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My wife and I completed the famous Iceland ring road trip in under a week (6 days in total) in summer of 2018. If you do not count the one day we spent exploring Reykjavík, it is possible to complete Iceland’s Ring Road (or route 1) in 5 days.
In this travel guide, we share our entire experience with our Iceland ring road itinerary, including landmarks we visited, places we stayed at, the car rental company and car insurance we used and the breakdown of the cost for the entire trip. We show all the places we went to on Iceland ring road map.
The entire reason we traveled to Iceland was because of a free stopover provided by Icelandair on our way to a different destination in Europe. We landed in Keflavik airport on June 13 and left Iceland on June 20. This entire trip involved a lot of driving each day.
If you skip Reykjavík, you can extend your Iceland Ring Road trip to a total of 7 days and visit the places we mention, but personally did not go to or tours we did not take (e.g. glacial tours, whale watching). Also, if you stay longer than 7 days, you will minimize daily driving and enjoy Iceland’s amazing natural places at a more leisurely pace.
Booking Air Tickets to Iceland
What is an Icelandair Stopover? When you take a transatlantic trip, Icelandair gives you the option of a 1 to 7 day stopover in Iceland. The best part is that the stopover comes at no additional cost.
When we used Icelandair to book our flight, visiting Iceland was not even on our minds. But, when we saw the free stopover in Iceland offered by Icelandair, we were like: why not?
Driving on Iceland Ring Road
Driving in Iceland was very easy. Many road signs are written in Latin letters and you can understand what they mean. There was not a single time we were confused or did not know what to do while driving. You can look up typical road signs in Europe before your trip, if you’d like.
Foreign Driving License
In Iceland, cars drive on the right side. To drive a passenger vehicle in Iceland, you need a valid driver license issued a minimum of one year ago and the driver must be over 20 years of age. However, if you’d like to rent a 4×4 4WD all-wheel-drive vehicle, you need to be at least 23 years of age.
If your driving license has a number, your photograph, a valid date and your name written in Latin letters, then you don’t need an international driving permit. Otherwise, obtain it before your trip. Icelandic laws allow foreign drivers to use their driving licenses for up to 6 months. You can read more about Iceland’s laws on foreign driving licenses (use Google Translate).
Driving Hazards on Iceland’s Ring Road
Iceland is notorious for its rapidly changing weather. As Icelanders say: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes!” While rain, snow and strong winds can happen at any season, the most dangerous hazard that can cause significant damage to your rental vehicle is sand and ash storms. Other notable driving hazards in Iceland are flying gravel rocks on roads.
1. Sandstorms in Iceland
Iceland has over 100 volcanoes and eruptions frequently happen there. During strong volcanic activity, a lot of sand, ash and other volcanic material rise up and then cover the ground. If the air is dry with strong wind present, sandstorms can develop.
Luckily, we did not experience sandstorms in Iceland when we were there in summer. However, we read that sandstorms cause sand, ash, rocks and other volcanic debris to fly through the air. Depending on how strong the wind is, you can have a wide spectrum of damage done to your rental car, such as damaged paint, dents and broken windows.
Sand and ash storms are most common in winter from February through April, especially on the Southern coast of Iceland around Vík and Skaftafell. Summers in Iceland tend to be wet with lots of precipitation, which typically prevents sand and ash storms from happening.
We highly recommend keeping an eye out on Iceland’s weather forecast, especially in the Southern areas. The easiest way to do so is by using the Icelandic Met Office website. Alternatively, you can download their mobile app on Android or Apple iOS phones.
2. Gravel Hazard
Iceland’s Ring Road is paved for the most part. However, there were a few places where we drove through gravel patches. Also, if you plan on visiting Dettifoss waterfall, you will drive on a gravel road. While driving on gravel is not a problem, it becomes a hazard if you have another vehicle in front of you. We had one time when a few flying gravel rocks hit our car from a passing vehicle. There were noticeable scratches from that small accident.
3. Other Weather Hazards
If you are going to drive in summer, like we did, expect a lot of rain and maybe even snow. There was a lot of rain that lasted several days when we visited Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and other places in Southeastern Iceland. One time, when we climbed a mountain in our car, snow started falling out of nowhere.
Iceland’s Ring Road is a relatively quiet road with very little traffic. You will be driving through some remote areas, sometimes with no cell phone coverage and only nature around you. Overall, besides that gravel accident, rain and a little snow, we did not experience any other hazardous weather phenomenon while driving. But again, we were there in mid-June and summers are considered less hazardous in terms of weather.
4. Icelandic Sheep
According to Iceland’s statistics, there are over 800,000 sheep roaming the country’s pastures in summers compared to about 327,000 Icelanders. For this reason, when you drive along ring road or anywhere else for that matter, sheep will be everywhere.
Settlers from Norway brought the Icelandic sheep around the 9th or 10th century AD. These sheep belong to the Northern European short-tailed sheep breed that is less common in Europe these days.
Many farmers let their sheep roam hills and traverse mountains freely throughout the summer months. By September, all sheep are rounded up and kept inside for the winter months. While, for the most part, sheep roam and graze peacefully, sometimes one or several stray sheep run off to the road and appear out of nowhere. When you drive, just be aware of this hazard and give sheep the right of way.
The Car Rental Company We Picked: Blue Car Rental
As all foreign tourists, we landed in Keflavik International Airport. There are dozens of car rental companies there, including Avis, Budget, Hertz and many others. When we searched for car rental companies, we were looking for a reliable, but relatively inexpensive option.
When doing our research, we came across Blue Car Rental, which is conveniently located right in Keflavik airport. The car rental shuttle that circulates around the airport will take you to their office. Blue Car Rental ticked a lot of boxes for us, mainly offering a great value by being inexpensive and reliable based on the numerous reviews we read online. Take a look at our post reviewing Blue Car Rental and our experience with them.
Our overall car rental experience was smooth and pleasant with Blue Car Rental. We chose to rent one of their smallest vehicles, which they advertise as Toyota Aygo with automatic transmission. What we actually got was a comparable car, Hyundai i10. Based on our Iceland Ring Road itinerary below, we were perfectly fine driving this small vehicle on ring road and certain adjacent gravel roads.
The main benefits of booking with Blue Car Rental was that their prices were significantly lower, in the order of 20%+ less expensive compared to major rental companies. Not only that, their daily rates automatically include several insurance types, mainly collision damage waiver (CDW), super collision damage waiver (SCDW), theft protection (TP) and gravel protection (GP). Even with all these insurance types included, Blue Car Rental beat conventional car rental companies’ rates that do not include any of these insurance benefits.
Blue Car Rental also offers free cancellations and 100% refunds, which made booking with them worry-free. Not only that, the company also offers discounts on longer rentals that last several days or more. The discount could be 5% or more.
Sand and Ash protection insurance was optional. The daily rates vary depending on the season. In the summer, it could be anywhere from $10 to $17 per day, depending on the foreign exchange rate. We did take the sand and ash protection from Blue Car Rental. In hindsight, maybe we did not need it in the summer, which could have saved us about $107. We highly recommend taking photos of your rental car before leaving the rental office and documenting any scratches or dents to avoid problems later.
Here is the total car rental cost breakdown from June 14 to June 20, 2018 (6 days):
We looked up current prices in ISK for car rentals and they seemed to be higher. However, since then, the Icelandic Króna depreciated by over 40%. As of February 2023, 1 USD can buy you a whopping ISK142. So when you convert ISK prices to USD in 2023, the car rental rates in USD at Blue Car Rental are not too far off compared to what we paid in 2018.
Gasoline prices are notoriously expensive in Iceland since the country has no domestic oil production and all of its transportation fuel is imported from elsewhere. When we traveled there, the average price per liter was around $1.80m or about $7 per gallon in June 2018. In the U.S., we would have paid about $3 per gallon at that time. You can look up current gas prices in Iceland here.
Given our Iceland Ring Road itinerary, we estimate that our travel mileage was about 1,100-1,200 miles in total. We spent about $300 on gas alone, which was pretty good, given that we drove a small economy car Hyundai i10 with fairly good mileage per gallon (between 30-35 miles per gallon).
Paying for Things in Iceland
We paid for everything with our credit cards in Iceland. There was not a single time we had to use cash. For this reason, we made a decision early to not withdraw any cash.
Capital One Quicksilver Card
When we travel, we use our Capital One Quicksilver credit card that gives 1.5% unlimited cash back on all purchases. Currently, Capital One offers $200 sign-up bonus. There is no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. We mostly use this card for everyday grocery purchases and other miscellaneous expenses.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
As for booking travel accommodations, air tickets, car rentals and restaurants, we highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. This credit card comes with an annual fee of $550, but the benefits you get in return by far outweigh this cost, especially if you travel at least several times a year. There are no foreign transaction fees. Here are some benefits for Chase Sapphire Reserve:
- Instant $300 credit on travel purchases, which lowers your annual fee to $250.
- 60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. 60,000 points are worth $600 in cash. However, if you use these points to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you get 50% more points, making this sign-up bonus worth $900.
- If you book your travel accommodations through Chase Ultimate Rewards:
- Air travel is 5% cash back
- Car rentals and hotel stays earn 10% cash back
- If you use Chase reward points for booking any type of travel, you automatically get 50% bonus (e.g. air travel would be worth 7.5% cash back)
- All travel bookings made outside Chase Ultimate Rewards give 3% cash back.
- 3% cash back on restaurants
But the best part is that with the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card you get a Priority Club membership that gives complimentary access to select airport lounges, where you can get something to eat, drink, work or relax before your departure. There are many other benefits that I did not list here for this card.
We recently discovered the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and we highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys traveling and saving money. We consider ourselves credit card junkies as we like to optimize and maximize our cash back as much as we can. While we have used many means of payments to travel in the past, so far, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card is the best of its kind.
Must Have Travel Items for Iceland
There were several items we were very glad we prepared ahead of time. They primarily have to do with weather, driving and a lack of a cellular phone signal.
- Waterproof Rain Poncho: it often rains in Iceland since rainstorms from seas are easy to pass through the island. We took rain ponchos with us and it helped us tremendously when it poured for a few days non-stop. This poncho is extremely lightweight and easy to pack. It was also convenient to have for doing photography so our cameras did not get wet.
- Portable Power Bank Charger by Anker: sometimes, we needed to charge our devices and did not have an outlet available. We chose this power bank by Anker specifically for its large capacity and ability to get charged using 2 USB inputs simultaneously. This would recharge the power bank twice as fast compared to other models/brands.
- Free Downloadable Map Phone App by Offline Maps & Navigation (Android, iOS): We used Offline Maps Navigation by VirtualMaze. There are many other offline maps. Test them before going to Iceland. Google Maps is great, but it may be unavailable to download the map for the day in case of a lost signal.
- Car USB Charger for Phones: given how much time we spent on wheels driving, we opted to have a dedicated charger for all our devices. While modern cars may have USB ports for charging, they are sometimes slow to charge.
- Phone Mount for car: in case you do not have one, we highly recommend buying one for your trip to Iceland. We took our phone mount with us and it saved us a lot of headaches.
- Travel Outlet Adapter Kit: this is an indispensable item when traveling abroad. This adapter is ETL listed and was tested according to the North American safety standards by Intertek. We personally avoid buying electronics that are not UL or ETL listed or otherwise not tested for safety.
- Lightweight Travel Tripod: we love traveling and taking photos. Iceland is a photographer’s paradise with its beautiful dramatic landscapes. To capture those amazing views, we took a lightweight travel tripod that is compact, but steady enough to withstand winds. We have been using Bonfoto lightweight tripods for over 4 years and they have never disappointed us. They offer aluminum and carbon fiber versions. We personally use the carbon fiber version, as it is more weather resistant.
- Rain Cover For Camera: unfortunately, we wish we took it with us. The never-ceasing rain in Iceland taught us a lesson and we always keep this rain cover for cameras handy when we travel. We highly recommend it, if you are planning on doing photography in Iceland.
Booking Travel Accommodations
We booked all our travel accommodations in March for our mid-June travels using a combination of local guesthouses and private rooms via Airbnb. Had we booked entire places on Airbnb, our accommodation cost would have been significantly higher.
We noticed that many guesthouses were out of rooms for June or only expensive options were available when we began making reservations in March. This forced us to drive a little longer than what we would have liked to. Planning your trip in December through February for the summer is not a bad idea. We listed places we stayed at below for you. However, they may or may not be available depending on when you are looking at them. Out total travel accommodation cost for 6 nights for two people was $634 or $106 per night on average. Keep in mind, these are 2018 prices.
Day 1: Ferðaþjónustan í Svínafelli Campground
We stayed in a guesthouse at the Ferðaþjónustan í Svínafelli campground. While we wish we could have found something earlier than that in Vik or near Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, all those places were taken or did not fit our budget. Many Iceland’s guesthouses do not list on Airbnb to avoid paying a cut. The only way to find them is to search on Google Maps, go to their websites and make reservations directly.
The Ferðaþjónustan í Svínafelli campground offers tent sites as well as cabins and huts with private rooms. We emailed them and made a reservation for one room for two people with one bed (55″ wide) for $100. They also offer rooms with two separate beds. This guesthouse offers something called the sleeping bag accommodation service with shared bathrooms and cooking facilities. This means that you will need to bring your own sleeping bags, sheets, pillows and blankets. The only thing you will get in your room is a bed frame with a mattress. They also did not serve breakfast when we were there and the closest convenience store with restaurants was 2 miles away.
They will hold a room for your if you arrive before 7pm. Otherwise, you will need to tell them about your late arrival. The management told us that their reception would be open until 10pm. We paid for our stay by credit card the following morning. I will say that we were incredibly lucky to find them.
Day 2: Eiðar
Our next booking was in Eiðar through Airbnb at a local farm guesthouse called Eidagisting 1. They offer several rooms in their guesthouse with a shared space for cooking and a living room. Overall, it was clean and a fine place to stay in. Our cost was $111/night.
Day 3: Akureyri
Our next stay was at a farm guesthouse in Akureyri located in a charming countryside setting with the name of Guesthouse Uppsalir. The guesthouse itself is located not exactly in the city, but a short 10-mile drive south from Akureyri. They have a shared bathroom, kitchen and a living area with 4 sleeping rooms. Besides accommodation, they offer horseback riding lessons for beginners and more experienced riders. You need to email them ahead of time if you are interested in taking their lessons.
We did not take a lesson, but we enjoyed interacting with their horses which were grazing right behind the guesthouse in early morning. The cost of our stay was $115.
Day 4: Stykkishólmur
Our next stop was in Stykkishólmur located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We stayed at a local guesthouse called Höfði Guesthouse run by Örn and his daughter Rosa. It was a lovely guesthouse with an excellent view from the terrace on a harbor. The host also served breakfast. Our total cost for this stay was $132.
Day 5: Hofn
Our next stop was Hofn, where we stayed at a private room hosted at Álfheiður and Gulli’s house on Airbnb. It was a pleasant and quiet overnight stay. Álfheiður and Gulli provide access to their kitchen that was very well stocked. The cost of our stay was $76, which was very affordable.
Day 6: Reykjavík
Our final stop before leaving Iceland was a private room hosted by Soley on Airbnb. It was a loft apartment with pleasant views on suburban Reykjavík. Our cost for this stay was $100.
Food In Iceland
When we traveled in Iceland, we made a conscious decision to save money by buying food from grocery stores and cooking it instead of going to restaurants. Fresh fruit and veggies are not cheap in Iceland, as a lot of it is imported from elsewhere and transportation cost is not a joke.
We were buying mostly bananas, peanut butter, rice, fruit jams, oatmeal and pasta. Salad was an expensive luxury item. Because we were so frugal, we were able to save substantially and spent around $150 on food for the entire week in Iceland.
Total Cost for Iceland’s Ring Road Trip
Here is the total cost of all things we spent money on, including parking and restrooms:
The significant savings came from food. Because we did not go to restaurants and instead cooked ourselves, the cost of food could easily double, if not more, if you plan on dining at cafes and restaurants.
Iceland Ring Road Map and Itinerary | 5 Day Trip
When we think back how much we packed into our Iceland Ring road trip in 5 days, we are amazed. Seeing all these places was possible thanks to major landmarks being close to the main road. Here is our entire itinerary with places marked on Iceland Ring Road map:
We marked certain places as optional meaning we did not go there due to time constraints. If you add several more days to your Iceland Ring road adventure and make it at least 7 days, you will have enough time to visit and enjoy all the places we listed above.
Also, another thing to keep in mind is that it never gets dark in Iceland in June due to the midnight sun. Luckily we had our hosts providing us with special curtains that helped keep rooms dark at nighttime. The day when the sun never completely sets and rises is called Sumarsólstöður and typically takes place on June 21.
Day 1: From Keflavik to Reynisfjara Beach
Driving Distance: 260 miles
Driving Time: 6 hours
We flew from to Keflavik on an overnight flight. We arrived to Iceland at 6:20am, picked our luggage, got our rental car from Blue Car Rental and were on the road shortly after 8am. Not too far from the airport, we stopped by at a local grocery store and bought some snacks and supplies.
Town of Hveragerði (Optional)
Actually, it was more of a drive through for us. Hveragerði is a cute small town with dramatic views as you approach it.
Hveragerði is most famous for its Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River. The whole experience is free and requires a short hike up the mountains. If you are staying in Iceland for more than 6 days, we highly recommend staying in Hveragerði and visiting the thermal springs.
We did not go for Reykjadalur during our Iceland Ring road trip in June. Instead, we went there in September during our separate Golden Circle trip. The hike from the parking lot to Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River is a relatively easy 5-mile round trip and takes about 1.5 to 2 hours in total.
Factor in at least 30 minutes to soak and relax in the hot springs too. The hot springs are popular and may get crowded. We came there relatively early in the morning and by the time we left, the place was crowded. Overall, it was a worthy experience.
Our first real stop was at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Visiting Seljalandsfoss is free, but there is an automated paid parking lot that cost $5. Seljalandsfoss drops 197 feet and originates from the Seljalands River that starts at Eyjafjallajökull volcano glacier.
You would need to walk a little from the parking lot, but the waterfall is right there with majestic cliff views in front of you.
After exploring Seljalandsfoss, walk about a third of a mile to Gljúfrabúi waterfall. It is an enjoyable walk along a creek with beautiful wildflowers by the cliffs. Gljúfrabúi is somewhat hidden behind a canyon. Depending on the day, you may have to wade the Gljúfurá river into a narrow opening in the cliff to get a glimpse of the waterfall.
Alternatively, you can follow a steep slippery path up the cliff and get even a better view of Gljúfrabúi waterfall. We did not do the climbing path, but went inside the slot canyon instead. If the water flow is strong, there could be a lot of mist and moisture in the air.
Located about a 30-minute drive from Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss waterfall was our next stop. The parking is located right next to the waterfall and it is free. This waterfall is one of the biggest in Iceland with a drop of about 200 feet. However, it was impressively wide, about 80 feet.
The best part is that you can walk close to Skogafoss. But because of the mist coming off Skogafoss, our coats got drenched very quickly. Skogafoss was a view to behold and it was one of our favorite waterfalls.
Dyrhólavegur and Dyrhólaey Lighthouse
Continuing on Route 1, we stopped at Dyrhólaey, which is a peninsula that is famous for a promenade with breathtaking views of the southern coast of Iceland. It is also home to a historic lighthouse and a lot of wild birds. While you can park and walk up to the lighthouse, we chose to park by Kirkjufjara beach and take a photo of the coast along with a sea stack called Eagle Rock.
There is also a famous rock arch popular among photographers that has the same name of Dyrhólaey.
Next on our Iceland Ring Road itinerary was Reynisfjara beach famous for its volcanic black sand. The Black sand beach, as Reynisfjara is also often referred to, is located not too far from the fishing village of Vík.
Reynisfjara is known for its enormous basalt columns right by the sea. There are also many sea stacks that you can see on the photo above. The local folklore legend says that these stacks are trolls that got frozen into solid basalt rock. Although we were there during the day, Reynisfjara is very beautiful during sunrises. In fact, it was featured in the Game of Thrones HBO Series.
While it is very tempting to get close to the water, be very careful. Reynisfjara is known for its so-called sneaker waves that appear out of nowhere and can roar through the beach for tens of meters with incredible strength. With strong rip currents and freezing cold water, many unsuspecting tourists perished in the Atlantic ocean waters.
It is best to never turn your back on waves and stay at least 100 feet away from the water. Keep these things in mind and Reynisfjara will be one of the highlights during your visit to Iceland.
Although we just passed through the fishing village of Vík, there is a number of restaurants and a grocery store that you can stop by to get a bite or stock up on food. You can also walk up to the black sand beach in Vík to get another look at the Reynisdrangar rock formations.
We do not remember the exact reason, but we chose not to stay in Vík because most likely nothing was available to fit our budget when we were looking for accommodations.
Our final landmark stop on day 1 was Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. You will need to slightly deviate to the north from ring road and drive on a gravel road for about 7 minutes.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is over 300 feet deep and over 1 mile long. The nearby village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur has a guesthouse that may have accommodations available. Glacial water created Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon many thousands years ago. These days, the Fjaðrá river flows through the canyon.
The views are majestic and are totally worth the visit.
Our final stop was the small town of Svínafell in Öræf (Öræfasveit). That entire area was rural with scattered farm buildings. We stayed in a guesthouse Ferðaþjónustan í Svínafelli campground mentioned above.
Day 2: From Skaftafell to Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Driving Distance: 288 miles
Driving Time: 6h30m
This day was one of the highlights of our visit to Iceland. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon was one if not the most impressive natural sites we saw in Iceland. Equally impressive were several waterfalls we saw on that day.
After spending the night at Svínafelli guesthouse, we headed to see Svartifoss waterfall. While it does not cost anything to enter the park, there is a $9 fee for parking. It takes about 1.5 – 2 hours round trip to hike to Svartifoss with a total distance of 2 miles. While you hike, you also get to see three other waterfalls, which are Þjofafoss (Thieves’ Fall), Hundafoss (Dogs’ Fall) and Magnusarfoss (the Falls of Magnus).
Svartifoss means Black Falls in Icelandic, and its ice-cold water comes from Svinafellsjokull glacier. The waterfall falls down 80 feet over a cliff with tall black basalt columns that resemble organ pipes from a church.
Svartifoss inspired the architectural design of Iceland’s National Theater and the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. The basalt columns were formed as a result of a lava flow that crystalized by slow cooling.
Skaftafell Glacier Tours (Optional)
Skaftafell National Park is famous for its glacial caves with blue walls and beautiful ice formations. There are many guided ice cave tours that typically start from Hof and cost $100 or more per person. Since glacier tours last several hours, we had to skip them given our tight schedule. If you are staying in Iceland for more than a week, it could be a great addition to your Iceland Ring Road itinerary.
Svínafellsjökull Glacier (Optional)
You can visit Svínafellsjökull Glacier by taking Froad Svínafellsjökull Glacier gravel road that slightly deviates from ring road and takes you to the free parking lot, where you can walk up close to the glacier. However, to get real close to Svínafellsjökull glacier and its tongues, you need special equipment or at least crampons on your hiking boots. Otherwise, there is a risk of falling.
We personally did not visit this landmark, as we were not aware of such possibility. We saw vans driving on the road, though. According to people who went there, a regular 2×2 passenger car can drive through that gravel road. However, I cannot confirm this info.
Hofskirkja Turf Church
Our next stop was Hofskirkja turf church in the Öræfi region of Southeast Iceland. There are only several turf churches left in Iceland and Hofskirkja is one of the few built in traditional turf style.
It is a really quick stopover. You may be able to get inside and take a look at the interior of the church. Unfortunately, when we were there, the building was locked.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Next, we head to Jökulsárlón, which is Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon located right by Route 1. The parking was free and there were many empty spots. Jökulsárlón is actually a lake filled with meltwater from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, which is part of Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull.
Icebergs from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier break off and drift through the lagoon until they reach the sea and may wash up ashore. These ice pieces look like diamonds against the black sand coast. Hence the name of the beach: Diamond Beach.
There are several overlook spots, as indicated on the map below:
To see Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, spot 1 is the best. It is likely to be less crowded and provides a better view on the icebergs, in our opinion. Park your car and traverse through a short hill trail to get to spot 1. Spot 2 is where all the tourists go. It was fairly crowded. We briefly went there and left immediately.
As for Diamond Beach, that was a view to behold. The broken ice from icebergs washed ashore looked like gems against the volcanic black sand. We spent a lot of time there, walking around and photographing the beach.
We would say spot 3 was our favorite because at that time it had the most amount of ice on the shore. From Spot 4 you can get a nice view on the bridge over the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, from where you can stand and watch icebergs drift. A truly mesmerizing spectacle!
Fishing Town of Höfn
The next place on our Iceland Ring Road map was the fishing town of Höfn. We quickly stopped by at the harbor and took several photos of fishing boats and the cityscape overlook. It is a very quiet town with restaurants and grocery stores, if you need to get food.
Town of Seyðisfjörður (Optional)
Seyðisfjörður is another cute fishing town by the fjords with the same name. There are dramatic views on the town that we wanted to photograph from this point. Unfortunately, because we spent so much time at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, we ran out of time and did not go to Seyðisfjörður. If you happen to visit this town, you can also take guided tours to see puffin birds colonies, Alfaborg (the home of the elf queen) and Gufufoss waterfall.
Town of Eiðar
There was nothing to see in the town of Eiðar. We chose it for our Airbnb stay, as it was much cheaper compared to surrounding towns and especially Egilsstaðir.
Day 3: From Egilsstaðir to Dettifoss, Krafla and Lake Mývatn
Driving Distance: 250 miles
Driving Time: 6 hours
This day was equally impressive as we got to see Dettifoss waterfall and the Mývatn lake geothermal area. There were several sacrifices we had to make in order to save time (sites we did not go to are noted as “optional”).
Town of Egilsstaðir
Egilsstaðir is a relatively large town that had grocery stores, restaurants, hostels and hotels. We passed through it on our way to the Dettifoss waterfall. We stopped at this spot to take a picturesque photo of Egilsstaðir’s cityscape.
Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss Waterfalls (Optional)
Unfortunately, we did not go there as planned as it required us to spend over 3 hours on driving and hiking to see these beautiful waterfalls. If you have time, Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss Waterfalls are probably worth seeing. It takes a little bit of a drive from Egilsstaðir to the parking area, where the trailhead is located. The hike is a gradual climb that takes about 2 hours round trip. Hengifoss is one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland tumbling down almost 420 feet.
Dettifoss Waterfall (East Side)
It took over 2 hours to drive to our next destination, which was Dettifoss waterfall. Located in Vatnajökull National Park of Northeast Iceland, Dettifoss is the second most powerful waterfall in Europe after Rhine falls. Dettifoss is situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, whose water has a gray color due to the sediment.
We read somewhere that the east side is better than the west one to view Dettifoss. To get to the east side parking area, deviate from Route 1 onto road 864. Then drive for about 40 minutes on a gravel road until you reach the parking lot. We were totally fine driving our small economy car on this road. However, remember that gravel rock accident I told you about earlier? It happened right there.
Dettiffoss is massive. The sheer size of the water is beyond impressive. It is quite noisy too! There is a lot of mist coming off Dettifoss waterfall that caused certain sides of nearby cliffs to be covered in green grass. Be ready to get slightly wet.
Víti Crater in Krafla
Víti Crater is located at Krafla volcano in North Iceland. The name means hell, referring to the violent eruption which happened in 1724 and formed Víti Crater. The crater is almost 1,000 feet in diameter and is filled with aqua blue water, whose color is attributed to the geothermal activity in Krafla.
Krafla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanic areas that formed many hot springs, lava fields and craters at the Lake Mývatn region. Víti Crater inspired Iceland’s poet, Jonas Hallgrimsson, to write the poem “Víti”. The area is also home to the large Krafla Power Station that generates electricity from the geothermal activity. Iceland satisfies 100% of its electricity needs using renewable energy, primarily from hydropower (around 73%) and geothermal power (around 27%).
Hverir Geothermal Spot
Our next stop was Hverir (also known as Hverarönd) geothermal spot filled with mud cauldrons, steam vents and piping fumaroles. You can smell a powerful sulfur scent as you walk around this area. There are trails designated by ropes in Hverir that you can wander around and observe this natural wonder.
While everyone is longing for the Blue Lagoon, Mývatn geothermal area has their own geothermal spa called Mývatn Nature Baths located not too far from Hverir. We did not go there due to time constraints, but the place may be worth checking out.
Grjótagjá is a famous small lava cave not too far from Lake Mývatn that was featured in the Game of Thrones series. The cave was often used by locals as a geothermal hot spring spot until 1970s. After that, Krafla volcano began erupting and the water temperature became unpredictable and dangerous. Therefore, bathing in Grjótagjá cave is no longer allowed.
We were primarily interested in taking photos of Grjótagjá due to its beautiful aqua blue water. You need a tripod, as the cave is too dark to photograph handheld. One minor annoying thing when we visited Grjótagjá in summer was the sheer amount of midge flies in the surrounding area. After photographing the cave, we were happy to leave the area promptly.
Hverfjall Volcano Crater (Mývatn)
The next stop was Hverfjall volcano crater near Lake Mývatn. Hverfjall is 1,300 feet high and is located to the east of Lake Mývatn. The crater looks like a giant ash cone with steep slopes.
The crater is about 0.6 mile in diameter and allows visitors to hike on top of Hverfjall using two trail routes from northwest and south. The hike takes approximately 20 minutes and provides panoramic views on the surrounding geothermal area.
Dimmuborgir Lava Fields
Dimmuborgir, or also known as the Black Fortress, is a dramatic lava field landscape near Lake Mývatn.
Dimmuborgir was formed as a result of an eruption that happened about 2,300 years ago. As lava came in contact with water in the nearby lake, it cooled and formed pillars and arches as a result of bubbling and steaming activity.
Lake Mývatn Overlooks
After Dimmuborgir, we drove to several overlooks on Lake Mývatn. The lake is the fourth-largest body of water in Iceland. The waters in the lake are fairly shallow and are home to many waterbirds. Remember Grjótagjá Cave and the midge flies that were all over the place there? Well, Lake Mývatn was worse! Actually, “Mývatn” in Icelandic even means “the lake of midges”. There were so many of these small flies that I think a couple of them even got into my mouth as I was trying to say something.
Midge flies at Lake Mývatn rarely bite, but they were very annoying. We noticed several tourists wearing special head nets to protect themselves against these insects. Apparently, these nets can be bought in supermarkets and gas stations in the Mývatn area.
There were two spots that we visited on Lake Mývatn. One was Höfði Park located on a small peninsula. The other one was Skútustaðagígar that provided views on pseudocraters surrounded by wetlands.
After Lake Mývatn, we headed to Goðafoss waterfall located on Skjálfandafljót river. Goðafoss means the “Waterfall of the Gods” and the legend has it that Goðafoss was named after Iceland adopted Christianity at the end of 10th century AD.
Goðafoss was a beautiful multi-cascade waterfall with a height of 39 feet and a width of 98 feet. Parking was free.
After Goðafoss, we drove to the city of Akureyri. One thing that many people do before heading to Akureyri is to visit the town of Húsavík, which is famous for its whale watching tours. For us, it was out of reach due to time constraints. However, if you have time, it may be worth it.
Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland with about 20,000 people calling it home. The town is relatively small and it does not take long to explore it on foot. Akureyri is located on the west side of Eyjafjörður fjord and provides a scenic setting for photos by the city’s port. The city is also home to Akureyri Church whose architectural style was very reminiscent of those basalt columns we saw throughout Iceland.
After that, we headed to our guesthouse located to the south of Akureyri to rest after a long day of driving.
Day 4: From Akureyri to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Driving Distance: 260 miles
Driving Time: 6 hours
Our fourth day of Iceland ring road trip was much less eventful compared to the previous days. We left Akureyri in the morning and drove through the northern part of Iceland until we reached the fishing village of Stykkishólmur in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Hvítserkur Basalt Stack (Optional)
Hvítserkur is a basalt rock stack protruding out of the sea on the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula in northwest Iceland. We did not go there because otherwise it would have added almost an hour of driving on that day. But if you have time, it may be worth it. The interesting thing about Hvítserkur is that its foundation is eroding and the Iceland’s government made the decision to reinforce it with concrete to prevent Hvítserkur from toppling.
Kolufossar Waterfalls of Kolugljúfur Canyon
A hidden gem on ring road is Kolugljúfur Canyon, the a site of many waterfalls. Kolugljúfur or Kolugil is a gorge carved out by Víðidalsá river, which is popular among fishermen to catch wild salmon.
The Kolugljúfur canyon is about 150 feet deep and is located a walking distance from the parking lot. The canyon is home to several small waterfalls that are together known as Kolufoss waterfall.
The Town of Stykkishólmur
Next, we arrived at the fishing town of Stykkishólmur, where we reserved a room in a guesthouse with a beautiful view.
Stykkishólmur is a small town of about 1,000 people on the northern shore of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. If you plan on going to the Westfjords, there is a ferry that can haul you and your car from Stykkishólmur to Brjanslaekur Westfjords peninsula. We explored Stykkishólmur’s harbor with many fishing boats moored by the basalt rock formations.
Day 5: Exploring Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Driving Distance: 200 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
The next day was all about exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, known for its dramatic coastal landscapes. We also drove through Snæfellsjökull National Park with a view on lava fields and the majestic Snæfellsjökull Volcano. Technically, we were no longer driving on Iceland’s ring road on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Still, it was a worthy addition to our trip.
After leaving Stykkishólmur, our first real stop was Grundarfoss waterfall located in the small village of Grundarfjörður. There is a small parking area right by the Road 54 from where you can stop by and view this majestic waterfall in the distance.
There is a small trail that can lead you even closer to Grundarfoss waterfall, which plunges 230 feet. It was one of our favorite waterfalls due to the dramatic cliffs that surround this waterfall.
Kirkjufellsfoss and Kirkjufell Mountain
If you are visiting Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall with a view on Kirkjufell Mountain is one of the most visited landmarks. Kirkjufell mountain towers 1,500 feet above ground and means “Church Mountain”.
The most iconic view to photograph is from Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall with Kirkjufell Mountain in the background. There was a decent amount of people when we were there, but the place was not super crowded. It is extremely popular among photographers, so you will likely see many people carrying tripods, especially during sunsets and sunrises.
Our next stop was Djúpalónssandur beach, which is also known as the Black Lava Pearl Beach on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Driving and walking around Djúpalónssandur was like finding yourself at a lava fairyland.
When we visited Djúpalónssandur beach, there were extreme wind gusts. These gusts were so strong that I could lean back and would not fall on the ground. There is a walking path that takes you through these lava rock formations.
Hellnar View Point
A short 20-minute drive from Djúpalónssandur is the town of Hellnar. There is a famous Hellnar View Point which provides dramatic shore views on cliffs.
The rock formations at Hellnar view point are spectacular. Almost all of the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula dramatic rock formations along the coast are due to the historic volcanic activity in the area. But the most notable among these rock formations is a cliff called Valasnös that has tunnels leading into the cliff. The colors of the Valasnös cliff change during the day and it is a beautiful site to photograph.
The Village of Arnarstapi
Our next stop was a small fishing village of Arnarstapi, which is a home to even more dramatic rock formations on the coast. Among them, the most famous are Gatklettur natural arch, Stone Bridge and Arnarstapi cliff viewpoint with an abundance of birdlife.
There, you will also find the Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss statue, which depicts Bárður, the mythical protector of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
While the beach does not pose any particular interest by itself, there is a chance that you can spot harbor and grey seals there in June. Unfortunately, when we were there, there were none, so we kept on driving.
Gerðuberg cliff is a row of hexagonal basalt columns that you can find to the south at the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula. When you drive by them, they look like a medieval fortress from a movie.
Gerðuberg basalt columns are between 20 and 40 feet tall and are quite wide. The columns are very symmetrical. This is likely due to how identical lava flows were falling off the cliff and were rapidly cooling as they came in contact with nearby water.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls
Out next stop was Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls. Hraunfossar waterfall, which means “Lava Falls”, is located in Borgarfjörður and represents a series of waterfalls formed by small streams falling from Hallmundarhraun lava field. Another waterfall called Barnafoss is right there to the east of Hraunfossar.
Hraunfossar streams into Hvítá river and has beautiful azure water from nearby glaciers. Hraunfossar waterfall trickles down at a slow pace and is not as powerful as other Iceland’s waterfalls. Conversely, Barnafoss is a different story with bubbling water surging down rapidly. Barnafoss means “Children’s Falls” named after the legend of two boys falling off the natural arch bridge that used to be present across Barnafoss.
By the time we were done looking at these beautiful waterfalls, a ferocious rain began pouring. We were incredibly lucky to arrive there earlier.
Deildartunguhver Hot Spring
After Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, we headed to take a look at the hot springs of Deildartunguhver, which is known as the most powerful hot spring in Europe due to its extremely rapid and very hot flow.
We would not recommend going there just to see hot springs, unless you plan on staying at the Krauma Geothermal Bath Resort. There, you can soak and relax in mineral hot spring water and even dine at their restaurant, if you’d like.
Day 6: Exploring Reykjavík (Optional)
In reality, we spent 5 days exploring ring road since we spent our day 6 walking around Reykjavík. The capital city has many attractions that can be explored on foot. We parked for free in one of the residential areas not too far from Reykjavíkurtjörn lake.
Because Reykjavík is not really part of ring road and there are so many travel guides written about it, we aren’t going into detail on what we did there. Among our favorite places in Reykjavík are Tjörnin lake, Hallgrímskirkja church and all the other historical streets of Reykjavík’s downtown area.
Day 7: Departure from Keflavik
Our amazing journey on ring road came to a conclusion. We drove to Keflavik International Airport in early morning to drop off our rental car and to catch our next flight. As far as returning our rental car to Blue Car Rental, there were no problems whatsoever, despite some marks and scratches from the gravel we caught from passing cars.
It seems like we drove all day everyday on our ring road trip, but it was very enjoyable and worth it! We don’t think we’ve ever driven that much in our lives in such a short amount of time.
Nature gifted Iceland with an incredible amount of pristine wonders: amazing waterfalls, vast glaciers, beautiful volcanic beaches, marvelous rock formations, powerful geothermal areas and hot springs. We hope this travel guide inspired you to visit Iceland one day or helped you plan your upcoming trip to this Nordic country with beautiful landscapes. If you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.