July of 2019, together with my girlfriend, we drove around Iceland ring road. We bought (and rebought due to Wow Air collapse) the tickets long time ago. Before we went on traveling, we did a lot of research into planning our trip. We found quite a lot of links online but none of them seemed comprehensive enough. As a result, we ended up combining a lot of those places mentioned online and build our plan and route using Google Maps.
Here is our guide to drive around Iceland and visiting some of the most touristic and non touristic spots. Something you should keep in mind that this trip required a lot of effort from our side. Our days would start as early as 9 AM in the morning and we finish as late as 1 AM next day. You will need a lot of energy and stamina if you wanna pull a trip like that. But trust us, those lengthy days and hours of driving and hiking is absolutely worth it! Also, this guide is intended for summer time, road and trail conditions may not allow you to follow this guide in winter.
Before you get into reading this guide, here is a video of our trip. Don’t worry, this video only contains footage of nature 🙂
Car Rental and Stay
In order to drive around, you will need to rent a car. And to spend the night, you will need to book either hotels or Airbnb.
Or you can rent a camper, that’s what we did. We rented a mini camper from GoCamper. I would highly recommend renting a camper and here is why
- You save money, accommodation is very expensive in Iceland. A camper becomes your vehicle and accommodation at the same time.
- You save time on checking in and checking out. You choose when to arrive and leave camping site.
- Iceland has many camping site across the country with facilities like kitchen, shower and toilets.
I suggest you rent camper of your choice from GoCampers. The prices are very reasonable and their staff is extremely helpful.
When packing clothes for Iceland even for the summer, don’t forget to pack winter jacket, trousers and warm socks, you will need them! Also, don’t forget your swim suit because you’re also gonna need them. Make sure you also pack good walking shoes as well sturdy hiking shoes.
Eating in a restaurant is one of most expensive things you can do in Iceland. We love trying out local cuisine so we did eat outside from time to time, but we mostly relied on self cooked food. We we refill our breakfast supply like Yogurt, fruits from supermarkets in Iceland but we took stuff like dry fruits, crackers, beef jerky and other snacks with us in our luggage.
For dinner, we heavily relied on meals from Real Turmat. We bought a small gas stove from GoCampers and it came in quite handy during the whole trip. When we got hungry, we would make a stop at some nice scenic spot, boil the water and make our meals, and if time allows, sip a cup for nice tea 🙂
If you’re doubting that would you need your telephoto or wide angle lens, or should you take your drone with you, or should you bring your tripod with you. The answer is yes! The photos you will see in this guide have been taken with different cameras and lenses.
Our journey started from GoCampers in Helluhraun and we went South, East, North and West of Iceland. You could also start the other way around but we specifically chose that route based on intensity of plan. Luckily, the weather conditions favored our original plan. I suggest checking en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/areas/ and finalize the plan a day or two before your trip.
Day 1: Golden Circle, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and DC Plane Crash Site
Day 1 is very ambitious, but you’re full of energy so it’s fine. Also, we wanted to cover the most touristic route of Iceland in the day first that is Golden circle. I suggest you start as early as 8:30 in the morning. It’s the earliest you can pick you camper from GoCampers.
Stop 1: Þingvellir National Park / Öxarárfoss
You first stop would be Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a historic site and national park in Iceland, east of Reykjavík. It’s known for the Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. On the site are the Þingvellir Church and the ruins of old stone shelters. The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic North American and Eurasian plates.
Take a walk from the entrance towards the Öxarárfoss, you will be passing through Almannagjá gorge, a trail/platform between rocks. Spend some time at the Öxarárfoss and on the way back, visit the Þingvellir Church. From there, you can continue walk to see diving place between tectonic plates. Try to time box the whole trip to not more than 3 hours.
Fun fact: Almannagjá gorge is used in Game of Throne as Entrance to the Eyrie.
Stop 2: Geysir, Strokkur and Haukadalur Valley
Your next stop is Geysir. Geysir is a famous hot spring in the geothermal area of Haukadalur Valley. Geysir which lent its name to all others across the world itself is not very active these days but Haukadalur Valley has many small hot springs and geysers. Strokkur is Iceland’s most visited active geyser. Strokkur erupts regularly blasting water to heights of around fifteen to twenty meters every five to ten minutes.
After watching the eruption, I suggest taking a hike to nearby hill. It’s a short less than 30 minutes hike that offers very nice view to valleys on both sides of hill.
Stop 3: Gullfoss
3rd stop in Golden is famous Gullfoss. Gullfoss translated to Golden Falls is one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls.
Waterfall has two stages. The first, shorter cascade is 11 meters and the second drop is 21 meters. The canyon walls on both sides of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70 meters.
There is small trail to walk around the waterfall. It’s also one of the most touristic hence crowded places in Iceland. I would advise not to spend more than an hour there.
Stop 4: Kerid Crater
With distinctive red volcanic rock slopes, measuring 170 meters wide, 270 meters in circumference and 55 meters deep, Kerid crater lake is a 3,000 year old volcanic crater lake, the perfect golden circle detour.
There is a small 2-3 euros entrance fee, pay it and make sure you walk around the whole lake. I shows different colors from different angles. You can also take a walk down next to water and enjoy a drink or sandwich. Worth spending 45 minutes to an hour.
Stop 5: Seljalandsfoss
Time to start driving across South coast, you drive to Seljalandsfoss. The best thing about this waterfall is that it has a pathway that stretches all the way around it. The cliffs behind the falls have a wide cavern, and rocks and paths allow guests to fully encircle it in summer.
After visiting Seljalandsfoss, continue walking to a small nearby waterfall Gljúfrabúi, which is found partially hidden behind a rock face. Because of Seljalandsfoss extreme popularity, Gljúfrabúi is widely considered the hidden gem of the scene, as it is too often overlooked. It’s a 5 minutes walk from Seljalandsfoss and totally worth it.
Stop 6: Skógafoss
Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s biggest and most beautiful waterfalls with an astounding width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters. The surface underneath the fall is very flat so you can practically walk next to fall but you’ll get soaking wet.
There is a also viewing platform above cascade that is accessible with steep stairs. I also suggested taking a walk around after you reach the platform. Spend an hour or two at this nice waterfall and get some energy for your next stop!
Stop 7: Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
Your next stop is Solheimasandur Plane Wreck on Sólheimasandur. In order to get there you’ll have to drive to parking spot next to road. From there, it’s 4 kilometers / an hour walk one way.
There is something you should know about this place though, it could be a very nice view during the night with Aurora dancing around in winter, but during summer time, it’s very crowded with disrespectful people jumping on plane and trying to have their photos taken.
We only decided to go there because we didn’t wanted to miss out on the place that we have seen in so many photos. But if you chose not to go there, in my opinion, you’re not missing out on much.
Stop 8: Vik camping site
Walk back to the car parking and get to Vik camping site. Get a good night sleep in your camper as you have another ambitious day ahead of you 🙂
Day 2: South Coast
For the second day, beautiful view start from the moment you leave your camper. You’ll be surrounded by beautiful green hills in beautiful town of Vik. Leave the camping site and get yourself some nice breakfast and coffee from super market on high way and fill up your car tank with gas. Today you will be driving along the beautiful South coast of Iceland.
Stop 1: Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara black sand beach is the most famous beach on the South Coast of Iceland. Its beautiful black sand, powerful waves, and the nearby Reynisdrangar sea stacks make Reynisfjara a truly unique place to visit. Reynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks situated under the mountain Reynisfjall.
You could potentially do it the day before on the way from Solheimasandur Plane Wreck but I think it’s better to drive back in the morning. Stay away from water as it’s dangerous to swim there. Spend a an hour or two there and get ready for the next stop.
Fun fact: Reynisfjara is used as the beach at Eastwatch by the sea where the men in the night’s watch are guarding the wall in Game of Thrones.
Stop 2: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Next is a drive of 1.5 hours or so. Once you leave the highway, 1.5 kilometer further road becomes not so smooth. If you’re not driving a 4×4, I suggest you park right before where the road splits. Take the route from left and walk all the way up to viewing platform and enjoy the views of this beautiful canyon. On the way back, you can take the alternate route.
Fun fact: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon was used in dragon flight scene in the first episode of Season 8 of Game of Thrones.
Stop 3: Svartifoss
Another hour of drive, you should reach the Svartifoss waterfall Parking. Park there, pay the parking fee and start the hike to Svartifoss waterfall. It’s 30-40 minutes easy hike.
Svartifoss is one of the unique waterfalls in South-Iceland, 20 meters tall, and black columnar basalt formations beautifully frame the waterfall and give it its name, Black Fall. From afar it looks like a big heart.
Stop 4: Sjónarnípa
From Svartifoss you can take a hike to Sjónarnípa. Sjónarnípa is a viewpoint overlooking the Skaftafell glacier and surrounding mountains. The view to the glaciers from there are amazing.
There is a very nice cafe next visitor center. You might wanna grab a late lunch / early dinner there before heading out to next stop.
Stop 5: Fjallsárlón
Fjallsárlón is a glacier lake at the south end of the Icelandic glacier Vatnajökull. Fjallsjökull which is part of the bigger glacier reaches down to the water of the lake and some ice-bergs are drifting by on its surface.
Compared to it’s counterpart Jökulsárlón, it’s far less crowded and really majestic. It’s also on the way. Make a stop and enjoy the magnificent view of lake and glacier beyond it.
Stop 6: Jökulsárlón
With a maximum depth of 248 metres, Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s deepest lake. Majestic icebergs make their way through the enormous lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean. Often, you can also see the seals swimming there.
A secret tip I would like to give here. Before you head out to Diamond Beach, go to the other side of the bridge and there is a less crowded beach. There you can see a lot of seals chilling out.
Stop 7: Breiðamerkursandur / Diamond Beach
The icebergs that break away from the glacier and fall into the lagoon, slowly melt and drift out to sea, where they are polished by the North Atlantic waves before being washed ashore on the jet-black beach called Breiðamerkursandur.
This black stretch of sand is, therefore, always covered in translucent, compact ice sculptures that glisten in the sun, much like diamonds. This is why Breiðamerkursandur is nicknamed the Diamond Beach.
Stop 8: Camping Höfn
Drive to Höfn camping site. It’s another hour of drive from there. The camping site is not the greatest one but pretty decent to spend a night.
Day 3: East
With the last two extensive days, we planned the 3rd day to be less extensive. Höfn is also know for it’s langoustine soup, so we wanted to have a proper meal. I would suggest Pakkhús Restaurant next to port.
Stop 1: Horse Farm
There is a horse farm right outside Höfn before you join highway. After grabbing a nice langoustine soup and filling up gas in your car, I suggest to drive there. There is limited space for car park so watch out for that.
Park the car, and pat the friendly Icelandic horses. Take photos and enjoy the surrounding views.
Stop 2: Vestrahorn & Stokksnes
Another 10-15 minutes drive from horse farms will bring you to Stokksness. For some reason, this place has negative reviews on Google primarily due to fact that you have to pay for the entrance but I think 4-5 euros per person is totally worth it. Specially in a country as expensive as Iceland.
I suggest to go to Viking village, a small village used in some Iceland film. from there, you can see the Vestrahorn mountain. Vestrahorn mountain also called Batman mountain because of its shape. After visiting viking village. I suggest to take walk to beach. The black sand, green plants, blue beach and brown mountain makes a very unique landscape.
Stop 3: Öxi Pass and Folaldafoss
Now you will be driving through beautiful South-eastern coast of Iceland with nice views to water on your right. 1.5 hours or so, you will come across Öxi. That’s where you are gonna head now.
Öxi pass is a mountain pass at an elevation of 539m above the sea level. It’s a well maintained gravel mountain road but narrow and steep, with sections up to 17%. Along the road you will be literally driving up and over a mountain. From sea level to over 500 meters as you zigzag your way up various steep inclines along a ravine.
So if you don’t have a 4×4 and you’re not comfortable driving on narrow and steep gravel roads, avoid this road. Also don’t drive in extreme weather condition. We ended up on this road because Google suggested it as shorter route and we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. It became really foggy when we reached in middle but I do have experience driving in mountains back from Pakistan so we managed to pull this one off.
There is an awesome waterfall Folaldafoss in the beginning of pass. Not too long of walk from road. If the weather permits, park your car carefully in parking spot and get there. Enjoy a cup of tea or snack next to it and get back on road. You will passing through some awesome views on Öxi pass for quite some time.
Stop 4: Hengifoss through Lagarfljót
We only drove to Lagarfljót because we read online about it. And to be honest, it was quite disappointing. Specially, the part of Lagarfljót we arrived at.
Lagarfjlót is a narrow lake best known for its its fishing and its folklore. According to legend, the deep lake is said to hold a beast called the Lagarfljót Wyrm, a cousin of the Loch Ness Monster with a lot more history.
The lake itself wasn’t that great but I heard from a couple later that waterfall is really great. it’s supposedly two hours round trip from car parking. I would only advise doing it if you reach there before 19:00.
Stop 5: Puffin Island
So our original idea was to spend night at Egilsstaðir but due to disappointment caused by Lagarfljót, we decided to drive to Borgarfjörður Eystri which is a fjord in East. We read online that there you can see Puffins. My girlfriend really really wanted to see the Puffins.
We passed through Egilsstaðir and then joined road 94 which is a gravel road for most of the part. Later it takes you to another mountain pass, zig zagging all the way. The further you drive up, better the view gets. After certain point, you start driving down again towards water.
You will first pass the small city of Borgarfjörður Eystri. Keep driving all the way to the end of the road which is like 5 kilometers or so. The place is a small Island Borgarfjörður Eystri. It’s accessible with stairs and it houses thousands and thousands of Puffins hand reach away.
Make sure you go there around mid night, as all birds are there and no tourists. Me and my girlfriend were the only two human there among thousands of Puffins.
Stop 6: Borgarfjörður Eystri Camping Site
Now drive back to Borgarfjörður Eystri, hands down one of the best camping sites in Iceland in terms of views. Spend the night here and wake up to beautiful views.
Day 4: Waterfalls, Geothermal Valleys and Crater of East
Day 4 is very ambitious, you will be visiting a Canyon, 4 waterfalls, hike a mountain and a crater. Get up early, enjoy the early breakfast in camping site surrounded by mountains.
Stop 1: Stuðlagil Canyon
You first actual stop is the Dettifoss but along the way, you will make two small stops. First one, 45 minutes into drive, you will see a parking on your right. Pull over there and take a small walk to see the Canyon from a bridge.
Stop 2: Rjúkandi Waterfall
Another small waterfall along the road. Worth spending 20 minutes. Park next to highway in the small parking spot and take a fast walk up to viewing platform. Don’t spend too much time here because you’re gonna see 3 more rather bigger waterfalls today 🙂
Stop 3: Dettifoss
Dettifoss is reputed to be the second most powerful waterfall in Europe. You can approach the Dettifoss from two sides. East and West. To East side road to the parking is a gravel road. You drive for an hour or so on a rough road and your car will become dusty from inside out. The road to West side is supposedly better.
Although, we went to East side, I think the West side is higher and greener. But then again, it’s always greener on the other side. Take a walk next to waterfall and enjoy the views. Don’t cross the fence and be respectful to nature. It’s a very powerful waterfall and deserve respect as such.
Fun fact: This waterfall was used in beginning scene of Prometheus movie.
Stop 4: Selfoss
Only one kilometer south walk on rocks from Dettifoss, you are next to Selfoss. The height is only 10 meters, but the width is more than Dettifoss. In summer, this area can be full of bees but it’s less crowded here, so spend some quality time, grab a snack or lunch.
Stop 5: Hverir
Next stop, drive to Hverir Parking and park your car there. And head out to Hverir. Hverir is a unique wasteland in which pools of boiling mud, hot springs and hissing chimneys give life to a desolate Mars-like scenery. Although the whole place smells like rotten eggs, take your time to stroll around the bubbling gray puddles.
Stop 6: Námaskarð and Námafjall
After strolling around the boiling mud pools, time to hike to the top of Námafjall and through Námaskarð psas. The steep trail is naturally heated from the ground and leads to several viewpoints, some of them marked by massive rocks looking like ancient abandoned fortresses. The pass itself is home to many hot springs. From top of Námafjall, the view is very surreal and offers Mars like landscape.
Stop 7: Grjótagjá Cave
Grjótagjá is a small lava cave located near lake Mývatn , famous for featuring a beautiful geothermal hot spring in its depths. It’s a very small cave and in Game of Thrones, it is used as the setting for the much anticipated love scene between Jon Snow and the wildling woman Ygritte, where Jon Snow ‘proves’ his abandonment of the Night’s Watch by consummating their relationship.
Time box it to not more than 20 minutes. Keep in mind that it’s not allowed to take a bath there. So just go in, take a few photos and be out.
Stop 8: Hverfjall
Another short drive and you will arrive at the parking spot of Hverfjall. Hverfjall is 396 meter crater. You can walk up the steep slopes and around the crater’s rim and enjoy awesome view of the surrounding landscape.
Hike up to the rim takes 15-20 minutes and then you can walk around. The diameter of crater is about 1 kilometer. It can be bit windy up there. From top you can have great views of Lake Myvatn and the surrounding lava fields.
Stop 8: Goðafoss
Another 45 minutes of drive and you should reach the parking of Godafoss. Godafoss often nicknamed the waterfall of the gods is one of Iceland’s true pearls and one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland.
There are walking trails on both sides of the waterfall. You should be tired by now, so sit down and enjoy the view. Grab a dinner or snack and get recharged for your next round of drive.
Stop 9: Hauganes Camping Area
I can imagine how tired you must be by now. I really had to struggle not to fall asleep while driving this last bit. Get to the camping site and get some sleep.
Day 5: Whale Watching and Akureyri
We knew that based on the previous day, we would be exhausted so we planned the 5th day to be relaxed and little bit chilled. Hauganes is the home of oldest Whale Watching company in Iceland, since 1993. It’s called Whale Watching Hauganes.
Stop 1: Whale Watching
We had booked the tickets online and their excursion starts next to camping site. Their is also a small cafe there, where you can grab breakfast before getting on to boat. It’s around 3 hours roundtrip and depending on time of the year, you do get to see some whales.
After finishing the trip, return back to camping site. Put on nice clothes coz you’re going to city 🙂
Stop 2: Akureyri
Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city, after the greater Reykjavík area. Drive to Akureyri, grab lunch at of the many options this city has to offer and take a stroll in town. We went to shops, near by church and different streets. Spend good 3-4 hours without any agenda and surprise yourself. At least that’s what we did and we were super happy!
Stop 3: Sauðárkrókur
Instead of taking the Ring road 1, we decided to drive along the coastline. It was rather longer route and we had to go through a couple of tunnels but I think it turned out to be a good idea as we ended up passing through Sauðárkrókur. There we saw the amazing pattern as seen in the above photo.
It may not be easily visible from ground level as I took this photo with my drone but still worth trying.
Stop 4: Bath at Hvammstangi Campground
Our original plan was to take bath in natural thermal pools near Mývatn but due to shortage of time, we had to skip it. We drove to this kinda remote camping site and it turned out that they have two small pools that gets water from near by thermal stream.
We had arrived around 12 and we were super tired, there was this crazy midnight sun and it was kinda chilly. We did what any sane person would do after a long day, we jumped into pool after changing. We staying there for almost two hours and saw the awesome sunset from pool.
Day 6: West Iceland
Day 6 will bring you to the West of Iceland and some of the most iconic places of Iceland. We visited Kirkjufellsfoss and Kirkjufell one of the most photographed locations in Iceland and had great dinner at town of Grundarfjordur.
Stop 1: Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufellsfoss is a rather smaller water next to Kirkjufell mountain. Throughout the drive from camping site, you will be passing through magnificent views. Landscape will change from green mountains and lakes to brown dry mountains from time to time.
Drive all the way to car paking of Kirkjufellsfoss. Keep in mind that sometimes it can be very busy in the that small parking lotHaving seen some of the biggest waterfalls, we were not super impressed with it but does offer some nice views so I’d totally recommend it.
Stop 2: Kirkjufell
Kirkjufell, or ‘Church Mountain’, is a distinctly shaped 463 meter tall peak in Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It is often called ‘the most photographed mountain in Iceland’, due to its dramatic formation.
Our plan was to climb it, yes, go all the way to peak. So we walked to the beginning of trail and started the hike. The first half is very non technical straight forward to ascent. But second half becomes very tricky. We felt a bit tired and we also had a big adventure planned the next day so we decided not to risk too much and stopped where the path started to become dangerous and really challenging.
Stop 3: Lunch at Grundarfjörður
After hiking the mountain, we went to town of Grundarfjörður and grabbed a very nice sea food lunch in a restaurant. Then we took a small walk next to water and hit the road again.
Stop 4: Arnarstapi Camping
We had planned an adventure for tomorrow which would start from Arnarstapi, so we decided to drive to the camping site of Arnarstapi. We arrived a bit earlier than usual but decided to go to bad early.
Day 7: Snæfellsjökull
We planned to hike Snæfellsjökull on one of our last days in Iceland. Snæfellsjökull is a glacier-capped volcano found on the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in west Iceland. It stands at 1,446 meters tall, and on clear days, is visible across the bay from Reykjavík. Other than that, we also had plans to visit near by attractions.
Stop 1: Top of Snæfellsjökull
We booked the guided hike through adventure.is. We drove to the starting point of hike. And started hike from there. Unfortunately weather was very foggy. The hike is usually a 6-7 hours round trip, but we finished it a bit faster. We walked on the glacier or the peak and it was a tiring yet fantastic experience. I would totally recommend it.
Stop 2: Arnarstapi
We were really tired the day before and didn’t had enough time in the morning to explore Arnarstapi. So after finishing the hike, we drove back to camping site, took shower there and set out to see some view points in Arnarstapi. Some of the worth seeing places, all with in walking distances are,
- Cliff Viewpoint (Observation deck)
- Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss Statue (Monument)
- Gatklettur (An arch rock)
- Stone Bridge (Naturally formed bridge in rocks)
Stop 3: Ytri Tunga
Ytri Tunga is a beach by a farm of the same name on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Unlike many of the beaches in Iceland, Ytri Tunga has golden sand, rather than black. We saw several seals hanging out on the beach. Worth the visit.
Stop 4: Dinner at Borgarbyggð
We decided to grab dinner at the town Borgarbyggð. We went to this specific restaurant called The Settlement Center. The food was reasonably priced and very good.
After having dinner, we walked around a little bit in town and after that decided to continue the journey!
Stop 5: Þórisstaðir Camping Ground
We wanted to visit Reykjavik next morning that was the nearest nicest Camping site we could find so we decided to spend the night here. We were really tired from today’s hike and other sight seeing so we ended up sleeping really early 🙂
Day 8: Reykjavík
It’s safe to say the that visit to Iceland would not be complete without visiting Reykjavík. On the day 8, we went to Reykjavík. There is a lot of things to do there, I am not gonna break it down in stops but here are some of the places you can visit and some of the things I would recommend doing
- Vist Hallgrimskirkja
- Enjoy Tax Free Shopping
- Visit Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
- Visit Sun Voyager
- Visit Recycled House
- Try spoiled Shark at one of the many Restaurants
I know that this guide can be a bit exhausting and it’s no where near complete. We obviously missed some of the spots on the way, but we tried to cover as much as we could. Some people like to have relaxed travel and spend 5-6 hours in one spot, but we wanted to make the most out of the trip.
If your travel style follows ours, you’re gonna love this trip. Feel free to add something I may have missed in the comments.