We had a pretty hard time finding an example itinerary for a road trip around the Iceland Ring Road when we started researching our trip there earlier this year. I think this is due to most people visiting Iceland in the winter and sticking close to Reykjavik or just going for a short trip to see the most visited landmarks around the Golden Circle.
So we’re going to give you our full 10 Day Iceland Ring Road itinerary that shows you everything you need to know, a few tips from our mistakes, some great places to stay and hopefully convinces you that you NEED to do this trip one day!
When to go
We visited in late May and found it to be a really good time to go. We beat the huge crowds that come with the summer high season as people flock to Iceland for the midnight sun. We also missed road closures due to heavy snow. There were a couple of times (especially in north Iceland) where it snowed or we had to divert to another road because of side roads being closed but for the most part everything was open.
Late May was cool (temperatures were in the low teens in celsius) but we found the cool weather wasn’t too bad and it was worth it to avoid the crowds. We also got to enjoy very late sunsets as the sun was still setting after 11pm and getting later every day (this makes long road trip days much better as you can avoid driving in the dark). I think late May/June is a great time to go.
The photo below shows how light it is in May around 11pm.
Vehicle: Suzuki Grand Vitara 4wd
If you’re going to do a road trip around the Iceland Ring Road you are definitely going to need a 4wd. Even though most of the highways are paved and great to drive on, there were a few times our GPS took us on an offroad adventure (the GPS was already installed in the car – no need to hire separately for us although this may not be the case for you).
One time the offroad adventure proved to be the most time efficient route, another was the only option and then there was the time it took us through farm lands where we had to dodge sheep and pot holes and if we had stayed on the main road, it would’ve taken us half the time with a less stressful drive (we didn’t have a solid cellphone signal and were in the middle of nowhere so constantly worried we’d get stranded by a flat tire or similar issue).
All that to say a) Don’t always trust your GPS and b) Hire a 4wd.
We booked our 4wd with Reykjavik Rent-A-Car who are one of the few hire places that have automatics for a reasonable price. This was important because neither of us can drive stick. Yep.
They were really helpful and the car we got was great! Reykjavik Rent-A-Car even have discounts for car hire’s over 7 days so check them out.
We always get insurance but decided to pass on the extra Sand & Ash cover (after much discussion and deliberation!). We just didn’t feel it was needed after researching and weighing up the likelihood of needing it but we also lucked out with weather. You may want to consider it if the weather isn’t meant to be that great or if one of Iceland’s many volcanoes starts showing some activity. The fine print and exclusions on rental car insurance have caught many people out so beware!
We also read that you needed to top up a fuel card while in Reykjavik as most gas stations are pay at the pump and they don’t accept cash. Especially those that aren’t manned in remote sections of the Ring Road.
We didn’t get a fuel card and found it to be completely unnecessary as all major credit cards were accepted. But do ask when you pick up your hire car for a fuel discount card. It’ll save you a few króna which you can put towards the expensive food & booze. We were given an N1 card when we picked up our card and found these to be the most common stations around the route.
One other car related tip: ALWAYS fill up when you are near a petrol station. At one point in our trip in the north east of Iceland we passed up the opportunity to fill up because “meh, we’ve got over half a tank, I’m sure there’ll be another petrol station soon”. Turned out the next one was a long way away and we only just made it there without running out of petrol. I had already accepted the worst case scenario and was plotting how we’d fend for ourselves and forage for food.
Given parts of Iceland can be quite remote and 4wds can guzzle gas quickly, I’d fill up at every opportunity!
TIP: Stock up on snacks at the Bonus grocery store
Our favourites were nuts, beef jerky, chocolate licorice, apples and our new favourite thing in the world (at least for that weeklong road trip): Ris Buffs. Ris Buffs are chocolate covered marshmallows that had crispy rice bubble bits in the chocolate. I’m pretty sure they were solely responsible for about a kg of weight gain each in a week and we couldn’t stop eating them.
You can find a Bonus in pretty much every town but we stocked up on snacks for a few days just in case. We also self catered when we had a kitchen available to us and had a lot of fun finding ingredients to cook with (I think this is still one of my favourite things to do in a foreign country).
Where to stay in Iceland
We include the places we stayed for each day of our 10 day tour of Iceland below in the itinerary but here’s a summary of the options we chose (and were very happy with). We were looking for free WIFI, free parking, decent food options, great locations (close to the ring road and towns), reasonable prices and good reviews so all of the below hotels and guesthouses met these conditions.
Reykjavik (1 night) – Hotel Holt
Hveragerði (1 night) – Varmi Guesthouse Apartments in Hveragerði (large rooms and we could self cater there as you also have a small kitchen)
Holt (1 night) – Hotel Anna
Höfn (1 night) – Seljavellir Guesthouse
Husavik (3 nights) – Hotel Raudaskrida (2 awesome hot tubs available)
Fossatún (2 nights) – Fossatún Country Hotel
Reykjavik (1 night) – Airport Hotel Smári
The Ideal Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
Day 1 – Arrive at Keflavik Airport > Blue Lagoon > Reykjavik
We arrived at the Blue Lagoon around 5:00pm which turned out to be a great time to go as it wasn’t nearly as crowded as we were expecting it to be. It still took some time to get a locker so I can’t imagine what it would be like in high season. Would still recommend a visit and it was a nice way to relax after our flight and start off our road trip.
Day 2 – Reykavik > Snorkel Silfra > Öxarárfoss > Hveragerði
We spent the morning walking around Reykjavik and checking out Hallgrimskirkja church. The church has a very unique design which you can see below. You can go in for free but have to pay to go up the tower which we definitely recommend. The view from up there is amazing!
We had to be at the meeting point for our Silfra dive at 1pm but decided to quickly stop at Öxarárfoss which is a waterfall that flows over the North American Tectonic plate. It was a little bit of a hike to get there but quite a cool walk as you followed in the footsteps of an episode of Game of Thrones walking in the wide crevice between two rock faces soaring up on either side of you.
Then it was time for us to snorkel in Silfra! It’s very tiring, the dry suits were (in our case) extremely tight (too many Ris Buffs maybe) and we wouldn’t do it again BUT we are glad we did it the once. The water was incredibly clear and the whole experience was pretty surreal.
Stay at: Varmi Guesthouse Apartments in Hveragerði
Eat at: We cooked our own nachos – we couldn’t find any restaurants we fancied and wanted to take advantage of having our own little kitchen to save some money.
We couldn’t find minced beef though (does it exist in Iceland?) so had to settle for chicken….just in case you need to know that information…and if you want sour cream then you’re actually on the lookout for sýrður rjómi.
Day 3 – Bruarfoss waterfall > Geysir > Gullfoss > Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (otherwise known as the Golden Circle)
Bruarfoss doesn’t actually exist. Well, according to the internet it exists and you can apparently get some great photos there but we couldn’t find it despite following the instructions, our GPS and google maps.
We spent about an hour lost in a remote dirt road carpark/camping ground and the closest we got was finding the river. If you have better luck on your Iceland Ring Road trip then let us know what Bruarfoss is like!
As this part of our road trip was along the Golden Circle, it was a bit busy with buses and tourists and each site took a bit longer to see due to dodging slow walkers.
My favourite was Seljalandsfoss; a big waterfall where you can get right up close to it and walk right in behind it. It was awesome. We even went went back to see it again the next morning since our hotel was only a 5 minute drive down the road and it was such a beautiful spot.
Stay at: Hotel Anna
Eat at: The hotel – we had the steak which was pretty good albeit a little overpriced. It was really the only option in the area though.
Day 4 – Skogarfoss > Black Beach > Vik > Fjaðrárgljúfur > Foss a Sidu > Svartifoss (Black Waterfall) > Jökulsárlón – Glacier Lagoon > Höfn
Otherwise known as The Day We Did Too Much. We totally underestimated how long we would spend at each of our stops on Day 4 of our Iceland road trip. In hindsight, I would split this day up into two so we could relax and take our time at each spot. Each place in Iceland is so different which makes it hard to leave and move on to the next spot. We planned on spending about 30 minutes at Skogarfoss but ending up staying for nearly TWO HOURS. We walked all around the base of the waterfall, got soaking wet, and hiked up to get a overhead view.
Black Beach was also a worthwhile stop as you really got to witness the rugged beauty and power of the sea on the South Coast of Iceland. If you’re heading to Vik for lunch then go to Black Beach first as it’s on the way. We didn’t realise that and drove right past the turn off only to have to back track an hour later to see Black Beach.
Even though we had over 16 hours of daylight, we were quickly running out of it. We only got to quickly run up to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, take a few snaps and run back to the car. We would’ve loved to spend a couple hours hiking around the area. By the time we got to Svartifoss, the sun was setting and we were starting to worry about getting to what we thought was going to be the highlight of the day, Jökulsárlón (a Glacier filled Lagoon).
Turned out we were right and this was the highlight of the day. How often do you get to see a lagoon at the end of a glacier full of icebergs and a group of seals playing in the water? I would have liked to have arrived earlier in the day so we could take a boat tour of the lagoon to see a bit more of it but maybe next time.
Day 5 – Big Drive > Dettifoss > Grjotagja > Husavik
Day 5 of our Iceland road trip included a big drive from Hofn to Husavik with a stopover at the huge Dettifoss which turned out to be a bit hard to get to. One road was closed due to snow, another was missing a huge chunk at the turn off to it, and the third one worked a charm but did involve a hike through ice and snow. Grjotagja is another place that only exists on the internet (and that scene in Game of Thrones). We spent ages walking around looking for it with absolutely zero luck. We even ran in to another couple who had been looking for it even longer than us. Maybe we should’ve followed the first Grjotagja signs to exit the highway at the right place instead of following our trusted GPS directions?
Day 6 – Whale Watching > Godafoss
It was a little disappointing because the whales were feeding and spent a lot of time just under the surface but was worth it nonetheless. The boat after us actually got to see the humpbacks breach a few times!
Godafoss was another favourite waterfall which makes sense since it translates to Waterfall of the Gods.
This photo is actually my favourite from the entire trip. I especially love the guy in the top right corner giving scale to the size of the waterfall.
Eat at: Gamli Baukur
Day 7 – REST DAY!
Watch movies, read a book, and have the hotel manager ask if you’re sick because you haven’t left the room all day.
Eat at: Load up on the free buffet breakfast from the hotel then get yourself through the day on the snacks you bought from the Bonus the day before. Only leave your hotel room because Ris Buffs can only fill you up so much and you need dinner consisting of one of the best pizzas you’ll ever eat at Salka.
Day 8 – Deildartunguhver > Hraunfossar/Barnafoss
Deildartunguhver is a hot spring that generates power for most of western Iceland and it’s not worth stopping off at unless you really like clouds of steam and boiling water. And it was definitely not worth the crazy off road detour our GPS took us on. Keep on the main road and drive straight to Hraunfossar. This is without a doubt the most unique waterfall I’ve ever seen. The water flows through a lava field and appears seemingly out of nowhere.
Stay at: Fossatún Country Hotel for two nights!
Eat at: You don’t have much of a choice here. The hotel is the only place around for miles but luckily, the food is delicious and homey. The mushroom soup was particularly tasty and perfect for warming up. Breakfast is free but you have to pay extra for dinner. Luckily, the prices were very reasonable.
Day 9 – Grundarfjörður > Kirkjufell Mountain
We of course had to stop at the famous Kirkjufell Mountain to take our own snap of the iconic waterfall and mountain. The town itself was so sleepy and small that we almost felt like we were trespassing. It was a bit of a drive just to make this one stop but worth it for me anyway.
Day 10 – Drive back to Reykjavik
Stay at: Airport Hotel Smári
Day 11 – Fly back home 🙁
Try to come up with a realistic plan for missing your flight and stay in Iceland forever.
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