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.
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. But it’s a great route to take in if you’re in Iceland for just the weekend.
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.
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.
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.
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!