Iceland Ring Road | 10-day Ring Road Itinerary

Scenery in Iceland of mountains reflecting in a nearby body of water

The best trip I’ve ever taken has been a 10-day self drive road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) followed by a few days in Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland). While we had a few destinations pre-planned, one of the best parts of the road trip was stopping along the road to see what the “Attraction” signs were for. Sometimes they were for a hidden waterfall and other times it was for an abandoned sheep fold or the Icelandic ponies. If you have a chance, doing the drive yourself/with friends will be SO rewarding but I can also say that the bus tours are a lot of fun and you still get to see a the major attractions in the country.

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Driving the Ring Road

There are a few options for driving the ring road yourself including: renting a car and camping or staying in guesthouses, or rent a camper van and staying at camp sites (buying the Campingcard is the most cost effective) or at parking lots beside the Ring Road (Route 1). Realistically, you could do the ring road in about 7 days and hit all the major attractions: a 10-day road trip in Iceland gives some flexibility for staying longer at some stops and less driving time per day. I recommend this itinerary for at least 2 people driving in the same car. You’ll want to split up the driving!

Something else to keep in mind is that Iceland has 24 hour sunlight in the summer and 24 hour darkness in the winter so giving yourself more time in the winter to avoid driving at night in poor conditions is recommended.

My friend and I decided to keep costs as low as possible and rent a small car and stay at the parking lots along the way. We would stop at camp sites and pay for showers in the evening and continue driving through the night. (Note: I believe you now have to pay for those parking lots.) A small car is only possible during the summer months. If you plan to drive the Ring Road in the spring or winter, you’ll need 4-wheel drive. There were a few roads we drove on that were super sketchy in the small sedan. We even got caught in a sandstorm at one point!

If you’re renting a vehicle, hold on to your doors. Rental insurance does not cover wind damage. This may seem like a silly thing to exclude but on our last day the person who parked beside us did not hold their door and the wind blew it into our rental vehicle which was an expensive fix if we had not been in the car when it happened and got their rental information.

The views are AMAZING. From the beginning to the end of the road trip, my friend and I were constantly “Oooh, Ahh, Wow”ing. The landscapes are stunning and there are SO many things to see. It is a photographers dream! I definitely am planning to go back for a photography trip.

Tips for a Budget/Cost Friendly Trip in Iceland

BudgetYourTrip.com is an incredibly handy and accurate tool to determine a budget for a trip. I use this to plan all my trips to get a good sense of how much I need to save to travel. See my post here about budgeting for a trip. Something I didn’t quite grasp when doing my budget was how expensive food is in Iceland. While Iceland sustainably sources their groceries, and many fruits and vegetables are grown year-round in greenhouses using geothermal energy (of which there is an abundance in Iceland), Iceland imports a lot of food/farming equipment and has a 14% VAT tax on food which drives prices up.

Ways to save: shop at the BONUS Grocery Store to stock up on food. Shopping at local grocery stores and making your own food is always an easy way to save on food. Another tip is to eat out for lunch instead of dinner to save a few bucks. Stop at the natural hot springs that are on the side of the Ring Road rather than go to Blue Lagoon.

Photography Tips for Iceland

There are around 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland and if you’re visiting between May and August, nighttime has daylight so you’re going to want a tripod and polarizer for long exposure shots of the waterfalls. I had only just started learning about photography the first time I went but I wish I had a wide angle and telephoto lens at the time. Even if you’re just starting out, I guarantee you’ll capture stunning photos of this beautiful country (just make sure you shoot in RAW).

If you’re visiting between September and May, you’ll want to bring your tripod to take photos of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in Iceland. Ideal months for the Northern Lights in Iceland are between October and March.

Seasons of Iceland

Iceland is always windy and “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait 5 minutes” is a common saying. I found the Icelandic winter is more moderate than Canadian winters (I brought my parka but often just had on a light jacket and warm winter boots during the day and I was comfortable). Spring and summer temperatures also don’t get incredibly warm. In the spring, you’ll definitely want a rain jacket but you’ll spend most days in a sweater, pants and comfortable walking shoes. I wouldn’t bother with an umbrella because of the wind!

10-day Iceland Ring Road Itinerary

My day-day Iceland Ring Road Itinerary is below. The route is approximately 2,000 km long and a total driving time of more than 24 hours with lots of stops along the way (including waterfalls, puffins, man-made hot springs, lighthouses, and more waterfalls).

Day 1/2: Southeast Iceland (Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi Waterfall, Sólheimasandur airplane wreckage, Skogafoss, Elephant Rock, Dyrholaey Headlands, Skaftafell, Svartifoss, Vatnajökull Glacier Hike, Jökulsárlón Lagoon, Hofn)
Day 3: East Iceland (Egilsstaðir and East Fjords)
Day 4: North Iceland (Selfoss and Dettifoss waterfalls, Krafla and Viti Crater, Goðafoss, Akureyri)
Day 5: West Iceland (Westfjords, Kaldbakur mountain, Gardens Skrúður, Dynjandi, Látrabjarg Cliffs for puffins, man-made hot springs)
Day 6: West Iceland (Gudrunarlaug hot spring, Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, Gerduberg Basalt Columns, Glanni Waterfall, Deildartunguhver hot springs, Tröllafossa)
Day 7: West Iceland (Glymur Waterfall, Akranes, Akranes Lighthouses, Vitakaffi)
Day 8: Reykjanes Peninsula, Giganta, Vikingheimer, Duus Museum and Duushús, Gardur twin lighthouses, The Bridge Between Two Continents, Gunnuhver hot springs
Day 9: Urridafoss, Stöng, Gjáin, Hjalparfoss, Skafthold Sheepfold, Icelandic ponies, Kerið Crater, lava cave
Day 10 (Golden Circle): Faxi Waterfall, Gullfoss, Geysir and Strokkir geysers, Þingvellir National Park and Öxarárfoss, Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

Iceland Mountains along Ring Road

Day 1/2: Road Trip in Southeast Iceland

The first two days spent in southeast Iceland are packed with activities! We rented a little Toyota Yaris from Blue Car Rental and because of this had to stick to the Ring Road (i.e. Route 1). With four major waterfalls, a national park and the potential for a Glacier Hike, you won’t be disappointed on your first few days of your road trip.

Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi Waterfall: Seljalandsfoss is the the waterfall you can walk behind (during the summer months) and Gljúfrabúi waterfall is a hidden gem about 1 km up the path from Seljalandsfoss. You can expect to get wet from visiting both of these waterfalls up close.

Elephant Rock: The Elephant Rock is a natural rock formation located approximately 7.4 kilometres off Iceland’s South Coast. Taking the road across the Ring Road from Seljalandsfoss will bring you to Landeyjahöfn where you can take a boat out to Elephant Rock. In the right season, you might be able to catch the puffins and/or whale watch on the boat tour. I would recommend the Elephant Rock boat tour in the warmer months and the Vatnajökull glacier hike in the colder months due to time.

Skógafoss Waterfall: Skógafoss is a waterfall on the Skógá River, is about 25 m wide by 60 m tall and you can see the waterfall from the top (after 370 stairs) or from the bottom year round. It almost always has a rainbow and if you’re lucky you’ll get a double rainbow. Legend has it that the first viking settle buried treasure in a cave behind the waterfall.

You may be able to spot Skogafoss in Thor: The Dark World, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Game of Thrones (season 8).

Skogafoss Waterfall rainbow in Iceland

Sólheimasandur airplane wreckage: This epic 1973 plane crash is on the black sand beaches in southeast Iceland. Everyone on the plane survived! It’s only accessibly by walking about an hour from the road on the black sand beaches but it’s worth the adventure! Be cautious and watch the weather: high winds may cause sand storms and it’s hard to find on the best of days, let alone in the winter in a snow storm. The coordinates are (63 27.546-19 21.887).

The reason the plane is smoking in my photo below is that TrueNorth, an Icelandic production company, was filming when we arrived and had smoke bombs. It’s not normally smoking!!

Sólheimasandur airplane wreckage in the black sand beaches in Iceland

Dyrholaey Headlands: Just before getting to Vik, take a right to the Dyrholaey Headlands. At about 120 m with a naturally eroded gate, boats can sail through when the waters are calm. Some areas are protected year round and others are protected during specific seasons for wildlife. You can walk out to the headland, and also check out where the water meets the black sand beach.

Skaftafell National Park and Svartifoss: A short and easy trail from the parking lot will take you to Svartifoss: a waterfall surrounded by dark lava columns that form when lava was quickly cooled. It makes for an impressive landscape! This was the final destination of my first day Ring Road trip because it was the starting point for day two’s destination: a glacier hike!

Svartifoss Waterfall from basalt columns in Iceland

If you’re visiting Iceland in the winter, I highly recommend the Glacier Hike. If you’re visiting in the summer, I recommend the Elephant Rock. You can do a boat tour to also see the puffins and whales but you’ll see puffins later in the trip as well! The lagoon and diamond beach are excellent and also included in many bus tours that travel southeast Iceland.

Arctic Adventures Glacier Tour: We booked the Glacier Experience tour with Arctic Adventures. Normally I’m all about self-guided tours (free!) but the experience was too good to pass up and they don’t allow tourists (even if experienced) to hike up the glacier by themselves. For an additional fee, we rented hiking boots and they provided harnesses, crampons (to dig into the ice), ice picks and helmets. The tour was 5.5 hours total and they recommend (and I do too!) wearing warm winter gear (jacket, hat, gloves, warm pants). The tour guides were fantastic and provided loads of information about glaciers. The glacier next to ours (ours was Vatnajökull) is frequently used in films: Game of Thrones, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and King Fu Yoga among others. I could go on and on about the hike but in summary: great guides that were very informed about glaciers; good physical activity for the day (great way to stretch your legs after a day of driving); witnessed landslides of ice breaking off; the water off the glacier is clean enough to drink; highly recommend this tour!

Glacier Hike in Iceland on Vatnajökull Glacier

Jökulsárlón Lagoon and Diamond Beach: Jökulsárlón Lagoon is a glacial lagoon with icebergs that have broken from the surrounding glaciers to float in the lagoon. If you’re lucky and visiting in the winter, you’ll see hundreds of seals on the icebergs and beaches. Across the road is the Black Sand Diamond Beach, where chunks of ice wash up on the black sand beach and look like diamonds. Some chunks of ice are large enough to sit on (be careful not to be washed away if the tide is high) and it’s also an excellent place to catch a sunset.

Hofn: Hofn is a small fishing town in southeast Iceland and is the perfect place to stay before heading to the east fjords and northerly. I recommend Pakkhún Restaurant where I enjoyed the lobster pizza (a full lobster dinner is around $80 at a local restaurant in Hofn). The local Icelandic beers are Gull and Tuborg which you’ll find at any restaurant. There are a number of hotels to stay in for the night before continuing on.

Day 3: Eastfjords and Egilsstaðir

The Eastfjords has amazing scenery, fishing villages, dense forests and traditional farms as well as hosts the country’s only herds of reindeer. The reindeer were imported for farming but were later let free to roam. You can also see the puffins in the side of the cliffs.

Beautiful Icelandic puffin on cliff

Egilsstaðir: Visit the Heritage museum and/or the Vok baths spa, or stop to see the Northern Lights in the winter months. Be weary in the winter months: the road to Egilsstaðir is sometimes closed due to poor weather conditions!

Day 4: Selfoss and Dettifoss waterfalls, Krafla and Viti Crater, Godafoss, Akureyri

Dettifoss waterfall: About 2 hours from Egilsstaðir you’ll find a mother and daughter set of waterfalls (Selfoss waterfall is not to be confused with Selfoss the town). The falls is 100 metres (330 feet) wide and 45 metres (150 feet) tall: a walk-out is set-up above Dettifoss but be careful – the mist from the waterfall makes the walkway incredibly slippery.

Krafla and Viti Crater: Krafla is about 1 hour from Dettifoss and is an inactive volcano turned power plant facility and Viti Crater is located just past the power plants. Viti Crater is inaccessible during the winter and even in May was an inaccessible hike around the crater. Across the road is the Myvatn geothermal area with a large outdoor hot spring pool. Don’t worry though – Kerid Crater is coming up later in the itinerary!

Goðafoss Waterfall: This waterfall is located about an hour from Krafla and is on the fourth largest river in Iceland. The name Goðafoss means either waterfall of the gods or waterfall of the ‘goði’ (i.e. priest/ chieftain).

Akureyri (the capital in the north): Iceland’s second largest city at 15,000 people (Reykjavik is the largest at 200,000 which is 2/3 of the entire population of Iceland) is about 45 minutes from Goðafoss. We went for a hike in the woodland area of Kjarnaskagour. There is a free art museum and botanical gardens in the summer months.

Akureyri church with staircase leading to the front of the church

Day 5: Westfjords, Gardens Skrúður and Waterfalls, Dynjandi, Látrabjarg Cliffs, man-made hot springs

This day requires a lot of driving, which is easier with more than one person. The Westfjords have windy roads and there are lots of picturesque stops along the way. A large majority of the roads through the Westfjords were gravel roads with posted speeds of 80 km/h but I was doing maybe 50 km/h.

Westfjords: If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some seals bathing in the sun. From a distance, they look like rocks so wait until you see them move! Also keep an eye out for Seal Spotting signs. We put our destination in for Dynjandi waterfall and enjoyed the scenic views.

Iceland Westfjords mountain range

Gardens Skrúður and Waterfalls: The oldest botanical garden in Iceland is worth a stop in the summer but can certainly be removed from the list in spring, fall and winter. Keep a lookout while you’re driving for waterfalls on the side of the Ring Road. They’re all very quaint and would be a great stop for a picnic.

Dynjandi: The translation of Dynjandi it “thundering noise” which is a perfect description of this waterfall: you can hear the water thundering over the rocks as you’re driving up to it. It’s also described as the Jewel of the Westfjords and it’s definitely one of the top two destination I recommend in West Iceland. The views from Dynjandi are also just as stunning and you’ll see them on your walk back to your vehicle.

Scenery in Iceland of mountains reflecting in a nearby body of water

Látrabjarg Cliffs: (one of National Geographic’s top 10 views of the ocean and well worth the title). My favourite part of the entire trip were the puffins! Be careful at the edge of the cliffs: the puffins burrow in to the side of the cliff, making it incredibly fragile. You need to spread your weight out and crawl on your stomach, rather than walk to the edge of the cliff to see these cuties. I definitely recommend a telephoto lens to capture the puffins if you have one. These were taken at 200 mm and heavily cropped.

Man-made Hot Springs: There will be signs along the Ring Road that look like they’re for swimming pools when in fact they are for hot springs. There are several natural geothermal pools in the Westfjords of Iceland: Krosslaug hot spring (well maintained with a small fee); Nauteyrarlaug natural hot spring (has a small changing station); and Hellulaug (just off the highway near the Vatnsfjörður beach) to name a few. We stopped at Gudrunarlaug hot springs which has a changing hut but be mindful of the personal residence that is close by but it’s quite the trek from the Látrabjarg Cliffs.

Day 6: Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, Gerduberg Basalt Columns, Glanni Waterfall, Deildartunguhver hot springs, Tröllafossa

Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss: Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland and with the view of Kirkjufellfoss you can certainly see why. If you can swing it, this is definitely somewhere you want to set up camp and wait until the Northern Lights are out. In the summer months, you can take a 7 km hike around the base of the mountain that is moderately easy.

Kirkjufell Mountain with the Kirkjufellfoss waterfalls in front of the mountain

Gerduberg Basalt Columns: Gerðuberg is a row of hexagonal basalt columns along a cliff on the southern side of the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula.They are formed the same way the basalt columns at Svartifoss are formed by quickly cooled lava You can see them from the road but I highly recommend parking and getting closer as they are way more impressive when you stand beside them. For reference in the photo below, I am about 5ft4″.

Basalt columns in Iceland with a woman standing next to them for size comparison

Glanni Waterfall: As you may have noticed by this point, there are a plethora of waterfalls within Iceland, each with their own story to tell and unique beauty to offer the viewer. Glanni Waterfall is a short turn off Route 1 and a 150 m walk. If you visit in the summer, you might be able to catch the salmon jumping in the water.

Glanni Waterfall in Iceland on a blue sky spring day

Deildartunguhver hot springs: the most powerful geothermal spring in Europe, where the temperatures reach well over 100C! There are wooden walkways that take you through the area that won’t put you at risk of being burned by the boiling water. Located near by is the Krauma Geothermal Bath & Spa – a smaller and cheaper alternative to the Blue Lagoon.

Tröllafossa: This is a great stop for families because there was an obstacle course and plaques with excerpts from “The Troll Book” along a marked path. This is another popular salmon river and you can see salmon jumping in July/August. Legend has it if you wish into a stone and add it to the top of a cairn your wish will come true. The highlight in “The Troll Book” was, atop a large cairn, the troll elder laid an imprint of their hand within a stone. The cairn was accompanied by the following: “Place your right hand on your heart and your left hand on the uppermost slab. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and think of all the good things that have befallen you on your path through life”.

Photo of waterfalls and a bridge in Iceland

Day 7: Glymur Waterfall, Akranes, Akranes Lighthouses, Vitakaffi

Glymur Waterfall: This is a difficult hike to see Icelands tallest waterfall at 198 m. On the hike we passed through caves, walked across a log over a raging river, scaled the side of a mountain (at one point you have to climb up the side of the mountain with assistance from a rope where my foot was wider than the path we walked on). Even so, there were young children and an elderly couple on the trail who may be better prepared and more experience than we were. There is a lookout midway through the hike which offers fantastic views and if you’re a little more daring than we were you can continue to the top of the waterfall.

View of Glymur Waterfall from the mid-hike lookout

Akranes: Akranes is a port town with one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the world. The lighthouse is an excellent spot to take a break, have some lunch and relax. We stopped at Vitakaffi and tried Eintök (an Icelandic white ale beer). You can stay in Akranes for the evening or drive to Reykjanesbær on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Note: there is a a toll of 1000kr for the 6 km tunnel under a mountain that is unavoidable here.

Day 8: Reykjanes Peninsula, Giganta, Vikingheimer, Duus Museum and Duushús, Gardur twin lighthouses, The Bridge Between Two Continents, Gunnuhver hot springs

Reykjanes Peninsula: There are a few stops to make on the Reykjanes Peninsula including:

  • Giganta: She is a good natured 400 year old giant and the main character in an adorable children’s book series by Herdis Egilsdóttir.She currently resides in the Black Cave at the Marina in Gróf. A great stop for a family with children.
  • Vikingheimer: A museum with an outdoor walking history museum and a settlement zoo.
  • Duus Museum and Duushús. An incredibly interesting museum residing in a house built in the 1890’s requiring very little restoration. The attic and upper floor show belongings that were in the house when Reykjanesbaer bought it. The Maritime Centre had over 100 model boats (all made by Grimur Karlsson) and information on the fishing industry. May’s art exhibit was by local students. Finally, a room with information about the Rekjanes Geopark was a very interesting read (volcanoes, lava rocks, local wildlife and other geological facts to educate yourself).
  • Gardur twin lighthouses. 14 ships ran aground before the lighthouse was built in 1897. A newer lighthouse was built in 1944 due to the receding and degrading shoreline.
  • The Bridge Between Two Continents. A bridge that crosses a canyon formed by the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates diverging.
  • Gunnuhver Hot Springs. Take a short walk up to the shoreline for some amazing views of the ocean.

Day 9: Urridafoss, Stöng, Gjáin, Hjalparfoss, Skafthold Sheepfold, Icelandic ponies, Kerið Crater, lava cave

Urridafoss: the most voluminous waterfall in Iceland on the country’s longest river (Þjórsá River) and is located just off Route 1 (Ring Road).

Stöng and Gjáin: Stöng is an old excavated farmhouse from the 1300s and had been covered by lava from the Heckla volcanic eruption. This was the first archaeological dig in the county. Gjáin is a beautiful oasis located about 500 m from Stöng and would be a great place for a lunch break.

Hjálparfoss: Another waterfall in south Iceland located just off Route 1 is Hjálparfoss. This is just downstream from Iceland’s second largest hydroelectric power station and is where where the rivers Fossá and Þjórsá meet.

Skafthold Sheepfold. One of our pit stops from an attraction sign on the side of the Ring Road: icelandic ponies! These horses are pony size, long-lived and hardy and you’ll find them in a few places along the Ring Road. They come right up to you at the gate and are very gentle!

IMG_5029.JPG

Kerið Crater: This volcanic crater lake is a wonderful site to behold and you can walk along the base or the top of the crater. It is believed that Kerið was a cone volcano which erupted and emptied its magma reserve.

Woman in pink jacket sitting on bench in front of Kerid Crater in Iceland

Lava cave: The lava caves in Iceland are best enjoyed by taking a tour of the miles of underground tunnels. These were formed by numerous volcanic eruptions over thousands of years and are full of geological history.

Day 10 (Golden Circle): Faxi Waterfall, Gullfoss, Geysir and Strokkir geysers, Þingvellir National Park and Öxarárfoss, Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

The “Golden Circle” is within a days drive from Reykjavik and there are tour buses you can take from Reykjavik or you can rent a car for the day. This is one of the most popular tours and close enough to the capital city that you can expect to see some crowds and tour buses.

Faxi Waterfall: Beside the falls is a modern sheep fold and a large fort.

Gullfoss Falls: One of the most visited attractions in Iceland and including in a majority of tours offered in the county, Gullfoss Falls is beautiful. There is a small cafe and gift shop to explore, or you can make your way down to the viewing platform: bring your rain jacket because it’s incredibly wet from the mist from the waterfall!

Gullfoss Waterfall from the lower lookout
Gullfoss Waterfall in the Golden Circle from the higher lookout with a trail of people leading to the lower lookout

Geysir Park. Geysir geyser is the second largest geyser in the world however it erupts much less frequently than its neighbour, Strokkir (pictured below) which erupts every 6-10 minutes and is much more exciting to watch. There is also a gift shop in the park.

Þingvellir National Park: The only UNESCO World Heritage Site on mainland Iceland and the place where you can walk between two continents. Öxaráfoss is a charming waterfall, and you can walk through the Hekid fault and up to Law Rock.

Almannagjá Mid-Atlantic Rift in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland
Panoramic view of Þingvellir National Park with mountains and water
Öxarárfoss waterfall in Iceland with water rolling over the rocks

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoy your tour of Iceland and the amazing sites and attractions the country has to offer!

5 thoughts on “Iceland Ring Road | 10-day Ring Road Itinerary

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