When I first told a friend I was going to Iceland, her response was: “I hope you’re ready to have a spiritual awakening.”
Fast-forward to three weeks later in June, when I landed in Iceland and it took my breath away.
Iceland’s scenery is something out of a fairytale. Driving the Ring Road (the main road which trails the border of the island) and Iceland’s Golden Circle, it’s not uncommon to stop every 10 minutes for a photo – the landscape constantly changes as if someone has flipped a switch, and each one is completely unique.
If you are planning a trip to Iceland in the near future (and I really think you should!), read on for our 10 day road trip itinerary for the Ring Road and must-sees at each stop along the way…
needed to take it all in
Arrive in Reykjavik
Visit: The Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik Town
Our first day in Iceland we landed, rented our car, and drove straight to the Blue Lagoon. It’s important to note that the Blue Lagoon is out of the way from Reykjavik and the Ring Road, and after getting off a long flight a spa day at one of the world’s most famous hotspots isn’t a bad idea!
Tips for the Blue Lagoon: arrive early if you can, and buy your tickets in advance. The experience and the restaurant is pricey, so decide ahead of time if you want to splurge on a meal or eat elsewhere.
After you’ve had a dip, drive straight to Reykjavik (approximately 40 minutes away) and get a good night’s rest before setting out — your road trip starts tomorrow!
Here’s the full driving route – click here for the interactive map:
Reykjavik -> Selfoss (0:41 drive)
Visit: Gulfoss Waterfall, Strokkur Geysir
Now the real driving begins! I recommend setting out after breakfast on a drive to Selfoss, where you can visit Gulfoss waterfall: a staggeringly beautiful waterfall in Iceland’s Golden Circle. Nearby here is Strokkur Geysir, which shoots a tower of warm water out every 8-10 minutes (I can say warm because I stood right under it to get a photo…and ended up getting soaked!)
Tips for Gulfoss Waterfall: It gets windy here, so make sure you have ample layers and a cozy scarf.
Tips for Strokkur Geysir: Don’t stand where no one else is, thinking you are still behind the rope and won’t get soaked. You will.
There’s a café across from the Strokkur Geyser, so grab a typical Icelandic meal before heading to your hotel. We loved the Ion Hotel in Selfoss.
Selfoss -> Vik (1:36 drive)
If you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I’d suggest diving the Silfra Fissure which is located in the Thingviller National Park. It’s a crack between the North American and Eurasian continental plates which has some of the clearest water in the world. Keep in mind you’ll be bathing in water that’s 2°C — I mean it when I say I’ve never appreciated hot chocolate more than I did after this dive!
After the Silfra Fissure, you can also check out the nearby Öxarárfoss waterfall, which features a walking path right along the water that’s perfect for photos of the fissure and falls.
Side note: yes, there really are this many waterfalls to see in Iceland and they are all worth getting out of your car for. The majority of this day involved us pulling over at every turn, and just when we’d think the next sight couldn’t get more stunning — it always did. Make sure your camera has enough space so you can max out on photos!
Hotel tip: There are not many options for hotels here and they are all understated — so book early and cozy up! We spent the night here at Hotel Katla in Hofdabrekka, right next to Vik.
Vik -> Hofn (3:13 drive)
Visit: Reynisfjara Beach, Vatnajökulsthjódgardur, Svinafellsjökul Glacier
Before heading out of town today, I’d recommend spending the morning visiting Reynisfjara Beach before the crowds arrive. This black sand beach features the most amazing basalt columns, and is a photographer’s heaven. If you’re lucky, you’ll also spot an Icelandic puffin.
Then, drive along the coast towards Höfn, a quaint fishing town. Don’t be surprised when you get a first glimpse of the Vatnajökull glacier (we saw it through fog and could’ve sworn a wall of water was going to sweep our car away!).
It’s hard to get close to the glacier unless you are taking part in a glacier hike, but you can grab a stunning view of it (that not many people know about!) off of the Ring Road’s Highway 1. Immediately after you see the glacier arm on the left, take a left onto Svinafellsjokulsvegur (a road 17.3 km before the town of Hof). There will be a small parking lot and you can take the trail up for this view:
We stayed at Hotel Smyrlajorg in the town of Kirkubajaulester (just before Höfn) this evening, but it’s worth checking Höfn for available hotels and Airbnbs.
Höfn tip: grab dinner at Humarhöfnin to try the local flavors, specifically the fresh seafood plates.
Höfn -> Egilsstadir (3:09 drive)
Visit: Glacial Lagoon Jökulsárlón and beach
On day five we booked a tour of the Glacier Lagoon in Sunnuhlíð, just south of Höfn. It’s the best way to experience the lagoon! Don’t forget to stroll on the beach where the water from the lagoon flows out to the ocean: the giant chunks of ice stranded on the black sand are a must-see.
Afterwards, I suggest driving through the mountains until you reach Egilsstaðir, a small town with our favorite hotel: Guesthouse Egilsstaðir. The grounds behind the hotel are worth the stay and though the hotel’s restaurant is a splurge, it’s well worth it.
Egilsstaðir -> Lake Mývatn (2:23 drive)
Visit: Sulphur Springs, Lava Caves, Volcanos, Mud Pools, Viti Crater, Dettifoss Waterfall, Namafjall Hverir Geothermal Area, Dimmuborgir Rock Formations, Grjotagja Cave
There’s a lot to see in Mývatn. If you are only staying for one night (as we did), pick and choose sights beforehand. We loved the lava fields at the Namafjall Hverir Geothermal Area, looking out over the turquoise water in Viti Crater, and walking inside Grjotagja, a small lava cave with thermal spring inside. (Game of Thrones fans: Grjotagja is where John Snow had his memorable encounter with Ygritte.)
I’d recommend booking an Airbnb in Mývatn. We stayed at Trod North and had a delicious home-cooked meal amongst great company. Locals here are very friendly, and this stay was one of our most memorable.
Mývatn -> Húsavík -> Akureyri (1:45 drive)
Visit: Húsavík town, Akureyri town
Since Húsavík is only a half hour drive from Lake Mývatn, it’s possible to do a day trip there instead of spending the night. Húsavík is known for whale-watching, and though we booked a whale-watching tour we ended up skipping it because the weather was so bad.
Húsavík tip: have lunch at Naustid on the harbor. Their buttery fish will melt in your mouth.
From Husavik, enjoy the drive through the fjords to the bustling lake town of Akureyri. Airbnbs are the way to go here as well; we stayed in one of these small Airbnb houses overlooking Akureyri lake. If you’re new to Airbnb, here’s $40 off your first stay!
DAY 8 & 9
Akureyri -> Stykkishólmur (4:15 drive)
Visit: Landbrotaloaug Hotpot, Stykkishólmur Town
Akureyri to Stykkishólmur is the longest leg of the Ring Road drive, so on arrival to Stykkishólmur we settled in for a couple nights relax and explore town. Plus, the Landbrotalaug hotpot (a natural hot springs) is nearby – we took two trips here and it still wasn’t enough!
Landbrotalaug hotpot tip: you’ll need to plug in these coordinates to find it – 64°49’56.0″N 22°19’06.6″W. Drive until you pass the coordinates on the map, then turn right down a small dirt road and follow it to the end.
General tip: on our last night here, we took a drive just before midnight to see the midnight sun. Do it – you can’t beat this view:
Stykkishólmur -> Reykjavik (2:18)
We opted to spend our last night in Reykjavik after driving in from Stykkishólmur. If you can add an extra day, I’d suggest wandering around town and getting lost in the rows of colorful buildings. Otherwise, you could fly out on this day.
Depart from Reykjavik
It was extremely hard for us to say goodbye to Iceland! We tried to fit as much as possible in our road trip, but it only left us wanting more. I’d love to go back and visit the northwestern leg of the country, where a much smaller percentage of tourists go — rumor is the the fjords are well worth it!
- Don’t forget to check Iceland’s road conditions, as the weather is unpredictable.
- If you’re visiting in summer, keep in mind the sun doesn’t set until midnight! You’ll have ample sunlit driving hours, so don’t worry about missing sights or driving when it’s dark.
- Iceland can be pricey, so book as much as you can in advance.