Some days it feels like everyone is visiting Iceland. There are great reasons for Iceland’s unprecedented popularity. Nearly pristine nature, welcoming residents, one of the lowest crime rates in the world and a convenient location make Iceland a joy to visit. Many who visit Iceland recommend covering the ring road in 2 or 3 weeks. And I think this is a brilliant idea, but unfortunately inaccessible to those who only have one week’s vacation. So I wanted to put together a realistic 1-week itinerary that would allow you to see many the highlights and experience the joys of the most epic road trip in the world. In this article, you’ll find a map of Iceland’s Ring Road that you can use to play your trip. I hope you enjoy reading this Iceland itinerary – Ring Road in 6 days.
As always, thank you to my friends at Vero Social Network for sponsoring this trip, and for being the supportive, welcoming community I am so proud to be a part of.
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Packing Travel Tip:
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Iceland Travel Tip:
Pack tons of layers. Prepare for all kinds of inclement weather in Iceland. No matter the time of the year (and this includes the warmest month in Iceland, August) weather can and will turn quickly. Pile on great non-cotton layers, like a short sleeve tee-shirt topped with a long sleeve tee-shirt, followed with a fleece sweatshirt, topped with a solid vest and followed by a rain jacket. In Iceland, it’s always better to have too many layers than too few.
Iceland Itinerary – Day 1
A quick side note:
The traditional Iceland itinerary calls for a visit to a blue lagoon on day 1. Closely located next to the Reykjavik airport, these relaxing but pricey thermal spas are world-renowned. If you wish to visit the Blue Lagoon, make sure you purchase a pass a few weeks in advance. You can also arrange for a bus pick up from the airport while purchasing your tickets. After the lagoon, the bus can drop you off at your hotel or back at the airport – your choice. However, I would not recommend a visit to the Blue Lagoon on this 7-day itinerary. Later, on day 4 we will drive to another similar lagoon, this one more off the beaten path, much less expensive and just as relaxing.
Renting a Car in Iceland
If you, like me, decide to bypass the blue lagoon and proceed straight on your road trip, I suggest picking up a car at the airport instead. Car rental in Iceland can be expensive, so I compare two aggregate car rental websites: Hotwire.com and Skyscanner.com to find the best deal. I suggest you buy gravel insurance from your rental company in Iceland – my windshield had a chip in it when I returned the car, and multiple car markings from driving on gravel roads.
Don’t want to rent a car in Iceland?
If you don’t feel like renting a car in Iceland (or don’t have much time) base yourself in Reykjavik and take day trips from your hotel. Don’t miss the south coast, home of the diamond beach, glacier lagoon, and countless waterfalls. For a great selection of day trips in Iceland, check out Viator.
I recommend renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle in Iceland. This itinerary calls for many gravel roads and some off the beaten path roads, and here a four-wheel drive is very helpful especially in cases of rain.
My complete road trip itinerary for Iceland via google maps and all attractions is available here. If you decide to follow my itinerary, download the map if you are going to be offline in Iceland (cell service works fine in most locations but in case you are not planning to have a cell), and print out the graphic at the beginning of this article. This way you have a visual reminder of the attractions and useful details such as where to stop for the day.
Getting on the road
After you pick up your car, head out of the airport and take route 41 in the direction of Reykjavik. However, before you reach Reykjavik, take route 42 south towards Hafnafjordur. Driving along this gravel path will take you to your first park in Iceland – Reykjanesfolkvangur. Few people visit here, and it’s a real shame because the park is breathtaking in its spare beauty.
Not into solo travel? Check out a group tour with G-Adventures in Iceland. They have a ton of great options.
As you head down the gravel path, you will drive past a water view, scenic mountains and a hot springs area. These hot springs are over 150 degrees F and smell strongly like sulfur so I wouldn’t suggest jumping in. After you drive through the park, you will eventually hit route 427 east. It is here we start on the Ring Road. Referring to the Ring Road Iceland map, continue to drive down further west over a bridge and spectacular water views. You have a bit of a drive now, so before you enter the bridge you might want to stop at the little restaurant at the foot.
Continue on to Selfoss waterfalls. This first of many waterfalls you will see in Iceland these are impressive. This very large waterfall is a famous site and very close to Reykjavik, so you’ll see many tourists. From Selfoss (a big town with conveniences like a supermarket, an atm machine and other trappings of modern life), follow route 1 to Seljalandsfoss. A series of waterfalls (one hidden from view) and a quick hiking trek this is a very popular location – but beautiful and absolutely worth a visit. After you’ve had your fill continue via route 1 and chase another waterfall – Skofagoss. Along the way, you will encounter stunning vistas and hundreds of Icelandic horses – make sure to give yourself time to stop and take lots of pictures.
It is here I would suggest staying for the night. In Skofagoss you’ll find a hotel, a hostel – and camping is available right in front of the waterfall. Whatever type of accommodations you desire for the night, Skofagoss is a great point to stop on your 7-day itinerary via ring road in Iceland. Always book hotels in Iceland in advance – as I found out the hard way last-minute is rarely an option.
Iceland Travel Itinerary – Day 2:
Today you will continue eastward on route 1. Here you will travel over the southern coast of Iceland into some of the most beautiful places this island has to offer. Start your day off just a few minutes from Skofagoss at the gorgeous sea line of Reynisfjara. This is one of the most famous black beach sand in Iceland, and it is also the scene of large boulders jutting out at sea. This entire area is a national park and there are plenty of rock formations to explore, including Dyrholaye and Reynisdrangar.
You can spend hours here wandering the mountains and taking pictures. After you’ve had your fill proceed to the nearby village of Vik. Vik is a beautiful little town resting on a black sand beach. Another great spot to take pictures and perhaps to have some breakfast. Prefer to rent a home in Iceland instead of staying in a hotel? Check out VRBO for unique properties around the island.
Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
Now, be sure to refill with gas if you need it because you’ll be driving for several hours to your next big destination – Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. During this two hour drive, make a brief stop at another beautiful waterfall – the Svartifoss Waterfalls. In addition to this planned stop, you’ll probably want to stop several more times because glacier views are stunning – but nothing will prepare you for the glacier lagoon. Here, huge chunks of ice swim in deep blue water and you can spend hours watching them. Walk just across the road and you’ll find the famous diamond beach. On the diamond beach, black sand is littered with melting ice that glitters in the sun, temporary diamonds custom made for beautiful pictures and memories.
You can stay in this area for a while, there are food and restroom facilities as well as several tour companies that run boating adventures and glacier walks from this area. Once you are done, continue on route 1, which his now heading north. There is plenty of beautiful views along the way, but I would suggest you stop for the night about half way up the island in a little town of Hofn, which offers restaurants, hotels, and camping facilities. If you prefer to stay in a unique private property instead of a hotel, check out VRBO’s listings. Get some rest because more Icelandic adventure awaits you tomorrow!
Iceland Travel Itinerary: Day 3
Although the drive to your next big location, Seydisfjordur is technically only a few hours, it took me the entire day. Driving along the striking sea line, cliffs jutting out over water littered with enormous sharp-edged boulders, it was hard not to stop every few miles to take just a few more pictures. It’s a good thing this Iceland is so small because on a one-week road trip in Iceland you’ll be spending plenty of time just standing around, admiring its beauty.
Along the way, stop in the lovely little town of Djupivogur, and enjoy a leisurely lunch with a view over the harbor. Here you will have plenty of opportunities to take pictures of fishing boats and traditional Nordic homes. After lunch and a fuel refill if you need it, continue along route 1 towards Seydisfjordur. You’ll likely stop a bunch more times along the beautiful route. If you are like me you’ll finally get into town around 5 or 6 pm.
A gateway to the Faroe Islands
Seydisfjordur is a beautiful little town with a lake in the middle and traditional architecture but its far more than that. This is also the getaway to the famous and remote Faroes islands, and if you have extra time be sure to pre-book your ferry in advance. The ferry leaves every Friday, learn more about the Faroes islands ferry from Iceland. If you only have the week as I do, this little town is a great place to stay for the night. At Seidisfjordur you’ll find no shortage of hiking, hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds. For myself, in order to save time, I chose to move on to my next location.
Dettifoss waterfalls are located a good two hours away from Seyisfjorour. There are several tiny towns at the entrance to the route you will take to the waterfalls – route 864, and here you can spend the night. Be absolutely sure to get a full tank of gas in your stop in Seisfjorour, because you won’t get a chance to refill for a while. I spend the night in a small town at the crossroads of route 1 and route 864.
The weather turned, and so I decided to stay in a hotel. Although the hotels were booked I was lucky to find a space in a private home for a bargain price of 6,000. With a small room, a shower and plenty of heat I counted my blessings as I fell asleep in beautiful Iceland, a storm brewing outside.
Iceland’s Ring Road Itinerary: Day 4
Get up early today because you want to beat the rush to Dettifoss. To get here, take route 864. The road is mostly gravel path, one of the reasons I recommend gravel insurance and four-wheel drive. It’s about an hour on a gravel road, and if you manage to beat the rush you’ll be able to drive in the middle of the road where the gravel is at its lightest. Otherwise, prepare for a bumpy ride. Still, the ride will be worth it because Dettifoss is a unique waterfall – even for Iceland.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and the power here is evident the moment you reach the falls. This entire area is a national park so drones are forbidden. Unlike many waterfalls, the viewing platform is where the water starts to fall – not where it reaches the bottom. It is from a unique perspective that you will see up-close and personal the enormous power of Detifoss. The entire area is covered with huge boulders and they are slippery when wet so be careful while exploring.
After you have had your fill, get back in the car and continue to Myvatn Nature Baths. Remember on day 1 when I recommended skipping the blue lagoon? Although these baths are like the lagoon, they are much less busy, less expensive – but just as relaxing. Here you can enjoy a long soak without needing reservations. From here, just a few minutes’ drives is Godafoss Waterfalls, another stunning stop.
After you are done, proceed to your next stop, the second largest city in Iceland – Akureyri. This is a pretty city but there is so much to do in Iceland I wouldn’t spend too much time here. However, if you need any supplies stop by the large mall located in the center of town. Here you can pick up supplies not available elsewhere – inexpensive camping goods, electronics, etc. Of course, there is a supermarket here as well. Next, you can check out the several closed to traffic streets next to the church. When I visited on a Saturday I got to see some live music. The nice thing about this area is that its almost all locals and I, for the first time in Iceland was not surrounded by tourists. After you are done in Akureyri, proceed to our next stop Siglufjordur.
Iceland Travel Tip:
Iceland gets very busy in the summer. To beat the crowds show up to the major attractions either very early or very late. The sun only goes down for a few hours at night, so you have plenty of time to play with in your schedule. Eat a long and leisurely lunch and use dinner hours to visit places normally crowded with tourists.
Siglufjordur is located off Route 82, so you’ll need to get off the ring road for a few hours. Here you’ll find a small and pretty fishing village and a great place to take a whale watching cruise. Mostly, recommend coming here for the drive back via route 76. Although I have done many road trips I have to say that the drive back from Siglufjordur to route 1 is probably the most beautiful drive I have ever been on.
The road runs over mountains and each minute you will see a new and spectacular vista. In addition to that, I saw almost no tourists, so this is as off the beaten path in Iceland as you are likely to get in the summer. I would recommend the detour to Silufjordur town only if it’s a beautiful and clear day. If it’s rainy or cloudy I think you will be unlikely to see most of the views, and in that case, I think you should save yourself a few hours drive and proceed to our next location.
As for myself, about halfway through the drive down route Silufjordur, I decided to stop in a tiny town and take shelter for the night. I slept on the grounds of a hotel, and so got to stay undisturbed in one of the prettiest camping sites I’ve ever been in. Luckily, the weather was clear, and birds sang me to sleep on that long Iceland evening.
Iceland’s Road Ring Itinerary: Day 5
Start your day of driving down route 76 until you reach route 1, and take route 1 west. Our next stop is Hvitserkur, another well known Iceland site. To get here you’ll need to get off route 1 again and work your way north for a bit. Hvitserkur is a famous place to take pictures. In low tide you can walk into the doorway like spaces in the boulders. In high tide get some great pictures of the rocks and their reflections. After you wander the beach a bit, proceed back to route 1 and begin your drive to west Iceland. Although this area is technically off the ring road I still recommend coming here if you have time to spare.
Now you have completed north Iceland, and it’s time to go west. It’ll take much of the day to get here, especially with stops along the way. Start your exploration of the north-west end by visiting Stykkishomur. This area is the beginning of the Iceland Fjords, and in this little fishing village, you can catch the ferry to take you to the far north west of Iceland to explore more fjords. Here too, you can catch the cruise boat to see puffins and other local sea life. If you have an extra day to spare, consider taking the ferry here to explore the fjords region and its unique ecology.
Next, proceed down route 54 to Kirkjufell, another fishing village famous for its mountain and waterfalls. The Kirkjufell mountain appears on many Icelandic advertisements and is the unofficial symbol of the country. After a brief stop, I decided to camp for the night. The signs for camps and hotels are not as prominent in this area as they are on the ring road, but if you get off in any little town you are sure to find suitable facilities.
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Ring Road in Iceland: Day 6
Today was my last full day and the plan was to continue exploring the northwestern mountains. Unfortunately, I realized that the weather had changed and winds had picked up. I decided that it wasn’t safe to proceed on my planned mountain route and went further inland. However, the plan was to make the following stops, which I will include in the itinerary.
My first stop would have been Hellnar, is an old fishing village on the western peninsula. The protruding cliff and tunnel here would make for another great place to take pictures. And finally, the small hamlet of Budhir, the home of a picturesque church. Hopefully, you will have a chance to stop here when you do the trip.
After you done with those stops, continue back to route 1 and the golden circle. Although the ring road itinerary traditionally starts with the golden circle I left it for last. There is so much to do in Iceland, I can’t help but feel that the reason for golden’s circle fame has more to do with its proximity to Reykjavik than the uniqueness of its attraction. I left it for last because I think you can easily skip most of the golden circle and not miss out on much. Instead, perhaps consider taking a boat to see the puffins from Stykkishomur or a watch the whales from Siglufjordur.
If, like me, you have extra time or really want to see the golden circle, start with Thingvellir. This large park does have a great history – it was the seat of an ancient democracy, and the meeting place for the original governing body of Iceland – in 862. The park also has an interesting geological feature, as it lays on both the north American and the Eurasian tectonic plates which means you can walk “in between” the plates here. However, the most famous “fault line” of the park is packed with tourists, so many in fact its sometimes hard to walk here. If you are into fishing, check out the largest lake in Iceland, it has 4 species of artic char. Fishing permits are available at the tourist information desk.
Iceland Travel Tip:
If you are looking to eat well, be sure to stop in little roadside restaurants off route 1 and other side routes. I found the best food available outside of large tourist villages and towns. Especially good was the lamb sandwich I had for lunch almost every day.
Next, proceed to my favorite golden circle attraction – the Geysir. The name “geyser” originated here and its no wonder – this incredible hot spring is one of the most powerful in the world. Its surrounded by smaller hot springs including a mini geyser. Still it’s the big one that draws the crowds and the ohhs and ahhs. If you are a photographer wait for an eruption and the crowd will clear so that you can set up your tripod in peace. Don’t worry – it erupts every 2 minutes or so. Be sure to wait for at least two consecutive eruptions, because normally one is much larger than the other.
Next, the third and last major stop in the golden circle is the Gulfoss waterfall. This is another large and beautiful waterfall and a well-known Icelandic attraction. Since I have already seen it on my last trip, and had seen many other waterfalls I decided to head to Reyjavik instead.
The last place to stop on your ring road tour of Iceland is Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and by far its largest city. This was the first permanent settlement in Iceland, established in 874 Ad by the original Vikings who discovered the “land of ice.” Thoroughly modern, this beautiful city now hosts a very famous building – the Harpa. More than just an opera building, the harpa is home to several high end restaurants, boutiques and is the unofficial meeting place for locals and tourists alike. Just as importantly it is floded with sun. No matter how cold it is outside the visitors and tourists can come inside for the all important dose of sunshine and vitamin D.
Iceland Street Food
After your visit to the Harpa, proceed down a few blocks to one of my favorite little restaurants in the world – Icelandic Street Food. This famous little joint is known for its warm staff, collegiate atmosphere, free sweets and never-ending soup bowls. Each time you come in, the staff here will make you as though you are a long lost wanderer who finally found their way home – to Iceland.