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Full Guide to Road Trips in Iceland: Best 5 Road Trip in Iceland

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

The best way to explore the island is via an Iceland self-drive tour. This way you are in control of your time, your itinerary, and your budget. And you can go on to discover some of the more “road less traveled” spots. If you’ve always fancied taking one of the self-drive tours in Iceland, stick around.

In this article, we give you the lowdown on all the routes, the attractions and activities you can expect along the way. And, of course, some helpful tips for driving around the island with your relaxing slow-drive Iceland itinerary.

Iceland self drive tours

Iceland offers numerous self-drive trips in Iceland. Your choice of route will depend on the specific region you would like to discover and the activities you’d like to do. Personally, we recommend spending sufficient time on the island to do them all. Here are some of the most popular Iceland self-drive routes:

Ring Road

‘Till recently, this Iceland self-drive route was merely referred to as the Ring Road. But since its counterpart, Ring Road 2, was opened, it’s called Ring Road 1 to avoid any confusion. Ring Road 1 is a national road that, as the name suggests, is a circular route around the island that connects all the major Iceland cities.

It’s one of Iceland’s longer self-drive routes and clocks in at 1332 kilometers. This route can actually be driven in 13 hours (but with no stopping other than filling up the gas tank). But if you intend to stick to a Ring Road 1, we highly recommend that you plan a trip of 7-10 days. Some of the things to do and see along this route include:

Ring Road 7-days itinerary

Day 1: Reykjavik to Vik

  • Start in Reykjavik.

  • Visit Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls.

  • Explore the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck.

  • End the day in Vik, visiting the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.

Day 2: Vik to Höfn

  • Visit Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.

  • Explore the Skaftafell area of Vatnajökull National Park.

  • Visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach.

  • Overnight in Höfn.

Day 3: Höfn to Egilsstaðir

  • Drive through the East Fjords, enjoying the scenic coastal views.

  • Stop in Djúpivogur and admire the unique rock formations.

  • Visit Petra’s Stone Collection in Stöðvarfjörður.

  • Overnight in Egilsstaðir.

Day 4: Egilsstaðir to Mývatn

  • Visit Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall.

  • Explore the geothermal area of Hverir.

  • Relax in Mývatn Nature Baths.

  • Overnight in the Mývatn area.

Day 5: Mývatn to Akureyri

  • Explore the pseudo-craters at Skútustaðagígar.

  • Visit Goðafoss waterfall.

  • Spend the afternoon and evening in Akureyri, the capital of the North.

Day 6: Akureyri to Snæfellsnes Peninsula

  • Drive through the Trollaskagi Peninsula.

  • Stop in the towns of Siglufjörður and Hofsós.

  • Visit the turf houses at Glaumbær.

  • Overnight on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Day 7: Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Reykjavik

  • Explore Snæfellsjökull National Park.

  • Visit Kirkjufell mountain and waterfall.

  • Stop at the black church of Búðir.

  • Return to Reykjavik in the evening.

Iceland self drive Ring Road

Ring Road 2 a.k.a. The Westfjords Way

This is the newest addition to the Iceland self-drive tours. Whilst Ring Road 1 focuses on getting around (pun intended) the entire island, Ring Road 2 centers around the Westfjords. This route is 950 km long and will lead you in a loop around some of the most remote areas on the island.

Whereas Ring Road 1 can be completed in just 13 hours if the pressure is on, Ring Road 2 can be done in 14 if the weather is good, despite being a shorter route. This is because the roads in the Westfjords can be quite rough, and many spots can only be accessed via 4x4.

But it is also this remoteness that offers up unspoiled views and breathtaking natural landscapes. To truly take in all this route has to offer you, we suggest planning an Iceland self-drive of at least 5-7 days.

Some of the attractions and activities along this route that you can add to your Ring Road 2 itinerary include the following:

  • Raudasandur Beach (the Red Sand Beach)

  • Spot some Puffins at Latrabjarg Cliffs. (just keep in mind that this can only be part of a self-drive tour in Iceland during summer as the Puffins leave the island again after the breeding season)

  • Dynjandi Waterfall

  • Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

  • Kayak the Fjords of Isafjördur

  • Hellulaug Natural Hot Spring

Ring Road 7-days itinerary

Day 1: Reykjavik to Ísafjörður

  • Depart from Reykjavik early morning.

  • Stop at Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls.

  • Drive through the scenic Dynjandi waterfall.

  • Reach Ísafjörður by evening and stay overnight.

Day 2: Ísafjörður Exploration

  • Explore the town of Ísafjörður.

  • Visit the Maritime Museum.

  • Take a short boat trip to Vigur Island if time allows.

  • Stay overnight in Ísafjörður.

Day 3: Ísafjörður to Patreksfjörður

  • Drive to the southern part of the Westfjords.

  • Visit Rauðasandur, the red sand beach.

  • Explore Látrabjarg cliffs, the westernmost point of Iceland and Europe.

  • Stay overnight in Patreksfjörður.

Day 4: Patreksfjörður to Reykjavik

  • Depart from Patreksfjörður.

  • Stop at the natural hot springs of Hellulaug for a relaxing dip.

  • Drive back to Reykjavik, arriving by evening.

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular self-drive trips in Iceland. It is full of incredible attractions and activities along the way. This route is 300 kilometers long and loops from the capital Reykjavík through the southern uplands and back. The entire trip can be completed in just half a day, but we strongly recommend that you take at least 2-3 days to explore everything along this route.

The Golden Circle roads are in excellent condition. Most are paved, with about 2% of the route consisting of gravel roads. This is yet another reason why the route is so popular among visitors (especially nervous drivers). Some of the things you can look forward to seeing and doing along the route are:

  • Gullfoss Waterfall

  • Thingvellir National Park

  • Geysir Geothermal Area

  • Snorkeling or Diving the Silfra Fissure

  • Kerid Crater

Golden Circle 2-days itinerary

Day 1: Reykjavik to Ísafjörður

  • Depart from Reykjavik

  • Þingvellir National Park

    • Almannagjá Gorge

    • Silfra Fissure

  • Geysir Geothermal Area

    • Strokkur Geyser

    • Blesi Hot Spring

Day 2:

  • Gullfoss Waterfall

  • Kerið Crater Lake

  • Return to Reykjavik

    • Optional: Visit the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir before heading back.

Self drive trips in Iceland

The Arctic Coast Way

This Iceland self-drive route has made it to Lonely Planet’s Top 10 List of Europe’s must-visit places. The aesthetics of this route reminds one of just the right mix between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. It’s 900 kilometers long and runs from Hvammstangi to Bakkafjördur through 21 of the cutest fishing villages on the island.

This North Atlantic route has breathtaking views over the ocean. At the same time, you can enjoy all the flora & fauna the majestic landscape has to offer. The route can also be completed in just 1-2 days. Now, if push comes to shove, we highly recommend that a self-drive of at least 10 days is planned to truly appreciate everything on this route. Some of the things to see and do along the Arctic Coast Way include:

  • Dettifoss Waterfall

  • Hvitserkur Rock Formation

  • Grettislaug Hot Spring

  • Arskogssandur Beer Spa

  • Husavik (the whale capital of Iceland)

Arctic Coast Way 5-days itinerary

Day 1: Hvammstangi to Blönduós

  • Hvammstangi: Visit the Icelandic Seal Center.

  • Hóp: Explore the serene lagoon.

  • Kolugljúfur Canyon: Marvel at the waterfalls.

  • Blönduós: Overnight stay.

Day 2: Blönduós to Siglufjörður

  • Skagafjörður: Discover the history of Icelandic horses.

  • Hofsós: Relax in the infinity pool with ocean views.

  • Siglufjörður: Explore the Herring Era Museum. Overnight stay.

Day 3: Siglufjörður to Akureyri

  • Dalvík: Go whale watching.

  • Grímsey Island: Cross the Arctic Circle.

  • Akureyri: Visit the botanical gardens and enjoy the nightlife. Overnight stay.

Day 4: Akureyri to Húsavík

  • Goðafoss Waterfall: Witness the "Waterfall of the Gods."

  • Mývatn: Explore the geothermal area and relax in the nature baths.

  • Húsavík: Go on a midnight sun whale watching tour. Overnight stay.

Day 5: Húsavík to Raufarhöfn

  • Ásbyrgi Canyon: Hike in the horseshoe-shaped depression.

  • Dettifoss: Marvel at Europe's most powerful waterfall.

  • Raufarhöfn: Visit the Arctic Henge. Overnight stay.

Self drive Iceland winter

The South Coast

As the name suggests, this route winds all along the South Coast of Iceland and, as with the Arctic Coast Way, offers visitors the best of both land and sea. The route is approximately 320 km long and as with the rest of the Iceland self-drive tours, it can be done in just a few hours. But a South Coast self-drive should not be less than a week.

One of the things we often hear from visitors who took on this route is that they wish they had added on an extra few days. That would allow them to make provision for all the interesting spots they randomly came upon throughout the route.

So whilst having highlights of the South Coast of Iceland itinerary is essential when it comes to time management, you’ll need a little leeway for those magical surprises along the way. Some of the things you can already add to your itinerary are:

  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

  • Eyjafjallajökull Volcano

  • Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

  • Dyrholaey Lighthouse

  • Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

South Coast Iceland 4-days itinerary

Day 1: Reykjavik to Selfoss

  • Seljalandsfoss: Walk behind this stunning waterfall.

  • Gljúfrabúi: Discover this hidden waterfall nearby.

  • Skógafoss: Marvel at one of Iceland's biggest waterfalls.

  • Kerið Crater Lake: Admire the volcanic crater filled with blue water.

  • Overnight in Selfoss.

Day 2: Selfoss to Vík

  • Urridafoss: Witness this powerful waterfall on the Þjórsá river.

  • Reynisfjara: Explore the famous black sand beach and basalt columns.

  • Dyrhólaey: Enjoy panoramic views from this small peninsula.

  • Vík: Visit the local church and shop for Icelandic wool products.

  • Overnight in Vík.

Day 3: Vík to Skaftafell

  • Fjaðrárgljúfur: Hike this dramatic and ancient canyon.

  • Svartifoss: Admire the waterfall surrounded by dark basalt columns in Skaftafell National Park.

  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: See icebergs float in this serene lagoon.

  • Diamond Beach: Watch ice chunks sparkle on the black sand.

  • Overnight in Skaftafell.

Day 4: Skaftafell to Reykjavik

  • Ice Cave Tour: Experience the blue ice caves (seasonal).

  • Eldhraun Lava Field: Walk on the moss-covered lava.

  • Foss á Síðu: View this picturesque waterfall.

  • Return to Reykjavik.

South Iceland Self-Drive route

The Diamond Circle

The Diamond Circle is one of the Iceland self-drive tours that allow you to discover the northeastern part of the island. This route is roughly 240 kilometers long and can easily be completed in just half a day for those really eager beavers among us. But, once again, this will never be recommended. What’s the point of driving an Iceland self-drive route just to drive and never stopping to smell the…well, waterfalls? The Diamond Circle is best planned as a 3-7 day self-drive trip.

During the peak summer season, many opt to drive the Diamond Circle route, as they claim it’s less busy. Whether directly on the route or on a slight detour, there are plenty of attractions and activities on the Diamond Circle that are not to be missed. Some of these include:

  • Godafoss Waterfall (aka “The Waterfall of the Gods” – the legend regarding this waterfall’s name is worth reading up on)

  • Asbyrgi Canyon

  • Hljodaklettar Echo Rocks

  • Krafla Volcano

  • Grjotagja Cave

Diamond Circle 3-days itinerary

Day 1: Akureyri to Húsavík

  • Akureyri: Start your journey in the capital of North Iceland.

    • Akureyri Church: Visit this iconic church with its unique architecture.

    • Botanical Gardens: Stroll through the gardens featuring Arctic and alpine flora.

  • Goðafoss: Marvel at the "Waterfall of the Gods."

  • Mývatn Nature Baths: Relax in the geothermal waters.

  • Overnight in Húsavík.

Day 2: Húsavík Exploration

  • Whale Watching: Embark on a tour from Húsavík, the whale watching capital of Iceland.

  • Ásbyrgi Canyon: Explore this horseshoe-shaped depression, part of Vatnajökull National Park.

  • Dettifoss: Witness the power of Europe's most powerful waterfall.

  • Overnight in Húsavík.

Day 3: Húsavík to Akureyri

  • Hljóðaklettar: Admire the unique rock formations in Jökulsárgljúfur.

  • Krafla Lava Fields: Walk through the vast volcanic landscape.

  • Námaskarð Geothermal Area: Experience the bubbling mud pools and steaming fumaroles.

  • Return to Akureyri.

North of Iceland self-drive route

Self-drive Tours Tips

No matter the length of your trip, there are a few things those planning on doing one of the Iceland self-drive tours need to know. Here are a few handy tips that will help make your Iceland self-drive the best trip ever:

Plan Your Trip Around the Seasons

If you are planning an Iceland self-drive trip, it is essential that you plan it around the Iceland seasons. That’s because a self-drive tour in Iceland during summer might mean that you’re going to miss out on certain activities. The most common ones being the Northern Lights and ice cave exploring.

A self-drive in Iceland during winter, with the Westfjords and the Highlands on your Iceland itinerary, could mean the end of your trip before it’s even begun. That’s because most roads and routes in these regions are closed throughout winter. So planning an Iceland self-drive tour around the seasons is a delicate dance.

Keep an Eye on the Weather

Even if you’ve done your seasonal due diligence, we highly recommend that you keep an eye on the weather. Keep at hand the Iceland weather forecasts and the Iceland road conditions websites throughout your trip.

Iceland weather can be fickle and there’s a reason why the local saying says that “you can experience all four seasons in one day here in Iceland”. It will be a shame to head to your destination only to hit a dead-end due to sudden and unexpected road closures.

Iceland road weather conditions

Chat with Your Rental Agency

Your rental agency is run by experienced locals. They will know exactly what you need and when you need it. That’s why it’s essential to discuss your planned Iceland self-drive routes, so they can advise you accordingly. Some of the things that will need to be considered are whether you’ll need a 4x4 vehicle in Iceland. There are certain roads across the country that cannot be accessed without one.

Or if you’ve planned your self-drive Iceland trip during the winter, whether you’ll need snow tires and other accessories for driving in Iceland. You don’t want to have to dig into those extra provisions and supplies we mentioned before simply because you didn’t properly prepare.

Book Well in Advance

If you’re planning a

self-drive tour in Iceland during the summer, we cannot stress enough how important it is to book everything. From your accommodation to sights and activities, all ahead of time. Do bear in mind that the summer months in Iceland are the busiest on the island. If you don’t book well in advance, you’ll surely be left disappointed sometime during your trip.

Iceland self-driving rules

FAQs about road trips in Iceland

What is the best time of year to go on a road trip in Iceland?

The best time to go on a road trip in Iceland is during the summer months (June-August). The weather is warm and sunny, and the days are long. However, it is important to note that the summer months are also the busiest time of year in Iceland, so it is important to book your accommodations and activities in advance.

What are the must-do activities on a road trip in Iceland?

Some of the must-do activities on a road trip in Iceland include:

Hiking: Iceland has many great hiking trails to choose from, ranging from easy to challenging.

Camping: Camping is a great way to experience Iceland's natural beauty. There are many campsites to choose from, both in the countryside and in the cities.

Swimming in geothermal pools: Iceland has many geothermal pools, which are heated by the Earth's core. Swimming in a geothermal pool is a great way to relax and soak up the natural beauty of Iceland.

Whale watching: Iceland is home to many whales, including humpback whales, blue whales, and minke whales. Whale watching is a great way to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

What are the driving conditions like in Iceland?

The driving conditions in Iceland can vary depending on the time of year and the region you are visiting. In the summer, the roads are generally well-maintained and easy to drive on. However, in the winter, the roads can be icy and snow-covered, making driving more challenging. It is important to be prepared for all weather conditions when driving in Iceland.

What are the safety precautions to take on a road trip in Iceland?

Here are some safety precautions to take on a road trip in Iceland:

  • Always check the weather forecast before you go and be prepared for all weather conditions.

  • Make sure your car is in good condition and has all the necessary safety equipment.

  • Let someone know your travel plans and when you expect to arrive at your destination.

  • Drive slowly and carefully, especially in the winter.

  • Be aware of the wildlife and be prepared to stop for animals on the road.

  • Fill up your gas tank whenever possible, as gas stations can be few and far between in some areas.

The Best Iceland Self-drive Tours are Done with Campervans

Doing Iceland Self-drive Tours are the best way to explore the island as you are in full control of your time and itinerary. But that’s also why we highly recommend that you rent a campervan in Reykjavík for the duration of your trip. This way, you also won’t be bogged down by pre-booked accommodation and, most importantly, you’ll be saving a ton of money on accommodation costs.

So rent the best campervans in Reykjavík once you’ve arrived on the island and enjoy your Iceland self-drive in comfort and on your own terms.


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