Driving around Iceland in the Eastern Fjords

Iceland has one main ring road, Route 1. How long does it take to drive Iceland's ring road? What are the best attractions you can find along and by Iceland's ring road? 

Theoretically, it is possible to drive around Iceland in 15-16 hours, given that road conditions are good and you don't get stuck driving behind a slow tractor. It is, however, recommended to take at least a week to do it in spring, summer or autumn. There are simply so many sights along the way that you'll want to make frequent stops and that way you can also explore the countryside by foot, on bike or even on horseback. So you might even want to take 10-14 days to do it. 

If you have more time to spend, then you can add in some longer hikes or also explore sections of Iceland that are off the ring road, such as the stunning Snæfellsnes peninsula, the rural Westfjords or the impressive Icelandic highlands. Note that in order to explore the Icelandic highlands you need to be driving a 4WD car and the highlands are only accessible from late June until September.

Parts of Iceland's Ring Road may be closed off in wintertime

  • Iceland's ring road is 1332 km (828 miles)
  • The speed limit on most of the ring road is 90 km/h (55 m/h)
  • 98% of Iceland's ring road is paved, most of it has 2 lanes but there are also some single-lane bridges
  • Conditions of the roads vary greatly between summer and winter, it's not recommended to drive around Iceland in the wintertime 
  • To make the most of the drive, take at least a week to drive it in summer, or up to 2 weeks in the winter 

If you are planning on driving around Iceland in winter (October-March), you need to be more flexible with your time and take at least 10-14 days to do the circle.

In winter, if you are lucky, you won't run into any problems and get good weather and road conditions. However there's always a chance you may need to drive through a snowstorm; the roads may close down so you'll have to wait in one location for 1-2 days or you may get your car stuck in snow and spend hours digging it out. On top of that, the days are much shorter in wintertime and you may not want to navigate the icy roads in darkness.

Beautiful night sky views of Iceland's Ring Road

Always check the road conditions before you set off (also during summer) as well as the Icelandic weather forecast

main attractions along the ring road circle of Iceland: map, location, and photosNote that although many attractions in Iceland are just by the ring road, there are also some main attractions in Iceland that are not. Neither The Golden Circle nor the Blue Lagoon. for example, are by the ring road.

Moreover, the ring road does not include most of the fjords in east Iceland, the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Westfjords or the highlands. It also passes by popular towns, villages and attractions in north Iceland, such as Húsavík, Ásbyrgi, Dettifoss, Siglufjörður and Hofsós. On the following list, these attractions will be recommended as detours, but to reach them you will need to add additional time to your journey. 

The Best Attractions by Iceland's Ring Road

Unlike in most countries where the main roads are big highways with multiple lanes, the ring road in Iceland is a fantastically picturesque 2 lane road with impressive views all around. Make sure you drive on the right side of the road—and watch out for sheep, cows, birds and horses!

Just driving along the ring road, without taking any smaller routes, supplies you with fantastic scenery!

Iceland has hardly any trees so on bright days the view from your car stretches endlessly towards fields, picturesque farms, waterfalls, mountains, beaches, the North Atlantic sea, lakes, glaciers, hot springs, small villages, fjordsislands—all dotted with birds, sheep, cows, horses and reindeer.


South Iceland Attractions along Route 1 

The southwest of Iceland is mainly composed of flat, green farmlands, with the occasional rivers and mountains, including the Hvítá river, which is popular for rafting, and Hekla volcano, which can be seen from the ring road. Off the ring road, you can take half a day to drive the Golden Circle and then join the ring road again by the town of Hveragerði.

The southeast of Iceland contains wide stretches of sand with glacial rivers running through it. For this part of Iceland we recommend booking the ash, sand & gravel car insurance as your car may get damaged on windy days. On the sands you can see an overturned bridge as a reminder of one of the glacial floods that happened in recent years, with a background view of Vatnajökull, Iceland's (and Europe's!) biggest glacier. Vatnajökull National Park takes over most of southeast Iceland, and is by far the largest one of the national parks in Iceland.

Main attractions in southwest Iceland include:

Bathing in Reykjadalur hot river

1. Hveragerði: A cute little town filled with geothermal activity and the starting point for a hike to Reykjadalur, where you can bathe in a hot river. You can join a hiking tour or horseback riding tour to Reykjadalur - or walk it on your own! Hveragerði is only a 40 minute drive from Reykjavík.

2.Views: You'll have spectacular views of Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers, the sources for dozens of waterfalls can be seen from the ring road. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Westman Islands from the ring road in the south. To reach the Westman Islands however you'll need to drive to Landeyjahöfn and take a ferry across.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall has a cave behind it that you can walk through

3. Seljalandsfoss: A beautiful waterfall that you can see from the ring road but is actually a 100 metres off the ring road. It's possible to walk around the waterfall as there is a big cave behind it. One of Iceland's most popular attractions! From Reykjavík it takes about 2 hours to drive to Seljalandsfoss (without stops).

A 10 minute walk from Seljalandsfoss brings you to another, more hidden, waterfall called Gljúfrabúi. You need to tiptoe over a few rocks in a river to get inside the canyon, but the view is worth it!

4.Seljavallalaug: On the way from Seljalandsfoss to Skógafoss you can go off the ringroad towards Seljadalur to bathe in this warm pool in the mountainside. That's a little detour as you'll go off the ringroad and from the parking space you'll need to walk for about 15 minutes to reach the pool.

5. Skógafoss: A big, impressive waterfall just a little bit further than Seljalandsfoss. Also the start (or end) of a known 1 day hike called Fimmvörðuháls (that takes you to Eyjafjallajökull volcano!) Skógafoss is only about a 20-25 minute drive from Seljalandsfoss, so around 2,5 hours away from Reykjavík.

6. DC Plane Wreck: A plane wreck can be found on the black beach in south Iceland, but in order to get there you will need to park by the ring road and then walk for 45-60 minutes (one way) to it. So this is going to be at least a 2-3 hour detour if you decide to take it. It's often quite windy and cold on the beach, so be sure to wear warm clothes and good hiking shoes.

The sunset view from Dyrhólaey

7. Dyrhólaey: Another attraction that's visible from the ring road but to actually get there it's a tiny little drive off the ring road. Cliffs by the sea with a lighthouse on top and spectacular views from the waves crashing on black sandy beaches, over green fields up to the glaciers in the distance. Spectacular birdlife and home to thousands of puffins!

Reynisfjara black sand beach on a calm day can still be dangerous!

8. Reynisfjara: The infamous Reynisfjara black sand beach is a short detour from the ring road. This is a deadly beach, where a number of travellers have lost their life due to the extremely dangerous waves that sneak up on people without any notice. We urge people to stay far away from the waves, about 30-50 metres and admire the strong forces of nature from a safe distance.

Vík is a vilage in South Iceland

9. Vík: A quaint little village of 300 inhabitants with a view towards Reynisdrangar sea pillars, by one of the prettiest black beaches in Iceland. This is the last village in the south until you reach Kirkjubæjarklaustur, an hour drive away, so stack up on gas!

Main attractions in southeast Iceland include:

Systrafoss is found within the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur on Iceland's south coast

1. Kirkjubæjarklaustur: A very tiny little town, with about 120 inhabitants, named after a convent that stood there in Catholic times. The town has a great camping site and romantic hiking paths and is a good base to explore the wonderful nature surrounding it. For example go on a little walk to Kirkjugólf or to Systrafoss waterfall. From Reykjavík it's a 3,5 hour drive to Kirkjubæjarklaustur if you are going straight (perhaps longer depending on road conditions, weather and of course how often you stop your car to take pictures!)

2.Fjaðrárgljúfur: A gorgeous canyon that's perfect to explore on foot once you're there, but it's a little driving detour from Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell

2. Skaftafell: Formerly a national park on its own by the roots of Vatnajökull but now a part of the Vatnajökull National Park. This area is surprisingly green and lush even though it's right next to a glacier!

You can for example go on a short hike to the waterfall Svartifoss (Black waterfall) that's surrounded by dark basalt columns that lend the waterfall its name. Skaftafell is another hour's drive from Kirkjubæjarklaustur, or about 4,5 hours drive from Reykjavík (not including stops!)

Hof church in southeast Iceland is right by Iceland's ring road3. Hofskirkja: This beautiful and picturesque church is made out of turf and is situated just by the ring road between Skaftafell and the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón. The core of this church was built in 1884 and is the last church in Iceland to be built in this turf house style. 

The glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón by Vatnajökull glacier, close to Skaftafell

4. Jökulsárlón: A big glacial lagoon, one of Iceland's most visited tourist attraction. Big blocks of ice break from the glacier and float around in this lagoon until they make their way out to sea. Jökulsárlón is a 45 minute drive from Skaftafell - or around a 5 hour drive from Reykjavík.

Note that it will probably take you longer to drive during wintertime, when the roads may be icy and the visibility poorer. Also note that only in wintertime will you have the option to go on a glacier ice cave tour from Jökulsárlón.

When you drive around Iceland you can't miss the Diamond Beach5. Diamond Beach: The coastline right next to Jökulsárlón, just on the other side of the road is dotted with big chunks of ice, and sometimes you see seals playing in the water. If you walk down to the coastline you can see waves playing with big chunks of ice dotted around the black sandy beach and the ice glistening like diamonds.

East Iceland Attractions Along Route 1 

The east of Iceland is characterised by rugged mountains and beautiful fjords. Pretty much every fjord has a town and everyone has a favourite fjord or mountain that they claim is prettier than the next. Some parts of east Iceland are hard to access during wintertime, as some mountain passes may close due to heavy snowfall. So make the most of visiting east Iceland in summertime!

However, most of the fjords are not by the ring road, the ring road excludes some of the best bits of the east and most of the fjords need a little extra drive, so if you want to explore Iceland's east in more depth make sure you add a couple of days to your schedule to zig-zag along the fjord. If you don't have the time for that do not despair! There is still plenty to see.

Main attractions in east Iceland include:

1. The town of Höfn: Höfn is another hour's drive from Jökulsárlón and is a small fishing town - but the largest in the area. They are known for their langoustine and in summertime hold a 'lobster festival' (Humarhátíð á Höfn) in June or July where you can taste incredible langoustine (Icelandic lobster). In 2016 this festival takes place between the 24th and 26th of June.

Vestrahorn mountain in east Iceland seen from Hvalnes

2. Vestrahorn mountain: Possibly the most photographed location in east Iceland, despite the east being filled with numerous mountains, fjords and beaches. In the vicinity is the beautiful Álftafjörður (Swan-fjord), where flocks of swans gather and to either side of Vestrahorn are a couple of other spiky mountains, Eystrahorn and Brunnhorn - each competing to be more picturesque than the next.

Reindeer in Iceland

3.Reindeer: The East part of Iceland is the only part of the country where you can find wild reindeer, they were originally imported to the country but some of them either escaped or were let loose and now they roam wild in the nature.

Here you can see them posing in front of Brunnhorn, or the Batman mountain.

4. Egilsstaðir: The largest town in the East of Iceland, right next to the forest (a 20 minute drive) and to Lagarfljót river, where rumours are that the Icelandic 'Loch Ness' lives: The Lagarfljot Worm.

If you drive a bit further (off the main road) you come to Atlavík - a popular place to camp by the lake.

5. Hallormsstaðaskógur: A short detour off the ring road brings you to the largest forest in Iceland. Iceland has hardly any trees, so seeing a forest is quite unusual in its own right! When you reach Hallormsstaður Forest you've made it halfway around the country, it's about an 8 hour drive from Reykjavík (not including stops), or about a 3 hour drive from Höfn.

There's a beautiful red colour in the rocks behind Hengifoss waterfall in east Iceland

6. Hengifoss: A stunning waterfall that requires a 2 hour hike to reach, on the banks of Lagarfljót lake and with views towards Hallormsstaðaskógur. It is the third highest waterfall in Iceland (after Glymur and Háifoss) and is 128 metres tall. It is surrounded by rocks that are basaltic strata, layered with red clay in between them, giving the waterfall a rather distinctive look.

Seyðisfjörður is a small town located in a fjord in East Iceland

7. Seyðisfjörður: Another detour that's worth doing is to visit the village of Seyðisfjörður. This colourful and artistic village is situated in a fjord that's by many considered to be one of Iceland's most beautiful fjords, and additionally you'll find a world class sushi restaurant here. This is where the ferry Smyril Line docks, connecting Iceland to both the Faroe Islands and Denmark. This is a 25 minute drive one way along road no. 93 from Egilsstaðir.

North Iceland Attractions Along Route 1 

The north of Iceland is quite mountainous and holds many of Iceland's most notable natural attractions. However, a large portion of the attractions in the northeast, such as DettifossÁsbyrgi and Húsavík require a detour off the ring road.

After an hour and a half's drive from Egilsstaðir toward Mývatn you'll have a gravel road to your right leading towards Dettifoss. 30 km on road no. 864 brings you to Dettifoss (the driving may be slow, depending on the condition of the road). Ásbyrgi is an additional 30 km down the same road.

If you're wanting to go whale watching, then you shouldn't miss out on visiting the whale watching capital of Iceland, Húsavík, that's a 40 minute drive along road no. 87 and 85 from Lake Mývatn.

Main attractions in north Iceland include:

Myvatn in North Iceland

1. Mývatn: A stunning lake in the north of Iceland with rich vegetation and birdlife and stunning surroundings, filled with hot springs and caves. From Egilsstaðir it's a 2 hour drive to Mývatn - or if you drive the north way round from Reykjavík it's around a 6 hour drive.

2. Dimmuborgir: Right next to Lake Mývatn, Dimmuborgir is an area filled with dramatic rock formations and caves and often referred to as a gateway to Hell. Perhaps that's why the Norwegian metal band Dimmuborgir chose this name (the translation is Dark Cities).

3. Grjótagjá: A hot spring inside a cave, featured in Game of Thrones (where Jon Snow and Ygritte get intimate). It is forbidden to bathe in the water, but it's a beautiful place to visit nonetheless.

4. Hverfell/Hverfjall: A volcanic crater just east of Lake Mývatn that is popular for hiking. 

5. Mývatn Nature Baths: The North's answer to the Blue Lagoon, a natural lagoon where guests can bathe.

Don't miss out on seeing Dettifoss waterfall when driving around Iceland

6. Dettifoss: The most powerful waterfall in Europe is a detour off the main ring road. You can either drive to a parking lot on the waterfall's east side along road no. 864, or you can drive to the west side along road no. 862. From Dettifoss you can also walk towards Selfoss waterfall. This is at least a 2-3 hour detour with the drive and the walk to the waterfall.

7. Ásbyrgi: A lush and green valley that's shaped like a horse's shoe. Ásbyrgi is also accessible on the same roads that lead to Dettifoss waterfall and is a detour from the ring road.

Whale watching in Húsavík in north IcelandPicture from Húsavík Original Whale Watching - Carbon Neutral!

8. Húsavík: A picturesque town on the north coast of Iceland, and widely regarded to be the best location to go whale watching from. From Lake Mývatn it's about a 40 minute drive to Húsavík, and if you add a whale watching tour to your trip then those usually last around 3-4 hours.

Goðafoss waterfall in north Iceland is right by Route 1, the ring road

9. Goðafoss: A stunning waterfall that's right by the ring road, can't be missed on the way between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn. The name means 'Waterfall of the Gods' and derives from when statues of Iceland's Norse gods were thrown into the waterfall when Iceland decided to take Christianity as its religion.

Akureyri is second largest town in Iceland after Reykjavik

10. Akureyri: The capital of the North, this town is situated in a beautiful fjord and has a great swimming pool, a pretty church, good nightlife and the best ski resort in the country, Hlíðarfjall. Akureyri is about an hour's drive from Mývatn, or around 5 hours from Reykjavík.

West Iceland Attractions Along Route 1  

There's not a big chunk of the ring road in the west part of Iceland. The west part of Iceland is mainly off the ring road, such as the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes peninsula. Nonetheless, there are a couple of places worth stopping for along the ring road itself.

A short detour from the ring road in west Iceland are Reykholt and Hraunfossar waterfalls that are worth going on a detour for.

Main attractions in West Iceland include:

Londrangar in Snaefellsnes

1. Snæfellsnes: A peninsula that's often described as Iceland in miniature, as it contains all of Iceland's main features in one compact location. That includes a glacier that's also a volcano (Snæfellsjökull), lava fields, waterfalls, picturesque mountains such as Kirkjufell mountain, sweeping views of beautiful coastlines with both black and white sands, caves and cute villages.

The ring road does not include Snæfellsnes peninsula, but it's well worth it taking an extra day or 2 to discover what this part of the country has to offer.

Mountain views in Iceland's Westfjords

2. Westfjords: The Icelandic Westfjords are truly stunning, and the most remote location in Iceland. Here you'll find dozens of gorgeous fjords, the stunning Dynjandi waterfall, the red beach of Rauðasandur, the westernmost tip of Europe: Látrabjarg bird cliff, countless hot springs to bathe in and rural villages.

The ring road passes by the Westfjords, resulting in them becoming more remote than the rest of the country. If you plan on visiting the Westfjords, it's advisable to add another 3-5 days to your journey. The Westfjords may not be accessible during the darkest winter months due to heavy snow.

3. Deildartunguhver: Europe's most powerful hot spring, but not one you'll want to enter! Only a short 15 minute drive from the ring road.

4. Reykholt: Not to be missed by any history buffs, as this was the home of Snorri Sturluson, one of Iceland's most famous writers and poets from the Viking age. A short detour from the ring road, about a 20 minute drive, or simply 5 minutes further than from Deildartunguhver.

Hraunfossar are worth the detour when driving Iceland's ring road

5. Hraunfossar & Barnafoss: Some of the most stunning waterfalls in Iceland are the lava waterfalls Hraunfossar that trickle down directly from underneath a lava field. A 35 minute detour from the ring road, along the same road that goes to Deildartunguhver and Reykholt.

6. Borgarnes: A pretty town that's just a stone throw away from Reykjavík. Often a mandatory stopover on the way north for a hot dog and an ice-cream.

7.Esjan: A mountain overlooking Reykjavík, that takes less than 2 hours to hike (up).

Reykjavik in Iceland

8. Reykjavík: The country's capital, filled with restaurants, art galleries, shops, nightlife, museums and everything you'd expect to find in a capital city. 

And that's the entire circle!

What the Best Way to Travel Iceland's Ring Road? 

You can choose between driving the circle yourself, or going on a guided tour. Taking a bus from one place to another is not a good idea since the buses often only run once or twice a day and you'll want to be making a stop every 30 minutes or an hour.

By driving the circle yourself you'll have more flexibility, and privacy and can choose how long you want to spend at each location. In summer this means you could be enjoying the sights until the middle of the night (since the nights are bright), but in winter you might want to get to your accommodation before it gets dark, but then look up in the sky during cloudless nights in search for the auroras.

Northern Lights over Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon by Iceland's Ring Road

In winter we wouldn't recommend driving yourself unless you are familiar with driving on ice and snow. The weather conditions might contain a snowstorm or two and then you'd be better off on a guided tour, such as this 8 Day Guided Winter Ring Road Bus Tour

If you don't trust yourself to drive in summertime, or simply want to get some local insight into the sights and attractions, then you can choose to go on a guided tour. Here you can find a 7 Day Summer Guided Ring Road Tour.

This 10 Day Summer Itinerary of the Ring Road is also a great mix of both some free time in the city of Reykjavík, and a guided tour of the ring road.

Mossy landscapes seen from Iceland's Ring Road

If you'd like to drive the ring road yourself, check out these summer self-driving tours and these winter self-driving tours. You'll be able to find a variety of ring road itineraries, ranging from 7-14 days in summer and from 10-12 days in winter.

If you're on a budget, be sure to check out all the budget self drive tours.

If you have limited time in summer but still want to see as much as possible, then you can book the 7 Day Self Drive Ring Road Tour or the 8 Day Self Drive Ring Road Tour. However, if you're not limited by time, then we'd recommend the 14 Day Self Drive Ring Road Tour that includes the Westfjords as well, and the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

During wintertime you'll need a little longer and a bit more flexibility, as the weather is unpredictable. Choose between the 10 Day Winter Self Drive Tour or the 12 Day Winter Self Drive Tour that includes the Snæfellsnes peninsula.