Iceland is called the Land of Fire and Ice and now that I’ve visited I understand why. Iceland has around 45 volcanoes and the Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest icecap in Europe.
During an Iceland winter road trip you’ll constantly be amazed, there is always a volcano, waterfall or glacier insight… Iceland definitely is one of the most impressive places I’ve ever visited!
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Iceland winter road trip
Winter road trip Iceland map
Iceland 1-week winter itinerary: must-sees and highlights
Day 1: Reykjavík to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Total distance: 220km
Scenic route around Hvalfjörður: after picking up our camper van and after taking a look at the weather forecast we decided to drive to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Instead of taking the (much faster) tunnel north we made a detour around the Hvalfjörður, a beautiful 30 kilometer long fjord. The Fjord was partially frozen which made for some cool (pun intended;-) pictures.
Glymur Waterfall: at the end of the Hvalfjörður there is a small road leading to a parking lot. This is where the 7,5km round-trip hike to the famous Glymur Waterfall begins. Glymur is 198 meters tall, making it the 2nd highest waterfall in Iceland.
Unfortunately we couldn’t reach the waterfall, the river had partially frozen over but there was no safe way to get across.
While I would have loved to see the Glymur Waterfall, we didn’t feel like risking our lives for it. Nevertheless, the part of the hike we did was beautiful and led through a cave and along the river.
Campsite: we stayed at the Stykkishólmur campsite. The campsite was closed (so no facilities) but we parked there anyway because there were no open winter campsites around.
Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Total distance: 200km
Scenic route from Stykkishólmur to Grundarfjörður: this was my favorite drive of our one week road trip, what a splendid route! The views along the way were nothing short of breathtaking, we must have pulled over a dozen times (only in safe places, we never stopped on the road because it’s dangerous and stupid).
Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss: Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland and it does have an iconic shape. Combined with the beautifully frozen Kirkjufellsfoss it made for an impressive stop.
Scenic route around the Snæfellsjökull: from Kirkjufell we continued our drive around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The mountain that you’ll continuously see along the way is the 1446 meters tall Snaefellsjokull volcano, which is part of the Snaefellsjokull National Park. Again we stopped countless times to take pictures of the amazing views…
Gerduberg Cliffs: our last stop of the day were the Gerðuberg cliffs, a 500 meter long row of basalt columns. It’s a very impressive sight and it always makes me wonder how these natural phenomena are formed.
Campsite: we spent the night at Snorrastadir campsite. The price for one night was 2000 ISK (Icelandic Krona), approximately €20. Included in the price is full use of the kitchen and toilets, free hot showers, and fast WiFi. We were the only ones there so we had the entire place to ourselves!
Day 3: Hiking Mount Eldborg
Total distance: 125km
Hiking to Mount Eldborg: this hike was one of the highlights of our trip, let me explain why… We woke up to a completely white world surrounding our camper van, apparently it had been snowing the entire night! Instead of hitting the snow-covered road we decided to hike to the top of the nearby volcano Mt. Eldborg.
The trail was covered in snow so we had to careful to stay on the trail. But with the help of our Icelandic map on Maps.me we managed perfectly.
The mysterious morning mists slowly evaporated and revealed a herd of Icelandic horses. There was no sound but that of our footsteps in the fresh snow and when sunrise finally came we had a spectacular view of Mt. Eldborg and the surrounding mountains.
The trail is mostly flat most, apart from the last part where it’s a short but steep climb to the edge of the 60 meter high crater. The 7 km round-trip hike took us 2 hours but without the snow I recon you could do it within 1,5 hours.
Akranes Lighthouse: a picturesque lighthouse (or actually two lighthouses) in a cute little village.
Campsite: we didn’t stay on a campsite but in an Airbnb in Reykjavík instead. We had to do some laundry and take a shower. Also, the campsite in Reykjavík costs 2400 ISK per person per night so booking an Airbnb was only a little more expensive.
Day 4: Þingvellir in the rain
Total distance: 130 km
Þingvellir: unfortunately it was snowing and raining the entire day so we didn’t explore Þingvellir (also called Thingvellir) as extensive as we would have wanted. We walked around the site for about an hour but there is much more to see. If the weather allows it I would suggest spending an entire morning/afternoon at Þingvellir. Parking costs are 500 ISK.
We wanted to visit other highlights on the Golden Circle, such as Geysir, Strokkur and Gullfoss but the roads were either closed or extremely slippery. Read more about visiting the Golden Circle.
Campsite: because of the bad weather we could only drive very slowly so we didn’t cover much distance on day 4. We stayed at Arhus campsite even though it was closed. We asked the people in the restaurant if we could park for the night and they said it was okay. More information about the campsite can be found here.
Day 5: Waterfalls and black sand beaches
Total distance: 180 km
Scenic South Coast route: just driving in Iceland is a joy, we pulled over so many times each day to admire the views…
Seljalandsfoss: we only passed by this beautiful waterfall, but you can park (700 ISK) and make a short hike into a cave behind the waterfall.
Skógafoss: a very impressive 60 meter high waterfall! After taking a picture from the bottom of the waterfall we hiked to the top for a beautiful view.
Dyrhólaey: this was one of my favorite stops along the South Coast! The combination of the magical light, the black lava beaches and the pounding ocean was absolutely splendid.
Day 6: Svartifoss and Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon
Total distance: 140 km
Svartifoss: I wanted to see Svartifoss no matter what. Unfortunately a storm was raging that day which made our hike (3km return) very difficult. We couldn’t go all the way down to the viewpoint because the path had completely frozen and because of the rain it had turned into one big slippery ice-slide.
We fell twice before giving up and turning back (I’m glad we did, we would have never been able to come back up). Nevertheless, we managed to see the impressive basalt columns and waterfall, albeit from a distance.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach: luckily the storm let up in the afternoon and we could explore the famed Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon with the floating icebergs and beautiful Diamond Beach with its mesmerizing ice sculptures.
Day 7: Vik and the DC3 plane wreck
Total distance: 300 km
Lómagnúpur: this iconic and photogenic mountain is easily visible from the road and definitely worth a quick stop. As far as I know it’s not possible to hike/climb this mountain, but you can admire it from afar.
Vik i Myrdal Church:possibly the most famous church in Iceland besides Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavík) and a pretty picture indeed.
DC 3 Plane Wreck at Sólheimasandur: on our way east there was too much rain to hike to the famous plane wreck but luckily the weather was great on our way back.
The hike is a little over 7km return and very easy (just follow all the people;-). The wreck isn’t very big but it’s such an alien sight on the black beach, definitely a worthwhile stop!
Campsite: we stayed at Arhus campsite again (same as day 4) after asking if that was okay.
Day 8: Kerið and Reykjavík
Total distance: 140 km
Kerið: I wanted to visit Kerið after visiting Þingvellir but as mentioned earlier in the post, the weather was terrible on day 4 so we skipped it. But we had some time on the day we drove back to Reykjavík and made a detour (via Laugarás) to see this small volcanic lake.
When the lake isn’t frozen it has a vibrant blue color, but it also looked beautiful dressed in ice and snow. A short hike leads over the rim, see those tiny specs in the picture below? Those are people on the trail. The entrance fee for Kerið is 400 ISK per person.
Reykjavík: Reykjavík isn’t very big but has a very nice atmosphere and some nice sightseeing attractions. We walked past Tjörnin and through the historic center, along the Old Harbor and the beautiful Harpa building.
Of course, we made a quick stop at the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (note that there are several great food tours in Reykjavik). And no visit to Reykjavík is complete without seeing the iconic Sun Voyayer statue and the Hallgrimskirkja.
Accommodation: we had a very comfortable stay at the Radisson Blu Saga hotel. Did you know this hotel was founded (and is still owned) by Icelandic farmers back in the 1960’s?
Our room was spacious with a beautiful view over Reykjavík. Comfortable beds and even a bath in our bathroom! Such a luxury after a week of camping:-). Breakfast was very extensive and delicious! Check hotel prices at Booking and Agoda.
Camper van rental in Iceland
Having your own wheels is pretty much a must in Iceland. Yes, you can do tours as well but that’s very expensive and will severely limit your freedom. Driving around Iceland at your own pace is wonderful and will allow you to see so much more…
We did our one-week road trip in an EasyClever camper from CampEasy Iceland and couldn’t have been happier with our van. And we don’t say that lightly, we have made many road trips and know what makes a van a good camper van.
The 4×4 Volkswagen Transporter was very new and in excellent condition. Even on snowy roads we didn’t have any issues with grip or driving.
The heating system worked perfectly so we were never cold during the evening or night. In the van there was a compact kitchen with a small fridge, a sink and all necessary utensils (cutlery, pots and pans, portable stove, etc). The convertible bed was very spacious and comfortable, we slept like babies every night.
Cheap grocery shopping in Iceland
Iceland is not a cheap country to travel, but there are ways to decrease your expenses. One of the easiest ways is to make your own breakfast, lunch and dinner, this will save you thousands of krona (or hundreds of euros/dollars).
The cheapest supermarket in Iceland is the Bonus, closely followed by Kronan and Netto. At these supermarkets you’ll find a wide selection of products, plenty of options to cook healthy and nutritious meals.
While groceries are affordable, they are still more expensive than in many other countries. Not surprising since Iceland is pretty remote and lots of things have to be imported. That’s why we brought some stuff from home as well, such as salt, pepper, olive oil, instant soup, coffee, tea, some spice mixes for cooking and a bunch of snacks.
Also, at the CampEasy office there were a couple of shelves with leftover groceries from previous campers. When we picked up our van we took some things from this stash and we left our remaining products when we handed the van back in. Altogether this enabled us to spend less than €20 a day on food.
Read more budgeting tips for Iceland
Where to find winter campsites on Iceland
Due to the huge increase in the number of tourists and the appealing behavior of some those tourists, a law against wild camping was introduced in 2015. To protect the beautiful Icelandic nature, camping is only allowed on campsites (or on private land after you have gotten permission of the owner of that land).
However, during the winter season many campsites are closed so planning where to stay is a bit more complicated. Nevertheless, because of the increased tourism more and more campsites remain open year-round.
Safety tips for driving in Iceland (in winter)
Iceland is a beautiful country, however, it is a country subject to the elements. Severe storms and extreme rain frequently cross over the island.
The weather can change quickly and volcanoes are always stirring below the surface. In order to maximize your safety while driving around Iceland, there are several websites you should check on a daily basis:
- Road.is: on this website you’ll find the current road conditions, road closures, and even live webcam images of the larger roads. Before you hit the road, check this site to see the condition of the roads you intend to drive. We drove in all conditions (green to white) and can say from experience driving on a dark blue road (extremely slippery) is no fun at all… White (wet snow) can also be problematic, if the snow is too high you’ll get stuck, even in a 4×4.
- Vedur.is: this is Iceland’s weather website. You’ll find information about the wind speed (very important!), precipitation, and temperature. You can also find the Aurora forecast on this site.
- Safetravel.is: a website that helps you to stay safe in Iceland. The site offers advice, alerts (about road closures, avalanches, storms, etc), equipment lists, and more.
Some general Iceland driving tips:
- Darkness: we avoided driving in the dark, especially if the road conditions were less than ideal.
- Gas: fill up your tank when it’s half empty. While there are many gas stations in Iceland there are stretches where they are spread more thinly. If you want to leave your heater running the entire evening and night and not worry about being able to start your car the next morning (the heater uses a bit of fuel), fill up when you can.
- Speed limit: the speed limit in Iceland in villages is 50 km/h, on gravel roads the limit is 80 km/h and on all other roads outside of villages the limit is 90 km/h (unless otherwise signposted). That being said, adjust your speed to the conditions. If a road is very slippery driving the speed limit is a bad idea. Driving itself may not be a problem but braking or sudden movements will be. Just be careful and you should be alright! The condition of most roads is excellent and in winter traffic outside Reykjavík is light. This makes driving in Iceland very easy. Having your own wheels is undisputedly the best way to see Iceland!
One additional tip unrelated to driving: watch out for killer waves! Or perhaps my actual advice is: don’t be an idiot. When we visited Diamond Beach we noticed several large icebergs floating a little of the beach. Imagine our surprise when we saw a tourist walking out to one of the iceberg (through the low water) to seat himself upon the ice so his friend could take a picture.
Seconds after the tourist made it safely back to the beach a huge wave came in and dragged the entire iceberg into the ocean. This tourist may have been a complete idiot, he got lucky and got away with his stupidity. Don’t be the person who makes the Iceland news because he (or she) didn’t…
Printable Iceland road trip
Below you can download the map with highlights and campsites mentioned in this post.
Iceland winter itinerary: in conclusion
I hope you enjoyed the post and are excited about visiting Iceland in winter! Read more about Iceland in these posts: