Iceland: The Land of Fire and Ice


By Amy Rosoman

Photography by SinghaphanAIIB / Getty Images

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Updated March 2019

Explore an island of guzzling geysers, with chasms of ice, steaming volcanoes and geothermal pools. The best way to see it all? On an epic Iceland road trip. Begin your adventure in Reykjavik and drive clockwise along the island across the Ring Road. With our guide to the journey of a lifetime, you’ll quickly discover the magic of this Scandinavian country.

A city to behold

Best for: The capital, wildlife, volcanoes

The journey: 78 miles

Reykjavík to Húsafell

Touch down to Keflavik International Airport and pick up your hire car. Start your 45-minute drive to Reykjavík, the colourful capital of Iceland, with the most spectacular backdrop of snow-dusted volcanoes, surrounded by calm indigo coastal waters. Park in the city centre and see the highlights. Wander along the seafront to gaze at the striking Sun Voyager sculpture, stroll to The Settlement Exhibition to learn about the Vikings, then visit iconic Hallgrímskirkja church which watches over the city.

Before getting back on the road, head to Sægreifinn in the Old Harbour (the restaurant is famous for warming bowls of lobster soup); and take a peek at the converted fishing huts. Next, set your sights on Húsafell, heading north along the coast, then inland, taking around two hours. One of the perks of hiring a car is the freedom to stop whenever you like and savour 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.

Plan a trip to Reykjavik

Gaze at the flickering skies and grab your camera to snap a magical moment.

Jaw-dropping northern terrain

Best for: Culture, landmarks, waterfalls

The journey: 199 miles

Húsafell to Akureyri

Make your way through extraordinary landscape and quaint villages before slipping through astonishing mountain passes, on your journey to the north central town of Akureyri. Pull over as often or as little as you like on this four-hour adventure. Whether you drive in the bright sunlight of summer and park up for a picnic, or spot the northern lights flickering in the darkness of winter – Iceland is road trip-worthy all-year-round.

Once you arrive to breathtaking Akureyri, surrounded by majestic mountains and Iceland’s longest fjord, check-in to your hotel before venturing into town. You’ll find an abundance of art galleries and inspiring museums to explore, including the Gallery Listfléttan and Into the Arctic Museum. There are plenty of cafes to warm-up over hot chocolate, or you can try local beers and whiskey at the R5-Beer Lounge.

You can treat yourself to local Icelandic produce at restaurant Strikið, whether you order langoustine, salmon ceviche, tuna tartar or order the surf ‘n’ turf. Book a table for dinner and relish the tasting menu. Set on the fifth floor, look out over waters in summer from the Terrace or sip cocktails from the cosy South Side come winter.

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.

Book car hire

  • 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.£243 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.£311 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

Cruise over to the east of Iceland and take in mesmerising panoramic views. Take a detour along road 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 winter weather conditions, so be sure to book from late May – July. Alternatively, you spend the whole day hiking out here.

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 the legendary serpent monster. Walk around the lake, taking 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.

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Highway to heaven

Best for: Glaciers, hot springs, canyons

The journey: 236 miles

Egilsstaðir to Kirkjubæjarklaustur

Start the next round of your road trip south to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Enjoy the views between the ocean and mountains of Vatnajökull National Park. Stop at the sublime Jökulsárlón; with its icebergs, contrasting landscapes and ice caves, you’ll be spoilt for enthralling photo opportunities. After four hours on the road from Egilsstaðir, take another break at Svartifoss for unforgettable views of huge glaciers and waterfalls.

Hit the road for another hour and you'll reach the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Pop into Kaffi Munkar, famous for revitalizing spicy chicken and fish stew; then stretch your legs at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and soak up the superb scenery. 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.
  • 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.

    Plan a muli-centre holiday

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 in the 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 darker months as daylight shrinks, 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 when skies are clear, but check the Aurora forecast for more detail. Gaze at the flickering skies and grab your camera to snap a magical moment. When it's light, walk around the gigantic waterfall and listen to the gushing sounds, as you soak up the glowing 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.

  • Kerio Crater in Iceland. Photo credit: Peter Dowell (peterocks).
  • 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.£311 pp

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

The final leg

Best for: Blue Lagoon, cocktails and cuisine, relaxation

The journey: 60 miles

Flúðir to Reykjavík

Hop in the car and make the ten-minute drive to Geysir and Stokkur Geysir to watch the hot waters erupt high into the sky – try your best not to blink when the bubble bursts. Just 20-minutes from here, is Laugarvatn Fontana, a gorgeous geothermal bath off the tourist trail. After a soak, try the unique rye bread (which is baked underground with geothermal heat, Icelandic butter and smoked trout for the perfect snack, before heading back to Reykjavik.

Drive through the dazzling scenery and take your time for more stops on the half-hour journey, for 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. If you’re in the mood for fine-dining and flavour bursting cocktails, stop by the quirky restaurant, Downtown.

Where to stay:

Choose Hilton Reykjavik Nordica for your final few nights. Unwind after your legendary road trip and refresh in the serene spa. Book a treatment and tranquilly sink into a choice of hot tubs. Relish gourmet dining without leaving the hotel, at the VOX restaurant, and reminisce over all the Icelandic wonders you have witnessed with a drink in the lobby bar.

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.