If you have time, it's worth the stop to walk up the stairs that take you to the top with nice views of the surrounding area. 

Continue your drive around the other side of the peninsula and end your day with a visit to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall with Kirkjufell mountain in the background (one of Iceland's most photographed).

You can either spend the night in Grundarfjordur near the mountain and waterfall or continue to the larger town of Stykkishólmur. On the way (and if you're brave enough), you can stop at the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and taste some Hakarl, or fermented shark.

Day 4: Ferry From Snaefellsnes Peninsula to the Westfjords

Enjoy water views while traveling to the Westfjords
Enjoy water views while traveling to the Westfjords

If there's time this morning, you can finish exploring any sites that you may have missed before driving to Stykkishólmur where you'll catch a 3-hour ferry north to the Westfjords. Keep in mind that departure times vary and are limited during the winter season, but you can also make the 3.25-hour drive instead.

While in Stykkishólmur, consider a stop by the Volcano Museum and enjoy some fresh mussels for lunch by the harbor. 

When you arrive in the Westfjords, continue driving to the town of Patreksfjörður where you'll spend the night.

Day 5: Southern Westfjords: Látrabjarg & Dynjandi

Dynjandi waterfall makes for a great lunch stop
Dynjandi waterfall makes for a great lunch stop

Before heading out for today's adventures, you may want to pick up picnic supplies since there won't have many options until you arrive in Isafjordur

First, you'll drive to the southwest tip of the Westfjords and start your day with a hike along the edge at the Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs, with incredible views over the waters below.

On your drive back towards Patreksfjordur, consider another detour to Rauðasandur, a red sand beach, which stretches as far as the eye can see. Much of this drive is on gravel roads. As you head north, stop at the Gardar BA 64 Shipwreck, beached on side of the road and walk around the ship.

Now you'll take Route 62 to Route 60 and head to Dynjandi Waterfall. The drive up to the ridge has some switchbacks and is quite bumpy in places. As you reach the top, you will have incredible views in both directions, and for the whole drive down to the fjord near the falls. Park the car and walk around the site's several waterfalls that sit below the massive Dynjandi waterfall. If the weather is nice, this is a great spot for a picnic in the beautiful fjord setting. 

Finish your drive through Iceland’s longest tunnel, arriving in Isafjordur in the late afternoon. While in town, visit the Isafjordur Maritime Museum, join a cultural and historical walking tour of the town, or eat all the fish you ever wanted at Tjoruhusid, named the best seafood in Europe a few years back.

Day 6: Isafjordur & Hornstrandir

Keep an eye out for puffin colonies in the Westfjords
Keep an eye out for puffin colonies in the Westfjords

Today, you'll wake up in Isafjordur—the heart of the Westfjords and the region’s largest town. This is a great home base while you're here and a pleasant town for a stroll. 

Some options for how to spend your day:

  • Hike up the sides of the mountains in Isafjordur to see the fjords below.
  • Take a boat ride and hiking tour of Hornstrandir Natural Preserve (see below for more info), one of the most remote and scenic areas of Iceland. 
  • Take a kayaking trip in the calm fjord or paddle all the way to Vigur Island to see exotic birds and sea life.
  • Rent mountain bikes and cycle around the avalanche barrier of Ísafjördur. There's an off-road tour (beginner tracks, too) in the Icelandic "forest" over avalanche walls. 
  • Go horseback riding through the lush Sandá Valley where you can experience the Icelandic countryside and get views of the "Westfjords Alps".

Hornstrandir Nature Preserve: This is an area of magnificent beauty and wildlife, with sheer basalt mountains stretching from the sea to the sky divided by deep fjords, alcoves, and valleys. At the coastline, the relentless power of the ocean has molded towering sea cliffs, richly populated by birds, while alcoves are home to an abundance of seals. Inland, the crawling glaciers of the last ice age have hewn ancient mountain passes and lakes where the arctic fox wanders in its natural environment.

Day 7: Eastern Westfjords: Isafjordur to Holmavik

Drive along the scenic fjords
Drive along the scenic fjords

This morning, you'll head out of Isafjordur and make a 3-hour drive to Drangsnes, experiencing awesome scenery as you curve around the fjords. 

In fact, these eight fjords make up the Ísafjarðardjúp fjord system, which separates this area from Hornstrandir to the north. This section between Isafjordur and Holmavik in the Westfjords can be a bit divisive for drivers: some love the scenic drive around the many fjords, while others find it frustrating to drive for a couple hours and not get too far from where you started.

Here are a few stops along the drive to stretch the legs and get out of the car to better-appreciate the landscapes.

  • Arctic Fox Center: After 20 minutes from the Isafjordur harbor, you’ll arrive in the nearby town of Súðavík, home of the Arctic Fox Center. This non-profit research center and the exhibit will teach you everything you wanted to know about Iceland's first land mammal, as well as historical interactions with people of Iceland. You will find two orphaned foxes in the pen outside, or you can stop for a light meal in the café where you will find soup, bread, and cakes.

  • Valagil Falls: A bit south of the town, at the bottom of Álftafjörður, you will find the start of a short hike to thundering Valagil Falls.

  • Seal Colony near Hvítanes: As you drive along Hestfjörður and Skötufjörður (about an hour from Sudavik), keep an eye out for the small fishing town of Hvítanes, where you can often find many Harbor seals resting on the rocks near the shore. This makes a nice place to stop and stretch your legs after an hour of driving the curvy fjord roads.

  • Saltverk Salt Factory: On the tip of the small peninsula between Reykjarfjörður and Seydisfjordur Fjord you will find a small salt factory. The owners can offer you a brief tour of the factory and tell you about the history of the traditional method, which is created using geothermal steam. Take the unique opportunity to purchase some of the famous salt, either for yourself or as a gift. This also one of your last opportunities to look back at Ísafjarðardjúp before crossing to the eastern side of the region. 

  • Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum (Holmavik): Take a tour into 17th-century Iceland and explore the world of witchcraft, sorcery, and the supernatural. The 30-minute audio guide will teach you about the traditions and history of the craft and its prominence in old tales and the sagas. About 20 minutes north along the coast, you will find the Sorcerer's Cottage, which makes up the second part of the museum. 

Spend the evening in Drangsnes near the water.

Day 8: Holmavik to Akureyri

Hvítserkur, “white shirt” basalt troll
Hvítserkur, “white shirt” basalt troll

This morning, you'll continue south to rejoin the Ring Road heading east towards Akureyri

The north coast of Iceland may be the country’s best-kept secret. While crowds of tourists populate the south coast and Golden Circle, visitors here can enjoy the beautiful landscapes and wonderful volcanic areas all to themselves. A few stops to keep in mind on your drive:

  • Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi (10 minutes off the Ring Road): This area is also home to one of the largest seal colonies in Iceland. Look for several sea watching spots along the coast a bit north of here.

  • Hvítserkur, “white shirt” basalt troll (add an hour to your drive): Close to the shore along the Vatnsnes peninsula is the black and white rock formation known as Hvítserkur—a troll who, according to the legend, was caught in the sun and turned into stone. While it's a nice sight from above, you'll also find a trail leading down from the parking lot. 

  • Varmahlíð: Stop in this small town, where Route 1 and Route 75 intersect (an hour before Akureyri). Here you can visit the Glaumbær Farm and the Víðimýrarkirkja Turf Church. This is a great way to experience the turf houses and to see how Icelanders used to life. The turf church, built in 1834, is one of the only remaining preserved turf churches in Iceland. 

When you arrive in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city of 18,000 people, get out and walk around town. Be sure to check out the thriving restaurant, cafe, and bar scene, and visit the Akureyrarkirkja church on the hill. With more time, follow the footpath along the calm old harbor to see more of the picturesque fjord.

If you like, you can continue further to Lake Myvatn for the night so that you have more time to explore that area.

Day 9: Godafoss, Whale Watching & Waterfalls

Skip the Blue Lagoon crowds and soak in the Myvatn Nature Baths instead
Skip the Blue Lagoon crowds and soak in the Myvatn Nature Baths instead

Spend your morning with breakfast in Akureyri before you get on the road (Route 1) towards Husavik and Lake Myvatn. Be sure to take a look back towards Akureyri from the other side of the fjord; you can see the mountains behind the town and it makes for a great photograph. 

After about 35-40 minutes on the road, you will see Route 85 to the left for Husavik. Despite this sign, stay on Route 1 for another couple of minutes to reach Godafoss (you will head to Husavik after this detour).

When you arrive at the “Waterfall of the Gods”, hike a couple minutes to see Godafoss up close, or take a longer walk around to see it from multiple perspectives. The waterfall was named when Iceland converted to Christianity in 1000. Legend says that when Þorgeir Þorkelsson (local chieftain and law speaker) made the tough decision to convert the country from the old Nordic gods to Christianity (in order to prevent war), he threw the old gods into the falls to symbolize the change to the new era.

From here, you'll continue back to the Route 1/Route 85 split and drive another 35 minutes to Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland. Unlike in other regions where you must set sail to find whales, Husavik often has whales, porpoises, and seabirds close to the harbor. You can join a tour on newer, carbon-neutral ships that are quieter (nicer for whales) and don’t pollute the environment (nice for everyone). We recommend North Sailing, right on the harbor, and the entire building, restaurant, and café was made from recycled wood). Also, check out the whale museum and the church by the harbor.

From here, head to Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Take a 15-minute hike upstream along the basalt cliffs and you will encounter another giant: Selfoss. You can approach from either the east or west side of the river (there are two roads): The road on the west is paved, while the one on the east is gravel. Both sides offer nice views of the waterfalls, but you have a nicer view of the full canyon from the east.

Continue driving to Lake Myvatn and spend your evening relaxing in the Myvatn Nature Baths—the North's equivalent of the Blue Lagoon, but with fewer people, cheaper prices, and better views. You won’t find all the spa extras that you do at the Blue Lagoon, but you will a few large geothermal pools, a sauna, and a steam room. You can enjoy views down over the lava fields and the craters around Lake Myvatn as you sit in the mineral water.

Day 10: Geological Wonders of Lake Myvatn

This otherworldly area of Iceland is worth an entire day at least
This otherworldly area of Iceland is worth an entire day at least

The area surrounding Lake Myvatn has the highest concentration of volcanic and geothermal sights in Iceland. In one day you can explore a plethora of pseudocraters, rock formations, lava fields, and volcanic craters

The following sights are listed roughly in order as you would approach from the western side of the lake driving counterclockwise.

  • Skutustadir pseudocraters: These pseudocraters were formed by when hot lava flowed over the wet marsh area causing steam explosions. Take an easy walk among many pseudocraters on the shores of Lake Myvatn and loop around the smaller lake Stakhólstjörn. You can hike up to a few of them or just walk around them all. Enjoy nice views across the lake where you will see steam rising from the geothermal areas and other volcanic craters in the distance.

  • Dimmuborgir lava formations and “the Church”: Take a  walk beneath large, strange, contorted lava formations caused when lava flows cooled. You can see the start of the formations here or hike the small loop in 15 minutes. Or, walk the bigger loop (2 miles) where you will see Kirkja (“The Church”), a natural lava formation that resembles a vaulted church arch, and a nearby cave a bit further. 

  • Hofdi rock formations: A little past Dimmuborgir you will see a small turnout for Hofdi. You could spend anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour here walking the wooded trails that take you to some very unique rock formations in the lake.

  • Hverfjall cinder cone and crater walk: The volcano known as Cinder Cone is hard to miss from anywhere around Lake Myvatn. Climb up the side for a great view of the surrounding area where you can see the Skutustadir Pseudocraters and steam from the Myvatn Nature Baths and Hverarond Geothermal area. 

  • Hverarond mud pits and steam vents: As you leave Lake Myvatn heading east, your first detour is the Hverarond geothermal area. Here you can walk around various bubbling mud pits and steam vents, admiring the interesting red and orange colors. Exploring the entire area takes from 30 minutes to an hour.

Just after Hverarönd, you will see a turnoff for Krafla/Viti. Take the road and drive 10 minutes for these attractions:

  • Krafla/viti crater: Drive past the Krafla power station (also worth a stop) and you will find the Viti crater, part of the Krafla volcanic system. This crater is filled with a bright blue lake.

  • Leirhnjúkur lava fields and geothermal area: Explore the Leirhnjúkur area and you will think you were on another planet. After a 10-minute walk, you will arrive at some steam vents. You can hike a big loop in an hour to see all the highlights, or stick to the first sights along the wooden path

Day 11: Akureyri to Reykjavik

Spend your last night in Reykjavik
Spend your last night in Reykjavik

Today, you'll make your way back to Reykjavik—around 4-5 hours in total—and the views on the Ring Road will certainly keep you occupied. Make sure to visit some of the stops you may have missed on the way to Akureyri. Here are a few more detour ideas:

  • Víðimýrarkirkja Turf Church (just off Route 1): This turf church, built in 1834, is one of the only remaining preserved turf churches in Iceland. There has been a church in this area since 1000 when Iceland peacefully adopted Christianity (to avoid battles between Icelanders).

  • Glaumbær Farm and Turf Houses (5-10 min drive off Route 1, along Route 75): A visit to the Glaumbær Farm is a great way to experience the turf houses and to see how Icelanders used to life. The turf helped to insulate the houses during the harsh winters and strong winds. The last person lived in this house until 1947, but the oldest farm in the area dates back to around 874 (during the early Settlement Period).

  • Hvítserkur, “White Shirt” Basalt troll (Would add on about 1 hour to drive in total): A little distance from the shore along the Vatnsnes peninsula in Northwest Iceland you will find the black and white rock formation known as Hvítserkur, a troll who according to the legend was caught in the sun and turned into stone. While it's a nice sight from above, you'll also find a trail leading down from the parking lot. This area is also home to one of the largest seal colonies in Iceland, and you can learn more at the Icelandic Seal Center in nearby Hvammstangi.

  • Grabrok Crater: Just off Route 1, you can stop to stretch your legs with a short walk up to the rim of this crater, which offers nice views of the surrounding area.

Day 12: Reykjanes Peninsula, Blue Lagoon, Departure

Geothermal activity between Reykjavik and the airport
Geothermal activity between Reykjavik and the airport

It's time to say farewell to Iceland! Soak up your last moments and explore more of Reykjavik. Or, if there's time before your flight, consider a side trip on your way to KEF airport. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Reykjanes Peninsula: This area is often missed by travelers quickly heading between Reykjavik and KEF airport. With a bit more time, you can explore lava fields, a geothermal area, and small fishing towns.

  • Blue Lagoon: Enjoy a geothermal soak in the iconic Blue Lagoon before you fly home (great for all ages).

  • Gardur lighthouse: Two lighthouses are located near the airport: one on the coast (older and not as stable), and a second a bit further inland. This can be a nice area to walk around and stretch your legs before your flight, and the views of the coast can be very nice.

Map

Map of Best of West & North Iceland - 12 Days
Map of Best of West & North Iceland - 12 Days