With its amazing landscapes and incredible natural wonders Iceland really lends itself to a road trip. In fact cruising through the island’s wide-open spaces is one of the best ways to experience the country. You’ll get that real sense of excitement that comes with planning your own adventures. Having the freedom to set off when you like and take any number of detours along the way. With your own vehicle you can always stay an extra day or two if you fall in love with a place. Hiring a motorhome gives you even more freedom. With a camper van or motorhome you’ll have everything that you need with you. There will be no hotels to book and no restaurants to track down. If you need a snack or a snooze you simply find a place to park up.
One of the wonderful things about driving in Iceland is that the roads are pretty quiet. Iceland has a famously small population so there just aren’t that many cars on the road. It is also a relatively compact country. You don’t have to drive too far to see sight after amazing sight. So you get to cruise some beautiful roads but don’t need to spend too long cooped up in the camper either. In this guide to Iceland we take you through the country’s top self-drive road trips. Some of these road trips can be combined to create longer itineraries depending on how long you have to explore Iceland.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle route is the classic South Iceland sightseeing tour. Many companies offer one-day guided tour packages around the Golden Circle. Buses head out from Reykjavik and cover all three sights in one long day. However you could easily make this a leisurely 2-4 day self drive tour. There is so much to see and do along the way and there are some lovely campsites to park up at. You’ll be able to take your time, go hiking and sleep out in nature.
The must-see sights are the Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss Waterfall and the Geysir Geothermal Area. These three diverse and fascinating natural wonders are essential on any trip to Iceland. This road trip can be undertaken year round. The Golden Circle’s proximity to Reykjavik means that even in winter the roads should usually be open and passable. As always the best time of year for sightseeing in Iceland is during the summer or the months either side of it. The midnight sun shines into the night from June to August giving plenty of daylight hours. The weather is also milder and less likely to hinder your adventuring with a storm.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Just a two-hour drive northwest from Reykjavik you will find the lovely Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Most of the western portion of the peninsular is a designated national park of the same name. This is one of the three national parks in Iceland. It is a beautifully compact area to explore if you are short on time. This part of the country has been dubbed Iceland in miniature. There is such a diverse collection of sights in a relatively small area. Within its borders are mountains, waterfalls and a stunning volcanic coastline with cave networks and fascinating rock formations.
For a nicely relaxed Snæfellsnes Peninsula road trip we recommend 2-3 days. You could easily spend more time here or equally just make it a one-night sleepover. There are a couple of good campsites just on the edges of the national park. Again this road trip can be taken at any time of year. We highly recommend it as the perfect shoulder season road trip though. It is a great place to see the Northern Lights if conditions are right. So we are talking from September to mid-October or from mid-April to May. Of course the summer months are also a great time to explore the peninsular too.
Iceland’s South Coast
The South Coast of Iceland is an absolute stunner of a road trip. On this route you’ll be driving along the Southern reaches of the Ring Road, otherwise known as Route One. This is quite a frequented region of Iceland and one that is quite well travelled by tour buses. It is a good road trip to take if you have a little more time. Perhaps 4-6 days would be ideal although it could be done in less.
Again this itinerary could be undertaken year round. The driving will be easier in the summer months but the roads will be a little busier. In the shoulder months you’ll get the best of both worlds. So quieter roads than in summer but still plenty of daylight and hopefully some calm weather. During the winter months the landscapes will be beautiful but the wild Iceland weather might interfere with your plans.
The South Coast has many highlights to enjoy. Along the way you will find some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. You’ll also be able to explore the stunning black sand beaches around the town of Vik. Then there’s excellent hiking in the Vatnajökull National Park. Not to mention glaciers, ice caves, a glacial lagoon and an icy beach. All in all this is a fantastic Iceland road trip and great for first time visitors to the country. You could easily combine this itinerary with a visit to the Blue Lagoon and a tour of the Golden Circle. This is a ‘there and back’ road trip though so you will be covering the same ground. Not that that is a problem when the landscapes are quite so incredible!
The Iceland Ring Road
When it comes to self-drive tours in Iceland this is the absolute classic. You will need at least ten days to do this one justice. Even better if you have a couple more days and can add in some exiting detours. Iceland’s Ring Road loops all the way around the country and will take you through the most amazing of landscapes. Along the way you will see volcanoes and glaciers, waterfalls and lava fields. You will have the opportunity for some glacier hiking and for soaking in an outdoor Iceland hot spring or two. This will be one epic adventure!
The two-lane Ring Road hugs the coast in South Iceland and also up along the east coast. It then loops around north Iceland following an inland trajectory before cutting back down towards Reykjavik. This road trip is one for the milder summer months or potentially the shoulder season months too. The weather conditions during winter can get pretty tricky so driving the full ring road is best avoided. It is possible that stretches of the route will close in winter and you might have to wait out a feisty storm or even turn back.
If you have plenty of time and book a rental car then it could be possible. You certainly don’t want to take a winter ring road self-drive tour in a motorhome though. This could be potentially really dangerous with high winds and ice. So the ideal time for this road trip would be the summer months and then the immediate shoulder months of May and September.
The Highlands Adventure
If you would like to head off the beaten path then this is the road trip for you. You will be heading across the remote interior of Iceland across the highlands from South to North (or visa versa). This route takes you on one of Iceland’s mountain F roads. These are rough gravel routes that can only be driven by 4 x 4 vehicles. This is a road trip for confident drivers and can only be traversed in the summer months. The roads across the highlands close in winter and are completely impassable. Even in summer it can be a challenging drive so think twice if you are nervous about driving in Iceland. On the flipside if the idea of getting behind the wheel of a four-wheel drive camper or jeep thrills you then go for it. You certainly won’t regret it!
The route can be driven in about three hours if you are driving non-stop. So if you start out early you can easily have a leisurely road trip with plenty of stops. You will be driving through some of Iceland’s wildest realms. There is a stark beauty to the landscapes here. You will see two of Iceland’s glaciers the Langjökull and the Hofsjökull. There is also the Hveravellir geothermal area with its bubbling mud pots and steamy fumaroles.
Once you’ve traversed the highlands you could head over to Akureyri for a few days. Alternatively you might spend some time around Lake Mývatn and then head east on the Ring Road. You could also take in the Diamond Circle route and then cross back over the highlands. Or perhaps head west towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. So many road trips, such little time!
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