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Secrets Of The Ring Road: Iceland’s Epic Road Trip (Complete Guide)

Ring Road Iceland
Guide to Driving Iceland’s Ring Road
Ring Road, Iceland

There’s nothing quite like an Iceland road trip. Especially when driving past incredible volcanoes, icebergs, waterfalls, and magical northern lights on Iceland’s Ring Road!

If you’re searching for an unforgettable adventure travel experience, a road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road will not disappoint. The country is visually captivating in a way I’ve not seen elsewhere.

Lurking around every bend a stunning new Icelandic landscape reveals itself.

Renting a car and self-driving Iceland on the Ring Road exposes you to bubbling geothermal springs, sparkling rainbows, beautiful horses, icy glaciers, massive waterfalls, and rugged mountains day after day.

If you’re lucky, you may even catch the magic of the northern lights too!

Now throw in the occasional ice cave or even an erupting volcano, and you’ll start to appreciate what traveling in Iceland is actually like. However, you must experience this country for yourself to understand!

In this travel guide I’ll help you get the most out of a self-drive ring road adventure. Learn how to prepare, where to stay, and the best things to see!

This Ring Road itinerary is completely free! I’ve worked hard putting it together for you. If you find it useful, please use my affiliate links when you book hotels, rental cars or activities. I’ll get paid a small commission, at no extra cost to you! Thanks.

Ring Road Iceland Travel Map

HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of my itinerary for Iceland’s Ring Road. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places I mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version. Enjoy!

Iceland Travel Restrictions 2021

Iceland is open to most travelers again, including American tourists. However you do need proof of your COVID-19 vaccination(s) or a negative test result before being allowed entry.

Many hotels, attractions, and private tours are open with new health & safety protocols in place, and you still have to follow certain guidelines.

You can find the latest updates on traveling to Iceland here.

Iceland Ring Road Driving Guide

If you haven’t figured it out by the map above, Iceland’s Ring Road encircles the entire country covering over 800 miles on Route 1.

While you could technically drive the whole thing in less than 24 hours, the reality is it will take you at least a week with stops on along the way.

This is because you’ll be stopping a lot. Like every 5 minutes!

The photography opportunities in Iceland are unbelievable, and you’ll find yourself constantly pulling over for photos. I gave myself 10 days in Iceland, with 7 full days to drive the Ring Road itself.

Looking back I wish I had spent an extra few days on the Ring Road.

While 7 days is possible, you’ll be moving non-stop, and will probably miss a few highlights. Especially if you have a bad-weather day.

Because the weather is definitely a factor in Iceland, with sudden snowstorms common in the spring, fall, and winter.

Campervan Rental in Iceland
My Happy Campers Van
Iceland Road Trip
A Peek Inside the Van

Rental Car Or Campervan?

The best site to book your rental car is with Discover Cars. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car for driving in Iceland.

There are bus tours that drive the route, but a self-drive tour is the better way to go in my opinion. You can stop anywhere you want, for as long as you want, giving you complete freedom.

I drove the ring road in Iceland while living out of a Happy Campers van. The major benefit to renting a campervan is that it covers your accommodation.

My van was equipped with a fold-down bed, sink with running water, electric cooler, gas grill, battery-powered heating system and a large solar panel.

UPDATE: Iceland has implemented new laws that restrict where you can spend the night in a campervan. You can no longer pull over and spend the night anywhere. You must park at designated campgrounds.

Rental Cars

Rent A Car In Iceland

Search both local and international car rental companies to help you find a good deal.

Planning Your Ring Road Adventure
Planning Your Ring Road Adventure

Planning An Iceland Road Trip

Where To Start From

Most travelers start their Ring Road drive from Keflavik International Airport, others spend a few days exploring Reykjavik from a hotel first. You can drive the route in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, but I recommend driving counterclockwise to hit the most touristy parts of Iceland first.

Gas Stations

Gas is expensive in Iceland at $2 USD per liter ($7.50 per gallon). Gas stations are easy to find around towns, but in the countryside, they are less frequent. Some foreign credit cards may need to be used inside rather than at the pump.

Fill up whenever you can, especially in winter, just in case you’re stuck in a snowstorm overnight. Gas for the entire ring road journey cost me about $300 USD.

Groceries In Iceland

Stock up on groceries before you leave for your road trip, because food in Iceland is expensive. There’s a famous budget supermarket called Bónus that’s perfect for this. You can’t miss it — the logo is a giant cartoon pig!

Many gas stations along the ring road also offer pre-made sandwiches, hot soup, and basic groceries for sale too. So you can buy some general food supplies along the way.

GPS & Mobile Phone

If your cellphone is unlocked, you can buy a local prepaid Icelandic SIM card from the Vodafone Store at Kringlan Shopping Mall in Reykjavik. This gives you access to GPS maps, internet data, emergency services, and local weather reports.

What Should You See?

I’d recommend picking a few highlights and loosely planning your journey around them. Most people start their Ring Road adventure from Reykjavik or Keflavik Airport.

Below you’ll find my suggested 7-10 day itinerary with highlights you shouldn’t miss, good places to stay for the night, plus a few adventure activities that must be booked in advance.

My Iceland Ring Road Itinerary

DAY 1: The Golden Circle

Golden Circle Iceland
Strokkur Geyser on the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a short 1-day road trip that starts from Reykjavik which I covered in a separate article. This 300 km (190 mi) route covers many beautiful Iceland landmarks in a short period of time, so it’s perfect for people on a long layover.

It’s a good place to start a longer ring road adventure too because the attractions are some of the most visited in Iceland. I’d recommend getting these out of the way first before heading out into the more remote (and less crowded) parts of the country.

Thingvellir National Park

The location of Iceland’s first Parliament, and where the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly splitting apart from each other. You can spend a lot of time here, walking the trails. This is also where Silfra is, where you can go snorkeling or scuba diving between the plates.

Geysers At Haukadalur

An impressive geothermal area featuring two natural geysers that erupt on a regular basis. Churning boiling water that smells like eggs. You don’t have to wait long to see them go off either!

Gullfoss Waterfall

This wide & fast-moving river turns a corner and falls 100 feet into a huge waterfall, producing thick mist & frequent rainbows. From here most people turn around and head back to the Ring Road, or to Reykjavik.

Read My Golden Circle Travel Guide Here

Golden Circle Tour

Golden Circle Guided Tour

Prefer joining a tour? Spend a day exploring the best of Iceland’s Golden Circle with a professional guide and transportation.


WHERE TO STAY ON THE GOLDEN CIRCLE


DAY 2: Iceland’s South Coast

Seljalandsfoss Ring Road Iceland
Exploring Iceland’s South Coast

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Your next stop is perfect for incredible sunrises, so wake up early! Seljalandsfoss Waterfall [MAP] rises some 200 feet in the air, with a short hiking trail that takes you behind the waterfall itself.

Shooting photos behind the waterfall at sunrise can be difficult with all the spray though. Another good photo location is from a hill on the right, just be careful because it’s slippery climbing up.

Skogafoss Ring Road Iceland
Rainbow at Skogafoss Waterfall

Skógafoss Waterfall

After that you can drive to Skógafoss [MAP], another massive & beautiful waterfall only minutes away. About the same height as Seljalandsfoss, but much wider and more powerful. Colorful rainbows are a common occurrence here. A wooden stairway brings you to a viewing platform on the top.

Iceland Ring Road Activities
Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier (Skaftafell National Park)

One activity you really shouldn’t do on your own is hiking across Iceland’s famous glaciers. If you’ve never hiked on a glacier before, I highly recommend joining a glacier hiking adventure!

There are a few different glaciers in Iceland, but probably the most popular one for visitors to hike on is called Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park. It’s massive, and there are a few different locations where you can explore the glacier.

One popular spot to get photos is at Sólheimajökull Viewpoint [MAP]. You can check out the glacier from a safe distance, without actually walking on the dangerous ice itself (which requires specialized gear).

Glacier Climbing

Hike A Glacier In Iceland

Discover what it feels like to walk on a glacier as you explore the ice formations and deep crevasses of Vatnajökull.

Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
Visiting Sólheimasandur Plane Crash

Sólheimasandur Plane Crash

The abandoned airplane wreckage on Sólheimasandur Beach is one of Iceland’s most iconic photography locations. Back in 1973 a United States Navy DC-3 crashed on the beach here. The plane has been used in a bunch of music videos making it famous.

You can park your car and hike out to the plane on foot and explore what remains. Check out my detailed directions if you’d like to see this famous spot first-hand!

Iceland Black Sand Beach
Black Sand Beaches

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Often referred to as the world’s most beautiful black sand beach, Reynisfjara Beach [MAP] is a must-visit location for travelers. This wild, rugged beach was created by lava mixing with ocean water.

I wouldn’t recommend sunbathing on this beach, but you will get some amazing photo opportunities here. From the black beach itself to the cliffs, caves and basalt columns, Reynisfjara is very impressive.

Icelandic Horses

South Coast Guided Tour

Prefer joining a tour? Spend a day exploring the best of Iceland’s South Coast with a professional guide and transportation.


WHERE TO STAY AROUND VIK

Luxury

Hótel Kría

Midrange

The Barn

Budget

Puffin Hostel


DAY 3: Iceberg Lagoons & Ice Caves

Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

This majestic canyon came to life approximately 9,000 years ago as a result of progressive erosion. I was thrilled by the opportunity to walk inside this narrow, winding canyon. However, if you want to avoid wading through water, I suggest enjoying its natural beauty from the walking path above Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Be aware that the path is steep, but the view is more than worth the effort.

Svartifoss Black Waterfall

The black basalt columns that flank the narrow flow of water from Svartifoss (aka the “Black Waterfall”) will make you feel like you’ve discovered an alien planet. Depending on whether you want to take the direct or more circular route, you can expect to walk for at least 2 miles to reach it. You can’t enter the actual waterfall area, but you’ll get close enough for great photos.

Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon

Breiðamerkurjökull glacier is slowly melting, with giant blue-tinted icebergs breaking off and floating into a large lagoon called Jökulsárlón. The ice collects on its shores, while some pieces continue on and drift out to sea.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is such a cool place (pun intended) that you can easily spend most of the day here. Don’t forget to visit the ocean beach nearby, where some icebergs get pushed on shore due to waves.

Iceberg Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Lagoon Tour

Explore the highlights of South Iceland on a 14-hour sightseeing tour from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon.

Ice Caves on the Ring Road
Exploring Crazy Ice Caves

Explore Magical Crystal Ice Caves

If you’re traveling in Iceland for photography, you can’t miss the beautiful crystal ice caves under Vatnajökull glacier. Melt-water creates these intricate natural ice tunnels, with sunlight filtering through the ice giving them a blue tint.

Iceland’s crystal ice caves can be difficult and treacherous to reach, so you’ll need to hire a guide. For safety reasons, you can only visit them in the winter too (starting in November) when the ice has hardened up and the risk of collapse is low.

Ice Caves

Crystal Ice Cave Tour

Take your camera inside the biggest glacier in Europe as you marvel at heavenly shades of blue. Led by a certified glacier guide.


WHERE TO STAY AROUND HOFN

Luxury

Aurora Cabins

Midrange

Hotel Höfn


DAY 4: Egilsstaðir & The Eastern Fjords

Mountains on the East Coast
Mountains on the East Coast

Driving The Coastline

Ok, now you’re officially in the middle of nowhere. Eastern Iceland is an untamed wilderness of rocky mountain peaks, winding black-sand coastlines, and quickly changing the weather.

There’s a lot of driving here without many towns (or people). You’ll be weaving in and out of fjords all day. Pump up the jams and enjoy beautiful Icelandic views. Most people stop to spend the night in the town of Egilsstaðir.

East Iceland Ring Road Trip
Cool Bird Watching Hut

Sheep & Reindeer Spotting

While it may not have many people, Eastern Iceland is home to many sheep & reindeer. Yup. Reindeer! Make sure to keep your eyes on the road, because a herd can suddenly cross your path without warning.

Pay special attention at night or in bad weather. In the winter the sheep will be fenced in, but in the summer and fall, they roam free through the countryside.

Northern Lights in Iceland
Playing with Light Under the Northern Lights

Hunting Northern Lights

You should be searching for the Northern Lights every evening while driving the Ring Road, however, on the East coast they were especially good for me. During my 7 day adventure, I lucked out with 3 nights of strong aurora activity and clear skies.

Night driving will actually improve your chances of spotting them. Here’s a post I wrote with tips for finding & photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Northern Lights

Premium Northern Lights Tour

Head out in search of the Northern Lights with a professional guide. Be mesmerized as colorful lights dance in the sky!


WHERE TO STAY IN EAST ICELAND


DAY 5: Myvatn & More Waterfalls

Boiling Mud Pools in Iceland
Hverir Mud Pools at Myvatn

Icelandic Mountain Passes

Fáskrúðsfjarðargöng tunnel (I dare you to say it out loud!) is 4 miles long and seems like it will never end. When it does, you’ll eventually be in the Highlands of Iceland. A barren stretch of a high plateau.

In the winter it’s covered in snow, and Route 1 is the only safe road to travel on. In the summer you can explore more with a 4×4.

Powerful Dettifoss Waterfall
Powerful Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss [MAP] is the largest waterfall in Iceland (and Europe) by water volume. Imagine the visual and auditory impact of more than 132,000 liquid gallons rushing past you every second! It’s equally beautiful and overwhelming.

Most tourists go to the waterfall’s west side, but the east side is even better for photos. If you have the time, it’s definitely worth a stop. It’s very impressive, but also very dangerous if you get too close to the edge. Especially if the rocks are wet. Be careful!

Godafoss Waterfall

Godafoss Waterfall is famous for several reasons, including its impressive width of almost 100 feet. More importantly, if you go here at night during the right time of the year, you can photograph the Northern Lights over the water.

It doesn’t originate from a very tall height, but Godafoss has width and power that reminded me of Niagara Falls. This attraction is known locally as the “Waterfall of the Gods” due to an Icelandic legend involving Norse statues and the area’s conversion to Christianity.

Ring Road Activities Geothermal Vents
Myvatn Geothermal Vents

Námafjall Hverir

Pulling back onto Route 1 you’ll soon get to the Myvatn Lake area in Northern Iceland. Volcanic activity is high, with some fun hot springs & other geothermal features to explore. One such place is Námafjall Hverir geothermal area [MAP]. You can get up-close-and-personal with boiling blue mud pits or steaming fumaroles.


WHERE TO STAY AROUND MYVATN


DAY 6: Akureyri & North Iceland

Flying over Erupting Volcanoes
Flying over Erupting Volcanoes

Fly Over An Active Volcano!

Akureyri has tons of activities to keep you busy, but one, in particular, was pretty special. Flying over Iceland’s eruption at Bárðarbunga Volcano (also called the Holuhraun eruption). On August 2014 lava broke through the surface there and was spewing huge rivers of molten rock.

Flying over an erupting volcano had been on my bucket list for years, and I’m so happy I got to witness the power and fury of nature up close like that! For scenic flights over the volcano I used MyFlug.is. Booking a small plane is MUCH cheaper than a helicopter.

2021 UPDATE: The Holuhraun Eruption (pictured here) ended back in February 2015. However the Fagradalsfjall Volcano is currently erupting in Iceland just outside Reykjavik!

Whale Watching around Akureyri
Whale Watching around Akureyri

Whale Watching In Iceland

Because I was waiting for the weather to clear up for my volcano flight, I didn’t have a chance to go whale watching in Iceland. But it’s a very popular thing to do at the fjords around Akureyri. Whale season is from June to October.

Apparently, you can spot bottlenose, humpback, and minke whales. You can learn more about whale watching in Akureyri here.

Whale Watching Boat

Whale Watching Trip

Set off on a fantastic whale watching boat to try and spot minke whales, dolphins, porpoises and more.


WHERE TO STAY AROUND AKUREYRI


DAY 7: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall in Snaefellsnes
Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall in Snaefellsnes

Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall

Depending on how much time you have left, you’ll either want to head straight for Reykjavik or drive around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (sometimes called “Little Iceland”). I drove all night in order to make time for the peninsula.

Snæfellsnes is where you’ll find Kirkjufellsfoss, the most photographed waterfall in Iceland just West of the town of Grundarfjörður.

Búðakirkja Black Church

One of my favorite things about Iceland is that’s it’s easy to leave the hustle and bustle of big city life behind. Búðir fully embodies this sense of wonderful isolation by having only two structures in the entire hamlet: a hotel and a tiny church named Búðakirkja. This black church sits inside a lava field, and it also has a lot of green space behind it. Be careful not to fall into any of the big holes that dot the grassy landscape.


WHERE TO STAY ON SNÆFELLSNES


DAY 8-10: Explore Reykjavik

End the Ring Road in Reykjavik
Spend Time in Reykjavik

If you made it back to Reykjavik and have a few more days to spare, there’s plenty of things to do in Iceland’s capital! Reykjavik is a vibrant city full of cool street-art, great nightlife, modern architecture, and some pretty weird attractions too.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

Iceland’s Hallgrímskirkja Church towers over Reykjavík and is the tallest church in the entire country. Naturally, this has made the expressionist architecture one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions. The two most noteworthy aspects of the church are the beautifully detailed statue of Leif Eiríksson and the huge, mechanical pipe organ. Make sure to take the elevator up to the top for some very cool views of the city.

Harpa Concert Hall

The glass facade of this modern Icelandic building is really impressive. Harpa Concert Hall is worth touring even if there are no performances during your visit. But if you’re lucky, you may be able to catch one of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s weekly concerts there. At night the whole building pulsates with colored lights, putting on a show of its own.

Tjörnin Pond

This natural geothermal pond in the middle Reykjavik attracts geese, swans and ducks year-round, along with picnicking families and couples looking for a romantic walk. Locals call the pond the “Biggest Bread Soup in the World” due to all the bread that’s offered to the birds. A little environmental tip is to offer seeds instead of bread, which is healthier for them.

Walking Tour

Reykjavik Walking Tour

See the highlights of the world’s northernmost capital city on a fun guided walking tour of Reykjavik, Iceland.

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon!
Swimming in the Blue Lagoon!

The Blue Lagoon

While not technically in Reykjavik, you can’t visit Iceland without a dip in the famous geothermal Blue Lagoon. It’s located about an hour away from the city center, closer to the international airport. Visiting the lagoon is expensive, but worth it.

The Blue Lagoon is not REALLY a natural lagoon, it’s actually man-made using surplus water from the nearby geothermal powerplant. But bathing in the warm mineral-rich waters surrounded by Iceland’s dramatic volcanic landscape is still fun!

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon Bus Transfer

Enjoy smooth and hassle-free transportation to the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík. With departures every hour.


WHERE TO STAY IN REYKJAVIK


Ring Road Driving Tips
Old Abandoned Bus on the Ring Road

Tips For Driving The Ring Road

How Long Does It Take?

Seven days is the minimum, but you’ll really be pushing it. In fact, I’d recommend at least 10 days so you don’t feel rushed, maybe spending a few days in one spot. Two weeks would be ideal if you can spare that much time.

Save a day or two to explore Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik too!

Best Time To Visit Iceland

The best time to visit Iceland and drive the Ring Road depends on what you’re after. For the best weather, the summer high season of June, July, and August is good. But the shoulder season of September & October has fewer tourists, shorter days, and better chances to see the northern lights!

Bathrooms & Showers

How do you shower if you’re in a campervan? Well most towns have heated public swimming pools that you can visit for $3-$6 USD. Or, you can pay to use a shower at one of Iceland’s many campgrounds. Sponge-baths work too! Regular bathrooms are available at most tourist attractions, restaurants, and gas stations.

Checking The Weather

Speaking of the weather, it changes quickly in Iceland. A sunny morning can easily turn into a whiteout blizzard. Bookmark the website Vegagerdin.is for real-time road conditions. There’s even a smartphone app.

Stay Safe Out There!

I recommend visiting the SafeTravel.is website to stay updated on Iceland’s weather, road conditions, and take their short online driving test to make sure you’re prepared for a safe & happy road trip.

Iceland is one of the most amazing countries I’ve ever visited, I think you’ll feel the same way after spending a week driving the Ring Road! ★

Travel Video: Iceland Ring Road Adventure

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(Click to watch Ring Road Adventures In Iceland! on YouTube)

Travel Planning Resources For The Ring Road
Packing Guide
Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.
Book Your Flight
Ready to fly? Here’s how I find the cheapest airline flights.
Rent A Car
Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal.
Cheap Accommodation
Learn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.
Protect Your Trip
Don’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.

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READ MORE ICELAND TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide to the Iceland Ring Road! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:


Any questions about driving Iceland’s ring road? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Shikha

Tuesday 14th of September 2021

Amazing blog Keep it up Keep posting

Angela

Thursday 19th of August 2021

Hi Matthew,

I enjoyed going through your itinerary for Iceland. I've been twice before, and you provided information that I have not came across yet. We will be arriving the 1st of November and following much your same route. However, I wasn't sure if we should chance going much further than Hofn - because of winter driving conditions. We're Floridians and not use to driving in bad weather. Also, do you offer a detailed driving route that we could follow?

Michael

Tuesday 29th of June 2021

Hey there! Great article, super useful for planning (or at least daydreaming about) my upcoming trip to Iceland. Question though: you mention in the 'update box' that you can't camp anywhere any longer (so sad!) and have to go to designated spots. Are these free parking lots for van-folk like in Scotland, or do you have to pay simply to park for the night? Thanks!

Matthew Karsten

Friday 16th of July 2021

Yes, you have to pay to park your campervan for the night at designated campsites. However there's a handy pass called Campingcard.is that allows access to 70 different campsites for one fee (about 150 EURO).

Anna

Wednesday 26th of May 2021

You stated that you wish you would have given yourself a little more time on ring road. If did have a few extra days what are the things you would have added to your already awesome itinerary?! Thank you for this blog! So helpful!

Philip

Thursday 17th of September 2020

Hi Drove iceland in 2018, 11 days and about 3000 km, interesting to see a landscape totally destroyed by sheep, horses and cows. Basically no soil left on the highlands. Great for the tourist to see a bare desert landscape and still being grazed. Great sites everywhere. Roads good. Only mistake driving anticlockwise. Left out West fjords after reading that there were three types of geology, Elves Goblins and Trolls

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