Make a complete circle of Iceland, plus explore the Westman Islands, on this 12-day self-drive itinerary that takes in a vast wealth of geological wonders, exciting activities, and cultural highlights. From whale watching, snorkeling the Silfra fissure, and a boat journey on the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon to soaks in the Mývatn Nature Baths and Blue Lagoon, you'll experience Iceland in all its facets, north, south, east, and west.

Highlights

  • Thrill to a Zodiak boat trip at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
  • View puffins close up on Haimaey, in the Westman Islands
  • Marvel at the geological wonders of the Northern Volcanic Rift Zone
  • Look for blue whales and humpbacks on a whale-watching trip out of Akureyri

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle Selfoss
Day 2 Westman Islands Westman Islands
Day 3 South Coast Waterfalls & Black-Sand Beaches Vik
Day 4 Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Jökulsárlón Lagoon Höfn
Day 5 The Eastfjords Egilsstadir
Day 6 The wonders of Lake Mývatn Lake Mývatn
Day 7 Dettifoss, Jökulsárgljúfur & Husavik, Myvatn Nature Baths Lake Mývatn
Day 8 Akureyri & Godafoss, Akureyri Whale Watching, Vatnsnes Peninsula Laugarbakki
Day 9 The Wonders of Snaefellsnes Peninsula Grundarfjordur
Day 10 West Iceland & Borgarfjordur, Sky Lagoon Reykjavik
Day 11 Free Day to Explore Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 12 Reykjanes Peninsula, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle

Floating and soaking at Blue Lagoon Spa

Arrive at Keflavik airport and pick up your 4WD rental car, then drive the short distance to the Blue Lagoon Spa, where you can relax in a blend of sea-water and geothermally heated water rich in silica and other minerals. Ease away travel stress under the artificial waterfall, and even enjoy the spa's iconic white silica mud face mask as you laze in hot turquoise waters surrounded by a lunar-like black lava landscape. You'll then drive north to follow the "Golden Circle," Iceland's most popular sightseeing route, renowned for its gushing geysers, raging waterfalls, and a rift valley cleaving two tectonic plates.

Depending on your time, you may need to choose only one or two of the following experiences. Begin by heading to Thingvellir National Park to hike the gorge separating the Eurasian and North American plates, ending at the Öxarárfoss waterfall. Or don a wetsuit for an unforgettable snorkeling adventure through the Silfra fissure. Next, head to the Geysir geothermal area to see Strokkur (one of many geysirs here) blast scalding water up to 120 feet (37 m) in the air! Continue the short distance to Gullfoss, one of Iceland's most iconic waterfalls, before ending in Selfoss for the night.

Day 2: Westman Islands

You can see puffins galore in Iceland!

This morning drive Route 1 ("Ring Road") along the South Coast to the Landeyjahöfn wharf to catch the ferry (seven times daily) to Heimaey, the largest of the "Westman Islands" (Vestmannaeyjar), comprised of 15 youthful and very active volcanic isles. Keep your eyes open for whales and seals during the 45-minute journey: fin, minke, and humpback whales are frequently seen in summer, and orcas can be spotted year-round. There's plenty to see and do ashore, including a visit to the open-sea Beluga Whale Sanctuary for belugas rescued from captivity.

In summer, more than one million puffin pairs nest in the archipelago cliffs: Storhofdi, at the southern tip of Heimaey, is an excellent place to see them. You can also hike up and around the 660-foot-tall (200 m) dormant volcanic cone of Eldfell, created when a fissure opened up and erupted in 1973, decimating half the town. The Eldheimar Museum tells the story and is built around houses half-buried by lava. Although it looks like the lava flow stopped just short of the Stafkirkjan stave church, this was a gift of Norway in 2000 to commemorate the millennium of Iceland's official adoption of Christianity. 

Day 3: South Coast Waterfalls & Black-Sand Beaches

Black Sand Beach and Rocks of Reynisfjara
Black Sand Beach and Rocks of Reynisfjara

Return to the mainland this morning to explore the scenic South Coast—home to many of Iceland's most iconic attractions. Just a 15-minute drive from Landeyjahöfn wharf, begin with Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where you can walk behind the cascade tumbling 200 feet (60 m). Another 19 miles (30 km) brings you to Skógafoss waterfall, where you can hike uphill to the top of the falls to follow the Fimmvörðuháls trail to additional waterfalls higher up. Then call in at the Skógar Folk Museum to peruse a heritage collection that includes sections on age-old agriculture and fishing, plus a traditional turf farmhouse.

Continue east to the looming Dyrhólaey cliffs (another chance to see puffins) and stone arch and, beyond, the long black-sand beach of Reynisfjara, punctuated by dramatic basalt sea stacks. Then continue to Vik, Iceland's southernmost settlement. Relax at your hotel, or visit the Icelandic Lava Show, which recreates a volcanic eruption with natural red-hot molten lava (2000°F / 1100°C) pouring bubbling and sizzling into the showroom and over ice. Then check out the nearby Kotlusetur, Katla Visitor Center, where you'll learn about the fascinating geology of the area, as well as its maritime history.

Day 4: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Exploring Jökulsárlón by Zodiak

Today is rich with adventure as you head east across a lava field to snaking Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, easily accessed by a moss-covered ridgetop hiking trail amid a surreal landscape seemingly from "Lord of the Rings." Further east, explore the highlight sites at the base of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, covering almost one-tenth of Iceland. The Skaftafell Naturel Reserve beckons with easy walks to the Skaftafellsjokull glacier tongue and picturesque Svartifoss waterfall, with its dramatic backdrop of surreal basalt columns.

Continue along the shore to Jökulsárlón ("glacial river lagoon"), a breathtaking coastal lagoon dotted with small icebergs. You might opt for a tour by Zodiak or amphibious boat, or don a dry-suit and slip into a kayak for three hours paddling among the 1,000-year-old icebergs, which float down to the sea to be stranded on "Diamond Beach." With luck, curious seals will pop up beside you while others laze atop the electric-blue ice floes. Then continue along the coast to the fishing port of Höfn—the "lobster capital" of Iceland—to relax in your hotel's sauna or hot tub.

Day 5: The Eastfjords

Wild reindeer roam the Eastfjords

East of Höfn, the scenery kicks up the drama as the Ring Road snakes in and out of narrow fjords hemmed by steep mountains spilling down to the sea. This 75-mile (120 km) stretch of coastline—the sunniest part of Iceland—is known as the Eastfjords. Make your first stop the starkly beautiful Stokksnes Peninsula (just a 10-minute drive from Höfn), where the ragged Vestrahorn mountains loom massively over a black-sand beach. Then wind around the sparsely inhabited fjords, including Berufjörður, at whose head you can hike to the Folaldafoss waterfall, pouring from a majestic volcanic staircase.

Continue to the Eastfjords capital, Egilsstadir, on the banks of tendril-thin Lagarfljót Lake. A drive around the lake takes you through Hallormsstaðarskógur (Iceland's largest forest) and to the trailhead for a short hike up to Hengifoss waterfall. Or strike east from Egilsstadir for the picturesque herring-fishing village of Seydisfjörður, known for its ornate Scandinavian wooden architecture. Throughout today's drive, keep an eye out for wild reindeer; transplanted from Norway two centuries ago, about 3,000 individuals roam the mountains of eastern Iceland and migrate to coastal grasslands in winter.

Day 6: The Wonders of Lake Mývatn

Studlagil canyon 

This morning, head west through the geologically fascinating landscapes of North Iceland's "Northern Volcanic Rift Zone." First, be sure to detour to the Stuðlagil Canyon to be awed by its incredible multicolored walls of basalt columns. Then continue to the Lake Mývatn region, replete with intriguing volcanic formations, beginning with the bubbling geothermal mud pools and steaming sulphuric vents at Hverir and Leirhnjukur and, nearby, the still-active Krafla volcano filled with jade-colored lake Viti. You can walk around the crater, as well as that of dormant Hverfjall immediately south of Hverir.

Next, peer inside the Grjótagjá cave, filled with a crystal-clear azure hot spring made famous by being a "Game of Thrones" set where Jon Snow and Ygitte have a moment in the HBO series. Then hike amid the jumbled lava-rock formations of nearby Dimmuborgir, below Hverfjall, before heading the short distance to the south end of Lake Mývatn to view the bizarre Skútustaðagígar "pseudocraters." These dimple-like cones were formed 2,300 years ago when molten lava flowed over the wetlands, causing superheated steam to be trapped beneath until it bubbled up in gaseous explosions.

Day 7: Dettifoss, Jökulsárgljúfur & Husavik, Mývatn Nature Baths

Mighty Dettifoss

Today you'll make a short loop around North Iceland, following the 150-mile (250-km) "Diamond Circle" through the Northern Volcanic Rift Zone. Begin with the mighty and magnificent Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall, plunging 150 feet (45 m) into Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. You'll follow the canyon north to explore a variety of geological highlights, including lushly-forested Asbyrgi canyon, with a horseshoe-shaped lake-filled basin; plus the Hljodaklettar basalt formations and red Raudholar hills of the Vesturdalur valley.

Continue west along the coast to the lovely fishing village of Husavik, the oldest settlement in Iceland (Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarsson built the first house here in 860 CE). Husavik is the whale-watching capital of Iceland: 23 species of whale can be spotted in or around the bay (you'll get that chance tomorrow). Be sure to visit the town's Whale Museum, with its 70-foot-long (22 m) skeleton of a blue whale, before heading back to Lake Mývatn for a relaxing soak in the geothermal waters of Mývatn Nature Baths.

Day 8: Akureyri & Godafoss, Akureyri Whale Watching, Vatnsnes Peninsula

Humpback whale sounding off Akureyri

You'll head west today through North West Iceland, beginning with a stop at horseshoe-shaped, picture-perfect Godafoss ("Waterfall of the Gods"), resembling a mini-Niagara. Then on to Akureyri, nestled at the head of Eyjafjörður fjord and the second-largest city in Iceland. Here you'll board a boat for a three-hour whale-watching voyage with an expert in search of humpbacks (keep your fingers crossed to witness a feeding frenzy) and other cetacean species. Be sure to bring plenty of warm clothing!

After lunch, enjoy a scenic drive along the Trollaskagi peninsula via the fishing village of Siglufjörður (you might visit its fishing museum). Then continue west for the Vatnsnes Peninsula, with a stop to marvel at the surreal Hvitserkur sea stack—an eroded volcanic dyke that many locals swear is a petrified troll (keep a look out for seals along the coastline). Next, clamber up to the Viking fortress of Borgarvirki to explore this 1,000-year-old ruin. Finally, head to the fishing town of Hvammstangi to visit the Icelandic Sea Center for a lesson in Pinniped 101 (seals and walrus) before heading to your hotel in nearby Laugarbakki.

Day 9: The Wonders of Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Lóndrangar

Head west today for the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, referred to as "Iceland in miniature" for its microcosm of iconic attractions. Upon arriving, follow a clockwise loop beginning along the south shore, with your first stop at the lonesome Búðakirkja black church, rising atop the Búðahraun lava field at the ocean's edge. Next, circle around the majestic glacier-clad Snaefellsjokull stratovolcano (4,744 feet/1,446 m) at the peninsula's tip. Be sure to stop in the fishing hamlet of Arnarstapi to view the fantastical coastal rock formations stretching south to Hellnar, including the photogenic Gatklettur "Arch Rock."

Further along, stroll on windswept Djupalonssandur black-sand beach before continuing via the Lóndrangar basalt cliffs (and its twin clifftop basalt pillars) to Vatnshellir Lava Cave to explore inside an 8,000-year-old lava tube. Then head along the north shore, eastbound, to the iconic, shark-tooth-shaped Kirkjufell mountain (made famous by "Game of Thrones") and nearby exquisite Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. Spend the balance of the day relaxing at your hotel in nearby Grundarfjordur.

Day 10: West Iceland & Borgarfjordur, Sky Lagoon

West Iceland & Borgarfjordur
West Iceland & Borgarfjordur

Depart the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and head south today through the lava-clad Borgarfjordur region of West Iceland, making the Grábrók crater, just off Route 1, your first stop. You can walk around the crater rim along a boardwalk trail before continuing the short distance south to Glanni Waterfall. Then make a detour into the Hvítá River Valley to view the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls, uniquely tumbling through a lava field perpendicular to the river. Exiting the valley, stop to explore Reykholt medieval Saga heritage village and Deildartunguhver, a perfect lunch spot beside Europe's most powerful hot spring.

You'll then continue south to Borgarnes to visit the fascinating Settlement Center regaling the history of Iceland's early settlement, beginning in the late 9th century. Next, follow the shore of Hvalfjörður fjord for the exhilarating hike up the canyon to the 650-feet-tall (198 m) Glymur Waterfall—Iceland's second-highest. Finally, arriving in Reykjavik, head to the remarkable Sky Lagoon (reservations required) to bathe in an oceanside geothermal lagoon built into the cliffs overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean and Reykjavik Harbor. Your evening is at leisure.

Day 11: Free Day to Explore Reykjavik

Reykjavik in winter

Today is at leisure to explore the capital's charming historic downtown area, impressive landmarks, and world-class museums. Begin with a walking tour, or rent a bicycle to pedal your way between the main sights, including the modern Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral; be sure to take the elevator to the top of the 240-foot-tall (74.5 m) tower for a panoramic view of the city. Then head to the shoreline to admire the glass-sheathed Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik's principal performance venue. Now follow the shoreline east to the iconic Sun Voyager Sculpture—a gleaming steel contemporary interpretation of a Viking ship.

In the afternoon, head to the Old Wharf, where your many museum options include the Whales of Iceland Exhibition, to learn more about whale ecology and whaling. Across the street, the Reykjavik Maritime Museum focuses on the island's fishing history, while the Saga Museum teaches about ancient Icelandic history. Next door, the Aurora Reykjavik offers an interactive experience that guarantees you'll see the Aurora Borealis. Then head to the nearby Fly Over Iceland for an exhilarating sensory experience that gives you the feeling of flying over the island.

Day 12: Reykjanes Peninsula, Depart

Fagradalsfjall volcano
Head to Keflavik airport to drop off your car and check in for your departure flight. Time permitting, you can first explore the Reykjanes Peninsula, one of the most volcanically active parts of Iceland (despite being the setting for the airport). Perhaps first head to Fagradalsfjall volcano, where an eruptive fissure has been pouring out lava since March 2021. Then, continue to the geothermal areas of Gunnuhver, or Krysuvik, and the nearby volcanic crater lake of Graenavatn plus Kleifarvatn Lake; then walk across the Bridge Between Continents spanning the Mid-Atlantic Rift. The airport is close by.

More Great Iceland Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Iceland? Check out these other Iceland itineraries, explore different ways to experience Iceland, or learn about the best time to visit Iceland.

Map

Map of Iceland Ring Road & Westman Islands Highlights - 12 Days
Map of Iceland Ring Road & Westman Islands Highlights - 12 Days
Othman
Written by Othman A, updated Jul 20, 2022