For road trip enthusiasts, it doesn't get much better than encircling Iceland along its infamous Route 1 (Ring Road). This quick-paced, self-drive itinerary will take you to the best spots along the 828-mile (1,332 km) route with plenty of detours to work the leg muscles and camera batteries. With a bit more than a week, you'll experience a variety of landscapes, like geysers, hot springs, black sand beaches, volcanoes, lava fields, small fishing towns, and massive glaciers in protected national parks.

Highlights

  • Hike to the top of Glymur Falls in the west (Iceland's tallest)
  • Enjoy a cliff-side walk between small fishing villages in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  • Board a traditional oak boat for a whale watching adventure in Husavik
  • Discover geothermal pools, lava fields, and volcanoes around Lake Myvatn
  • Drive along Iceland's lesser-known eastern fjords where few travelers venture

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown Reykjavik
Day 2 Glymur Falls & Snaefellsnes Peninsula Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 3 Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Akureyri Akureyri
Day 4 Godafoss, Whale Watching & Big Waterfalls Lake Myvatn
Day 5 Geological Wonders of Lake Myvatn Lake Myvatn
Day 6 Scenic Eastern Fjords Seydisfjordur
Day 7 Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach & Skaftafell Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Day 8 South Coast Waterfalls, Black Sand Beaches & Golden Circle Golden Circle Area
Day 9 Golden Circle, Return to Reykjavik, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, Explore Downtown

Hit the streets of this colorful city
Hit the streets of this colorful city

Welcome to Iceland! Upon arrival at Keflavík International Airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive 30 minutes into Reykjavik. Since many international flights land in the early morning hours, you'll likely want to start your adventure with breakfast. Here are a few recommendations when you arrive in the city center:

  • Bergsson Mathús (opens at 7 am)
  • Sandholt (opens at 7 am)
  • Reykjavik Roasters (espresso, pastries, wifi)
  • Brauð & Co. (bread, pastries)

From here, you'll have the rest of the day to explore the world’s most northerly capital city. 

Things to do in Reykjavik: 

  • Walk through Reykjavik’s compact downtown area and check out the unique street art scene.
  • Head to the waterfront for the Sun Voyager Sculpture and Harpa Concert Hall with its cool glass architecture.
  • Visit Hallgrimskirkja church on the hill; take the elevator to the tower for a great overview of the city below and panoramic views of the area.

To escape inclement weather, you may consider visiting a few museums such as the Northern Lights Center, the Saga Museum, the Marine Museum, or the Whales of Iceland Exhibition. You can also join a whale watching tour from the Reykjavik harbor, and snack on a world-famous hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

Day 2: Glymur Falls & Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall

After breakfast in Reykjavik, you'll pack up the rental car and begin the epic road trip. You'll first head northwest out of the city to experience Iceland's west coast and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Both of these areas see fewer visitors compared to the Golden Circle and south coast and will provide you with a bit more time to take in the sites at your own pace.

First, drive north and hike to Glymur Falls, Iceland's tallest waterfall (2 hours out and back). You’ll hike beside a narrow canyon which makes for some great photographs. 

Continue your drive around the other side of the peninsula and visit to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall with Kirkjufell mountain in the background (one of Iceland's most photographed).

If you had an early start and it’s not yet late afternoon, stop by Hraunfossar (“Lava Falls”) and Barnafoss (children's waterfall), regarded as some of the most unique and spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, where clear subterranean water seeps through the lava fields, pouring out of the rocks.

Next, head for the Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs, where strange basalt columns rise up out of the earth. Park the car and walk around exploring and getting a closer look. Next, walk through the start of the Budhahraun lava fields on the coast, covered in moss or snow depending on the season.

In the evening, you'll drive until you get to the village of Hellnar where you can stop for dinner at the small café near the water to taste their delicious fish soup and enjoy the setting.

Day 3: Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Akureyri

Few cars and plenty of scenery on the drive to Akureyri
Few cars and plenty of scenery on the drive to Akureyri

Spend the morning seeing any sights that you may have missed in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula (Berserkjahraun Lava Fields, Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum) before you re-join the Ring Road heading clockwise towards Akureyri.

The scenic drive from the eastern side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Akureyri is around 4-4.5 hours and you'll want to keep your camera close. The north coast of Iceland may be the country’s best-kept secret. While crowds of tourists populate the south coast and Golden Circle, visitors to Akureyri and Lake Myvatn can enjoy the beautiful landscapes and wonderful volcanic areas all to themselves. A few stops to keep in mind on your drive:

  • Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi (10 minutes off the Ring Road): This area is also home to one of the largest seal colonies in Iceland. Look for several sea watching spots along the coast a bit north of here.

  • Hvítserkur, “white shirt” basalt troll (add an hour to your drive): Close to the shore along the Vatnsnes peninsula is the black and white rock formation known as Hvítserkur—a troll who, according to the legend, was caught in the sun and turned into stone. While it's a nice sight from above, you'll also find a trail leading down from the parking lot. 

  • Varmahlíð: Stop in this small town, where Route 1 and Route 75 intersect (an hour before Akureyri). Here you can visit the Glaumbær Farm and the Víðimýrarkirkja Turf Church. This is a great way to experience the turf houses and to see how Icelanders used to life. The turf church, built in 1834, is one of the only remaining preserved turf churches in Iceland. 

When you arrive in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city of 18,000 people, get out and walk around town. Be sure to check out the thriving restaurant, cafe, and bar scene, and visit the Akureyrarkirkja church on the hill. With more time, follow the footpath along the calm old harbor to see more of the picturesque fjord.

Day 4: Godafoss, Whale Watching & Big Waterfalls

Godafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods
Godafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods

Spend your morning with breakfast in Akureyri before you get on the road (Route 1) towards Husavik and Lake Myvatn. Be sure to take a look back towards Akureyri from the other side of the fjord; you can see the mountains behind the town and it makes for a great photograph. 

After about 35-40 minutes on the road, you will see Route 85 to the left for Husavik. Despite this sign, stay on Route 1 for another couple of minutes to reach Godafoss (you will head to Husavik after this detour).

When you arrive at the “Waterfall of the Gods”, hike a couple minutes to see Godafoss up close, or take a longer walk around to see it from multiple perspectives. The waterfall was named when Iceland converted to Christianity in 1000. Legend says that when Þorgeir Þorkelsson (local chieftain and law speaker) made the tough decision to convert the country from the old Nordic gods to Christianity (in order to prevent war), he threw the old gods into the falls to symbolize the change to the new era.

From here, you'll continue back to the Route 1/Route 85 split and drive another 35 minutes to Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland. Unlike in other regions where you must set sail to find whales, Husavik often has whales, porpoises, and seabirds close to the harbor. You can join a tour on newer, carbon-neutral ships that are quieter (nicer for whales) and don’t pollute the environment (nice for everyone). We recommend North Sailing, right on the harbor, and the entire building, restaurant, and café was made from recycled wood). Also, check out the whale museum and the church by the harbor.

From here, head to Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Take a 15-minute hike upstream along the basalt cliffs and you will encounter another giant: Selfoss. You can approach from either the east or west side of the river (there are two roads): The road on the west is paved, while the one on the east is gravel. Both sides offer nice views of the waterfalls, but you have a nicer view of the full canyon from the east.

Continue driving to Lake Myvatn and spend your evening relaxing in the Myvatn Nature Baths—the North's equivalent of the Blue Lagoon, but with fewer people, cheaper prices, and better views. You won’t find all the spa extras that you do at the Blue Lagoon, but you will find a couple large geothermal pools, a sauna, and a steam room. You can enjoy views down over the lava fields and the craters around Lake Myvatn as you sit in the mineral water.

Day 5: Geological Wonders of Lake Myvatn

Spring and summer months bring greenery to Lake Myvatn
Spring and summer months bring greenery to Lake Myvatn

The area surrounding Lake Myvatn has the highest concentration of volcanic and geothermal sights in Iceland. In one day you can explore a plethora of pseudocraters, rock formations, lava fields, and volcanic craters

The following sights are listed roughly in order as you would approach from the western side of the lake driving counterclockwise.

  • Skutustadir pseudocraters: These pseudocraters were formed by when hot lava flowed over the wet marsh area causing steam explosions. Take an easy walk among many pseudocraters on the shores of Lake Myvatn and loop around the smaller lake Stakhólstjörn. You can hike up to a few of them or just walk around them all. Enjoy nice views across the lake where you will see steam rising from the geothermal areas and other volcanic craters in the distance.

  • Dimmuborgir lava formations and “the Church”: Take a  walk beneath large, strange, contorted lava formations caused when lava flows cooled. You can see the start of the formations here or hike the small loop in 15 minutes. Or, walk the bigger loop (2 miles) where you will see Kirkja (“The Church”), a natural lava formation that resembles a vaulted church arch, and a nearby cave a bit further. 

  • Hofdi rock formations: A little past Dimmuborgir you will see a small turnout for Hofdi. You could spend anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour here walking the wooded trails that take you to some very unique rock formations in the lake.

  • Hverfjall cinder cone & crater walk: The volcano known as Cinder Cone is hard to miss from anywhere around Lake Myvatn. Climb up the side for a great view of the surrounding area where you can see the Skutustadir Pseudocraters and steam from the Myvatn Nature Baths and Hverarond Geothermal area. 

  • Hverarond mud pits & steam vents: As you leave Lake Myvatn heading east, your first detour is the Hverarond geothermal area. Here you can walk around various bubbling mud pits and steam vents, admiring the interesting red and orange colors. Exploring the entire area takes from 30 minutes to an hour.

Just after Hverarönd, you will see a turnoff for Krafla/Viti. Take the road and drive 10 minutes for these attractions:

  • Krafla/Viti crater: Drive past the Krafla power station (also worth a stop) and you will find the Viti crater, part of the Krafla volcanic system. This crater is filled with a bright blue lake.

  • Leirhnjúkur lava fields & geothermal area: Explore the Leirhnjúkur area and you will think you were on another planet. After a 10-minute walk, you will arrive at some steam vents. You can hike a big loop in an hour to see all the highlights, or stick to the first sights along the wooden path

Day 6: Scenic Eastern Fjords

Seydisfjordur's charming town center
Seydisfjordur's charming town center

Many people tend to skip right past Iceland's East Fjords, making a beeline from Myvatn to the south coast. With the extra time, though, as this trip allows, you can treat yourself to some of the most scenic and remote coastlines in Iceland with a night in the picture-perfect Scandinavian town of Seydisfjordur.

In this region, you will find lots of beautiful calm fjords, outdoor activities, and small towns at the bases of large mountains. You can even kayak through the fjords, or (for a longer trip) take a ferry to either the Faroe Islands or Denmark.

Here are ideas for scenic day hikes: 

  • Hengifoss & Litlanesfoss: Take a 20-minute detour (40 minutes there and back) and hike until you arrive at Hengifoss waterfall, passing Litlanesfoss on the way. These spectacular waterfalls are framed by huge basalt columns and make a great activity for those who prefer to escape the larger crowds in the south. During early summer, you may also spot some puffins in the area. 

  • Seydisfjordur: After a 30-minute drive over the mountain pass, you will be welcomed with amazing views of the fjord, below. Once in Seydisfjordur, you can hike several trails to waterfalls (two are fairly steep but they only take 5-10 minutes each), walk inside cool sound sculptures, visit a troll church, and explore the artwork and sculptures around the city. If you're looking for a longer hike, head to the northern side of the fjord and hike past several waterfalls continuing all the way to the top (Vestdalsvatn).

Day 7: Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach & Skaftafell

Otherwordly scenery at Diamond Beach
Otherwordly scenery at Diamond Beach

Today, you'll depart Seydisfjordur in the morning and continue southwest along the Ring Road (Route 1, the only major road in this area) to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, about 4-4.5 hours away. Here are some attractions in the area:

  • Diamond Beach: At the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, you’ll get the chance to see one of the most unique sights in Iceland: icebergs floating out to sea and beached on the black sand. Climb the hill for a better view of the entire area or follow the river under the bridge to the ocean for smaller icebergs along the black sandy shores of "diamond beach" where waves crash against them. It’s quite the sight! You may be fortunate to see seals, porpoises, or small whales that sometimes hang out in the lagoon or near the shore.

  • Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon: The rock formations in Fjadrargljufur Canyon look like they’re from another world. There is a trail less than a mile from the parking lot along the ridge of the canyon where you will find some amazing viewpoints where the river curves around this strange rock cliffs. You can admire the views the entire time and go as far as you like. 

  • Skaftafell & Svartifoss (optional ice-caving & glacier walks): You could spend several days hiking all the trails around Skaftafell. If you’re short on time, the most popular hike leads to Svartifoss, a thin waterfall surrounded by columns of basalt. The hike is around three miles long (weather dependent) and offers great views alongside the river and towards the ocean in the distance. If you like, you can join an ice cave/climbing tour or glacier walking tour based here. 

  • Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon: A few minutes before Jokulsarlon, you will find another Glacier Lagoon about 10 minutes from the parking lot. Here you are much closer to the glacier than at Jokulsarlon, and you’ll have better views of all the cracks and crevices.

  • Hof: A quick trip off the main road will bring you to Hof's turf church. The practice of covering the roof with turf dates back to medieval times throughout Europe to protect from the harsh weather.

When your adventures are complete, drive to the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur for the night.

Day 8: South Coast Waterfalls, Black Sand Beaches & the Golden Circle

South Iceland has some spectacular waterfalls
South Iceland has some spectacular waterfalls

After breakfast, start off on the Ring Road heading west and spend the day enjoying popular highlights along the south coast. The area between Vik and Selfoss is full of cool sites and destinations and is quickly becoming one of the most beloved areas of Iceland. Leave the crowds behind by hiking further on the trails away from the parking lots. There is a lot to see.

Near Vik, along Route 1, you will see a turnoff for Reynisfjara Beach, past a pretty church as you drive towards the water. This black rock beach (not as fine grain as the one in Vik) is most famous for the Reynisdrangar Columns, huge basalt hexagonal columns rising up out of the sand. Walk around the cliffs to the left as you face the ocean and you will find a couple of large caves as well.  

Further on the route is Dyrholaey, and there are two parking lots from which you can see the famous arch. The one high on the hill has the better view. Take the bumpy dirt road to your right as you enter. From the top, you will also see a lighthouse and great views looking farther west along a black sand beach that reaches as far as you can see. Look for rare birds (and perhaps even puffins) flying around—they nest along the cliffside.

Also along Route 1, you will find the powerful Skogafoss Waterfall. This marks the beginning of the 16 miles (26 km) Fimmvörðuháls Trail, which ends in Thórsmörk. You can admire the waterfall from the bottom (a short walk from the parking lot), or if you are up for it, find the stairs to the right and climb up for a different perspective. At the top, walk along the canyon to see some more waterfalls along  “waterfalls way” before turning around (note: depending on snow conditions this may not be possible).

Continue driving west to Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which you can walk behind (the ground is uneven in a few places but there are stairs on one side). Standing in a cave under the cliff you will see the water come roaring down in front of you. Pay attention to the direction of the wind, or wear a rain jacket (or both!) You will find two smaller waterfalls to the right if you are looking from behind the waterfall. 

As you leave the South Coast and head towards the Golden Circle Route, consider an evening stop at the Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugi) in Flúðir, where warm geothermal water flows from the rocks. It’s a great place to end a long day exploring the southern coast.

Day 9: Golden Circle, Return to Reykjavik, Depart

Strokkur geyser has reliable eruptions
Strokkur geyser has reliable eruptions

It's time to say farewell to Iceland! Depending on your departure time, you can see some more sites before your flight. In fact, it's better to start early to visit attractions in the Golden Circle before the crowds and buses arrive when you’ll have these magnificent places all to yourself.

At Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) you can walk along a few different paths to see the tremendous falls from different angles and perspectives. You’ll want to spend some time here admiring the incredible amount of water that flows over the edge every second.

Next, continue to the Geyser geothermal area where Strokkur geyser shoots into the sky like clockwork every 5-10 minutes. In between eruptions walk around the hot pools, steam vents, or climb the small hill above it all for a great view.

End your tour of the Golden Circle Route at Thingvellir National Park and learn about the traditions of the old Icelandic Parliament that met each summer at Law Rock. Walk between the giant rock fissure where the tectonic plates meet. At the visitor center, you can learn more about the history and geology with its numerous multimedia displays.

On your way back to the airport, you can stop at the Blue Lagoon to soak in the geothermal waters before your flight home—an iconic way to end this memorable trip!

Map

Map of Iceland Ultimate Ring Road Adventure - 9 Days
Map of Iceland Ultimate Ring Road Adventure - 9 Days