Around the Road in 8 Days – Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
Driving the Iceland Ring Road is a bucket list item for travelers far and wide. I visited in July, right in the middle of the high summer season. Here’s how to break away from the typical Reykjavik home base and see many more of the amazing things Iceland has to offer in a magical 8 day road trip itinerary. Get ready to mark up your road map, prepare your budget, and book your accommodation as far in advance as you can stomach, because it gets busy out there!
The Iceland Ring Road offers spectacular landscapes, a sense of adventure, and a change of scenery after what seems like every 45 minutes down the road! You’ll go from lush lagoons to moon-like craters, with dozens of epic waterfalls in between. I always wonder how people can put together an Iceland itinerary and never leave Reykjavik, because the whole country has so much more to offer! My favorite things about the entire trip were almost all a significant drive from Reykjavik, and the variety of what you can see is unmatched. So pack your bags and grab some road snacks, because here we go!
Prepare for Your Iceland Ring Road Trip
First things first – there are certain things that you must prepare for if you are planning a road trip on the Iceland Ring Road. Iceland has become an incredibly popular destination in the last few years, and because of this you will need to book some things in advance. This is not a country you can visit and expect to drive up to a random hotel to book a room for the night, and many of the popular accommodations sell out as far as 6 months (or more!) in advance!
The Popularity Pitfalls of a Summer Itinerary
The crowds in Iceland are certainly noticeable and, considering certain areas of the country only have one place to stay, competitive as well. With these limitations in mind, the things I most highly recommend booking in advance are:
- Accommodation for every night, especially in more remote areas
- Rental Cars
- Specific activities such as Blue Lagoon, Glacier Hikes, Horseback Riding, etc.
Planning ahead for your itinerary is a must. Unless you are sleeping in a camper van every night, you should know your rest stop and accommodation for each evening. Additionally, be prepared for traffic and crowds at the more popular locations. Thankfully though, with this guide you’ll be visiting some of the less crowded but even more spectacular locales so that you don’t leave this wide open country with claustrophobia!
How To Travel To Iceland on a Budget
Iceland is an impressively cheap country to fly to, with both of their local carriers offering widely publicized deals. WOW Air famously advertises their $99 flights to Iceland from a number of destinations, but the best I could find from LAX is $199, which is still great. Keep in mind that WOW is a budget airline, so, like so many others, you will be charged for absolutely anything and everything including “large” carry-ons, checked bags, and food.
Iceland’s other carrier, Icelandair, also offers their stopover deal which allows you to stay in Iceland up to 7 nights (just enough time to drive the Iceland Ring Road!) on your way somewhere else at no additional charge. I flew Icelandair but did not end up doing their stopover deal, although I found their prices and service reasonable. I was able to bring on my 22″ carry-on and insanely heavy camera backpack as my “personal item” without any issues.
If you are flying with budget airline carriers such as these and Norwegian, which I also flew on another leg of this trip, I recommend first and foremost packing light and carry-on only. The baggage fees these airlines charge can quickly raise the cost of a ticket to as much as a regular carrier and beyond! In addition, airlines like Norwegian charge a LOT for food on their flights ($40 for airplane food, seriously?!?), so I packed plenty of snacks for the flight and made sure to eat in airports between layovers. Other than the micro-charges, if you come prepared, these airlines aren’t bad to fly. I actually had a great experience on Norwegian in particular and all of the other budget airlines in the area are great as well (ok, maybe not Ryanair…).
What To Pack For Iceland’s Ring Road
The weather on the Iceland Ring Road is known for being fairly unpredictable, but you can bet that you’ll get some rain and heavy wind at some point! For my outer layer I always wore my Marmot Ramble Component Jacket over the usual base layers of thicker pants and a breathable, long sleeve shirt.
This was usually enough for most conditions for me as the temperature never got above the mid 50’s, but I always had my trusty down jacket handy in case things got chilly. My 10 year old (going on 20) jacket isn’t manufactured anymore, but if I were to buy a new one I would probably get the North Face Nuptse.
The last item that I can’t recommend highly enough is a good pair of hiking boots. I’ve had my Lowa Renegade GTXs for over 10 years now and I can still hike 20 miles a day in them with my feet feeling great afterwards. Not only that, but they are great at repelling water and provide fantastic support. I don’t go on any trip without them anymore, and I have picky feet.
Stay Gassed Up!
One piece of advice that I had read before my trip was to always fill up at every gas station, no matter how full your tank was. It ended up becoming a running joke between my travel buddy and I because we would see gas stations after having just filled up an hour earlier. I did, however, eventually find out why that advice existed.
Driving through the northern highlands, I passed a gas station while I was at about half a tank on my biggest driving day. The next several dozen miles were largely up hill, and my needle plummeted rapidly as my little car chugged along. I managed to get to my destination, but I was nearly crying tears of joy at the sight of the next gas station because we knew we were so low on gas! After filling up the tank, I had calculated that I probably had around 1/3 of a LITER of gas in the car! From that point onward we instituted a “fill up if you’re at 2/3 tank or below) policy!
Scheduling Your Iceland Itinerary
Since you’re on a road trip and you have control of when you leave, scheduling doesn’t have to be too strict on this trip with a few exceptions:
- You’ll want to be up at sunrise for some of the busy days and for some beautiful views.
- Some of the more remote B&Bs stop serving dinner at a certain time, with no grocery stores of restaurants anywhere nearby.
- Some of the B&Bs also stop accepting guests after a certain hour, even if you have a pre-booked reservation, so be sure you know what those times are for the places you are staying.
I’m used to packing a lot of activities into one day so I ran afoul of those latter points a few times. Thankfully sometimes they made exceptions with the food and always made exceptions with the check-in, although not without letting me know I was late. I would, however, highly recommend obtaining some sandwich supplies to keep in the car with you in the event that you can’t get food in the evening.
Off We Go On The Iceland Ring Road!
Alright, you’ve booked your accommodation and rental car (even if those are both the same thing!), packed a variety of clothing with plenty of layers, and, of course, your camera, because it’s Iceland! Now it’s time to get off your flight and hop on the Iceland Ring Road to explore everything this gorgeous country has to offer!
Day 1: Arrival In Reykjavik And The Blue Lagoon
Hop off your plane at the Keflavik Airport, grab your rental car, and hit the road! If you’re planning on visiting the Blue Lagoon as so many tourist guides insist upon, then this is the perfect time to do it as it’s located right by the airport and completely out of the way of absolutely everything else you’ll be doing!
I headed to the Blue Lagoon just to check it out, and you can actually visit it without paying the entrance fee if you’re ok with not taking a dip in the water. Simply walk past the entry line and grab a coffee at the cafe while sitting on the outside terrace, taking in the sights. You can also have an excellent (but expensive!) dinner at their restaurant, LAVA, without paying the entrance fee to the lagoon.
I have to admit I’m not much of a spa type person, which is why I couldn’t help but see it as a bit of a tourist trap. It’s not a natural lagoon, as many people have the impression of, it’s actually more like a series of man made pools between rocks with water pumped in from a nearby geothermal plant. However, if luxurious spas and swim up bars sound good, then it’s certainly a unique place to have a spa day!
My flight into Reykjavik arrived fairly late in the afternoon, so after dinner at the Blue Lagoon it was time for me to head to my B&B for the night. If you have more time, this evening is a great chance to walk around Reykjavik and see a bit of the city, because tomorrow you’ll be heading out into the great wide open!
Accommodation: Aros B&B
Notes: Extremely charming and pleasant B&B just outside Reykjavik. The hosts were very sweet and accommodating, and the beds were super comfortable. Highly recommended!
Day 2: Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle And More!
Today’s the departure day of your Iceland Ring Road adventure! I drove against the usual clockwise route, and the difference in traffic was noticeable. There were many cars going the opposite direction, and not a whole lot going my way. I’m not entirely sure why most people begin the Ring Road going north, but I think driving counter-clockwise made a significant difference in crowds and traffic for me.
Stop 1: Þingvellir National Park
On your first day out on the road, you’ll be visiting many of Iceland’s most popular destinations to kick off your road trip with a bang! Just 30 minutes outside of Reykjavik lies the Golden Circle, a collection of a bunch of Iceland’s most popular nearby destinations. The first of these is Þingvellir National Park, home of Iceland’s first parliament and the continental divide between the North American and European Plates.
If you have time, Þingvellir is also the place where you can famously snorkel Silfra, the lake that bridges the two tectonic plates. The water in Silfra is some of the clearest in the world and it is a truly special experience to swim between two continents.
Stop 2: Geysir And More Geysers!
An hour up the road from Þingvellir is Geysir, the famous Geyser after which all others are named. Unfortunately, Geysir itself rarely erupts, but the nearby Strokkur Geyser erupts frequently, every 5-10 minutes. I loved Strokkur because of the magnificent blue bubble that forms with every eruption! It makes for great photos and slow-motion videos, and it’s fun to watch people who stand too close get soaked by unexpectedly large eruptions!
I must have spent an hour watching Strokkur erupt, it was such an incredible sight to behold and timing my photos to capture the bubble became an addicting experience! You can see my slow motion capture of the full erution on my YouTube Channel.
Stop 3: Gullfoss
10 minutes down the road from Geysir lies Gullfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland. Since it lies on the Golden Circle, be prepared for large crowds at this stop.
There are 2 ways to see Gullfoss, one is up close and personal from the lower viewpoint, and the other is a high and wide view of the whole place from the deck on top. Both are short walks and it doesn’t take long to do them, but you will be fighting large tour bus crowds on both of them. Just put on your patience cap and wait your turn to get those pictures from the railings. It’s a fairly quick stop compared to the others today but still worth it for the scale of the falls.
Stop 4: You Have To See Háifoss
Háifoss isn’t part of the Golden Circle, but it’s somewhat nearby and was one of my favorite waterfalls in all of Iceland. Getting there is a fairly lengthy detour down some rough roads, but it was nothing my subcompact rental car couldn’t handle. Just be prepared for a bumpy ride and take special care over the rocks that make a sort of stair formation partway through the drive, as you don’t want to rip off your oil pan! Our car was the only non-4×4 car in the parking lot, but we made it without any issues.
Háifoss is the third largest waterfall in Iceland and is actually two waterfalls for the price of one! The river and canyon at the bottom of the falls create a beautiful vista and the desire to hike down there to see the falls up close is one of the things that makes me want to return to Iceland the most.
Not only is Háifoss one of the most scenic waterfalls I’ve ever seen, but I was lucky enough to be graced with incredible scattered light the day I was there. When you visit, be sure to exercise patience and wait for clouds to clear. You’ll be rewarded with one of my favorite sights in all of Iceland, not to mention great photos!
Stop 5: Kerið Crater Lake
After you gingerly make your way back down the rocky road to Haifoss, you can make your way to Kerið Crater Lake to see its vibrant colors. I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed with Kerið.
I was there late in the day so I didn’t get the best light, but the fact that they charge admission for what amounts to a 45 minute stop left me slightly disappointed. I would personally have rather spent that time at Selfoss instead, which leads me to…
Stop 6: Selfoss
Yes, the stop count is getting high, but they don’t call it the Golden Circle for nothing! I actually did not stop at Selfoss because Iceland is absolutely covered with waterfalls and I had to pick and choose. If I had it to do over again, I would have stopped at Selfoss instead of Kerið. Selfoss is an extremely easy waterfall to visit, and you can even see it from the road. This will be your last stop for the night unless you’re feeling especially motivated, and in that case, you should try and squeeze one more stop in if you can.
Stop 7: Seljalandsfoss (Time Permitting)
If you still have time on your first big day on the Iceland Ring Road, try and catch sunset at Seljalandsfoss. I saved it for the following morning, but as I saw the next day it’s really a sunset waterfall. I’ll explain more on tomorrow’s schedule!
Accommodation: Guesthouse Nonni
Notes: Nice, cozy B&B with a quiet host but great service. The host woke up early just to make sure we had breakfast for our early morning departure! Located walking distance from 2 decent restaurants for evening dining as well.
Day 3: The Iceland Road Trip Variety Pack
Today is a busy day filled with activities and hugely different sights, so get an early start and hit the Iceland Ring Road at sunrise. Looking back at all the different things I did on this stretch makes it hard to believe it all happened in one day! I went from cold, howling winds at Dyrhólaey to beautiful sunshine on the Skaftafell Glacier to a gorgeous sunset on a glacier lake. It’s going to be a great day!
Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss
If you didn’t catch sunset here last night, Seljalandsfoss will be your first stop of the day. Seljalandsfoss is known for being the waterfall you can walk behind, and get ready to get wet if you do! It flows over a cave and has an easy to walk dirt path running all the way around the back of it. The opening of the cave faces west, so as I mentioned earlier you will get the best photos if you arrive at sunset instead of sunrise. I arrived right at sunrise and didn’t get the best light, but it did help me more or less have the place to myself which is always a plus!
Stop 2: Dyrhólaey
After you’ve had your fun at Seljalandsfoss (or if you already saw it last night), hop back on Iceland Ring Road route #1 and head south. You’ll eventually turn onto gravel road #218 and head to the black sand beaches of Dyrhólaey. With its coastal location, you can expect high winds on a regular basis, so come prepared.
The most famous sight at Dyrhólaey is the Arch, which stretches out to sea. There are views of it from the bottom parking lot, which google maps will point you to if you type in Dyrhólaey, but the best views are at the top of the cliff to the west. The wind was absolutely howling on the morning I was there, and it was tough to even open my car door.
Other than the requisite Arch photo, you can also sit on any number of rocky precipices in the area and take in the view of the black sand beach as the birds soar along the cliff sides, casually hovering on gusts of wind.
Stop 3: Fjaðrárgljúfur
If you’ve gotten enough freezing wind, get back on the Iceland Ring Road and drive just over an hour to Fjaðrárgljúfur. This will be quite a change of pace from the wide open beaches of Dyrhólaey. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a very narrow canyon with a beautiful double waterfall at the end, like a mini version of Haifoss!
When I visited, there was quite a bit of construction underway to create new walking paths. There were also many other well-worn paths roped off and forbidden to access. I was glad to see that Iceland is trying to preserve their fauna, but at the same time, I thought it seemed a bit silly that very clearly warn walking paths were no longer accessible. As a result, Fjaðrárgljúfur is a bit less of an “explore me” place and a bit more of a place you visit and stick to the path.
Again, I’m a bit torn about all this because I’m very happy to see natural scenery taken care of, but it feels like they went a bit too far at Fjaðrárgljúfur. Even the newly installed walking paths detracted a bit from the feel of being somewhere natural; not every place needs a board walk. I can’t emphasize enough that respect should be given to locations and off-limits signs be followed, but I felt that it was a bit overdone at such an incredible place like Fjaðrárgljúfur.
Stop 4: Vatnajökull Glacier Hike
This was possibly my favorite activity on my entire trip down the Iceland Ring Road. I booked the tour through Iceland Glacier Guides and I recommend you do so in advance if you’re interested in touring the glacier. The tour took roughly 3 hours and was unforgettable!
Glacier Guides provided us with crampons and ice axes, although the latter didn’t end up being too necessary. As you can see from my attire, it wasn’t very cold either, and we had beautiful sunshine for the entire hike. If you book one excursion in Iceland, this should be it! Just be sure to arrive at the Skaftafell visitor center early, as parking was a bit tough to find.
Stop 5: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake
Your final stop for the day is the stunning and always popular Jökulsárlón glacier lake. The icebergs come from the glacier you were just hiking on, which calves into the lake before the chunks of ice float out to sea. I was initially worried about whether or not there would be enough ice in the lake during my summer visit to make the stop worthwhile, but as you can see below it clearly wasn’t an issue!
Not only was Jökulsárlón filled with icebergs, but it was also teeming with birds flying off into the sunset as well as several seals. The sun stayed low in the sky and gave a nice warm color to the scenery for what seemed like hours. Jökulsárlón is a place where it is easy to see why it is such a popular destination, and it certainly lives up to the hype.
After you’ve taken it all in, make the quick 10 minute drive to your accommodation for the evening (if it is the same as mine) and enjoy a meal before tucking in to rest for a long day on the road!
Accommodation: Hali Country Hotel
Notes: Pretty much the only game in town, very conveniently located to Jökulsárlón. Nice restaurant on the grounds which serves both breakfast and dinner (dinner is an extra charge). Rooms are quite basic for the money but you don’t have much choice when you’re staying out here!
Day 4: The Long, Open Road
Today is largely going to be a driving day, with some sights at the end of the day. The good news is that since the schedule of the day is a bit flexible, here’s your chance to sleep in if you need to top off your sleep stores! I had a casual breakfast after a long night of sleep and headed back on the Iceland Ring Road around 10 am.
Many people either make this a strict driving day through the north, or stop for the evening somewhere in the east fjords, often in the charming town of Seydisfjorður. My goal for the day was to make it to Dettifoss with enough time to grab dinner in the evening.
Getting To Northern Iceland
Instead of winding my way through the eastern fjords, I opted to depart the Iceland Ring Road and cut through on highway 939. It’s an (as of this writing) unpaved highway that winds through the mountains and provides great views. From the looks of things, it seemed as if they might be paving it soon as there was a huge amount of road work happening on it. Taking highway 939 instead of the Iceland Ring Road saves about 45 minutes of driving time, leaving more time at your final destination.
Remember my gas story at the beginning of this post? Yup, that happened today, as I drove through Egilsstaðir with just over half of a tank. Don’t make the same mistake as me, that town is the last gas stop until Reykjahlíð and I was sweating bullets! I’m glad I rented a fuel efficient sub-compact car instead of a 4×4, because that is a very long stretch of road for any car to go without filling up!
Dettifoss is tied with Háifoss for my favorite waterfall in Iceland. It is the most powerful waterfall in Europe by volume and you can walk right up to the edge and stand next to it without any issues. It’s both a humbling and exciting experience to stand inches away from such a powerful rush of water. Plus, you get bonus points for pretending to be one of the engineers from Prometheus.
One thing to note for Dettifoss is that there are two entrances, and both require a fairly lengthy detour from the Iceland Ring Road to access. If you want to get any kind of decent experience from this waterfall whatsoever, YOU HAVE TO ENTER FROM THE EAST SIDE ON HIGHWAY 864. Google will not necessarily tell you to do this!
I happened to pick this side out of pure luck and was VERY glad that I did, because if you enter from the other side on Highway 862, all you get is a distant view of the falls and every single bit of its spray coming your direction. Do you see the cliffs on the top right of my photo above? That is the viewpoint from the west side.
Returning To Civilization
I continued back on the Ring Road to my destination for the night, nervously staring at my gas gauge the entire way. I was disappointed in myself for not stopping to take photos of some spectacular lunar landscapes between Dettifoss and Reykjahlíð. It was like driving through another planet at times, but I was too nervous (and rightfully so) to stop. Thankfully, I made it to Reykjahlíð with my whopping 0.3 liters of gas to spare and vowed never to cut it that close again!
By the time I arrived at my accommodation, they had already stopped serving dinner (yes, today was one of those days…) but thankfully made an exception for me. My bed for the night was in a charming farm house and I was treated to an otherworldly sunset enveloped in a thick fog before tucking in for the night.
Accommodation: Langavatn & Klambrasel
Notes: Beautiful farmhouse B&B about 20 minutes outside Reykjahlíð. There is absolutely nothing around for miles and they stop serving dinner a bit early, but the rooms were comfy and the staff was extremely friendly. The atmosphere was also relaxing with the animals and countryside surrounding us.
Day 5: Sulfur Pots & Horse Trots
Phew! Hope you’re rested up from that massive driving day! We’re back to packing our days with scenery and activity, and today will provide us with a wide variety of sights. So pack your sandwiches, make sure your tank is topped off, and head back to the Myvatn area for some otherworldly landscapes!
Stop 1: Hverir Mud Pits
We’re backtracking a bit and driving just east of Reykjahlíð over Mt. Námafjall to the Hverir Geothermal Area. It’s impossible to miss because you’ll feel like you’ve landed on Venus and the welcoming center is a sulfur factory.
The smell of sulfur really is overpowering in this area and I couldn’t spend too much time up close to the mud pits. Despite the odor, however, the area really is cool. I felt like I was on another planet (I say that often about Iceland don’t I?) while I walked through the desolate, bubbling landscape.
The Hverir area also has a steam vent that seems to perpetually be spewing into the air. It makes an awesome, powerful noise as it billows clouds out like some earth-powered steam engine. It’s a very cool sight and well worth the backtrack.
Stop 2: Mývatn Scenic Loop
Alright, this is more of a drive than a stop, with plenty of things to see along the way. The loop begins in Reykjahlíð and continues around Lake Mývatn, meeting back up with the Iceland Ring Road in the south west corner.
The Mývatn area is filled with interesting scenery, like the lava fields of Dimmuborgir and the rootless cones (pseudo-craters) surrounding the lake. I stopped by the visitor center in the south to hike along these craters, but I had a few unwelcome friends there to greet me…
Lord Of The Flies
There are TONS OF FLIES around Lake Mývatn, which literally is named after the hordes of midges that call it home. I made my walk around the craters, but I was afraid to even attempt swapping lenses while walking in the area because there are probably a few dozen flies in every cubic foot of air there. It made for an interesting walk, but if I’m honest I can’t say it was the most enjoyable.
These midges thankfully don’t bite and are just a bit of a nuisance, but it did make enjoying the cool sights of Lake Mývatn a bit challenging. They do, at least, sell fun shirts at the gift shop where the name Mývatn is obscured with a swarm of flies if you want to commemorate your stay there!
Stop 3: Goðafoss
Get in and out of your car as quickly as possible to avoid any flying hitchhikers, start picking the flies out of your ears and mouth and leave those swarms of flies in the dust. About 30 minutes down the road you’ll find Goðafoss, a really impressive waterfall which, as legend has it, got its name when the lawmaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði (yes, THAT Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði) made Christianity the official religion of Iceland, throwing his statues of the old Norse gods over the falls.
The whole Goðafoss area is a great stop, with a visitor center that sells coffee and food, has accessible bathrooms, and plenty to explore. There is a bridge crossing the river in the area making it easy to walk along both sides of the waterfall and even down to the river to get a view from the bottom. Enjoy a snack and check your watch, because the next activity should be booked in advance.
Stop 4: Horseback Riding In The Icelandic Countryside
Here’s your opportunity to ride genuine Icelandic Horses, the only type allowed in the country. I went riding with Hestasport, located about 2 hours west of Goðafoss. I opted for the Country Ride, which took 2 hours and was fine for both my total amateur horse riding status and my travel companion’s experienced status.
Even with my relative inexperience riding horses, I was still able to experience the tölt, a gait unique to Icelandic horses. It’s a fast-paced but smooth trot, but it still left my thighs bruised afterwards! Despite the soreness, I still loved the ride and it was certainly a unique experience. As a bonus, I’m usually MASSIVELY allergic to horses and had way fewer issues with the Icelandic horses for some reason!
Stop 5: Fosslaug – A Secret Hot Spring
Our amazing horseback guide tipped us off that there was a secluded hot spring very near the riding area. To reach it, continue past the stables down highway 753 until the end of the road, then turn left. Continue down that road until you reach the end, park, and walk through the gate towards the river, passing the waterfall. If you follow the path, you’ll eventually cross a small bridge after which you’ll continue forward. After cresting the small hill, you’ll find Fosslaug, a small and super charming natural hot spring situated alongside the river.
When we arrived, there were already 2 other couples there. Being that we didn’t bring bathing suits with us to Iceland, we were worried that we would be unable to properly experience the spring with other people there. Thankfully, they were all fine with us going in with our clothes and, in my case, underwear. Next time I’ll come more prepared!
Heading In For The Night
We spent a bit more time at Fosslaug than we probably should have, and as a result we arrived at our accommodation a bit late. Again. Luckily we were able to get checked in after a friendly reminder that we had arrived past the designated time, and we were even able to procure some delicious fish mashed potatoes for dinner. Everything seemed very quiet when we arrived, even though it was only around 7:30 pm, but as long as we got what we needed, we were happy.
Accommodation: Hof i Vatnsdal
Notes: Another charming farmhouse with a friendly dog that comes out to greet you. Be sure to arrive on time if you want to get dinner!
Day 6: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
It’s time to move on to the last major area of our Iceland Ring Road trip, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. To get there from last night’s accommodation takes about 3 hours, with much of it over unpaved roads once you reach the peninsula. If you’d like to break up the drive, this is a great opportunity to see Hvitserkur, the famous Stone Troll. I opted to head straight down the Ring Road to Snæfellsnes because I could hardly contain my excitement!
Getting to the peninsula requires departing the Iceland Ring Road and heading through many twists and turns on unpaved gravel roads. It’s slow and bumpy going but at least you get some great views with your on-the-road massage! You’ll also get some bragging rights (if there is such a thing) for having the dirtiest car on the planet:
Stop 1: Kirkjufell
Eventually you will arrive at Kirkjufell, Iceland’s most photographed mountain. Located just west of Grundarfjörður, it’s a cute little area that is fun to walk around. It’s almost a sport now to find the best, most precise spot to train your camera for the prime composition, and most people come out of it with the same iconic shot with the waterfalls in the foreground.
It’s nice to walk around looking at all of the different photo angles of this picturesque spot, and sitting on the small island in the middle of it all is a peaceful experience. Take your time to soak it up, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate you’ll have another chance tomorrow to check it out.
Leg 2: Snæfellsjökull National Park
After Kirkjufell, keep going west down the road and on to Highway 574 where you will enter Snæfellsjökull National Park. It’s a short loop that takes around an hour to drive, but of course you’ll want to stop for photos and walks along the way!
The National Park is home to the Snæfellsjökull glacier, a towering mountain that looms over the entire peninsula. It is said to be one of the seven energy centers of the earth (if you’re into that sort of thing) and is also the setting for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. The glacier’s presence is palpable.
Besides Snæfellsjökull, the loop through the national park is said to be like driving through a miniature Iceland, and I have to agree. In that short hour the landscape is constantly changing from one unique vista to the next.
One pleasant place to stop and break up the loop is the Malariff Lighthouse, located on the southwest corner of the peninsula. It’s situated among rocky cliff sides and there are plenty of walking paths in the area to stretch your legs.
Another option is to tour Vatnshellir Cave, which is in the same area. From what I saw, it required reservations, so be sure to prepare in advance if you want to live through your own journey to the center of the earth!
After you’ve casually made your loop around the peninsula, make your way back to your accommodation for the night after grabbing some dinner in town. I stayed in Grundarfjörður which is right next to Kirkjufell and a very charming town, but another option could be to stay in Ólafsvík.
Accommodation: Grund i Grundarfirdi
Notes: Private B&B about 5 minutes outside of Grundarfjörður. Doesn’t serve any food but does offer free laundry(!!!) and the rooms are spacious and comfortable.
Day 7: The Scenic Route To Reykjavik
Today you’ll be heading back to Reykjavik, but not without stuffing more sights into your eyeballs along the way. If there’s a cruise ship in the harbor, be prepared for big crowds in the city if you were considering going somewhere for breakfast. Otherwise, swing by Kirkjufell early to beat the crowds and try to catch a nice sunrise shot before you head back towards the Iceland Ring Road!
Stop 1: Búðakirkja
Leaving Grundarfjörður, head south down Highway 54 and make a quick pit stop at Búðakirkja. The black paint on this church in the middle of nowhere make for an unusual and scenic photo stop, even if you only spend 15 minutes there. If you’d like to make a meal out of it, there are hiking trails in the area down the coastline as well.
Stop 2: Ytri Tunga Seals
Just a quick 15 minute drive from Búðakirkja lies Ytri Tunga State Beach, home to a large colony of seals. It’s said that the best time to see the seals is in June or July, and, lucky for me, that’s exactly when I was there! When I visited, most seals were on a small peninsula just to the east of the parking lot, but I imagine it’s a crap shoot from day to day. I was very fortunate to see so many active seals out on the rocks eyeing us inquisitively. If you visit and want to know where the seals are, just look for a group of people and that’s probably a good starting point!
Stop 3: Glymur Waterfall
My biggest regret of Iceland is that I was unable to do the hike to Glymur, Iceland’s second highest waterfall. Unfortunately, when you only allow one day for an activity, it doesn’t always work out, and surely enough the skies had opened up wide as I approached the turnoff for the hike.
After a week on the road (and nearly a month of constant, fast-paced travel), I couldn’t convince myself to hike several hours through the rain and mud. It’s a shame because I had read that it was one of Iceland’s most beautiful hikes, but when you can’t see 50 feet in front of you it somewhat defeats the purpose. Anyhow, if you can squeeze it in and the weather cooperates, please let me know how you liked it! At least I’ve got a few good excuses to return to Iceland now!
Stop 4: Back in Reykjavik
You’re back in the city! Congratulations on circumnavigating the Iceland Ring Road! You’ll probably be getting in fairly late if you did the Glymur hike, but if you ended up going straight to Reykjavik like I did, then take some time to explore the city and grab a bite to eat!
Accommodation: Hotel Frón
Notes: I could not picture a more perfectly located hotel. It’s right in the middle of Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik, and the rooms are nice as well. There is limited parking but it wasn’t an issue for me as there was ample metered parking in the city. Overall, it seemed like a great deal in the heart of the city.
Day 8: Explore Reykjavik
That’s it, you’ve done it! Today’s the day you depart Iceland, but if your flight doesn’t leave until the evening then this gives you nearly a full day to explore all of the highlights of Reykjavik. The usual highlights include The Sun Voyager (the famous stainless steel ship sculpture), the Hallgrímskirkja church and its Leifur Eiríksson statue, and of course the main shopping street that your hotel last night was located on!
Reykjavik is an easy city to walk around and is easily covered by foot in a few hours. So stop for some coffee, grab some souvenirs and some pictures of Reykjavik’s iconic spots. Or, just grab an ice cream an people watch!
Got any questions, comments, suggestions? I’d love to hear what you thought of this mammoth post!