How to Drive the Iceland Ring Road: Everything You Need to Know
ring road

How to Drive the Iceland Ring Road: Everything You Need to Know

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Iceland is open to vaccinated travelers, and there may be no better destination for a trip this summer or fall. So if you’re heading to Iceland (and you should), there’s one absolutely can’t-miss-it activity: You simply must drive the Iceland Ring Road. 

The Ring Road snakes its way around the entire island, showing you every nook and cranny of Iceland and its majestic natural beauty. Whether you’ve got just a few days or two weeks or more, spend as much time as you can winding your way across the island to explore its waterfalls, hot springs, and other stunning landscapes.

There’s no better way to soak in the unbelievable natural scenery of the island. Here is everything you need to know.

Thrifty Tip: Looking for a full map guide to the Ring Road? Check out this Iceland Ring Road Google My Maps. Each day’s attractions are color-coded by day and plotted on the map.
 

 

Renting a Car to Drive the Ring Road in Iceland

First things first: You’ll need some wheels.

We decided to rent a camper van and stay at campsites along the Ring Road. While it won’t be for everyone, it was a great way to maximize our time and save on accommodations. Check out our guide to renting a camper van in Iceland to see what it was like!
 

iceland ring road camper van 

No matter your vehicle, The Ring Road is very well paved and an easy drive! There aren’t many other cars on the road and it’s basically one big circle, so it’s nearly impossible to get lost. A few attractions around the Ring Road require a short drive on a gravel road, but nothing a standard sedan (or even a camper van) couldn’t handle.

The drive around the Ring Road isn’t as long as it may seem. It took about 24 total hours behind the wheel driving the Ring Road – in our case, over the course of eight days. Just how long or short will your trip take? It depends on how often you stop to explore waterfalls, craters, and other attractions along the way.

We went in early May, which gave us plenty of daylight until well after 10 p.m. That made it much easier to squeeze in the daily drive and everything we wanted to see.

Is eight days too long or too short for you? Be sure to create a Ring Road plan that matches your travel pace.

 

Start the Ring Road at the Iceland Golden Circle

If you haven’t been to Iceland before or made it to the Golden Circle, it’s the perfect starting point.

The Golden Circle is a good way to dip your toes into the natural beauty of Iceland. Just a short ways away from Reykjavik, the entire drive takes about three hours – not including any stops you take to soak in the views. It consists of three main stops: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.

 

Thingvellier National Park

The first stop along the Golden Circle is the Öxarárfoss Waterfall, one of the main attractions inside Thingvellier National Park. Öxarárfoss is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. This area also has crazy rock formations and a gorgeous lake!

Thrifty Tip: Before setting out on your Ring Road adventure, make a stop at Costco. Buying food in advance will save you a lot of money. Check out other money-saving tips for Iceland!
 

iceland ring road oxararfoss 

Next up: head to the Kerid Crater. You can walk all the way around it, and even down to the water.
 

ring road

 

Geysir Geothermal Area

There plenty of geothermal areas scattered across Iceland, and Geysir makes for a great first experience.

It’s one of the most popular stops, but it also has a convenience store and gas station nearby. That makes it a great place for a pit stop.

Pro tip: Start the Golden Circle earlier in the day to beat the guided tours coming from Reykjavik.

 

iceland ring road geysir
 

Gullfoss Waterfall

Drive to the northernmost point of the Golden Circle to see the famous Gullfoss Waterfall. This waterfall and the gorge it runs through are absolutely stunning. You can often see a rainbow in the mist here!
 

iceland ring road gullfoss 

There are definitely other sights to see around the Golden Circle, but the Secret Lagoon Hot Spring is a favorite stop to relax. This is a natural hot spring amongst the rolling hills. It’s cheaper than the Blue Lagoon, crystal clear, and quite hot!
 

ring road 

Thrifty Tip:  If you’re camping, a good first stop is at Hamragarðar campsite. It is right next to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall with a spectacular view.

 

The Road to Vik

After checking out the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, head toward the famous Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool. You need to drive on a pretty rough gravel road with potholes to get to the carpark, and then hike about half an hour to get to the pool.

We didn’t swim here, but feel free to enter at your own (bacterial) risk!
 

iceland ring road

 

Skogafoss Waterfall

Only a 10-minute drive from the swimming pool carpark is Skogafoss Waterfall. It’s just one stunning spectacle after another in Iceland!

This is one of the main tourist attractions, since everything on the way to Vik is an easy day trip from Reykjavik. Climb up the many stairs on the right side to get a view from the top.
 

iceland ring road waterfall 

Another stop you could add is the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier. You can walk right up to the glacier here.
 

Eyjafjallajökull glacier 

Don’t be afraid to take pit-stops along your way on the Ring Road. Some of the best spots you’ll find won’t be on your itinerary.

 

Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

About 10 minutes further from the Skogafoss Waterfall, you’ll find the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. 

From the carpark along the road to the plane wreck is an hour walk – and it’s not a pretty hike, but a flat, straight path. To get in and out quicker, take the shuttle for about $12 USD.

This is a fairly popular tourist spot, and it doesn’t hold a candle to the natural wonders you’ll see on the rest of your trip.

 

Black Sand Beach

Just a few minutes’ drive from the plane wreck carpark on the Ring Road are these unbeatable coastal views. Drive up to the Dyrhólaey viewpoint to get an awesome view of the Black Sand Beach and beautiful Dyrhólaey!
 

iceland ring road dyrholaey 

Our last stop for the day was Reynisfjara Beach. The black pebbles and sand are incredible, and the caves and Reynisdrangar basalt columns in the water will leave you speechless. There are quite a few visitors to this beach, but it’s worth sharing the view.
 

iceland Reynisfjara Beach 

When you arrive, you’ll see these amazing rock columns. We visited in the evening in early May (around 6 to 8 p.m.) and got to see puffins coming in from the ocean!

 

Mossy Lava Rocks and Glaciers, Oh My!

If you’re following the Iceland Ring Road Google My Maps., Day three could  bea heavy driving day as you work our way up the coast to the east. But the constantly changing landscape will keep you entertained!

We pulled over to walk along the mossy lava rocks.
 

iceland ring road 

We took in the view of the enormous buttes and bluffs, too.
 

iceland butte 

And we even did a short, one-hour roundtrip hike out to Skaftafell’s glacier, Vatnajökull. Even when the main attractions are in short supply on heavy driving days, there’s never a dull road trip moment on the Ring Road in Iceland!

 

Diamond Beach

Next up along the Ring Road is Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón. This glacial lagoon has icebergs floating peacefully from the mountains. The lake is full of fish, which means you’ll likely see dozens of seals here!
 

iceland diamond beach 

We drove another hour up the eastern coast to Vestrahorn. This stunning mountain view is only accessible by driving a gravel road off the Ring Road just past the town of Höfn.

The gravel road will say “Private,” but trust Google Maps on this one. You’ll have to pay in the little office at the end of the gravel road to enter … and it’s worth the price. You can also pay extra to camp here for the night.
 

iceland ring road vestrahorn
 

Eastfjords

Seydisfjordur a town nestled in the mountains is worth the visit if you have some time to spare! This quaint little town is a gorgeous oasis tucked inside the snow-capped mountains.

The drive from the Ring Road out to this eastern town is technically only 30 minutes or so each way, but it is a treacherous one. Even in May, snow whipped across the slick roads atop the side mountains. That drive is not for the faint of heart! But this view will reward you:
 

Seydisfjordur iceland 

Sit by the small lake in town and take in the view of waterfalls and colorful houses, and pop into a local cafe or restaurant.

 

Myvatn, the Desert Oasis

Drive on towards Myvatn, which is about  2 1/2 hours from Seydisfjordur. The scenery quickly transitions from snow-capped mountains to barren red clay rolling hills. If you ask me, this is one of the most underrated areas in Iceland.

Before rolling into town, make a stop at the Námafjall Geothermal Area. The sulfur smells like rotten eggs, but the sheer natural power will make you forget the smell. Read all of the placards to get your science lesson!
 

iceland ring road

 

Lake Myvatn

Just a few miles further and you’ll be in Mývatn, where you’ll find the famous Lake Mývatn in the center of the city. Drive around the lake for some stunning views: It only takes 30 minutes or so to circle the entire lake. Stop at the southernmost point of the lake to walk on these unique pseudocraters.

 

iceland myvatn 

For a nightcap, head to the Mývatn Nature Baths. The Mývatn Nature Baths are a bit cheaper than the Blue Lagoon at just 4500isk (about $36 USD) for entry. Plus, you get a stunning view of the surrounding landscape from the infinity pool edges. Enjoy a sunset soak and the thermal sauna to end your day.
 

myvatn nature baths

 

Sundlaugin á Hofsósi: Coolest Infinity Pool Ever 

On this Iceland Ring Road itinerary, Day 5 is another long driving day along the north of Iceland. But luckily, there’s still plenty to see outside your window – and pull over to visit.

Just 40 minutes outside of Mývatn is the Goðafoss Waterfall.
 

iceland 

While you can drive out along the “fingers” of the north, that will add a lot of time to your drive. Instead, stick to the Ring Road and pick one or two reasons to venture out.

Our top recommendation in the north? Head to the town of Hofsós for the coolest infinity pool I’ve ever seen. Sundlaugin á Hofsósi, or the Hofsós swimming pool, is a must. It’s cheap at around $8 per person, heated, and rarely crowded. Hang over the edge and take in the views of the ocean and mountains of the north!
 

iceland ring road 

Take some time to swim in the Hofsós pool, then drive two hours and stay the night in Hvammstangi. It’s a great spot to take a ride on an Icelandic horse!

Thrifty Tip: A great place to stay in this area is the Sæberg/Farfuglaheimili HI Hostel, which had natural thermal hot tubs overlooking a lake. What an epic camping spot!
 

iceland ring road
 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula to the Witch’s Hat

Head down the western side of Iceland toward the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and stop on the way at the Gerduberg Basalt Columns. You can drive right up to them from a gravel road and climb to the top.
 

Gerduberg Basalt Columns 

Take the mini Ring Road on the peninsula clockwise to check out the viewpoints in the south and west first. On your way to the western coastal view, stop at the famous black church, Búðakirkja. This is a great spot for a photo op and has some walking paths out to the coast.

Just 15 minutes further out on the peninsula, you need to stop at the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge.  You can walk inside this massive gorge and see the stream of water flowing down the gorge. This is an underrated stop!

Make your way out to the very edge of the peninsula to the Londrangar Viewpoint. It’s such an incredible view of these rocky cliffs.
 

Londrangar Viewpoint iceland 

Continue clockwise along the north coast of the peninsula for 45 minutes until you reach Kirkjufell, otherwise known as the Witch’s Hat. For this dreamy view, visit Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall across the street. This spot was busy with tourists during the day, so you might want to return at sunset.
 

iceland ring road

 

The Road Back to Reykjavik

Your last stretch of driving will take you back to Reykjavik with a few fun stops along the way.

An hour drive from Kirkjufellfoss is the Landbrotalaug Hot Pot (yes, that small pile of rocks in the distance is it). Drive down the gravel road and wait your turn for this small thermal “hot tub.” There are no changing rooms so come prepared! You’ve got to take a dip in at least one of the natural hot springs in Iceland.
 

Landbrotalaug Hot Pot 

Then, spend some time exploring Reykjavik. Walk along Laugavegur and Bankastræti streets to check out the local shops and restaurants. Visit the famous Hallgrimskirkja Church and the Harpa Concert Hall. Take a picture of the Sun Voyager statue, and take in the fun street art and colorful houses in Reykjavik.
 

reykjavik iceland 

Thrifty Tip: Make sure to get a famous hot dog from the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand. They’re much cheaper than any other food options in Reykjavik, and they’re delicious!

A few hours will be enough to hit the main city highlights of Reykjavik for the afternoon – or spend as much time exploring Reykjavik as you want!

Thrifty Tip: If you are camping, Mosskogar Campsite just 20 minutes outside of downtown Reykjavik was one of my very favorite campsites of the entire trip!
 

The Blue Lagoon 

The Blue Lagoon is either a great first or last stop on your trip because it’s close to the airport. We made it our last stop of the trip to relax before the flight home.

While the Blue Lagoon can get crowded with tourists at times, if you go right away in the morning you can beat the crowds. Curious if the Blue Lagoon is worth the price? Read our review on the Blue Lagoon.
 

blue lagoon iceland

 

FAQs

What is the size of Iceland?

Iceland is about the size as the state of Kentucky – and roughly the same size as Hungary.
 

How long is the Ring Road in Iceland?

The Iceland Ring Road, or Route 1, is 821 miles or 1,322 kilometers. Most travelers tackle the Ring Road in seven to 14 days, depending on how much driving you want to do each day and how long you want to spend at each stop.

 

How long does it take to drive the Ring Road in Iceland?

Driving only the Ring Road, or Route 1, can take about 20 hours. But that depends entirely on how many stops you make, how long you stop, and which detours off the Ring Road you take.

 

How long does it take to drive the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle is 140 miles and takes about three hours to drive.

 

How much does it cost to drive the Ring Road in Iceland?

This is a tricky one: it depends whether you’re camping or staying at hostels/hotels, dining out or making your own food, and what type of vehicle you’re driving (and how much gas it guzzles). We saved by making all of our meals in our camper van and camping along the way.

We spent around $200 at Costco, picking up groceries and snacks for the whole week. In Reykjavik, a single meal can run you $40! We chose to rent a camper van: this was our wheels and our bed all in one! When we crunched the numbers, renting a van cost less than renting a car and booking hotels each night.

Campsites in early spring cost between $5 and $15 per person, per night.

Gas is very pricey in Iceland: it will run you about $7 per gallon. Make sure you add this into your budget, as it will likely be your biggest expense.

There are a few attractions that cost to visit (like the hot springs), but much of Iceland’s attractions are natural wonders that are free.

 

Is the Ring Road Worth It?

Absolutely! If you’re a fan of natural scenery, there’s no shortage of it around Iceland. There is so much to see and explore beyond Reykjavik and the short day-trips you can do from the city. If you have at least eight days to spend, give driving the Ring Road a try.

 

Are there Ring Road Tours?

There are tours of all lengths and styles in Iceland, but they come at a very steep price. The best part about the Ring Road is that it’s just one road in a circle around the island! It’s nearly impossible to get lost, and all of the best sites are right alongside the road.

To save, skip the guided tour and make the drive yourself. Then, you’ll be on your own schedule and can stay as long as you’d like at each stop.

 

What is the time in Iceland?

Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time, which is four hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

 

Bottom Line

Driving the Ring Road in Iceland should be on every traveler’s list. The views are simply incredible and even the most fantastic photos cannot do the landscape of Iceland justice.

Give yourself at least a week to see as much as you can along the Ring Road for the best road trip you ever take to Iceland. Use this Iceland Ring Road Google My Maps to plan your own trip around Iceland’s Ring Road.
 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

3 Responses

  • Iceland is beyond description- would love to go back. I took a tour of the geothermal plant that heats Reykjavik’s homes, domestic water, and even the streets. The joke there is don’t invite them as houseguests- Icelanders take long showers. Black sand on southern beaches with the Puffins was cool. I loved their soup- usually bottomless and full of veggies. As you said the natural wonders are thee highlight & enjoyed their underground museum in Reykjavik.

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