Iceland’s Ring Road is an epic drive and is widely considered to be one of the top road trips in the world. This spectacular route will take you past the best of the dramatic Icelandic landscape: volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, glacial lagoons, black sand beaches and canyons. Read on for an Iceland Ring Road itinerary in 7 days PLUS options to extend to 10 days.
I have been to Iceland twice, for a total of three weeks. For these itineraries, I have drawn on my experience of both my Ring Road trip and my previous road trip, which focused mainly on South Iceland, the highlands and the Snaefellenes peninsula.
First things first: what is the Ring Road?
Iceland’s Ring Road, also known as Route 1 (or Þjóðvegur 1, in Icelandic) is a circular road all the way around Iceland, connecting the main inhabited parts of the island. The route is 1,322 km (821 miles) in length.
Highlights of the Ring Road:
- Hot springs, craters and epic waterfalls in West and North Iceland
- Fjords, mountains and remote towns in East Iceland
- The black sand beaches and glacial lagoons of South and South-East Iceland
Things to consider when planning an Iceland Ring Road itinerary
Is it possible to drive Iceland’s Ring Road in 7 days?
How long you take depends on several factors including how long you can afford to be in Iceland and the things you want to do and experience when there. If you prefer slow travel or you want to experience everything Iceland can offer, you’ll naturally take longer on the Ring Road than other travellers.
The driving time alone is around 13 hours without stopping – but of course, you have to sleep and eat! Plus, you will want to stop and take detours from the main road on this road trip, due to the many spectacular sights along the way.
On my Iceland Ring Road trip, I had planned to complete it in 8 or 9 days, but a date-specific opportunity came up in Reykjavik (this was the opportunity to fly over the Fagradalsfjall eruption, so I had to take it!). This meant I had to do it sooner to make it to Reykjavik on time – so I drove the Ring Road in 7 days. I say I drove it, ha! Truthfully, my husband drove all of it, as I don’t know how to drive. He is wonderful, is’t he?
Based on this experience, I think a week is the minimum you need and that’s why I created this Iceland Ring Road 7 Day Itinerary. In 7 days, you will be driving a lot each day but you will be able to see the main sights in each area. Any less than 7 days and I think you will be rushing and having to skip some great attractions because you won’t have time for them all.
I think, ideally, you’d take slightly more time than a week, so I have included some extra things you could add to the itinerary if you have time to do Iceland’s Ring Road in 10 days. These are based on my experiences from my previous Iceland trip.
When should you go?
People visit Iceland all year round, though the peak season is June to August, which is Iceland’s summer. Although prices are higher at this time, as I said in my post about visiting Iceland without going bankrupt, I think summer can be good value. This is because the days are so long (Iceland has near 24-hour daylight in the height of summer), meaning you can see a lot more in any one day compared to the cheaper, colder, darker seasons.
I have only travelled to Iceland in summer (June for my first visit and August for my second) and my itineraries assume you’re driving in the summer months.
However, if you are really keen to see the northern lights, you’ll need to go in in colder seasons when the nights are darker. But you may need a 4×4 car in the winter, due to snow on the roads, especially in the north of Iceland. You may also need to adjust the schedule to account for fewer daylight hours.
What kind of accommodation will you stay in?
If you’re doing Iceland on a budget, you could choose to camp to save money. Alternatively, you could stay in hostels, budget hotels or in Airbnbs.
For my first trip to Iceland, I stayed in a mixture of Airbnbs and budget hotels. For my most recent trip, I camped in a campervan (though I have to say, I’m not a convert to van life, and I did end up booking hotel rooms last minute for three nights of my ten-day trip!).
However, if you’re not so keen on budget accommodation, there are also more comfortable hotels and guest houses around the Ring Road.
What kind of car will you hire?
It is worth shopping around and booking as early as you can in order to get a good price on car hire.
If you plan to detour off the main roads into the F roads of the highlands in central Iceland, you will need a 4×4. However, you don’t need a 4×4 to drive the Ring Road, which is entirely paved (unless you go in winter when you’ll need to be prepared for driving in snow).
For my first trip to Iceland, I hired a tiny car to pay as little as possible. And on my second trip, I hired a campervan so I could save money on accommodation. Both were fine on the Ring Road and the side roads that take you to the many wonderful attractions around the Ring Road. However, my Nissan NV200 campervan struggled a little with some of the uneven and pot-holed gravel roads to both Möðrudalur and Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.
Which direction will you travel the Ring Road in?
You can of course drive the Ring Road clockwise or anti-clockwise and there’s no major benefit to either option, really.
The main reason I chose to drive it clockwise is I knew I loved South Iceland so I suspected I thought I would be saving the best for last. And I was right! Therefore, my suggested itinerary is clockwise, starting in Reykjavik.
NB. If you’re arriving in Iceland by ferry from Europe, you will land in Seyðisfjörður in the East Fjords, in which case, you can start your itinerary on Day 5 of my itinerary below, and end on Day 4.
The Ring Road itself:
What you need to know about the Iceland Ring Road:
- Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Iceland
- Despite its name, the Ring Road is not one continuous road – you will need to occasionally take turnings to stay on the Ring Road
- The Ring Road is called Route 1, so if you are ever unsure which way to go, look out for signs saying ‘1’
- With the exception of some stretches near Reykjavik, the Ring Road is mainly single carriage roads (one lane in each direction), with no hard shoulder and often a steep ditch on each side – so the options to pull over or turn around are limited to junctions and road turnings
- The Ring Road is mainly toll-free, but there is one tunnel in north Iceland near Aykureyri (its called the Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel) where you’ll need to pay a toll online, using your car registration number. The cost is1500ISK for a car, which worked out as £9 for me. If you don’t want to pay the toll, you can take a longer detour to avoid the tunnel.
- Bridges are often single lane, so there’s a system where the first vehicle to reach the markings in the road either side of the bridge goes does
- Weather can change quickly, and even in summer you may experience heavy rain or low visibility – so watch your speed and use fog lights
- Speed limits will be in km, not miles (and you may find other traffic wants to go a lot faster than the speed limits of 90km/hour on open road!)
- There are plenty of fuel stations dotted around, many of which require a debit or credit card payment in advance of actually filling up
- Whilst the Ring Road is maintained pretty well, many of the side roads you take to see attractions along the way will be be gravel and pot-holed, so drive them carefully (and maybe check whether you have a spare tire!)
- Insurance may not cover you on F roads or for water damage or damage to the chassey (which can happen on the F roads or whilst crossing river) – so check what you’re covered for before you venture off the Ring Road onto those roads.
- As well as the attraction I mention in the itinerary below, there is so much stunning scenery along the road itself
Iceland Ring Road itinerary in 7 days
For my Iceland Ring Road itinerary in 7 days, I’ve assumed you will have 7 full days, ie half-day on days 1 and 8. I’ve also used Google Maps to estimate the driving distances and times, though these could vary depending on your speed and the weather etc.
Of course, this itinerary is just a suggestion, or a starting point to help you plan your Icelandic road trip adventure. Feel free to check out my other articles on Iceland for more ideas of what you might want to do there.
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Iceland Ring Road itinerary 7 days – in summary:
- Day 1: arrive & drive north to Saeberg (half day)
- Day 2: Saeberg to Akureyri
- Day 3: Akureyri to Möðrudalur
- Day 4: Möðrudalur to the East Fjords
- Day 5: East Fjords to the Glacial Lakes
- Day 6: Glacial Lakes to Vik
- Day 7: Vik to Reykjavik
- Day 8: Reyjanes peninsular & fly home (half day)
Day 1: arrive & drive north to Saeberg
- Afternoon: arrive in Keflavik airport & pick up your hire car
- Dinner: grab a bite in Reykjavik, or from one of the roadside cafes in the Reykjavik suburbs
- Evening: hit Route 1 (the Ring Road) and drive north to Saeberg. If you have time, stop at Grabrok Volcano along the way.
- Sleep: Saeberg Hostel & campsite has budget options: a hostel and a campsite, which I stayed in. It has a wonderful view of the water and a naturally-heated outdoor hot tub for those inclined. For more comfortable accommodation, try Tangahus guesthouse the other side of the sound.
Total driving: 220km, 2 hours 40 min.
Day 2: Saeberg to Akureyri (via Trollaskagi)
- Morning: Make a quick visit to the quaint farm and museum at Glaumbaer, where you can explore a 17th Century turf-roofed farm. Alternatively, you could visit Hvitserkur, a photogenic sea stack. Then a remote detour off the Ring Road onto route 76 around the Trollaskagi peninsula for some wild mountains, a remote lighthouse and stunning sea views. You may well see some Icelandic Horses on the way, too, as there are a lot of them in this area.
- Lunch: grab a late lunch at one of the small towns on Trollaskagi – Hofsus or Siglufjörður.
- Afternoon: enjoy the epic views along the Eyjafjordur fjord and the crazy tunnels drives (some of the tunnels on Trollaskai are single-lane, meaning you have to use passing points to pass cars coming the other way).
- Dinner: take your pick from the many restaurants of Akureyri.
- Sleep: Akureyri has options to suit most budgets including 2 campsites (one in the town and one just outside), budget hotels and higher end hotels.
Total driving: 315km, 4 hours.
Day 3: Akureyri to Möðrudalur
- Morning: Leave Akureyri early, heading to Mývatn, taking the Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel (don’t forget to pay the toll online!) and stopping at Goðafoss waterfall on the way. Work up an appetite by doing the short hike up Hverfjall crater.
- Lunch: Grab some hearty Plokkfiskur (creamy fish & potato stew) at Gamli Bærinn restaurant, 10 mins from the crater.
- Afternoon: Wander the fumaroles and boiling mud pots at Hverir geothermal area, then drive out to a picturesque turquoise crater lake called Viti. Finally, drive out to the exhilarating Dettifoss, the 2nd most powerful waterfall in Europe. It was also the setting for the opening sequence in the movie, Prometheus.
- Dinner: After Dettifoss, drive to Möðrudalur farm, where there’s a great restaurant, with lots of traditional Icelandic dishes.
- Sleep: Möðrudalur has rooms in a guest house and also a campsite. It’s a stunning location, surrounded by volcanoes. There’s a friendly goat that wanders around, and when I was there, two arctic fox cubs were playing in the grounds!
Total driving: 316km, 3 hours 15mins.
Ps. for more information and inspiration on what to do on days 1-3, check out my article on the Top Things to do in North Iceland.
Day 4: Möðrudalur to the East Fjords
- Morning: If you feel energetic, hike to the Instagram-famous Stuðlagil canyon. Then, stop briefly at Rjúkandi waterfall and/or take a dip in Vök thermal pools.
- Lunch: Grab a bite in Egilsstaðir.
- Afternoon: Take a detour off route 1 over the Fjarðarheiði mountain pass on route 93 and down the scenic ‘Walter Mitty’ road into the quant town of Seyðisfjörður in the East Fjords. Stop for photos at the Gufu waterfall along the way (or the way back).
- Dinner: Fáskrúðsfjörður or one of the other small fjord towns along the coastal stretch of route 1.
- Sleep: If camping or looking for a room in a guest house, I can recommend Fossardalur, which is surrounded by stunning craggy mountains. For a hotel, try nearby Hotel Framtid.
Total driving: 341km, 4 hours 50 mins.
Day 5: East Fjords to the Glacial Lakes
- Morning: Continue on route 1 south, hugging the craggy coastline, and stopping at Lækjavik and Hvalnes Nature Reserve, among the first black sand beaches, for which South & South-East Iceland is famous. The gem, though, is Vestrahorn mountain, a spectacularly steep mountain right on the coast, surrounded by black sand beaches.
- Lunch: There are lots of options for good food in the town of Höfn, including burgers at ÚPS and langoustine tails at Pakkhus.
- Afternoon: From Höfn, you’ll see the glaciers of Vatnajökull national park in the distance. Head towards these, starting with the biggest and the most famous glacial lagoon, Jökulsárlón. Right next to it is the diamond beach, where blue ice chunks wash up on the black sand. For a quieter, but even more special, experience, visit the less-visited but stunning lagoon Fjallsárlón.
- Dinner: There’s great food available at the Fosshotel Glacial Lagoon, very close to Fjallsárlón.
- Sleep: For a budget hotel, the Hof Adventure Hotel is basic but fine and for something more comfortable, I stayed at the Fosshotel Glacial Lagoon recently, and it was great – it was a very welcome break from sleeping in the campervan!
Total driving: 233km, 2 hours 15mins.
Day 6: Glacial Lakes to Vik
- Morning: Hike to Svínafellsjökull glacier or take one of the other short hikes at Skaftafell.
- Lunch: Foss á Síðu has amazingly beautiful waterfall visible from the Ring Road. Across the road from it is a great place to stop for a simple lunch, Hamrafoss Cafe.
- Afternoon: Leave the Ring Road briefly to visit a spectacular canyon called Fjaðrárgljúfur. Take the short walk up to the top, then drive back to the Ring Road to head south to Vík, one of the most popular destinations in Iceland, due to its proximity to the famous black sand beach. Take an evening walk on the beach to see the legendary sea stacks.
- Dinner: There are lots of options in Vík, including Suður-Vík, but they can get busy, so you may have to wait for a table (or reserve one ahead of time).
- Sleep: Vík has a campsite in the town itself, plus plenty of hotels, including Hotel Vík. It is worth booking ahead here, as it is so popular.
Total driving: 170km, 2 hours 10 mins.
Day 7: Vik to Reykjavik
- Morning: Leave Vik early to get to Reynisfjara before the crowds arrive, and follow this up with a hike up to the top of Dyrhólaey for a view of puffins and three epic black sand beaches. Then head West to Skógafoss, arguably one of the most striking watefalls in Iceland.
- Lunch: The Fosshotel at Skógafoss has a great restaurant right next to the waterfall.
- Afternoon: if you have time, you could hike out to the plane crash at Sólheimasandur. It is definitely worth a stop at Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall you can walk behind. Then hit the road to get back to Reykjavik.
- Dinner: grab a bite at Selfoss, en route, or late in Reykjavik. Reykjavik Fish have restaurants at a couple of locations in the capital.
- Sleep: There’s a large campsite in Reykjavik, plus plenty of budget options (hotels and Airbnb studios). I stayed one night in the Skuggi hotel, which was great!
Total driving: 215km, 3 hours 15 mins.
Ps. For more inspiration on what to do during days 5-7, check out my article on 15 Spectacular Things To Do In South Iceland.
Day 8: Reyjanes peninsular & fly home
- Morning: hike to see the eruption at Fagradalsfjall or visit in the Blue Lagoon. After a jam-packed week on the road, you might appreciate a soak in some hot water!
- Lunch: enjoy the traditional fishing vibes at Café Bryggjan in Grindavík.
- Afternoon: fly home!
Total driving: 92km, 1 hour 30 mins.
Iceland Ring Road itinerary in 10 days
If you can spare more time to drive the Ring Road, that’s great! Here are some suggestions for what else you could add to the itinerary above if you can spend extra days up to 10 days in total:
Tour of highlands
Visit the wild highlands of central Iceland, where you can explore remote craters, canyons and mountains on a super jeep tour to Landmannalaugar in the highlands. These seriously impressive cars with huge wheels make easy business of the unpaved F roads and river crossings of the highlands. You could do this in an extra day after Day 7 in the 7-day itinerary, departing from Reykjavik.
- Additional time needed: 1 day.
The waters of Iceland are rich with marine life, and in summer, there’s a good chance of seeing Minke whales, Humpback whales as well as dolphins. Husavik in the north of Iceland is most famous for whale-watching, and you could fit this in between days 2 and 3 in the 7-day itinerary above. Alternatively, take a whale-watching tour from Reykjavik followed by a walking tour of the city at the beginning or end of your Ring Road trip.
- Additional time needed: half a day.
The Snaefellsnes peninsular is often describes as ‘Iceland in miniature’ because it has a bit of everything you expect from Iceland: mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls and black beaches. It makes a great day trip from Reykjavik, so you could add it to your 7-day Ring Road itinerary at the beginning or end.
- Additional time needed: 1 day.
The Golden Circle is a popular collection of sites including Þingvellir National Park, one of the sites where you can see the faultline between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Geysir, where you can see the original hot geyser for which it is named, and Gullfoss, a huge and powerful waterfall. The Golden Circle can easily be done in a half-day trip from Reykjavik, either at the beginning or end of the 7-day itinerary above.
- Additional time needed: half a day.
Iceland Ring Road map
Here’s a map showing the attractions I suggest in this Iceland Ring Road 7-day itinerary, plus the additional activities if you can spend up to ten days on the Ring Road.
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to sleep, things to do and additional options for a 10-day itinerary). If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
Enjoy your Iceland Ring Road trip!
And before you go, check out my guide to exploring Iceland without breaking the bank!