Best route to take in Iceland?
May 10, 2023 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm traveling to Iceland in August. I have 10 days and definitely want to see as much as possible. There is so much info out there about best routes to take but it seems like Ring Road, Highlands and Golden Circle are the most mentioned. Any recommendations on where to eat/drink (in and outside Reykjavik)? Was considering forgoing Ring Road to spend a few extra days in Reykjavik (to explore, meet people and experience the culture). Is 2-3 days enough in the capital?

I'm also planning to rent a vehicle that isn't allowed on F roads - should I spend more to get a 4x4 to see the Highlands?

Thanks for any and all advice :)
posted by matt755811 to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Reykjavik is small and besieged with tourists. If you don't have specific social connections or some other form of interest, the Icelandic scenery should be taking up most of your plans.
posted by praemunire at 1:18 PM on May 10 [9 favorites]

We had a campervan and did the Ring Road after a couple days in Reykjavik. No Highlands. Best vacation ever. With some regrets we did skip the northwest peninsula and maybe we'll go back someday to do that.

Highlights were Seydisfordur (including the crazy high crossing and subsequent descent into the valley), whale watching from Husavik, herring history in Siglufjordur, and of course all the stuff around Myvatn.
posted by intermod at 1:22 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

I did the Southern half of the Ring Road and the Golden Circle in four days (so there and back again) in early November with about eight hours of light per day. I wouldn't forego Vík and Jökulsárlón especially and Iceland is small enough that even with stopping at everything that made us go "oooh" it was a comfortable itinerary. In August you have a lot more light and hopefully better weather, so a week is enough to see the whole island plus take in some hot springs time. Reykjavik is nice but small, 3 days is plenty.

(I swear you could stop every 500 metres along the Ring Road and see something worth ooohing, usually a waterfall, but the Golden Circle is a good one-day highlights tour. We didn't do the F roads because November.)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:23 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

I have been to Iceland twice in a campervan. I have not done the Highlands, but I have done the Ring Road, the Golden Circle, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the Westfjords. These are all amazing and absolutely worth seeing. Reykjavik is very nice, but I think Iceland is about nature and scenery, so I wouldn't spend more than two days there.

In Reykjavik, Grillmarket is great. Outside of the city, The Cow Shed in Myvatn and Tar House in Isafjorder were very memorable. We cooked a lot in the van because food is pricy and sometimes far from campsites.
posted by TrarNoir at 1:43 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

We did the entire Ring Road counterclockwise in eight days. 3-5 hours driving and 1-2 adventures per day. First day post-Blue Lagoon and the last morning we spent in Reykjavik. If I had ten days, I'd have maybe spent an extra day in Arnarstapi (Snaefellsnes) to chill and for sure a second day at the Vök Baths near Egilsstaðir. Reykjavik was great but the hinterlands were truly amazing and where I'd want to linger longer.

We made use of grocery stores (Bonus seemed to be in every town) for snacks and some meals. Had memorable fine dining at Otto Matur & Drykkur in Höfn, a surreal dinner at the 50's American diner Skálinn in Egilsstaðir, and a cute waffle breakfast in Reykjavik at Saeta Húsið (very small, very slow, but tasty and cozy). The restaurant at the Icelandic Witchcraft and Sorcery Museum up in Hólmavík had hearty soup and a definite vibe.

We didn't go on any F-roads, but definitely were glad we had a 4x4 and comprehensive insurance... our windshield got annihilated by rocks kicked up by oncoming traffic. Only scary road was the Axarvegur, which Google maps recommended as an innocent shortcut. It's probably fine in August. We were there in October and did it westbound at dusk in the snow.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:12 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

Don't forget to buy hot dogs at the gas stations. Seriously.
posted by praemunire at 2:40 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

Lots of towns, including very small towns, have municipal pools/baths. They are a cheap way to chill out in the day and evening. They are all heated. Take your swimming trunks.
posted by biffa at 2:43 PM on May 10 [6 favorites]

If you are along the south coast and are in Vik, don't miss the "Icelandic Lava Show" if there is not an active volcano to see. It's a great locally created attraction. Last year we did the south coast in 3 days all the way to Diamond Beach, then 3 days in Reykjavik and the golden circle, and had a wonderful time. We only had a plain Subaru Forrester and it got us everywhere we want to be, except getting on a tour bus for a Glacier tour.
posted by nickggully at 3:01 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

Don’t miss the Library of Water in Stykkishólmur.
posted by matildaben at 3:23 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

When I went to Iceland it was to visit friends, so, while there were tourist sights, it was mostly hanging out. If you are on your own, 2-3 days in Reykjavík should hit the major sights with maybe an extra day for the Golden Circle, which is best if you like geology. I enjoyed a day trip to the south east, but then I really like Njal’s Saga, which is set there. I’ll look at a map and see if I can figure out any restaurants that are still open.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:53 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

We fit Blue Lagoon (couple hours straight from airport), Golden Circle (1 day, 4.5h driving), Ring Road (6 days - including glacier hiking, boat tour, whale/puffin watching, lava tube tour), and Reykjavik (2-2.5 days including nearby snorkeling) in our 10-day itinerary (see map) in July 2019, taking advantage of all the daylight hours - for example, hiking to and bathing in a thermal river at 11pm was a great experience. If you definitely want to see as much as possible, do not forgo Ring Road for extra time in Reykjavik.
Included notes on where we ate/drink - had a nicer dinner at Grillmarkaðurinn in Reykjavik, where the langoustine tails were a highlight. Icelandic Street Food is a more casual spot with tasty soup and seafood. Also surprisingly decent Viet food as well as excellent though expensive craft beer in the city, good ice cream at dairy farms along the road, fun-to-try local specialties like moss soup and volcanic rye bread, etc. Agree with the suggestion to hit up grocery stores for Icelandic snacks and budget-friendly meals too especially if you're driving a lot.
posted by eyeball at 8:28 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

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