Planning a road trip around Iceland

In just over a week I’m going to be heading off to Iceland for a solo, seven day, camper van trip around Iceland’s ring road. Just me, my camera and an epic Spotify playlist; taking photographs and searching for the aurora borealis. Seven days isn’t long for this trip, and I did think about just doing the south and west, but the lure of the ring road was too strong, and I love a long road trip, so I’ll be happy enough driving about in the amazing scenery.

I’ve been to Iceland before, four times in fact, but the last time was 2006, and things have changed massively since then, with visitor numbers increasing from around 420,000 a year then, to around 1.7 million a year in 2016. That’s a whole lot of extra people for a country with around 330,000 inhabitants. Iceland has a real battle with mass tourism (seeing sites of cultural and natural significance overrun and threatened) and needs to turn this into sustainable tourism (boosting the economy whilst protecting the industry and the very sites that bring tourists in). There is a niggle at the back of my mind that Iceland will have changed too much from the country I fell in love with back in the 2000s and not feel like the empty wilderness it did then; at many of the main sights, there were no other people at all, I doubt that will be a possibility now!

Some photographs from previous trips to Iceland

So I knew I definitely didn’t want to go in the summer (huge visitor numbers and no chance of aurora), and winter wasn’t really an option (possibility of snow/storm closed roads and not much daylight), so I decided on October. I could, of course, still get crap weather, closed roads and no aurora, but those are the chances you take with Iceland; and I do live on a remote Scottish island, so I’m used to it! I also decided I wasn’t going to spend any time in Reykjavik, having been there four times already (although I might nip by for a quick look, out of curiosity, to see what’s changed).

After looking at various option, including B&Bs and hostels, I chose to hire a camper van, so I could get off the beaten track, and avoid the busy times at the popular places without having to worry about getting to accommodation at the end of the day. It’ll give me the freedom to go where I want and sleep where I want (within reason). I have a rough plan of route and overnight stops, but with plenty of backup options and possible detours. The weather may well dictate which direction I travel and where I end up each night, searching for those elusive northern lights. I can also avoid much of the expense of eating and drinking in Iceland by cooking my own meals and being relatively self sufficient.

The plan… which will probably change (as all the best plans do!)

I’ve got a couple of tourist activities organised (a boat trip at Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon a glacier walk, and maybe a whale watching trip), but other than that I’ll just be taking myself off to explore. In addition to taking photographs, I’ve challenged myself to make a video of my trip. Video is something I’ve not done much of, not since my college days in the mid 1990s anyway, so it’ll be interesting to see what I can do.

So, I’m all set for a bit of an adventure. I’ll hopefully be blogging as I go, so do check back for photographs and updates.

3 thoughts on “Planning a road trip around Iceland

  1. Full of envy! Can I come too, I only live down the road and could meet you at Stornoway airport!

    We visited Iceland for the first time last year on a cruise which stopped at three ports around the island. We hired a car at each port and made sure we were the first off the ship each time. By about 10am there were millions of tourists at all the popular destinations but the secret is to get there at first light or as soon as you can and leave when the coaches start showing up. That’s what we did and we had most places pretty much to ourselves. To some extent the same applies in the evening after 6pm as most tourists go back for their dinner by then. The plan should be to visit the sights morning and evening and drive during the day. That way you should find Iceland as empty as it always was. Make sure you have some Sigur Ros on your playlist, you wouldn’t believe how it comes alive when driving round the ring road!


    1. That many people have asked to come with me that I think I’d need a bus! 😉

      Yes, the plan is to try and do many of the main sights at the beginning or end of the day, I’ve planned in an overnight at Jökulsárlón to make the most of the evening and early morning there (and fingers crossed for a clear night). I’m sure away from the Golden Circle and the south coast sights it won’t be too difficult to find a little bit of solitude.


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