If you are dreaming of an epic road trip for your next adventure than Iceland’s Ring Road is the place to go. This magical island is covered in more natural beauty than you can even imagine: Volcanoes, Glaciers, Mountains, Beaches, Hot Springs and more Waterfalls than you can count. There is enough natural phenomena to make your heart ache and more sights to see than any adventurer can handle.
WHAT IS THE RING ROAD?
You’ve probably heard of the Golden Circle, the much visited route close to Reykjavik that many tourists visit on their short stays in Iceland. The real beauty of Iceland, however, can be found on the Ring Road. Route 1, as the locals would call it, is the two lane (one in each direction), main road that runs around the entire country. The 1332km road runs along the coastline, in most part, and passes some of the most breath-taking sites that Iceland has to offer.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE RING ROAD
Whilst most of the Ring Road is paved some sections, particularly in the North, are still made of dirt/gravel. Extra caution is needed whilst driving these roads, especially as punctured tyres are not covered under car rental insurance in Iceland. Whilst the south of the island, like the Golden Circle, is heaving with tourists we encountered very few cars throughout the rest of the Ring Road, often driving for miles without seeing another car. You will however see thousands of free-roaming sheep so make sure you keep an eye out for suicidal sheep on your drive.
You will often encounter long, one lane bridges but don’t be alarmed, the roads are very quiet and you should have no problem crossing, just be sure to give way if a car reaches the bridge first (obviously).
Whilst you could technically drive this road in around nineteen hours you will really need around a week to make the most of seeing the region (especially because you will want to stop to take a photo every five seconds, you have been warned).
WHAT IS AN F ROAD?
You will probably hear a lot of talk of F roads whilst planning your epic road trip of Iceland.
F-Roads are off-road, gravel/dirt roads that can ONLY be accessed by 4×4 cars. Some of them lead to highlands and it is advised to only use these during the summer months when the snow has melted as these roads are not maintained and can be quite dangerous. Car rental insurance does not cover you for use on these roads. To read more on F Roads here is a good guide of do’s and don’ts.
I had read a few blogs from people who said that they 100% recommend hiring a 4×4 as the F-Roads lead to so many ‘gorgeous destinations’ but no one ever actually named places or put up photos of these destinations. Every single place I researched visiting was accessible via the normal Ring Road so I decided to hire a normal car and do not regret it one bit.
HOW TO GET AROUND ICELAND
We decided that we wanted to explore Iceland independently by hiring our own car. We also decided that the best way to really make the most of seeing the country would be to hire a camper van, so that we could sleep and wake up to any view we desired.
We hired our ‘Go Smart’ camper through Go Campers. The van is suitable for two people and came equipped with a bed, stove, cooking equipment and storage compartments for our things. The USB plug was really helpful to charge our phones, tablet and GoPro on the road. Our van didn’t come with a heater, though the rest of the models in the fleet do.
Whilst it took a while to warm up at the beginning of the night our warm sleeping bags kept us warm there after. The only negative was that without the heating the metal roof of the van was often covered in moisture which would drip onto our sleeping bag and mattress. In the summer months it would be fine but if I were to visit again during the colder months of the year I would spend extra on a van with heating to make it more comfortable.
WHAT WE COOKED ON THE ROAD
As our camper van came equipped with cooking equipment we decided to purchase groceries from Reykjavik before departing for the road trip. The cheapest supermarket in Iceland is Bonus, which is recognisable by the Pig as its logo. It was lucky that we had thought ahead as there are almost no supermarkets or restaurants outside of Reykjavik, with small gas stations being the only place to re-stock.
We didn’t want to waste our time cooking fancy meals so oped for quick and cheap meal options. For breakfast and lunch we had Nutella sandwiches, had fruit as snacks and for dinner we would either cook up some two-minute Noodles or boil some water for some pre-flavoured couscous. Not the most nutritional meals but they were cheap, quick and required no refrigeration.
The only food you can really purchase at Gas Stations are Hot Dogs, one of Iceland’s national dishes.
HOW TO SHOWER IF YOU CAMPER VAN OR CAMP AROUND ICELAND?
If you are considering a camper van (or even camping in the summer months) around Iceland you are probably thinking ‘but how am I going to shower?’ To be honest, we only showered once during our road trip. If you find enough hot springs along the way showers won’t really be necessary but if you didn’t have time to trek to a natural hot spring or just had a cold, wet and rainy day (like we did) and just need a hot shower then you are in luck. Most towns have communal swimming pools, located in the local school, that can be used (along with a shower) for around $4-$8. Be warned though, all Icelandic hot tubs require you to shower (and soap up) naked before entering. Apparently getting naked in front of a room full of strangers is no big deal in Iceland…
GAS STATIONS IN ICELAND
Like anything in Iceland Gas Stations are not found frequently so the rule of thumb is to fill up each time you pass one. The most popular Petrol company in Iceland is called N1. As many stations are unmanned you can purchase pre-paid N1 Gas Cards to use around the country, from memory we spent around $30,000 ISK (Icelandic Kronas) on petrol throughout the road trip. Iceland is an expensive country but we did drive around 2000km, so we knew it would be pricey.
USEFUL WEBSITES TO USE WHILST IN ICELAND
For up to date road conditions check out this website.
For weather updates check out this website.
For petrol stations, swimming pools and hot-pot locations check out this website.
This guide! I’m hoping you agree that this is the ultimate guide to Iceland. Did you know if you open this page on your phone and save it to your home screen you can access this article even without internet access? Cool, right?
For Aurora/Northern Lights updates check out this website.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED TO DO DRIVE THE RING ROAD, ICELAND?
I read many blogs from people who said that you needed two weeks to do the Ring Road justice but I just didn’t have that much time available. In total I had seven days to explore Iceland and with one reserved for exploring Reykjavik (and airport transit etc) and one reserved for Silfra I had only five days remaining to drive the Ring Road. Many said it couldn’t be done so we were a little nervous if we could make it.
To be honest, I have no idea what they were all talking about. Five days was more than enough time to explore the country.
They say you should give yourself two days spare in case you get unlucky in weather and roads get closed. Whilst no roads were closed during our time we did get very unlucky with some of the heaviest rain the country has ever endured (thanks to the hurricane in North America that made its way over the Atlantic) and had to stop exploring by lunch time two days in a row as visibility was literally at zero and the roads were flooding. Even then we still had time on our last day to backtrack 4 hours up the coast to see some things we were disappointed with first time round before driving back to Reykjavik.
I truly believe that if the weather was on our side five days would have been enough to see everything on the itinerary. I honestly think one more day extra would have been the perfect amount.
So in short, how many days do you need to drive the Ring Road of Iceland? I would say six is the perfect amount! If I were to do it again I would have just used the afternoon after Silfra to explore Reykjavik and given myself an extra day on the road.
And if you really, really can’t find that much time then I would just do the south coast of Iceland from Hofn down, the most beautiful places in Iceland are in that region and also require the least amount of driving.
THE PERFECT ITINERARY FOR THE RING ROAD, ICELAND!
So now all the
boring important information is out-of-the-way let’s get to the fun stuff! The ultimate itinerary for the Ring Road, Iceland. I spent hours days researching the most beautiful places to see in Iceland to make sure I made the most of my time exploring the country. And now I am sharing my itinerary with you, because good things should be shared!
We decided to do the Ring Road in the opposite direction to most people and so went clockwise. We did this as we had heard that the south of Iceland was the most beautiful and so wanted to leave the best to last.
Reykjavik is the very small capital city of Iceland and two-thirds of the countries 300,000 population reside here. A day is more than enough to see the sights. I recommend visiting the Harpa concert hall, walking along Austurstræti, Veltusund and the rest of the streets in downtown Reykjavik before making your way to Hallgrímskirkja church and view the city from the rooftop (avoid visiting on a Sunday if you can avoid it as the church is closed for the first half of the day resulting in huge lines). Sample the best cuisines Iceland has to offer by visiting these restaurants for lunch and dinner!
The Blue Lagoon
As the bus from Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon is super expensive (as is the Blue lagoon itself) we decided it just made sense to drive ourselves once we had picked up our camper van from the Go Campers office at 4pm. When searching the Blue lagoon in Google Maps be sure to not click on the ‘Blue Lagoon Spa’ option by mistake, that actually leads you to a day spa in Reykjavik (how confusing).
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal, man-made spa (surprising I know) situated an hour from the city of Reykjavik and around twenty minutes from the airport (perfect if you have a long stop over in Iceland). The warm waters are rich in minerals like Sulfur and Silica which gives the water the milky blue colour it is famous for. The water temperature is roughly 37-39 degrees celsius all year round and it is believed that soaking in the mineral rich waters is great for your skin.
We visited an hour before sunset to avoid the crowds. Whilst the spa was indeed busy there was still enough space to swim out and have some privacy. The Blue Lagoon is an expensive place to visit, with the cheapest package costing a minimum of €40. It is crucial to book ahead as they only let so many people in per hour. We booked almost a week in advance and many time slots were booked out already. I imagine in the summer season it is even busier.
Once you enter you are given a bracelet to access the lockers (a confusing system). With only one change room available for the 200 hundred or so lockers you are expected to change in front of the room of strangers. You are then expected to shower before entering the lagoon.
Whilst they only let so many people in per hour you are welcome to stay as long as you like. Be sure to try out the complimentary Silica mud mask! I recommend keeping your hair up and out of the water as the minerals will make your hair very dry and knotty (though there is free shampoo and conditioner in the showers if you wish to wet your hair anyways).
Whilst it wasn’t my favourite experience in Iceland (the price doesn’t help) and I wouldn’t rave about it like others I know I did really enjoy my visit. It is quite a magical place and definitely not to be missed during a visit to Iceland.
After the Blue Lagoon we drove North on Route 1 and slept on the side of the road near Hvalfjarðarvegur ready for the next days adventures.
Hvalfjarðarlaug Hot Pot
I saw a photo on Pinterest once of a gorgeous, remote hot-pot and knew that I had to visit it. The only problem was there was absolutely no information of where it was. We spent hours searching for its location before we hit the jackpot. Visiting the hot-pot was one of our absolute highlights and whilst I am reluctant to share its location in fear it will be bombarded with tourists I don’t like keeping secrets so here is the exact GPS coordinates: +
Whilst this hot-pot does technically belong to a farmer it is located on a large property and so is located far enough away from his house that you will have complete privacy. There is a small sign by the makeshift car park so I am under the impression that the farmer doesn’t mind if the public use it so long as they respect his property. It is about a ten minute walk from the car park to the hot-pot and if you are lucky (and go first thing in the morning like us) you should have it to yourself.
The next stop, Hraunfossar Waterfalls, is an hours drive away from the hot-pot.
The Snæfellsness Peninsula
Next enjoy the scenic drive along the Snæfellsness peninsula.
If you haven’t had enough of hot pots for the day you can make an optional stop at Landbrotarlaug (N 64°49.933 W 22°19.110).
Take a scenic walk around the small fishing village of at Port Arnastapi, admire Mount Stapafell and try to find the famous natural bridge (I found one, but it was not the one you could walk on and it was raining too hard for me to care to keep walking).
One of the most iconic sites in Iceland, and definitely the highlight of the Snaefellsness peninsula, is Kirkjufellsfoss. The photos would make you believe that the waterfalls are connected to Kirkjufell mountain but the falls are actually across the road. Photo magic indeed! It’s also a famous place to watch the Northern Lights if you are in luck with the aurora.
The rest of the afternoon will be spent driving. If you don’t want to take the shortcut on the F road (we didn’t) you will have to go back down along the coast to Bogarness where you can re-join the 1 Road. Sleep somewhere near Godafoss.
Check out the waterfall of the gods, Godafoss!
Myvatn Nature Baths
The (cheaper) Blue Lagoon of the North can be found at the Myvatn Nature Baths. Apparently you can often see the Northern Lights from here.
A Lava cave with a hot spring inside. I had seen photos online of people swimming here so was disappointed to see signs saying that it was no longer allowed. Still a cool place for a quick stop on your drive.
Myvatn Geothermal Area
Exploring the Námafjall Geothermal area is like stepping into another planet. Also known as Hverir the area is filled with boiling mud pots and solfataras (which makes the area smell like rotten eggs).
It’s a 4.5 hour drive to your next destination so put on a good playlist and enjoy the other worldly scenery of the north of Iceland. Keep an eye out for sheep and reindeer’s on the roads.
The small village of Hofn boasts the famous Stokksness beach and the stunning Vestrahorn Mountains. Unfortunately we had heavy rains and clouds whilst here so saw none of its beauty. Boo!
Jökulsárlon Iceberg Lagoon
You will want to spend the night here. If you have a camper van like we did you can camp up in the car park and wake up overlooking the stunning lagoon. This will also ensure you beat the onslaught of crowds. Make sure you also visit Diamond Beach, a few minutes walk across the road. As you continue south you can also stop at Fjallsárlón.
Despite the heavy rain we desperately wanted to visit Svartifoss as we had seen some gorgeous photos of it. What we thought would be a quick ten minute walk from the car park probably took closer to 45 minutes and by the time we got there we were so soaked through and miserable we barely took a photo before leaving again. Every item of clothing we were wearing was soaked through, even our North Face rain jackets, so the hike to Svartifoss resulted in our clothes and camper van being soaked for the remaining three days (being cold and wet for days on end can be really miserable). So whilst I recommend visiting in dry weather if you are unfortunate enough to have bad weather like us don’t even bother.
A two kilometre long and 100 metre deep canyon in south-east Iceland.
Vil is the southernmost town in all of Iceland and the place to go to explore the stunning volcanic black sand beaches that Iceland is famous for.
The first day we visited Skogafoss was on the heaviest day of rain where all the fields and roads were flooding. When we got to the waterfall it was gushing so heavily that the car park was under water and so it was impossible to really appreciate it. We went back the next day when the rain had stopped and that is when we saw the rainbows that so famously frequent this stunning waterfall. Incredible!
Seljavallalaug Hot Pot
If you have ever looked at Iceland photos on Instagram then you have probably seen photos of this famous hot-pot, found in the mountains of Southern Iceland. Follow the signs/GPS to Raufarfell but keep an eye out for a hand-made sign before the section of houses for directions to the car park/hot-pot. Once parked it is apparently a fifteen minute walk inwards to the mountain. Again, this was a place we tried to visit in the rain but the path had flooded in gushing torrents and was too dangerous to continue unfortunately. One of our regrets was not getting to visit this place ourselves.
If you can make it fit into your itinerary this is a great place to go for sunrise (if you are blessed with good weather). Be sure to walk behind the waterfall for some great views (first day it was too rainy and second day too muddy for us- this is where my phone drowned, whilst trying to snapchat in the pouring rain) and up the hill for the most beautiful views (be careful, the path can be slippery). You can also walk 500 metres following the footpath across the small bridge to the ‘hidden’ waterfall Gljúfrabúi.
The drive south from here is super scenic (if you have seen the movie ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘ you’ll recognise the road he skateboard down. If you haven’t seen the movie please watch it, it is amazing!) and on a clear day you will see the infamous Eyfjafjallajokull Volcano.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring
If you have time on your hands make a detour to Hveragerði town and soak your limbs in the Reykjadalur hot spring, a hot spring river!!!
On our last day we either had a choice to head 4 hours up north to visit all the waterfalls we hadn’t seen properly the day before due to the rain or to visit this spring. Sadly we had to miss out on this spring this time around but if you are lucky enough to have time to visit make sure you do, my friends have all said it was one of their highlights!
This 55 metre deep volcanic crater lake is roughly 3000 years old and a natural stop along the ring road.
THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
The Golden Circle is the most traveled route in Iceland, a 300 kilometre loop that takes you from Reykjavik to the next three destinations and back. It is the perfect route to take if you only have a weekend to explore Iceland.
Gullfoss is not only one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls but also one of the most visited in the country, due to the fact that it can be found on the famous Golden Circle Route. I thought it was the least impressive out of them all but still worth a stop.
The Great Geyser is one of the most visited places in all of Iceland. Research shows that Geyser has been around for over 10,000 years. Stroker, the most famous Geyser, hurls boiling water up to fifty metres into the air each time it erupts, though apparently it was recorded to reach 170 metres in 1845. Whilst I had read that Stroker only erupts every fifteen minutes we saw it erupt five times in thirty minutes (eruptions can be infrequent and once stopped for years at a time).
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir or Thingvellir National Park is one of the most important places in Iceland. The National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site due to being the location of the worlds oldest existing parliament, dating back to 930 AD. It is also protected due to its unique geology features. Thingvellir is where you can snorkel or dive between the two tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America, the only place in the world where this is possible. You can read all about my experience snorkelling the Silfra here!
End your trip in the capital city of Reykjavik!
So there you have it, the entire Ring Road in 5 days. People said it couldn’t be done but it absolutely can. Whilst of course it is always nice, no matter where in the world you are, to have more time sometimes you only have so much time to work with. It was a lot of driving in a short amount of time but I definitely didn’t feel rushed in the slightest, on two of the days we were so wet and miserable we stopped exploring by 2pm and even after all that we still had time on our last day to drive back from Kerið to Skogafoss and back to finish the Golden Circle. If we hadn’t had torrential rain we would have visited everywhere on our itinerary with ease.
The beauty of camping is you go to sleep early and wake up early so you have lots of time to explore. I still think the perfect amount of time in Iceland is seven days, so you have an extra day in case of bad weather and a day to go snorkelling in Silfra. I think anything longer than that would have been too long, but that is just me (also, half a day is more than enough for Reykjavik).
I have spent weeks researching Iceland and hours upon hours writing this 4300 words post (I know, I know!!!!! Well done on getting through it all, give yourself a pat on the back). I truly think this is one of the most comprehensive guides and itineraries of the Ring Road and Iceland on the internet. I hope all those hours of work were worth it and you agree/found this post helpful in planning your own Iceland adventure!
Iceland was one of the most beautiful countries I have ever explored, even with the very unlucky weather we had during our time there. I will definitely return to this magical country in the future.
Did you find this post helpful? If so, what was the most helpful and/or what are you looking forward to visiting the most?
If you have been before is there anywhere else you would add to this itinerary?
I did receive a discount from Go Campers for using their van. Opinions are, as always, my own.