Last Updated on May 30, 2023
After a day filled with waterfalls, geysers and Icelandic horses along Iceland’s Golden Circle, day two of driving in Iceland started on the actual Ring Road. While we had breakfast, the owner of our lovely Icelandic farmstay came over with a map and showed us a small road just before Vik, a nearby town. It would be worth going in there to see some spectacular rock formations along the coast, she said, and because we were free to do whatever we wanted, we decided to take her up on her advice.And I am glad I did: The rock formations and cliffs at Dyrholaey were stunning, and seeing the waves furiously hit the shore on this grey and stormy morning turned out to be a memorable start to the day. (Tip: if you’re planning to drive this part of the ring road yourself and want to stop at Dyrholaey, turn left onto road 218, just before you reach Vik. This is also a popular place to spot puffins, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot any.)Vik itself was a small fishing town which I didn’t find all that memorable (it’s tiny), but it has a unique black sand beach which was definitely worth a stop. The sand is actually volcanic ashes, a reminder that Iceland is filled with volcanoes (there are around 130) and yes, they tend to erupt every now and again.After that, it was a complete change of scenery: we found ourselves driving through green volcanic moss. In several areas of the island, you find lava fields, which over the years have been covered with a thick layer of green moss. This one, the Eldhraun lava field, is the largest one in Iceland, and was formed during a volcanic eruption in 1983-84. It feels quite surreal to drive through this scenery, almost like a different planet, made up by moss-covered rocks, but it was also fascinating to see how lava can change a vast landscape like this in such a dramatic way.Soon after, the scenery was yet again completely different: we were passing through Skeidararsandur, the world’s largest sand plain, covering 1,300 km², and made of volcanic sand. This area feels eerily empty. There are no settlements, no houses – just a giant dark mass of volcanic sand which seemed even gloomier on the grey and cloudy day that we were driving through it.It finally brought us to Skaftafell National Park, where we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by alpine mountains, even though, more often than not, we could only assume that there are mountains hiding behind the thick layer of clouds. Skaftafell is where the massive glacier Skaftafellsjökull was located, and it sat to our left most of the journey to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, which is undoubtedly one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations.
I too fell under its spell, and it ended up being my favorite stop on our road trip – but I won’t go into too much detail now, because it deserves its own article. I will say – seeing dozens of blue icebergs floating in a lagoon is a sight that you won’t forget anytime soon.Across the street from Jökulsárlón there is an equally stunning place: another black sand beach, but this one is filled with icebergs that have been washed ashore again after slowly floating out into the ocean from the glacier lagoon.I couldn’t believe that this was only the second day of our road trip – we pulled the car over again and again to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. And this was just one of six days driving the Ring Road. Even though we spent a lot of time in the car during our trip, there was never a dull moment.Driving along fjords, crossing sand plains, passing waterfalls and glaciers – Iceland always keeps you entertained.One thing worth mentioning before sharing my favorite captures from Northern Iceland in Part III of our road trip? Our accommodation in Eskifjorður, a small fishing town on the shores of the Reyðarfjörður fjord, which is Eastern Iceland’s longest and widest fjord.
With our Highlights Of Iceland self-driving tour, we’d gotten an accommodation voucher for each night in our welcome pack, but we never knew beforehand what to expect. We let the knowledgeable customer service experts pick our accommodation for us, and trusted them to find us a well-balanced mix of B&B’s, hotels and farm stays so that we could get a taste of all the different styles of accommodation available in Iceland.Our stay in Eskifjorður was both Rease’s and my favorite: a little cottage only a few meters from the water, with a fully equipped kitchen in which we could cook dinner and make breakfast. And there was a heated Jacuzzi outside, which was the perfect place to unwind after a long day of driving.To make things perfect, the sun decided to set in spectacular colors that night – we were tempted to put the rest of our road trip on hold and spend a few days here, writing while watching out over the fjord, hoping to spot whales.But onwards it was. The next morning, we would pass through the Almannaskarð tunnel and emerge in Northern Iceland, where we’d spend some time exploring the out-of-this-world beautiful Myvatn peninsula – to be continued…
Tips for driving in Iceland
Don’t expect proper highways
The only four-lane highway I encountered was the road from the airport into Reykjavik. All the other streets were two-lane country roads, often narrowing into one lane, especially on bridges. That’s why it is important to always stick to the speed limit and be attentive – nothing worse than meeting a car in the middle of a bridge because you weren’t paying attention about oncoming traffic.Pick up the free ‘Around Iceland‘ brochure by heimur. You can get it at any tourist information center and in most hotels, and it has maps where gas stations and toilets are marked, plus a whole bunch of other useful information.
Install the Iceland Roads App
The Iceland Road Guide app has comprehensive information about everything you need to know about driving in Iceland: all of Iceland’s roads, food & drink along the way, sights, and general information. You can download it here for Android and for iOS.
A GPS might not be enough
Sometimes I preferred a map or GoogleMaps on my phone over the GPS that came with the car. For me, it was easier with those to get an overview over the entire day’s route and to visualize the drive. But that’s a personal preference. If you prefer actual paper to an app, I recommend this detailed Iceland Road Guide (which includes the app for free anyway!).
Gas stations are few and far between
Make sure you always have enough gas – especially when you’re about to drive through a rural area. This is why I recommend picking up one of the maps that have gas stations listed – that’s how you’ll know when to expect the next opportunity to fill up.
Make sure to rent with a reputable company
The first thing the friendly Europcar employee gave me was a Europcar brochure in which all Europcar branches in the country were marked, including their phone numbers, in case of an emergency. Considering that the road conditions in Iceland aren’t always the best, especially when leaving the main roads, it was a relief to know where I could go should I puncture a tire or something like that. Tip: Use Carrentals.com to compare all available rental cars for the dates of your trips.
4WD vs regular car
I had asked for a small car, simply because I’m used to diving smaller cars and knew roads would be narrow. This is how we ended up with a regular car, not a 4WD. Was this sufficient? Absolutely. Even though our drive included some unpaved roads (sometimes I was driving on rocky lava gravel), the VW we were driving was absolutely sufficient.
Manual vs automatic
Make sure to ask for an automatic if you’re not comfortable driving stick. Remember that driving in Iceland includes hilly, mountainous roads, which require gear changes. If you are not 100% comfortable driving stick, I’d recommend booking an automatic car for your Iceland road trip.
Don’t expect the weather to stay the same throughout the day – it’ll change all the time! We often found ourselves leaving in rain and enjoying bright sunshine a couple of hours later. Instead of waiting for the rain to stop, just drive.
If you’re planning your own Iceland road trip, check out: