One car, eight days, 2,200km, two drivers, hundreds of sheep, surprisingly beautiful weather and diverse landscapes. Iceland blew our minds.
Iceland is a country that got me curious a few years ago, way before I see landscape photos. How did such a small country manage to get into such a financial crisis? How is there so many international pop & rock stars in a country of 350,000 inhabitants? The only country in the world that has more female the male representation in parliament, interesting!?
Our itinerary: self-drive, the North and Westfjords
Our itinerary has its pros ands cons: Eight days was very short. If I say we drove on average 315km per day over 7 days, it wouldn’t mean much as the road isn’t linear. The North and Westfjords road are partly gravel roads, slowing down the pace, also we alternated days of driving and days where we had more time to hike and discover.The country is unique, the landscape being the most obvious component but its history, culture and insular nature give Iceland its singular aspect. The fact that the total population is only just above 300,000 inhabitants – and 4 times as many sheep – is the first surprising element when one hits the road. Since the financial crisis in 2008 and Eyjafjallajökul ash eruption in 2010, Iceland became a popular tourist destination and the lonely country absorbs up to 1.3m tourists per year, mostly during the more clement summer months. A number that Versailles wouldn’t fret about but still, it’s 4x the country’s entire population and at times can make it feel a bit overcrowded. Think buses of German pensioners coming en masse to photograph a waterfall. That being said, we travelled during the busiest period of the year: the hump period between July and August, also right on the Icelandic bank holiday; and still it was absolutely manageable, provided we avoided the tourist buses. After a short overnight stop in Reykjavik and a delicious dinner at Dill (how do they actually grow tomatoes in their garden is beyond me!?), we headed North to Àkureyri and rented a car. From there, we almost never drove Route 1, which is where most of the traffic is. Dust trails have been our friends and our brand new rental white Golf turned into a muddy ash colour, for as much as we tried to wash it, the sparkly white would be covered in a thick layer of ash and dust after 10min. We left the most popular touristy points of the Golden circle for the end of the trip (Geysir, the Blue Lagoon etc), and tried to see those places at the end of the day, past 6pm when most buses are on their way back to Reykjavik. So we started with a flight north to Akureyri where we hired a car, and from there drove North and west, towards the WestFjords, the middle peninsula Snaefelsness, and south for a couple of days, towards Vik, and dropped the car back at the rental car.
A bit of planning goes a long way…
Iceland can be pretty expensive, especially as the the Icelandic Krona [ISK] feels strong. However planning goes a long way: Flights, when booked in advance can be reasonable, a few low cost airlines now have regular itineraries (WOW, Easyjet and the more traditional Icelandair have direct flights from London). Hotels are definitely on the steep side, however there are a lot of more affordable and decent quality guest houses, again, the best quality for money fills up first…I booked my tickets about 7 months prior to the trip and hotels from 6 months early for the places I really meant to go, down to last minute for the last night of our trip.
We opted for a little mix of AirBnB in cities, guesthouses in the countryside and one nice hotel, the Budir hotel, in Snaefelsness.
The car rental could have been cheaper but we needed to find a country-wide provider that would let us take and give the car back in different locations.
Road conditions and weather – the official site, updated several times a day.
for accommodation bookings I used AirBnB, especially in bigger cities, Booking, and Icelandic Farm Holidays, I particularly liked their map view
For a short trip, the so-called “Golden Circle” would be already amazing. There is so much to it! Being easily accessible from Reykjavík as a base, the only inconvenient is that it gets quite busy.
My favourite part of our itinerary? Hard to choose! Although if had to, I would say the Snæfellsness peninsula. To me it had the right mix of “raw diamond” beauty and infrastructure…but then what about the Westfjords? I just shall write another article!