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Iceland is literally a country which takes your breath away. Inspiring scenery at every turn, extraordinary landscapes, and astounding natural wonders; you will leave the country with a determined mindset to return.

Majestic glaciers grind their way through cracked lava fields, gushing geysers explode with a powerful force, glittering ice caps pierce the sky, and vibrant green fjords rise from the mist of geothermal lagoons. Iceland is raw, Iceland is real; Iceland is the trip of a lifetime!!

The only way to truly experience Iceland and take in all of it’s stunning scenery is to drive. And the only way to drive, is around the Ring Road.

The Ring Road

 

The Ring Road wraps it’s way around the country in a circular fashion – 1300km of mostly paved highway, this is your main road from which secondary roads break off, leading to further adventure. When planning a road trip through Iceland, break up your journey with detours along the many secondary roads which sprout off from the highway.

While you could complete the Ring Road in 16 hours without stopping, we were hauling ass to cram everything into 7 days. Highly recommend pulling up a map of Iceland and choosing at least 5 mini bases for your trip.

There are so many spectacular villages, attractions and sights off the Ring Road itself that you’ll miss the majority of the country by not taking detours.

Godafoss, Iceland. A worthy detour, only a short drive off the Ring Road.

Godafoss, Iceland. A worthy detour, only a short drive off the Ring Road, 40 minutes from Akureyri.

 

The Golden Circle

 

Don’t confuse the Ring Road with the Golden Circle.

While the Golden Circle is an accessible daytrip from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, this pales in comparison to the experience of driving the Ring Road. The Golden Circle is a nice introduction to Iceland; a popular tourist route which includes stops at the national park Pingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss, and the valley of Haukadalur which plays host to the geysers Geysir and Strokkur; however having navigated our way around the rest of the country first, we arrived at the Golden Circle and were underwhelmed.

Also, there are an incredible amount of tourists to fight past for a view.

Renting a Car

 

Renting a car is the most convenient and easiest way to discover Iceland, however keep in mind that Iceland is an expensive country, and you do need to budget for gas. We were spending the equivalent of $60US per day (though once again we were driving a lot to cram everything into 6 days).

The majority of cars are a manual; keep in mind you will pay more for an automatic transmission. You must rent a 4WD if you want to tackle the interior of the country.

Renting a car

Our road-trip through Iceland with SadCars.

SadCars is the cheapest car rental company in Iceland, and also run the fantastic Reykjavik Bus Hostel should you be looking to spend a night or two in Iceland’s capital before hitting the road.

When to Go

 

The best time to take a roadtrip through Iceland is during July and August (high season). 24 hours of daylight (that’s not a typo) means you’re able to make the absolute most out of each day, and you have access to the whole country. The Ring Road itself stays open year round, however many secondary roads are closed off during the winter due to uncontrollable weather. Most roads thaw out in late May/June.

July and August may be prime tourist season, however mass tourism only really frequented those attractions and sites which were within a days drive from Reykjavik. Once you really start adding miles to your odometer, Iceland becomes fairly isolated and remote…just the way we like it!

Low season is October through April, and while many of the roads will be frozen over and inaccessible, this is when you’ll see the Northern lights shimmer across the sky, as Anna from the Legendary Adventures of Anna did.

Photo by the Legendary Adventures of Anna. Also a SadCar rental.

Where to Go

 

Most tackle the ring road anti-clockwise, however it really doesn’t matter in which direction you go.

Iceland is easily split into 7 sections; Reyjkavik, Southwest and the Golden Circle, West Iceland, the West Fjords, North Iceland, East Iceland, Southeast Iceland & the Highlands. South Iceland is where all of your big tourist attractions like the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon and Jökulsárlón are at.

If you’re short on time you won’t have time for the West Fjords (the only thing worse than missing the West Fjords would be to rush it – save this stunning section of Iceland for another trip when you can do it properly), and I would recommend skipping the Golden Circle and spending an extra day on the Ring Road.

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. South Iceland.

Attractions we absolutely recommend include the waterfalls Godafoss & Dettifoss, the Lake Myvatan area which includes Namafjall (North Iceland), and absolutely, absolutely do not miss Jökulsárlón; a stunning glacial lagoon in the South.

Akureyri is a great town for a base when in North Iceland – a relaxed town with a pretty harbor backed against snowcapped mountains.

If you love wildlife, take a detour while in the North and consider spending an evening in Husavik. This is Iceland’s whale watching capital, and offers phenomenal tours on traditional wooden viking ships.

We drove a little further past Tjornes, and pulled over once we hit the lighthouse, where we hiked and found one of the world’s largest puffin colonies.

Click for more examples of an Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary.

Are You Ready?!

 

So, pull up a map of Iceland, figure out which attractions interest you the most, and get driving!

So many puffins in Iceland!

So many puffins in Iceland!

sadcars-001

 About Megan Claire

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure!  Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Follow their journey on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

 

 

 

    47 Comments

    • Great tip – Booking ahead, especially during high season is an absolute must! Glad you still managed to find a car 🙂

  1. Car travel probably ranks as one of your least favourite methods of transport. However, as you powerfully argue, it makes sense on a visit to Iceland. So, we’ll follow your advice and book a hire car in advance.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…La Moneda Fast FoodMy Profile

    • We actually kind of love car travel 😀 It depends on the country and destination though – destinations within Iceland are so remote that you either have to drive or take a bus tour, other places that make for a cool road trip include Australia, the States and New Zealand.

      Though everything in moderation though – sometimes flying works out just as cheap!

  2. Oh my goodness, sounds so incredible. And 24 hours of daylight too in July and August would be perrrrfect to squeeze everything in! Looks amazing and I can’t wait to go 🙂
    Alli recently posted…Viva Las Vegas – Venetian StyleMy Profile

    • It’s seriously crazy – it gets to 3am and it’s so light out you think it’s around 7pm and now time for dinner 😀

    • Thansk Annick! We’re honored! Will head over and check it out now 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!

  3. Fantastic blog post! I love your video as well. I can’t wait to visit Iceland someday and in my previous research, I did read all about Sadcars and wanted to rent one from them, too! 🙂 Glad to know they are reliable!

    • We loved our little SadCar! Let us know if you ever need any tips or pointers on your trip – was seriously the highlight of our year!

  4. Awesome post Meg and very timely indeed as we are beginning to make plans for our trip to Iceland in December! We would really love to rent a car and take a road trip around the country but fear that the conditions may make it near impossible to get to places, but we will wait and see. There are so many attractions on our list that we want to see, the most common being the waterfalls and stunning natural landscape that Iceland offers.
    Chris Boothman recently posted…A Walk Around Downtown IndianapolisMy Profile

    • You’ll LOVE it in December – though will probably be a tad little bit cold 😀 Make sure you rent a 4WD – contact Anna from the Legendary Adventures of Anna; she took a SadCar rental out during March when it was still icy and snowy out.

      At least you should definitely have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights – OMG I can’t wait to eventually witness them!

    • Thanks Sigurdur! We truly did have the most amazing time. Highly recommending the country to everyone who will listen!! Thanks for stopping by – hopefully we’ll be back again soon!

  5. Great summary! We just got back from Iceland this week. We spent 7 days and drove around the Ring Road, agree with most of your points. Definitely not enough time there! Looking forward to a trip back. Thanks!
    Quinn recently posted…So Much Fun, So Little Time…Before The Rain Starts!My Profile

    • Thanks Quinn! So glad you had a great time in Iceland; completely agree – no amount of time there will ever be enough!!

      We’re also looking forward to a trip back – maybe we’ll bump into you there!

  6. Hi… my husband and I are thinking of a trip in the late March/early April timeframe. Do you know how many hours of daylight there are during that time? Also, did you pre-book places to stay or just decide as you go?

    • Hi Kristen

      During April and March there is about 10 hours of sunlight – this is shoulder season so it wont be as busy as in June and July; I would still recommend booking in advance though – if you’re going to be driving the ring road a lot of the towns are fairly remote so you dont want to rock up to a place and have nowhere to stay, especially in March when it will still be fairly cold.

      That being said you can always have your plan and book rooms a few days out as you make your way around the country – this is largely how we did it; we booked our first 3 nights in Iceland at the Bus Hostel and then sorted out the rest when we got there.

      Let me know if you have any other Questions – always happy to help!

      Meg

  7. LOVE THIS! I can’t wait to go back to Iceland and do it properly. The amount for gas is a little scary, but I know in general Iceland is pricey. Might be a silly question, but how to you pay for gas? Is it pay at the pump with a swipe credit card, or cash inside?

    I also feel like Iceland would be a good group trip. what do you think? Thanks Megan!
    Jessica C. (A Wanderlust For Life) recently posted…Making the Most of AmsterdamMy Profile

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Jess! Gas is definitely the most expensive part of the trip – but great idea to make it into a group trip, that’s a brill way to split your costs 🙂 Just make sure you’re traveling with people who have similar interests so there’s less chance of arguments on the road 😀

      It’s pay at the pump, and we used our US debit card – for some reason our credit cards didn’t work at the pumps, but our debit cards did. Fairly certain you can go into the shop and ask for help too worst case, though after hours when the shops were closed debit card was the way we went 🙂

      Happy travels – I hope you manage a trip back!

  8. A great read and really entertaining, thank you!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Jon – hope you have the chance to get to Iceland sometime soon!

  9. Hi Meg, great read! I have a couple of questions though. Can you do the ring road and most of the secondary roads to attractions in June/July without a 4WD. I am only 20 thus there are already scarce hire companies that will allow me to rent a standard car let alone a 4WD. I was also wondering on your opinion of choosing whether to hire a camper van (sleeping in car, not tent) or going the standard car + accommodation route. I figure prices could be similar if we are frugal either way, but I’m only worried that if we do standard car + accomm we would end up struggling to make it to places or regret having to stay in a particular place. My boyfriend is truthfully not a camping fan at all and having van camped myself I think he would possibly dislike it, but if you think it would be much better to be flexible that would be significant. Would love your thoughts!

    • Hi Lily, thanks for stopping by – so glad you enjoyed the guide!

      You can absoutely do the ring road in summer without a 4WD – we did ours in the green car which is pictured above which wasn’t 4WD. You do however need a 4WD if you want to do the centre of Iceland; we stuck to the ring road because we just had a standard car.

      Though while I wouldn’t recommend the central region without a proper vehicle, the secondary roads which sprout off from the ring road and lead you into towns are generally all paved and perfectly fine for any car. Avoid dirt paths and any road marked on a map with “F” as this is usually pretty bad terrain.

      I honestly think that prices will be similar whether you sleep in a campervan or not. Gas was our biggest expense in Iceland, and if you go for a bigger vehicle, ie a campervan, it’s likely you’ll end up spending what you saved on accommodation on gas anyway.

      We really were’nt disappointed with the experience at all, and we booked our accommodation in advance, mainly because June/July is peak period and rooms tend to sell out. We sat down and went through all of the attractions in each region to plan out where we wanted to stay, and how long we wanted to spend in each place.

      For 8 days I would recommend spending one or two nights in Reykjavik (we stayed at the bus hostel), and then we spent our first night on the ring road in a town on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Recommend using Akureyri as an overnight stop also.

      My best advice would be to list all of the attractions you don’t want to miss and then pull up a Google map. Figure out how long you want to spend driving each day as a max, and then plan out your accommodation/itinerary in small towns based off that. Winging it is great, and I definitely recommend allowing yourself enough flexibility to drive to another attraction if you hear about something cool along the way, though from our experience in the past, not having planned out our accommodation during peak periods has meant we’ve gone over budget and spent time we could have been exploring looking for a place to stay instead.

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other Q’s 🙂

  10. Same commenter asking about a sleeper van. I forgot to mention, we have 8 full days to explore, flying back on the 9th. Cheers

  11. A roadtrip in Iceland is definitely one of the best things you can do. The country is simply stunning and mindblowing and adventure is waiting around every corner.
    I highly recommend to go in winter. The country’s almost empty once you leave Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, and the winter scenery is out of this world, not to mention the northern lights. The driving’s not easy and the weather can be harsh but it’s always worth it.
    Rouven @ yarnsofwhalesandsnow.com recently posted…Tips on viewing and photographing the Northern LightsMy Profile

    • Thanks Rouven! We obviously went in Summer, and I was actually surprised by the lack of tourism since we were expecting it to be packed being peak season. Would so dearly love to get back during winter though – I expect it would be a completely different experience.

      And I an DYING to witness the northern lights!! Thanks!

  12. Hey meg,

    Truely inspiring!! i am dying to visit this country as i am already in love with Scenic beauty of it!! But, i am really confused regarding when to go, how to go, and how much to be spent on it!! I am from india, and this climate is way bit cold for me in winters!! kindly suggest me some good tips!!

    • Hi Harsh – so glad to hear you’re inspired to travel to Iceland; it’s a truly amazing country so you’ll love it!

      If you’re not used to a cold climate, I would suggest going to Iceland in Summer which is June and July. Still pack warm clothes because it does get chilly and chance of regular rain, but it’s much more enjoyable weather and you have almost 24 hours of daylight, where-as the days are quite short in the winter.

      I would recommend flying into Reykjavik – and then decide if you want to drive the ring road or if you want to base yourself in Reykjavik and do day trips south. Highly recommend driving the ring road, and this would require at least 5 – 7 days to do it properly. Spend around 3 days in Reykjavik first to explore the city. The Bus Hostel is an awesome base for exploring the city and we loved their accommodation. The same company owns SadCars and you can get a great used car to drive the ring road.

      I actually found the internet to be confusing when trying to research Iceland; though we found a lonely planet guide really helpful and easy to understand. Highly recommend getting one 🙂

      Iceland can be expensive so I highly recommend sitting down and really doing your research so you can book your accommodation in advance and get good deals that way. Also, summer is peak travel season so a lot of hotels and hostels book out quickly.

      The attractions we recommend stopping at along the ring road are detailed above in the post – let us know if we can help out with any other tips 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it Jared! Totally agree that everyone should visit, such a fabulous destination! Hopefully mass tourism won’t catch on too badly, as it would be nice to see Iceland stay as untouched and natural as it currently is 🙂

  13. Hi, My husband and I are going to be renting a motorhome in Iceland in September and I was wondering if the roads in the West Fjords are suitable for a motorhome.

    • Hi Susan, we were in Iceland in June, so not certain re the weather in September, but most roads close October – May so going in September should be fine.

      The roads won’t be an issue for a motorhome – they’re hard packed gravel roads for the most part. Keep in mind that the Westfjords are very mountainous so you’re likely to need a decent budget for gas.

      Hope that helps! Happy travels!

  14. Hey Megan, that was a great article and video ! I’m going to Iceland soon myself and I’m gonna try to do everything alone, no tour, no car, in winter, I don’t know if it’s truly possible, but we’ll see how it goes !

    • Hey Cora, sounds like an epic adventure! I have a friend who traveled to Iceland with two friends and they did everything alone in the middle of winter, so I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine and have a fab time.

      http://www.crazyintherain.com/ is Anna’s website and if you search for “Iceland” she’ll have a bunch of winter posts up.

      Enjoy your trip!

  15. I traveled Iceland two years ago in September for a quick 5 day trip. I thought this was a great time to go because the roads were still passable, we saw the northern lights on multiple occasions, it wasn’t too cold and the crowds weren’t too bad. Great article.

    • Wow that’s awesome Jamie! We went in June/July so while the summer was amazing with 24 hour daylight and access to all roads, we didn’t see the Northern Lights. So perhaps I’ll head back one September. Sounds like the perfect time actually as I’m not personally too overly keen on crowds or cold :D!

      Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂 Iceland is one of the very few countries we would head back to in a heartbeat!

  16. Love everything about this post Megan! I went to Iceland this past August and have been totally and utterly obsessed about returning ever since, so thanks for providing me with a virtual journey back there. If you have a moment i’d love to get your opinion on my Iceland posts on my blog http://thisisyugen.blogspot.com .

    Keep on inspiring 🙂
    Elle | http://thisisyugen.blogspot.com
    Elle Kirsten recently posted…3 Must-See Waterfalls along the South Coast of IcelandMy Profile

    • Thanks Elle! So glad you enjoyed Iceland too – it really does leave you with a determined mindset to return! We were there obviously in summer, so I would love to get back during winter and experience the complete change in season. The Northern lights are probably the top of my bucketlist!!

      Thanks for the link to your blog – will check it out now 🙂

  17. Hey Megan,

    preparing on our 5 day trip in Iceland this summer, we found your article really (!) useful! I think we managed to see everything you recommended + a few more specials. We were also amazed t see that, traveling on a budget with friends, you don’t necessarily get poor when you take a little care on how you spend your money…

    If you’re interested, check out how our road trip went. We really considered it the holiday of a lifetime :):

    https://mintandcopper.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/road-tripping-in-iceland/

    Thanks again!
    Deborah recently posted…Spaghetti with Arugula and Shrimps in Vanilla-TomatoesauceMy Profile

    • Hi Deborah, so glad you had such a spectacular trip! And kudos for fitting everything into 5 days – your photos are stunning 🙂 And traveling with a group is definitely a great way to cut down on costs, you can split the resources and I’ve found it to be much cheaper to travel since Mike and I started traveling as a couple as it was when I was on the road solo 🙂

      So glad that my article could help you on planning your trip X

  18. Thanks for all the tips! I was looking at going to Iceland. How many days would you recommend staying in Reykjavik? I want to see beyond the capital as well.

    • Hi Paul 🙂 If you’re wanting to see beyond the capital, I would probably recommend 3 days in Reykjavik as enough. This way you can spend a day exploring the city, and take a day trip or two if you would like to, explore the Golden Circle etc from here as your base.

      The rest of the country is absolutely spectacular though so highly recommend spending more time in the countryside than in the city 🙂

      Happy travels!

  19. Driving is definitely the way to go in Iceland. Because of the amount of things to see and do it’s not only more flexible and faster, but when we did a cost analysis against tours it was cheaper.

    We only did the Golden Circle and Southern Shores, so I guess if they underwhelmed you we’ll have to go back and do the full ring road next time!
    Steve @ What Way Today recently posted…Iceland: Self Drive Beats Guided Tours – Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the Southern ShoresMy Profile

    • Hi Steve – glad you had a wonderful road trip through Iceland as well!

      Yes, highly recommend a return trip if you get the chance to take in the whole Ring Road. I think we would have enjoyed the Golden Circle had we completed that first, though the rest of the country is so spectacular and with pretty much 0 tourists (obviously not 0, but we traveled in the height of summer and felt as though we were practically alone), so that’s the reason we felt the attractions within reach of Reykjavik didn’t measure up. The countryside throughout the Ring Road felt much more authentic 🙂

      Happy travels!

  20. Hi Meg Thanks for an amazing post. We are thinking of going in the first two weeks of August. How safe are the roads? Will there be much traffic on the roads away from the capital? We prefer little traffic and from your video there didn’t seem to be much traffic. Which is great. Wee ant to take ten days to travel. We are not big on booking hotels ahead of time and prefer to wing it. Will that assure us of reasonable accommodation ?

    • Hi Mo, thanks for reaching out. The roads should be totally fine in August – we traveled in late July and we didn’t have any problems at all. Once you get outside of the capital the traffic pretty much dies off and you have the roads to yourself. It was great for being able to film out the window and not have other cars in our shots!

      We were actually surprised by how easy it was for us to wing it – we booked our accommodation a couple of days out as we went along, and didn’t have any trouble. I would still recommend to book at least a few days ahead just because it is peak season and you don’t want to miss out on a room. But there are plenty of B&B’s and small family run hotels along the way.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to reach out with any further questions. X
      Meg Jerrard recently posted…Cool Things to Do in Portugal This Summer for Digital Nomads and StartupsMy Profile

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