The ultimate Iceland road trip

July 9, 2013 in Europe,Iceland,Places

A road trip is without a doubt the best way to see Iceland. The country is stunning, but it’s sparsely populated. There are public transportation options, but they stick to the Ring Road. This is a country that gets better the farther you go from “civilization”: the most spectacular thing about the scenery is possibly the solitude.

Iceland road trip with Kuku Campervans

And the absolute best way to do a road trip in Iceland is in a campervan. Our Kuku Camper–quickly nicknamed Horatio for the eye-catching mural of our favorite CSI Miami detective on the side–quickly felt like home. It was literally where we spent all day and night: driving, eating, reading, sleeping.

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The Law of Survival states that you can stop on any man’s land for a night (and eat anything that grows on that land). That means that it’s completely legal and acceptable to sleep in your car, whether you’re on private property, a national park or a designated rest stop.

Aly Gill and Kuku Campers in Iceland

And during the season of the “midnight sun,” it’s easy to drive practically all night. After driving until almost 11 p.m. and crashing on a private driveway just north of Jokalsarlon on the first day (logging a solid 8 hours of driving from Reykjavik), we committed to stopping earlier and enjoying the scenery the next few nights. We’d quit driving around 8 p.m. and find a good place to park: one night, it was a delightful double waterfall, the next it was the black sand beaches of Vik. We’d have a can or two of Polar Beer, read magazines (we laughed as we read Vanity Fair, Vogue and New Yorker–how out of place were we in the Icelandic countryside), and then finally pull the  curtain closed and get some sleep.

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We popped into gas stations first thing in the morning to use the bathroom, fill up with gas, charge our phones and get a nice steaming cup of coffee. Most gas stations had impeccable bathrooms, a spare outlet and at least one free refill on coffee.

Next stop was the nearest city’s public pool. Iceland is big on hot springs, hot tubs and saunas: if a town is big enough for a grocery store, it likely has a public pool. It only costs about $4 for entry, and that generally includes a lap pool, two hot tubs at different temperatures, a sauna and a public shower. The best start to the morning, and such a cooler experience than just paying for a public shower at a campground. Our favorite was the public pool in Hofn, complete with two waterslides.

We drove throughout the day, with frequent stops to the side of the road: a stunning waterfall, a field of blooming purple lupines, a sheep and her two baby lambs. Often, we could just stop in the middle of the road to take photos of the scenery: there weren’t any other cars around.

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Navigating in Iceland is almost too easy: stick to the Ring Road. Route 1 goes all the way around Iceland, so it’s practically impossible to get lost. That said, don’t be afraid to explore! Each time we went off the Ring Road, we found the most spectacular waterfalls and natural hot springs—with absolutely no one around.

We’d heard that food in Iceland was quite expensive, so we stocked up on snacks in the States. Trail mix, almonds, jerky, wasabi peas, instant oatmeal, raisins, Clif Bars and Lara Bars: it’s not exactly glamorous, but it kept us satisfied. Especially once we realized that people weren’t exaggerating about cost of food: we split a bowl of average beef stew at a rest stop that cost $20.

Icelandic gas station hot dog

The most iconic Icelandic road trip food has to be the hot dog! Sold in gas stations, they cost $4-5 but are well worth it. My personal favorite was a bacon-wrapped hot dog in a warmed bun with mustard, raw onions and dry onions. Followed with a soft serve (they have caramel dip!), it was our standard “meal” of the day.

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We had a 300 kilometer per day limit, and we arrived back at Kuku Campervans with 6 kilometers to spare. The man who checked us back in congratulated us–he’d never seen someone come so close to the limit without going over.

To me, that sort of summed up just how perfectly this road trip went. We went into it with absolutely no plans: we decided at the last-minute to drive all the way to  Jokalsarlon on the recommendation of  a few guys at the Blue Lagoon and we discovered most of the hot springs via a local’s recommendations. We weren’t afraid to go off the road well-traveled, and we were well-rewarded for it.

 Note: Kuku Campers kindly provided us with a discount on our campervan rental, but all opinions are my own.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    I had heard that the best way to see Iceland was by renting your own car, but I hadn’t considered renting a camper van. What a great idea & this is definitely something Tony & I will be looking into doing when we make it to Iceland. The scenery is so gorgeous it looks like it’s from another planet!

  • Casey

    You definitely have to drive through Iceland to really grasp its beauty! I thoroughly enjoyed our drives through the country!

  • I met a few people hitchhiking their entire way through Iceland when I was there last fall. Apparently it’s one of the safest countries in the world to do so. Road trip alternative, perhaps? :)

  • I would definitely be uncertain about sleeping in a vehicle by the side of the road, but it sounds like a great experience. May have to get over myself and add it to my list of things to do, especially since I love the idea of visiting somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of people! :)

    Hope you enjoyed WDS this weekend!

  • AliciaC

    Thanks for this post. I was looking into the touristy thing but I think I would love the solitude of this more. Plus at my own pace.

  • How awesome!!! I did this in Australia and it was life changing. Love the pics!

  • Briel79

    Sounds so awesome!

  • JulikaSarah

    This sounds amazing! And I love all the photos!

  • I soooo want to do this someday. But a road trip like this is always more fun with a partner in crime. Hmmm, I need to start recruiting!

  • camorose

    You definitely should! Seriously the best way to see the country–I’m addicted to campervan travel now!

  • camorose

    Agreed!

  • camorose

    So true! We definitely considered both hitch hiking and picking up hitchhikers–but didn’t have room in our van (or, really, had it too messy!) and really wanted to see certain things. It’d be a fun place to do it though! We saw lots of cyclists too :)

  • camorose

    Definitely think that of all the places to do it–Iceland is the best! So incredibly safe.

  • camorose

    Yes! There’s so much to explore on your own :)

  • camorose

    Thanks! Totes wishing I had traveled in a campervan in Australia now!

  • camorose

    It really was!

  • camorose

    So glad you liked it!

  • camorose

    I hate driving–so I always have to find partners in crime for my road trips! They make it so much more fun!

  • Looks like so much fun! I like your websites new look too!

  • camorose

    Thank you!

  • 2blondie

    Now I really want a bacon wrapped hot dog. Oh my that looks delicious!

  • camorose

    So. Good.

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  • That first picture – Wow! … There’s nothing quite like a road trip.

  • camorose

    Thanks! Iceland is an amazing place for it :)

  • Arcturus

    What was your total traveled distance?

  • camorose

    I believe we were just under 1200 KM!

  • Gene

    Looks awesome! I’m thinking of doing the same thing (and in fact found this page searching for “kukucamper”.) Question, if you will: did you get the 4×4 version? If so did you feel it was worth it? If not did you miss it at any point? I understand the Ring Road is all paved, but there’s a lot of unpaved roads leading off it and I’m just wondering if the 4×4 would be worth it at all. Thanks!

  • camorose

    We didn’t get the 4×4 version and we were totally fine. All of the Ring Road is paved, and once we got too far off the paved parts–we just parked the van and walked. Super easy!

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  • Morgan

    What was the expense of the whole trip, about? Thinking planning something like this, just want to make sure it fits within a budget, if that’s at all possible? And also, this is random, but did you feel safe just camping all over Iceland? (This is coming from someone who lives in an “okay” area in CT but knows it’s probably not safe to walk more than 20 minutes away from my home & someone who is looking for a nice spring break vacation with her college roomie).

  • camorose

    SUPER SAFE. Honestly: so incredibly safe. Budget: about $650 for flights, $500 for the camper van rental, $200 for gas, incidentals. Blue Lagoon was about $60, most expensive activity. Real expense comes with food in Iceland–we packed a lot of snacks, showered at public pools for $5 a day, drank gas station coffee. Can definitely get expensive if you’re not careful!

  • Sam

    Can I ask how long you were in iceland for? and what time of year you went? My partner and I are headed over to europe in a few weeks and I would love to do this! looks amazing!

  • camorose

    We went in June and we were in the country for just under a week! Definitely recommend!

  • Matthew Miller

    My daughter and I were inspired by your post to take a week-long campervan road trip in Iceland next month!

    Can I ask how you packed? It looks like there’s not a lot of space for suitcases in the campervan. We are considering bringing one small suitcase and bringing a couple small waterproof daypacks. Any suggestions?

  • camorose

    I think that’s fine! Just remember that it’s chilly, even in June :)

    More tips here: http://www.cestchristine.com/2013/07/the-five-key-pieces-to-pack-for-iceland/

  • Cindy Karol Hosseini

    Great tips, I rented a van with Kuku for the end of the month. Quick question, we also rented it for a week – was that enough time to do all of ring road or did you only do part of it? Thanks!

  • camorose

    We only did part–we drove over to Hofn and back along the southern route. I’ve heard 10 days is ideal for Ring Road. Certainly not impossible but might be pushing it a bit!

  • geoffrey

    Excellente première expérience de l’Islande grâce à Kukucampers.

    Nous avons également fais un blog à notre retour pour raconter nos aventures… Et pour aider les prochaines personnes qui souhaitent se rendre en islande !

    N’hésitez pas à le visiter : http://www.islanderoadtrip.fr

    La voiture était en très bon état et peu de kilométrage. On y dort très confortablement, les ustensiles fournis sont également suffisant rien à racheter en plus. Les sacs de couchages qu’ils proposent sont suffisamment chaud (en août).Les check-in et check-out étaient rapide, l’équipe vous aide en cas de besoin, ils vous conseillent où aller. On peut prendre quelques affaires que d’autres utilisateurs on laissés avant nous gratuitement (ex : charbon de bois et un réchaud pour nous).Nous avons parcourus environ 2500km en 11jours, de quoi faire le tour de l’île, plus quelques incursions plus au centre (hors des routes f). Nous avons préférés dormir dans les campings pour le confort des douches et toilettes, mais vous pouvez tester le camping sauvage. Les modèle AB sont largement suffisant pour une première visite d’Islande. Peut être que si on revient, on essayera un 4×4 pour tenter le centre de l’île.

    Nous avons effectué un tour en commençant par le sud.
    Au programme :
    Premier jour : Arrivé à l’aéroport, récupération du van, le bluelagoon etait complet et camping à Grindavik.
    Second jour : Nous avons commencé par le cercle d’or (Thingvellir, geysir, gulfoss)
    Jour 3 : Se baigner dans les sources chaudes d’Hveragerdi,
    Jour 4 : La route du sud (les chutes de Seljalandsfoss et Skogafoss, les piscines naturelles, l’avion abandonné, le musée Eyjafjallajokull…).
    Puis les glaciers de Skaftafell en jour 5 (marche sur le glacier).
    Jour 6 : Un passage par les les fjords de l’est : arrêt à Egilsstadir et cascade de Hengifoss.
    Jour 7 : Ensuite la région du lac Myvatn (bains, Dimmuborgir, Krafla, Dettifoss).
    Jour 8 : excursion pour voir les baleines à Husavik (3 baleines et des oiseaux observés).
    Ensuite gros voyage pour arriver sur la péninsule ouest Snaefellsnes ou nous passerons la journée 9 (sous la pluie).
    Journée 10 : Passage à Reykjavík pour les souvenirs :)
    Dernier jour : On part de bonne heure, alors camping à Hafnarfjordur pour rendre la voiture le matin et départ de l’aéroport.

    Merci, et à bientôt

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