Iceland is a surprising and wild land and probably the best way to know its true essence is to go away from the ring road and visit the most remote and rugged regions of the hinterland. On some routes, you can do this on your own. But driving on these inland unpaved roads requires the proper vehicle and a few precautions to avoid unpleasant surprises. We chose to drive the legendary route F35 and this is the report of our day on the road!
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After visiting Reykjavík and the Blue Lagoon and after an exciting tour of the Golden Circle, we continue our on the road trip in Iceland. From Reykjavík, most visitors choose to continue along the Ring Road, a comfortable paved road that runs around the perimeter of the island and in summer is entirely drivable even with a normal car. A little further north, many people deviate from the Ring Road towards the northwest fjords and then continue along the north coast of the island. Iceland, however, is a surprising and wild land and probably the best way to know its true essence is to go away from the Ring Road and visit the most remote and rugged regions of the hinterland. During the summer, on some route this is possible even on your own. But driving on these inland unpaved roads requires the proper vehicle and to respect some precautions to avoid unpleasant surprises. We chose to cross Iceland from south to north, from Reykjavík to Akureyri, through the legendary route F35 and this is the report of a whole day on the road!
Arriving by airplane
Most travellers choose to reach Iceland by flight. The island is well connected to the rest of Europe and Switzerland by the national airline Icelandair. All flights from abroad land and depart from Keflavík Airport, located about 50 km from the capital Reykjavík. During the summer, a domestic flight to the northern city of Akureyri also departs from Keflavík. The airport has rental counters for all major international rental companies. You can therefore easily pick up your rental car here. By car, the city of Reykjavík is about 50 minutes away. However, if you have chosen an alternative means of transport or if you prefer to pick up your rented car in the city, you can also reach Reykjavík in about 45 minutes by a comfortable express bus service at a cost of about CHF 22,00. In addition, the airport is also connected to the capital by regular buses. This is certainly the cheapest connection option (the ticket costs about CHF 14), but it is undoubtedly also the slowest (about 90 minutes). Finally, a taxi service is of course available at the airport, but this option is by far the most expensive. All informations are available here.
Arriving by ship
Iceland can also be reached by sea. Those who choose this option usually arrive on the island as part of a North Sea cruise. In fact, there are many routes that, starting from the main port cities of northern Europe, stop in Reykjavík or even circumnavigate the whole island making some strategic stops in Akureyri and Ísafjörður. Obviously this is a travel option that does not offer any freedom in the choice of attractions to visit or things to do on the island. It is therefore only advisable for those who do not wish to spend more than a short stay in well-selected tourist destinations.
The Icelandic F-Road: what you should know
The F-Road – the “F” comes from “Fjallvegur”, mountain road – are very common in Iceland and they are unpaved roads that run through the hinterland. Normally open only during the summer months, this kind of roads allows visitors who arrive there to discover unique and isolated places, far from mass tourism. However, driving along them requires a proper vehicle and a good ability to drive in extreme conditions, which is why we suggest that you don’t drive on an F-road without having the ability and a suitable vehicle. Even if they are official roads, the harsh Icelandic landscape and a bizarre climate constantly change their structure and the drivability of an F-road can undergo drastic changes even on the same day. Moreover, many F-roads require the fording of small and large rivers, an operation that need attention and proper skills and that brings many risks for you and your vehicle.
In general, in Iceland it is allowed to drive the F-roads only with vehicles defined as “Mountain Vehicle”, that is 4X4. And even in this case, the most difficult F-roads require very powerful vehicles with a raised trim. So, don’t think to drive on an F-road renting a normal urban 4X4!
Moreover, Icelandic rental companies do not allow to drive on an F-road and normally don’t offer dedicated insurance coverage, except for vehicles explicitly declared suitable for F-roads. This means that if you choose a normal 4X4 urban vehicle you will be responsible for any damage to the vehicle and, therefore, you will assume on you (and on your wallet) all the risks of a behavior not in line with the rental agreements.
Does this mean that you will have to give up driving an F-Road? No! It just means you’ll have to choose your route carefully and make sure you’re renting the right car and have the necessary driving skills. And don’t be afraid to check in advance with your rental company the conditions offered, according to the route you intend to take!
The legendary route F35
Not having the skills to drive on rough terrain and even less the ability to ford a river, we opted for the legendary F35, from Reykjavík to Akureyri. This is an F-Road that, with the right precautions, can be driven without too much risk with a normal 4×4 vehicle. The unpaved road starts from Gullfoss and, passing through enchanting points such as the Kerlingarfjöll and the geothermal area of Hveravellir, leads back along the Ring Road on the north coast and from there to Akureyri. Going the whole road takes several hours. Google maps declares about 6 hours, but from our experience we suggest you to take in account at least seven hours, with a stop in Hveravellir that is about halfway along the route. Although this is a less rugged F-road than others, the road surface is unpaved and, in many places, in very poor condition and with large potholes. You will therefore have to drive slowly and carefully, to avoid the risk of damage to the vehicle.
However, we still remember that as one of the best days spent in Iceland! The route is fascinating and – we assure you – you’ll be amazed by the great variety of landscapes you’ll find along the way.
You won’t find any gas stations on the F35, so be sure to fill up your car before leaving Reykjavík and bring with you a good stock of food and water. In addition, phone coverage is limited and data connection is often absent, which is why we suggest you download road maps to your phone before starting the trip.
Last note: driving off-road in Iceland is strictly forbidden as it is extremely dangerous and harmful to the local flora and fauna! So never leave the marked route for any reason!
From Reykjavík to Hveravellir
We leave Reykjavík around ten in the morning after a rich breakfast at the Hotel Reykjavík Marina*, our base in the city. We have a long and tiring journey ahead of us and, to be reasonably sure of not having any problems on the way, we make sure to fill up with gasoline, check that the windshield wipers are working properly – we expect rain on the way north – and make a quick stop at the supermarket to get some snacks and water.
Our travel plan is to drive for about 4 hours to Hveravellir, where we will make a short stop for a snack before driving the last three hours to the north of the island and Akureyri.
From Reykjavík, it is necessary to partly redo the Golden Circle route. We then pass again Thingvellir, the Geyser area and Gullfoss. The F-35 is, in fact, the unpaved part of road 35, a quite normal paved road that ends about 15 km after the Gullfoss waterfall. From this point, the asphalt gives way to rough and uneven terrain and caution is required. The road is narrow and has potholes and depressions. For many kilometers you may not meet anyone if not some other passing car, just like you, or some goats – who knows why almost always in groups of three?! – grazing freely in the meadows along the roadside.
The road will surprise you right away: the glaciers are visible almost immediately and appear, to the eye, as a magnificent end to an amazing expanse of rocks and sand. The panorama, to be honest, will change color several times during the trip – as will the weather – but the two large glaciers to the right and left of the track, which runs right in the middle, will be a constant companion throughout the first part of our journey.
With some good music and a few snacks to distract us, the drive proceeds relaxed and without any difficulty. At least until our cell phones lose their data signal, sending the navigator and the travel times into a tailspin (do you remember the suggestion earlier about downloading offline maps?). But despite a few moments of unforeseen stress, we don’t lose heart and continue to follow the road, occasionally taking advantage of the wider stretches to take a short break, catch our breath and observe the view around us. And for a few minutes even the sun comes back to keep us company! Unfortunately, it won’t last long, but our stop is just around the corner and we are really curious to discover what is hidden in such a remote and hostile place! From the F35, we take a small detour to the F735 and after just 2.5 km we are in Hveravellir.
The geothermal area of Hveravellir
Hveravellir is a natural reserve characterized by a strong geothermal activity: fumaroles, hot springs and thermal water pools are the masters. Upon our arrival, the smell of sulfur is quite penetrating and, looking at the landscape around us, it really seems to have arrived at the mouth of hell! The area is exactly halfway between Gullfoss, to the south, and Akureyri, to the north. It is therefore the perfect stopping point both for those who want to eat something and for those who want to stop here for the night and break the long journey. Here, in fact, you will find a hostel with common and private rooms, a bar-restaurant and, above all, wonderful pools of hot water for a quick bath. At this link you can find all the informations. In addition, some wooden walkways will allow you to admire the fumaroles and water sources in complete safety. We, unfortunately, were not able to fully enjoy the bar-restaurant due to time constraints and the need to leave as soon as possible for our final destination. However, we didn’t miss the opportunity to take a nice tour of the area and the thermal pools, just a moment before it started to rain. From here, the rain will accompany us until Akureyri and the route will require more caution. To the north, the region of Lake Blöndulón is the gateway to our return to the Ring Road and the asphalt road. The landscape is decidedly greener and, on the other hand, the north of the island is generally wetter than the south. Rain, in fact, is going to be a constant in this part of the vacation. From this point, Akureyri is about 120 km away, an hour and a half drive.
Arrival in Akureyri
We arrive in Akureyri late in the afternoon. We are tired but satisfied and our eyes are full of wonder for what we saw while driving along the legendary F35. Akureyri is a small town of just 18,000 inhabitants, but it is still the second largest city in Iceland and the only large city in the north of the island. It offers a quiet, relaxed atmosphere, good restaurants and bars, and is a perfect base for exploring the north. We will spend two nights here and, after a good night’s sleep, tomorrow we will set off to explore the surrounding areas and go whale watching at sea! In the meantime, however, it’s time for dinner! If you like fish and shellfish, we suggest you don’t miss the opportunity to taste a great local food at the Restaurant Strikið, in the city center. The restaurant also has a large outdoor terrace, but the Icelandic weather does not always allow for this, so we suggest you book well in advance. It also offers excellent meat dishes. A good, slightly cheaper alternative is the Restaurant Boutinn, which offers American cuisine, such as burgers, steaks and fried food.
You’ve probably understood by now: driving on a F-road is not something to do lightly. If you don’t have the right car, a good insurance and the ability to drive a 4×4 in difficult conditions, don’t take any risks and rely on a tour operator* who can take you to your destination safely!
If you decide to drive the F35, remember to always check in advance the conditions of the route on this website. Also, be sure to check the weather conditions and, in case of rain or bad weather, don’t be afraid to change your route! It’s better to mess up your plans than to get into trouble in the middle of a remote Icelandic place!
Restaurants in Iceland are quite expensive! So we suggest that you fill up with non-perishable food at a supermarket and take it with you in the car. They will come in handy especially during a long trip like the one on the F35 from Reykjavík to Akureyri.
Are you planning an on-the-road trip to Iceland? Then read all our articles on the topic and if you have any questions or need additional tips leave a comment in the box below. We will get back to you as soon as possible!