All Articles A 7-day itinerary to tackle Iceland’s iconic Ring Road

A 7-day itinerary to tackle Iceland’s iconic Ring Road

A man standing on the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Iceland
Image: Joshua Earle / Unsplash
Jaclynn Seah
By Jaclynn Seah12 Dec 2022 6 minutes read

Have a week to see the best sights that Iceland has to offer? One popular way to explore Iceland is along the Ring Road, an 828-mile loop around the country that connects most major towns in Iceland. Here’s our 7-day Ring Road itinerary and recommendations on how to drive it and what to see along the way.

If you're flying into Keflavík Airport in the Reykjanes Peninsula, there are plenty of car rental options from either Keflavík Airport or the nearby capital Reykjavik.

We recommend jumping straight into your road trip and leaving Reykjavik for the end in case of any delays along the way. This particular itinerary heads south first, but you can choose to explore the north first depending on your preference.

If you prefer not to self-drive, you can opt for a guided Ring Road tour instead. You’ll avoid the hassle of planning but there will be less flexibility with the schedule.

Day 1: Golden Circle, South Coast

Þingvellir National Park in Iceland
Image: Terri T / Tripadvisor

Kick off your drive with a bang by hitting the famous Golden Circle first. Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage geological park where you can see the split between the North American and Eurasian plates, or even snorkel between them in Silfra.

The next stop is the Geysir Geothermal Area in Haukadalur Valley. With bubbling hot thermal pools all around, the highlight here is the Strokkur Geyser, which typically erupts every 5-10 minutes. A short distance away is the aptly named Gullfoss aka the Golden Falls, a powerful waterfall often photographed with a rainbow over it on a sunny day.

Head back to Route 1 to see the sights of the South Coast. Stop over at the Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur to learn more about volcanic activity and how it has shaped Iceland. If you can’t get enough of waterfalls, stop over at the scenic waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss along the way. Alternatively, check out the Sólheimasandur plane wreck or keep going until you reach the cliffs of Dyrhólaey which overlook the black sand beach of Reynisfjara with its basalt pillars.

Where to stay: Spend the night in the village of Vík í Mýrdal. Hótel Vík í Mýrdal is a lovely, modern hotel conveniently located in the town center, or sleep at Grand Guesthouse Gardakot which is closer to Dyrhólaey.

Day 2: South Coast, Vatnajökull National Park

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland
Image: Tim A / Tripadvisor

Continue driving eastwards and you’ll pass the majestic Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon with dark, moss-covered rocks that are more than 2 million years old. Eldhraun lava field is also worth a stopover as it’s the largest lava field in the world.

Today’s highlight will be exploring the glaciers at Vatnajökull National Park, home to Europe’s largest ice cap. Winter is a great time to take an ice cave tour if you’re feeling adventurous. The Skaftafell nature reserve within the park also offers some excellent hiking trails.

Another must-see here is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon filled with icebergs. It’s a great place for spotting wildlife like Arctic terns and orcas off the coast. Along the coast is Diamond Beach, a black sand beach glistening with bits of glacier ice.

Where to stay: Höfn is one of the few coastal towns along the South Coast and the perfect place to rest for the night–check out Fosshotel Vatnajökull or Hotel Jokull.

Day 3: East Fjords

East Fjords in Iceland
Image: Glen T / Tripadvisor

Leave the lowlands behind for the dramatic landscape of the East Fjords–the eastern region of Iceland sees far fewer people because of its distance from the capital Reykjavik. Keep a look out for reindeer roaming wild in these parts.

Take a short detour to the Stokksnes headland for a black sand beach with the Vestrahorn as a backdrop. As you go farther east, the Ring Road hugs the shoreline; check out quaint coastal villages like Djúpivogur and Breiðdalsvík before following the road inland towards your base for the night at Egilsstaðir, the largest settlement in eastern Iceland with an airport.

From ​​Egilsstaðir you can go for a hike in Iceland’s largest national forest Hallormsstaðaskógur, home to over 80 different species of trees, or try to spot the mystical Lagarfljót Wyrm at Lake Lagarfljót. Seyðisfjörður is a village a short distance eastwards known for its arts and culture and a lovely rainbow street for photos. Feeling adventurous? Head up to remote Borgarfjordur Eystri, a well-known puffin nesting spot in the summer that offers excellent hikes in pristine natural surroundings.

Where to stay: Gistihusid – Lake Hotel Egilsstaðir lets you enjoy a lake view while being near the town amenities, or enjoy the seclusion of the forest at Hotel Hallormsstadur.

Day 4: Northeast Iceland—Diamond Circle

Northeast Iceland
Image: Michel D / Tripadvisor

The northeastern region has another famous route known as the Diamond Circle just off the Ring Road. Start with the thundering Dettifoss Waterfalls, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, followed by a hike at the scenic horseshoe-shaped Ásbyrgi Canyon. Up on the coastline, make a stop at Húsavík, the oldest settlement in Iceland and the best spot for whale watching.

Rejoin the Ring Road again to explore Lake Mývatn, a lush wetland area formed from volcanic activity over 2,000 years ago. There’s plenty to see here: the otherworldly landscape of the Námajfall geothermal area, the Mývatn Nature Baths for a hot soak surrounded by nature, Dimmuborgir lava formations that became famous as a Game of Thrones filming location, and the bird haven Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters on the southern end.

Where to stay: Rest overnight around Lake Mývatn near the nature baths so you can have a soak before you sleep. Icelandair Hotel Mývatn is a cozy, modern hotel while Elda Guesthouse is a more budget-friendly option.

Day 5: Northwest Iceland–Akureyri, Vatnsnes Peninsula

Seals in Vatnsnes, Iceland
Image: Dextrosa / Tripadvisor

Keep heading westwards on the Ring Road and stop by the beautiful Goðafoss Waterfall en route to Akureyri, the capital of the north and home to the northernmost botanical garden in the world. If it’s winter, you can hit the ski slopes at nearby Hlíðarfjall.

Head for the mountainous Vatnsnes Peninsula to see some unusual geological formations: Hvítserkur in Húnaflói Bay is also known as the Troll of the Northwest, a 50-foot tall basalt stack where sea birds like to nest, and Kolugljúfur, a lovely gorge with a waterfall named for a legendary giantess.

Vatnsnes is also one of the best places to see seals in Iceland. Book a seal-watching tour in Hvammstangi and check out the Icelandic Seal Center near the harbor.

Where to stay: Hvammstangi has quality budget accommodations available: check out the quaint wooden Hvammstangi Cottages near the campground or consider Hvammstangi Hostel for a value-for-money stay.

Day 6: West Iceland–Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufell Mountain in Iceland
Image: Michael C / Tripadvisor

The Westfjords beckon but there’s just too much ground to cover in a single day, so we suggest seeing Snæfellsnes Peninsula instead. It’s nicknamed ‘Miniature Iceland’ for the diverse natural wonders found in this area.

Start from the north side of the peninsula where you can see a 4,000-year-old lava field Berserkjahraun, then get a shot of Iceland’s most photographed mountain, the perfectly-shaped Kirkjufell Mountain.

On the western tip is the glacier-capped Snæfellsjökull, the highlight of the Snaefellsjökull National Park, offering spectacular views of Breiðafjörður Bay. The black-pebble Djúpalónssandur Beach has unusual lava coastal rock formations along with two freshwater lagoons. Take in the view atop the Lóndrangar basalt cliffs before stretching your legs on a hike at the Eldborg Crater.

Where to stay: Borgarnes is a small historically-significant town south of Snæfellsnes Peninsula famous for the Settlement Center documenting the history of Iceland. The B59 Hotel has a great view of the fjord while Helgugata Guesthouse has a pleasant, homey feel.

Day 7: Reykholt, Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon

 Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik
Image: Russell H / Tripadvisor

Borgarnes is about an hour’s drive away from Reykjavik via the Ring Road which cuts underneath the Hvalfjörður Fjord and over a long bridge, but if you’re still up for sightseeing, take a detour up towards Reykholt and check out Iceland’s longest lava cave at Viðgelmir, or stop by the waterfalls Hraunfossa and Barnafossa nearby. Along the drive back to Reykjavik is Glymur, Iceland’s second-tallest waterfall that’s 650 feet high.

The capital of Reykjavik is the busiest city in Iceland with some iconic architecture like the Hallgrimskirkja Church and Harpa Concert Hall and is known for its vibrant nightlife. Before you head to the airport, make sure you swing by Grindavik to have a soak in the famous Blue Lagoon first—the perfect way to relax those muscles after an intensive seven days of driving around Iceland.

Driving tips in Iceland

The Ring Road typically consists of two paved roads, one in each direction, so make sure not to stop randomly in the middle of the road for your photos; pull off to designated areas, and don’t go off-road to avoid disturbing the natural surroundings. There may be some unpaved roads, so drive slowly.

Drivers in Iceland drive on the right-hand side of the road—the same as you’re used to if you come from the U.S. Most rental cars are not allowed on the F roads (they usually lead to the highlands), which should only be accessed by 4x4 vehicles. Be prepared for Iceland’s fickle weather—high winds, sand, and ash can cause damage to the car if you’re not careful. Beware of wandering sheep, too.

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Jaclynn Seah
Jaclynn Seah is an occasional traveller who works a full-time job and uses any opportunity she gets to explore new places near or far. When she runs out of annual leave, she writes about travel to scratch that wanderlust itch all while plotting her next trip. Things she loves anywhere around the world: hunting for street art, a great sunset and a nice cold mug of beer.