Updated: Nov 10, 2022
How long does it take to drive around Iceland? Well, how long is a piece of string? Although Iceland is a relatively small country, it has so very much to offer visitors. One thing’s for certain- you won’t want to rush your way around its incredible sights. Especially if you’re hiring a car for your travels, you’ll definitely want to take your time.
To help you plan your trip, we’ve put together a few different travel scenarios. We’ll explore the different factors that can impact a trip when you drive around Iceland and also look at some suggested itineraries. Here’s what we’ll cover:
The Iceland Ring Road route and timings
Seasonal changes and the weather in Iceland
Vehicle choice and how that could impact your trip
Driving the Icelandic Ring Road
If you plan on driving all the way around Iceland, then you will be following the famous Ring Road route. Also known as Highway One, this road loops around the island’s entirety, roughly hugging the coast. Its total length is 822 miles (ca. 1,323 km), which means that you can comfortably drive the full route in about three days.
That’s averaging around six hours on the road each day, with a few stops. However, keep in mind that six hours of driving is quite a bit for one day, especially if done three days in a row. And to experience Iceland at its best, you are going to want to get well beyond the road!
To allow for ample sightseeing of Iceland’s incredible landscapes and sights, we recommend taking a bit longer. You could consider driving the Ring Road loop in seven days, but even that would mean rushing a little and missing out on many astounding sights.
For many travelers, visiting Iceland is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, to really do the Ring Road justice, we recommend taking at least two weeks to explore. This will give you more than enough time to relax and take in nature without having too strict of an itinerary to adhere to.
This way, you’ll have sufficient wiggle room to be spontaneous and stay a little longer if you end up falling in love with a place. After all, this is one of the joys of a camper van road trip! The ability to travel independently cannot be undervalued, as the desire to move on or stay put can change each day depending on a multitude of factors. When you opt for a camper van, you are truly your own tour guide.
Two weeks will also give you enough time to take some little detours from the Ring Road. You might choose to explore the lovely Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the west of Iceland, or perhaps head to the less-visited route of the Westfjords.
If you give yourself this extra breathing space, there are even more exciting spaces you could find yourself in.
The weather in Iceland
The time of year that you choose to visit will also affect your road trip, as the weather in Iceland is always changing. Hiring a camper to drive the full Ring Road route is best done in the summer season. This is when both the daylight hours and the weather are more likely to be on your side.
Most people who drive around Iceland do so from June to August. As such, this is considered the high season for Iceland travel. During these months, all the campsites will be open and the weather should be ideal. You’ll also have the Midnight Sun shining bright in the sky, so you’ll have hours and hours to see the sights and explore before it gets dark.
Another excellent time of year for a road trip in Iceland is the shoulder seasons on either side of the high season or the months of May and September. At these times of the year, there are generally fewer visitors in Iceland and the weather is often as mild as the summer months.
Be warned though that it’s the luck of the draw. Because you’ll be so close to the Arctic Circle, the weather can be unpredictable and fierce. Storms can and will blow in, and this can easily scupper your driving plans. At times, high winds and stormy weather make it unsafe to operate any vehicle, so it’s always best to have some contingency time.
If you’re thinking of driving right around Iceland in winter, then you might want to think again. With short daylight hours and frequent snowstorms, you would be much better off choosing a shorter road trip and sticking to some South Iceland adventures instead.
Vehicle choice for your drive around Iceland
Another important factor to consider is your choice of vehicle. After all, what is a road trip without a reliable way to get around?
Having the right vehicle will be hugely impactful to the time it takes for you to comfortably drive around Iceland. Which RV you opt for will depend on the size of your group and your desired travel style. Let’s take a look at some of the options.
Driving around Iceland in a camper van
If you are traveling in a pair, then renting a camper van is a great option as it allows you to be much more nimble and versatile on the road. If you’re nervous about the size, don’t worry. Driving a standard camper van is much like driving a large car. If you’re a confident driver then you’ll likely feel safe whatever the road conditions are in Iceland.
Driving around Iceland in a motorhome
Those looking for more comfort or those traveling as a larger group might want to opt for a motorhome. With this choice, your group will be able to enjoy the full facilities that a motorhome offers, including a kitchen, bathroom, table area to cook and eat, and enough space to relax together.
However, traveling by motorhome will likely take a little longer, since being in a bigger vehicle means that you will need to drive at a more relaxed pace. There is also a little more maintenance involved with motorhomes.
For example, you will need to refill water tanks and empty your gray water tanks. Not to mention simply getting a larger group fed, watered, and ready to set off on a driving day just takes longer.
The final time consideration when renting a motorhome refers back to the weather. Motorhomes are, of course, quite large vehicles. Since they sit higher on the road and are more cumbersome to maneuver and park, they are more vulnerable to Iceland’s high winds.
With that being said, you will need to be a confident and organized driver to take charge of a motorhome. You will also need to pay close attention to the weather forecasts. If high winds are in the forecast, then you may need to stay put until they pass. Driving in these conditions can be dangerous and you don’t want to risk an accident.
Driving around Iceland in a 4x4 camper van
Another option is to hire a 4x4 camper van for your adventure. Although Iceland’s Ring Road is a well-paved road that can be driven in any vehicle, there are many roads that can only be tackled in a 4x4. This vehicle will really give you the full off-the-beaten-path experience.
These rough and often mountainous roads are known as the Iceland F-Roads. They will be clearly marked on the maps and on-road signs, so you won’t stray onto them by mistake. However, by hitting the road in a 4x4, you’ll be able to explore them to your adventurous heart’s content. Some people also prefer hiring a 4x4 camper for the extra height and safety that it provides.
These trickier F-Roads are normally only open in the summer months. When the snows come in late September or October, they quickly become impassable. So, if you’d like to get up into the amazing Iceland Highlands with the help of a 4x4, you’ll need to visit in summer.
Self-Drive around Iceland
When it comes to road-tripping around Iceland, booking a car or campervan will allow you to carve out your own schedule - one that is full of adventures and unexpectedness. Being in charge of the itinerary not only puts the power in your hands but also cranks up the fun! So, choose the vehicle of your preference, soak up all of this information, save your routes on your Iceland Google Maps planner, and hit the road! Whatever you decide, you’re sure to have a memorable and enjoyable journey in Iceland.