How to road trip Iceland on a budget + our 7-day Iceland itinerary

OK, a new realization! Road trips are our love! We love them short, as when we road-tripped the Balkans for few days, we love them mid-sized – as when we browsed through Cyprus for a week, we love them long – New Zealand took us a month of road-tripping. We love them with nature and history as the one in Ireland or through the Baltic countries, or we love them with spontaneous and day-to-day as we did in Bali. Is a road trip to Iceland on a budget such a distant concept then? Can we put together a 7-day Iceland itinerary that doesn’t break the bank?

With all that love it’s kind of inevitable – we should have planned another road trip. Although we had much love for Iceland, we haven’t reached it until the time in March 2017 came! It was a matter of some research and planning to realize that we can combine our love for Iceland with our love for road trips, and sprinkle it with our dream of seeing the Northern Lights!

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, snowy roads, mountains

Planning a trip to an expensive country, i.e. Iceland

We found two options for exploring Iceland – by car, i.e. road trip, or by bus/coach tours. Other options include helicopters, personal drivers, probably teleportation – but let’s face it, we’re not millionaires! So we projected our potential trip price if we rent a car for 6 days and do sightseeing on our own, including some paid tours, and if we book a combination of a different one and more day tours covering different areas and highlights. The first one was a little bit cheaper and that combined with the freedom you have when you can explore on your own – this was our best option! So we just had to find a car rental, book some accommodation here and there, check where we can go alone and where we better go on a tour/excursion.

Our 7-day itinerary in Iceland

Our itinerary was not that hard to be settled. We are visiting Iceland in the middle of March – which is still during the winter season. That leaves us with not too many roads to be passed (a lot of roads are closed in winter), and only half of the activities available and reasonable for this time of the year (the other half could be done in summer). So thanks to our friends’ recommendations and online research, we know we will browse the South part of Iceland, and we will be self-driving ourselves.

 

Transportation and car rental

The car rental and type of vehicle is another story. While most of the forums advised us that Nissan Jimny is the best winter 4×4 reasonably-priced option, the rental companies were so many and the fares so high. We were struggling to find a company that won’t rob us and block thousands of euros on our credit card for their own insurance. Eventually, after Nace spent a decent amount of his life searching for an affordable car rental for 6 days in the winter, we found one option and went for it. Our white Jimny has reached 100K km some time ago but was unstoppable and didn’t let us down on any gravel road (and yes, there are many gravel roads in Iceland), or on the snowy/icy parts, we had occasionally.

If we visit Iceland in the summer, we’d definitely go for motorhome rental or tent camping.

See and photograph the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis near Höfn, Iceland
Waiting for Aurora next to our lovely Jimny.

It even served us as a restaurant for our “on the go” lunches.

Eventually, we had to pay a fine for dropping it off a few hours later – because we overslept, missed flights, etc. More on that in a different story. So the fine was kind of OK because they have so many bookings that all the cars were fully booked which meant there are some people waiting for the same car for few hours. With the fine, we think we paid off our bad karma. What is worrying us is the exponential growth of tourist load in Iceland – can you imagine that all the car companies are fully booked for a month ahead? More on that is also on another story about Icelanders, the future of life on the island and why so many travelers chose Iceland in the last year.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Seljalandsfoss, waterfall, forest

Food and accommodation

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So we have secured the car and the itinerary. We struggled to find pocket-friendly accommodation but did our best to beautiful places with lovely hosts with good locations serving well our 7-day Iceland itinerary with 6 nights. For booking accommodation, we mostly used Booking.com. As everything is said to be very expensive in Iceland, we booked the top winter activities with tours – ice caving and glacier hiking. Our best decision was that we could chase the Northern Lights on our own, as well as we can drive ourselves to the beautiful waterfalls, canyons, geysers, views, etc. We stocked up with food at a big grocery store near Keflavik, including some local delights to try, like Skyr. Not eating out saved us a tremendous amount of money, we only ate once in Reykjavik at a place recommended by semi-local which meant half-price compared to the other restaurants. So we kind of tried some local specialties and the same local Viking and Boli beers and Icelandic chocolate.

By the way, we never touched a single Icelandic Krona. We managed to complete the whole trip without touching any cash money. Amazing!

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, lunch in the car

Budgeting for the road trip to Iceland

So we have an idea of transportation, food, accommodation, and things to do for our Icelandic road trip. The total finance doesn’t look like a week in South America or Europe, but it’s still much better than the typical options where someone takes care of it all and then you pay for it double. So part 2 of our mission which is “not bankrupt in Iceland” seems to be going to end with success. Part 1 was to fit in the small hang luggage restrictions, but this happened as the heavy top layer clothes and hiking shoes were on us most of the time. So now that we arranged packing and budget, there’s number three left – the most important part – to enjoy Iceland and take in every piece of beauty and charm we can. Make sure you get some free car games for the times the weather is not good for being outside.

Car rental + insurance  614 euro + 192 euro fuel for about 1500 km; the fine for returning the car later than promised – 56 euro. Cheers!

Grocery stores bills 100 euro (including 5 beers and a quick bite in a diner); some light dinner in Reykjavik restaurant, visited by locals – 45 Euro. You can do the math – going to a restaurant equals three days of eating at home.

Accommodation total for 6 nights: 532 euros.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Reykjavik, beers, chocolate

Things to do and things to see on your 7-day Iceland itinerary

Here is a list of things you can do, things you can see, and stuff to experience in Iceland. We start with the free ones/no entrance fees and end with those we paid for. This is the point where we shut up and let the photos speak for themselves. 📷  🙂

Just drive

Every corner in Iceland hides the next big surprise. Drive gently and enjoy the views behind every turn. Driving in Iceland is an experience itself. It will introduce you to some of the most beautiful (and photogenic) sights in the country!

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, snowy roads
Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, on the road, horses

Waterfalls

The waterfalls have an invigorating and attractive force. In Iceland, there is no shortage of waterfalls. Below you will see part of the waterfalls we visited – n the Thingvellir Park, the famous Gullfoss Falls, the beautiful Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, tectonic plates, Тhingvellir
Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, waterfall, Skógafoss
Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, waterfall, Gullfoss Falls

Volcanoes

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, mountain

Iceland is a volcanic island, so there you are sure to be near some active or inactive volcano. I had to scramble at a specific volcano that erupted and failed many years ago – Eyjafjallajökull.

Canyons, valleys

Canyons dating back to the Ice Age and surprisingly green turf lava fields, rivers crossing the road… should we keep going?

Fjaðrárgljúfur, canyon, Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide
Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, green lava fields

Beaches

Romantic people in Iceland find themselves on the beach sooner or later. So we also found ourselves on the beaches of Jökulsárlón, Vik, Reynisfjara, and even one near the capital of Reykjavik. You will not be able to get tanned, but you can always admire the view and the splash of the waves.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Jökulsárlón, beach
Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Reynisfjara, sunset

Geysers

With so many underground mineral waters, it is clear that there will be geysers. And waiting for the next eruption with your breath tight, that’s the way to go.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, geyser, Strokkur Geysir

The capital

Enough of rural life? Well, Iceland has a city – the capital of Reykjavik – for those looking for city feeling and vibes (read: many people, cafes, restaurants, bars, cultural performances).

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Reykjavik

Blending with locals

Whether you stop at a café to warm up, go to an exhibition, or just talk to the hosts – who says the Icelanders do not like to chat with guests?

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Reykjavik, beers

Thermal pools – the Blue Lagoon

We visited the Blue Lagoon. You have to book in advance – it’s one of the most popular attractions, including a detour for those with connecting flights in Reykjavik.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Blue lagoon, spa

Glacier hike and a look in the ice caves

We put on the crampons and start walking on thin and thick ice, the goal is to feel small in the ice fields and to find some ice caves to explore.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, hiking, ice caving, Breiðamerkurjökull
Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Vatnajökull, ice caving, hiking

Ice caving – a photography tour with locals

This was THE tour in Iceland – it combined an amazingly intimate experience in an ice cave, the opportunity to take pictures (Nace’s back still hurts from the weird postures he obtains in the low-roof cave), and the chance to talk to the locals, who started one of the first adventure companies in Iceland.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, hiking, ice caving, Breiðamerkurjökull

Practical tips for your road trip in Iceland

On a weekday liqueur stores work until 18.00. No alcohol is sold in supermarkets or grocery stores. Unless you consider 2.5% beer an alcoholic drink, but who is so stupid to do so?

Careful with the hot water tap – it comes with 70-80 degrees Celsius temperature – it comes from under Earth.

Driving – most of the drivers in Iceland are not so tolerant so pay attention. Elves are there to protect you though. 😃

Gas stations work with cards and first, you set the maximum limit to be charged by the gas station. If you don’t know how much fuel you want to put in, try setting smaller limits to avoid surprises and much money blocked on your cards. ⛽

  • All tips and information as of March 2017.
Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, hiking, ice caving, Breiðamerkurjökull
How to road trip Iceland affordably, Pinterest photo
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11 Responses

  1. Iceland absolutely rocks for road trips. I did a 21 day tour around Iceland with my wife and son and it was unforgettable. That long exposure of the waterfall under the ice is epic!

    • Wow, 21 days on the roads of Iceland! That’s a dream come true! We definitely want to come back to the amazing place and we’ll probably want to take hundreds of photos!

  2. Road trips are definitely one of the best ways to get to know a new country or region – we took our family on one to Arizona and enjoyed every bit of it! Who knows, maybe Iceland is next (when it’s slightly warmer). The scenery is absolutely stunning.

  3. Great tips. Visiting Iceland is something I would like to do with the kids soon.

  4. When you say “affordably”, there is no doubt I’ll read the post 🙂 I always travel on right budget and tips like these are invaluable. Hope to see Iceland one day.

    • Yep, many people give up on Iceland just because they’re scared of the prices…But we did it without going bankrupt, so anybody can! Hope you enjoy Iceland, it’s a bit colder than India, but you’ll love it!

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