Wednesday, 26 October 2016

HOW: to do an Iceland road trip

Now that I've written about all about our road trip around Iceland including what we did, where we stayed and what we ate I thought it was time to put a more informative post together. A bit of a do and don't list for all things related to an Iceland road trip and how to plan your holiday.

Once you've decided that a road trip around Iceland is the thing for you, which it absolutely should be because Iceland is amazing, you need to figure out what time of the year you want to travel. The summer season in Iceland is short, it pretty much covers July to August with a few weeks on either side.

The great thing about travelling in the summer like us (first half of July) is that the weather is generally pleasant with 24 hours daylight. However this is the optimum time to visit the country which means prices are expensive, accommodation fills up months in advance and attractions are busy (relatively speaking). Travelling in winter provides a slightly cheaper option as hotels offer off peak prices but the downsides include short days with little light and weather so bad that many roads are completely closed.

Route 1 aka the Ring Road which circles the entire country is open all year round but all the best sights are discovered by detouring away from the main road so depending on what you want to see your options might be limited in the winter. I loved Reykjavik in December when I visit in 2012 for a long weekend but if I was ever to do a road trip again I would definitely stick to the summer as the lack of snow made the roads easy to navigate and you're able to see the entire country.

We knew about a year in advance that we were going to visit Iceland as we had ATP festival ticket so we booked our flights the second they came on sale with Easy Jet. This meant we paid just over £100 total for 2 return tickets and added luggage with Easy Jet. However, another good option is to look at package deals for flights and accommodation. I did this the first time I visited in 2012 as we found some fantastic bargains. I have a feeling the packages mainly exist in the winter months but they're a great option for a long weekend visit to Reykjavik.

Once you have your flights booked you need to start thinking about the route of your road trip, whether you want to drive around the country clockwise or anticlockwise and which towns you want to spend the night in. When it comes to holiday planning I am super organised. I always buy myself a Lonely Planet travel guide and read it from cover to cover, highlighting places I think sound interesting.

With all the research I did I couldn't find any preference for which direction to drive the ring road. However the book did state that anticlockwise appears to be the more popular direction. For no other reason than this was how the book was laid out, we drove clockwise which was perfectly fine and if I'm completely honest I think it's the better option as you don't need to pass through Reykjavik on your way back to the airport when it times to return home.

Whilst reading my guide book I identified which towns I wanted to spend the night in. Due to the number of things to do I was naturally drawn to the biggest town in each area of the country. However, that certainly shouldn't stop you from staying in one of the less visited villages which are probably even more charming than the bigger towns.

You can easily divide Iceland into different regions; Reykjavik and the south-west, the west, the west fjords, the north, the east and the east fjords, the south-east, the south, and the interior. Apart from the interior which is a desolate bare region, predominately used for hiking, we spent one night in each of the different areas I just mentioned.

This was our route:

Reykjavik (4 nights) - Stykkishólmur (west) - Djúpavík (west fjords) - Akureyri (north) - Húsavík (north) - Seyðisfjörður (east fjords) - Höfn (south-east) - Vík (south) - Keflavík (south-west)

Apart from Reykjavik, we stayed everywhere for 1 night, except Keflavík which is where the airport is located. We drove around the island in 1 week which is extremely doable but be prepared for a lot of driving. If we'd had more time I would have spent a night in Ísafjörður which is between Stykkishólmur and Djúpavík. I would have also spent an extra night in Akureyri and Vík which would have helped break up the journey a little. If you can take 2 whole weeks to do this road trip then I think it would be very rewarding without being too exhausting. You don't need to spend 4 days in Reykjavik. I'm glad we did as it meant we got to see absolutely everything on my list but 2 full days is more than enough time to get a feel for the city as it's so small.

DREAM ROUTE: Reykjavik (3 nights) - Stykkishólmur (1 night) - Ísafjörður (1 night) - Djúpavík (1 night) - Akureyri (2 nights) - Húsavík (1 night) - Seyðisfjörður (1 night) - Höfn (1 night) - Vík (2 nights)

If you want to book accommodation without spending a complete fortune you need to be organised and prepared to book as far in advance as possible. I started booking in March and many places were already fully booked for July. Fortunately the majority of hotels let you pay once you've arrived so you don't need to worry about spending too much money until you get there.

To get the best possible deal on transportation you should think about booking a car as far in advance as possible. We knew we wouldn't need a car for our first three days in Reykjavik so when we made our booking we choose to collect the car a few days into the trip. We used Go Iceland Car Rental who offered the best deals we could find with an array of different car options. Because we knew we'd be driving in some of the more remote areas we wanted to rent a 4x4. On retrospect we probably would have been fine with a 2x2 but the bigger wheels meant that the journeys over bumpy roads were a lot more comfortable and less stressful as we weren't worried about rocks damaging the under carriage.

Once you have your travel and accommodation booked you don't need to think about much else until a week or so before your holiday. If you're visiting in the summer then it's worth booking day trips in advance as they can get busy. You should book the Blue Lagoon a few weeks before you visit as well as any glacier hikes and whale watching tours. If you're travelling during the winter you don't need to worry about pre-booking tours as it's not as busy.

Apart from booking accommodation, transport and the odd excursion there isn't too much to worry about. Plan your route and enjoy driving around the country, taking in the natural sights and seeking out natural hot pools.

I really didn't know what to expect from our road trip but we ended up having one of the most incredible holidays ever. Iceland is definitely a place for those who appreciate nature and the quieter side of life. The towns are tiny with not much going on so think twice about any sort of night life, except in Reykjavik, because it just doesn't really exist. Some of the local museums are definitely worth visiting and whenever you get a chance, converse with the locals as they're some of the most friendly people you will come across.

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