For Christmas 2016, we decided to go on a winter road trip in Iceland to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights and finally experience a white Christmas.
I booked the flights and organised the accommodation. Dan took care of everything else, including the car hire and designing a complete road trip itinerary that would take us on a crazy (but magical) 805 km road trip, through snow, blizzards and icy conditions.
The cloudy, winter weather prevented us from seeing Northern Lights on our three nights in Iceland. But it did mean that we got the white Christmas we were hoping for. There was so much snow!
Check out the video (above) for a snapshot of what we saw and experienced. And, continue reading (below) to find out more about the places we visited and loved on our winter road trip in Iceland.
Day one: a self-drive, winter road trip of the Golden Circle
Covering almost 300 km in distance, the Golden Circle is Iceland’s most popular tourist route and is the best way to explore the southern region of the island and Iceland’s western volcanic region. The Golden Circle starts and ends in capital city Reykjavík. It’s a great tourist route as it shows off some of Iceland’s spectacular waterfalls, glaciers, geysers, lava fields and volcanos.
Many tour operators offer informative day tours from Reykjavík that explore the Golden Circle for around £60 – £130 per person. We opted to rent a car for the duration of our stay (£118 including fuel) and explored most of the Golden Circle at our own pace.
Kerið (Crater Lake)
We had a very adventurous start to our winter road trip. It started by getting bogged in deep snow and having to stop for the coldest pee ever. Our first (official) stop was Kerið, more commonly known as Crater Lake. We arrived in time for the 11am sunrise and were rewarded with some stunning scenery.
One of the three most recognizable volcanic craters, Kerið’s almost perfect caldera (a large cauldron-like depression) is approximately 55 m (180 ft) deep, 170 m (560 ft) wide, and 270 m (890 ft) across and approximately 3,000 years old
Land owners now charge an entrance fee of 400 ISK (Icelandic Kroner) to see the crater. Luckily, no one was collecting the fee on the day we visited and we were able to enter the area for free.
The Great Geysir
Iceland’s Great Geysir is a periodically erupting hot spring that can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. It’s estimated to be around 10,000 years old and is usually more active after volcanic activity in the area and can stop for years at a time. It was particularly active on the day that we visited, erupting every 5-10 minutes.
There is no entrance fee to visit the Great Geysir. The nearby gift shop and canteen offer a great stop for lunch or rest after a long stint in the car.
Gullfoss (Golden Falls)
Located in the canyon of the Hvítá river, Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. The wide curved three-step “staircase” abruptly plunges in two stages (11 metres and 21 metres) into a crevice 32 metres (105 ft) deep. Gullfoss is one of the most beautiful waterfalls. You can see it’s beauty for free from a high viewing platform or a lower walking path.
Splashing about in geothermal pools
A trip to Iceland is never complete without a dip in some hot springs. Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal pools on the Golden Circle route was the perfect stop after a long day in the car.
The spa and wellness centre is built on natural hot springs and offers steam baths, four different temperature geothermal pools and a freezing cold lake for the adventurous. Check out Dan’s video to see if we took up the challenge!
(Laugarvatn Fontana is open most days between 11am and 10pm. It may be closed or close early on some holidays. Admission fee is 3.800 ISK per adult)
Many people visit the Blue Lagoon on their trip to Iceland. Having visited there in May 2012, I can highly recommend the Blue Lagoon as a fantastic experience.
(The Blue Lagoon is open most days between 8am and 8pm (longer in the summer months). Pre-booking is always required. Admission fee varies between 5.400 ISK per adult and 26.500 ISK per adult, depending on the package you desire. Some packages include a reservation at the on-site restaurant, Lava)
Instead of following the full Golden Circle route back towards Reykjavík, we drove south to Selfoss and visited some friends who had booked a cabin in the middle of Iceland via Airbnb. Had there been no clouds in the sky and a KP index of 3.5 or more, we might have seen the Northern Lights from their tiny cabin.
Day two: a winter road trip through snow and ice
On our second winter road trip morning, the skies were dark and cloudy and the conditions were snowy. We changed our itinerary along Route 1 (R1) a little and skipped some places we had planned to stop at. So, I think we’ll have to visit Iceland again to see Eyjafjallajökull (volcano E15) viewing spot near Hvolsvöllur, Skogafoss (waterfall) and Solheimasandur (a plane wreckage on the black sand beach).
Driving over the mountains to get to the village of Vík, we had to drive very carefully and slowly with hazard lights on through blizzards to avoid driving off the road. It was some of the scariest driving we’ve experienced.
I was happy to experience the incredible beauty of the island as we drove past lava fields, Icelandic horses, mountains and glaciers to the southernmost part of Iceland. It made it a perfect winter road trip in Iceland!
About 120km from Reykjavík, our first stop was the beautiful Seljalandsfoss. The Seljalands River originates from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull and drops 60 m (197 ft) in a single waterfall that has enough space for visitors to walk behind. Many visitors chose not to climb along the icy and slippery rocky path behind the waterfall. Except for Dan. Dan scarpered down the slippery rock face to get the photo of the day.
Sólheimajökull glacier walk
You might recall the April 2010 eruptions from Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland disrupted air travel through Europe for several days. Low cloud prevented us from seeing the 1,651 m summit, but we found out that Eyjafjallajökull consists of a volcano completely covered by a 100 square km icecap which feeds many outlet glaciers.
We parked the car at the end of road 221 and walked 15 minutes out to Sólheimajökull, the south western outlet of the Mýrdalsjökull icecap. It’s about 8 km long, 1-2 km wide and an absolutely surreal sight.
Some tour companies will give you guides and special equipment that allow you to walk on the glacier for around 14.500 ISK. Don’t try it alone.
Look out for more of my posts on how to experience Iceland on a budget!
Looking for more travel inspiration?
Check out my recommendation on what to do in:
Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Oslo, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo and Washington D.C.