Iceland has gained much popularity as an international travel destination in the last decade and some. With its erupting volcanoes and blasting geysers, majestic canyons and waterfalls, massive glaciers and black sand beaches, and striking mountains against coastal cliffs, there’s really no other island that compares to mainland Iceland’s diverse landscapes. The only way to experience its authentic and natural scenery to the fullest is by being behind the wheel and roaming Iceland with your own vehicle.
Though some folks may decide to go clockwise on their Iceland road trip, I recommend, if weather conditions permit, to go counter-clockwise on your first road trip in Iceland. Why? Because it allows you to get a lay of the land in a foreign country before you reach more remote regions. The South part of Iceland, where you’ll begin your journey, is highly popular and infrastructure is really developed bringing ease to visitors. Cellphone service is strong and if you ever need assistance, there are nearby towns and lots of flowing traffic to ask for help. You’ll also be able to knock off most of the popular attractions and landmarks on your itinerary while you’re getting acquainted with the country.
- What You Should Know Before Traveling to Iceland
- Day 1 – Arrival & Seljalandsfoss
- Day 2 – Skógafoss, Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach) & Vík
- Day 3 – Fjaðrárgljúfur & Múlagljúfur Canyons, Jökulsárlón Glacier & Diamond Beach
- Day 4 – Stokksnes, Skútafoss & East Fjords
- Day 5 – Stuðlagil Canyon, Dettifoss, Mývatn & Goðafoss
- Day 6 – West Fjords: Dynjandi
- Day 7 – West Fjords: Látrabjarg & Rauðisandur (Red Sand Beach)
- Day 8 – Snæfellsjökull National Park, Reykjavík & Sky Lagoon
- Day 9 – Háifoss, Golden Circle & Þingvellir National Park
- Day 10 – Fagradalsfjall Volcano & Blue Lagoon
What You Should Know Before Traveling to Iceland
It can get overwhelming as you plan this trip of a lifetime to one of the most extraordinary places on the planet. Not sure what to pack? Whether to rent a camper van or to book multiple accommodations? How to predict the constantly changing weather conditions? I’ve put together everything you need to know as you prepare for your trip to Iceland. Always feel free to reach out with any questions if I haven’t already addressed them!
Now without further ado, let’s get to this 10-day Iceland Ring Road itinerary that will allow you the flexibility of a phenomenal self-guided tour!
Tap on any added location on the map for a little spiel and sneak peak of the destination!
Day 1 – Arrival & Seljalandsfoss
Your first day arriving in Iceland may have a slow start as you get things sorted to hit the highway. So not having a jam-packed schedule might work in your favour! Whether you’re picking up a rental car or a camper van, it will take you some time to drive out of the Keflavík/Reykjavík area and get on the Ring Road.
Wondering if a camper van is better suited for your trip to Iceland? Check out my top reasons for why you should consider camper-vanning!
Don’t forget to grab some food on the way out, especially if you’re cooking for yourself! Costco is a great spot to grab food in bulk (like delicious pre-made sandwiches for which the price won’t make you gasp), or check out the local favourite Bónus for your supermarket for your snack and meal-making necessities.
If you’re not taking on the van-life in Iceland but renting a car with various home bases across the island, you can still make a shopping trip for snacks and pre-made meals to go for the road. With food and dining being quite pricey in the country, having a grocery run to last you a couple of days is definitely a budget-friendly option and can keep you from having to make stops for food mid-day. Verify that your accommodations have a refrigerator you can use before buying too many food items!
You’ve arrived at your very first Iceland landmark, the gorgeous waterfall that falls off a concave cliff, creating a cave you walk through: Seljalandsfoss. Prepare to get wet as you follow the muddy trail behind the waterfall and all the way around! It’s a misty one but so worth the circle to walk through.
With that said, you’ll want to prepare your Iceland trip with a few items to pack including waterproof gear. Check out my Iceland packing must-haves for a list of minimum things to bring on your trip!
You might spot your first herd of sheep here too or along the trail parallel to the cliff leading to some smaller waterfalls!
If you’ve reached Seljalandsfoss in the evening and are camper-vanning, there’s an affordable campsite right by the falls for 1,500 ISK PPPN that you can rest at after your long day of travels. Laundry is also available onsite for an additional cost.
Day 2 – Skógafoss, Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach) & Vík
The mighty Skógafoss lies about half an hour’s drive from Seljalandsfoss and a number of guest houses and hotels neighbour the waterfall if you’re planning to stay in housing accommodations. A few restaurants and food trucks are also in the area for some morning dining.
Skógafoss was one of our favourite waterfalls because it looked like a sheet of white draped over a wide cliff. It was as picturesque as we imagined and we were glad we got here earlier in the morning to just miss the crowds!
A set of metal stairs lines the right side of the cliff to reach a viewing platform right above the top of the falls. It’s a bit of a workout but worht the trip up. You’ll find that a trail continues northwards and you can hike along Waterfall Way to hit up as many waterfalls you can for an out-and-back hike. Hiking along Fimmvörðuháls trail is definitely an underrated experience in Iceland and it leads to a total of 26 different waterfalls along a 13-km (8-mile) stretch! We chose not to do the trail but added it to our list for our next Iceland trip.
Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
Next up is the famous plane wreck that you might’ve seen Justin Bieber skateboarding on in his I’ll Show You music video. It’s kind of a neat sight to see but nothing more than that. In my honest opinion, it wasn’t worth the nearly 2-hour trek on an open gravel road, there and back, just to see an abandoned wreckage on a remote beach with nothing else surrounding it.
I’ve added the Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck for those of you wanting to know where it is and with a warning that is it quite underwhelming. I recommend saving your energy for more incredible sights to come but hey, if you’re a history buff, by all means don’t skip it! It can still make for some pretty cool photo ops.
Immense arches and cliffs protruding out of the ocean have given this place its name, which means “the hill island with the door hole”. You might recognize the arch structure from Game of Thrones if you’re a fan. Being high off on the cliff and facing the Atlantic Ocean head-on can make this area extremely windy, so wear your puffer jacket or windbreaker and be weary near the edges. The trails only have a thigh-high rope to guard you from the getting too close to the edges and marking the areas you shouldn’t go beyond. Pay attention to those and you’ll be fine!
A memorable landmark at Dyrhólaey is the white rectangular lighthouse that stands tall on the cliff. You can’t miss it!
Reynisfjara will be the first place you come in contact with the midnight black sand and pebbles as well as the fascinating basalt columns. The volcanic activity on this island is so grand and there are traces of it literally everywhere in Iceland.
Be sure to check out the grand Reynisfjara basalt columns and the Hálsanefshellir cave created by the rectangular, curved stacks while you’re here. Walk along the Black Sand Beach while facing the water – careful to keep an eye out for creeper waves – and you’ll be able to get a closer view of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks. Such a crazy phenomenon!
Vík í Mýrdal
Right before entering the town of Vík í Mýrdal, there’s a bit of a hidden gem canyon on the left side of the road that you might like to check out and escape the crowds. You may even see some folks zip-lining across the stream! We loved escaping to this little nook of the island with barely anyone in sight and just a short walk from the highway.
Vík is a beautiful and quaint town, with a cute red and white church sitting atop a hill. After leaving Reykjavík, this is the first coastal view you’ll likely see and it’ll certainly catch your eye with the towering rock walls surrounding you, the sea at your finger tips and the incredible looking sea stacks jutting out of the water that you were in close proximity to at your last destination. Take the opportunity to grab a bite to eat as the day reaches an end.
If you’ve packed in a sense of adventure in your camper van and have time to spare before nightfall, our favourite campsite in all of Iceland is some distance (16 km or 10 miles) down a bumpy road called Kerlingardalsvegur. Driving to the Þakgil campsite is not an easy feat and won’t be doable with a low-clearance vehicle and difficult without a 4×4. If your vehicle is equipped for the journey, definitely consider driving on this off-road terrain for a beautiful oasis to eat, shower and rest in the heart of remote Iceland. It’s 2,300 ISK PPPN with showers included.
Day 3 – Fjaðrárgljúfur & Múlagljúfur Canyons, Jökulsárlón Glacier & Diamond Beach
The large and wide Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is so mesmerizing with its tall, jagged rock faces that are so intensely green, with a blue, glacial river flowing through it to contrast against the vibrant green. There’s a trail that lines the east side of the canyon, paved with a grated metal and rubber path to create traction for visitors and to prevent us from stepping through mud. The path is uphill but short and leads to a viewpoint where you can see down into the canyon and just across to the Mögáfoss waterfall from a red viewing platform.
Not too different from Fjaðrárgljúfur, Múlagljúfur is a majestic canyon that you don’t want to miss. The downside though is getting there is not as easy. The turn off from Highway 1 is a completely unmarked dirt road heading north and there’s no name for it. But if you’ve reached the exit for the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon then you’ve just passed it. The dirt road is about 3.5 km (2.2 miles) west of the Fjallsárlón exit.
Driving along this road might not be the easiest with a 2-wheel drive vehicle but still possible. You might have to cross a stream and if the water is rushing too high, don’t attempt to keep driving and know your limit. If it’s clear enough, keep driving until you find yourself in a gravel clearing to park and start hiking.
The hike is about 7 km (4.4 miles) roundtrip with moderate difficulty as you navigate on a trail that’s only marked by stakes in the ground and takes you along some inclines with narrow paths and down river gullies. You’ll see your first waterfall on the opposite side of the canyon and that’s Hangandifoss. Keep hiking up a little further and you’ll find Múlafoss centred at the far end of the canyon creating that symmetric and breathtaking view that is iconic to Iceland. This place is definitely a bit of a secret canyon but well worth the visit for an authentic Iceland experience.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
You won’t be able to miss this large, blue lagoon made of glacier runoff and emerging icebergs. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon gets its meltwater from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which is a small part of Europe’s second largest ice cap, Vatnajökull. This icy lake offers a number of tours that will keep your eyes wide with intrigue. Between large and small group boat tours in the lagoon and ice cave adventures, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the ice formations within Iceland’s crown jewel.
Across the highway is the famous Diamond Beach, a black sand stretch littered with crystal-like pieces of ice that the waves pull up onto the shore. These pieces are fragments of icebergs that drift from the Atlantic Ocean throughout the entire year. You’ll find small and large chunks and everything in between.
There are plenty of highly rated and modern guesthouses right off Route 1, such as the Seljavellir Guesthouse near Hofn. Campsites are also found in the town of Hofn, or you can get yourself a place right by the first stop on tomorrow’s itinerary and stay at the Stokksnes campsite (by the Viking Cafe) which is 2,000 ISK PPPN.
Day 4 – Stokksnes, Skútafoss & East Fjords
The Stokksnes peninsula has got to be among our top places in all of Iceland, if not our favourite. It’s a vast peninsula with Vestrahorn Mountain as the hero, and the area is nothing short of camera-worthy. What makes it so unique is the fine black sand that makes up the beach. As the sea waves come in and create calm lagoons, the majestic Vestrahorn reflects against the shiny black sand, and photographers and tourists alike aren’t able to keep their eyes off the view. There are patches of greenery amidst the ripples of sand that you’ll spot on your way down from the road to the shore.
If you’ve stayed overnight at the Vestrahorn campsite, your entry fee to Stokksnes is covered in your stay! Visiting the site for the day constitutes a 900 ISK entrance cost per person (whether walking or driving down the road) as the peninsula is on private property. Apart from Stokksnes, there is only one other natural site in Iceland where an admission fee applies which we’ll be seeing later on this trip.
Tucked behind mountains on the east is a short yet magnetizing twin waterfall called Skútafoss. The water is a saturated blue against the dark background with mountains peering over further back. It’s a short hike from the parking lot and crosses some marshy terrain and streams after some days of rain. You can make your way to the base of the falls and walk to the back of it while staying mindful of the slippery ground. But I loved the view from atop – simply take a few steps and scramble to a flat rock platform to see the two falls cascading down to the blue pool.
Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach
The Hvalnes peninsula has a black rock beach made of shiny pebbles – not just round and black but smooth ones of all colours and shapes! I felt like the kid spotting them on the beach and creating a colourful and brilliant pile. Hvalnes connects the three “horned” mountains: Vestrahorn, Brunnhorn and Eystrahorn, creating a contrasting landscape made of towering peaks and vast ocean. The black pebble beach stretches out along a far distance with water on both sides, separating an entire lagoon from the sea. After parking, you might also see a bank of swans swimming in the water prior to making your way to the beach.
The East Fjords is one of Iceland’s most awe-inspiring yet untouched territory. Many of what you would think are attractions to visit barely have a name, sign or dirt patch to leave your car. My suggestion is to just take an easy drive taking in the view and stop where you see fit at any exit. We found this one spot by sheer luck, having no idea what it was called, but later seeing that it was Lækjavik after zooming into Google Maps. You won’t have much access to data along this section of Iceland but you’ll love every minute of the remoteness of the land when you find that you have a lot of these unmarked spots all to yourself.
At this headland, you’ll spot deep black sea stacks projecting out of the sea with the waves crashing into them, luscious green turf covering the volcanic rock cliffs and some of the mountains you just drove by.
What a formidable drive the East Fjords is! If you continue along Route 1 and stay adjacent to the coast – rather than take the shortcut north on Route 95 – the drive will be longer but 1000% worth it as you take in the sights of out-of-this-world mountain peaks, sea cliffs and gorgeous bays.
You’ll soon enough arrive in the town of Egilsstaðir but there’s still much of the East to see before the sun sets. A half-hour drive from Egilsstaðir is the town of Seyðisfjörður, where you’ll find a picturesque church called Seyðisfjarðarkirkja known for it’s bright white-blue colour and a paved rainbow paved road leading to it. On the way to the vibrant coastal town is Gufufoss, a waterfall with an apparent rectangular shape and misty vapours at the base.
Half an hour from Egilsstaðir in the opposite direction, along the Lagarfljót lake, is a unique waterfall called Hengifoss. An hour uphill hike from the car park leads you to Iceland’s third tallest waterfall amidst basaltic strata with layers of red clay separating the black, volcanic rock layers. It’s a fiery sight if you’re up for the trek at the end of day 4!
To relax at the end of your overwhelming day venturing in the East Fjords, you can book a reservation at the serene thermal Vök Baths, that stretch into the natural Urriðavatn lake in Egilsstaðir. The facilities are open daily at 12-10pm.
You can stay overnight in Egilsstaðir where there is a variety of supermarkets, gas stations, campsites and hotels. Camp Egilsstaðir is 2,000 ISK PPPN with hot showers, a kitchen to cook in, a living room, laundry and onsite Wifi included. As there is no attendant at the front, payment is made online prior to driving into your dedicated camp stall.
Day 5 – Stuðlagil Canyon, Dettifoss, Mývatn & Goðafoss
One of the most surreal natural sites in all of Iceland has to be Stuðlagil. This canyon is composed of tall basalt columns that remind me of the pipes of an organ. There is red clay that streams down to the base where the columns descend into steps leading to the river flowing through the canyon. When the water flow isn’t too strong, the river will shine a vibrant blue colour which is a marvellous contrast against the black and red of the basalts.
Reaching Stuðlagil can be a little tricky. In the map above, I’ve added the exact location for you to reach the best parking spot. You’ll be driving along Route 923, but if you continue without staying on the lookout, you’ll end up at the Stuðlagil canyon parking right beside the site’s only campsite. There is a set of built metal stairs that will lead you down to a viewing platform but nowhere beyond it. For the best vantage point, turn left from Route 923 when you see a sign for Stuðlagil with a hiking symbol. This will lead you to another parking lot and then a small bridge. If you have a 4×4 or a car with decent clearance, you can cross the bridge and drive off-road until you arrive at the unmarked parking lot that I saved on the map and then start your hike. If you don’t feel comfortable making the drive past the bridge, park at the lot before it and hike from there.
At the start of the hike, you’ll spot a waterfall streaming down basalts which will be an indication that you’ve come to the right place! The hike will go through a couple of gates on famers’ private property. Don’t worry! You’re able to open and go through the gates as long as you remain on the trail.
Dettifoss & Selfoss
In Vatnajökull National Park, you’ll find Europe’s second most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss, whose name is akin to “the collapsing waterfall”. There are two ways you can visit Dettifoss: the west and east sides of the river. To get to the east side (smaller parking lot) is by way of Route 864, a dirt road that isn’t paved yet and will welcome you with a bumpy ride. The west side (much larger parking lot) is by way of Route 862, a shorter and paved drive.
The west side offers maintained facilities with marked trails leading you to the waterfall with various viewing points and constructed platforms. It’s about 800 m (0.5 miles) with a slight downhill incline from the lot. The downside of the west? The view of Dettifoss is slightly cut-off and more vapours rise up towards this end making it a wetter and less visible adventure. The east side doesn’t provide a marked trail but is only about 400 m (0.25 miles) down boulders to reach a large, natural landing made of rocks where you can view Dettifoss. It’s less wet here and you can get real close to the top of the falls! There’s no wonder we spotted so many photographers on this side of the river.
Selfoss is the waterfall upstream of the thundering Dettifoss. Though not as immense and powerful as Dettifoss, Selfoss falls gracefully and is incredibly refined with numerous pockets of water streams spilling over and between the rugged rocks. The trail to follow on the west side is easy but your view here is hindered because Selfoss is actually falling from this side of the waterway. The view from the east side is much more captivating but the trail is more of a scramble over boulders.
You can decide which starting point to visit these two waterfalls is better suited for you! Or with enough time and energy, you can check out both by visiting the east side first as the parking lot can get filled quickly.
Mývatn is Northern Iceland’s vast, volcanic lake surrounded by geothermal activity.
On your way to Mývatn, you can hit up the Krafla Crater, an active caldera made of red soil containing a turquoise blue lake. You can hear the steam of the nearby hot springs spewing out clouds in a hiss. The next potential stop is the bubble mud pools of Hverir where steaming fumaroles emit hot sulphuric gas. This one will likely have you covering your entire face to shield it from the smell, but the site looks like Mars with veins of milky blue hot water streaming through the red landscape.
You can spend your afternoon grabbing food in the lakeside town of Reykjahlíð, visit the subterranean cavern of Grjótagjá that inspired the Game of Thrones scene with Ygritte and Jon Snow, and then go soak in the mineral-rich, milky blue, natural pool of Mývatn Nature Baths. Relaxing here rendered my skin silky smooth and recovered my muscles from the last few days!
Last on today’s list is Goðafoss, the “waterfall of the gods”. It’s as spectacular as it sounds and you can view it from below as well as above. The parking lots that lead you to both sides are only a few minutes apart across a bridge. You can reach the base of the falls by parking on the east and hiking down the trail and set of stairs to reach the rock bed by the water. The west lot will bring you to a paved path with a number of viewing platforms and benches, allowing you to see the crystal blue water and cascade of white from above.
You can claim your sleep in or near the city of Akureyri. They have all your camping needs at Camp Hamrar for 1,900 ISK PPPN and the entire site is secured with a 24/7 attendant. There are two buildings for facilities and a whole living space with tables and games in the main one.
Day 6 – West Fjords: Dynjandi
On Route to the West Fjords
Day 6 would be a strenuous driving day as you make your way to the wild West Fjords. From Akureyri to the first notable site in the West Fjords, it’s at minimum a 6.5-hour drive, but often times our map apps underestimate the true time it takes to drive up and down these winding, gravel roads.
As you continue driving counter-clockwise on the Ring Road in the North of Iceland, you’ll find that most of the roads are underdeveloped and unpaved, making it more tiresome to drive. There also isn’t too much going on in terms of scenery on this section of Route 1, but if you want to check one landmark on your way to the West Fjords, Hvítserkur is a fascinating basalt stack along the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula that resembles a dragon. Route 711 from the Ring Road isn’t pleasant to drive on and is over half an hour’s drive to reach this one attraction, but I’ll leave it up to you if you seek to make time for it!
The West Fjords are the oldest geological corner of Iceland and offer dramatic scenes of flat-top mountains, vast green pastures, never-ending fjords and even golden-red sand beaches. If you’re on the hunt to see puffins and other marvellous birds during the summer months, this part of Iceland is the best for bird watching. Though it diverges from our beloved Ring Road, I suggest making time for it in your road trip itinerary, particularly if you’re here during the summer months. It’s hands down worth the trip out here, even if all you do is drive!
As towns are few and far between, be sure to fill up on gas, groceries and other necessities before heading across into this wing of the country. I also recommend not making the drive through the mountains and fjords in the dark – you don’t want to miss out on those incredible views or drive the rough terrain with low visibility – so if you can’t make it out there in the day, find a place to sleep (such as Borðeyri before departing from Route 1) and make the drive the next morning. If you can make it into the West Fjords this day, then all the better!
The West Fjords have a shorter season than the rest of Iceland. Even at the end of September we were hit with snow and the roads were covered in white! Thankfully, our 4×4 camper and snow tires got us through the many uphills and downhills of the region’s unpaved and snaking roads, and we managed to reach the one and only Dynjandi in due time. Dynjandi translates to “thunderous” and you can hear the roaring of the falls as you approach it. On top of the unique appearance of a wide bridal veil, it’s actually a series of many different waterfalls that you’ll pass as you hike up to the base of the main one. There are signs at each waterfall overlook giving them a designated Icelandic name.
Even if you only manage to hit up this one site in all of West Fjords, it’ll be worth it!
Make the most of your West Fjords road trip by camping overnight in one of their isolated campsites. There are a few sporadic ones either near Dynjandi or closer to tomorrow’s landmarks. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see the Northern Lights make an appearance between the months of September and March.
Day 7 – West Fjords: Látrabjarg & Rauðisandur (Red Sand Beach)
Látrabjarg is the westernmost point in all of Iceland and these massive sea cliffs are home to many migrating sea-birds that you can spot between mid-May and late August. It’s one of the most vital habitats for these species of birds since of the world’s population come to breed and nest on these rocky cliffs. You’ll likely catch puffins the most as well as razorbills, guillemots and many other species chilling on the edges. You can spend a few hours walking alongside these cliffs before heading back east.
Also known as the Red Sand Beach, Rauðisandur is one of Iceland’s few golden sand beaches and shines a bright red colour in certain lighting. From up top on the cliffs as you’re driving down, you can see veins of blue ocean water curving through the red sand when the tide is low.
The drive down the mountain is steep and narrow down these tight switchbacks with no guardrails. Be cautious as you’re driving here and passing oncoming vehicles. It’s a bit of a detour from the main road Route 612 but can make for a wholesome experience if your time is flexible and the weather seems promising. After driving down the switchbacks on Route 614, make a right and drive on Saurbær road until you reach a black church on the right-hand side called Saurbæjarkirkja and park there. From here you can walk across the fields and wade in the shallow creeks (which are cold but bearable) until you arrive at the vast red beach.
It can take up to an hour to do this one-way journey, so if you want to bypass this, instead of making a right turn off Route 614, make a left at that T-intersection and drive all the way down to Melanes campsite. A much shorter walk from the car but with a different perspective of the beach. In the summertime, you’ll likely spot seals sunbathing on the sand!
With much more to see in beautiful Iceland, your time in the West Fjords must sadly end here. I recommend making your way to the town of Grundarfjörður where there are restaurants and guesthouses to spend the evening before tomorrow’s adventures. If you prefer to skip over the long drive back along the fjords on Route 60, you can also opt for a one-way ferry ride with Ferry Baldur from Brjánslækur to Stykkishólmur with your vehicle, which takes 2.5 hours but you can kick back, relax and save on gas.You can reserve online and check out the ferry price list here!
The low-maintenance Grundarfjörður campsite is enough to get a restful night for you camper-vanners and is situated above the town with a unique view of Kirkjufell Mountain and the sea for 1,600 ISK PPPN.
Day 8 – Snæfellsjökull National Park, Reykjavík & Sky Lagoon
Wake up to a sunrise at the most photographed place in Iceland: Kirkjufellsfoss. Named after Kirkjufell Mountain for the picturesque view of this unique peak in the background, it’s an astounding waterfall to capture in photo and video. There’s no wonder why you’ll catch photographers lined up shoulder to shoulder with their tripods here, pretty much at any time of day! Kirkjufell means “church mountain” as it supposedly looks like a church. I think it looks more like a pointy hat from this perspective. What do you think?
Regardless, it has to be one of the most unique sights I’ve ever seen, and being here first thing in the morning will give you the peace of being one of the only ones to admire it, even if just for a brief moment.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
Continue heading west to take in the incredible scenery that Snæfellsjökull National Park has to offer. This peninsula is impeccable with an active volcano, glacier and the natural traces that these phenomena create.
Start your drive in a counter-clockwise direction and you’ll be able to visit Svöðufoss waterfall with the Snæfellsjökull glacier-peaked volcanic mountain towering behind it. Skarðsvík Beach is next by taking an exit off the main route and rectangular red Svörtuloft Lighthouse is found at the end of the road. Getting back on the main loop, you can stop at Saxhóll Crater and climb the red metal stair case to the ridge of the crater. Djúpalónssandur is the beach you’ll see the iconic lava rock formations of the national park and Lóndrangar has rock pinnacles towering on the coast as well. At Arnarstapi, you can walk the cliffs and climb the narrow stone bridge. And lastly, visit the Insta-famous black church called Búðakirkja to finish your circle around Snæfellsjökull.
After leaving the national park and as you head back to Reykjavík for your next leg of the trip, make a stop at Ytri Tunga along Route 54 to spot a colony of seals lounging on the shore!
One of the tallest structures in Iceland, the Hallgrímskirkja Church is Reykjavík’s most astounding landmark. It’s a Lutheran parish church with modern architectural features that will catch your eye while you’re pretty much anywhere in the city as it towers over the low skyline of Reykjavík. The design of the church draws inspiration from the Iceland’s true nature, resembling a volcano’s pinnacle and parabolic curves. If you look closely, you can see that its façade is made up of hexagonal columnar arrangements taking after the cooled lava basalts you’ve so far seen throughout the country.
Reykjavík Food Tour
Going on a food tour is a popular experience in Reykjavík for good reason. You’ll be able to get a taste (pun not intended) of the Icelandic food scene, which you probably haven’t been able to dabble in thus far. On the road, you’ve likely been feasting on gas station hot dogs and regular grocery store food, which is definitely the way to go on a budget. But this experience will open you up to the food culture you might’ve been missing out on your trip in Iceland. You can book your Reykjavík Food Walk and try more than 10 different local cuisines before your Iceland trip comes to an end!
If you’re not much of a keen foodie but hoping to relax and refresh the rest of the day, skip the food tour and satisfy your hunger at 101 Reykjavík Street Food instead! Then make your way to the the next spot on the itinerary.
The newest addition to Iceland’s luxury spa realm is Sky Lagoon and you will feel the contemporary yet traditional Icelandic geothermal bathing culture as soon as you walk through the doors. I adored the aesthetic of Sky Lagoon: from the interior finishes in the foyer, the way they made a public changing room classy, to the outdoor structures composed of volcanic rocks that give you the sensation of being in the natural wilderness of an Icelandic landscape. My favourite feature has to be the infinity section that overlooks the ocean, making the thermal pool seem like it’s never ending.
There are a number of packages you can select at Sky Lagoon at different price points, giving you options between simple general admission, the luxury of private changing facilities and the use of signature amenities, experience their unique seven-step ritual, or enjoying a date night for two with included drinks and food.
The Sky Lagoon seven-step ritual includes first settling into the lagoon, then taking a dip in the cold plunge pool. For steps 3-6, you make your way through the door of the traditional-looking hut for an invigorating experience of relaxing in the large sauna with a view, stepping into the cold mist, then spreading the signature Sky Body Scrub on your skin before enveloping yourself in a blanket of hot mist in the steam room. Then you’ll step into the shower before coming full circle back to the lagoon.
We loved our Pure Pass experience with the seven-step ritual and spent ample time in the large lagoon with a drink from the bar. Had the packages for two been available at the time, we would’ve definitely gone for the Pure Pass for Two! We very much enjoyed the luxury of this new geothermal spa facility at the tail end of our trip and hope you can too!
Stay the night in Reykjavík at one of its numerous campsites, guesthouses and hotels! The choices are abundant here and facilities are fairly inclusive wherever you choose.
Day 9 – Háifoss, Golden Circle & Þingvellir National Park
The Kerid Crater is a scenic site, with reddish rock surrounding a blue lake at the bottom of this millennia-old crater. You can walk the entirety of its ridge and down the steps to the foot of the lake. But a fee of 400 ISK is needed to enter which is put towards maintaining the site. It’s a small natural attraction and may be underwhelming considering the required cost to visit. It’s part of the Golden Circle but don’t feel obligated to stop here if you’ve already seen Krafla Crater in the North.
Diverting from the Golden Circle, this canyon filled with tall waterfalls was a must, even in non-ideal weather and up a treacherous road on Route 332 with potholes and intersecting creeks. Don’t make the drive here if you don’t feel comfortable with your vehicle! But do, if you want to steer away from the crowd of tourists for a minute.
It’s definitely quite the detour but impeccably beautiful. You can walk the trail that follows the edge of the cliff and can continue hiking all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, which we saw some do. They definitely seemed to be having a great time down by one of the waterfalls, but the winds and snow were way too strong so we chose to stay above.
Head back onto the Golden Circle following Route 30 towards the Northeast corner to check out the next site. Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most grand waterfalls though it falls at a shorter height than others. It will start to get busy here as the morning invites all the tour groups to this popular neck of Iceland, so the earlier you arrive, the better.
Where our word “geyser” is derived from, Geysir is a hot springs area with bubbling mud pools and – you guessed it – geysers. The main geyser called Strokkur erupts every 10-15 minutes so you’ll definitely have the opportunity to catch it in action as it spews hot water 10 m (30 ft) into the air! The parking gets busy for this attraction so aim to come before 10am or after 4pm.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
The scenery of this park was dramatic enough that Game of Thrones once again wanted to shoot here. It really is formidable to be amidst the only place on Earth where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet above the sea. You can in fact walk within the rift valley between the Almannagjá fault and Heidargja gorge. Crazy to behold this continental divide along a constructed walk path!
Þingvellir National Park has no entry gate but a 500 ISK parking fee that covers your day-long pass and all parking lots. It’s an incredibly developed area considering the high numbers of visitors, and makes you feel the contrast with a lot of what you’ve already seen and walked in Iceland. Öxarárfoss is nestled in this valley and sure is a beauty.
Now, one activity you must consider doing in Þingvellir is the ultimate experience of snorkeling between two drifting continents at in the Þingvallavatn Lake at Silfra. This is the only place on the planet where you can do this! Dive in crystal blue glacial water in this continental divide, but prepare for the cold water as it is consistently 2-4°C (35-39°F) year-round.
Get close to tomorrow’s locations by staying in Grindavík. The Grindavík campsite has one of the best facilities in Iceland for 2,000 ISK PPPN. Its large kitchen has a lot of leftover packaged foods and cooking necessities left by previous guests you are free to use. It can get busy here so try to book in advance.
Day 10 – Fagradalsfjall Volcano & Blue Lagoon
Hiking to see the Fagradalsfjall Volcano may either be the most epic experience on your Iceland trip or just meh. The volcano just performed the longest eruption in the 21st century, running from March 19th to September 18th, 2021. If you’re visiting Iceland while it’s erupting and flowing red, add this on your itinerary if you’ve packed in your sense of adventure and are up for a little more hiking! You’ll want to adjust your itinerary slightly to match your schedule with the time of its eruption. We messed up on that part thinking we could just show up and it would put on a show for us – but don’t leave it up to chance if this is high up on your bucket list! Be prepared as it erupts cyclically.
How you can predict the Fagradalsfjall’s eruption is by way of live feed camera (which you can view through this link) and its ten-day seismograph, which will give you a ballpark for when the next periodic expulsion could be.
Hiking to the various volcano/crater viewpoints are on somewhat rough terrain with loose lava rock and steep sections. There are different paths you can take with designated parking zones, but these change over time depending on the safest routes determined. With the current map laid out, we took Path C which wasn’t too long or strenuous and gave us a view of the illuminated crater. Sadly, we missed the eruption but saw the vapours glow in the rising sun and hiked along recently cooled rivers of lava which was a first for us. And so we felt that our volcano hike, though not at the ideal time, was not in vain.
End your monumental Iceland saga with a victorious dip in the famous Blue Lagoon! Though some might say it is over-hyped, you can’t deny the magic of these milky blue, silky waters. It’s an incredibly picturesque spa, much like Sky Lagoon. Pamper yourself with a day visit, dining and/or a stay at their Silica or Retreat Hotel. It’s quite the oasis amidst this land of volcano!
That’s a wrap! A complete and unhidden self-guided tour through the Ring Road and must-see stretches of mainland Iceland. I hope that this provides you with all the information you need to plan your epic road trip on this remote and fascinating Nordic island, and will leave you with no regret. There may be some items on this list that you might miss – it’s the reality of limited time and unfavourable weather conditions. But missing some here and there will give you all the more reason to visit Iceland again! In the meantime, make the most of your upcoming ventures to this breathtaking country.