You’re planning a trip to Iceland hoooraaaay! So what’s next? Let’s get you set up with everything you need to know – from car rentals to abandoned geothermal pools to the best bar in Reykjavík. And of course, we’ll add in tons of photos!
What To Expect
Epic-ness. Srsly. This was the best trip Hunter & I had ever taken because it’s filled with underestimated natural beauty, other-worldy terrain, simplicity of life & adventure. Expect to stop the car every 5 minutes to take a photo, waterfalls on waterfalls on waterfalls, tiny churches, Icelandic horses with hair more beautiful than yours, and scenery that looks like a different planet every time the song changes on your radio. Oh and for the water to smell like sulfur, sometimes. ha.
There’s one main road in Iceland, called the Ring Road (Highway/Route 1). This route goes along the entire country and is well-marked with signs for sights like waterfalls, villages, etc. We decided to travel the Ring Road clockwise to see the entire island in 10 days. You can definitely plan it in fewer or more days – the itinerary at the end will have suggestions on how to modify your trip to fit in the days you have available. We agreed that clockwise was a great choice because the south is (a tad) warmer and has the biggest sights, a great way to end the trip. If you only have a few days to explore, just head to the southwest area and follow that portion of the itinerary!
We rented a small non-4-wheel car while we were there and it was great. Total cost: $350 for 10 days. We also bought the wifi hotspot from the rental car company (when we got there) to take with us for an additional 10 euros/day and it was easily the best decision we made that entire trip. We used it for GPS, finding new locations to explore, food options nearby, gas stations, and of course to post on Insta. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of off-roading (go you!) definitely look into a 4-wheel drive. Camping & camper vans are also great options!
There aren’t a whole lot of towns once you leave the main area of Reykjavík, especially along the north & east so stop for food & gas while you’re in those towns. Before we left, we read that food & gas were really difficult to find and you could be stranded on the side of the road because you ran out of gas… but we definitely didn’t find that to be true when we were there. No stress here, just keep an eye on your tank. The stations accepted our credit cards, too.
When To Go
The time of year you plan your Iceland adventure will have a significant impact on your trip – think tourists // road closures // northern lights // intense winters // 24 hours of sunlight. We went mid-late May and it was awesome. We hit it just before tourist season (June-September) and made it after the intense winter season of extended darkness & cold. We had 20 hours of light during the day so we were able to road trip & explore all day long! The photo below was taken at 11pm at night (!). Since the northern lights season runs late-September to mid-April, we didn’t get to see them (we traded it in for long daylight hours and decided to come back another time just for the lights). The best months to view the lights & have the best weather potential are November & December, just remember you’ll be there in the Icelandic winter. Check the forecast, hop in your rental car, drive outside of Reykjavík, huddle up in a blanket and ENJOY!
Where to Eat
While airfare is super cheap, the food in Iceland is not. Be prepared to spend double the amount of money for a similar meal here in the states. Since all of the adventures & experiences are free, don’t stress over the food cost because it is what it is. We went to the supermarkets while we were there (Bonus is a great one) to stock up on snacks & a few cook-able meal options because businesses close rather early during the day. Iceland is well-known for their hot dogs, so get your dog on! Their crazy foods include fermented shark, puffin, horse tenderloin, sheep’s head, and ram ..parts. Our one friend said he’s pretty sure they just call the things they don’t want to eat ‘delicacies’ and charge tourists lots of money to eat them. #yourchoice.
Where to Stay
Iceland is about exploring the outdoors, so don’t get too hung up on accommodations. The whole island is extremely camp- & campervan-friendly, you’ll just freeze your nay-nays off during the cold winter season so plan accordingly. We stayed in guesthouses (separate houses on Icelandic families’ farms) and found those to be the friendliest & the least expensive options aside from camping. One of our hosts even walked us out to see her sheep & lambs and showed us the sweaters & hats she knits from their wool (that we could buy right from her if we were so inclined!). I’ll include the names of the places we chose in the itinerary below!
Good to Know:
- Words that end in -foss are waterfalls & -vatn are lakes. So if you see signs with those endings, that’s where they’re pointing you.
- Geothermal pools and hot springs are great for warming up in the cold. Every town has a swimming pool that is heated by geothermal energy and it’s only about $5-$10. This is where all the locals go, too, so you’ll have the full experience. The geothermal pool in downtown Reykjavík is our favorite – super cheap, fun to be a local, warm, & relaxing. Do be mentally prepared that you’re required to go into your gender’s locker room and shower willy-nilly before putting your swimsuit on. If it sounds strange, it’s not when it happens. It’s incredibly freeing and empowering so just own it.
- There’s a really common bird in Iceland that looks like a puffin… don’t be fooled. Look for bright colored beaks to be sure, we weren’t able to see any while we were there because we weren’t at the right area the right time of year. But we did see whales spontaneously along the Southeast side! The iconic animals of Iceland include sheep, majestic horses, puffins, whales, & reindeer.
- 95% of Icelanders live in Reykjavík. So when you’re driving and you’re like ‘uh it’s beautiful out here why doesn’t everyone live here?’ You’re wondering the same thing we were. TONS of Icelanders haven’t even seen the waterfalls because they’re so used to it being a ‘tourist’ thing to do and they stay in the city. We dropped our keys in a waterfall and the rental car guy who drove out to meet us had never seen the waterfall before (and this is Seljalandsfoss, the most famous of all of the waterfalls).
- My favorite fun fact: Icelandic last names are a combination of their father (or mother)’s name + son/daughter if they are male/female. So Sigmarsson = Sigmar’s son. Sigmarsdottir = Sigmar’s daughter. So a brother & sister have different last names based on their gender. Crazy!
The 10 Day Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
And here it is! The only Iceland itinerary you’ll ever need to travel the Ring Road. Before we flew to Iceland, we researched every piece of information we could find to create an itinerary that hit the must-sees, the rare finds, and had enough time for stumbling upon spontaneous adventures. If you don’t make it to a sight at the end of the day, simply catch it in the morning and enjoy the ride. Hunter & I have included photos from each day itinerary to get you amped for what you’ll be seeing!
Day 1: Golden Circle
KEF airport –> Reykholt (4.5 hours of driving including sights)
What to see:
Reykjavík. Hunter & I arrived to Iceland at 3:00am so we had gobs of extra time to fill. We wandered down the main street and enjoyed the peacefulness of the city’s quiet morning while everyone slept. And then we power-napped in the car because 3:00am. We bought fresh bread from Sandholt and were hooked – we went several times when we returned to the city at the end of the trip. If you arrive in the afternoon, head to the golden circle so you can see all of the sights there!
Golden Circle. The “golden circle” is made up of 3 main spots (there are more spots marketed to you, of course). (1) Geysir is the geyser (where that word actually comes from) in the town of Haukadalur. It’s pretty sweet. (2) Gullfoss waterfall is huge and beautiful, I did love the other waterfalls more because they were more interactive but this was a beautiful view. (3) Þingvellir National Park is a moss-filled park with some rifts in it. We drove ourselves and had a blast stopping to take photos along the way. This was the first thing we did when we arrived and was a great day trip! Also I heard that the tomato soup at the greenhouse at Friðheimar was magical, so we would have done that if it hadn’t closed by 4pm (like most things do there).
Where we lodged: Husid Guesthouse ($68). Hunter wasn’t too fond of this place and questioned my future lodging choices.. haha which turned out to all be better than this one, but it was fine & functional.
Day 2: West // Snæfellsnes peninsula
Reykholt –> Stykkishólmur (3 hours of driving including sights)
What to see:
Arnastapi. A fishing town with great hikes & a BA cliff formation you can walk across.
Kirkjufellsfoss. Mountain of kirkfufells with a beautiful waterfall collection in the foreground. We checked into our guesthouse at 10pm and left to find this spot, catching beautiful soft light without other people around at 11pm.
Fishing towns around the peninsula. We bought sandwich ingredients from Bonus (a grocery store) and stumbled upon a lighthouse at a nearby town for lunch.
Where we lodged: Hólmur-Inn ($86). Clean & simple. The town of Reykholt & it’s unique church debut in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty when their plane is landing, so that’s pretty cool to have that view outside of the window.
Day 3: Northwest // Blönduós
Stykkishólmur –> Blönduós (3 hours of driving including sights)
We woke up crazy early & backtracked to Arnarstapi for a photoshoot on the cliffs of the Snaefellsness Peninsula. The rock formations were beautiful and we found an abandoned farmhouse along the drive. We also went to the idyllic tiny black church in budir & an epic natural hot spring. Use this day to catch up on sights if you missed any the day before, then catch up on the drive so you can wake up & start fresh!
What to see:
The drive. This drive is beautiful as you pass by mountains & start to get into the rural areas of Iceland. This is a nice & easy day, so relax & enjoy!
Laugarbakki, Budir & Blönduós are fun *small* towns to check out & catch the local vibes.
Where we lodged: Gladheimar Cottages ($77). These are tiny wooden cottages that we loved staying in. The shower water was sulfur to the extreme, but that’s what happens when you climb your way up north ;). It was cozy & private which was a nice break from the shared guesthouses.
^random geothermal hot spring
Day 4: North Highlands
Blönduós –> Skútustaðir (3 hours of driving including sights)
Ooo enjoy this drive. The mountains slowly move up & down in the panoramic views of your car window as you hop out and enjoy the views any chance you get. Along this drive is where we rolled up to take a photo of a beautiful Icelandic horse with the mountains in the background. When I walked closer, all of his horse friends ran curiously right up to the fence and started sniffing my face. One of my absolute favorite photos of all time. We drove by so many unnamed, casual epic waterfalls and decided to pull over and hike up a mountain to get closer & enjoy the views. You’ll also drive around Myvatn (remember, -vatn means lake) which makes for some beautiful scenery.
What to see:
Akureyri. A cute town to walk around and stretch your legs if you have time. Also a great spot to stock up on the liquors.
Góðafoss. A horseshoe-shaped waterfall. Oooh aaaah.
Where we lodged: Skútustadir Guesthouse ($115)
Day 5: Eastern Fjords
Skútustaðir –> Egilsstaðir (3 hours of driving including sights)
Another great drive. The scenery changes so frequently and you’ll be climbing through the mountain peaks, wondering if you’re actually in the setting of James Bond GoldenEye. The eastern fjords are also home to the Icelandic reindeer, we saw a ton on our drive continuing to the Southeast, so keep an eye out!
What to see:
Grjótagjá. A peaceful hot spring in a small cave. This was beautiful but the sign says you’re not allowed to swim because it’s too hot. #idk
Námafjall. As you continue your drive, you’ll pass an area that literally looks like Mars. There are funnels of geothermal smoke pillars rising from the ground that are mixtures of orange & turquoise and bubbling black water. You have to get out and walk around. But beware, the sulfur smell is pungent!
Seyðisfjörður. As you drive from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður you’ll be on the winding road in the renown scene of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where he longboards into town. This is a cool industrial fishing town, just remember that everything closes in Iceland early so it might be empty, which is when we went and we loved it. We also stopped at a waterfall during the drive for some awesome photos.
Where we lodged: Lyngás Guesthouse ($86). You can also find a spot to lodge in Seyðisfjörður.
^free smoke bombs
^trying not to throw up from the smell
^waterfall we stumbled upon during our drive
Day 6: Southeast Region
Egilsstaðir –> Jökulsárlón (3 hours of driving including sights)
We kept this day simple and just enjoyed the ride along the coast, spotting herds of reindeer as we drove to see Jökulsárlón. If you missed Seyðisfjörður the day prior, you’ll have time to check it out this morning before you continue your journey south!
What to see:
Jökulsárlón. Glacier lagoon that is a lagoon with floating chunks of ice from the big glacier in the middle of Iceland. The chunks move and make their way out to sea as they slowly melt. Really beautiful & memorable! You can walk around it, so feel free to be adventurous and get outside of the sight of tourists. Oh and also, SEA OTTERS.
Where we lodged: Guesthouse Nýpugarðar ($84). We backtracked from Jökulsárlón because we were going back there in the morning for a photoshoot, so I would pick somewhere closer if I were you!
^Road trip pitstop. NBD.
^Jökulsárlón at sunset
^Road trip vibes
Day 7: Southeast Region
Jökulsárlón –> Eyvindarhólar (3 hours of driving including sights)
The southeast part of Iceland is by far the most spectacular. And warmer! So if you’re visiting for only a few days, this is likely the journey you’ll want to take. Waterfalls, canyons, cliffs, and coastlines!
What to see:
Svartifoss. A favorite waterfall. The walls are basalt columns and it’s a really pretty 20 minute (one way) hike with views. We did a photoshoot here with the waterfall and they’re some of my favorite images we’ve ever taken because of how beautiful the location is.
Fjarðarárgljúfur (SAY THAT OUT LOUD). Located in the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, this is a moss-covered canyon where you can walk to the top of the cliffs or head to the bottom for beautiful views.
Vik / black beaches. You’ll drive by black beaches all along your tour. Not necessarily a real stop, but it might be fun to pull over and take a stretch. While driving on the eastern part of the Southeast area we saw whales diving around in the water. We pulled over (got our car stuck in the sand because we got so excited and tried to drive through it… so don’t do that) and watched them in the distance.
Keep going to Day 8 sights! If you have extra time (we didn’t!), continue the list on Day 8. You can see Dyrhólaey, the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash, and Skógafoss!
Where we lodged: Hotel Lambafell ($113). This was our favorite place we stayed, there’s a hot tub out back with incredible views of the fjords. And it is RIGHT in the middle of all of the sights.
^The hike on the way to Svartifoss
^Basalt columns at Svartifoss
^Ya don’t do that.
Day 8: South Region
Eyvindarhólar –> Hvolsvöllur (2 hours of driving including sights)
Since there was such a long list of sights to see in this southern region, we ended up driving back east 30 minutes to catch all that we wanted to see. If you have extra time in Day 7, go to more of the sights on this list! Surprisingly everything here is Google-map-able, so plug it right into your GPS and keep exploring :)!
What to see:
Dyrhólaey. A view of a really neat cliff with an arch in it. You drive up (like straight up) a winding road and the wind will nearly knock you over at the top. It’s a beautiful view of the arch and the beaches.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash. The famed WWII plane crash on a black sand beach near Vík. The walk takes 40-ish minutes each way. So mentally prepare if it’s something you want to see. You used to be able to drive right up to it, but the land owner shut down the road because travelers were treating the land poorly. Follow the beaten down walkway until you see the plane in the distance, then cut across diagonally to save you a few minutes.
Skógafoss. One of our favorite waterfalls. You can walk right up to it! We grabbed burgers at Hotel Skógafoss afterward and enjoyed the warmth & view of the waterfall.
Seljavallalaug. This is pretty sweet. It’s an abandoned geothermal pool tucked in the valley of mountains. It’s even on google maps! You trick yourself thinking there’s no way you’ll find it because you walk for a while without seeing anything. Park in the gravel area, walk along the left side of the valley and just keep going, you’ll find it. If you’re low on time, skip this and come back to it next time :). It’s fun when you have time to swim in it, probably not so much if you’re just going to look.
Seljalandsfoss. Iceland’s biggest & most well-known waterfall – you can walk behind it! You’ll get wet from the wind blowing the waterfall so bring a rain jacket. If you can force yourself to get up at sunrise that would definitely be an incredible experience.
Gljufrafoss. RIGHT next to Seljalandsfoss but not as well-known. It’s inside of an open cavern/cave and is really humbling to stand inside. Also drenching, so bring a raincoat! We did a photoshoot here and dropped our rental car keys in the rushing water… so don’t do that.
Where we lodged: Hlidarbol Farm Guesthouse ($81). This is where the host showed us her sheep & lambs and the sweaters she knit from their wool.
^View from dyrholaey
^View from dyrholaey x2
^WWII plane crash on a black sand beach near Vík
^Skógafoss, our favorite waterfall.
^The abandoned geothermal pool, Seljavallalaug
^The celebrity waterfall Seljalandsfoss
^Our friend snapped this photo of us and these two random children. HAHAHA. We’re so embarrassing.
^Goats & sheep at the guesthouse where we stayed
Day 9: Reykjavík
Hvolsvöllur –> Reykjavík (1.5 hours of driving)
Explore Reykjavík – eat, drink, and soak up the local scene. There is a great main street there with hip shops, restaurants & bars with happy hours. Here are our favorites:
- Restaurant: Snaps. Greenhouse-vibes with food for a foodie. Make reservations!
- Snack: Sandholt for fresh-baked breads
- Bar: Kaldi
- Clothing shops: Geysir. It’s rather expensive (hello Iceland) but I wanted to wear every piece of clothing there. And I’m picky. I still try to shop there from over here.. but it’s not online.
- Best View: Perlan. Free entry to a 360 degree rooftop view of the city & surrounding area
- Local Entertainment: Go to the geothermal pool! Perfect for a rainy day / local experience especially when you add in a hot dog lunch in the parking lot.
Where we lodged: Arahus (57). This was a clean & simple place outside of the city of Reykjavík closer to the airport.
Day 10: Reykjavík / Blue Lagoon & Flight Home
Reykjavík –> KEF airport (45 mins of driving)
Have extra time before your flight? This might be a great day for the Blue Lagoon! We decided not to go here since we found so many free & natural hot springs, but the photos look amazing so do it if it feels right! #pamperyoself.
^A shot we snagged our last day as we drove by a mossy lava field.
Only have a few vacation days to work with? Want to explore more than 10 days? No problem!
- If you have 1-2 days, do the Golden Circle in Day 1 and/or chill in Reykjavík & go to the Blue Lagoon.
- 3-7 Days, go to the Southwest & Southeast (modify Days 7-10) and add on the Golden Circle if you have time.
- 8 Days, remove Snaefellsnes Peninsula (Day 2 & 3) or combine Days 2 & 3 and Days 5 & 6
- 9 Days, combine Days 5 & 6
- 11+ Days, add the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). We didn’t have enough time on our trip to go here, but we’ll go next time! It’s the island of puffins and has beautiful mountains & a cute town (so we’ve researched). Other additional excursions: whale watching in the north, helicopter volcano tours, & ice trekking on the glacier.
I wish I had a more eloquent way to wrap all of this up! I hope you end up traveling out there, it’s frickin sweet. Hit me up on insta (@victoria.selman) – I can’t wait to see your adventures!