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Around the island in 7 days - The Ring Road

A unique experience and the perfect way of getting to know Iceland.

Traveling around the whole island in just one week? It is possible! Seven days are perfect to see a great variety of Icelandic landscapes and learn more about the country’s culture and folklore. You will get the chance to explore some wild areas and to discover unique places, only existing in The Land of Ice and Fire. As soon as you get off the plane at the airport, pick your rental car up and follow this guide!

Posted by: Melissa Masvaleix


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A road to the South Coast during winter

Let's hit the road!

Day 1: Reykjavík

The Ring Road is the main road in Iceland. It is a loop of 1,333 kilometers (828 miles) and it takes about 16 hours to drive around it non-stop, even if there is no point to do that. 

When booking your rental car, if you are traveling during the summertime, there is no need for a 4x4 to travel along the Ring Road as these vehicles are mostly useful in F-roads, mountain roads located in the Highlands. However, you should not neglect the gravel protection insurance as many attractions are accessible by short gravel roads. I personally broke the car’s windscreen during a road trip and I was really happy to have this insurance. If you want to save money on accommodation, renting a van can be a great idea.

If you are traveling during winter, you will definitely need a 4x4 with full insurance cover as the weather can be really bad. Indeed, you can have snow and fog at the same time, which can be really dangerous. The roads will be more slippery than during summer and the weather can change anytime. It is strongly recommended to have previous experience of driving in such conditions. Some roads will be closed, always make sure to know about the road conditions and the weather conditions in advance. As you can imagine, the safest time to drive by yourself in Iceland is during summer.

Once in Reykjavík, you'll want to buy some food to be able to eat during the seven days, even if you absolutely have to try Icelandic cuisine when stopping in a town with traditional restaurants. The cheapest supermarkets in Iceland are called Bónus and you can’t miss it as the logo is a big pink pig. There is one in Laugavegur, the main street downtown. Then, you can rent specific equipment such as a portable stove to heat the food and a GPS or a map to find your way through Iceland.

Many companies in Reykjavik rent camping equipment. Depending on the season and your preferences, you can rent a tent and other useful camping gear or sleep in hotels, hostels or B&Bs along the ring road. When you feel like you have all the necessities for your trip, the journey can finally begin. But don’t go too far! Why not explore a little bit of the city life before you go deep in the wilderness? You will be even more in shape for the next days and, after all, you deserve some rest after the flight.

The capital of Iceland is a gem with incredible architecture, a lot of culture and so much history. There are so many things to do in the city center. The iconic Hallgrímskirkja is a must see from the outside and also from the inside. Around here, you can wander in Laugavegur street, where many shops, cafes, and bars make the street one of the most dynamic in Reykjavík. There, you can see colorful graffiti as the city is full of street art. The impressive Harpa concert hall is located on the harbor, a wonderful building made of a distinctive colored glass facade where many concerts are held all year long.

The Sun Voyager with Mount Esja in the distance

The Sun Voyager

Nearby, the symmetric Sun Voyager sculpture is an emblem of the city. The massive steel sculpture gives a beautiful view on Mount Esja in the background.

Every explorer needs to eat at some point. Grab a bite in one of the best local restaurants in Reykjavík. Afterwards, you can enjoy the nightlife and taste some Icelandic beers in the greatest bars downtown and finally rest in the city, where you can book a hotel, hostel, B&B, AirBnB, or also camp in the city campsite.

Total distance made by car during the day: Keflavík International Airport - Reykjavik city center: 40 minutes, 48 kilometers (30 miles).

 

Day 2: The Golden Circle

Get up early to make the most of this amazing day! Now you are ready to go to the countryside!

The smartest choice would be to begin with The Golden Circle. This loop is ideal for visitors to have an overview of Iceland with the historic Þingvellir National Park, powerful geysers surging at Geysir, the stunning Gullfoss waterfall and the volcanic crater lake Kerið (in this order).

Thingvellir National Park Waterfall

þingvellir National Park

First, Þingvellir (or Thingvellir, literally the ‘Parliament Plains’) is the place where the Alþing, the Icelandic parliament, was established around 930. Only 30 minutes away from Reykjavík (37 kilometers or 23 miles), the protected national shrine holds a great flora. It is the only place in the world where you can snorkel and dive between two tectonic plates: The Eurasian and the North American. Silfra fissure was formed in 1789 by earthquakes along with the divergent movements from the tectonic plates. And amazingly it is still moving apart about 2 centimeters (about 1 inch) per year.

If you continue on the Golden Circle for approximately 35 minutes (47 kilometers or 29 miles), you will quickly be surprised by impressive geysers erupting not far from the road. At Geysir geothermal area, you can truly see the power of nature while the 30-meter high Strokkur explodes every few minutes.

Just 10 kilometers away (6 miles), the great Gullfoss stands and blows everyone’s mind as the water plummets down 32 meters (104 feet). When the weather is nice, you can even see beautiful rainbows around the waterfall. If you have time for some action, you can take a guided snowmobiling tour from Gullfoss Cafe and wander in the middle of nowhere on Langjökull glacier, the second largest in Iceland.

To end well with the Golden Circle, take a look at the hypnotizing 3,000-year-old Kerið crater lake. From Gullfoss, you will have to drive for 45 minutes on Road 35, there are about 56 kilometers (or 35 miles) between the two locations. The 55-meter deep lake is really mesmerizing. When the sun is shining the water turns bright blue.

Note: You can also visit the whole Golden circle in a guided tour.

When the Golden Circle is over, you will return to the Ring Road and will be able to head East. Along the Ring Road, you cannot miss two magnificent waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. The particularity of the 60 meter-high Seljalandsfoss is that you can walk behind it and see it from a very different point of view. It is located 85 kilometers away from Kerið (53 miles, for about 1-hour drive).

Just a 5 minute walk away from Seljalandsfoss is a truly hidden gem! Another waterfall called Gljúfrabúi, right next to a farm. To see it, you have to walk into a little cave entrance. Many people are leaving without seeing or even knowing this beauty of nature exists. However, don’t forget your raincoat!

Rainbows at Skogafoss waterfall

Skogafoss waterfall

Next stop is Skógafoss, only half an hour drive from the last waterfall. At Skógafoss, which is also 60 meters high, you can climb the 572 steps to get a look from above the waterfall. Skógafoss is particularly known for its double rainbow, visible when the weather allows it.

If you continue on the Ring Road, you will meet the majestic Sólheimajökull glacier. To go there, when you are back on the Ring Road after Skógafoss, turn left after 6 kilometers (4 miles), towards Road 221. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can hike on Sólheimajökull just for a few hours before hitting the road. Live an unforgettable moment walking on the magnificent glacier between ash and ice.

Still heading East for about 30 minutes (25 kilometers/15 miles) you will have to turn right on Road 218 to go to Dyrhólaey Cliffs. There, you can observe many bird species during summer, especially puffins. Note that there is a restricted access during the nesting season, from Early May to Mid-June. Dyrhólaey is mostly known for its naturally shaped arch formation and the castle-shaped lighthouse, which serves as a hotel too.

You can go down in the lower path to explore the Kirkjufjara black sand beach, where sometimes seals show up. However, you should pay attention to the powerful sneaky waves and never turn your back to the ocean. The wonderful Reynisfjara black sand beach is not far away from there. On this beach, you can see lava formations, basalt columns, and the so-called Reynisdrangar peaks: basalt rock stacks which are believed to be trolls turned into rocks. Right next to Reynisfjara is Vík, a small seaside village. You can stay in this small picturesque town where there are many options for accommodation.

Total distance made by car during the day: Reykjavík - Thingvellir - Gullfoss - Kerið - Seljalandsfoss - Skógafoss - Sólheimajökull - Dyrhólaey - Reynisfjara - Vík: 5h30, 345 kilometers (214 miles).

 

Day 3: Discovering the South

After a good breakfast, you are ready to hit the road again! The South of Iceland has so much to offer! In Vík, there is a beautiful church which was built in 1934. Going there gives a perfect panoramic view of the town and its surrounding areas.

When leaving Vík, drive East for about 1 hour (83 kilometers/52 miles) and you will find an extremely narrow waterfall called Foss á Síðu, which is very close to the Ring Road. When there is a really strong wind, the waterfall is known to go upwards, as the flow of water is really poor. This picturesque scenery is definitely something unique you do not want to miss in Iceland. Sometimes there are friendly sheeps and horses around the waterfall as it is located just behind a farm.

In front of the waterfall, on the other side of the road, the boldest ones will venture in Dverghamrar. The two massive basalt rock formations are believed to be home of some Icelandic hidden people. You should always show respect if you want to stay safe in this mysterious area, who knows what the dwarfs are capable of!

Svínafellsjökull Glacier

Svínafellsjökull, the Hollywood Glacier

Later on, enter the well-known Skaftafell Nature Reserve where lies Svínafellsjökull, also called the Hollywood glacier for being the setting of many famous movies. It is only 57 kilometers away (35 miles) from the last stop. There, you can also opt for an ice hiking tour if you didn’t have time to do it in Sólheimajökull or visit an ice cave (if you are in Iceland from November to March). Skaftafell is part of the bigger national park Vatnajökull, where Europe’s biggest glacier is located.

There are many hiking paths in Skaftafell departing from the Visitor Center, but one of the most famous is Svartifoss. When parking at the Visitor Center, hike for 1,5 kilometers to Svartifoss waterfall. This is a unique and original waterfall surrounded by a black basalt lava wall, which makes this place really photogenic. Svartifoss tumbles down 20 meters (80 feet) and inspired the architect of Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavík. In Skaftafell, you can also get a chance to go really close to glacier tongues and feel so small in front of the impressive rising ice.

To end the day well, you can go to the Diamond Beach which is 56 kilometers (35 miles) away from Skaftafell Visitor Center, about a 45 minute drive. There, you can admire many chunks of ice that have washed up on the seashore. The black sand contrasting with the crystal blue color of the small icebergs makes this place truly magical and photogenic.

Some blue icebergs at Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

Jökulsárlón with some incredible light

Just on the other side of the road lies the magnificent glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón, which is an absolute must-see in the South Coast of Iceland. Taking the boat is a good idea to meet some seals getting tanned on the icebergs or swimming and playing around them.

There are many options to go on the water: zodiac boat, kayaking or amphibian boat. The last zodiac boat tour to explore the lagoon from inside is at 5pm (depending on the season) as well as the kayaking tour and the last amphibian boat tour is at 6:10pm (depending on the season). After that, trust me, you will only have sweet dreams. You can find many options of accommodation in Höfn, just an hour drive from Jökulsárlón (80 kilometers/50 miles).

Note: You can also visit the whole South Coast in a guided tour.

Total distance made by car during the day: Vík - Foss á Síðu - Dverghamrar - Skaftafell - Diamond Beach - Jökulsarlón - Höfn: 3h40, 277 kilometers (172 miles).

 

Day 4: Heading up North

Good morning! A long day of adventures and discoveries is awaiting you so don’t oversleep!

Purple skies of Vestrahorn Mountain

Vestrahorn, one of the most photogenic mountain in Iceland

To begin with, fifteen minutes away from Höfn is Vestrahorn, one of the most photogenic mountains in Iceland. It is one of the few mountains which is made of Gabbro rock. Stokksnes is the best place and the best angle to photograph the magnificent mountain, with its many grassy sand drifts on the black sand beach in front of Vestrahorn. It is such a majestic place to stop, I am one hundred percent sure that you won’t regret it. On the land below the mountain stands a Viking village built and left behind by a film company. Besides Vestrahorn mountain, there is Brunnhorn mountain, or also called the Batman Mountain because of its shape with three peaks that look like Batman’s logo.

If you continue driving along the beautiful roads of the spectacular East fjords, you will go through tranquil fishing villages. To discover a stunning waterfall, continue straight on Road 939 (turning into road 95 after a few kilometers) after passing by Djúpivogur town instead of turning left to continue the ring road. Approximately 30 kilometers away, turn left again to road 931 along the fjord shores.

Congratulations, you reached Hengifoss, which is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland, measuring 128 meters (420 feet). It is surrounded by a colorful rock face with different layers from volcanic eruptions back in the Tertiary period. It takes about 40 to 60 minutes to hike from the parking lot to the waterfall but on the way you get to observe another smaller waterfall called Litlanesfoss. Getting two waterfalls for one hike is an incredible opportunity!

After this incredible hike, jump in the car and hit the magnificent road to Seyðisfjörður, where some scenes of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were shot. It is located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Hengifoss, passing by Egilsstaðir town. The tiny village of Seyðisfjörður is absolutely splendid, with its light blue church and the rainbow pavement leading to it. It is the best place to have a picnic along the shores.

This is an optional stop as it makes an hour detour, but it is really worth it if you have some time. From Seyðisfjörður, you will have a 2 hour and 45 minute drive (200 kilometers/124 miles) until Mývatn, a region rich in unusual natural wonders.

Power of Dettifoss waterfall

The powerful Dettifoss

Before entering Mývatn, you should begin your journey in this wonderful region by exploring Dettifoss. When you are leaving Seyðisfjörður, you will drive on the Ring Road for about 1.5 hours (128 kilometers/80 miles) and then turn right on Road 864. Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in all Europe, plunging 500 cubic meters of water per second. However, note that the road only opens at the end of May due to snow or wet conditions.

Now, after this long day (I warned you!), you can go to Reykjahlíð, a small town by Mývatn Lake where you can have the choice in terms of accommodation. Good night!

Total distance made by car during the day: Höfn - Vestrahorn - Hengifoss - (Seyðisfjörður) - Dettifoss - Reykjahlíð: 8h30, 518 kilometers (321 miles). Without Seyðisfjördur: 7h20, 460 kilometers (286 miles).

 

Day 5: The North of Iceland

The Mývatn region is one of my favorite in Iceland, there are so many things to see. You can begin the day the beautiful Námaskarð Pass, a geothermal area on Námafjall mountain. It is directly connected to Krafla volcano and is home to hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. The scenery looks just like what we can imagine of planet Mars with its red terrain. There, you will be able to notice a really peculiar smell, particular to this region, I will not describe the smell, but just saying that it is better to have a stuffy nose on that day.

Pale blue lake of Viti Crater

Viti Crater in Myvatn region

Next step: the Viti crater in Krafla volcano, only 10 kilometers (6 miles) North from Námaskardh. It is a small lake of cold stunning aqua blue water, sometimes appearing green depending on the season and on the weather. You can take the 30 minute trail around the edge if you feel like you want some more exercise. The volcano is surrounded by a geothermal area and colorful mountains which makes this place really eccentric.

After a good walk, head South of Mývatn Lake for 20 kilometers (12 miles) to arrive at Dimmuborgir (literally ‘dark castles’), the maze with fascinating lava formations. This place is thought to have been created about 2,300 years ago in the violent throes of an extensive volcanic eruption. There are many possible hiking routes, ranging from 10 minutes to 1 hour, but the longest path will take you to the most amazing rock formation: The Church, with a large enclave where you can walk through.

Right in the South of Lake Mývatn are Skútustaðagígar pseudo-craters. They are only ‘pseudo’ because they are not magma-producing volcanic vents but were formed by gas explosions when boiling lava flowed over the cool and wet surfaces. The 30 minutes circular route on the western end is a good path to explore this lunar-like wonder of nature. Some of the craters can be climbed but some other are protected and it is forbidden to go up.

The last step around Mývatn region is the particularly impressive Goðafoss waterfall, which is located about 38 kilometers (24 miles) from our last stop. In addition to being one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Goðafoss played a significant role in Icelandic History. The Lawspeaker of the year 1000, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, made Christianity the official religion of Iceland by throwing the Norse Gods statues into the waterfall.

Now, say goodbye to Mývatn, and say hello to Dalvík! (after driving for 1:15 hours, about 94 kilometers/58 miles)

A beautiful humpback whale in Dalvik

A beautiful humpback whale showing off

You will pass by Akureyri, the capital of the North where you can find many services. Dalvík is a nice town with approximately 1,400 inhabitants. But the most important thing you have to know about this town is that there are many tours to observe whales!

These giants of the sea like to hang out around the North of Iceland. There, you can see humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, small harbor porpoises and if you are lucky you will be able to observe the largest animal alive on Earth: the Blue Whale. There is a 99,5% success rate in Dalvík, which makes it the best place for whale watching. You can head back South to spend the night in Akureyri where you can choose between the numerous accommodations This way, you will be closer for tomorrow’s journey.

Total distance made by car during the day: Reykjahlíð - Grjótagjá - Námaskarð - Krafla - Dimmuborgir - Skútustaðagígar - Goðafoss - Dalvík - Akureyri: 3h20, 225 kilometers (140 miles).

 

Day 6: The Snaefellsnes Peninsula

The West Fjords are really beautiful but seven days are not enough to take the time to admire their beauty, so you will have to skip this part of Iceland. However, don’t worry, what is next will also blow your mind! I suggest driving directly to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula where many wonders are waiting for you.

The road between Akureyri and our first step in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is quite long: five hours for 365 kilometers (227 miles), but it is really worth it. Plus you will have to go back South at some point anyway. I suggest to wake up early to be able to make the most out of maybe your last full day in Iceland.

the most photographed mountain in Iceland, Mount Kirkjufell

Kirkjufellsfoss and Mount Kirkjufell in the background

The best way to begin with Snæfellsness Peninsula is by exploring the wonderful Kirkjufell, which can be translated as the “Church Mountain”. Kirkjufell is one of Iceland’s most photographed and iconic landmarks. The symmetrical mountain is 463 meters high and has a small five-meter waterfall nearby, making this place perfect postcard picture.

At the most Eastern point of the Peninsula, 40 minutes away from Kirkjufell (41 kilometers/25 miles), you can find Svörtuloft Lighthouse. It is a beautiful bright yellow lighthouse located on dark black lava cliffs. The contrasting colors makes this lighthouse a good subject for photographers.

All along the Western side of Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you will see the magnificent Snaefellsjökull Glacier. If you want to get a closer look, you have to take a mountain road, which is reserved to 4WD vehicles only. The other option is to do a snowcat tour which will take you on the top of the glacier.

When you return to the main road in Snæfellsnes Peninsula, head South towards Djúpalónssandur and Dritvík Beaches to discover two old shipwrecks from some decades ago. On these beaches, there are some big stones which local men used to lift to test their strength during the fishing era. Those who couldn't lift the rock weighing 54 kg were declared unsuitable to work as fishermen.

Basalt cliffs of Lóndrangar

Lóndrangar basalt cliffs

Only 8 kilometers (5 miles) away from the beach are Lóndrangar basalt cliffs. On the way there you can stop by Vatnshellir Cave to go around. However, to go inside it is recommended to have a guide and the appropriate gear. Lóndrangar sea stacks are the remains of a crater which had been eroded to its present form by the sea. There are two stacks and the taller one is 75 meters high. From far away Lóndrangar looks like a castle has emerged from the sea. During summer, puffins and fulmars settle on the cliffs around for the nesting season.

You will definitely want Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge to be your next stop, only 10 kilometers farther East. In the summertime, it is possible to hike into the crack in the mountain wall which cleaves all the way down to the mountain’s root. The 30 minutes trail will lead you inside of the gorge, where a waterfall is hidden away. After discovering all of these different landscapes, you are now ready to go to bed. You can drive back to the closest town Arnarstapi which is only 5 minutes away from the Gorge. You will find one hotel, one guesthouse, and some Airbnb.

Total distance made by car during the day: Akureyri - Kirkjufell - Svörtuloft Lighthouse - Djúpalónssandur Beach - Lóndrangar - Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge - Arnarstapi: 6h30, 453 kilometers (281 miles).

 

Day 7: All good things come to an end...

Here we are, it is your last day in Iceland. After that, you will have to go back to normal life. But don’t be sad! This day will be also full of new discoveries! When you think Iceland showed you everything it had to show, something new just pop up on the road back to the airport.

A black church Búðakirkja surrounded by mountains

Búðakirkja is such a picturesque church!

From Arnarstapi, head East for 20 kilometers/12 miles to Búðir, your next stop. There, you will find such a picturesque black church surrounded by mountains, called Búðakirkja. This stunning church is a very popular object for minimalistic photography as there is nothing around it but mountains and a cemetery.

Gerðuberg cliffs are located at about 54 kilometers/34 miles East from Búðir. It is a natural heritage site home of a massive wall of beautiful basalt columns, reaching up to 14 meters. Just seven minutes away from Gerðuberg is Landbrotalaug, a natural geothermal (tiny) pool. Only 2 or 3 people can fit at the same time in this mini-pool. The water temperature is between 36 and 40°C, which is perfect in the morning if you want to wake up slowly. This pool is a well-hidden secret as it is difficult to find and access.

Here are the instructions to go there from Gerðuberg: On Road 54 head East for 2.2 kilometers/1,4 miles then turn right and continue for about 1.7 kilometers/1.1 miles and turn right again, you will arrive at the end of the road, just 250 meters/820 feet away. Pro tip: try to visit this place early so that there will be no one. On your way South, leaving Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you will see Eldborg Crater which is 60 meters high.

Note: You can also visit the whole Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a guided tour.

Glymur Waterfall Iceland

Glymur, the second highest waterfall in Iceland

The next stop is one of my favorite spot in Iceland: Glymur waterfall. It is 94 kilometers away from Landbrotalaug and you will pass by the town of Borgarnes if you want to buy some lunch or drinks for the hike to the waterfall. Glymur is the second highest waterfall in the whole country, reaching 198 meters. The whole trail will take you about 4 hours for the roundtrip but to see the waterfall you don’t have to walk all the way. What I love about this place is that it takes you in deep into nature and there are not many people as the hike is quite difficult. Don’t forget to wear good hiking shoes.

Intense exercise deserves a reward. Why not heading to the so-called Blue Lagoon and enjoy a last relaxing hot bath before going to the airport? From Glymur, after one-hour driving you will pass by Reykjavík where you can give your rental equipment back and maybe enjoy a last Icelandic specialty. The Blue Lagoon is 40 minutes away from the Icelandic capital and 20 minutes away from Keflavík International Airport. Note that pre-booking is required. Funny fact: you will have to shower totally naked before entering the relaxing waters.

Afterwards, you are ready to head back towards the airport and clean the rental car before giving it back. Almost every gas station has a self car wash facility. I wish you had a really good time traveling around Iceland. All the locations and activities are suggestions and if you want to add a stop or skip one it is totally up to you. To know more about the road conditions and the weather, please consult the official information website or call 1777.

Note: You can also travel the whole Ring Road in a guided tour if you are not comfortable with driving and if you want to join other people. Plus, our guides have so much to tell you about our beautiful country.

Total distance made by car during the day: Arnarstapi - Buðir - Gerðuberg Cliffs - Landbrotalaug Hot Springs - Glymur - Reykjavík - Blue Lagoon - Keflavík International airport: 4h25, 307 kilometers (191 miles).

Seven days around Iceland

 

 

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