This 11-day self-drive tour by 4WD delivers an array of geological and cultural treats as you explore Iceland more or less in its entirety. From iconic sites such as Seljalandsfoss, Dettifoss, and Godafoss waterfalls, plus the Fjaðrárgljúfur and Stuðlagil canyons, to Kirkjufell mountain and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, you'll check off a long wish-list as you circle the island. Horseback riding, snowmobiling, and whale watching are a few of the exciting ways you'll discover the island of fire and ice.

Highlights

  • Snowmobile atop the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier
  • Enjoy horseback riding along a black-sand beach on the South Coast
  • Spot humpback and other whale species on a three-hour boat tour from Húsavik
  • Soak in a geothermal pool and marvel at the geological formations at Lake Mývatn

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 2 Waterfalls & Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Snowmobiling, Vík í Mýrdal Vík í Mýrdal
Day 3 Dyrholaey Arch & Cliffs, Reynisfjara Black-Sand Beach, Horseback Riding Vík í Mýrdal
Day 4 Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Skaftafell & Glacier Hike Skaftafell
Day 5 Ice-Cave Expedition, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach Skaftafell
Day 6 Eastfjords & Hengifoss Egilsstaðir
Day 7 Stuðlagil Canyon, Dettifoss, Mývatn Nature Baths Lake Mývatn
Day 8 Húsavik Whale Watching, Grjótagjá Cave, Dimmuborgir, Skútustaðagígar Lake Mývatn
Day 9 Godafoss, Akureyri & Tröllaskagi Peninsula, Vatnsnes Peninsula, Kirkjufell Grundarfjörður
Day 10 Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Gerduberg Basalt Cliffs, Hraunfossar, Reykjavik Reykjavik
Day 11 Reykjanes Peninsula, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Keflavik, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik

Sun Voyager Sculpture

Arrive at Keflavik airport and pick up your 4WD rental, then drive the short distance to the Blue Lagoon Spa, where you can soak and relax in geothermal waters rich in silica and other minerals. Ease away travel stress under the waterfall, and even enjoy the spa's iconic white silica mud facemask as you laze in hot turquoise waters surrounded by a lunar-like black lava landscape. Then continue to Reykjavik, where the balance of the day and evening is at leisure.

Time permitting, explore some of the capital city's iconic sites. Be sure not to miss the modern and beautiful Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, the shorefront, glass-sheathed Harpa Concert Hall, and, a short distance east along the shore, the iconic Sun Voyager Sculpture—a gleaming steel contemporary interpretation of a Viking ship.

Day 2: Waterfalls & Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Snowmobiling, Vík í Mýrdal

You can hike behind the Seljalandsfoss cascade 

Today drive along the South Coast via the "Ring Road" (Route 1), stopping at many of Iceland's most iconic attractions. Begin with the magnificent Seljalandsfoss waterfall: uniquely, 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 for another perspective and to follow the Fimmvörðuháls trail to additional cascades higher up. Then call in at the nearby Skógar Folk Museum to peruse a heritage collection that includes age-old agriculture and fishing displays, plus a traditional turf farmhouse.

Five miles (9 km) east of Skógar, you'll meet up for a guided two-hour snowmobiling adventure on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, setting off from base camp in a specially-equipped "glacier truck." After your thrilling exploration of the glacier, continue east to Vík í Mýrdal, where you'll stay overnight. Here, you may want to visit the Icelandic Lava Show, which recreates a volcanic eruption with real molten lava (2000°F / 1100°C) pouring bubbling and sizzling into the showroom.

Day 3: Dyrholaey Arch & Cliffs, Reynisfjara Black-Sand Beach, Horseback Riding

Basalt formations on Reynisfjara black sand beach
Basalt formations on Reynisfjara black sand beach

This morning, explore the dramatically sculpted coastline close to Vik. Head west to the Dyrhólaey headland (good for spotting puffins) for the view down over a massive stone sea-arch and, westward, a black-sand beach unspooling toward snow-capped mountains in the distance. Next, hike the clifftop trail east for a view over the black-sand beach of Reynisfjara, studded by basalt sea stacks at its southern end. Now drive to the southern end of Reynisfjara to explore Hálsanefshellir Cave, carved into a cliff-face of geometric basalt columns that formed following a volcanic eruption during the last Ice Age. 

You'll then return to Vik and mount an Icelandic pony for a one-hour horseback ride along Víkurfjara, the black-sand beach that unfurls for five miles (8 km) east of town. Your easygoing ride along the volcanic sands provides a chance to experience tölt, the special gait of the Icelandic horse. Then, return to your hotel for an afternoon at leisure, or head inland up the Þakgil Valley via a gravel road that leads to the off-the-beaten-path Þakgil canyon. Surrounded by steep mountains, this rugged, moss-covered chasm is popular for hiking along rough trails of varying difficulty.

Day 4: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Skaftafell & Glacier Hike

Fjaðrárgljúfur
Fjaðrárgljúfur

Today is rich with adventure as you cross a lava field to sinuous Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, easily accessed by a moss-covered ridgetop hiking trail amid a surreal landscape seemingly from "Lord of the Rings." Further east, you'll explore the highlight sites of Skaftafell Nature Reserve at the base of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, covering almost one-tenth of Iceland. You'll meet your experienced certified guide, then be equipped with hiking boots, crampons, and an ice ax, for a three-hour "expeditionary hike" on the ice field, where you'll explore among surreal glacial ice sculptures, ridges, and crevasses.

You'll overnight in Skaftafell, granting time to explore the region further. Be sure to take the 3-mile (5-km) loop hike from the Visitor Center to the Svartifoss waterfall, with its dramatic backdrop of surreal black basalt columns. En route, you'll pass three more minor falls—Þjófafoss, Hundafoss, and Magnúsarfoss—and can take a side trail to see the Selið turf house built in 1912 with the living room atop the cow shed (to take advantage of the cattle's warmth). For a more rigorous adventure, you can hike the 10-mile (17-km) loop up Skaftafellsheiði for a summit view over the Skaftafell and Morsárfoss glaciers to the left and right.

Day 5: Ice-Cave Expedition, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach

Ice Cave-man

This morning drive along the coast to Jökulsárlón ("glacial river lagoon"), a breathtaking coastal lagoon dotted with small icebergs. Here, you'll join a small group for a guided three-hour off-road tour in a Daimler-Benz Unimog "Super Jeep" to explore a "Crystal Blue Ice Cave" worming into the side of Vatnajökull glacier. Exploring inside the ice cavern, with its crystal-clear walls in shades from aquamarine to electric blue, provides an "insider's" opportunity to experience the glacial forces that have helped shape Iceland.

After exploring the caves, you'll return to Jökulsárlón, where you can enjoy a lunch of fish 'n' chips from the Nailed It food truck or a langoustine roll from Heimahumar. Your afternoon is free to opt for a lagoon 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," so-named because they glitter like diamonds. With luck, curious seals will pop up beside you, while others laze atop the ice floes. Then, return to Skaftafell to relax in your hotel's sauna or hot tub.

Day 6: Eastfjords & Hengifoss

Waves crash against icebergs on Diamond Beach

Today you'll pass "Diamond Beach" and Jökulsárlón en route to Höfn—the "lobster capital" of Iceland and gateway to Eastfjords. East of Höfn, the scenic drama kicks up a notch as the Ring Road snakes through narrow fjords hemmed by steep mountains spilling down to the sea. 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. Your next stop should be Berufjörður, at whose head you can hike to the Folaldafoss waterfall, pouring from a majestic volcanic staircase.

Continue to Egilsstaðir, on the banks of Lagarfljót Lake. You'll have time to lunch here before an afternoon drive around the lake through Hallormsstaðarskógur (Iceland's most significant forest) to the trailhead for Hengifoss waterfall, accessed by a short hike. Or strike east from Egilsstadir for the picturesque herring fishing village of Seydisfjörður, known for its ornate Scandinavian wooden architecture. 

Day 7: Stuðlagil Canyon, Dettifoss, Mývatn Nature Baths

Stuðlagil Canyon

This morning, head west through the geologically fascinating landscapes of the "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 mighty and magnificent Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall, plunging 150 feet (45 m) into Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. You can approach via separate roads to the east (unpaved) and west (paved) side of the river; the best view of the falls is from the east, but the west viewpoint also gives access via a short hike to the smaller yet still thunderous, Selfoss.

Then continue west the short distance to the Lake Mývatn region, replete with intriguing volcanic formations. Enjoy lunch at Mývatn Nature Baths, then change into your swimwear for a long, soothing soak in its natural geothermal pools. After, you can visit some of the region's iconic sites, including the bubbling geothermal mud pools and steaming sulfuric vents at Hverir and Leirhnjukur and, nearby, the still-active Krafla volcano filled with jade-colored lake Viti. You can walk around the crater and that of dormant Hverfjall immediately south of Hverir.

Day 8: Húsavik Whale-Watching, Grjótagjá Cave, Dimmuborgir, Skútustaðagígar

Humpback whale sound off Húsavik

This morning drive north to the lovely fishing village of Húsavik, the oldest settlement in Iceland (Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarsson built the first house here in 860 CE). Húsavik is the whale-watching capital of Iceland: 23 species of whale can be spotted in or around the bay. You'll board a boat for a three-hour whale-watching voyage with an expert in search of humpbacks and other cetacean species. You'll want to dress warmly!

After lunch in Húsavik, visit the town's Whale Museum, with its 70-foot-long (22 m) skeleton of a blue whale, before heading back to Lake Mývatn to peer inside Grjótagjá cave, filled with a crystal-clear azure hot spring made famous for a scene in the HBO series of "Game of Thrones." Then hike amid the jumbled lava-rock formations of nearby Dimmuborgir before heading to the south end of Lake Mývatn to view the bizarre Skútustaðagígar "pseudocraters." These dimple-like cones were formed 2,300 years ago when superheated steam trapped beneath the surface bubbled up in gaseous explosions.

Day 9: Godafoss, Akureyri & Tröllaskagi Peninsula, Vatnsnes Peninsula, Kirkjufell

Goðafoss

Today's long drive begins with a stop at horseshoe-shaped, picture-perfect Godafoss ("Waterfall of the Gods"), resembling a mini-Niagara. Then on to Akureyri, the second-largest city in Iceland. Take time to view the iconic 140 Lutheran Akureyri Church in Icelandic modernist style, and the nearby Akureyri Botanical Garden, before a scenic drive along the Tröllaskagi Peninsula via the fishing village of Siglufjörður. Then continue west via Varmahlíð, with time to explore the Víðimýrarkirkja Turf Church (built in 1834); and Varmahlíð's Glaumbær Farm & Museum, with its ancient turf-roofed houses.

Next comes the Vatnsnes Peninsula, with a stop to marvel at the surreal Hvitserkur sea stack—an eerily eroded volcanic dyke that many locals swear is a petrified troll. Look for seals along the coastline as you head to the fishing town of Hvammstangi to visit the Icelandic Sea Center. From here, you'll continue west for Grundarfjörður, in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, arriving in time to watch the sunset behind the iconic, shark-tooth-shaped Kirkjufell mountain (made famous by "Game of Thrones") and, nearby, the exquisite Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. 

Day 10: Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Gerduberg Basalt Cliffs, Hraunfossar, Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral at sunset

Today turn south for Reykvajik, departing the Snæfellsnes Peninsula along the south coast with a stop to admire the lonesome Búðakirkja black church, rising atop the Búðahraun lava field at the ocean's edge. Your route passes by Gerðuberg Basalt Cliffs, a plateau of perfectly hexagonal basalt columns resembling a fortress wall, and Reykholt, a beautiful medieval "Saga heritage village." From here, it's a 10-minute drive up-valley to Barnafoss and Hraunfossar waterfalls, tumbling over a lava field perpendicular to the river. Continue south to Reykjavik.

The balance of your day is free to explore Reykjavik's charming historic downtown area, impressive landmarks, and world-class museums. You'll have time for a walking tour or rent a bicycle to pedal your way between the main sights, to view the main attractions, if you didn't do so on day 1. Alternatively, head to the Old Wharf to visit world-class museums like the Northern Lights Center, the Saga Museum, the Marine Museum, and the Whales of Iceland Exhibition.

Day 11: 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 Self-Drive Iceland Ring Road Adventure: The Island of Fire & Ice - 11 Days
Map of Self-Drive Iceland Ring Road Adventure: The Island of Fire & Ice - 11 Days