Seljalandsfoss
How many days for Iceland’s Ring Road

Globetrotters

6 days

Vacationers

7 days

Culture buffs

7+ days

Recommendation – no less than 7 days on the road

iceland_drivingThis itinerary is 7 days driving and does not include the Westfjords or Snaefellsnes Peninsula (for these, more time would be required).

The assumption here is that you won’t be doing any more 3-4 hours of actual driving a day, because in reality that 3-4 hours always turns into a 6-7 hour journey with stops and food etc. My idea of having a good time in Iceland is not spending all day every day behind the wheel. I wanted to take my time, drive at a pace where I could appreciate the scenery, take many stops for photos or walks, try out the local food and explore the charismatic little towns along the way.

Also, in Iceland the weather is incredibly unpredictable and can change dramatically very quickly. You will most likely get a mix of clear sunshine, storms, heavy rain, snow, sunshine again, heavy winds, complete calm, thick fog, and everything in between multiple times per day. So that in itself means you need to have enough flexibility in your planning to allow for the weather to dictate how you will spend some of your time each day as well.

Ring Road – clockwise or anti-clockwise?

Many ppl ask this question and I think the best way to decide could be based on a few factors. Keep in mind no matter which way you go the Ring Road is most likely not going to be congested with many cars, so don’t worry about that. One thing to consider is temperature. The North (Akeyuri, Mývatn etc) is somewhat colder than the south, so do you want to ease into the coldness and gradually adjust, or head straight in first? Take a look at any predicted weather events or volcanic activity for when you plan to go as you might want to plan around that.

In my opinion, the big main sights are along the south coast and they’re closer together, so weather aside, I’d prefer to start the journey with lots of excitement and short stops (the ‘Golden Circle’ is the perfect introduction to Iceland), and keep the longer drives until later on rather than getting off a long flight to Reykjavik, and then heading straight into the car for many more hours. If you go clockwise you might also tire a bit of seeing waterfalls by the time you get to the Golden Circle! So, I’m going to write the below itinerary based on an anti-clockwise direction, however it of course could be done the other way around. Also, this is the suggested time frame as a bare minimum!

How much time for Reykjavik?

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Either before or after your drive around Ring Road, plan to spend at least 1 full day in Reykjavik itself. It’s the world’s most northernmost capital and one of Europe’s smallest. Don’t miss the Blue Lagoon. This is one of Iceland’s most visited and iconic experiences. It’s about 40mins drive out of the city but due to proximity to Keflavík Airport, could be visited when just arriving or departing Reykjavik. In town itself, you won’t be able to miss the iconic Hallgrímskirkja Church, which has a great viewing platform at the top, and the mesmerising design of the Harpa Concert Hall. Take a detour along the waters edge to see the Sun Voyager statue, then spend some time wandering down the main commercial street, Laugavegur.

Ring Road

DRIVING DAY 1 – GOLDEN CIRCLE

Strokkur - Golden Circle

Strokkur – Golden Circle

Your first day of driving will be to the famous ‘Golden Circle‘ area which gets its name from the fact that it features a number of Iceland’s most popular and best sights all within close proximity, and is typically visited as a day trip from Reykjavik. But rather than completing the ‘Circle’ to Reykjavik, you will be staying overnight on the south coast. The first main sight you’ll reach on the Golden Circle path is  Þingvellir National Park (or ‘Thingvellir’). This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where ancient Icelandic parliament was founded and is the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet causing a clear rift. This makes it a place of great historical and geological significance. Next along the path is Haukadalur geothermal area, home to many mud pools, fumaroles, and the Strokkur geyser that erupts every 4–8 minutes. The other large geyser, simply called ‘Geysir’ is currently not active. More sights close by are the majestic Gullfoss waterfall and the interesting implosion crater, Kerið. Accommodation is limited so spend the night in any of the small towns close by, such as in Skógar, Hvolsvöllur or even Vik which is just a little further east.

DAY 2 – SOUTH COAST

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

If you’re starting the day from near Hvolsvöllur, a history buff should stop by the Saga Centre. Once on the road, stop at the impressive Seljalandsfoss waterfall where you can attempt to walk behind the fall to experience the force of the water, a possibly wet but very memorable and unique experience. Further east is another large and impressive waterfall, Skógafoss. There’s also a Folk Museum at Skógar close to the waterfall. 

It’s possible to get on a snowmobile tour of the Myrdalsjokull glacier if you choose, before continuing towards the small town of Vik. There you will see the black volcanic beach and the unusual Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar rock formations. After Vik you will be driving through the Eldhraun lava field which is the biggest lava field from historic times in the world. By now it will truly appear that you’re on another planet! 

You could stop briefly at the small settlement at Kirkjubæjarklaustur before continuing to the Skaftafell National Park. There are numerous walking and hiking trails from the visitor center and you’ll probably have time to do just one. The most popular is the trail to Svartifoss, one of Iceland’s most picturesque waterfalls framed by interesting basalt columns. 

Jökulsarlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsarlón Glacier Lagoon

Your last stop for the day will be the Jökulsarlón Glacier Lagoon, indeed one of the most spectacular sights alongside Ring Road and this absolutely should not be missed! Huge melting icebergs from the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull glacier float about in the lagoon as they melt and make their way out to sea. A unique boat cruise on the lagoon is offered in summer and is highly recommended. Spend the night in Höfn, a small fishing village with some great seafood restaurants a view of the glaciers in the distance.

DAY 3 – EAST FJORDS

Seydisfjordur

Seydisfjordur

The weather in the East is typically the best in the country, so hopefully today you will have a calm drive whilst taking in the spectacular East Fjords, with it’s towering mountains and winding roads. Note that some of this may be on unpaved road. Make your first stop the town of Djúpivogur. In summer there are boats from here to Papey Island where puffins and other seabirds nest during the season. Perhaps make another brief stop at another of the small fishing villages such as Breiddalsvik or Stodvarfjordur to admire the surrounding landscape. In Stodvarfjordur you can check out ‘Petra’s stone collection‘ before continuing on to Egilsstaðir, the largest town and administrative hub of the East.

If you’re doing well for time, head west briefly to see Lake Lagarfljot and the Hallormsstaðarskógur Forest Reserve for a change in scenery (Iceland’s only forest plantation). But something not to be missed is the drive from Egilsstaðir to the small lakeside town of Seyðisfjörður, a somewhat steep and very scenic drive. In Seyðisfjörður, the setting is the sight in itself, however there are also some cute historic wooden buildings and local sculptures to see. Either spend this evening relaxing in Seyðisfjörður, Egilsstaðir or one of the other eastern coastal towns (eg. Borgarfjordur Eystri <- though access is via a tricky mountain road only, 4WD recommended).

DAY 4 – MYVATN

Námaskarð Pass

Námaskarð Pass

Prepare for the excitement levels to hit another high as you make your way towards Mývatn. The first stop will be to see the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss. Note that this is quite a detour off Ring Road down an unpaved road, so it can be quite a slow and bumpy ride, but the drive will be worth it. Back on Ring Road, before reaching Myvatn you will come to a number of sights in the Krafla volcanic area, such as the Geothermal Power Station (where hot steam from the ground is harnessed for generating electricity), the Viti crater filled with amazing turquoise water, and the colourful yet somewhat smelly geothermal area Námaskarð Pass. Continue to Lake Mývatn and check out some of the sights in the area, such as the Myvatn Nature Baths, the Dimmuborgir lava creations, the enormous Hverfjall crater (1km in diameter and the rim can be reached via a brief hike),  the ‘pseudo craters’ at Skútustaðir…the list goes on. There are too many things to fit into one afternoon so whatever you don’t fit in, leave until the following day. Spend the evening somewhere in the Myvatn region.

DAY 5 – MORE MYVATN & HUSAVIK

Hverfjall crater

Hverfjall crater

Check out any Mývatn sights you did not have time for on Day 4. If you find you’re hammering through them and have some extra time, consider driving a little way north to Húsavík, known to be a ‘whale-watching capital’. There you can hop on a whale watching tour and check out the Whale Museum. When you feel it’s time to move on, make your way towards Akureyri and stop via the Goðafoss waterfall along the way, which can be spotted from Ring Road. Spend in evening in Akureyri or it’s surrounding area.

DAY 6 – AKUREYRI & SKAGAFJORDUR

Akureyri

Akureyri

Despite being known as ‘the capital of the North’, Akureyri is a rather small town so spending just a few hours in the morning will be enough to see it. Wander down the main street, check out the boutique shops and cafes, stop by the church, walk through the Botanical Gardens and see the old turf museum Laufas. From this point, a lot of itineraries suggest a ‘foot to the floor’ mission to return to Reykjavik (and sure it can be done if you’re a Globetrotter pushed for time and don’t mind driving 5-6hrs straight), although it is not something I’d advise as it’s better to plan for the case of bad weather (if it’s horrible weather, 6hrs in a car is not a good idea!).

From Akureyri, in the afternoon drive through the Skagafjörður region, famous for horse breeding. The Icelandic horse is a national icon that has a special fifth gait. You will see them all around in this region and can even organise a ride. Take your time taking in the scenery and make a brief stop to see the small turf Víðimýrarkirkja church (close to Varmahlíð) before back-tracking a little to visit the Glaumbær Folk Museum on way to Sauðárkrókur village. You could stay the night there or elsewhere in the Skagafjörður area.

DAY 7 – WEST 

Hraunfossar

Hraunfossar

Head west in the direction of Blönduós. The cool modern Blönduós church right by the side of the road could be your first stop before reaching Hvammstangi. Head to the Icelandic Seal Center there to find out when and where on the Vatnsnes peninsula you’re currently likely to see seals in their natural habitat (low-tide is usually best). It’s then a bit of drive to the Grábrók crater which can be ascended by a marked trail. Nearby is Deildartunguhver, the most powerful hot spring in Europe, as well as the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls. Returning to the Ring Road, the small town of Borgarnes is not far from here where you can stop for a break and/or visit the Icelandic Settlement Centre. Before reaching Reykjavik, you pass the Hvalfjörður fjord (whale fjord). If the weather is nice and you’re doing well for time, perhaps take the scenic way around the fjord on Route 47 and make a stop before linking back onto Ring Road (otherwise there’s a 1000ISK toll to go the more direct route via the tunnel). Welcome back to Reykjavik. This completes your week driving around Iceland.

1 Response to “How many days for Iceland’s Ring Road”


  1. 1 Dan Apr 2nd, 2018 at 8:48 am

    Fantastic itinerary and we’ll try to follow your suggestions in August 2018. Your photos are also spectacular and I hope the weather allows me to take similar ones so we can compare.

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