7 DAYS AROUND ICELAND – THE ULTIMATE ROADTRIP GUIDE

driving around iceland

Ring Road, also known as Route 1, runs across the entire island and covers a total distance of approximately 1300 Kms. We drove around Iceland on Ring Road in 7 days and returned our rental car with over 2000 Kms logged which included several off-roading adventures. After sharing our Iceland itinerary with many friends, we have finally put together this useful guide for all of you. In this blog post, we are sharing our day by day itinerary with tips and recommendations from our lessons learned. Fair warning – this is a very lengthy but helpful post due to the depth of information we are covering.  

Note: While penning this guide we realized that there was way too much information to be shared. So we have broken this up into 3 blogposts –

  1. 10 Useful tips for visiting Iceland
  2. 7-day itinerary (which is what you are reading now)
  3. Packing List for Iceland – coming soon 

Iceland is almost circular in shape and we chose to drive anti-clockwise but you can easily do this in the reverse direction i.e clockwise heading North first. We have given our recommendations on where to stay each night along with our partner affiliate links to make your bookings. We are not affiliated with the property in any way and all our recommendations are based on our own experiences. If you make your bookings using our links, it is no additional cost to you however it will help us in maintaining this awesome website. So thank-you for your support! ūüôā  

7 Day around Iceland – Our Ring road itinerary map

Visiting the sub-arctic island of late Nordic inhabitants last year was an eye-opening travel experience for us. Iceland showed us that one country can be a one-stop shop for travel lovers. The varied landscapes we experienced in one week ranged from black sand beaches to volcanic craters to waterfalls and more waterfalls to Geothermal hot springs to arctic glaciers. Don’t even get me started on the handsome looking Icelandic horses. With nature in its back pocket, the capital city Reykjav√≠k turned out to be one of the trendiest cities in Europe full of funky nightlife and relish restaurants. Needless to say, we have been promoting this island ever since.

Before we dive into the itinerary, let’s first answer a few basic questions –

Are 7 days enough?

Depending on what your goal is, 7 days can be just perfect to see the highlights while driving around Iceland. However, you won’t have enough time for any longer hikes or many activities along the way. If your goal is to take it easy at each location and participate in various activities then consider adding more days to this itinerary. TIP: We have given our recommendations below on where it makes the most sense to add extra days. But at the very least you will need 7 full days to complete this circle without rushing yourself. If you have less than 7 days then consider driving only up till South Iceland and return back to Keflav√≠k airport or Reykjav√≠k at the end of your trip.

When to go?

The time of the year you visit will play an important role in deciding how many days you need. We visited Iceland in end of May i.e. at the beginning of summer and experienced the “Midnight Sun” which gave us longer days to explore. FUN FACT: Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon which occurs in places closest to the poles where in the summer months sun barely or never sets. We saw twilight for about two hours post midnight and then the sun rose again at around 3am.  The opposite happens in the winter months i.e. shorter days and longer nights. Also given the arctic weather conditions, parts of Ring road in the North and East could be closed during winter. TIP: If you decide to go during winter months, you are in for incredible shows of Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights. Our recommendation for driving around Iceland in 7 days would be in the time frame of May to August months. In other months consider adding more days to cover it all.

What to pack?

We are in process of writing an entire post on this topic so please stay tuned.

7 DAY ITINERARY

DAY 1: West Iceland

If you land at early hours of the morning like we did with Wow air from North America, we recommend you head straight to Blue Lagoon from the airport since it is only 10 mins away. Blue Lagoon, although commercial, is a totally different experience than any other spa you can imagine. Don’t miss out on this unique experience! Use the rest of your first day to settle in and explore the funky capital city, Reykjav√≠k. Besides seeing Hallgrimskirkja Church, S√≥lfari√į (Sun Voyager) and Harpa Concert Hall there is a lot to do in Reykjav√≠k city center. TIP: Explore the restaurants & bars on Laugavegur street, especially our favorites Lebowski Bar and Old Iceland restaurant. If you have more time to spend in the city, there are a bunch of activities you can do in Reykjav√≠k such as whale watching, lava tube caving, helicopter rides, etc.

Day 1: West Iceland route map

ACCOMMODATION

We recommend staying closer to the city center within walking distance of Hallgrimskirkja Church and Laugavegur street where all the bars, restaurants and shopping action happens. A few good options in this area are SandhotelFosshotel Reykjavik, Nordic Apartments, Thomsen Residence Suites; the last two are more of an apartment style accommodation rather than a hotel.

Check out our captions in photos below to see what to do in Reykjav√≠k.

 

DAY 2: Golden Circle

Before jumping on the ring road, take a mini detour on day 2 and head to the famous Golden Circle in Iceland. We wrote a detailed article on Golden Circle on our blog here. Points of interests in Golden Circle are listed below, the one’s we stopped at are highlighted in bold.

Day 2: Golden Circle route map

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Silfra Snorkeling (Read more swimming between tectonic plates on our blog here)
  • Geysir Geothermal Area
  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Bruarfoss Waterfall (if skipping snorkeling then this is a great addition)

ACCOMODATION

If you are snorkeling between the tectonic plates in Silfra then you end up spending atleast half a day there. Hence it is a good idea to stay back this night in the Golden Circle. We recommend Hotel Litli Geysir or Hotel Gullfoss. We stayed at Hotel Gullfoss and passed by Hotel Geysir, both of which are at a fantastic location. If you are skipping snorkeling then most likely you should be able to get ahead of the schedule past Kerid crater from day 3. In that case the town of Selfoss should be a good spot to spend the night.

Check out our captions in photos below to read about the location.

 

DAY 3: South Iceland

This is the most exciting part of Iceland! Heading to the beautiful South Iceland from Gullfoss. Don’t you worry if you happen to stop every 5 mins, you won’t be the only one. The best part about Iceland is not the final destinations but the drive itself. Those painting like landscapes popping up at every nook and corner will make you discover your own stopovers. TIP: Do keep in mind though  if you stop way too often then you might never make it around in 7 days ūüėČ  Point of interests highlighted in bold are the one’s we stopped at and I am really stretching it by listing them all in one day. Especially since we had to backtrack our way to cover the last 3 next day. 

Day 3: South Iceland route map

  • Kerid Crater
  • Glj√ļfrab√ļi/ Glj√ļfrafoss Waterfall (Hidden waterfall)
  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
  • Eyjafjallaj√∂kull Erupt (the volcano that erupted in 2010, we passed by it)
  • Seljavallalaug pool (Seljavelli – the hidden free geo-thermal pool which might take some time to find) 
  • Skogafoss Waterfall
  • DC-3 Plane wreak site
  • Dyrh√≥laey
  • Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)

TIP: Add those extra days in this part of Iceland as there are plenty of great hikes and adventure activities to do.

ACTIVITIES 

  • Hiking on top of Skogafoss waterfall 
  • Hiking to the US Navy plane crash site – 45 mins easy one way hike

TIP: If you don’t mind a long walk and have time to fit it then DC plane wreak should be on your list.  Cars cannot go all the way to the plane crash site since March of 2016.  It was incredible to see an old rusting DC-3 US Navy plane which crashed 40 year ago still lying at the same spot in the middle of nowhere.

ACCOMODATION

We recommend staying the night in or around the town of Vik. We stayed at Hotel Edda Vik next to Icelandair Hotel. Another recommendation would be to stay in the vicinity of one of the attractions, some hotels we looked for us but were sold out were – Hotel Dyrholaey, Volcano Hotel, and Hotel Skogafoss (We enjoyed a nice dinner with great view of the waterfall at Hotel Skogafoss before heading to our hotel in Vik)

Check out our captions in photos below to read about the location.

 

DAY 4: Southeast Iceland

Another exciting day driving Southeast towards J√∂kuls√°rl√≥n Glacier Lagoon where you get to see floating glaciers from the parking lot itself. TIP: If you want to experience the glaciers intimately we highly recommend taking a boat tour.  Point of interests on this stretch are listed below. In bold are the stops we took.

Day 4: Southeast Iceland route map

  • Laufsk√°lavar√įa 
  • Fja√įr√°rglj√ļfur
  • Skaftafell National Park  (Also called Vatnaj√∂kull National Park – Svartifoss Waterfall hike is very popular)
  • J√∂kuls√°rl√≥n – Glacier Lagoon
  • Diamond Beach (across the bridge from Glacier Lagoon)

FACT: Glacier Lagoon, however pretty, is an ugly reminder of Mother Earth’s  trouble in paradise- as this lagoon keeps growing in size we keep loosing our precious glaciers in the arctic.

Locations in South and Southeast Iceland are most popular with tourists. TIP: Spend extra days on this stretch if you can.  Lots of hiking and activities to do here, however we could only accommodate the boat tour in our itinerary – 

ACTIVITIES 

  • Hiking in Skaftafell National Park  (Also called Vatnaj√∂kull National Park)
  • Glacier Hiking (open all year round)
  • Ice Caving (Ice caves are open only in winters for safety)
  • Boat tours at Glacier Lagoon (Amphibian boat tour open all year round, Zodiac boats only in summer) 
  • ATV rides (around Skogafoss)
  • Horse riding

ACCOMODATION

At this point, you really are in the middle of no where and there are very limited BnB’s and hotels in this area. Although we wanted to stay closest to the lagoon due to high season we didn’t get availability in the hotels we wanted i.e. Hali Country Hotel and Skyrhusid Guesthouse. We ended up staying at Guesthouse Nypugardar, a lovely farmhouse, which is about 30 mins drive from the lagoon. Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon looks like a nice modern alternative about 20 mins from the lagoon.

Check out our captions in photos below to read about the location.

 

DAY 5: East Iceland

Continue driving due East – this is when you skip the tourist junction and come in close contact with raw Iceland. Town of H√∂fn and Stokksnes peninsula are a detour from ring road but if you have the time its worth taking that detour. Check out the famous Vestrahorn mountain in Stokksnes near H√∂fn. TIP: Consider adding an extra day here if you want to spend more time in the peninsula. Ring road somewhat cuts through this peninsula giving you a splendid view of Stokkness for a few minutes. Town of Djupivogur can be a great alternate stopover for lunch if you are skipping H√∂fn as we did.  Point of interests on this stretch are listed below. 

Day 5: East Iceland route map

  • Hofn
  • Stokness/ Vestrahorn
  • Dj√ļpivogur
  • Egilssta√įir (It‚Äôs a long unpaved scenic drive till here)

We did not list any activities here because this drive is insanely wild and in itself an attraction. In this stretch, Ring road turns into a dirt road going up and down the mountains. It can be quite adventurous to be the only car driving on several parts of Ring road, which happens more often than not.

ACCOMODATION

Spend the night in the biggest city in Eastern Iceland, Egilssta√įir. Hotel Edda or Icelandair Hotel are good options here.   

Check out our captions in photos below to read about the location.

 

DAY 6: North Iceland

Not many people visiting Iceland make it this far North so this stretch was quite exceptional for us. Heading  North towards Akureyri which is the second largest city in Iceland after Reykjav√≠k was full of pleasant surprises. This stretch has its own share of gems just like the South – more gigantic waterfalls, more hotsprings and geysirs, more volcanic craters, geo-thermal spas.. you name it and North Iceland has it’s share. Akureyri is a tiny city located on Eyjafj√∂r√įur or Eyja Fjord, take  out some time to explore it. Point of interests on this stretch are listed below. 

Day 6: North Iceland route map

  • Krafla Viti Crater
  • Hverir
  • M√Ĺvatn (lake and geothermal area around Lake M√Ĺvatn)
  • Godafoss Waterfall
  • Dettifoss Waterfall 
  • Explore Akureyri

There is a lot to explore and do in North Iceland, so this would be another great spot to add a day or 2. TIP: If you are spending extra days here consider going to the fishing town of H√ļsav√≠k. Both Akureyri and H√ļsav√≠k, being closest to the Arctic, are very popular for their whale watching tours. We took a zodiac boat whale watching tour from Akureyri and half the fun was zodiac boat ride in the fjord itself. TIP: Highly recommend zodiac boat over regular whale watching boats/ships.

ACCOMODATION

Spend the night in Akureyri. We stayed in Hotel Kjarnalundur which was about 5 mins driving distance from the city center in Akureyri. View of the mountains and the fjord from our room  was the best thing we could have asked for after a long day of drive. You can choose to stay right in the the city center – there is a Icelandair Hotel and Hotel Edda in Akureyri as well.

Check out our captions in photos below to read about the location.

 

DAY 7: West Iceland

Final day! While driving back from Akuryeri to West Iceland we stopped at Sn√¶fellsnes Peninsula. If you wish to skip this peninsula then drive straight to Reykjav√≠k and enjoy an extra day there. We drove around Snaefellsnes and stayed the night in the town of Borgarnes. Our main motivation was to see the most photographed mountain in Iceland, Mt. Kirkjufell and to shoot it as well obviously. After spending a really short time in Snaesfellsness, we are now certain that this is where we need to return back to explore more.

Day 7: West Iceland route map

ACCOMODATION

Depending on where you want to end up – spend the night in one of the villages in Sn√¶fellsnes Peninsula or Reykjav√≠k. We stayed at Ensku Husin Guesthouse in Borgarnes  in between the two and couldn’t have asked for a better place for our last night in Iceland. In the peninsula Grundarfjordur Guesthouse and Apartments and Arnarstapi Hotel are good options.

Check out our captions in photos below to read about the location.

 

END OF ROAD TRIP

There is definitely LOTS to see & do in Iceland and one visit will never be enough. But we hope that this guide helps you with your planning. Iceland opens a can of treasure for anyone who visits and we can’t wait to catch more amazing gems hidden in this country in future. We hope that you have an awesome trip if you are headed there and if not then we hope this inspires you to visit Iceland ūüôā Any questions? Just shoot us a comment below or on our Facebook page and we would love to help out. 

Happy Traveling!

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5 comments on “7 DAYS AROUND ICELAND – THE ULTIMATE ROADTRIP GUIDE

  1. Great Article and beautiful pictures! I am going to Iceland in December for 9-day tour. Hopefully, I will get to see northern lights. Can you describe what photo gear you used for taking these pictures? I am selecting on lenses I need to carry. I am also going through a lot of videos posted on youtube and other blogs. Any tips from you would be appreciated! Also, do have any recommendations for food stops/must go places while on wheels..? ( I am a vegan, so I know this is going to be tough!)

    • Hi Omkar, Yes we hope you get lucky with the Northern lights as well, download some Northern light apps to get notifications on them during your stay.
      To answer your questions – About camera gear: We will highly recommend a tripod (esp for northern lights), a polarizer (for daytime), remote shutter and a water protective gear for your camera. For the lenses, we always have a wide angle in our bag and our go to lens is 18-135mm since we love shooting landscapes. Now to be honest we also carried our zoom 70-300mm with us to Iceland but probably only used it a handful of times shooting birds/horses and a few far away sunsets in the entire trip. I guess it boils down to what your ultimate goal of photography is going to be in Iceland. Man.. We should perhaps just do a quick post on camera gear to carry ūüėõ
      About food: Ah, you will have plenty of veggie options in Reykjavik. It’s a multicultural city. But as you drive further away from the city (for e.g. South Iceland) you will have very limited food stops. Restaurants are going to be a part of guesthouses/ hotels in these areas. If you are a strict Vegan (i.e. no diary etc) then perhaps keep some backup options in your backpack in case you can’t find true vegan food out in the dirt. But we are sure you can find vegetarian food here.
      Hope this helps. ūüôā

  2. Oh wow. Really nice post. We did so erging similar and your post brought back all those memories. I have that Iceland post also on my blog at BeeTravelista website. Hope that brings you memories too ūüôā

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