Iceland Ring Road Trip: 7 Day Itinerary

April 21, 2023/Destination

Iceland is a country that truly captivates with its breathtaking landscapes, rich culture, and friendly people. In 2021, my twin brother Devon and I embarked on an unforgettable adventure, road-tripping around Iceland’s Ring Road for 7 days. Our journey took us to witness erupting volcanoes, discover hidden waterfalls, explore towering canyons, and indulge in wild hot springs. We even snorkeled between two tectonic plates, chased the elusive northern lights, slept under the stars, and played on black sand beaches. Join us as we share the best things to do on a Ring Road trip, giving you a comprehensive overview of the iconic sites that make Iceland truly unforgettable.

Keep reading to learn the best things to do on your Ring Road trip to get a good overview of all the iconic sites in Iceland. 

 

In This Blog Post You Will Learn:

  • The best daily itinerary
  • Recommendations for things to skip and must-dos
  • Budget tips and tricks to keep in mind
  • The best Ring Road stops and activities

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Iceland's Ring Road

 

Day 1- Reykjavik + Fagradasfjall

rainbow street in downtown reykjavik - the perfect stop on iceland ring road trip

Reyjkavik

We flew in early on the first day, picked up the rental car, and drove to Reykjavik for breakfast. We took the morning pretty easy – just strolled around Reykjavik, tried some local food (fish and chips, lobster soup), and eventually checked into our Airbnb, where we were staying in the city for one night. If we could go back, we would’ve done a walking tour of sorts when we got to Reykjavik to get a lay of the land. 

After some time relaxing at our Airbnb, we were ready for our first adventure and wanted to stop to grab food for the week from the grocery store along the way. We found that eating out in Iceland costs about 30% more than it does in the United States, but shopping at the grocery store costs about the same. If you’re on a budget, I recommend you shop at Bonus and plan to cook the majority of your meals. 

Hike to Fagradasfjall Volcano

We were lucky that our trip to Iceland fell at a time when the Fagradasfjall Volcano was erupting, so we made a little sunset visit to check that out. We hiked through lava fields and got an up-close view of the land being reformed right before our very eyes! The magma was a pretty cool site to see too, especially once the sun went down. All in all, it was definitely a cool and unique experience!

Note: At this point in time I’d recommend skipping the volcano hike and spending your first day just exploring Reykjavik. The volcano hike was cool because it was erupting at the time that we were there but it has since gone dormant and is pretty far out of the way. Save your energy for even cooler hikes later!

iceland waterfalls on ring road trip

Day 2 – Hitting The Ring Road

On day 2, we officially hit the Ring Road, and we hit the ground running when it came to adventure. The first thing we did was head to Thingvellir National Park. Here, we stocked up on camping supplies at the welcome center and headed to Silfra to snorkel between two tectonic plates in the clearest water in the world. 

snorkeling the silfra fissure in iceland

Source: Diving Island

Silfra Fissure Snorkel

The Silfra Fissure is a crack located between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is the only place in the world where you can go snorkeling (or diving) between two continents, and there are some absolutely incredible rock formations and caves to explore! Offering a visibility of up to 100 meters, the water here is the clearest in the world. I won’t go into too much detail about our dive here, because I have an entire blog post dedicated to it that you can read about here. But I will say that it’s the coolest experience I have ever done, and I am so glad we chose Diving Island to experience it with. 

Related Post: Snorkeling The Silfra Fissure in Iceland

Chasing Waterfalls on Ring Road

Once you get started on your road trip, you’ll notice that most of the attractions are along the main road and you can easily just pull off to experience them. There are tons of waterfalls to chase along this route (and in Iceland in general), but we chose to just pick a few and not stop at every single one. Here are the ones we stopped at:

  • Gljufrabui (hidden cave waterfall) and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls 

(Tip: SKIP THE PARKING LOT BY THE OPEN WATERFALL and instead park by Gljufrabui – the first lot costs money and the free one is literally right next to it. Everything is clearly labeled). 

  • Skogafoss (cute restaurant for dinner)

This waterfall is located right off the road, and it’s a beautiful one. We stayed here for a bit to enjoy the falls, a beer, and an early dinner before heading into the mountains in search of a secret geothermal pool.

Seljavallalaug Geothermal Pool

We had to find one wild hot spring during our trip, and Seljavellalaug was the most conveniently located off Ring Road. It’s not really a wild hot spring, it’s actually a geothermal swimming pool located in the middle of the mountains. However, it is not regularly maintained so I would recommend treating it like a hot spring and planning for algae by wearing shoes. My brother wasn’t a big fan of this experience because it took us a while to find the pool (follow Google Maps even though it doesn’t look like it’s leading to the right place – it is) and he thought it was pretty gross. I thoroughly enjoyed my time, and I think the shoes had a lot to do with that.

Accommodation For Night 2

At the end of the night, we decided to get a cabin nearby. We were both on a college kid budget during this trip, so we mostly slept camped and slept in the car, but we would occasionally stay in hostels or cabins. At the end of the day, all we really needed was a place to lay our heads and fall asleep immediately before leaving bright and early to do it all again the next day. 

RECOMMENDED DAY 2:

If you have less than a week in Iceland, I would skip Ring Road (because it took us 8 days and we still felt like there was so much more to explore), and I would do the Golden Circle instead. The Golden Circle will take you to sites around Thingvellir National Park including the Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui waterfalls, the Geyser (literally the geyser that is the reason why we call them geysers), the Blue Lagoon, and other dreamy locations. If you do have the time to explore the entire island, I would skip the Golden Circle and continue on as we did and you’ll see plenty more of the same things throughout your trip.

Related Post: Best Free Places To Sleep On The Road

iceland's ring road

Day 3 – South Iceland + The Most Epic Campsite

solo travel group travel

Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach

This morning we slept in and made breakfast in our Airbnb. We did this most days because we didn’t want to eat out much in Iceland. When we were all packed up, we headed to our first attraction of the day, Reynisfjara. Reynisfjara is a black sand beach in south Iceland that is well known for its basalt columns, which were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. We spent a lot of time exploring the beach, taking photos, and Facetiming some friends.

Vik

After our morning at the beach, we headed to the town of Vik for lunch. We explored some churches, more beaches, and stocked up on groceries before heading into the mountains for a fun camping adventure. 

Camping at Thakgil

Thakgil is without a doubt one of the coolest places I’ve ever slept. This campground is open only in the summer months. It is located deep in the mountains at the end of what looks like an epic offroading trail but is accessible with 2WD vehicles.  It is only a few dollars per night to stay here, and I highly recommend it! While we did have some issues with our tent (I forgot the rain fly) and ended up sleeping in the car, it was all in all a wonderful night under the stars. 

Related Post: Ways To Have A More Efficient Car Camping Setup

 

Day 4 – Vatnajokull + Diamond Beach

We mostly checked out Iceland’s southwest corner the day before, and now we’re headed to explore the southeast corner on day 4. We were up bright and early and had a full day of adventure planned. 

Fjadrargljufur Canyon

Our first stop was Fjadrargljufur Canyon, a really cool ancient river canyon. From the car park, it’s just a quick 2-mile hike through the canyon. There are quite a few pull-offs and to be honest with you they all look pretty much the same, but the views are stunning so it’s definitely worth the quick trek. 

Skaftafell – Vatnajokull National Park

The next area we headed to was Skaftafell nature preserve in Vatnajokull National Park. Featuring the grand Vatnajokull glacier and plenty of cool landscapes that were formed from it. In this instance, we were headed into the park to check out some waterfalls on the way to the most epic waterfall I’ve ever seen, Svartifoss or “Black Falls”. It only cost a few dollars to park, and there were so many cool views in this park. If you have the time, I’d recommend spending the whole day in this park and booking a glacier trek. We didn’t think about this in advance and it was all booked when we arrived, so be sure to book this in advance if you’re visiting during the summer months!

Diamond Beach

After lunch, we continued around the glacier to Diamond Beach. If you’ve only ever seen one picture of Iceland, I’m willing to bet it was from Diamond Beach. This is a very popular tourist attraction, but it’s even cooler once you explore the whole area and actually get to watch how the “diamonds” aka chunks of glacier end up on the beach. 

I remember the parking situation to be a little difficult here. There are a lot of single-lane bridges along Ring Road where you can’t see the other side, and this was one of them. But I promise, the views are worth the traffic jam. Once you park, there are two stops you’re going to want to make. The first is to the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. This is located at the bottom of the glacier we have spent all day exploring. As the glacier melts, chunks of ice break off and enter Jokulsarlon before breaking off into even smaller pieces and eventually washing up along the shores of Diamond Beach. It’s a really cool experience to witness, and a great spot for photos!

Accomodation Night #4: Hofn Cabin

After not getting much sleep the night before, we opted to stay in a cabin in Hofn for the evening, in the southeastern corner of the island. We made curry and hot chocolate for dinner, took showers, and rested up for another adventurous day ahead.

Related Post: Road Trip Planning Guide and Essential Tips

 

Day 5 – East Iceland

On day 5 we continued our road trip east, where we noticed the weather was slightly cooler and it looked to be turning to fall.  

Studlagil Canyon

Visiting Stuðlagil Canyon in Iceland was an unforgettable experience. This stunning canyon, located in the eastern part of the country, was a newly emerging attraction during our visit. Formed by glacial meltwater from the Vatnajökull glacier, the canyon boasts striking basalt rock formations that create a dramatic and unique landscape. 

Accessing Stuðlagil Canyon was a bit tricky when we were there but I’ve been told that everything is labeled now so you shouldn’t have any issues. If you end up at the observation deck, just keep going down the road and you’ll eventually see another lot with more cars that will allow you to hike down into the canyon. Despite our parking challenges, the reward of witnessing this natural wonder up close was truly magical. The untouched beauty of Stuðlagil Canyon is a must-visit for those seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures in Iceland and a chance to explore a geological marvel that is still relatively unknown to many travelers. 

Seydisfjordur 

This afternoon we made our way to Seydisfjordur, a small and picturesque town located on the eastern coast of Iceland, nestled between mountains and the sea. The town is known for its colorful houses, artistic vibes, and friendly locals, making it an ideal destination to explore and make new friends as we did. 

After we made the beautiful drive to Seydisfjordur, we got settled into our hostel and hit the streets to grab dinner and do some sightseeing. We took pictures, relaxed by the water, and grabbed delicious burgers from a food truck. Afterward, we went back to the hostel where we noticed someone making cookies in the kitchen, so we stopped for snacks and had a great conversation.

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iceland salt baths

Day 6 – Nature Baths + Northern Lights

Day 6 was our last full day in Iceland together because Devon had to fly out at 8 AM the next morning, and this was the most jam-packed day of adventure. His exact words, when he woke up this morning, were: “I can sleep on the plane, fuck it.” so we sent it.

We started our day by sleeping in because our plan was to be up all night chasing the northern lights. We then checked out of the hostel, fueled up on gas, and started heading north. 

Myvatn Nature Baths

I know you’ve all heard of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, but you probably didn’t know that there are a few nature baths like this scattered throughout the island that are less crowded and less expensive than the Blue Lagoon. The Myvatn Nature Baths were a new attraction when we visited, so we had the turquoise waters all to ourselves and it was a perfect experience. We didn’t get to stay long though because unfortunately for us.

Our new friends we had made in the hostel, messaged us when we got there. They found Devon’s debit card left in the pump at the gas station in Seydisfjordur earlier that morning. They had dropped it off at the hostel. So after soaking for an hour we had to do a 4-hour detour back to retrieve the debit card. But once we did, we felt relief and were able to continue on to our final destination for the evening, Akureyri. 

Akureyri

Akureyri, located in northern Iceland, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure and natural beauty. Surrounded by majestic mountains, fjords, and wilderness, Akureyri offers a wealth of outdoor activities.  These include hiking, skiing, and whale watching. Additionally, its location away from city lights makes it an ideal spot for witnessing the awe-inspiring northern lights. Making it a dream destination for those seeking to connect with nature and experience the magic of the aurora borealis. 

We arrived in the evening, so we just had dinner and explored the town a little bit before we met up with Arctic Adventures for our chance to catch the northern lights! I would definitely recommend choosing a guide for this because they’ll use proper radars to help you actually see the lights. The sky must be dark enough, which can only happen at certain times and in certain areas. We really loved our time with Arctic Adventures, and would recommend this experience to anyone! We weren’t really there during a good season to see dancing lights as you see in movies, but even the baby auroras were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. 

Day 7 – The Final Stretch

After our overnight aurora excursion, we took a quick nap in the car. Then drove all the way back to Reykjavik because Devon had to fly out at 8 AM. If we would’ve had the extra day, we would’ve spent the entire day in Akureyri. But hey, I guess we’ll just have to go back.

All in all our twin road trip around Iceland was one of the best experiences of both our lives. It’s a trip we talk about all the time. Iceland truly is a place that seems too good to be on planet Earth. It’s a trip that must be on everyone’s bucket list. Let me know if you make it to Iceland and end up doing any of these experiences! 

General Iceland tips/notes:

  • Buying food from a grocery store is great because it’s cheap. Then you don’t end up in a pinch if you’re hungry and can’t find a restaurant
  • Save money on accommodation by renting a campervan or camping at a campground. Wild camping is not permitted in Iceland, but there are plenty of cheap campgrounds you can stay at. You will be spending little time at your accommodation so don’t spend a lot on it. 
  • Get GPS with a rental car for sure, and purchase windshield insurance
  • STAY ON THE MAIN ROADS AND MARKED PATHS
    • Especially not during tourist season and in the winter, staying on the main roads will keep you safe. Venturing off-road can seriously be very dangerous. If you can find a day tour with a company, they are experienced at getting around Iceland in the winter. If you aren’t there very long (and alone) this might be the way to go. 
    • Staying on all marked paths at all sites is how you can make sure to be respectful of Iceland’s nature. They want you to visit, but they also love their relationship with the environment. They take care to protect their land. 
  • Plan, but be flexible. You have to be careful in Iceland. If you plan too many things in one day, you can run out of daylight. This depends on the time of year and could be very dangerous. 
  • You can grab a little bit of cash out of the ATM if you want it as a souvenir.  In Iceland, they have card machines everywhere (even for parking fees and bathrooms). They also generally don’t like it when tourists use cash. They have no concept of how much things cost and how much money to give. 
  • I brought an old pair of shoes that I figured would probably get too dirty at some point. I already planned that throwing them out would be okay. That was a good call. 

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Comments (1)

  • Cassidy / April 21, 2023 / Reply

    This is so helpful!!! Cannot wait to explore iceland this summer

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