The best way to get a true feel of Iceland, the people who live there and their culture is to rent a car and drive the loop on Route 1, better known as the Ring Road. Each region of the country offers its own variation of things to see and do, different picture-perfect sites and landmarks not to be missed.
But unless you’re winging it with a tent or sleeping in the back of your rented SUV — as one Amercian father and son duo we met did — driving the Ring Road takes a good deal of planning if you intend to book lodging.
When I was planning my Iceland Ring Road adventure with my boyfriend, I found the most difficult part was figuring out how far to drive every day. Once I figured out mileage between possible overnight stops and what activities we wanted to make time for, I put together an itinerary and started researching lodging.
Where did I stay?
We were in Iceland 10 nights, starting and ending in Reykjavík. We stayed one night at each stop, except for Akureyri and Snæfellsnes peninsula, where we stayed two nights each.
Some locations had plenty of hotel choices, some didn’t. I don’t know what inspired me to search for Airbnbs in Iceland because I had never stayed in one before, but I was thrilled to find options beyond hostels. Many Airbnbs required more than one night minimum, which didn’t help us for most of our trip that had us checking into a different city each night. However, I was able to find Airbnbs with two-night minimum stays in the two cities we crashed in for two nights.
Here are the six hotels and two Airbnbs we stayed in during our Iceland Ring Road trip:
Night 1: Reykjavík
The first night, which was a blur of jet lag and fatigue, we stayed at the Storm Hotel. After exploring Reykjavík, we returned to the hotel to use our free drink vouchers in the lobby. In the morning, we ate our free breakfast at the hotel and headed out on the Ring Road.
One thing we quickly learned about hotels in Iceland was that the rooms are very small. We don’t need much space, but some rooms were so tiny we could barely find floor space to open our suitcases.
The Storm Hotel was great, and even though it was our second most expensive hotel of the trip, the rate did include two free drinks and breakfast.
Night 2: Hvolsvöllur area
After sightseeing through the Golden Circle, we made our way to the Hvolsvöllur area, where we stayed at the Country Hotel Anna. With only seven rooms, this quaint hotel sits in the middle of a field. We would have driven right past it if not for our GPS.
We ate a delicious (yet pricey) dinner at the hotel, slept well in the relatively spacious room, enjoyed the free breakfast buffet in the morning and hit the road.
Night 3: South Iceland
We splurged on the third night with the most expensive, upscale hotel of the trip because it was my boyfriend’s birthday. While I didn’t find the room at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon to be much different than the rooms at other hotels, it was the atmosphere and the customer service that made our stay there special.
When we checked in, the front desk clerk told us there was a high chance of Northern Lights that night and asked if we’d like to be put on the wake-up call list to see them. Yes, please! Sure enough, our phone rang around midnight. We got dressed and walked outside with almost every other guest in the hotel to witness the amazing Northern Lights show.
I also mentioned at the front desk that it was my boyfriend’s birthday. To our surprise, when we went to the hotel restaurant for dinner, we were treated to two complimentary birthday glasses of sparkling wine and a birthday dessert with a candle.
After a complimentary breakfast in the morning, we hit the road to our next destination.
Night 4: Egilsstaðir
After a long drive through the Eastfjords, we arrived at the Icelandair Hotel Herad in Egilsstaðir.
A tour bus of older travelers had taken over the bar and restaurant in the lobby, so we walked around town to find a different place for dinner. We put ourselves on the Northern Lights wake-up call list, but we never got a call so there must not have been a good view overnight.
Breakfast wasn’t included in our room rate, so we ate some fruit we bought at a grocery store and got back on the road.
Nights 5 and 6: Akureyri
Our next stop was in Akureyri, the capital of the north and our first location where we stayed put for two nights. It was also our first Airbnb experience.
We stayed in the basement studio apartment of the Airbnb host’s house. It was about twice the size of every hotel room we’d stayed in and about half the price. We used the kitchen to cook instead of eating out, and we used the washing machine for our stack of dirty clothes. (I had to Google how to use the washing machine, and one small load took two hours to wash!) There was no dryer. Instead, to dry the clothes we used a hanging rack and turned a valve that heated the bathroom which in turn dried the clothes. The host provided coffee, wine and beer glasses, a stack of pamphlets on what to do in the area, outlet adapters, toys for children, pots and pans, dishes and utensils and a variety of laundry detergent.
One of my favorite parts of staying in the Airbnb was that it gave us an intimate look inside an Icelandic home and neighborhood.
Night 7: Sauðárkrókur town
Our seventh night brought us to Sauðárkrókur town. After dinner at Kaffi Krókur, where I had my favorite meal of the trip (lobster and shrimp sandwich), we settled in at Hótel Tindastóll. It was the smallest room we had seen, but outside the reception area was a hot pot, so we put on the robes provided in each room and walked through the cold to soak in the hot water.
We ate the complimentary breakfast the next morning and started making our way west.
Nights 8 and 9: Ólafsvík on Snæfellsnes peninsula
The next day we arrived in Ólafsvík on Snæfellsnes peninsula, where we stayed for two nights at our second Airbnb. Once again, we had a full kitchen and washing machine to use, but this time we had an entire two-bedroom apartment to ourselves. All for about half the price of a hotel room.
And even though our host didn’t offer Northern Lights wake-up calls, we lucked out and saw the Northern Lights anyway after I got up in the middle of the night and looked outside. We loved the experience of seeing them in a neighborhood setting by ourselves on our host’s lawn, as opposed to a hotel parking lot surrounded by lights and other people.
Night 10: Reykjavík
We spent our last night in Iceland back in Reykjavík. We wanted to explore parts of Reykjavík we missed on our first day so we stayed at a different hotel. The Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina had a funky vibe that was an easy walk to check out the city night life. We had a fun night, slept well and headed home the next morning.
Hotels vs Airbnbs
So what did I like better: hotels or Airbnbs? There are pros and cons to each, but overall we enjoyed both and loved that we got to experience a variety of overnight stays.
- Hotels are more available than Airbnbs.
- Hotels don’t have minimum night requirements, which is important when driving the Ring Road because you’ll be moving on to a new location almost every day.
- Most hotels have bars and restaurants, which is convenient in the more remote areas where there aren’t many dining options close by.
- Some hotels offer Northern Lights wake-up calls.
- Airbnbs are much cheaper than hotels.
- You can save even more money if the Airbnb has a kitchen where you can cook your meals instead of eating out.
- Rooms are typically larger than hotel rooms.
- As a tourist, you can get a glimpse into how the locals live by driving through their neighborhoods and staying in their homes.