Driving the Iceland Ring Road in 7 days
Before our vacations we do (actually my husband does 🙂 ) quite a bit of research on our destination. On this trip we couldn’t find too much useful information on driving the Icelandic “Ring Road”. So we did it ourselves. We spent seven nights, staying in different hotels along the Ring Road and we had a great time seeing much of Iceland with a few hidden gems along the way.
Throughout our trip, we documented many great locations for pictures, hiking, restaurants, and hotels. Keep reading to learn about our day by day adventures driving the ring road…
Be sure to also watch our YouTube video for even more insight.
Day 1…. Arriving in Reykjavik
Total Driving: 27miles & 45min
Key Points & Tips…
From the airport to downtown Reykjavik is ~45min. Make sure to get a hotel within walking distance of walking street area (Skolavordustigur).
Primary Sights to See & Things to Do…
Downtown Walking Area:
- Hallgrimskirkja– this is the famous church that stands 73 m tall. Check out the statue of Leif Eiriksson that stands in front of the church.
- Skolavordustigur great scenic walking areas, fun shopping and great restaurants.
- Make sure to visit the tourism office if you need help organizing any tours and questions on best sights.
Waterfront Path & Sun Voyager:
- Sun Voyager this is a sculpture near the shore that looks like something out of the Viking era. Get your picture in the morning, better lighting.
Harbour Front Area:
- Saga Museum, Reykjavik Maritime Museum, Eve Monument
- Whale Watching & Puffin Tours
Recommended Hotel- Storm Hotel: The hotel is very clean, close enough to walk to the downtown area and offers free breakfast. I give it a 5* due to the fact they let us check in early around 10am.
To Rent a Car or Not?
In Iceland they ask for a copy of your drivers license and passport and we noticed on our return to Reykjavik there was a toll tunnel with no toll booth – they have cameras that will take your license plate picture (and also give you speeding tickets!), then you are charged upon returning the vehicle.
Our cost for renting a basic car (but with automatic transmission) for 8 days in Sept. was $380 including the toll through the tunnel. We found the best deals to be on AutoEruope.com – our Hertz rental car was ~$200 cheaper there than the US websites.
We think it is worth it to rent a car even if you are just staying in Reykjavik, as most Iceland tours start around $100 per person. So if you have two to four people and you want to hit more than a couple sights, it is much cheaper to rent a car and do it yourself. Plus you can go at your own pace!
Do you need a 4 x 4? Many folks recommend renting a 4 x 4 but we found you could go almost all places with just a basic car – so long as you go slow. Of course, this would be different if you go in the middle of winter…
Day 2…. The Golden Circle
Total Driving: 133 miles & 3.5hr.
No worries here, we never had any issues with having to exchange money. Every where we went we were able to charge on our credit card.
Key Points & Tips…
- The ‘golden circle tour’ is really just two primary sights with a few secondary sights as you see fit. You can easily do this driving yourself in one day.
Primary Sights To See & Things to Do:
- Drive from Reykjavik to Thingvellir National Park. Dress in layers as there is lots of wind blowing through the canyon.
- Continue driving around the golden circle to Geysir to see the GeoThermal Area and the boiling mud pots. One of the geysirs go off every 5-8 minutes. Watch the wind because the sulfer smell is pretty bad. Take a hike to the top to have a great view of the melting pots.
- Drive to Gullfoss Falls to check out the waterfall, walk to the observation deck to get a closeup view of the falls.
- We finished our day by completing the globen circle sights then driving south and staying in the south part of the island (Hvolsvollur)
Recommended Hotel- Hotel Hvolsvollur, Nice little hotel in small town (and it had hot tubs). We paid $159 in Sept. including free breakfast. Special Tip: There is a unique restaurant across the street we really recommend called Valhalla. It has good basic meaty type food and some cool things to do – like Ax throwing, a small museum, and you can dress up like Vikings and take some pics!
Day 3…. Waterfall Day
Total Driving: 119 miles & 2.5 hours
,Key Points & Tips…
This was our primary waterfall day and also you come to the first glacier sight to explore.
Primary Sights To See & Things To Do:
- Seljalandsfoss & Gljufrabuifoss – Two really awesome waterfalls at this one location. Pro Tip: park at the 2nd waterfall where it is free. Parking there, you first come to Gljfrabui Waterfall. To actually get to the falls, you have to walk on the streambed itself into a small narrow canyon. There is a big boulder inside which you can climb onto and get some great pics and video. It helps to have waterproof shoes and a waterproof jacket for this one!
- About a 5min walk from Glufrabui is the other waterfall, called Seljalandsfoss This is the one which you can walk behind and can be seen from a distance as you approach (and you drove by it to park further down!). Which one of these two is more awesome? It is really hard to chose.
- The 3rd waterfall of the day is called Skogafoss Falls and its a 20min further drive from the two above. There is free parking here and as you walk towards the falls you can often see rainbows at the base of the falls on sunny days. To the right of the falls is a long staircase where you can hike to some upper falls and also some extensive hiking trails further up. It is worth the short 15min hike up to at least the 2nd set of falls and, if you are in decent shape, head out further for some great scenery.
- Other great sights to consider on this day are: Town of Vik, Iceland. Nearby is Reynisfjara Beach where you can exerience a black sand beach and basalt stacks. Also on this day you can visit Plane Wreck Beach (a longer hike for a boring pic! on our opinion) and, lastly, Solheimajokull Glacier. We thought Solheimajokull was worth the stop to get your first feel of a glacier. Regardless of what they say, you can also take a short walk on it!
Recommended Hotel- FossHotel Nupar, out by itself with some nice views. Rooms are not so special but the lobby lounge and breakfast were quite nice and it is in a beautiful secluded area along the ring road. We paid $220 in Sept. including breakfast.
HOW BIG IS ICELAND?
Iceland is the same size as the US State of New York, except New York has a population over 9 million people and Iceland has a population of less than 340,000 people.
Day 4….Canyon & (Another) Glacier Day
Total Driving: 119miles & 3 hours
Points & Tips….
We actually had to back track ~30min from our day 3 hotel to see these first two sights. Couldn’t fit them in on day 3 but definitely worth the detour.
Primary Sights To See & Things To Do:
- Fjadrargljufur Canyon– can’t pronounce it but its definetly worth checking out. The canyon is stunningly beautifully with depths of 330 feet and of course has a waterfall running into it. Take a hike to the top to get incredible photos. There is not a lot of parking so best to get here early.
- Our first hike and waterfall was Systrafoss in the town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur. Even though you can see the falls from the ring road, it tends to be lesser visited and we really liked it. It is a steep 20min hike to the top where you get great views across a beautiful glacial lake and the valley beyond. Be sure to catch the story about the nuns who bathed in the lake!
- Next up was another glacier. This one is much nicer than the one on day3 but you have to endure a 20min drive on a very bumpy road to get there. It says 4×4 road but we (and many others) made it in our little rental car – just drive real slow. The glacier is Svinafellsjokull. It is over 700,000 years old and quite impressive in size. You are across a lagoon from the glacier but you can’t help but be impressed. The lagoon itself also has some massive icebergs just floating around with nowhere to go. Don’t try and climb the glacier without proper equipment, there is a plaque at the site where 2 people vanished and were never found! Just take in the views.
- Our final stop was another glacier and the famous Diamond Beach. Here you can just sit on the side of the river bank and watch broken pieces of glacier float by. Also certain times of the day you can see pieces of glacier on the beach, looks similar to diamonds glistening in the sun. Try to get there at high tide when more icebergs fragments are likely to float out to sea.
Recommended Hotel- Best hotel of the entire trip was today. Actually the ‘hotel’ is made up of nine private, individual cabins. The location is right off the ring road yet very quiet and gives the feeling of remoteness. The closest town is Hofn ~20min away. It is family owned and less than a year old. Each cabin has a comfortable couch area, a nice deck, comfortable beds and a nice tiled bathroom and walk-in shower. Breakfast was great and with some local selections and homemade touches. Definitely check this place out. We paid $180 in Sept. including breakfast. Hrafnavellir Guest House
Is the water safe to drink in
The water in Iceland is probably the most pure water I have drank. Even the ice cubes that we asked for were crystal clear. In fact you can even fill your water bottle right from the bathroom sink. Cold, refreshing and delicious! Avoid buying waterbottles and drink the real thing – water from ancient glaciers! Tastes delicious!
Day 5…. Beaches & OurSearch for
Total Driving: 121 miles & 3 hours
Key Points & Tips….
This is where the ring road get a little more ‘boring’. You still have some beautiful scenery but there are less ‘bucket list’ things to check off of your Iceland list.
Primary Sights to See & Things To Do:
Our first stop was not even on our map or even on Tripadvisor but we thought it was one of the best stops we had on the ring road – and there were only a couple cars there! We have marked this location on our google map so please make sure to check it out, its called Laekjavic Coastline. It’s a costal nature preserve where there are two unique rock formations on the beach that are a photographer’s dream. Park and hike down a small hill – its a little steep but you can do it! Pro Tip: walk all the way down the beach to the right and there is a small hole in the cliff which you can climb through and access a secret known beach on the other side with more great picture opportunities!
Next up was a somewhat lesser known outdoor hotspring. It is basically a large bathtub out in the middle of nowhere! Its called Djúpavogskörin Natural Geothermal Hotsprings. There were only three people there when we visited. Pro Tip: There are many hotsprings throughout Iceland so you don’t have to brave the masses and pay the high ticket prices of going somewhere like the Blue Lagoon. We like to choose off the beaten path places and they are FREE!
Our final stop was a weird one. In the town of Djupivogur where they have a sight called “Eggin i Gledivik”. It is 25 large granite scultures of eggs from different species of Icelandic birds – I mean big eggs like ~5ft in size. Anyway, an interesting stop if you are into that type of thing.
Recommended Hotel: We stayed at Foss Hotel Eastfjords. It is right on the water in a sleepy little town fjord town called Fáskrúðsfjörður. This was our 2nd favorite hotel. It is a little out of the way but a great stop. We looked for Northern Lights here, but it did not happen for us – although this would be a great place to view them as there are not many street lights. We paid $201 in Sept. including breakfast.
Pro Tip: There is a rating system they use to judge the quality of northern lights sightings. The scale is from 1 to 5 with 5 being the ‘best’ opportunity to see something (but still no guarantee!). Ask your hotel what the rating is for your stay.
More Interesting Facts about Iceland
Crime in Iceland is almost nonexistent – the police in Iceland don’t even carry guns.
In 2010 Iceland banned strip clubs. Go figure!
60% of the population in Iceland lives in Reykjavik.
Icelandic people believe in elves – about 80% of the population. It is said that some roads have not been developed because they believe that this is where the elves live.
A delicacy in Iceland is eating raw puffin heart. DON’T DO IT, they are just too cute to eat!!!!
Iceland is the 18th largest island in the world.
Day 6…. East Fjord to
Total Driving: 184 miles & 5 hours
Key Points & Tip
This is another long day of driving but the most awesome waterfall in all of Iceland is on this day…
Primary Sights to See & Things To Do:
- A little bit of a side trip off the ring road but a great little example of a fjord town is Seydisfjordur (the ferry to Denmark departs from here). They have a great group of hiking trails which surround the town and a map can be provided from the visitor center. At the beginning of one of the trailheads on the edge of town are a couple of nice waterfalls to checkout. This is also the place where you can see the popular ‘rainbow road’ leading to a small local church – I just couldn’t pass that up!
- Our next stop was the largest waterfall in all of Europe (not just Iceland) by volume – Dettifoss Waterfalls. It is 144 ft. tall, has only 1 drop, and is downright very loud and wet! Secret Tip: There are two access roads to the falls. Coming from the East, take the 2nd road (rt.862) which is fully paved and has multiple viewing locations. A short 10 minute walk from Dettifoss is Selfoss Falls which is a bit upstream and flows into Dettifoss. Perhaps not as impressive as Dettifoss but still pretty awesome and a great option for pics where you can sit on the ‘edge’ of cliffs and make it look like you are endangering yourself (see below)!
- There was one last waterfall for the day and it was called Goðafoss. I felt Godafoss was unique in that the water was very blue. There is a pathway where you can get close up to see the clear blue waters. All the waterfalls in Iceland are beautiful but this one seemed to be especially beautiful.
- Finally, we made it to Akureyri – the capital of Northern Iceland they say. It is the 2nd largest town in Iceland but still very small. Its worth a little exploring and don’t forget their claim to fame – heart shaped stop lights!
- Recommended Hotel: There are other options a bit closer to downtown but we stayed in the Saeluhus Apartments. They were actually nice little ‘condos’ and would be great if you have a family travelling together. We paid only $94 in Sept., without a breakfast.
This day was our long drive back to Reykjavik. It is a little boring but we did find a number of unique stops which most people just don’t see.
Our first stop along our way was an original Icelandic church sitting amongst a local cemetary. No doubt I could never pronounce it! – here is the link Víðimýrarkirkja Church on Tripadvisor. This type of church dates back to 1834 and there are only six of these turf roofed churches remaining in Iceland today – three of them serve as parish churches. Do not miss out on this landmark.
Day 7…. Visiting Secret Falls &
238 miles, 5 hours
Continuing on we researched on google maps and found that there was a hidden waterfall and natural hot spring which are difficult to find. all the reviews noted that it was rather hard to find… Once you figure out how to get there, you then have to park your car, walk through a closed gate, hike over the top of a small bridge, close it behind you and and walk some more – finally you will see the falls.
After a little bit of effort, we found it! and there were only four other people when we arrived – you definitely felt like you have found something special.
To add to this adventure, there is also a natural hot spring pool nearby. If you want to jump into this hot spring pool there is no place to change so wear your suit under your pants. Speaking from experience, as the hubby had to hold up my coat and I had to change out in the open! So cool to think that the water is being heated 1,000 feet underground and was still extemely hot coming out of the ground and directly into the pool. I am sure this is even more amazing in the wintertime. Secret Falls and Hot Springs Reykjafoss
Day 8…. Back in Reykjavik
Finally back to Reykjavik.
On the 7th night of our trip we stayed back in Reykjavik as our flight was leaving the following morning. We stayed at the Reykjavik Lights Hotel which was quite nice with an extensive free breakfast. Its a little bit farther away from city center but there are a nicr group of restaurants nearby.
In the morning we drove our rental car about 40 min back to the airport where our trip came to a pleasant end. Pro Tip: Fill up at Costco along the way back to the airport – cheapest gas in Iceland!
Websites used for
Scott Cheap Flights
Travel with us on our YouTube channel
Our favorite take-along
One of the most important things for us when traveling is capturing those special moments together, which is why the new GoPro is a must have for us. HERO7 Black predicts your movements and corrects for camera shake to deliver insanely smooth footage. Although this camera is small, don’t let it’s looks deceive you. This little guy captures the best photos automatically. With Super Photo, HERO7 Black intelligently applies HDR, local tone mapping or noise reduction to optimize your shots. Being waterproof, we’re able to share experiences you can’t capture with your phone. HERO7 Black is rugged, waterproof without a housing to 33ft (10m) and up for any adventure. Being such a small camera, the GoPro HERO7 is ready to travel with you, anywhere you go.
MUST HAVE TRAVEL essentials for
Read more about some of my favorite accessories under my travel tips.
Lightweight Rain Jackets
This jacket is approved from The Scottsdale Travel Chick, used this jacket on our trip to Iceland, actually used the jacket in Costa Rica as well. Love this jacket because its lightweight repells water really well and has a hood, this can easily fit into your luggage, takes up hardly in space.
Eddie Bauer Travel Pants
These are great pants not only to travel with on the plane- I like to use the side pocket to store my passport. These are waterproof and lightweight so they can easily fit into your suitcase. We tested these out on several awesome waterfall locations throughout Iceland.
We use this backpack on all of our trips. This one folds flat and easily can fit into your suitcase. It has 3 compartments and one side can hold a large water bottle. This is a great backpack to take if you are walking around the city or taking a bike ride through the countryside.
Really loved these 32 degree shirts and leggings, in Iceland you need to dress in layers. These are lightweight and can easily be worn under pants, sweaters or jackets. Scottsdale Travel Chick approved, wore the leggings every day.