Winter Road Trip Around Iceland
My parents drove the ring road last year in the Summer which had me hankering to do my own road trip around the country. As far as road trips are concerned, it doesn’t get much easier to plan than Iceland. Road 1 makes a big loop around the country which requires at least a week. With those 7 days we weren’t able to discover the West Fjords or get into the Highlands (also it was winter and many roads were closed), but we did get to enjoy the country in a quiet, snowy setting; making the availability of hot springs and natural baths even more enjoyable!
As Winter is low season for most of Iceland, our hotel prices were very reasonable (and in some cases, straight up inexpensive which allowed us to splurge on food and icelandic wool sweaters!). While I did see some camper vans on the road, the temperatures didn’t leave us wanting to sleep in a van or a tent in weather that dropped into the single digits. 3 degrees Fahrenheit was our record cold during the drive. Brrrrr
We drove counter clockwise as I’ve read is recommended. The South is the most touristy and therefore best to start off with so that the trip only gets better and better with fewer people on the road and at sights. We enjoyed everything from day 1, but especially the food. Lamb, wild goose, arctic char, langoustines, and plenty of cod. Graham and I were in food heaven.
I’m far from being a picky eater, but I do like to research and pick my restaurants to make sure I don’t miss out on anything special; we played our luck some nights but made out like bandits every meal.
On our first day, we drove into the city as the annual Food and Fun Festival was wrapping up and we couldn’t miss the chance to get to try a mix of unique dishes on a prix fixe menu. Picking which participating restaurant was a tough choice because all the menus looked incredible. See here.
Throughout our road trip, we saw nearly all the sights we wanted to see and experienced so much on our own. We skipped the blue lagoon and opted for the secret lagoon instead (a natural hot spring bath with far fewer people than the popular man-made blue lagoon - we didn’t even make a reservation). A choice neither of us regretted. The regrets we do have are missing out on whales and puffins - better seen in the spring and summer; as well as some of the detour sights like Dettifoss closed off due to snow (which was no joke - one poor soul was stuck with his SUV at the base of the Hverfjall volcano).
Rather than giving you a play by play of our itinerary, here’s the map of our road trip and a list of our hotels and favorite restaurants:
Hotel Borealis - good value and simple rooms. Excellent breakfast included. Isolated to see the northern lights (which if they showed up, we slept through due to travel exhaustion).
Hotel Kria - Modern design hotel with an incredible restaurant. Excellent breakfast included. Location isn’t exciting, but the food makes it well worth it.
Milk Factory - Old milk factory turned minimal boutique hotel. Good breakfast included and nicely located right as you enter Hofn. We got lucky with a beautiful view of the mountains.
Við Lónið Guesthouse - a super cute property smack dab in the adorable art town of Seyðisfjörður
Hotel Laxa - One of our favorite stays. Cool design and wonderful restaurant. I particularly liked that our dinner order was prefaced with “We shoot the wild geese here so we need to tell you that, while it’s very rare, there may be a bullet in your meat”.
Guesthouse Baegista - I really wanted to stay on a sheep farm and the owner, Elisabeth, gave us 5 star service. Isolated enough to see the Northern Lights without light pollution, but close enough to Akuyeri. Also dogs. Lots of adorable sheep-herding, cuddly dogs.
Icelandair Hotel Hamar - The only chain hotel I booked. It was LESS than $100, located on a golf course (which didn’t speak to me) but has a magnificent view. Sauna and hot tub to watch the sunset was a nice way to end our day.
Frost and Fire Hotel - So I really wanted to stay at the Ion Hotel (long been on my list of architectural design hotels to visit), however after reading reviews on food and finding Frost and Fire; I decided to switch our choice. This was supposed to be the splurge night, but sad to report this was the most disappointing of all our hotels. Twice as expensive as some and half as nice. The location on a river and heated by its own geothermal well is very cool, but the hotel is outdated and front office service was poor.
Kolabrautin at the Harpa in Reykjavik
Drangar Restaurant at Hotel Kria in Vik - one of our best meals
Pakkhùs in Hofn (langoustine capital….mmmmm). And while we did have a lot of Skyr on this trip. The Skyr Volcano dessert here was my favorite (I never say no to dessert and on vacation, 2 desserts…must. try. all the food!)
Skaftfell Bistro - a total gem. All the other restaurants were closed for summer season renovations, etc. So this was our only option, and I normally wouldn’t get pizza when traveling to a country that offers so much delicious seafood….BUT…this pizza was so good (Graham confirms and his family is Italian). A plus was the cafe’s library on the artist Dieter Roth, who once lived in the town. Skaftfell, is an art institution with its own art residency program and art gallery.
Restaurant at Hotel Laxa in Myvatn - another favorite meal.
Emilie and the Cool Kids - Fantastic Scones and Coffee in a small but cool corner shop
I used the Google Map done by Finding The Universe as a template and added our own markers and sites.
In the 2 years we’ve been together, Graham and I have road tripped around Ireland, the Norwegian coast, the national parks out west, western France, and from Strasbourg to Liechtenstein. Traveling as a pair is so incredibly fun. I get to obsessively plan out what I want to see and where I want to eat, while Graham is a go with the flow kind of guy. We both enjoy listening to podcasts and stopping the car frequently to photograph, to hike, to eat things we’d never find elsewhere. On this particular road trip we listened to Queen on repeat - and let’s just say Don’t Stop Me Now is our forever Iceland theme song.
Here are some of my digital photos. I shot mostly film on this trip using my new Hasselblad 500 c/m - heading to the dark room now!