Iceland: The Land of Fire and Ice

By Amy Rosoman

Photography by SinghaphanAIIB / Getty Images

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June 2017

What better way to explore the extraordinary landscape of Iceland, than by road tripping this mesmerising destination. Ride to volcano bases, geothermal pools or venture the beaten track to glaciers. With flights to Reykjavik from London three times a week, make your dates for the ultimate fly-drive.

A city to behold

Best for: The capital, wildlife, volcanoes

The journey: 78 miles

Reykjavík to Húsafell

Reykjavík is the colour capital of Iceland, with the most spectacular backdrop of snow-dusted volcanoes, surrounded by calm indigo coastal waters. Before setting off on your road trip, head to the Old Harbour restaurants for nibbles at a converted fishing hut. Gaze at the Hallgrímskirkja, which watches over the city. After experiencing a touch of city magic, pick up your Avis car hire and head north up the coast to Húsafell in a couple of hours. Feel the freedom to stop and take in the ever-changing scenery.

Where to stay:

Hotel Húsafell - with its geothermal pools, outdoor hot tubs and Nordic restaurant, you’ll rest easy. Its location is perfect to drive far west to Snæfellsjökull National Park and swap your motor for an Icelandic pony, to ride to the glacier and active volcano.

Something more:

Take in the gems of the north west and soak up the mysteries embedded here. On your way back to the hotel stop at the stunning Barnafossar and Hraunfossar waterfalls.

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Gaze at the dancing skies and snap a magical moment

Jaw-dropping northern terrain

Best for: Culture, landmarks, waterfalls

The journey: 199 miles

Húsafell to Akureyri

Journey to the north central city of Akureyri. Make your way through surreal landscape and tiny villages before entering the glorious mountains surrounding your next destination. Pull over as often as you like to take in the breath-taking scenery and enjoy a lunchtime pit stop, during the four-hour car journey – it’s the reason to road trip Iceland after all. Upon arrival to this cultural hub, head into town and experience a variety of cafes and bars, as well as an abundance of museums and galleries to make you feel inspired. Treat yourself to local Icelandic produce at restaurant Strikið, including seafood and even a reindeer burger. Set on the fifth floor, look out over waters from the terrace or sip on cocktails from the cosy south side.

Where to stay:

Icelandair Akureyri - for a few nights in a central location and buffet breakfasts. Just a 10-minute drive away is Hlíðarfjall, you can go for a ski or hike. Across to the east is the ethereal Goðafoss waterfalls, a sight to see all-year-around, then return to the hotel for a delicious dinner by the fire.

Something more:

Drive a little further and you will arrive at the Hverir/Hverarönd hot springs and mud pits, one of the largest sulphur springs in Iceland. You can explore the dramatic landscape to the east of Námafjall Mountain and soak up the incredible terrain before heading back for a final night in Akureyri.

  • The stunning Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík. Photo credit: powerofforever.

    The Hallgrímskirkja Church

    The iconic landmark of the city can be seen from numerous points around the capital.£239 pp

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  • A wild Icelandic horse. Photo credit: Guillermo Avello.

    Take a walk on the wild side

    Admire the wonderful wild ponies of Iceland or treat yourself to a horse-ride out on the ravishing landscape.£182 pp

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  • Svartifoss waterfall, Vatnajokull National Park in Iceland. Photo credit: Alex Robinson Photography.

Sweeping scenic sights

Best for: Forests, lakes, hiking

The journey: 165 miles

Akureyri to Egilsstaðir

Head to the east of Iceland and witness more mesmerising panoramic views. Take a detour along the 862 to the most powerful waterfall in Europe, the Dettifoss, in Vatnajökull National Park. The roads to see this waterfall are only open during summer, due to the diverse conditions winter can bring, be sure to book from late May – July. Alternatively, you could make this a hiking day out. Follow ring road one for three hours before arriving at Egilsstaðir. About 20 minutes away is the beautiful Birchwood forest at Hallormsstadhur, where you can wander whatever the weather. Nearby is Lagarfljót, home to Lake Lögurinn and legend serpent monster. Walk around the lake and take in the Icelandic air before driving the short distance back to your hotel.

Where to stay:

Icelandair Herad - to be close to wildlife and for the spectacular dining experience. After a good sleep, drive straight to Stórurð and the Dyrfoll mountains. Set a full day aside to hike or bike this glorious area of meadows, glacier boulders and turquoise ponds. Pack a backpack with a picnic to take with you.

Something more:

Park up and put your walking boots on to explore the stunning east side of Iceland. When you have had your fill of nature’s delights, head back for a final night in Egilsstaðir and enjoy dinner at Eldhúsið for stunning food after an active day. Try a piece of their game meat and indulge in their creative dishes.

Highway to heaven

Best for: Glaciers, hot springs, canyons

The journey: 236 miles

Egilsstaðir to Kirkjubæjarklaustur

Start the next round of your road trip down to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Enjoy the views between the ocean and mountains of Vatnajökull National Park. Stop at the ethereal Jökulsárlón, with its icebergs, contrasting landscapes and ice caves, you’ll be spoilt for enthralling picture moments. After four hours on the road from Egilsstaðir, make another stop at Svartifoss for unforgettable views of huge glaciers and waterfalls. Another hour on the road and you'll reach the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Pop into Kaffi Munkar for spicy chicken or fish stew, to revitalise, then go to the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon for the nearby scenery and to stretch your legs. Before settling in at your hotel, make a very short drive to Systrafoss & Systravatn for the tumbling double waterfall, rocky hills and spectacular views.

Where to stay:

Icelandair Klaustur - situated in a designated Official European Beauty spot. With its comfy rooms and delicious bites, it’s a great place to see the sights. Make your way to Skógafoss in the morning, just over an hour away. Feel hypnotised by the glorious waterfall in winter snow or midnight sun.

Something more:

A little further along to Seljavellir, you can make a short hike to Seljavallalaug, the oldest pool in Iceland, heated by the local hot spring. The pool is only a 20-minute hike once you park. Remember to take a towel and swimwear to enjoy the remarkable views as you bask in a striking landscape.

  • Geothermal region of Hverir near lake Myvatn. Photo credit: Stealing Beauty Photography.

    Geothermal lands

    The landscape of Iceland forever changes as you journey through, the geothermal areas are a prime sight to see.£523 pp

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  • The Church in Akureyri. Photo credit: Dendron.
  • Strokkur Geyser. Photo credit: Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon.

    Guzzling Geysers

    Visit the natural wonder of Strokkur Geyser and wait for the explosive moment, which will take your breath away.

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Golden Circles gems

Best for: Secret lagoon, Golden Circle, geysers

The journey: 132 miles

Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Flúðir

Drive onwards from Seljavellir to Flúðir, in just over an hour. If you arrive with time to spare during the afternoon, head along to the secret lagoon to enjoy relaxation and more hot springs. As the evening draws in, pop to Grund restaurant for Icelandic dining or for a change in taste, try the Minilik Ethiopian restaurant, highly regarded for its vegetarian and lamb dishes. In the months of darkness and days of night, travel about 40 minutes to Gullfoss Falls and admire some more gems of The Golden Circle. This waterfall spot is the place to be for catching a glimpse of the enchanting northern lights. The natural phenomena is best seen between September and April during clear skies, check the Aurora forecast. Gaze at the dancing skies and snap a magical moment. When it's light, walk around the gigantic waterfall, get up close to the gushing sounds and take in the beauty of the landscape.

Where to stay: 

Icelandair Flúðir - for its hot adventure spot. Enjoy a drink at the bar, then climb into the geothermal-heated hot tub and relax. In the morning, take a leisurely drive to Kerið, the volcanic crater lake. Admire the contrasting colours of red rock, lush greenery and azure waters in summer or cherish the ice-blue waters and white landscape in the winter.

Something more: 

After you catch some shots of the views, drive further to Öxarárfoss waterfall, through Þingvellir National Park. Take in the stunning surroundings any time of year and enjoy the sights and sounds of the landscape.

The final leg

Best for: Blue Lagoon, cocktails and cuisine, relaxation

The journey: 60 miles

Flúðir to Reykjavík

Hop back in the car and drive 10-minutes away to Geysir and Stokkur Geysir to watch the hot waters erupt high into the sky. Just 20-minutes along from here, is Laugarvatn Fontana, a gorgeous geothermal bath off the tourist trail. After a soak, try the ground baked rye bread, Icelandic butter and smoked trout for the perfect snack, before heading back to Reykjavik. Drive through the stunning scenery and take your time for more stops on the half hour journey, to catch more photo worthy moments. Head to your hotel and dump your bags, before popping out to the city for a stroll and bite to eat. If you really fancy a treat on your last part of the trip, make a reservation at Grillmarkaðurinn. Enjoy fine-dining and flavour bursting cocktails in this quirky restaurant Downtown.

Where to stay:

Hilton Reykjavik Nordica - for your final few nights. Take a break from driving and take advantage of the complimentary bus pass which will take you around town. Make the most of the spa here to unwind after your legendary road trip. Enjoy gourmet dining at the VOX restaurant and reminisce over a drink in the lobby bar, of the Icelandic wonders you have witnessed.

Something more:

If you have plenty of time, book a trip to the Blue Lagoon, a 40-minute car journey away from the city centre. If you don’t fancy the rush, stay an extra night at your hotel and spend a whole day relaxing in beautiful blissful geothermal baths. Soak in the mineral-rich waters, scrub your skin with the silica white mud mask and immerse yourself in the perfect 38°C heat of the milk-blue waters.

  • Kerio Crater in Iceland. Photo credit: Peter Dowell (peterocks).

    A sight to see, Kerio Crater

    Come sunrise or sunset, the epic landscape will light up your senses.£479 pp

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  • Blue Lagoon. Photo credit: Suranga Weeratuna / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Unwind at Blue Lagoon

    The famous Blue Lagoon is the place to be, take time out to relax here and replenish after the ultimate road trip.£182 pp

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  • A dish from Grillmarkaðurinn. Photo credit: Björn Árnason.