To help you plan the best road trip around Iceland, here is a detailed breakdown of my (awesome) Iceland Ring Road itinerary.
There’s no better way to explore Iceland than by driving the Ring Road, a.k.a. Route 1, that circles the entire island. Spanning 828 miles (1332 km), this route is one of world’s top road trips and it will show you the best of the island.
Weave your way through rolling hills where Icelandic horses roam, past jagged cliffs with gushing waterfalls, and snake alongside sapphire blue rivers. Every turn of the road reveals new landscapes that will keep the entire journey exciting.
We recently drove the entire Iceland Ring Road with our two-year-old daughter, in mid-July. It was our second trip to Iceland, but our first time driving the Ring Road and it made us fall head over heels for this country once again.
Table of Contents
- Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
- How to Plan Your Iceland Road Trip
- Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
- Itinerary DAY 1 | Reykjavík
- Itinerary DAY 2 | The Golden Circle
- Itinerary DAY 3 | Waterfalls & Wrecks
- Itinerary DAY 4 | The East Fjords
- Itinerary DAY 5 | Up North
- Itinerary DAY 6 | Whales & Fjords
- Itinerary DAY 7 | Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
How to Plan Your Iceland Road Trip
To start planning your Iceland road trip, I’d recommend picking a few highlights and then loosely planning your journey around them. It’s best to map out your stops ahead of time, taking into consideration driving times and breaks for meals. There is so much to see along the Ring Road that you won’t be driving more than 2 hours without stopping for a waterfall or two.
Be careful if you’re visiting in winter (best time to see Northern Lights in Iceland!) as some roads are closed and many of them can be icy and slippery. Read my guide to driving in Iceland for more details on traffic rules and regulations.
We rented a camper van from SAD cars and absolutely got hooked to van life. Traveling in a campervan allowed us to explore the back roads and sleep in spectacular settings, while saving money on accommodation and food (that’s at least $100/night). We also had the flexibility to just pull over and cook or sleep whenever we wanted.
Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
Itinerary DAY 1 | Reykjavík
Our journey started in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavík. It’s a small and artsy city buzzing with activities, sprinkled with Scandinavian huts and a cluster of bars and museums.
Some of my favorite spots in the city were the Old Harbor (with lots of cool cafes), Sun Voyager boat sculpture and Hallgrímskirkja church (where you can get a view of the city from the top of its tower). We also managed to get some hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, Iceland’s famous hot dog stand. Although Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the largest city in the country, it’s still relatively small and can be seen within a day.
Most people head to the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík or even before going to the city, as it’s just 14 miles (23 km) from Keflavik International Airport. We’ve avoided the Blue Lagoon on both trips, as entrance tickets are exorbitant and it’s become very touristy and crowded. If you’re driving the Ring Road, I recommend visiting Myvatn Nature Baths in northern Iceland instead, which is said to be even more beautiful, but cheaper (3800 – 4300 ISK per adult) and less busy.
SLEEP: We stayed at Grimur Hotel, a brand new hotel located in the quiet neighborhood of Fossvogur, just a 10-minute bus ride from downtown Reykjavík. It’s minimalistic and comfortable, with spacious and Arctic-inspired rooms. We highly recommend it as prices are reasonable and location is great. Breakfast is included and you can choose from a wide variety of cereals, yogurt and fresh juices (we ate late and filled ourselves up to save on lunch!). Check the latest prices here. If you are camping, note that it is not permissible to stay overnight in tents or campers or tents in public areas within the city limits.
Itinerary DAY 2 | The Golden Circle
The Iceland Ring Road is a circular loop that traverses the circumference of Iceland, so you can choose to go north or south. Going north will bring you to the less-visited Snæfellsnes Peninsular first, while heading south will lead you to the Golden Circle, the most popular part of Iceland for tourists.
We chose to go south in traverse the Ring Road in an anti-clockwise direction (for no particular reason), but I advise checking out the aurora forecast to increase our chances of seeing the Northern Lights. It’s possible to see them any time of the year other than summer.
Iceland’s Golden Circle is a 190-mile (300-km) loop that passes through Iceland’s most famous trio and is just a short two-hour drive from Reykjavík. It’s a slight detour from the Ring Road and it can be very crowded with tourists in summer, but you can’t come to Iceland without visiting these three sights.
Þingvellir National Park
Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park, an area where new earth is constantly formed by the movement of the North American and European tectonic plates. But it’s not just a place of geological significance; the first parliament in Iceland actually took place here in 930 AD. Go on the board walk or hike up the moss-covered rocky trails right off the carpark to get the sensation of walking on Mars.
On our previous trip, we came here to dive Silfra, a rift valley between the two tectonic plates. Considered one of the best dive sites in the world, the sparkling clear water here promises visibility of 150 to 300 meters (in clear glacial waters fit for drinking) and an underwater environment found nowhere else. I highly recommend doing it, especially if you’re a scuba diver!
Geysers at Haukadalur
About 60km away is the Haukadalur geothermal area, home to two famous geysers here called Geysir and Strokkur. In fact, the general term “geyser” was named after this particular one in Iceland. The restaurant here serves up hot soups for 1500 ISK ($14); we heated up our food in the van and ate in the comfort of the warm restaurant here.
We wandered around the walking trails, past steaming vents and colorful mud formations in a bizarre Mars-like setting – but we had come to see the star of the spectacle, Geysir; the one single geyser from which all other geysers are named after.
Unfortunately, it has become somewhat shy in recent years and only spews once or twice a year. Thankfully the nearby Strokkur continues to spout 100-feet water jets almost every five minutes. We watched as the orange-blue pool bubble up, releasing steam and foam into the air. It then explodes into a light blue jet of steaming water.
The next stop was Gullfoss, Europe’s largest waterfall. We heard it before we saw it: a thundering roar engulfed us as we walked through the mist clouds surrounding the hammering falls. It was a sight to behold — thousands of gallons of gushing water plummeting down a 105-foot (32-meter) double cascade, into the churning Hvita glacial river.
There are a few trails that lead all the way to the roaring falls: we parked at the bottom carpark which was closer to the lower section of the falls. You’ll get wet if you walk to the edge of the falls, so a waterproof jacket and pants are recommended. This is the single most popular attraction in Iceland, so prepare for crowds.
Kerið Crater Lake
We hadn’t planned on this stop, but it was easy to spot interesting sights from the large amount of cars parked there. The Kerið Crater Lake spots spectacular sapphire-colorer waters inside a volcano caldera covered in red volcanic rock and rich green moss. It’s thought to have formed when the magma in the center simply depleted itself, and the empty chamber beneath caved in. Regardless of the geological minutia that led to the lake’s creation, its bright rainbow of colors look unearthly. There are steps that lead down to the bottom of the crater and it’s an easy hike; even my 2-year-old daughter could go down and up in just 15 minutes.
SLEEP: We stayed at Hotel Ranga, a stunning country hotel that was our favourite place to stay on our first trip to Iceland. It has a gorgeous setting at the foot of Mount Katla and the around-the-world themed suites are incredibly cool (we stayed at the North American suite). Dinner at their in-house restaurant is fantastic and the surrounding area is just stunning. This hotel is also famous as one of the best places to see Northern Lights in Iceland. We would definitely come back and stay here again on our next trip to Iceland! Check the latest prices here. If you’re looking to camp, I would suggest checking out Árhús, a beautiful campsite along the Ranga River, near Hella.
Itinerary DAY 3 | Waterfalls & Wrecks
We started the day off with a short drive to Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Both waterfalls are 200 feet tall and are some of the most spectacular in Iceland. Seljalandsfoss is extremely popular with tourists, so don’t expect to get it to yourself. It’s worthwhile following the trail that gets behind the falls, even though you will get completely wet. Bring a raincoat of wear your most waterproof gear.
The drive from there to Skógafoss is short but punctuated with tons of waterfalls and green misty mountains. We saw a rainbow here and the weather was surprisingly warm. There were plenty of picnic tables right by the carpark, so we cooked a nice lunch and ate out under the sun. A metal stairway weaves its way up to the top of the waterfalls where you can stare down to the bottom or stroll further up to the second tier of the falls.
Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
Further along the Ring Road is the carpark for the Sólheimasandur plane wreckage. In 1973, a US Navy DC-3 plane ran out of fuel and crashed onto the black sand beach. Today, the wreck remains stranded here and makes for an interesting sight and photography opportunity. The walk from the carpark to the wreck and back was a 5-mile (8km) trek, which took us around 1.5 hours to and back, but it was very easy and manageable even with a baby on our back. But if you’re in a rush for time or don’t like walking, I’d say skip this site.
Vik Black Sand Beaches
We missed the black sand beaches and rock stacks of Vik as it was very misty and rainy by the time we got there. Since the weather was crappy (which meant that we couldn’t cook), we treated ourselves to a massive burger at the gas station cafe in Vik.
SLEEP: It was a long day even though we didn’t drive much. We eventually found a rest stop to camp right by the Laufskálavarða cairn area (with portable toilets). Traditionally everybody passing by Laufskálavarða for the first time should add a stone to a cairn here for good fortune on their journey through this dangerous area. These stone cairns have piled up for the past millennia and is a popular stop for tourists (which we found out in the morning when they woke us up!). For those who are not camping, I recommend checking out the Icelandair Hotel Vik, just 270m off the Iceland Ring Road, with views of the Reynisdrangar
Itinerary DAY 4 | The East Fjords
Just an hour’s drive away was Fjaðrárgljúfur, a canyon that’s up to 100m deep and 2km long. It may not look deep in pictures, but the height can be dizzying when you stare down to the Fjaðrá river from the edges. The canyon was created by progressive erosion by flowing water from glaciers through the rocks over millennia, and now sports beautiful steep walls etched around extraordinary serpentines. Some of you might be tempted to sit on the cliff’s edges for that perfect Insta shot, but the trail is now fenced up to protect the flora. It pisses me off when I see people crossing the line even though they’re not supposed to. Stick to the trail people!
This part of the drive was actually my favorite. We had seen glaciers earlier on during the drive along Iceland Ring Road (and even climbed a glacier on our previous trip), but only from a far distance. We were now skirting around the edge of the massive Vatnajökull ice cap and driving past magnificent glaciers, one after another, perched on the mountain slopes. They were so close you could see the ice carving right from the Ring Road.
The biggest and the most accessible glacier tongues in this area are Skaftafellsjokull and Svínafellsjökull. We made a short detour on a gravel road (just 5 minutes off the Ring Road) to hike the glacier. There was a steep rocky path that gave us a closer look at the glacier, but the wind was so strong that we didn’t make it far. From the trail, we could see some aqua-blue ice breaking and hundreds of cracks and stacks. There was also a small glacier lagoon that was backdropped by the mountain peak and ice crevasses.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
In the afternoon, we finally arrived at the much anticipated Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, a highlight of Iceland that we skipped on our first trip here. I didn’t have much expectations as I’d heard that the glacial ice sometimes melt and disappear in summer months; but I was pleasantly surprised. The lagoon was filled with plenty of floating ice, in all shapes and sizes, and different shades of blue. They are just like the icebergs I saw in Svalbard in Arctic Norway and Antarctica — but in comparison, Iceland is so much more accessible. No wonder it’s one of the most popular spots in Iceland!
We continued driving for another two hours to get to the public swimming pool in Höfn. Sundlaug Hornafjörður is located right in the heart of the town, and it’s a really family friendly outdoor thermal pool with a cute kids pool that Kaleya loved. It also has a 25 meter lap pool and two hot tubs with water of around 41 degrees Celsius. That evening, we had a quick hot dog dinner at the nearby Olis gas station and carried on our road trip since we wanted to cover more ground.
This is where you’ll find real wilderness of Iceland. The East Fjords cover a 120km stretch of eastern Iceland’s twisted coastline between Borgarfjörður Eystri in the north and southern Berufjörður, with many of the fjords sporting small fishing villages. The fjord scenery can be vivid, particularly in summer, with the villages sitting between flat blue sea and steep, steel-grey mountains.
There’s plenty to see in the fjords, such as puffins at Borgarfjörður Eystri, and Norwegian-style wooden houses at Seyðisfjörður, but we didn’t feel we had time for that so we stuck to the Ring Road. While it’s rather desolate and empty, this part of Iceland is home to many sheep and reindeer. Make sure to keep your eyes on the road — we had to step on our brakes several times when herds of sheep dashed across the road without any warning.
As we drove on, the highway became a gravel road that climbed steeply up the mountains. It also got so foggy that we could barely see anything, which made driving rather dangerous. Thankfully once we reached the top of the mountains, the mist cleared and we were back on paved roads.
SLEEP: This was a big driving day for us. We actually couldn’t find any appropriate spot to park and camp for the night until 10pm. After passing the town of Egilsstaðir, we found a surprisingly pleasant rest stop with toilets and picnic tables, and a spectacular view of the raging river below. For those not camping, Vinland Cottage is a beautiful country style cottage 4km from Egilsstaðir. You’re close to town and all the conveniences (supermarkets, banks and restaurants) but you’re far enough to feel like you’re in the backcountry.
Itinerary DAY 5 | Up North
An hour after leaving our camping spot, we were hiking along the trails to Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Iceland (and Europe) by water volume. The falls were ridiculously impressive, but it was the hike there that we really enjoyed. You can walk all the way to the water’s edge, and even on to another waterfall (Selfoss). Kaleya was just discovering her love for hiking and she was had plenty of fun traversing the trail and jumping from rock to rock.
Hverir Geothermal Area
It didn’t take long to reach the Myvatn Lake area in northern Iceland. As soon as we saw the black volcanic rock and massive ash fields, we knew we were in the geothermal area famous for its hot springs and mud pits. It was pretty interesting getting up-close to the boiling mud pools and steaming fumaroles, watching the Earth work its magic.
Mvatyn Nature Bath
After a quick lunch on our camper van, we headed to the nearby Myvatn Nature Bath (just five minutes away) for a nice, long relaxing dip. We came here on our last trip and really enjoyed ourselves — but we were disappointed to find it much more crowded than before. The prices were higher (because of the season) and people could even have beer while in the bath. Kaleya had fun though, and we were glad she had the chance to experience it. Book your Myvatn tickets here.
On our drive to Akureyri, we made a quick stop at Godafoss, translated to mean “Waterfall of the Gods”. This was right off the Ring Road and very easy to access. We could actually see it from miles away — it wasn’t quite as tall as the other waterfalls we visited, but its horseshoe shape made it pretty unique.
Driving into Akureyri felt like we were back in urban Iceland. This is the second biggest city in Iceland and the capital of the north. It’s got a beautiful harbor, with plenty of cool cafes and interesting historical architecture right on the water front, as well as big supermarkets and malls to stock up on supplies. We had an early night after walking around the city and hanging out at the playground with Kaleya.
SLEEP: For those not camping, check out Akureyri Log Cabin, 3.6km from the city centre. It’s incredibly cute and well priced, and has a wonderful location overlooking the city and the fjords. Otherwise, it can be hard to find a spot to park in a city, since answering nature’s call can be a problem. We didn’t bother driving out of Akureyri and instead just parked at an Olis gas station (with 24-hour bathrooms). I know what we did is actually against the law, so I’m definitely not encouraging you to do the same.
Itinerary DAY 6 | Whales & Fjords
Whale Watching in Akureyri
We started the morning bright and early on a whale watching trip in Akureyri. The vessel brought us deep into Eyjafjord, one of the many fjords in the northern part of Iceland. As our marine biologist explained, this is one of the world’s best places to see whales as the fjord has a mixture of sea and fresh water and is rich in krills that whales feed on. It didn’t take long for us to see what she meant. We saw over 20 humpback whales in a span of an hour or so, and they were playfully blowing water through their spouts and showing us their flukes one after another.
From Akureyri, we continued further north and made a short detour from the Ring Road into the town of Hofsós. Just before pulling into town, we found a ridiculously picturesque spot that was actually one of the oldest trading posts in Iceland. There were picnic tables overlooking the pebble beach beneath our feet. The indigo blue waters of the fjord shimmered in the distance, while birds fluttered all over the grey basalt cliffs on the shoreline. We pulled out our portable stove, made ourselves a nice pasta lunch and soaked up the sunshine.
Sundlaugin á Hofsósi
Our main goal for coming to Hofsós was to see the pool, Sundlaugin á Hofsósi. Designed by the same architect responsible for the famous Blue Lagoon, this pool is set right at the edge of the fjord. Because of the smart architecture, it gives the illusion of an infinity pool that drops into the sea beyond. It was also a family-friendly pool, with a tiny kids’ corner that Kaleya loved.
It was time for a long drive again — we continued further west, passing the West Fjords (which we had seen a bit of on our last trip) and making it into the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. To explore this part of Iceland, we had to take a detour from the Ring Road once again. Once we veered off the highway, the road became a gravel trail that snaked its way through imposing jagged cliffs and alongside dreamy fjords. Snæfellsnes Peninsula is also known as “Little Iceland” for the myriad of terrain found here. The film “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was actually filmed amidst the sulphur lava fields here.
SLEEP: That evening, we couldn’t find any rest stop along route 54 at all, and decided to wild camp at a quiet corner just by a small canyon and bridge. There was no one else but us the entire night and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful spot to spend our last night on the camper van. For those not camping, you’ll have to drive to Grundarfjordur to find accommodation. The most highly reviewed accommodation in town is the Grundarfjordur Bed and Breakfast, a clean and cute guesthouse located in the town center next to cafes and museums.
Itinerary DAY 7 | Snæfellsnes Peninsula
It was our final day in Iceland, but we didn’t have much planned except to get back to Reykjavik by night. All the mountains surrounding us were covered in mist, so we decided to wait out in town for the weather to clear up. Elim Cafe turned out to be an excellent spot for us to hang out as it had an interesting museum and kids corner with plenty of toys to keep Kaleya entertained. We also found a spacious picnic spot right in the town center to cook lunch.
By the time we got to the iconic Kirkjufellfoss, it was already packed with photographers. This has become a popular spot in recent years, so we kinda expected the crowd. If you want to see the spot without anyone around you, make sure to get here at the wee hours of the morning or evening.
Kirkjufell means “Church Mountain” and it has a unique geological structure that makes it easy to see how it’s become such a photographed spot. But the lone-standing mountain isn’t tall or imposing and the falls themselves aren’t exactly impressive — leaving us quite underwhelmed by the whole area. I’m still not quite sure if the spot is actually worth the two-hour detour from the Ring Road, but I definitely regretted not spending more time exploring other parts of the peninsula.
The drive back to Reykjavík was short but bittersweet. We felt like we hadn’t driven that much, and yet we had crossed continents and centuries. From formidable glaciers to roaring volcanoes and raging waterfalls – this Iceland Ring Road itinerary gave us the sensation that we had traveled to a different planet. I could hardly believe that we had seen it all on just one island.
SLEEP: On our last evening, we headed back to Grimur Hotel, a comfortable and simple Scandinavian style hotel just 15minutes away from the city center. There is a bus stop right in front of the hotel, where you can catch a bus to the Flybus terminal for your airport transfer. Check the latest prices here.
Just like that, our Iceland trip came to an end. We found this Iceland Ring Road itinerary to be perfect for us, in terms of places visited and the pace of travel. I hope you’ve found this useful!
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