The land of fire and ice, oh Iceland you are one beautiful country. There really is no other country like it, in my personal opinion. Whether you’re only visiting for a number of days or you’ve played an extensive trip round Iceland’s Ring Road, you’ll be able to witness what Iceland has to offer. However, there’s nothing quite like a road trip, especially when there’s waterfalls around every corner, active volcanoes, glaciers, the magical northern lights, wild horses and coastlines that rival some of the best in the world.
Iceland’s Ring Road, also known as Highway 1 circles the perimeter of the country, spanning 828 miles (1332 km). This can be done in a few days, but you’ll be missing most if not all the best attractions/sites! Therefore, I recommend a minimum of 10 days for Icelands Ring Road trip if you want to take in the very best of what Iceland has to offer!
Trust me when I say this could be one of the most impressive road trips of your life! It certainly was mine!
Renting a car or camper-van (I rented with CampEasy – read my full review here) and self-driving Iceland’s Ring Road exposes you to the real Iceland and will mean you can get off the beaten track to experience some less-known but just as stunning sites. One of the reasons I’m writing this post is to give you a unique itinerary that includes hidden gems and the exact one I took on my 10 day road trip!
Best Time Of Year To Go
Iceland is beautiful all year round, however depending on which season you choose you may have to plan accordingly. Summer is totally different to Winter in Iceland, so you will need to carefully think what you are wanting to prioritise when you go.
Undecided? Here are the pros and cons of each season!
- Midnight sun – meaning you’re not restricted by day light hours (bring an eye mask for sleeping!)
- Good weather
- Best time for whale watching
- Prices are much higher
- Busiest season and lot’s of tourists around the main attractions
- Cheaper and a lot less tourists
- Still long daylight hours
- Whale watching still possible
- Chance to see the Northern Lights
- Beautiful autumnal colours
- Some campsites start to close
- Restricted daylight hours
- Cheapest for renting camper vans
- Beautiful landscapes with snow
- Northern Lights
- Daylight hours are very restricted (3 hours on 21st December)
- Some roads will close, attractions may not be possible to see
- Very cold
- 4 WD is highly recommended
- Cheap before the crowds set in
- Beautiful flowers and colours
- Snow is starting to melt
- Longer daylight hours
- Roads still may be impassable
- Snow will turn into rain
Personally, I would recommend visiting between the start of September – late October. I visited at the end of September into October and couldn’t have asked for a better month. Everything was open, tourists were starting to thin out, I saw the Northern Lights and I had long daylight hours to explore everything I wanted!
Campervan or Car?
Personally, I wouldn’t want to experience Iceland any other way than via camper van. It’s an exhilarating way to truly explore everything Iceland has to offer, in your own time and is a lot more economical than any other option. What’s more, once you’ve got your camper van you’ll all set, no booking of hotel rooms, expensive meals at restaurants, moving your luggage from a car to a room and no busy tourist buses or tours to wait for!
You will be able to travel on your own schedule with no other tourists to wait on. Along with that freedom, you can spend as much time as you wish at each destination. I was able to adjust my itinerary on the go and I even backtracked a couple times to revisit some of my favourite spots to capture at different times of the day.
With a camper van like CampEasy, you can do all your cooking inside the van, meaning you won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on eating out every night, which with a car/tour you’d have too! This can honestly save you A LOT of money, and cooking in-front of impressive backdrops beats a restaurant any day!
Here are a few summarised reasons why you should hire a camper van with CampEasy instead of a car or tour:
- Explore off the beaten places that tours don’t reach
- Wake up to beautiful landscapes every morning
- Beat the crowds at top tourist attractions
- Save money on eating out every night
- Able to adjust your itinerary as you go along
- Not bound to strict check in and check out times which you would be with hotels/hostels
- Freedom and flexibility
- No hauling of luggage from car to hotel room every night
- Cheaper overall – once you’ve booked the camper van all you need is food and petrol!
Note: Iceland is one of the most expensive countries I’ve travelled too, therefore budgeting and making sure your money stretches is important. Hiring a camper van with CampEasy makes your trip much more affordable!
- Check the weather forecast before you head off in a clockwise/anticlockwise direction. Depending on the weather conditions you may want to change the direction you travel in. Originally I was going to travel anticlockwise but the incredibly helpful lady at CampEasy suggested I go clockwise due to the weather conditions. I had incredible weather the whole time! So thank you!
- Whenever you hit a somewhat large town like Akureyri fill up. Prices will be cheaper here and you’ll have more choice. Gas stations aren’t as common as you think, so if you’re under half a tank I suggest filling up at the next one you see. If you hire through CampEasy you’ll receive a free N1 discount card.
- Stock up on food before you leave Reykjavik. Bonus is the best and cheapest food store in Iceland. There are a few dotted round the country so plan accordingly.
- Phone signal is great all around Iceland, and if you’re from Europe you’ll most likely get free roaming!
- Be prepared to spend quite a bit of money on campgrounds. Iceland has now banned and made illegal free camping. So do not do this unless you’re in a specific ‘free camp’ area like Gata Free Camping (which I suggest staying at on your last night).
- There’s no need to book campsites in advance unless you’re going in the height of summer and you may want to consider doing this.
- Check the aurora forecast if you’re in Iceland at the right time of year (End September to April) and plan accordingly.
10 Day Iceland’s Ring Road Itinerary
Day 1: Pick Up Camper and Drive North to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
As previously mentioned in my top tips, there is no right or wrong direction to head on the Iceland’s Ring Road. You can go north or south first. I chose to head north first as I was chasing clear skies for a chance to see the northern lights, a plan that definitely paid off later in the trip.
The likelihood is you’ll fly into Keflavik airport in the morning, in time to pick up the camper van by lunch time to head off on Iceland’s Ring Road. Make sure to stock up on food, fuel and other necessities for your trip in Reykjavik. Once this is done, head North out of the city towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Landbrotalaug Secret Hot Springs
Before you reach the peninsula is Landbrotalaug Secret Hot Springs. Make sure to put it into your Sat Nav/Google Maps or you will not find it. It’s not called Secret for nothing! You’ll drive down a gravel road until you get to a parking lot, there are a few signs to guide you in the right direction once you are on the gravel road.
This is the perfect free spring to start your epic 10 day Iceland road trip! Don’t be surprised if you’re the only ones there either, as it’s not well known! But it is beautiful, and I highly recommend visiting for a quick dip!
Traðir Camping: 1500 ISK each.
Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
You’re going to want to wake up early for your first proper day on Iceland’s Ring Road, as there’s a lot to see and a lot of driving! If you’re going in summer this won’t be too much of an issue but if you’re like me and visiting in Autumn or Spring, you’ll be chased for time, but it is possible!
Búðir Black Church
Tucked away is this impressive church perched on a lava field by the coast. It’s a great place to get your Instagram shots in! You’ll likely arrive early before any crowds set in too.
I actually did a photoshoot here where I wore a wedding dress for a collaboration I was doing at the time! To this date it’s one of my favourite shooting locations!
A beautiful little down near Snæfelljokull National Park. Here there is a beautiful coastal walk which takes you along a magnificent coast line. Make sure to walk all the way to the port as you’ll reach a natural bridge you can walk over, for a great shot!
Snæfelljokull National Park
Take the scenic route as you head towards Kirkjufellsfoss. In this National Park, make sure to stop at Londrangar Viewpoint, and walk down to the cliffs in the distance. It’s quite impressive how large they really are as you walker closer!
Continue driving through the National Park and head down a gravel road to Öndverðarnes lighthouse. It is the outermost point of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
There’s definitely no shortages of churches in Iceland. Built in 1903; it is claimed that it was the first church in the world built entirely of concrete. The church was said to be third in importance in Iceland in old times, owing to income from the rich fishing grounds near the tip of the Snæfells peninsula.
The most photographed waterfall in Iceland, and having visited this impressive waterfall I now know why. However, be prepared for huge crowds of tourists and buses. The parking lot is tiny, so it’s down to luck whether you get a parking space or not, especially if you have a larger camper like I did!
There are great photo opportunities here, and there are ways to not get people in the photo. Definitely don’t skip this, as it is very very impressive.
In all the itineraries I looked up before I left for Iceland’s Ring Road, Kolugljúfur was never mentioned! I stumbled upon this incredible canyon via Instagram, and I’m so glad I did! Definitely not to be missed on your way North.
It’s a few kilometres off a dirt track road, but completely do able in a 2WD.
Camping Varmahlíð: 1300 ISK each.
Day 3: Akureyri & Husavik (Whale Watching)
Depending on your schedule, you may have pre-booked a whale watching tour in either Akureyri or Husavik. Make sure to leave plenty of time to check in and arrive for this tour, as you don’t want to miss it!
Akureyri is the largest town in northern Iceland, so make sure to stock up on food and fuel at Bonus and cheap gas stations. There are a number of things to do in this quaint little town including visiting the Artic Botanical Gardens, Akureyri Church, Jólahúsið Christmas House and Laufas Turf Homes.
There are also a number of tours you can take from here, the most popular being whale watching.
Spend about an hour taking in this gorgeous waterfall spanning nearly 100 feet wide. Make sure to visit both sides of Goðafoss by walking around the designated footpaths.
If you’re here in the winter months, this is a very common spot to see the Northern Lights!
Husavik – Whale Watching
Known as the whale capital of Iceland. Here, your chances of seeing a whale are between 97-99%! This is where I booked my whale watching tour from, and I did not disappoint. On the tour we witnessed some of the rarest whales: Northern Bottlenose Whales. In 25 years our guide had only ever seen them twice, and the second was that day! Wow!
Best Husavik Whale Watching Tours
This town also does great fish and chips!
GeoSea GeoThermal Natural Baths
Nearly everyone that visits Iceland knows about the Blue Lagoon. However, this is one of Iceland’s best kept secrets in my opinion as it only opened in August 2018.
Make sure to head there for sunset to watch the sunset views of the bay, whilst trying to spot whales!
Husavik Campground: 1750 ISK each.
Day 4: Mývatn, Waterfalls & Stuðlagil
Another day for waking up early, as you’ll have quite a bit of driving to do so you can reach Seydisfjordur before dark. On this day as well you’ll also have the option of hiking down in Stuðlagil canyon. Which was probably the highlight of my whole trip to Iceland, it was simply breathtaking. So do allow a good 4 hours for this hike.
First up is the Grjótagjá Cave. You may recognise this from a scene in Game of Thrones between Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. It’s a beautiful cave, just be mindful that the water is very hot and no swimming is allowed! Make sure to walk on-top of the cave for a special surprise!
If you have time, head to the Mývatn Nature Baths. These are similar to both the GeoSea and Blue Lagoon, so if you’re planning on doing these I would personally skip it, as there’s a lot to fit in today and going here may result in missing out on Stuðlagil.
Hverir is a geothermal spot noted for its bubbling pools of mud & steaming fumaroles emitting sulphuric gas. It feels like you’ve stepped foot on Mars walking around! If you’ve never smelled a rotten egg this is a good chance to experience the pungent smell.
Again, if you have time hiking to the top of Hverfjall is worth it. Unfortunately the weather was awful and I didn’t have enough time for this. But I’ve heard it’s quite impressive once you’re up there.
The largest waterfall in Iceland and Europe by water volume. 500 cubic metres of water per second plunges over the edge, that’s pretty powerful if you ask me! The waterfall itself has two separate ways to reach it either the west or east. I suggest heading to the west as it’s far more accessible and less of a drive. It’s very impressive, but also very dangerous if you get too close to the edge. Especially if the rocks are wet. Be careful!
This really is Iceland’s Ring Road’s best kept hidden gem! Nearly everyone drives to the top of the canyon and takes photos from above. However, if you park a few kilometres back near farm Klaustursel and walk over the bridge to the east side, you’ll be able to experience the canyon from below. There is no marked trail however, so you’ll need to walk over farming land, hundreds of sheep, pass a number of waterfalls and make sure to always follow the canyon. If you follow this you won’t miss it.
The hike is just over 10 km and takes roughly 4 hours including picture stops and photos whilst you reach the canyon. I only saw one other group of hikers on this trip, so you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice once down there.
Seydisfjordur Campsite: 1800 ISK each.
Day 5: Eastern Fjords & Glacier Lagoon
Today will be one of the most impressive drives, as you’ll be driving all along the eastern Fjords by the coast. This area is probably one of the most rural in the whole of Iceland despite being fairly busy with tourists. There’s a lot of driving here without many towns. You’ll be weaving in and out of fjords all day. Make sure to have a good music playlist ready and enjoy beautiful coastal views.
Before leaving this quaint little village, make sure to visit their Church! Probably the most colourful church in all of Iceland, with an impressive backdrop of mountains. Make sure to walk the multi-coloured brick road up to the church and snap a photo for the Instagram!
The drive itself towards the town of Hofn is a magical site in itself, taking about 4 hours in total. There are a few small towns on the way but apart from that, just beautiful coastal scenery. Make sure to look out for wild horses and reindeer!
Once you arrive in Hofn, take a little walk around and fuel up at a gas station. From here you’ll also get a glimpse of the impressive glaciers, which will be all too common in the coming days!
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
An absolutely jaw dropping site, but also a sad reflection on how climate change is melting our glaciers. Breiðamerkurjökull glacier is slowly melting, as a result giant blue-tinted icebergs are breaking off and floating into the lagoon. I couldn’t get over the colour of the icebergs! Also look our for seals playing amongst the icebergs!
Jökulsárlón Boat Tours & Excursions
All part of the same process, once the icebergs leave the lagoon they float out to sea, and many end up on Diamond Beach. This is just as impressive, as the beach is black sand so the contrast with the white and blue icebergs is beautiful. Just make sure not to touch or pick up the smaller icebergs!
Yes another church! Located in Hof, this cute little church has a thick blanket of grass atop that spills towards the ground, making it look as though the roof is melting into the landscape! It’s a great little stop for photos.
Skaftafell Camping: 1700 ISK each includes National Park fee.
Day 6: South Coast
The National Park can get very busy, therefore staying the night before at the entrance to the park means you can hike up to Svartifoss Waterfall around sunrise, ahead of nearly all tourists.
Svartifoss is such an elegant waterfall, 20 metres tall, and black columnar basalt formations beautifully frame the waterfall and give it its name, Black Fall. From afar it looks like a big heart. The hike itself is about 1.5 km each way and takes about 1:30 hours including photos return.
The hike is uphill from the camping ground, but not too taxing. And it is so worth it.
Unfortunately I completely missed out on this! Please don’t do the same as me, as this is one impressive canyon. I can’t really say much about it as I didn’t visit it, however you can see the canyon from above just from the car park I believe so even if you’re short on time, snap a few quick pictures.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Once you pass the town of Vik, head to the famous black sand beach. It’s honestly very impressive, especially with the dramatic columns scaling the cliff walls. This somewhat wild and rugged beach was created by lava mixing with ocean water, crazy!
Get some great photo opportunities of Reynisdrangar (the spikey column in the sea) in the background whilst you’re up on the columns. Just be careful as it’s very slippery.
Dyrhólaey is the southernmost point in mainland Iceland, and is a great viewpoint. Just be careful, as it can get very windy and stormy up there, so don’t walk too close to the edge.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
I’ve heard mixed reviews about this site. I personally didn’t visit here, as I was short on time round Iceland’s Ring Road and it’s a 3.5 km walk along the sand. It also get very very busy, and people have started to graffiti the wreck. However, if you have time, I’m sure it would make for some epic photo opportunities if you manage to beat the crowds.
Sólheimajökull Glacier Tour
An activity that shouldn’t be missed is glacier trekking and ice climbing! I went with Artic Adventures, who have a number of different tours depending on your fitness and interests. I highly recommend the ice climbing tour. The tour last about 4 hours, so make sure to plan your day around this.
Sólheimajökull Glacier Tours
Skogafoss Campsite: 1500 ISK each.
Day 7: Golden Circle
This is waterfalls galore day as you start the Golden Circle. There quite a lot to see today, and be prepared for lot’s of tourists as you hit the most popular area of Iceland!
This was the night I saw the Northern Lights, and wow was it magical! Make sure to check online throughout your trip to where the Northern Lights will be most visible and plan accordingly! I did, and it paid off ten fold.
As you camped the night before right by Skogafoss, wake up around sunrise to captured this waterfall in all it’s glory before the crowds set in. It’s common to see colourful rainbows here as well.
Seljavallalaug Natural Swimming Pool
The pool was built in 1923, making it one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. It’s also a hidden gem on Iceland’s Ring Road, with mainly only locals headed here for a quick dip. The backdrop is very impressive with mountains all around.
Just don’t expect much in terms of luxury, as the changing rooms are pretty basic.
Be prepared to get wet at this waterfall, as you can walk behind it! Be prepared for lots of tourists however, so getting a photo without people in will be hard but not impossible. Bring protective casing for your camera too, as the spray does get very wet.
Hrunalaug Hot Spring
This reminds me of something out of the Hobbit. It’s in the middle of no where, still largely unknown to tourists but located in an absolutely beautiful setting.
This hot spring lies on private property so make sure you don’t leave anything behind.
It does cost 1000 ISK to visit. But it is worth it.
Gullfoss is one of the country’s signature waterfalls and it is no surprise to see why! The waterfall is beautiful, unique, and in a good location if you’re only able to visit the Golden Circle so if you get a chance to visit, you should take it!
There are also many viewpoints and paths along the top of the waterfall, so make sure to have a good walk around.
Skjòl Campground: 1500 ISK each.
Day 8: Thingvellir National Park
Today is an exciting day! Finish off the sites around the golden circle and also get the chance to snorkel or dive along two plate boundaries. The North American and Eurasian plates! It’s the only place in the world you can do it.
Strokkur is Iceland’s most visited active geyser. Strokkur erupts more regularly than any other in the Golden Circle, blasting water to heights of around fifteen to twenty metres every five to ten minutes, although it is known to reach up to forty metres.
Thingvellir National Park – Silfra Fissure
There are a number of companies that operate snorkelling and scuba diving tours here. I went with Artic Adventure and did the snorkelling tour. I wanted to scuba dive, however you can only do this if you have a qualification in dry suit diving (which I didn’t).
The water temperature is incredibly cold. Afterwards my lips looked like they had botox!
The water is so clear, and swimming between two tectonic plates is something that I will remember for the rest of my life, despite having never felt that cold in my life!
Silfra Fissure Snorkelling & Diving Tours
Is a volcanic crater which you can walk around, and even walk into. It’s an impressive site and highly recommend it.
Gata Free Camping: Free
Day 9-10: Blue Lagoon & Reykjavik
And…relax! You’ve officially driven Iceland’s Ring Road. I’d suggest booking Iceland’s Blue Lagoon a few days before and getting the earliest time slot available, preferably when it opens.
Drive from Gata Free Camp to the Blue Lagoon in time for opening. This means there would be too many people here at this time, which is great for photo opportunities! Visiting the lagoon is expensive, but worth it. You do get one free drink and a face mask included in the price and you can spend all day there if you want as there is not time limit.
It does start to get very busy during the midday and early afternoon, so try to avoid booking these time slots if you can.
Spend the last 2 nights of your time in the capital. Drop off your camper-van and set off on a walking tour round the city. Reykjavik is a vibrant city full of cool street-art, amazing food, decent nightlife, modern architecture, and cool things to do.
Hallgrímskirkja Church is hard not to miss, being the tallest church in the country. It resembles the basalt columns found throughout Iceland. Make sure to take the elevator up to the top for some very cool views of the city.
To truly soak up the culture, you’ll want to make sure to visit the main shopping streets; Laugavegur, Bankastræti, Austurstræti, Lækjargata, Skólavörðustígur – all easily accessible in the central area of Reykjavík.
If you haven’t seen the Northern Lights yet, to be too disheartened. You may be able to still spot them from downtown Reykjavik, but the best place to see them within the city limits is by the seaside at Seltjarnarnes.
I stayed at the Brim Hotel for my time in Reykjavik, it was in a great location and cheap!
I really hope my ultimate Iceland Ring Road Itinerary will help you on your trip to Iceland. This is the exact itinerary I did, which includes some hidden gems that aren’t found on any other itineraries that I came across!
Iceland is definitely one of the most beautiful and impress countries I’ve visited, I think you’ll definitely be feeling the same way after driving Iceland’s Ring Road!
Let me know in the comments whether you’ve driven Iceland’s Ring Road before, whether you’re planning the trip at the moment, or if I’ve inspired you to now take one!
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