Iceland is a land of incredible natural beauty. The country is packed full of breathtakingly beautiful wonders: waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, cliffs, mountains, and fjords. That doesn’t even include the charming little villages that dot the Icelandic countryside. The whole country is postcard perfect. Here is our 10-day Iceland Ring Road Itinerary which takes in the best of this small country.
Iceland is made for road tripping. The entire island is accessible via the national road: Iceland Route 1 or, as it is more commonly known, The Ring Road. Many incredible sights can be seen right from the road: Skogafoss waterfall, Jokulsarlon lagoon, the Dyrholaey rock formations, and Lake Myvatn just to name a few of the many Iceland attractions. Doing a self-drive Ring Road tour is the perfect way to spend a week on your Iceland itinerary.
We had just one full week in Iceland for this trip. Actually, it was a full week, plus the weekends on either side, so we were really looking at a 10-day Iceland itinerary. In a short time, we saw a lot of the country by driving Iceland’s Ring Road and taking a day trip to Greenland.
The Ultimate Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
For more information about this 10 day Iceland itinerary or The Ring Road trip, click the related article links below.
Day 0: Travel to Iceland
We flew from Boston to Keflavik, Iceland. You can get non-stop flights to Iceland on IcelandAir from a number of destinations in the U.S., including New York, Boston, Seattle, Denver, and Washington DC. The super budget airline WOW Air also flies to Iceland from the USA using a number of different cities for departure points. American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta offer limited direct service.
Day 1: Iceland’s Southern Coast
Related article: Iceland’s Southern Coast
Our goal was to drive around Iceland, so we started out renting a car at the airport and headed out on the Ring Road counterclockwise around Iceland. The southern coast is a long drive, but there are a number of great stops along Route 1. This drive took us past Selfoss as we explored the southern coast. Stops included:
- The Saga Center in Hvovlsvollur. Sagas are the curious oral-turned-written form of storytelling that serve as the base for much of Iceland’s history. Part-myth and part-historical account, the sagas are interesting, although not completely comprehensible to us. There’s a coffee shop nearby (Eldsto Art Cafe) which serves as a good spot to refill on caffeine to overcome jetlag.
- The Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This isn’t the biggest waterfall in Iceland, but it may be one of the most photographed. The falls are right off the Ring Road and you see them for a long way, which builds anticipation. A short walk up to the falls and you can see what makes them unique: you can actually walk behind the falls.
- The Gljufurarfoss waterfall (route 249). Partially hidden and up a difficult, muddy track, these falls are believed to be home to fairies.
- The Skogafoss waterfall. Skogafoss is the classic Ring Road waterfall. It’s right off the road, you can’t miss it, and it is very impressive (particularly after a good rain). As the water cascades over the black cliffs into the shallow pool below, it throws up a tremendous mist. You will get wet.
- The Solheimajokull glacier (route 221). This is probably the most accessible glacier on the Ring Road in Iceland. Follow the road until you can’t anymore (don’t be fooled by the pullouts that look like parking lots). When you reach the Solheimajokull glacier, you can admire the ice, or get closer and hike on it. You’ll see a number on fancy buses doing an Iceland Ring Road Tour from Reykjavik putting on crampons and hiking out on the glacier.
- The Dryholaey Nature Reserve. The black sand beaches and jagged rock formations of Dryholaey make some of the most captivating Iceland photographs you could possibly imagine. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike down to the beach.
Where to Stay in Vik
We recommend staying the first night in Vik. There are a number of good accommodation options here. We recommend booking a nice hotel for your first night since you’ll be tired. Our top recommendation in Vik are:
- Hótel Kría: The brand new and ultra modern Hótel Kría offers spectacular views and modern comforts. As a bonus, it is just a four minute walk to the beach. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room)
- Icelandair Hotel Vík: The always dependable Icelandair Hotel Vík is a complete full-service hotel close to town and the beach. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room)
Day 2: Glaciers, Lagoons, and Sandurs of Southeast Iceland
Related article: Sites of Southeast Iceland
For many of Iceland’s tourists, this day is the absolute highlight and offers the best of Iceland, with far fewer tourists than the Golden Circle (see more about the Golden Circle on Day 7). We recommend leaving your hotel in Vik early because this will be a very full day. Stops include:
- Kirkjubaejarklaustur. The first stop is the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur and the Systrafoss waterfall, which can be seen from the town. The village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur is rather unremarkable except for a very moving sculpture in the middle of town: The Burden of History by artist Magnús Tómasson. When you see the sculpture, you’ll know it.
- Systrafoss. The twin threads of the Systrafoss waterfall tower above the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur. Systrafoss means “sisters” in Icelandic, and they could be twins. This waterfall is particularly finicky and frequently runs dry. We were in Iceland after a period of long rains and the falls were flowing.
- Nupsstadur. Many visitors overlook this stop but they shouldn’t. Right by the side of the Ring Road, you’ll find the beautiful turf buildings of Nupsstadur — some of the few remaining turf structures in the country. The turf buildings at Nupsstadur are very picturesque and definitely worth a photo stop.
- Skaftafell National Park. Skaftafell is the first of two places that are among the very best sites in Iceland. The entire Skaftafell National Park is packed with hiking trails for people of all levels. It’s definitely worth taking an hour or two break from your drive to see the park. The video in the visitor center of the volcanic eruption and flooding is not to be missed. But most visitors come to Skaftafell for the Svartifoss waterfall.
- Svartifoss waterfall. These towering falls plunge over interesting basalt rock columns, making for breathtaking views. The hike is well marked, not particularly strenuous, and Svartifoss makes a great spot for a picnic lunch.
- Jokulsarlon Lagoon. The second amazing site on this drive is the other-worldly Jokulsarlon lagoon. It was absolutely one of the coolest stops on the trip. Here icebergs fall off the glacier and into a lagoon where they bob along while melting. While it doesn’t sound like much, you can’t deny how it all looks. This lagoon has been home to numerous movies and you can see why: it is incredibly photogenic.
Where to Stay in Hofn
We recommend staying the second night in Hofn or on a farm in the surrounding countryside. Our top options in the area are:
- Seljavellir Guesthouse: This pre-fab guesthouse offers starkly minimalist decor and big glass windows to look out on the Icelandic countryside. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room)
- The Milk Factory: This is just like it sounds. An old dairy farm milk factory has been turned into a high-end hotel. The Milk Factory has terrific views of the nearby mountains. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room)
If you stay in Hofn, we strongly recommend stopping for a delicious langoustine dinner. It’s the local delicacy. There are several options, but we had our dinner at Kaffi Hornid and recommend it.
Day 3: The Villages, Waterfalls, and Fjords of Eastern Iceland
Related article: Villages, Waterfalls, and Fjords
Iceland is not a heavily populated country, but you feel the vastness and the solitude in the eastern part of the country. Leaving Hofn, you’ll feel that solitude as you drive along the coast. The views of the Atlantic Ocean are beautiful along this drive before you turn inland for more waterfalls, before ending the day in the deep fjords of Eastern Iceland. Stops include:
- Djupivogur. The small fishing village of Djupivogur isn’t much to look at, but there are a couple of cafes to grab and coffee and watch as the fishing boats leave or arrive back into the harbor. We first encountered the Icelandic yogurt called Skyr at a cafe here.
- Oxi Pass. The Oxi Pass Shortcut (Route 939) cuts off from the Ring Road and shaves about 38 miles on the trip. Oxi Pass will take you past several beautiful unmarked and apparently unnamed waterfalls, as well as one named one: Folaldafoss Waterfall. You’ll see it on the left side.
- Lake Lagarfljót. Once you hook back up with the Ring Road, you’ll encounter Lake Lagarfljot. This 16-mile long lake is lined with camping spots, but around the far side, you’ll find some truly impressive waterfalls.
- Litlanesfoss waterfall. These two waterfalls can be found up the same trail. It’s a steep hike to get to these falls surrounded by basalt columns.
- Hengifoss waterfall. Climbing still further up the steep trail past Litlanesfoss, you’ll get to Iceland’s third-highest waterfall: Hengifoss. Or, as it is commonly known, The Red Falls. The clay in the rock face throws off a deep red column making one of the most unusual looking waterfalls we’ve ever seen.
- Seydisfjordur. After checking into your accommodations in Egilsstaidr, we recommend following Route 93 over the mountain and down into the deep fjord to the village of Seydisfjordur. This makes a great stop for dinner and you’ll pass several waterfalls on your way down.
Where to Stay in Egilsstaidr
We love the charming little town of Seyðisfjörður and it makes a great place to have dinner (we ate at the Bistro Skaftfell). But since it is nestled deep in the fjord and well off the Ring Road, we recommend staying in Egilsstaidr which will put you on your way early the next morning. The hotels in the area are all pretty uninspiring. We recommend visitors rent a vacation cottage/cabin/glamping hut in the area. Our top picks in the Egilsstaidr area are:
- Kaldá Lyngholt Holiday Homes: These beautifully rustic holiday homes are first class all the way. It has a fantastic location, plus a sauna and a hot tub. (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room)
- Skarðás Country Cabins: These cabins are super cozy and feel very remote. You’ll love the views from your front porch. (Book a room)
Day 4: The Beauty of the Myvatn, Iceland
Related article: The Beauty of the Myvatn Region
Leaving Egilsstaidr, this is day of driving through the vast emptiness of Northeast Iceland. This is a land of stark beauty. Stops include:
- The Eastern Region and Dimmifjallgardur. The beginning of the drive will take you through the Eastern Region, a governmental administrative region known for its vast nothingness. The whole region reminded us of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings movies. Pull over at the top of the Dimmifjallgardur pass and take a picture of this remarkable landscape.
- Dettifoss. The spectacular Dettifoss waterfall lies just up Route 864 inside the northern edge of the Vatnajökull National Park (formerly Dettifoss was part of the Jokulsargljufur National Park, which was absorbed into this Vatnajökull National Park, but you may still see outdated signs and references). This high waterfall is a highlight for many visitors to Iceland.
- Selfoss. Located right near Dettifoss, Selfoss is the exact opposite. Instead of high falls, Selfoss is a broad V-shaped waterfall that moves an incredible amount of water from the glaciers in the mountains above.
- Hverir. On the south side of the road set among the red clay soil are the boiling mud pits of Hverir. You may also see some steam vents. These boiling pools of mud are oddly fascinating to watch.
- Krafla. North of the Ring Road, a short drive up the Stora-Viti road, you’ll come out on top of the Mount Krafla. You can hike around and explore a couple of different sites, including the blue lake of the Krafla caldera and a hardened lava field. Careful to stay on the trails – there are still some areas that are hot!
- Myvatn Nature Baths. After a long day of driving and hiking, visit the Myvatn Nature Baths for a dip in Iceland’s second most famous hot springs.
Where to Stay in Myvatn
There are a number of places to stay in the Lake Myvatn area, but we recommend staying close to the town of Reykjahlíð. This puts you near restaurants and also the Myvatn Nature Baths. There are some good farms in the area if you want to try a farm holiday. Our top picks in the Lake Myvatn area are:
- Vogafjós Farm Resort: With rustic charm and locally-sourced ingredients, this inn is a keeper. Be sure to enjoy both breakfast and dinner here. (Book a room)
- Dimmuborgir Guesthouse: This Iceland B&B meets cottage is tops for one key reason: it sits right on the shore of Lake Myvatn and offers spectacular views (in addition to the cozy charm). (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room)
Day 5: Iceland’s Northern Coast: Husavik and Akureyri
Related article: Husavik and Akureyri
After several long driving days, it can be nice to have a more relaxed day. This is it.
- Pseudocraters. On the way out of Lake Myvatn, be sure to stop and see the pseudocraters along the southern shore of the lake. These structures, sometimes known as rootless cones, are seen here and on Mars.
- Husavik. Make your way up Route 87/85 to the town of Husavik. This is the whaling capital of Iceland. These days, the whaling is done in large boats with cameras. If you’ve ever wanted to try whale watching, this might be your chance at success. Spend most of your morning and mid-day in Husavik on a whale watching expedition and then have a late lunch in town.
- GeoSea Geothermal Spa. On the north side of Husavik on the cliffs above the sea, the GeoSea Geothermal Spa is one of the world’s greatest hot springs. You can soak in the hot water and take in the beautiful views.
- Godafoss. This is known as the waterfall of the gods and is certainly one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland. With its unique horseshoe shape, you’ll want to experience it from different sides.
- Akureyri. In the late afternoon, head on to the town of Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland. You can do some shopping and even experience some of the famous Icelandic nightlife. Or, at least, go to a bar and do shots of Opal and Topaz, the Icelandic liqueurs.
Where to Stay in Akureyri
Iceland’s second largest town and the capital of the north, Akureyri makes a great base to explore. There are number of guesthouses that extend up the fjord to the north from the city that offer excellent views. Here are some of our top picks in Akureyri:
- Viking Cottages & Apartments: With views overlooking both the fjord and the town, this is one of the top spots in Akureyri. Modern decor and private hot tubs make it your own private paradise. (Book a room)
- Hafnarstræti Hostel: Yes, a hostel. We know what you’re thinking. But this hostel features those uber-cool Japanese sleeping pods. Curl up in your own pod and shut out the world (note: pods come in singles and doubles). (Read TripAdvisor reviews | Book a room)
Day 6: Erik the Red and the Eiriksstadir
Related article: Eiriksstadir and Arriving in Reykjavik
The drive from Akureyri to Reykjavik isn’t particularly long, but there also isn’t a lot to see. Unlike other Ring Road sections, this one lacks the punch of others. However, there are still a interesting places to see. Stops include:
- Varmahlid. In the town of Varmahlid, be sure to hit up the local gas station, which doubles as the local store, community center, and about everything else. We found some of the best knit sweaters in Iceland here.
- Vidimyrarkirja. About 200 meters from the gas station in Varmahlid is this amazing turf church dating from 1836. It’s probably the smallest church we’ve ever visited.
- Blonduos. This town is known for it’s dual churches. There’s the wild space-age thing right in town. Just outside of the town and off the Ring Road is the stone Pingeyrakirkja. It isn’t particularly old, but it is pretty.
- Eiriksstadir. Off of Route 60, the Eiriksstadir is reported to be the original homestead of Erik the Red, father of Leifur Eiriksson. This was one of the highlights of our trip.
- Erpsstadir. This farm located between the Eiriksstadir and the Ring Road makes delicious, handcrafted ice cream in handy to-go cups. Get a cup and enjoy on your drive!
Day 7: Iceland’s Golden Circle
Related article: The Golden Circle of Iceland
No itinerary for Iceland would be complete without adding the country’s top attraction: The Golden Circle. This is an example of a marketing campaign taking on a life of its own. In a simple one-day drive, you can have a representative experience of the whole country: massive waterfalls, exploding geysers, lakes, the history of the Pingvellir National Park where you can walk between the tectonic plates, and even a soak in the famous Blue Lagoon hot springs – all before dinner.
On our trip, after visiting the Blue Lagoon, we dropped the rental car off at the airport before returning to Reykjavik. There are a couple of ways to get into the center of Reyjkavik from the airport, including the popular Flybus. If you are considering the Flybus, be sure to read the article about our experience.
Day 8: Day Trip to Greenland
Related article: A Day trip to Greenland from Iceland
While planning our trip, we noticed it would be possible to do a day trip from Iceland to Greenland. Yes, it was a chance to add another country and check something off the bucket list, but it turned out to be more than that. Having just read an article on global warming in National Geographic, we wanted to see the glaciers and icebergs for ourselves.
But our day trip to Kulusuk, Greenland (courtesy of a package deal with Air Iceland Connect) turned into an unusual and unforgettable day learning about indigenous peoples. What we saw both surprised and troubled us. If you opt for the trip, be prepared for a long day.
Day 9-10: Reykjavik, Iceland
Related article: Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s modern capital, Reykjavik, is worth at least two days on any trip. During our trip, we spent one rainy day exploring several museums in the city. When the weather cleared, we spent our final day exploring additional sights in the city, including Hallgrims Church and the vibrant Reykjavik street art scene. In the evening, it was time to head back to the USA
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and two-thirds of it’s population lives here. Despite the density of people, it actually feels like a small town and is one of the least populated capital cities in the world. In this city, we love to stay in a private apartment which gives us the flexibility of doing our own thing. Restaurants in Reykjavik are quite expensive, so this allows us the opportunity to cook if we want. Here are some of our favorite places to say in Reykjavik:
- TownApartment Reykjavík: Close to everything and modern Scandinavian decor make this place a winner! (Book a room)
- Baldursbrá Apartments: Right in the heart of the capital and with private parking, Baldursbra has everything you’ll need for an enjoyable visit. (Book a room)
Iceland Travel Recommendations
Iceland is quite unique in terms of accommodations. Outside of the capital of Reykjavik, there are few hotels in the country (although the number of Iceland Ring Road hotels have been increasing in recent years). Throughout Iceland, most accommodations are in small inns, bed & breakfasts, and on farms throughout the country. We recommend looking at Booking.com for hotels, inns and small B&Bs in Iceland.
Iceland Rental Cars
The best way to see Iceland is renting a car and driving the Ring Road. Based on past successful rentals, we generally do our price comparison and booking via Auto Europe. Before you go, we recommend getting a copy of our book, The Essential Guide to Driving Abroad, which demystifies and simplifies the process of renting overseas.
Travel Insurance for Iceland
Iceland is an amazing destination! However, in any destination involving remote locations and adventurous activities, there can be some risks. For this trip, we bought travel insurance from Travel Guard. If you are planning on driving the Ring Road in Iceland, be sure you have appropriate insurance.
Frequently Asked Questions about Iceland
Here are some common questions about visiting Iceland and driving the Ring Road:
When is the best time of year to visit Iceland?
The short answer is, it really depends on what you want to do. We have a related article on when is the best time to visit Iceland, which has a month-by-month guide to weather and activities.
How long is the Iceland Ring Road?
Officially, Iceland’s Ring Road is 828 miles long (1,332 kilometers). The popular Oxi Pass cutoff/shortcut will cut about 38 miles (approx. 60 kilometers) off the Ring Road between Höfn and Egilsstaðir in Eastern Iceland.
How many days does it take to drive around Iceland?
It is technically possible to drive the entire Ring Road in approximately 14-19 hours, assuming minimal stops and an average speed of 50 mph. However, most visitors to Iceland spend 5-7 days driving the Ring Road and a few more days in Reykjavik. Giving a 5-7 days for the Ring Road and experiencing all of Iceland in 10 days gives you enough time to see all of the waterfalls and beautiful scenery while not feeling too rushed.
What side of the road does Iceland drive on?
Right. In Iceland, you drive on right side of the road (or common side) and you pass slower vehicles on their left side. The roads in Iceland vary, but are generally wide with good shoulders. There’s ample room for parking in small villages and out on the Ring Road. In short, if you have never driven abroad before, Iceland is a good country to try.
Is it better to drive the Iceland Ring Road clockwise or counterclockwise?
Short answer: doesn’t matter.
Long answer: This is really a matter of personal preference. There is a perception on many Iceland blogs that “the best sites in Iceland” are all on the southern coast. Therefore, if you have limited time, you should focus your Iceland driving itinerary on the south. The reality is that it doesn’t matter.
There are two practical reasons for driving counterclockwise. First, most people will rent a car at the Keflavík International Airport. Going counterclockwise puts you closer to the Ring Road than if you needed to drive across Reykjavik to start out on your journey.
Second, the southern coast is slightly more densely populated (by Iceland standards). This means you’ll have more access to accommodations, restaurants, and gas stations than you will in the north. This gives you several days into your trip to get used to the Icelandic way of life. For these reasons, most itineraries for Iceland suggest going in a counter-clockwise direction (or, as the British call it, anticlockwise).