top of page
  • mattiadena97

Driving the Iceland Ring Road on a Budget - 5 Nights in Europe’s Most Isolated country.

With Aurora Borealis activity reaching its highest levels for 11 years, 2024 is the perfect time to make an expedition over to Iceland in search of the famous Northern Lights.


Faxafoss, golden circle Iceland
Faxafoss, golden circle

A STORY FROM

Adam And The City, as Adam goes on Instagram, was born in the English Countryside in 2002. His first real sense of travel and location began with sun-filled summers spent visiting family on his Tunisian heritage side, in the quaint coastal city of Sousse. A turning point came in his life which involved moving to London at 18 for University, leaving his small town - which  he felt he had outgrown - behind. From London, Adam embarked on a study exchange in Milan and a following internship in Sicily, just one island away from Tunisia, which makes up half of his heritage. Whilst in Italy, Adam set up a new instagram with a blog format, documenting his many new experiences. The account reflected his new mindset so much that he deleted his former account and with a few name changes, has stuck with Adam And The City ever since. With a newfound appreciation for natural beauty, Adam deferred his final year from university and set out for Australia on a Working Holiday Visa where we met at Darwin backpackers’ hostel. Having been back in Europe for six months, Adam is exploring the continent as much as possible whilst balancing work at a hostel and a final year degree, before a grand trip approaches on the horizon. Adam talks about being open to any opportunity, prioritising spending on travel over anything and the beauty of shared moments with new friends. If you want to see where he is at the moment, check out @Adamandthecity.



HIRE A CAR OR GROUP TOUR?

Taking on Iceland’s ring road on a Budget is near impossible without a car.

In January 2024, we rented a Suzuki 4 Wheel Drive, which is necessary in the unpredictable conditions of an Icelandic winter, along with studded tyres which should come at no additional cost. Between five people we paid just over £450 for the car, equalling out to £90 each for 5 days of rental.

Comparing this to the tours on the likes of Getyourguide and Tripadvisor, we saved so much on out transport, not to mention the freedom we had to drive off and discover more of Iceland’s enticing attractions.

Of course, hiring a car is the best option if you are traveling with friends. If you are planned to do so by yourself group tours is the best option.



FLIGHTS and AIRPORT CONNECTIONS.

Most international flights arrive in Keflavik Airport, 50km away from the capital, it is not to be confused with the Reykjavík airport that services only domestic flights.

Most flights arrive from London, Copenhagen or New York, with the latter only being a little over a five hour flight. We flew with Wizzair and took the morning flight out of London Luton, arriving in Iceland at 10:10 ready for a day of driving and exploring along the way. There are buses into Reykjavík too, with an hourly Terravision bus that costs roughly €25 each way.


VISA

Iceland is a part of the Schengen Agreement, meaning that visitors from the UK, EU, US and a host of other countries can visit and remain for up to 90 days, given that the passport will still be valid for three months after travel.


CURRENCY AND MONEY

As Iceland is not in the European Union, the country’s currency takes the form of Icelandic Króna. At the moment, €10 is 1493 ISK. After a while, it helped us to imagine dividing the amount in Króna by 100 and assume it was a bit under that. That and a handy currency conversion offline app. Card is common practice everywhere and we did not have a need to take cash out, just for a souvenir. Iceland is more expensive than the rest of Europe, due to imports with its position on the map, allow a suitable amount of money when visiting if you plan on eating out or visiting some of the popular lagoons.


SAFETY

Iceland can be dangerous for those who do not take into consideration its harsh landscape, especially in the winter months. We visited only a week after a volcanic eruption on the West Coast. Monitor road conditions on www.road.is for a live detailed map of the island. Some roads will be signed as impassable and going through regardless, guarantees a hefty payment if you do find yourself stuck in feet of snow.


INTERESTING FACTS

  1. Iceland is one of the only countries in the world without a military. 

  2. The country straddles both the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

  3. The Icelandic horse is one of the purest breeds in the world and if one ever leaves the country, it is impossible for it to return.

  4. Lutheranism, largest of the Protestant denominations, is the established Church of Iceland.


The world’s purest breed, the Icelandic Horse
The world’s purest breed, the Icelandic Horse

NORTHERN LIGHTS

This year, the sun hits its peak of its 11-year activity cycle, resulting in more frequent and impressive displays of the Northern Lights phenomenon. Every day we monitored our Aurora app for percentage of visibility, “check-ins” from people who had seen the lights in our proximity and a map of passing clouds. Unfortunately we did not catch so much of a glimpse of the lights, the majority of us anyway. One of my friends that had his flight cancelled saw a striking display on a tour from Reyjkavïk the same day we had all left, typical! My advice would be to not get your hopes too high and check multiple times throughout the night. Even the slightest amount of cloud coverage will prevent any kind of visibility, it really is all about luck.


Northern Lights, Iceland by @ken.dem

A valid alternative to BLUE LAGOON: FOREST LAGOON

Instead of the expensive and crowded, although I am sure incredible, Blue Lagoon, we opted for the Forest Lagoon which was almost empty and boasted wonderful views of the surrounding area. This cost us €44 each without a towel rental, we also allowed a little bit of money for a cocktail at one of the swim-up bars. 


 Forest Lagoon, Iceland
Relaxing in the quieter Forest Lagoon

GOLDEN CIRCLE AND SURROUNDINGS

Having almost completed the entire ring road, we have to say that we were quite disappointed with the Golden Circle, the most famous and visited part of the country. It covers approximately 250 kilometers and stretches from Reykyavik to Gullfoss, and back. Most of the spots on this path were jammed with tourist buses and people, along with huge shops and cafes and paid parking that deterred us from a couple of waterfalls and the original plane crash site. 


TEMPERATURE

In line with Iceland’s famous saying of “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”, we experienced some stark shifts in temperature, in line with the distances we travelled too. The lowest it got to was -15 degrees celsius and at one point it reached 6 degrees. The third day was very windy and rainy, so dress appropriately. Luckily it was only like this on that particular day, the day before we had our sunglasses on in the car! 


The ITINERARY

The Itinerary that Adam has attached followed his five nights in the country. With a quick transfer from Keflavik airport to Lava Car Rental the group with Adam’s friend Luke behind the wheel, bypassed the capital Reykjavík and headed on the long journey up to Akureyri and beyond.


 6 days Ring Road Itinerary, Iceland
6 days Ring Road Itinerary, Iceland

Day 1 - Reykyavik - Akureyri 

With five of us on the road together we were able to save money on larger apartments and guesthouses, the first being Acco Ice Apartments in Akureyri. I would only recommend aiming to travel this far on the first day if you land early enough, before midday. In winter, some of the West Coast’s attractions such as the Snæfellsnes peninsula are more difficult to reach along with the Westfjords. From May to August though, with much better weather and road conditions, the chance of seeing puffins along this route increases massively in time with their season. I hope to return to Iceland one day in the middle of the Summer, to experience what the locals told us is “a completely different country”. From May onwards, the idea of having a tent in this country, further reducing the price of a trip here, becomes a huge potential. Our accommodation in Akureyri was a spacious apartment in the town centre, which is a very small town of only 19,000 people. We paid €144 in total, just under €29 each. 


MUST SEE

The incredible Kolugljúfur gorge is a must see for this drive, the first waterfall on our trip. It is also right next to a farm where we got our first up-close look at the Icelandic horse.


Day 2 - Akureyri - Egilsstaðir

Night at Old-style Unique House (Hrafnabjörg 4)

We booked an Airbnb for the second night in a secluded location off the main ring road, in a hope that we would see the Northern Lights. Whilst we were unlucky with this endeavour, we fell in love with the Airbnb. For one, it was huge and boasted views of the snowy plains all around the house. We were able to use the kitchen to have a nutritious spinach and mushroom pasta dinner and saw an arctic fox firsthand, although it was skinned and draped over a sofa. Outside were well-groomed horses owned by the host, one of the main reasons why we had specifically booked this house and two adorable dogs that took a liking to us. For this night we paid slightly more with €168 going on accommodation, shy of €34 each.


MUST SEE

Before making our way here we stopped off in Husavík, the setting for the 2020 Eurovision Fire Saga movie, the surrounding mountains were breathtaking. Definitely make time to check out this tiny town.


Husavík Horizon, Iceland
An impressive Husavík Horizon, Iceland

Day 3 - Egilsstaðir - Höfn

Lonely Planet’s guide to Iceland hails Höfn as the country’s most atmospheric town. We were not sure that we entirely agreed, but it could have just been the time of year we passed through. Again, the town itself was very small and it took us just two minutes to drive from the accommodation to the cosy local pub, Hafið where we got to know one of the bartenders. For a price I deemed to expensive, you can take a spin on the wheel and have a chance of winning a round of Beers. Despite some reviews online, we were welcomed and enjoyed ourselves by playing a few rounds of poker. The price for the third night dropped down significantly to just over €25 each, with a total price of €125 for the five of us. We all had beds, a well equipped kitchen, albeit that it could have done with a little bit more surface space and a warm shower. Everything we needed to recharge for the big drive of the next day.


MUST SEE

Seyðisfjörður, the other town with the rainbow road was a treat for us on this leg of the trip. Whilst the rainbow was hardly visible from the snow, we were treated to outstanding views of the fjord, and the unforgettable Lutheran church in the town.


How we saw it:

Seyðisfjörður church in winter, Iceland
Seyðisfjörður church in winter, Iceland


Seyðisfjörður church in Summer, Iceland
Seyðisfjörður church in Summer, Iceland


Day 4 - Höfn - Midgard

Night at Midgard Base Camp, Hvolsvöllur (1 hour drive past Vik)

Undoubtedly this is one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. Dorm rooms that have been designed with a priority for privacy and comfort combined with a modern, subtle style that is noticed throughout the building. A rooftop jacuzzi and sauna, several showers, washing machines and even a restaurant downstairs. There are normally Live Music events on the weekend, with a stage in the downstairs space. It does not even need to define a common room as the space surrounding reception is inviting enough, with a swinging chair, several spaces to chill out and play with provided cards and board games. The only minor flaw was a small kitchen, luckily I was only pouring boiling water over a pack of Noodles brought with me from London. We paid €34 each for a bed in a 6-bed dorm, that three of us ended up being the only ones in. The story behind the hostel is inspiring, and like a lot of accommodations like this, came about after a trip to the Southern Hemisphere. Read more about it on the website.


MUST SEE

The highlight of this part of the trip was wading through snow before the Fagurhólsmýri glacier. Snowy mountains and small cerulean pools of water form an unforgettable landscape before you. Diamond beach and the Jökulsárlón glacier are must sees too!


Seals at Jökulsárlón glacier
Seals at Jökulsárlón glacier

Day 5 - Midgard- Reyjkjavík

All in all, Baron’s was a good hostel. I cannot complain about anything: free towels, a spacious kitchen with free food and an incredible location. I suppose there was a lack of atmosphere, with a lack of common room and bedrooms basic in their design, but nothing too much to impact our stay. One of the pricier hostels I have been to, this cost us €40 each. I put this down to Reyjkavík being one of the most expensive capital cities in Europe. This was one of the things that put me off staying extra nights in the city, and it was significantly more touristy compared to everything we had seen until then. With the iconic Reyjkavík church Hallgrímskirkja only a matter of minutes away on foot, this location was perfect. Next door to the hostel is a swimming pool with heated rooftop jacuzzis that I went to. Sündholl only cost €9 to enter, I would absolutely recommend it. 


Plane Crash in Seljalandsfoss , iceland
Plane Crash in Seljalandsfoss

ALL IN ALL

We averaged just over €32 each per night for our accommodation in Iceland.

The entire time I was away, I felt like I was on a different planet. I am confident in saying that there is no place like Iceland, and finding a country with such an array of landscapes and displays of nature so compactly will be a challenge. As I mentioned, I see myself returning in warmer times, hopefully with a tent and an opportunity to spot some whales. I would recommend Iceland to anybody keen for adventure and a passion for unique natural beauty to head out there as soon as possible.

Any questions @adamandthecity on ig.





 








Comments


bottom of page