Iceland, a Nordic nation in Europe have fulfilled our imagination for years. Our and most of the people we know. The answer to that is simple, the dramatic landscaping. We want to take the adventure here by doing the new route that opened this summer. So, we planned an Arctic Coast Way itinerary.
The country is a paradise for any nature lover, photographer or videographer. From volcanos to glaciers, from mountains to black sandy beaches, there is so much to see and do here. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The climate is tundra, mostly because of the high latitude and marine influence.
Being the world’s 18th largest island and Europe's second-largest island, the country concentrated two-thirds of the population in the capital: Reykjavik.
Situated in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, meaning that the oceanic crust spreads and forms a new one. Herein also the boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plates.
Iceland is a country of contrast. The coastline is known by the punctuate fjords and the interior, the highlands are cold, the uninhabitable combination of sand, mountains and lava fields.
Nature conservation is a wide concern by local people. They trying to protect what they have at all cost, so they have strict rules. That was also one of the many reasons that make want to visit this incredible country.
We are not going to lie; it was difficult to plan an itinerary. With so much to do and see and so limited time, we had to make some options. Our goals were to visit a part of not so popular in the country. The north was our main goal for this Iceland road trip.
To enter Iceland is always a good idea to check the conditions according to your nationality. The country is a member of EFTA (European Free Trade Association and a party to the Schengen Agreement.
This means that most of the European countries (from the European Economic Area) only need a valid passport. The same rule applies for countries listed under the Schengen visa-free agreement.
Everyone visiting Iceland should take the Icelandic Pledge. This means, to be responsible as a tourist. It’s an online agreement which tourists can sign, to promise respect nature while travelling Iceland.
More and more it’s important to be conscious about nature. Tourist always has a fundamental role in this when travelling to a country.
We saw some bad behaviours in Iceland. This makes us sad. But we will continue to battle for the awareness. And to be honest we see a lot of changes in countries policies to preserve what they have.
Iceland is a unique country but, if we don’t follow rules, if we don’t be conscious about it, if we do not behave like a tourist…We will end up destroying everything and future generations can’t have the same luck as we did in see some of the most amazing things.
So, please, make sure you are wise and sign it was we did it before entering the country for our Arctic Coast Way itinerary. Not only sign but, above all, you must accomplish what you agreed.
Arctic Coast Way Itinerary
The tourism of Iceland opening this summer this new route. Making wonder on the north part of the country, in some of the most unexplored places.
The Arctic Coast Way is all about to going off the beaten track to discover some of the magical places in the north. The route is 900 km of coastal roads close to the Arctic Circle. Included are 6 peninsulas, where you can observe black sandy beaches, amazing cliffs, glacial river, mountains, volcanos and fjords.
The 21 villages that compose the Arctic Coast Way itinerary tell unique stories about daily life on the edge of the Arctic. This route is clearly to discover Icelandic culture, connect with people and nature.
Depending on the season our can expect lots of colours and the midnight sun or dramatic tones and northern lights. It is a route to be done all year round.
We knew from the very beginning this was something that suits us. So, after deciding to focus on the Arctic Coast Way route, we had to plan another thing. What was the best way to return to Reykjavik?
The capital was our beginning point but, also the final destination. So, we easily decided to round up the island. The main goal was the Arctic Coast Way but, leaving some space to explore a few points in the south.
We didn't plan much for the south, but we know he had to stop in some sights. We just kept the window open for the adventure.
Flying with Wizz Air
From London, Luton airport we flew with Wizz Air. Cheapest fares, comfortable seats, pleasant flight. It was our first time with this company and we love it.
Wizz Air is a Hungarian low-cost airline with its head office in Budapest. Today they offer over 600 routes in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
In 2015 they made a full brand rejuvenation. According to their website, they moved to a more vibrant, fresh, sophisticated look and feel. Few of the initiatives introduced in conjunction with the branding initiative were: sear allocation, priority boarding, enhanced fare system, amongst many others.
In 2016 they were elected Value Airline of the Year by Air Transport World, a leading industry magazine.
The main goal of the company is value-oriented, focus on innovation but, were everyone can fly affordably.
Wizz Air started its UK flights over 12 years ago and now operates 80 routes at 9 UK airports. The airline offers several flights, schedule at Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, from London Luton to Reykjavik, with the lowest fare starting at £39,99.
(one way, including all taxes, non-optional charges and one small cabin bag). For more information about Wizz Air’s routes or to book, visit wizzair.com.
We were so happy with this that even flew with Wizz Air from Porto, Portugal to London, Luton for a cheap price too.
They are a safe company, with no major accidents reported. And this year, 2019 they even were elected the greenest airline in Europe. This means they operated at the lowest CO2 emissions per passenger among all airlines in the European Union.
We were so happy with this. If you are going to Iceland please check Wizz Air for the best fares.
Day 1 - Arriving in Reykjavik
After we arrive at Keflavik International Airport our dear friends from Happy Campers were patiently waiting for us, at the arrival hall.
They took us to their office to pick up our home on heels. After a quick introducing and tour around we were ready to hit the road. But, before was time to last-minute information about Iceland, how to drive in the country and any question we had.
Happy Campers are organised, they will make your trip wonderful and help you before, in the planning and after the arrival in Iceland. We couldn't thank them enough. They are one of the reasons for our Iceland road trip went so well.
So, after we pick up our van our first stop was the supermarket in Reykjavik to buy food for the week. Eating out in Iceland is not cheap. We want to make the most of our little home, so cooking our meals was the best option.
Here is a list of some Iceland supermarkets:
- Bónus, the cheapest. With a nice range of products;
- Krónan, not so cheap was the first one. But they got freshly things;
- Netto, with a good range of products and many stores;
- Hagkaup were you can buy everything, from food to appliances and toiletries.
Moving forward and we no time to lose we didn't stay much in the capital and headed west. Although we did go for an Arctic Coast Way itinerary we want to tackle one of the most famous sights in the country. That is Kirkjufell.
Located on the north coast of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Just a walk distance from the town, Grundarfjordur.
It is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. With 463 meters high, the name Kirkjufell means ‘church mountain'. This is due to the shape.
The mountain was formed millions of years by glacial erosion in Iceland. The layers of rock are visible from bottom to the top. This is the result of many volcanic eruptions. Kirkjufell was located between two glaciers and these influenced the shape of it.
It's possible to climb the mountain. It will take you about 1h 30 from to reach the top. The view should be quite impressive. But, be careful. This is only possible when weather conditions permit.
There isn't the best time to visit Kirkjufell. The mountain looks different in every season. So, the scenic view is always changing. The sunrise and the sunset are the best times of the day to go. Just avoid peak hours if you don't want much crowd.
Did you know? Kirkjufell feature in Game of Thrones. Scenes in season 6 and 7 were filmed near bye. If you are a fan you can recognize as the ‘arrow-headed mountain'.
The best angle to photograph?
We think Kirkjufell is so beautiful that almost every angle is good.
It depends on what you want. Most common in from the left side. Where you can get the mountain and the waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss. Another good perspective is, using the lake like a mirror. The reflection will give you a nice photo. But, keep in mind this is only possible if it is calm.
You can be creative and use higher ground for a new perspective.
Even from the side of the road is good to take a photo. Take advantage of the road going along the north shore of the peninsula.
If you get lucky at night, you can get the so waited shot. Kirkjufell and northern lights are a good combination at wintertime. To a magnificent shoot just point your camera to the top of the mountain from the base.
One popular spot is from the hills above the waterfall. We saw many people there. The panoramic view of the town and the fjord complete the mountain. From the beach, just below the gas station, you can frame Kirkjufell in an interesting photo.
After visiting Kirkjufell and exploring the nearby we just continue our Iceland road trip. We wanted to be nearby of the first village of the Arctic Coast Way Itinerary: Hvammstangi.
But it got impossible to be there before the dawn because every 5 minutes we wanted to stop to admiring the view and taking photos.
We ended staying in a nearby town: Búdardalur, at a parking space. The app Park4night will give up good help. You can find places where is nice to rest for the night. All of these places are shared by other travellers and you can share it too.
Day 2 - Discover the North of Iceland
One of the things to keep in mind in Iceland is, if you want to make the most of your day, you need to wake up early. This is of course for wintertime. As for summer, you can easily have more light.
So, we wake up at 6 a.m. took a nice breakfast in our van and drive. We wanted to reach the first village on the Arctic Coast Way itinerary early. Although, Búdardalur isn’t part of the Arctic Coast Way Itinerary we were so close that ended up checking it.
The village received us with silence. It was early, really early. We didn’t spend much time here. But some of the services include:
- a supermarket;
- gas station;
- restaurant/coffee shop;
- the folk museum;
- a craft shop;
- hair salon;
- information center;
- a campsite.
After a few minutes scrolling around Búdardalur, I said goodbye until the first village on the Arctic Coast Way itinerary.
Driving around Iceland it's such a joy. The scenic view with a shy light of the morning makes it perfect. Hvammstangi is one of the most populated in the area. The village is very important for trading and educational provider.
There is an Icelandic Seal Center on the harbour. It is free to enter; you can ask for information about the village and seals. Or you can also indulge in a tour for seal watching.
We didn't go. We heard that many times you can easily see seals from the harbour. But because we didn't spend much time there, we didn't see any.
The village was the largest textile factory in the country. If you are planning to stay here for the night there is also a campsite with facilities for cooking, barbecue area, toilets, waste disposal, electricity and more.
Just drive a little more outside the village, through the route that passes by. It will worth when you see the Skardsviti lighthouse. You can park on the side of the road, there is a space for it. For us, it looked like a postcard with the morning light and the sheep's around the field.
We had so much to do on this day. The next village on the Arctic Coast Way itinerary was Blonduós. But before we had time to pass by Hvitserkur. It's an impressive rock formation with a black sandy beach on the side. If the weather permits you can even see many birds and seals sunbathing.
We didn't have luck; it was to wind. Still worth the visit.
Blonduós is like no other village. First, it split in two by the river Blanda. One side in more modern, the other still keep many of the original houses. We felt in love.
They have the only wool washery textile museum in Iceland. Good services and facilities for tourism purpose are available. Plenty of guesthouses, hotels, cottages and a campsite near the river. We even had time to take a quick coffee at the N1 gas station and admiring the view to the mountains.
After Blonduós, the next villages Skagastrond and Saudárkrokur were easier to access. The first one, Skagastrond, got us curious because of the Ness Artist Residence. It is a place for artists to develop their work. A little talk with local people and we saw they are interested in the work of the artists.
In Skagastrond natural landscaping are incredible. The Spákonufell mountain rise above the little village.
Locally, Spákonufell is known as Prophetess Mountain. Hiding an enormous treasure there, local people said the key stands in the keyhole. This was all done by the prophetess Pórdis, who was a master in witchcraft.
So, of course, the treasure is protected by a spell. Until now, no one was able to break it.
We reached Saudárkrokur a little bit late them we expected. So, the visit was really quick. But, if you are on the road in Iceland you know it can be hard not to stop everywhere.
The village is one of the largest in the northwest, so much busier than the other we were on this day. Don't forget to stop by:
- Black sandy beach Borgarsanduo;
- Ashidarholtsvatu lake;
- Miklavatn lake;
- River Heradsvotn;
- The tannery visitor center.
From here to Hofsós it was just a few minutes. Although, we ended up being at the last village of the day almost at dawn.
Hofsós is known by the boat cruises to see the geological features, that only can be seen from the sea. Another popular thing is birdwatching and sightseeing trip to the uninhabited island of Málmey.
The island of Drangey can also be seen in the distance. He had planning to stay in the campsite in Hofsós but, with everyone saying it was a good night to seeing the northern lights, the sky was clear, we decided to stay outside the village.
It was placed just nearby the road, but where we can saw a clear sky. We talk to the landlord and he said we can stay there for the night.
Icelandic people are nice, you only have to respect them and their country. They are friendly and most of the time there can help you. Just don't hesitate to talk to them.
Magical Northern Lights
On the second night in Iceland, we had the most unbelievable surprise: northern lights!
The place we stayed in was dark and we can watch the almost whole sky. We were inside our van just checking the next day Iceland road trip itinerary. When suddenly we just notice some lights out there.
We open the door and…we can’t even express our surprise! The northern lights were there! A deep green colour, something with pink shades when it was more intense. They were seeming to be dancing in the sky.
Serious, we look like kids. Smiling, giggling, dancing…No words can't describe the moment. We were truly happy and hope everyone had the chance to see them. It is one in a lifetime opportunity. Nature never seize to amazes us.
If you are going to Iceland, here is some help for the northern lights:
- Vedur – the Icelandic met office page, to check the weather;
- My Aurora Forecast & alerts – a good app, that gives you everything about northern lights. Inclusive best places to see. It is precise. You can download on the Google Store.
Day 3 - Meeting the whales and fishing towns
We woke up tired but, it worth it. What a night! We saw the northern lights. Our goal was being in Akureyri at 09:30 a.m. for the whale watching tour.
Along the way, we didn't have much time to stop. But, once again the landscaping was stunning. We had to drive on a mountain road, early. It was perfect, such a pleasant driving.
Once in Akureyri, we meet our guide from Keli Sea Tours, a family business company.
Keli Sea Tours…
They are three brothers with a passion for the sea. The oak boat they use was originally built by their father and colleagues in 1975.
Some year later, when the boat was ready to be sold for scraps, they managed to buy it. Working hard on renovations they had the help of family and friends. A difficult task but, completed and now it is used to sail the fjord waves, for of memories.
The oak boat named Áskell Egilsson, the name of their father. It isn’t not only a piece of oak but, something where they put all the effort and the result is an amazing boat.
The first part of the tour includes going by van until reach Grevivík (25 minutes from Akureyri) where the boat was. When arrived, we all had to put overalls (floating suits) just for a safety measure. For the record it was nice, keep us warm and safe.
Sailing in this oak boat it was marvellous. The sun contrast with the fresh air of the fjord, lovely morning. Watching whales can be tricky and for a long time, we didn't saw them.
After a long waiting, they were finally there, just a few meters from the boat. It was all humpback whales, greeting us. It was crazy! Wow! Having the pleasure to watch a giant like this is breathtaking.
They are beautiful wild creatures. And we had the best captain and crew onboard to guide us in this adventure. On the way back to the harbour we had time for a quick coffee and biscuits, courtesy of Keli Sea Tour.
They are the best in the business and it is a family company. So, any money you spend with them, you are helping the local family business to thrive. Please, feel free to do it on here. It worth it!
As for the rest of the day we had Siglufjordur, Olafsfjordur, Dalvik, Arskogssandur, Hauganes and Hjalfeyri to visit before backing to Akureyri.
After the whale watching tour, they brought us back to Akureyri and we hit the road again. Here are what we learn and some fact of all the village we visit in the afternoon.
The last village hidden in a narrow fjord. You have to cross the mountain to get there, the dual Hedinsfjordur tunnels. With a small airport, only for private small planes.
- the folk music center;
- Sildarminjasafnid herring museum, largest marine and industrial museum in Europe;
- do a midnight sail across the Arctic Circle;
- trying angling on the Holsa river;
- at summer you have a black sandy beach;
- at winter choose from skiing, cross-country, slalom or snowmobile.
Surrounded by mountain peaks and just a few minutes from the preview village. It is good to visit at any time of the year.
We just scroll around town until the lake. It is perfect for fishing but we didn’t try. Local people indicated us the Palshus Museum, it is dedicated to nature. But we didn’t have much time so, we didn’t go.
The village has a golf club, and a geothermal pool if you like to relax.
Slightly bigger than other villages, it is located on the valley of Svarfadardalur. From here you can:
- take a boat to Grímsey island, Iceland northernmost community;
- hiking trails with local guides;
- -at winter, make use of Boggvisstadafall ski area, one of the best in the country;
- go to the golf-club;
- go to the football field for a game;
- take a whale watching tour;
- relax at the local swimming pool;-visit Hvoll Folk Museum.
Did you know…
Dalvik name inspired a process virtual machine in Google’s Android system.
Located just 10 minutes way from Dalvik. We did have a quick visit because it is really small. Although, you can make a trip to the nearby Hrísey island. Or enjoy a visit to the Kaldi micro-brewery. There is located the first beer spa in Iceland.
Hauganes is well-known for whale watching. Having the oldest tour operator in Iceland. People came to Hauganes not only for this but, for hiking in the valley, take a walk on the black sandy beach or fishing in the harbour.
We went around and also find a nice campsite with two hot tubs. We didn’t stay for the night but, we recommend if you are nearby.
For us, Portuguese there is a nice restaurant where they serve salted codfish (bacalhao). We are huge consumers of the fish and the main products sold in Portugal came from Norway and Iceland.
The little village of Hjalteyri makes a nice quite impressive when you reach there. Don't get fooled like us. The old building you see is often used for an art exhibition, special in summer months.
Once again, it possible to go on a whale watching from here. The thing we did like the most was the harbour. It was sunset time, we just sat there and relax, watching our surroundings. From here you can dive on the world only geothermal chimney that recreational divers can reach. It is a lifetime opportunity to see the Strytur underwater geothermal cones.
Back in Akureyri, we didn't have lots of time to explore. But the capital of the north as they called it to have a special place in our heart.
From the biggest library to the Laufas Turf homes, the botanical garden, the church or the swimming pool, an airport, Aakureyri have it all.
We reached the Hamrar campsite and stayed for the night there. We truly recommend it was the best campsite of our trip. Good installations, big and with all the services we need. At night we even had the chance to watch the northern lights from there.
It was the second day in a row. This time we shared the moment with a few campers and had a nice conversation. We were so lucky and grateful for this moment.
If you want to see every campsite is Iceland this is the best website to do it.
Day 4 - Another world in the North
Early in the morning, we leave the campsite in Akureyri to another destination. When we crossed the bridge in the village heading to Myvatn there is a good spot just on the left side of the road.
You can see the entire village and the morning foggy will had some mysticism. A few meters away from it in the new tunnel but we continue for the old road.
There is a tunnel, opened in 2018, that connect Akureyri to Myvatn. It is the only road in Iceland you have to pay to cross. But you don't need to do it. We just took the old road (see on the map below), save money, the time of the journey was almost the same and we even got to watch the natural view.
We went for Svalbardseyri, another little village on our Arctic Coast Way itinerary. It is one of the smallest villages in Iceland.
There's an art gallery and a church to visit. In the summertime, the swimming pool is open for everyone. But the main attraction is the scenic view you can contemplate.
Driving in a hurry on the old road we reach Godafoss. One of the most popular waterfalls in the north. The name means waterfall of the gods. The history behind is connected with the conversion to Christianity in Iceland.
You can easily access to the waterfall through a parking area from the Westside, where we access. From Eastside you can take the advantage to stand up top or go down to the river. There is a lot of vantage points to see it and the light of the morning will help with photos.
Go early. Because when we came back to the van ending the visit a lot of people were coming. So, we got lucky with the time.
There is a smaller waterfall on the side of the road across the bridge. You can park on the N1 gas station, from the Westside. It worth to stop.
Continue our Iceland road trip to Myvatn, the Iceland northern lights capital. The area is known by the active volcanism. Which make it a high amount of biological activity is the surrounding. This is a must go in the north even though it wasn't in Arctic Coast Way itinerary.
Being in Myvatn is astonishing. But, plan carefully, there is a lot to see.
Here was our itinerary around the lake:
-Skútustadagígar – the are have some row pseudo-craters. We did the small trail around the pond but, if you have more time there is a big trail (almost 1h). Any of these will give a good perspective of the surrounding environment. It was magical, only us, the sheep and the view.
-Hofdi – we stopped at a parking space for lunch with the most amazing view over Lake Myvatn. There are numerous trails you can do here.
-Dimmuborgir - a field of lava formations. Made from different volcanic caves and rock formations, with a collapsed lava tube formed by an old lava lake.
-Hverfjall – a volcanic crater. When we were driving there, it was like being on another planet. The surrounding is crazy. It is possible to hike to the top, it is free, and the climbing not so challenging.
-Grjótagjá Cave – a small lava cave, popular for the serving as filming location of Game of Thrones. Please be respectful as the land is private ownership of Vogar farm. We have to confess; we were a bit disappointed. But if you hike a little bit you can see all the cracks that extend over a few kilometres, it was interesting.
-Myvatn Geothermal Area – we stopped at a place on the roadside called Blue Lake. Smells of sulphur everywhere. The boiling blue water makes it too hot for baths. But, Myvatn Nature Baths is just a few minutes away if you want to bath.
-Hverir – this place is surreal. You can feel connected to the power of the planet. It is a geothermal area, with display fumaroles, large mud pools, steam vents and an orange-red landscape. It was one of our favourite places in the north. Don´t stay too long, it is not recommended because of sulphur smell. Please, please respect all the sign, walk only on the paths and marked trails. We saw some disrespectful tourists! It is important to preserve places like this so, be conscious.
-Krafla – a volcano caldera, where 29 reported eruptions occurred. It is impressive to see. We went for the Víti crater, famed for the green lake within it. Worth the trip.
After almost all day in Myvatn, we drive further north to Husavík where we stayed for the night.
Day 5 - The coast of elemental nature
When you are on an Iceland road trip you want to make the most of it. So, wake up early is a must-do. Everything in Husavík was closed, so, unfortunately, we didn't explore much.
Husavík is one of the oldest settlements in Iceland. Incredible for whale watching, even have the title of Iceland's whale watching capital. There is a local museum with a notorious life-size blue whale skeleton.
Did you know…
Apollo astronauts trained in Husavík in the '60s?! For that, nowadays you can find an exploration museum with a monument outside dedicated to this fact.
Although, we didn't have much time for Husavík we love the village. If you are staying there a little bit longer perhaps it's a go idea to use their newly open geothermal baths: Geosea. The place even made TIME the world's greatest places for this year.
Heading further north on our Arctic Coast Way itinerary he had time to check an intriguing place, the Ásbyrgi canyon. We were surprised when no one as there. Ok, maybe it was early. But having an entire canyon for us was priceless!
We walked on the signed paths until get to the lake was magical. The view, with the sound of the birds…what a moment. We just sat down, close our eyes and embrace what nature gives us.
There are many trails you can indulge to see the canyon from different perspectives. But with to much time spend it there (totally worth it), we got back on the road.
The last two villages on our Arctic Coast Way itinerary were:
-Kópasker, with an earthquake center, where you can see an exhibition about the theme. Don’t forget to pass by the new lake created by the earthquake, in the south of Kópasker.
-Raufarhofn – where the northernmost community of mainland Iceland lives. From here you can book a sail to take you north across the Arctic Circle. The tiny village got an interesting monument: The Arctic Henge.
A man-made monument. A massive structure made of basalt columns located on a hill with an unrestricted view in all directions.
The monument was inspired from Eddic poem Prophecy of the Seeress, taking from it the 72 dwarves who represent the seasons in the world of the poem. In the monument, the 72 small blocks have each been inscribed with a specific dwarven name.
The midnight sun will be visible through the various formations at different vantage points depending on the season.
Backing on the road we didn’t go visit the last two villages on the Arctic Coast Way itinerary: Pórshofn and Bakkafjordur. Time wasn't much and we had to make some choices. So, on our way to Egilsstadir, we passed by Dettifoss and Selfoss.
Is many times pointed as the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is located inside a canyon. To reach the waterfall we went for road 864 on the east side towards road 1. Be careful if you are using the same road. It is a gravel road, not in good conditions and at winter is closed.
On the west side, there is road 862. Gravel road too. From Dettifoss onwards south to road 1, on the west river bank a newly paved road in open. So, maybe a better option.
We didn't go to Selfoss. There is a walking trail of 2.5 km until Selfoss. Another waterfall nearby is Hafragilsfoss.
It was late, almost dark and we were driving fast until reach Egilsstadir. There is a nice family-owned campsite where we stayed for the night.
Our main goal in visiting Iceland was the Arctic Coast Way itinerary. Of course, with such a little time spend it there you had to make options. Although, we didn't visit every single village on the route we try to make the most of it. The north of Iceland seems more genuine. There is a lot to see and nature connection everywhere you go.
It's definitely a route you must take if you want to see a less touristic Iceland. Once you go, for sure you will want to visit again.
As we still had time, we decided to dedicate to the east and South Coast of Iceland. You can follow our Iceland travel itinerary in these areas.