This post was originally published in July 2018, and updated in December 2022 after return visits to Iceland.
Iceland is a country of stunning natural beauty that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Based on how often I see it on social media, I think it probably is! Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination exploded around 2016, thanks to inexpensive direct flight options from the US and a massive investment in its tourism infrastructure.
But don’t let the Instagram hype turn you off – Iceland is well worth it!
Despite an influx of tourism in recent years, Iceland retains a reputation for its pristine, raw and untouched wilderness. With glaciers, geysers, volcanoes, waterfalls, mountains and black sand beaches, Iceland is truly the “Land of Ice and Fire.” It is a destination where you can see mind-blowing scenery directly from the car, back-to-back for 10 days straight. It is honestly incredible, which is why I have visited the island on four separate occasions.
Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or a photography enthusiast, Iceland has something to offer everyone. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing the ultimate 10 to 14 day Iceland road trip itinerary that will bring you to some of the most breathtaking and iconic destinations in the country. From the Golden Circle to the Western Fjords, I’ll help you discover the best of Iceland’s natural wonders and must-see places.
Your Comprehensive Guide to Two Weeks in Iceland
Overview of this Ring Road Itinerary
For many Americans like myself, road trips are an ideal way to travel and Iceland is an exceptional destination for a road trip. The famed Highway 1, also known as the Ring Road, is a well-maintained and easily navigable route to explore the island—it literally goes all the way around in a big circle! Although many travelers dedicate 2 weeks to driving the full ring road circuit, a lot of working people may not have enough vacation time for that—myself included.
Due to limited vacation days, I opted for a 7 day road trip on the Ring Road during my first visit to Iceland in 2016. While it is possible to drive the Ring Road in just 1 week, I’ll give you a fair warning – it is a lot of driving in a short time. You are likely to feel rushed, and you will definitely miss things. Based on my experience, I think 10-14 days would actually be the ideal amount of time to drive the whole island of Iceland. This will allow for more time enjoying the natural beauty and less time behind the wheel.
With that said, I have laid out this itinerary in a way that is adjustable to the length of stay you’re considering, anywhere from 7 to 14 days. You’ll notice that certain destinations on the itinerary have a range of time (example day 4-6 on the southern coast). You can take full advantage of the time allotted, or you can remove days depending on how slowly or quickly you are driving the Ring Road. It really depends on your personal interests and preferences.
Fundamentals of Driving the Ring Road
Driving Iceland’s Ring Road is an unforgettable experience, showcasing some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. Whether you’re an experienced traveler or planning your first trip to Iceland, there are a few things you should know before hitting the Ring Road. My Ring Road travel guide is designed to answer all of your road trip questions, empowering you with the need-to-know information that will help you tackle one to two weeks on Iceland’s famous Ring Road.
Read about everything you need to know to prepare for a road trip on Iceland’s Ring Road.
Complete 10 to 14 Day Ring Road Itinerary
Day 1: Reykjavik
Practically all international travelers will arrive in Iceland at Keflavik International Airport (code KEF). Located about 1 hour outside of the city of Reykjavik, this is the most logical place to pick up your rental car if you are planning on doing a self-drive Ring Road trip.
Although most people don’t come to Iceland to experience urban destinations, Reykjavik is actually a pretty cool little city. As the capital city, Reykjavik is Iceland’s hub of culture, cuisine, and history, offering visitors a glimpse into the mysterious and alluring Icelandic lifestyle.
Having visited Reykjavik on four different trips, I think one or two days is the perfect amount of time to get a taste of what this city has to offer. With just 48 hours in Reykjavik, visitors can explore the city’s many museums and galleries, visit the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, and take a dip in one of the city’s thermal pools. I have highlighted all my favorite things in Reykjavik in a separate blog post if you want more detail about what to see and do.
Day 2-3: Golden Circle
Perhaps the most famous sightseeing circuit in Iceland, the Golden Circle is a 300 km route that offers a density of natural attractions in the southwest corner of Iceland. The three most important natural wonders to visit in the Golden Circle are: Thingvellir National Park, the Gulfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir Geothermal area. Each stop offers a unique window into Iceland’s geologic history, not to mention excellent photo opportunities.
There are several other notable natural wonders in the Golden Circle, including Kerid Crater Lake, Reykjadalur Hot Spring, and the charming town of Selfoss. You can also add on cool activities like snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure Rift, the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates.
Driving the whole circuit, with short 30 minute stops at the locations, will take about 6 hours. Although it is possible to do it as a day trip from Reykjavik, I recommend breaking it up into two days. This gives you a longer time to enjoy the natural wonders. Plus, if you wake up early, there is a good chance you can visit these locations with minimal crowds. The Ion Adventure Hotel, located in the heart of the Golden Circle, offers modern luxury and a unique design inspired by Iceland’s natural elements.
Because this is a well-trodden tourist circuit, there are a number of nice places to eat in the Golden Circle. Lindin Restaurant is a charming family run restaurant located a little off the beaten trail. Another good option is Fridheimar Farm, offering farm-to-table Icelandic cuisine. This place is fairly well-known, so you should expect crowds. I would definitely recommend getting ice cream at Efstidalur, a sustainable dairy farm where you can watch the cows being milked while enjoying your delicious treat, as well as
Day 4-6: Southern Coast
Departing from the Golden Circle, continue driving the Ring Road south and east along Iceland’s southern coast. Nowhere are nature’s wonders more clustered than southern Iceland. You can see a rainbow ringed waterfall followed by a 4,000 year old glacier followed by a black sand beach all in one day —there is so much incredible natural diversity in Southern Iceland! After four trips to Iceland, I can honestly say that southern Iceland is my favorite region to explore.
I would recommend budgeting at least two days to explore the southern coast of Iceland, but you could easily spend three or four days depending on the length of your Ring Road roadtrip. I think waterfalls and the glacier lagoon are the biggest highlights, but there are plenty of other cool things to visit. I summarize my 13 favorite natural attractions to visit in southern Iceland here. On a 10 to 14 day Ring Road trip, I would structure my southern Iceland days accordingly:
- Day 4: Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skógafoss waterfall & Sólheimasandur airplane crash
- Day 5: Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Dyrhólaey Arch & Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
- Day 6: Diamond Beach, Glacier Lagoon & Crystal Ice Caves
Vik is the largest city in southern Iceland (plus it is smack dab in the middle), making it a popular place to spend a night or two. It is a great jumping off point for exploring. Once you’re past Vik, you’ll start to notice lots of remote, sparse and open places—and less tour buses. There are very few cities along this stretch of the Ring Road, but there are a number of nice hotels around the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.
Hofn is a great little town to enjoy a nice meal in southern Iceland. Located on a tiny peninsula, this surprisingly foodie town is a major fishing hub with lots of restaurants specializing in seafood and fresh food. I would recommend trying either Pakkhaus, a delicious farm-to-table spot in an old barn, or Humarhöfnin Veitingahús, an upscale seafood restaurant renowned for its lobster dishes.
Day 7-8: Eastern Iceland
In eastern Iceland, you will develop an appreciation for undisturbed nature that truly makes Iceland the “Land of Fire and Ice”. Although it is largely undeveloped, driving in this portion of Iceland included some of my favorite days. You’ll see less and less cars, and more and more natural diversity. Get your podcasts, audiobooks or music queued up before heading out.
The landscapes in eastern Iceland change every hundred kilometers or so, making each day an adventure for the eyes. Vestrahorn mountain, just outside of Hofn, was formed by hot magma trapped beneath the earth, slowly cooling into rugged, sharp peaks surrounded by blue ocean. I particularly liked looking at part of the Eyjafjallajökull Lava Flow from the volcano that erupted in 2010. You can really see how the wide flow disrupted the landscape in dramatic ways.
Another natural attraction to see in eastern Iceland is Hengifoss waterfall. At 128m tall, this is Iceland’s third-highest waterfall. It is most famous due to the unique rock formation surrounding the falls. Layers of black and red basalt form a rock wall, in which the distinctive red color comes from clay stuck between basaltic strata.
One quirky destination in eastern Iceland is Petra’s Stone Collection and Museum. We happened to be staying in the town where the collection is located, which is how I discovered this little treasure. It is literally a rock and gem museum! The museum is housed inside the former home of Petra María Sveinsdóttir who became an avid rock collector. She found most of the rocks in Iceland, most of them actually coming from Stöðvarfjörður near her hometown. It’s not a must-see, but there are some seriously cool geodes here!
Day 9 -10: Akureyri & Northern Iceland
Continuing on the ring road, the next major city will be Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city. Assuming that you are driving from the east, there are few fun natural sights in northeast Iceland to visit before you reach Akureyri. Dettifoss is definitely a highlight, as it is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and located smack dab in the middle of Vatnajökull National Park.
Hverir is another great place to stop for a few hours and it is literally visible from the ring road. This geothermal spot offers visitors the chance to see bubbling pools of mud and steaming fumaroles up close and personal! It absolutely reeks of sulfuric gas here, so come prepared. Myvatn Nature Baths is a naturally heated lagoon that rivals the Blue Lagoon as the most picturesque hot springs in Iceland. They are well-worth a stop! The water is around 36 – 40°C and feels absolutely divine as you sit, relax and enjoy the natural surroundings.
On the north coast of Iceland, there is an adorable fishing town called Husavik which I recommend visiting on a day trip from Akureyri. It is the perfect place to go whale watching. We opted to go on a tour with North Sailing because of their commitment to responsible tourism and wildlife management. They adhere to an active environmental policy that is rooted in the principles of sustainable development. Our tour was completely carbon neutral, because we primarily used sails to propel us. I have never experienced whale watching from a sailboat before, let alone a restored two-masted oak ship from the 19th century! Go behind-the-scenes of my tour with this YouTube video I made about the experience.
Day 11 – 13: Western Fjords
For the first time in this itinerary, you are going to get off the Ring Road to explore the remote and less-visited Western Fjords of Iceland. Known for its rugged landscapes and breathtaking vistas, the Western Fjords are largely untouched wilderness. The roads here will wind through the fjords along the coastline for stunning views. This region of Iceland is the least touristy area on the island, so if avoiding crowds is a priority for you, consider extending this part of the trip.
One of the main attractions in the Western Fjords is the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, a remote wilderness area that is home to a variety of wildlife, including Arctic foxes, seabirds, and seals. The reserve is also a popular destination for hiking and birdwatching, with a network of trails that lead to some of the most scenic spots in the region.
The most famous natural attraction in the Western Fjords is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This large national park is incredibly picturesque, with coves, black sand beaches, and the Snæfellsjökull glacier. If you’re sick of the car, you can access this peninsula using a ferry that departs daily from Brjánslækur. If you’re driving into the park, stop at Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall on the way. It is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland and there is a good chance you’ve seen pictures of it on social media before.
Other highlights to see include the Hvítserkur rock formation along the northern coast. This is a massive basalt rock that locals claim looks like a dragon drinking from the ocean. Deildartunguhver is the largest natural hot spring in Europe if your body is feeling weary from all the travel. Ísafjörður is a traditional fishing village in the far north of the Western Fjords where you can see some of the oldest houses in Iceland, as well as the traditionally built still with grass roofs. It is also home to Tjöruhúsið restaurant which is rumored to have the best seafood in Iceland.
Day 14: Reykjavik
And just like that, you find yourself returning to Reykjavik. There is one last stop you might want to make before heading home on your flight—Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Located conveniently close to the airport, the Blue Lagoon is one of the most iconic attractions in Iceland. You have undoubtedly seen drool-worthy photos of the neon blue water that makes it so famous. Curious what the experience at the Blue Lagoon is actually like? I break down all the myths and misconceptions of visiting the Blue Lagoon to make sure you know exactly what you are getting into.
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