Driving the Ring Road in Iceland is a road trip like no other. This iconic highway, or Route 1, encircles the entirety of Iceland and is full of scenic views, rushing waterfalls, and icy glaciers. With so much to see and do, planning the perfect itinerary can be a challenge. I loved my experience camping along the Ring Road. Today, I’m sharing my tips and tricks to help you plan the perfect itinerary. Let’s dive in!
- How Long Does It Take to Drive the Ring Road in Iceland?
- Is It Safe to Drive the Ring Road in Iceland?
- The Ultimate Ring Road Route
- Is It Worth Doing the Ring Road in Iceland?
How Long Does It Take to Drive the Ring Road in Iceland?
The Ring Road covers approximately 800 miles around the perimeter of Iceland. If you were to drive the Ring Road without stopping, it would take about 17 hours to complete. However, if you’re like me, you’ll want to stop every five minutes to take photographs of the scenic landscapes, waterfalls, and Icelandic ponies. So, you will need more time to complete your journey.
Overall, you can complete the route and still see many of the most famous sites in 5-6 days. However, this time frame can rush the road trip. From my experience, I would recommend stretching out your trip to 8-10 days to allow time for extended hikes and scenic stops.
Pro Tip: Make planning your Icelandic adventure a breeze with this guide on How to Plan a Backpacking Camping Trip to Iceland.
Is It Safe to Drive the Ring Road in Iceland?
The Ring Road in Iceland is a popular route, so the highway is paved and safe for driving. The main dangers for driving Route 1 come if you go off route to see unique sites or don’t properly prepare for Iceland’s elements. To ensure you stay safe on your road trip, follow these tips:
- Fuel up for gas whenever you see a gas station – Gas stations are few and far between along the route, so top off regularly so you don’t run out of gas.
- Don’t take detours off the mapped route – Many paper maps you will get in Iceland will label what roads are paved, gravel, or dirt. However, these maps don’t always accurately portray the conditions. During our trip, we took what we thought was a paved road shortcut to save time, and we ended up driving ourselves up the side of a cliff. Although it claimed to be a two-way road, it could barely fit one car. Play it safe and stick to the main route.
- Have safety supplies in your vehicle – Most rental cars will give you the option of a spare tire and safety kit in your vehicle. While you will hopefully not need to use these, certain areas of the Ring Road are isolated and far from roadside assistance. It is good to have them on hand just in case.
- Get a local SIM card – Because the Ring Road has long stretches far from villages and assistance, you will want to ensure you have a local data plan in case you need to call for help. This will also be helpful while on hikes.
The Ultimate Ring Road Route
You will start your Iceland journey by flying into the capital city of Reykjavik. I enjoyed exploring the city a few days but was eager to hit the highway for my Ring Road adventure. You can get great rental cars, camper vans, and camping gear in Reykjavik. Many of the car companies in Iceland will arrange to pick you up from your hotel in Reykjavik and shuttle you to the car company, so you can grab your wheels and head out on the highway.
I’ve shared my route below to help you decide which way to go on the Ring Road. Let’s look closer at each stop along the way.
What Is Better: Starting South or Heading North?
Choosing whether to start your Ring Road journey in the south or head north depends on personal preference. Beginning in the south offers a captivating introduction to Iceland’s iconic attractions, including the Golden Circle, while starting in the north unveils charming towns and diverse landscapes.
I added the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to my Ring Road itinerary, which I highly recommend. Therefore, I opted to start south and finish along the peninsula. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula comes with a more rugged, challenging terrain to navigate. I wanted to wait to drive this section of the route until the end of my road trip. This gave me the chance to build my confidence driving in Iceland but also ensured I didn’t harm the vehicle before I could do the rest of the drive.
Starting South: Reykjavik to Vik
Embarking on the Ring Road adventure, the southbound drive from Reykjavik to Vik introduces Iceland’s natural wonders. Many are on the Golden Circle route. The urban landscape gives way to vast stretches of volcanic terrain. This portion of Route 1 takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours to drive and covers about 112 miles.
This section features impressive waterfalls, geysers, and scenic views. My must-stop spots while driving from Reykjavik to Vik were:
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – This is a 200-foot-tall waterfall that you can walk behind.
- Skógafoss Waterfall – One of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland, this waterfall is almost 200 feet tall and 82 feet wide. I recommend trying to start your road trip early in the morning. You’ll want to reach this waterfall before the tour buses come in the late morning and early afternoon.
- Sólheimasandur Plane Crash – In 1973 a US Navy plane ran out of fuel and landed on a black sand beach in South Iceland. Everyone survived the crash, but they left the eerie remains. To reach this site, park your car along Route 1 and walk to the plane crash. It took me about 45 minutes to complete the two-mile, manageable walk to the site.
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach – Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach has striking jet-black sand and basalt columns, creating a captivating and unique coastal landscape.
Where to stay: End the first day of your road trip in Vik, a remote seafront village. Vik Camping is a campsite for tent and RV camping after this leg of the journey. Tent campsites start at around $14/night, plus an extra $5 for electric hookups for RVs. They have clean showers although you will have to pay a few extra dollars. Plus, there is free, reliable WiFi and a dining hall for cooking and meeting fellow travelers.
Heading East: Vik to Höfn
The second leg of the journey on the Ring Road in Iceland heads east. This section offers diverse landscapes, from black sand beaches to lush canyons. The drive from Vik to Höfn spans around 4 to 5 hours, covering approximately 171 miles. I found my favorite hike and tourist spot here:
- Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – The Fjaðrá River carved out this 100-meter-deep canyon. You’ll see moss-covered cliffs and a hiking trail with the best viewpoint. I almost didn’t stop here, but I am grateful I did. It ended up being my favorite hike on the trip. It took me about 1.5 hours to complete.
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – This glacier lagoon sent shivers down my spine. Whenever I think of the Ring Road, I remember the crisp air and intense blue colors in this lagoon. If you’re looking for a unique activity, reserve a spot on this glacier hike. This is an all-day guided hike and takes about 9 hours. If you want to do the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and glacier hikes, split this leg of the trip into two days. On your first day, do the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, then go to Höfn on the second day. If you do not do the glacier trek you can stop at the glacier lagoon in one day.
- Eat langoustine: End this section in the small fishing village of Höfn. Höfn is one of the best places in Iceland to try the famous langoustine and dried shark. Grab a bite at Heimahumar for fresh-caught, local langoustine.
Where to stay: Höfn is a charming fishing town with limited camping. I booked a one-night stay at Camping Höfn. This site allows tent camping year-round and has some rental cabins for a more luxurious experience. The campsite is mobile-home-friendly and has electricity, WiFi, cooking, washing facilities, and a playground.
Höfn to Egilsstaðir
The drive from Höfn to Egilsstaðir on the Ring Road will take you north up the east coast of Iceland. The eastern coast has beautiful fjords and scenic mountains that will leave you speechless. During this stage of the road trip, stop at these spots:
- Vatnajökull National Park – This national park is a short distance from Höfn and contains the glacier from the previous day’s stop. However, Vatnajökull National Park has many other hikes that aren’t on the side of a glacier. The national park has multiple campsites so you can extend your stay and complete these hikes.
- Svartifoss Waterfall – If you are hiking in Vatnajökull National Park, you will want to hike to this waterfall in the Skaftafell Nature Reserve area. It is about 65 feet high and flows over towering black hexagonal basalt columns.
- Sveinsstekksfoss Waterfall – This waterfall, sometimes referred to as Fossárfoss, is along the Eastfjords. It’s a great spot to stop and stretch your legs along the drive. It is smaller than the previous waterfalls on the road trip at about 50 feet. However, the scenic mountains surrounding it and mossy basalt columns make it an impressive view. It is close to the town of Djupivogur, which I stopped at to do a kayak tour through the fjords. It takes around two hours to complete and is about $90/person.
Where to stay: End this leg of your road trip in the town of Egilsstaðir at this campsite. For adults 13-67 years old, the campsite is around $16/night, with kids 12 years or younger able to camp for free. For people over 67, there is a discounted rate of around $10/night. These fees include the campsite, showers, a kitchen, and free WiFi.
Traveling North: Egilsstaðir to Akureyri
Northern Iceland has many stunning locations, including a part of the Arctic Circle. It also has the second most-populated city in Iceland, Akureyri. Stop at these key places along this portion of the drive:
- Akureyri Christmas House – Christmas is year-round on the Ring Road. This stop is a Christmas village in Akureyri where you can find Christmas trinkets, fairy houses, and treats.
- Akureyri Botanical Garden – While in Akureyri, stop by the Akureyri Botanical Garden and public park. It has 430 native species and 6600 alien taxa in the garden.
- Mývatn Nature Baths – Many people stop at the Blue Lagoon when visiting Reykjavik. However, it can be extremely busy. Try the Mývatn Nature Baths instead. You’ll backtrack along Route 1 from Akureyri for this and the following site, but it is worth it. This is a geothermal spa and bathing facility with serene surroundings and therapeutic waters. After many days of hiking, this is a great spot to relax while surrounded by Iceland’s beauty.
- Goðafoss Waterfall – People often refer to this waterfall as the “Waterfall Of The Gods.” It earned its name in 1000 AD. According to legend, chieftain Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi threw his statues of Norse gods into the falls. This story symbolizes the country’s adoption of Christianity. The waterfall is approximately 39 feet high and 98 feet wide. It is a breathtaking sight.
Where to stay: Upon arriving in Akureyri, I stayed in Akureyri Backpackers Hotel to sleep in a cozy bed. This is a central hotel with affordable rooms. It offers shared bathrooms and private bathrooms. The hotel has an excellent bar, and I recommend the potato wedges. Icelandic potatoes have a unique taste due to the volcanic soil and cold climate. If you want to camp, try this campsite with showers, bathrooms, electricity, WiFi, and laundry services.
Continuing West: Akureyri to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The Ring Road in Iceland continues from Akureyri to Reykjavik. However, it does not cover one of the best parts of the western coast. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula has some of the most rugged and scenic areas of Iceland. Visitors often overlook it because it requires a slight detour off the Ring Road. If you are adding this portion of the drive to your itinerary, you’ll want a 4×4 vehicle to better navigate the roads.
I spent two days exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but could have spent more camping and hiking through Snæfellsjökull National Park and the other stunning sites. During your visit, stop and see:
- Black Church of Budir – This historic church is one of the most popular photography sites in Iceland. The Black Church of Búðir sits in the Búðahraun lava fields on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It is worth a stop for this historic landmark.
- Soak in Lýsuhólslaug Mineral Pool – This pool has geothermal mineral water with no chemicals for optimal health benefits. The mineral pool is typically open from 11:00 – 21:00 between June to mid-August.
- Ytri Tunga Beach – If you want to spot wildlife while exploring Iceland, head to this beach for the best chance to see wild seals.
- Gatklettur (“Hellnar Arch”) – This famous arch is one of the most iconic spots along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This natural stone arch overlooks rugged coastal views and is one of the most impressive views in Iceland.
Where to stay: Arnarstapi Center is in the small fishing village of Arnarstapi on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This site has campsites, cottages, apartments, and a family house rental. They permit tent camping and van camping at this site. While camping here, I was able to view the Northern Lights multiple nights at this campsite and enjoyed the scenic mountain views.
Heading Home: Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Reykjavik
The drive from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula back to Reykjavik is under two hours. From the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you will connect to the Ring Road and head back to the capital city to return your rental vehicle.
Pro Tip: Want to rent an RV or camper van while road-tripping around Iceland? Find out how!
Is It Worth Doing the Ring Road in Iceland?
Embarking on the Ring Road journey in Iceland is worth it. This iconic route allows you to experience the country’s unparalleled natural beauty, from majestic waterfalls and glaciers to geysers and volcanoes. The convenience of driving the Ring Road and the attractions along the way make this road trip unique. An adventure around the Ring Road will leave you with memories you will never forget.
Is a road trip on the Ring Road on your bucket list? Drop a comment down below!
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