This example driving itinerary is great for the summer when the crowds of the south coast and golden circle area are at their peak and accommodation can be hard to find. Instead, escape to the more remote areas of the country to experience some of the best that Iceland has to offer, with few other people to share it with.

Day 1: Arrival and Downtown Reykjavik

Arrive at KEF International Airport and pick up your rental car and drive to Reykjavik (30 min) for a relaxing day exploring the compact downtown area.

Things to do in Reykjavik

Walk through Reykjavik’s compact downtown area, and along the water past the Sun Voyager Sculpture and to the Harpa Cultural Center with its cool class architecture. Visit Hallgrimskirkja church on the hill and take the elevator to the tower at for a great overview of the city below and panoramic views of the area. Walk around the harbor or join a whale watching tour. Spend some time learning about Iceland’s history at the Settlement Exhibition or the National Museum of Iceland. Snack on a world famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur or hop between cafes. In the evenings enjoy a variety of top-tier fish restaurants and Reykjavik’s nightlife.

Day 2: North to Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Drive north from Reykjaivk and stop in Borgarnes for a nice walk along the path near the water. While in Borgarnes you can learn more about the Settlement age of Iceland at the Settlement Center or grab a bite.

On the way, you can stop at Glymur Falls for a 2-hour round trip hike along the narrow canyon up to the top of Iceland's tallest waterfall.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is sometimes referred to as “little Iceland”, because here you can find a little bit of everything that Iceland has to offer: amazing  Basalt columns, tiny fishing villages, coastal cliff walks past arches and other rock formations, lava fields, volcanic craters, black sand beaches, waterfalls, lava caves, and more.

Some of this places allow for longer hikes. They are all mostly flat (but the ground can be uneven in places). Walk as far as you feel comfortable, you will be impressed by the nature after only a few minutes walking from the parking lots. 

Your first stop will be 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.

Day 3: Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Start your day with a walk along the cliff-side paths at Arnarstapi, where you will see really cool cliffs, lava formations and arches in the rocks. In Hellnar, stop at the small Fjöruhúsið cafe near the water to taste their delicious fish soup and enjoy the setting.

Next, you will see the huge Londrangar lava formations, which you can view from afar or walk 15 minutes to see them up close. 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.

Take a stroll along Djúpalónssandur black sand beach with debris from a shipwreck (cool to photograph the rusted mangled metal pieces on the black sand). Here you will find 4 stones of different sizes. These were used by sea captains to test the strength of people wanting to join their crew.

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).

Day 4: Snaefellsnes Peninsula to the Westfjords

Finish exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with a drive into the Berserkjahraun Lava Fields before you drive to Stykkishólmur where you can catch a 3hour ferry north to the Westfjords (departure times vary and are limited in Winter Season, you can also drive about 3.25 hours instead).

While in Stykkishólmur, you can stop by the Volcano Museum and enjoy some fresh mussels by the harbor. 

Spend the night around Patreksfjörður. If you have more time, start exploring some of the nearby sights listed tomorrow.

Day 5: Southern Westfjords

Start your day with a hike along the edge at the Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs, with incredible views over the waters below. Take a break at Rauðasandur Red sand beach and Breiðavík Golden Beach.  Walk around the Gardar BA 64 Shipwreck, beached on side of the road. Walk around several waterfalls below the massive Dynjandi waterfall in a beautiful fjord setting. Finish your drive through Iceland’s longest tunnel, arriving in Isafjordur to enjoy one the best fish meals in the country.

Day 6: Isafjordur

Isafjordur is the heart of the Westfjords as the region’s largest town. It’s a great home based and a pleasant town for a stroll. From here you can drive to the region’s highlights such as Dynjandi Falls and the Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs, hike above the fjords, kayak the calm waters or around the coast, or day trip to Hornstrandir Nature Preserve. 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 best seafood in Europe a few years back.

A couple of options for how to spend your time:

  • Hiking around Isafjordur up the sides of the mountains to see the fords below
  • Boat ride and hiking tour of Hornstrandir Natural Preserve, one of the most remote and scenic areas of Iceland (more info below)
  • Kayaking the calm fjord waters or longer kayak between fjords or to Vigur island to see birdlife and sealife.
  • Mt.biking around the avalanche barrier of Ísafjördur. Off-road tour that leads you into Icelandic "forest" over avalanche walls, with short single track for beginners and few short downhill.
  • Icelandic horseback riding tour through the lush Sandá Valley where you can experience the Icelandic countryside and up-close views of the "Westfjords Alps", while getting acquainted with friendly Icelandic horses.

Hornstrandir Nature Preserve
The Hornstrandir nature preserve is a place of magnificent untouched beauty and wildlife. The sheer basalt mountains stretch from the sea to the sky chaotically divided by deep fjords, secluded alcoves and valleys. At the coastline the relentless power of the ocean has molded towering sea cliffs, richly populated by birds. Many of the alcoves and scurries of the coast are home to an abundance of seals. Inland the crawling glaciers of the last ice age have hewn ancient mountain passes and lakes into the rugged peninsula and there the arctic fox wanders in its natural environment.

Day 7: Isafjordur to Akureyri

Start the morning with a hike up to “Trolls Seat” for one last view back down on Isafjordur before taking a scenic drive along the fjords. Take an optional stop at Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum along the way before you rejoin the Ring Road and continue to Akureyri, Iceland’s second city.

Akureyri
Iceland’s second largest city (18,000 people) sits on Iceland’s longest fjord and makes a great base for exploring the north. While here, 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 path along the calm old harbor and water to see more of the picturesque fjord.

Day 8: The North: Godafoss, Whale Watching, and Big Waterfalls

Spend your morning exploring the rest of Akureyri’s downtown area 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. Take the scenic route past Husavik, Asbyrgi Canyon, and the waterfalls Dettifoss and Selloss.

Godafoss Waterfall, the “waterfall of the Gods”
It’s impossible to miss Godafoss, the “waterfall of the Gods”, just off route 1. Hike a couple minutes to see the waterfall up close, or take a longer walk around to see if from multiple perspectives.  The waterfall was named when Iceland converted to Christianity in 1000. The 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.

Husavik: Iceland’s Whale-watching capital
Unlike in other regions where you must sail a while to find whales, Husavik often has whales, porpoises, and seabirds a few minutes from the harbor. Join a tour on some 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 (the entire building, restaurant, and cafe was made from recycled wood).

Asbyrgi Canyon
Just north of Dettifoss towards the coast, this giant horseshoe-shaped canyon is said to be left by Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of the Norse god Odin. Others believe it was caused by large floods when glaciers burst and melted almost 10,000 years ago. The canyon is 1km / 0.5 mi wide, 3.5km /2mi  long, and up to 100m / 300ft high in some places and offers some spectacular views.

Dettifoss, Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss
A 30-minute drive from Lake Myvatn (or on a loop from Husavik and Asbyrgi) brings you to Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. A 15-min hike upstream along the basalt cliffs and you will encounter another giant: Selfoss. 

Day 9: Geological Wonders of Lake Myvatn

The area surrounding Lake Myvatn has the highest concentration of volcanic and geothermal sights in Iceland. In one day you can explore pseudocraters, rock formations, lava fields, hike up and around a volcanic crater, dip in a thermal pool in a cave, see mud pools and steam vents, see a lake in a volcano, hike a lava area from another world, and finish the day relaxing at the Jarðböðin Nature Baths with a view over all you just accomplished.

Skutustadir Pseudocraters
These pseudocraters were formed by when hot lava flowed over the wet marsh area causing steam explosions. Take an easy 1-hour 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 the 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 1-hour walk beneath large, strange, contorted lava formations caused when lava flows cooled. You can see the start of the formations in only 5 minutes or hike the small loop in 15 minutes. Or, take your time and 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. 

Hverfjall Cinder Cone and Crater Walk
This 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 Jardbodin Nature Baths and Hverarond Geothermal area. 

Hverarond Mud pits and Steam vents
As you leave Lake Myvatn heading East along the ring road 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 30 minutes to an hour.

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.

Jardbodin Nature Baths
Relax in the Jardbodin 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 find a couple 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: Back to Reykjavik / KEF

Head back to Reykjavik today, either on a domestic flight (about 45min from Akureyri) or by driving (about 4.5 hours from Akureyri). With extra time, explore the often-missed Reykjanes Peninsula or take one final geothermal soak at the Blue lagoon.

Map

Map of Iceland Off The Beaten Path: A 10-day Escape to the West and North
Map of Iceland Off The Beaten Path: A 10-day Escape to the West and North

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Traveler: Ben B. - Local specialist: Preeti Bhide

My wife, Renee, and I had a memorable and exciting 14 day trip driving an AWD vehicle all the way around Iceland in early July. Preeti at kimkim did a fantastic job taking into account what we wanted to do, working out the logistics of how much we would likely be able to drive/accomplish in a day and choosing hotels for us that were all 3+ star and met and, in many cases, exceeded our expectations. She also incorporated a variety of guided activities into our schedule. The final package... read more

My wife, Renee, and I had a memorable and exciting 14 day trip driving an AWD vehicle all the way around Iceland in early July. Preeti at kimkim did a fantastic job taking into account what we wanted to do, working out the logistics of how much we would likely be able to drive/accomplish in a day and choosing hotels for us that were all 3+ star and met and, in many cases, exceeded our expectations. She also incorporated a variety of guided activities into our schedule. The final package was delivered to us as a pdf document with day-to-day instructions, Google driving maps and vouchers for hotels and activities that we had pre-paid for. All-in-all a very seamless experience and well worth the small percentage service fee included in the final reckoning. My only somewhat minor criticism was that it was hard to decide what to include and what not to, based simply on cost, as the car rental, activities and hotel bills were not itemized prior to payment. For those trying to budget, I would strongly recommend searching on the web in addition to working with Preeti for a better idea of itemized costs before committing.

The best things about Iceland are the incredible scenery, especially the volcanic landscapes, seascapes, waterfalls and turf-roofed houses and churches, and the flora and fauna, especially the Icelandic Horses, puffins and arctic foxes. All of it was wonderful, even if the weather was not always cooperative. Expect to have a backseat full of wet rain gear, as you get in and out at frequent intervals to explore roadside attractions and take photos! Places that I would highly recommend include ALL the waterfalls (including Gjain and Haifoss, two of our favorites which we added to Preeti's itinerary), the road to Landmannalaugur, the icebergs at Jokulsarlon, Petra's Stone Collection in Stodvarfjordur and Audunn's Mineral Collection in Djupivogur, Seydisfjordur (especially the sushi at Nord Austur), puffin viewing at Halmarholmstri, hiking around Lake Myvatn and Asbyrgi, the Whale Museum at Husavik, the Herring Museum at Siglufjordur, the Settlement Center at Borgarnes, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, and the reconstructed fishing station at Osvor. Overall, I'm so glad we did not spend too much time in Reykjavik or waste our money on the Blue Lagoon, as the rest of Iceland has so much more to offer.

Among the organized activities Preeti set up for us, we particularly enjoyed horseback riding among the geothermal springs at Eldhestar, a glacier hike near Skaftafell, and eating uni (sea urchin) and scallop sashimi freshly bottom trawled from the floor of Breidafjordur on our Viking Sushi tour. While we did successfully track three humpback whales on our whale watch tour in Husavik, it was a very wet ride and we had hoped to see other species, so it was a bit disappointing. The weather (10 foot swells!) also caused our trip by boat to Hornbjarg, the bird cliffs on the north side of Hornstrandir Nature Resrve, to be cancelled, but Preeti and her husband came to the rescue and arranged for us to go instead to Hesteyri on the south side of the Reserve, where we had an enjoyable hike to an old whaling station. We had booked a kayaking tour in Isafjordur the next day, but we were too tired to contemplate it and the weather looked foreboding still. Luckily, Preeti was able to cancel at no charge for us and we received a refund for this and the shortened Hornstrandir trip very promptly on our credit card. Finally, on our last day in Iceland, we were booked for the Inside the Volcano tour near Reykjavik. When we got there, the weather was really ghastly and we called Preeti to ask if we should/could cancel. She persuaded us to go, despite the weather, as she revealed that it was the most expensive tour we had booked on the whole trip. So we bravely marched two and a half miles across the lava in our yellow slickers and had an incredible experience descending more than 200 meters inside an extinct volcano, something I'm sure we'll never get the chance to do again. On top of that, we got to see an adorable baby arctic fox who had taken up residence under the trailer for the base camp at the volcano. So, THANK YOU Preeti for persuading us to persevere and for organizing such a great trip. Thank you also for going above and beyond to retrieve Renee's expensive Swarovski binoculars that she left at Hesteyri and ship them efficiently for us to Reykjavik's domestic airport, where we could pick them up before our departure back to the US. You get the highest recommendation from us!

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Very nice trip overall