Updated: May 5
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.
The Best 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 1
‘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:
Lake Myvatn (and remember that the Myvatn Nature Baths aren’t too far away from there)
Ring Road 2 aka 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)
Kayak the Fjords of Isafjördur
Hellulaug Natural Hot Spring
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:
Thingvellir National Park
Geysir Geothermal Area
Snorkeling or Diving the Silfra Fissure
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:
Hvitserkur Rock Formation
Grettislaug Hot Spring
Husavik (the whale capital of Iceland)
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:
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
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)
Hljodaklettar Echo Rocks
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.
Always Keep Your Waterproof Gear Close By
The Iceland weather might be fickle, but having waterproof clothing such as waterproof pants, a waterproof jacket, and a raincoat close by, is not just to shield you against any potential rainfall. Iceland boasts 10 000 waterfalls all over the island, one more breathtaking than the next.
There is no way that you can go on one of the Iceland self-drive tours without visiting at least one of these magnificent water displays. The biggest mistake visitors make is that they don’t take the mist and spray at these falls into account. You might have the perfect Instagram photo opp, but most are left looking like drenched cats because they didn’t come prepared.
Remember to Fill Up
There are plenty of gas stations all over the island, so you’ll be able to fill up as you go. But keep in mind that certain areas, routes, and roads are extremely remote. And if you don’t ensure that the tank is filled up, you might not have enough gas to reach the next gas station. So, please pay special attention when planning where to fill up on your Iceland self-drive tours.
Take Along More Than Enough Provisions & Supplies
This also ties into some of the areas and regions on the island that are more remote. We’re not talking about a post-apocalyptic stockpiling or dreaming up all sorts of doom and gloom scenarios. We’re talking about taking enough provisions and supplies if you get stuck in a remote region. This way, you’ll at least have enough food, water, and warmth ‘till help arrives.
Stick to the Road!
We can’t emphasize this enough. Not only is it dangerous to veer off the path (remember the getting stuck we mentioned?), but it’s also illegal in Iceland. Iceland has great respect for its environment and ecosystems, which includes moss that can exclusively be found on the island.
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.
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.