Originally published on 16 November 2016. Updated on 6 June 2018.
As backpackers, we did the unthinkable and booked flights to one of the most expensive countries in the world: Iceland. We were lured in by cheap flights, endless waterfalls and the prospect of seeing the northern lights and couldn’t help ourselves – we were going to spend 10 days on Ring Road. We couldn’t find the perfect Ring Road Itinerary for what we were after – under 10 days and covering many of the stunning sights around the country, there was simply too much compromise. So, we came up with our own trip and figured we’d just give it a shot. What we found was that we could beat the crowds, spend a decent amount of time at each spot AND see many places along Iceland’s most epic road trip.
- What are the highlights of Ring Road?
- How much time do you need?
- What about the Westfjords?
- Staying connected on Ring Road
- Day 1: Pick Up Vehicle, Explore Reykjavik and Prep
- Day 2: The Golden Circle to Seljalandsfoss
- Day 3: The South towards Vik
- Day 4: Svínafellsjökul / Skaftafell and Svartifoss
- Day 5: Rest day
- Day 6: South to Eastfjords
- Day 7: East to North of Iceland
- Day 8: Whale watching or adventure day in Akureyri or Dalvik
- Day 9: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
- Day 10: Return to Reykjavik
- A note about our Ring Road Itinerary
What are the highlights of Ring Road?
This Ring Road itinerary will take you through some of most picturesque landscapes and sights in Iceland.
- South: expect to see plenty of waterfalls – from the powerful and raging falls to the gently falling.
- South-East is where you will see glaciers and have opportunities to go glacier walking and ice-climbing.
- East and North of Iceland have quaint small towns to get a feel for Iceland without the crowds of tourists. Here, you’ll also find a few of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls and opportunities to see wildlife. Wildlife will depend on the season that you’re going as whale watching is only available during the summer months (April to September).
- West: the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes Peninsula – more waterfalls and mountains for you to bask in.
How much time do you need?
We found that it was entirely possible to drive around the entire country (except for the Westfjords) and see a lot of main sights in under 10 days. We even lost a day because we had the heaviest rainfall in Iceland in 15 years! The most important thing is planning and mapping your route.
This entire Ring Road Itinerary is ideal if you’ve got between 10 and 12 days and can be done in any vehicle – you do not need a 4×4 for this trip. However, we’ve colour coordinated the map below if you’ve got a shorter amount of time.
8 days or less for Ring Road?
- 2 days on Ring Road? Check out the blue markers for Reykjavik and the Golden Circle.
- 3 days on Ring Road? You will have sufficient time to visit the blue and purple points which will take you around Iceland’s southern region and some epic waterfalls. Look at Days 1 – 3 of our Ring Road Itinerary.
- 5 days on Ring Road? Add the yellow and black points depending on the weather. Each area will need a full day each. Look at Days 1 – 5 (up to Jökulsárlón) and day 8.
- 7-8 days on Ring Road? You can race through and see all sights if you skip rest day and the glacier tour. You may also need to skip some locations and cut out the scenic drive in the north (the red points).
What about the Westfjords?
You’ll notice that the entire Westfjords is left out. Due to weather, we lost a full day on the road which cut out the Westfjords completely for us. We also don’t think it’s realistic to fit it in and enjoy yourself entirely given it requires at least 2 days (and even then, you’re spending a lot of time driving).
If you are a driving machine, have an excellent run with weather AND don’t need a rest day (are you insane?!?) then you could travel to your Westfjords base on Day 7 and spend Day 8 exploring the Westfjords before continuing on to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. You’ll probably have to cut out a few other spots along the way.
Staying connected on Ring Road
You won’t find much wifi around the country so make sure you download offline maps and have our Iceland map ready to go. If you need internet on the road, we purchased a sim card from Síminn which gave us coverage for most of the country.
Day 1: Pick Up Vehicle, Explore Reykjavik and Prep
Your flight will arrive at Keflavik Airport so you should coordinate to pick up the car and start your trip with some sights in Reykjavik. Rather than marching onwards towards parts of Ring Road, we suggest spending the day here to enjoy the city. You can visit Hallgrimskirkja church, Sólfarið and downtown Reykjavik.
Tip: Eating out in Iceland is expensive so stock up for your time on Ring Road at Bonus, a discount supermarket. You won’t find too many cheap spots to top up around the country so prepare yourself with dried and canned goods.
Note that shops in Iceland usually open around 10 am and close at 5 or 6 pm (including the supermarkets).
Overnight: Reykjavik – spend your first night in Reykjavik to prepare for an early start tomorrow.
Day 2: The Golden Circle to Seljalandsfoss
With your car stocked up and ready to go, depart Reykjavik early and get started on the Golden Circle. Trust us, you want to beat the crowds. The Golden Circle is a loop covering around 300 km from Reykjavik to Iceland’s southern uplands and back. Rather than heading back to Reykjavik though, you’ll continue on to Seljalandsfoss.
Stop 1: Þingvellir National Park
The location of Iceland’s first Parliament which started back in 930 AD. This is also where the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly splitting apart from each other, creating deep fissures in the ground. This is the same place where you can snorkel or dive in the Silfra Fissure between the tectonic plates. Instead of the doing the dive, we parked our car and went to see Öxarárfoss – the waterfall that flows from Öxará River (Ax River).
Stop 2: Geysers at Haukadalur
This area is filled with various geysers including Strokkur, an active geyser which spouts water every 5-10 minutes, and Geysir – Iceland’s most famous geyser which is now less active. We had a great time standing around waiting for Strokkur to erupt to take some silly photos. Fun fact – the English word ‘geyser’ is derived from Geysir. Just stand around
Stop 3: Gullfoss Waterfall
The Golden Waterfall is an iconic and powerful waterfall with spectacular views. It’s one of Iceland’s most visited waterfall but is pretty damn epic.
Stop 4: Kerið Crater Lake
Kerið is a stunning volcanic crater lake filled with milky blue-green water amid stark black and deep red slopes. Unfortunately, due to the horrible weather, we didn’t end up making it to this stop so if you get here, please let us know how you went!
Overnight: Seljalandsfoss or nearby. We parked our campervan at a rest stop and parked there overnight to wake up for sunrise and get ahead of the busloads of tourists.
Day 3: The South towards Vik
Get ready for a big day of driving and sightseeing. If you have more than 10 days on Ring Road, this day could easily be split across 2 days to be done at a slower pace. This will also give you more time to take any photos
You’ll wake up today at Seljalandsfoss and get some beautiful photos without huge crowds. From here, you’ll head to the South to see some of the most beautiful sights in Iceland. If the weather is really terrible, we recommend you move on and come back at the end of the trip since it’s not too far from Reykjavik.
Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss & Gljúfrafoss
These two waterfalls are some of our favourites in Iceland. Seljalandsfoss has a path that leads up right behind it! Gljúfrafoss is a hidden waterfall about 700m to the left of Seljalandsfoss that gets missed by most people. You can actually walk in to see the falls from the inside but beware that you will get drenched (totally worth it)!
Stop 2: Seljavallalaug (Iceland’s oldest pool)
This little gem is around 20 minutes from Seljalandsfoss and is Iceland’s first swimming pool. Water is fed from a hot spring nearby, is warm, entry is free (although there is a donation tin) and you’re surrounded by some beautiful sights. So why not?
To get here, continue along Route 1 and make a left at Route 242. We’ve marked it on the map above. At the end of the road, you can park your car and walk 10 minutes to get to the pool. There aren’t any facilities, just a couple of change areas.
Stop 3: Skógafoss
This waterfall is truly breathtaking but you will want to beat the crowds here, especially if you’re visiting in summer. Tourist buses start arriving at around 10 am. Park your car at the base of the waterfall and hike your way up along the trail on the right-hand side.
Stop 4: Sólheimajökull (optional)
This is an easy to access glacier that is slowly shrinking. If you are doing any kind of glacier tour, we recommend you save it for Svínafellsjökul on Day 4 to avoid massive tourist groups. If you won’t be doing a tour, then stop by here.
Stop 5: Sólheimasandur (Abandoned DC Plane)
In 1973, a US Navy DC plane crashed on Sólheimasandur black sand beach. There are different stories about what happened but the more common story is that the pilot ran out of fuel. The good thing is everyone survived. You’ll notice that the plane’s tail is missing – rumour has it that a farmer took it and sold it in Vik!
Note: Other websites told us that you could drive to the site however this is no longer possible. You must park your car and walk 45 minutes along a gravel road to get to the plane.
Stop 6: Black Beach & Vik Beach
You’ll find basalt columns, cliffs and caves at these beautiful beaches with black pebbles. According to local folklore, the formations were once trolls attempting to reach shore in the cover of night but were turned to stone when the sun came out.
Stop 7: Dyrhólaey Arch (great for sunset or sunrise)
If you’ve got enough time at the end of the day, stop by Dyrhólaey for sunset. If you’re feeling wrecked and don’t feel up to it, leave it for the morning as views here are stunning at sunset or sunrise.
Overnight: Vik. If you’re after a ‘cheap’ meal (by Iceland standards), the restaurant connected to the N1 petrol station is surprisingly pretty decent!
Day 4: Svínafellsjökul / Skaftafell and Svartifoss
If you skipped Dyrhólaey the day before, see it in the morning before heading from Vik to Skaftafell for your Glacier Tour. This drive is only 1 hour but there are so many beautiful sights along the way that we spent an entire day driving this! If you can resist and control the number of stops, we recommend doing this drive in the morning and arriving at 11:45 am in Skaftafell in time for a Glacier Tour.
Stop 1: Glacier Tour at Svínafellsjökul
We went on a Glacier Walk and Ice Climbing tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides and highly recommend it. It’s an unreal experience to walk out on the glaciers and look out to see the different mountains around. Ice climbing is both scary and exhilarating but completely safe and the challenge is enjoyable. The tour starts at 12 pm and lasts around 5 hours.
Alex from Swedish Nomad also lists it as one of his top things to do in Iceland.
Stop 2: Svartifoss
This waterfall is amongst basalt columns and is a moderate uphill hike from the carpark near Skaftafell. If you are travelling during winter, this is a great place to view the northern lights. It’s not a super popular waterfall but we found it to be impressive and absolutely worth the hike.
Overnight: Skaftafell, Hof or Höfn. There’s only one option in Skaftafell and a few in Hof so depending on what time you finish your day, you can stay here or continue your drive on stay in Höfn where there are more accommodation options. However, if you stay in Höfn, you’ll be backtracking (though it’s not so far). The truck stop café connected to the fuel station in Höfn also serves some delicious food.
Day 5: Rest day
We also recommend that you stay in Höfn so that you have some better options for your rest day. Between the sightseeing, driving and adventures, by day 5, you are going to be wrecked on this road trip around Iceland. Schedule in a rest day if time permits and spend time enjoying what the local town has to offer. If you’ve run out of supplies, this is also the time to top up.
Day 6: South to Eastfjords
LONG DAY OF DRIVING ahead! However, given that Iceland is ridiculously picturesque no matter where you are, you are never going to get bored of the scenic landscapes on Ring Road.
Stop 1: Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon) & Diamond Beach
You’ll be tempted to stop at the first couple of car parks when you start seeing the lagoon. Don’t. Wait until you get to the car park just before the bridge so that you can see the lagoon on the left and then visit the beach on the right where you will hopefully find washed up icebergs.
Stop 2: Höfn
Höfn is known for its lobster so stop in here if you have the money for it. Overall, food is Iceland was amazing so I don’t doubt that the lobster would be too. Unfortunately for us, our budget didn’t allow for it!
Stop 3: Seyðisfjörður
You can also make stops along any of the Eastfjords depending on how much time you have. We chose Seyðisfjörður because it’s a beautiful little town surrounded by mountains and wooden houses. Also meant that we spotted some great waterfalls along the drive here.
Overnight: Egilsstaðir – a town in east Iceland on the banks of the Lagarfljót river.
Day 7: East to North of Iceland
This drive is relatively short at only 2 hours, which gives you ample time at the stops along the way.
Stop 1: Dettifoss & Selfoss
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and is also where the opening scene of Prometheus was filmed. From the carpark, it’s a 20-minute walk to the waterfall. From here, you can then follow the signs and walk to Selfoss before heading back to the carpark.
Stop 2: Krafla Power Station
85% of Iceland’s energy is renewable (geothermal, hydro and wind). Geothermal power facilities currently generate 25% of the country’s total electricity production! You can drive through this geothermal plant and learn more.
Stop 3: Viti Crater
Viti (meaning ‘hell’) is a huge explosion crater located within Krafla. Drive right up to the crater and check out the magnificent milky blue that fills it. You can also hike around the rim if that’s your thing but we found it to be ridiculously windy and had trouble just standing in one spot!
Stop 4: Námafjall Hverir (Geysers)
In the Namafjall geothermal field, you’ll see many solfataras and boiling mud pots, surrounded by sulphur crystals of many different colours. The area is seriously smelly due to the sulphur in the atmosphere and the old rock-covered boreholes in the area give off a lot of hot steam so be cautious.
Stop 5: Goðafoss
When Icelanders converted to Christianity, a historical event took place at Goðafoss. Apparently, a law speaker named Þorkell disposed of the pagan gods by throwing them into the waterfall which is why the waterfall was named Goðafoss, meaning the “waterfall of the gods”.
This was one of our favourite waterfalls in Iceland because there’s something very grandeur and overwhelming yet calming about it. We spent a few hours here to wait for the northern lights and highly recommend it if you can and you’re there in winter. Prepare for the cold though.
Day 8: Whale watching or adventure day in Akureyri or Dalvik
Be sure to book your whale watching tour if you are doing this Iceland road trip during summer (April to September). The north of Iceland also has a number of different adventure activities such as rafting and cave exploration. If you’re here in winter and want to skip these activities, head straight to Day 9 of our Ring Road Itinerary.
Day 9: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Stop 1: The scenic route
We recommend taking the scenic route along the north of Iceland This will add around 2.5 hours to your Ring Road itinerary but the drive is spectacular and there are many photo opportunities. If you stayed in Akureyri, travel to Dalvik, take route 82 to Siglufjörður, route 76 through Hofsós to Sauðárkrókur then route 75 to get you back on to Ring Road towards Blönduós. From there, continue on through to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Stop 2: Landbrotalaug Hot Springs
An easy access and free hot spring that only fits a few people with an ideal temperature of 36° to 40°C (97°-104°F). There are no facilities here.
Stop 3: Port Arnarstapi
Port Anarstapi is a small fishing village at the foot of Mt. Stapafell with extraordinary basalt columns and cliff formations.
Stop 4: Kirkjufellsfoss
Hands down our favourite view in Iceland. It’s easy to reach being only a few minutes walk from the carpark and with Kirkjufell mountain in the background, we could have stayed here all day photographing this gem. The waterfall is big or mighty like many of the others in Iceland but the surrounding landscape made us incredibly grateful that we left it till last.
Overnight: Anywhere around Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Day 10: Return to Reykjavik
Stop 1: Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
Hraunfossar (Lava Falls) is just under 2 hours away from Snæfellsnes Peninsula and is a great waterfall that a lot of people tend to skip. From there, there is also a trail to Barnafoss.
Stop 2: Blue Lagoon
If you are planning on going to Blue Lagoon, make sure you book your tickets well in advance because they book out! Aim to go first thing in the morning to avoid the influx of tourists. Personally, I felt that it was pretty overrated and expensive and there are many cheaper or free springs in Iceland you can enjoy.
However, if you have the budget for it, the Lagoon is a wonderful way to end your road trip around Iceland and is equipped with full facilities.
Stop 3: Reykjavik
If you didn’t get time on Day 1 to enjoy some of Reykjavik’s sights, we suggest doing it at the end of your Iceland road trip here! Afterwards, return your car or stay the night in time for your flight out.
A note about our Ring Road Itinerary
There are definitely many more sights to see in Iceland and the list is endless. Although our suggested Ring Road route doesn’t cover everything, we feel that it’s a great introduction to this magnificent country and its dynamic landscapes.
We’d love to hear about your time in Iceland so tell us all about it in the comments and if you enjoyed some of these sights.
Check out our aerial video of Iceland to see what’s in store.