When I decided to plan a trip to Iceland, I knew I wanted to see a little of Reykjavik, but I was also keen to explore further afield by hiring a car.
Roaming beyond Reykjavik gives you far better odds of experiencing the Northern Lights, as there’s less light pollution outside the capital. It also allows you to experience the barren beauty of rural Iceland, from massive glaciers to active geysers and thermal pools to technicolour landscapes surrounding active volcanoes.
We began our trip with three days in Reykjavik and then spent a few days following a self-drive itinerary, travelling towards Vik on the south coast and then heading up to the scenic Snaefellsnes Peninsula on the north-west coast, about 3.5 hours from Reykjavik.
Iceland has many beautiful waterfalls located within an hour’s drive of Reykjavik. They’re everywhere! Each one is raw with beauty and sheer power. The waterfall in this photo is called Skógafoss, located on the south coast of Iceland. It’s reached easily by driving along the ring road from Reykjavik towards Vik.
The small town of Vik completed the end of our first day visiting the South Coast. The drive from Reykjavik to Vik takes around 2.5 hours, but I recommend you allow a full day so that you can stop off a few times to visit the waterfalls and take photos of the beautiful countryside. Vik also has a few attractions including Reynisfjara, an intriguing black-sand beach, and the stunning rock arch of Dyrhólaey.
In Icelandic, Dyrhólaey means ‘the hill island with the door hole’. If you’re not afraid of heights (its 120m high), you can walk to the arch, from where you’ll get panoramic views of the black coastline.
While you drive through Iceland, you’ll notice the famously small Icelandic ponies dotted across the fields. The Icelandic pony is a unique breed of small horse that came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway 1100 years ago. Icelandic horses are known for being sure-footed and able to cross rough terrain of the Icelandic countryside.
If you like to ride, you can book a ride on an Icelandic pony as a day trip from Reykjavik. If you’re a reasonably experienced rider, you can take a journey into the Reykjanes preservation area. On horseback, you can trek through the lava fields and cross rivers – with more leisurely tours available for less experienced riders.
Travelling North West from Reykjavik to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula you can see the remoteness of the villages along the coastal roads. This picture of the house was taken in Arnarstapi and behind is Mount Stapafell. While this is a remote stretch of coast, there’s still plenty of small coastal towns you can stop off and visit along the way and also take advantage of trying traditional Icelandic food.
I travelled in February when it was freezing, so it was a welcome break to enjoy a bowl of soup called kjötsúpa - a traditional Icelandic meaty soup, made with lamb and vegetables. It’s renowned as a lifesaver to Icelandic people from times when food was scarce and to provide energy to battle the winter weather.
Driving through the Snaefellsnes National Park is exceptionally scenic. You can easily spend the day discovering this beautiful region, with its volcanoes and stunning in-land and coastal scenery.
Make sure you visit the Eldborg crater which is believed to have been most active between 5000-8000 years ago. You can also discover the Snæfellsjökull glacier which is 1446m long – it’s the main attraction of this national park.
Londrangar and the surrounding hills are the remains of a volcanic crater, which has been eroded to its present form by the sea. Icelandic folklore includes many stories about elves and trolls set amongst this barren landscape.
Mt. Kirkjufell has to be my favourite Mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss my favourite waterfall - it’s the photographed falls in Iceland. Kirkjufell is 463m high, and from one side it looks like a church steeple or a witch’s hat.
Driving in Iceland has to be one of my best travelling experiences, as you get to experience the beautiful country-side which most travellers miss with only visiting Reykjavik for a few nights stay. If you intend to visit Iceland in the winter, please be careful as you can experience snow blizzards.
I recommend hiring a 4WD vehicle in Iceland as, during the winter months, the road can be very icy. Another tip for winter self-drives when it’s very blustery; make sure you hold on to the car door when you open it! Many hire cars are returned without the passenger door when the strong winds have blown it off!
If you're lucky enough to see them, you'll be left speechless. The Northern Lights are far more amazing than any photo can convey. Even seeing them firsthand, it's hard to believe your eyes.
If you’re interested in a self-drive holiday in Iceland, I can arrange every aspect of your trip, from flights and transfers to accommodation, car hire and itinerary planning. Iceland is also easily included in a broader itinerary, as a stopover on the way to many destinations in the USA and Canada – see our Iceland tailor-made holidays (including flights) and Iceland trip ideas (excluding flights) for more inspiration. To plan your trip, contact David.