What is the best road-trip you can take in Iceland? What route will best suit your needs, desires and budget? Read ahead to discover the top five road trips around Iceland.
Driving around Iceland is an awe-inspiring experience. The ever-changing landscapes mean that, just from the road, you will be able to witness glacier tongues and volcanic peaks, lava fields and forests, geothermal areas and incredible stretches of coast.
It is one of those places where no matter your destination, the journey is an event in itself.
Taking a road trip to see the highlights of the country is, therefore, an experience that comes highly recommended to travellers in Iceland.
Not only will it expose you to dramatic nature, but it will provide you with the freedom to spend as little or long at each location as you like, without concern for tour guides or other guests.
It also allows you to reach destinations that may not usually be visited on day-tours.
All you need in order to take a road trip is a member of your group who has a valid driver’s license and is confident driving in adverse conditions.
Regardless of when you embark upon your road-trip, it is important to be aware of a few resources that will be essential for your journey.
Firstly, you will need to reference Iceland's Met Office and check the weather forecast before setting out each day, to see what the conditions are likely to be on the road and at your destination.
Secondly, you should also reference The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration to ensure that all roads are open.
Without further ado, read ahead to see the top five best road trips in Iceland, based on how many days you have to enjoy them.
Just because you are only enjoying a long weekend or stopover trip in Iceland does not mean that you cannot take a great road-trip while here. In two full days, there are a wealth of things you could do.
Considering that you will want to see as many different landscapes and features as possible, however, the stretch of land nicknamed ‘Iceland in Miniature’ is a great choice.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which stretches 90 kilometres from the West of Iceland, has more than earned this title.
Its famous crowning glacier and volcano, Snæfellsjökull, is but one of many incredible features to be found here.
The southeast part of the Snæfellnes Peninsula is less than two hours drive north of the capital, Reykjavík.
You reach there by driving Route 1 North to Borgarnes, and then continue north on Route 54, the road which encircles the Peninsula.
Borgarnes is a great place to stop and get supplies or coffee before continuing. This charming town is also home to the Settlement Centre, which has two exhibitions on Iceland’s earliest days.
One discusses the ‘Settlement Era’ of this nation when Norwegians began to emigrate over here, and the other explores ‘Egil’s Saga’. This site, therefore, is not to be missed by lovers of history or literature.
When you reach the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you will first explore its southern coast.
The first two features of note you will discover are distinctive geological marvels, the Eldborg Volcanic Caldera and the Gerðuberg Basalt Columns.
The former of these is at least 5000 years old, 60 metres tall, and can be ascended via a staircase.
The hike will expose you to beautiful panoramic views, as well as the vivid colouration of Iceland’s lava. The latter line a tall cliff with such perfect geometry that you would think they had been chiselled by experts, rather than natural volcanic forces.
Continuing along the peninsula's south coast, your next destination will be Ytri-Tunga beach, a stretch of coast by a farm of the same name. This is one of Iceland’s most reliable seal-watching destinations.
Just a few metres from the shore, you will see chunks of lava rock jutting from the ocean, and basking on these as if on foam mattresses, you are likely to see a few members of the colony hauling out.
A trip to Iceland, however short, would not be complete without enjoying at least one bathe in the natural geothermal water gushes from the earth.
Just a little further west from the beach, you can partake in such an activity at Lýsuhóll Swimming Pool, a geothermally heated pool and hot-tub.
Since the pool is much quieter and less known than many other pools around the country, you are likely to be able to soak up the warm waters, which are renowned for their healing properties, in peace.
Please note that Lýsuhóll pool is only open from the start of June to August 18th.
The next destination on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the hamlet of Buðir.
Looking at its old historic buildings and tiny church, you would never have imagined that this was once the main commercial and trading hub of the entire region.
Set on the windswept Buðahraun lava field, its air of abandonment makes it as haunting as it is beautiful.
After enjoying the settlement, take Route 574 towards the end of the peninsula.
While the small scale of Buðir adds to its charm and intrigue, the vastness of your next stop, Rauðfeldsgjá Ravine, makes it appear like it is from a fantasy world.
Rauðfeldsgjá is a huge cleft that runs vertically down a mighty cliff face, which can be hiked up to and entered.
The world within is quite as magical; you will discover a mossy grotto with a stream trickling its way through.
It is possible to get a little way into the ravine, but only for those with sturdy hiking shoes, waterproof clothing, and a lot of ambition. It is an impossible feat to achieve without clambering up a little waterfall and getting quite wet.
As you continue along the road, the mighty Snæfellsjökull volcano and glacier will start to materialise before you.
Fans of the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth will recognise this as the starting point for the adventures of Professor Lidenbrock and his team.
The fishing villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar sit within the shadow of the snowy twin peaks.
Both of these are quaint settlements with fascinating histories, but they are best known for their beautiful coastal scenery. As ever-growing stops for visitors, both also have restaurants you can refuel at.
The first day of your Snæfellsnes road trip is almost at an end, but you will finish by visiting the mighty basalt plugs of Lóndrangar.
From a distance these appear somewhat like a castle, rising from the edge of the coast into two great peaks. They are, in fact, all that is left of a massive crater, eroded away by the waves.
At 75 and 61 metres tall, they are quite a sight to behold. What adds to their appeal, however, are the thousands of birds that nest right up to their towering summits.
In just a single day of your road trip, you will have witnessed historical and cultural sites, wild animals, and geological marvels, highlighting that Snæfellsnes truly is Iceland in Miniature.
For the night, you could stay in accommodation that suits your budget in any of the settlements mentioned above, or else, if travelling in summer, camp at one of the local campsites, such as the one at Hellissandur.
If you have been fascinated by the geology of Iceland so far, and are travelling between September and December, you could start off the second day of your road-trip with a lava caving excursion into Vatnshellir Cave.
Otherwise, you will begin by travelling around the headland of Snæfellnes, through the Snæfellsjökull National Park, admiring the glacier from all angles.
Before leaving the National Park, you can make a stop at Skarðsvík beach.
This beautiful inlet, surrounded by cliffs, is reached by following a short trail. With its golden sands and blue waters, it will barely feel like you are still in Iceland.
In Hellisandur, there is a maritime museum with examples of turf houses, a nearly extinct form of architecture that reveals how Icelanders lived for centuries.
Rif still has a thriving fishing industry for those who want to taste a fresh catch.
Ólafsvík, meanwhile, has many hiking trails leading from it, as well as nearby birdwatching areas.
Your main destination, however, is Kirkjufell Mountain, near the town of Grundarfjörður.
Often called ‘the most photographed mountain in Iceland’, Kirkjufell is a beautiful stand-alone peak, made even more charming by the waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss which trickles nearby.
After enjoying this site, you'd be well advised to treat yourself to a local meal in Grundarfjörður.
Nature lovers will appreciate the fact that they can take a whale-watching tour from Grundarfjörður if travelling between September and March.
This tour will take you into Breiðafjörður, a renowned herring ground in which the ample source of food makes it the best place in Iceland to spot killer whales.
Photo Credit: 2 Day Snæfellsnes Tour
As you continue east along the northern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you will cross over the Berserkjahraun lava fields, a place with a dark history of trickery and cold-blooded murder.
You can take a little detour from here to visit the Bjarnahöfn Shark Museum, to learn more about (and maybe even experiment with) the Icelandic palette for cubes of fermented shark.
The final stop on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula will be at the fishing village of Stykkishólmur.
This settlement is rich in folklore, fishing culture and history, so it is a great place to grab a fresh bite and learn a little more about Iceland’s past.
After seeing all that Snæfellsnes has to offer, you will begin your journey back to Reykjavík.
The west of Iceland, however, has many detours you could take before you reach the capital.
If you want to see more of Iceland’s geothermal activity, you could detour to Deildartunguhver, Europe’s highest-flowing hot-spring.
If you did not get your fill of waterfalls, you could head to the rapid Barnafoss or idyllic Hraunfossar.
Whereas. if you still seek more history and culture, why not head to Reykholt to visit Snorrastofa, a centre of research and learning about legendary Icelandic historian and writer, Snorri Sturluson.
As has been demonstrated in the above example, you can see a wealth of sites in a limited number of days on a road trip in Iceland.
In four days, it is possible to see even more, and on this journey, you will get to see some of the country’s most beloved and renowned sites.
The first day shall be spent seeing the country’s most famous sightseeing route, the Golden Circle.
To start, you will drive north on Route 1 to Route 36, which you will follow to the first site on the trail, Þingvellir National Park.
As well as being one of just three National Parks in the country, Þingvellir is also the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Icelandic mainland.
The reason for this is its fascinating history, without which the modern democratic world would look very different.
In 930 AD, the clans of Iceland decided to create a National Assembly at which they could reconcile their differences, which they used every year since.
In the 19th Century, the assembly moved to Reykjavík. However, Þingvellir retains the title of the original site of what is now the world’s longest-running, extant parliament.
It’s historical and cultural relevance, however, is not the only thing that draws people to Þingvellir. It is also beloved for its geology.
The mid-Atlantic rift runs all the way through Iceland, leading to the country’s active volcanism, yet nowhere in the world can it be seen so clearly as here.
Framing the park at both ends, you can see great cliffs that mark the very edges of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
The effects on the landscape as these plates pull apart is dramatic.
Eruptions in millennia past have filled the area with lava rock, and earthquakes have torn open fissures.
These fissures fill with spring water travelling through the porous basalt, which lead to the largest natural lake in Iceland, Þingvallavatn.
Because of the clarity of the water in these fissures, and the beautiful sites beneath the surface, snorkelling tours are possible in Þingvellir for those able to swim.
The ravine open to snorkelers is called Silfra and takes about forty minutes to swim through.
Qualified drysuit divers, or divers with ten logged drysuit dives over the past two years, can also elect to take a scuba diving tour here.
Once you have immersed yourself in the history and beauty of Þingvellir, you can hit the road once more and head to Haukadalur Valley, home of the Geysir Geothermal Area.
Geysir is best reached by following Route 36 onto Route 365 to Laugarvatn, where you will change onto Route 37. When this merges into Route 35, you will be able to see the steam rising from your destination.
The largest geyser in the area is called Geysir - the one that granted all others their name.
While this Geysir itself is mostly inactive, Strokkur, which sits right nearby, erupts every five to ten minutes to heights of over twenty metres.
The surrounding area is a splendid example of the geothermal activity that can be found across the country, with many hot-springs, mud pots and steaming vents.
Less than ten minutes’ drive from the Geysir Geothermal Area, continuing along Route 35, is Iceland’s most iconic waterfall, Gullfoss.
The ‘Golden Falls’ is mightily powerful, surging down two steps before plunging into an ancient valley, leaving no visitor wondering why it is one of the country’s most sought out destinations.
From the car park at Gullfoss, you can elect to join a snowmobiling tour that will take you onto Langjökull glacier, not only granting you an exhilarating experience but also spectacular views over the country’s highlands.
Unless you spend hours at each location, or else elect to both snorkel and snowmobile, it is likely that you will still have some time at the end of your day to explore more sites before retiring.
Thankfully, many sites surrounding the Golden Circle are within easy driving distance from Gullfoss.
The dramatic crater-lake of Kerið, for example, is under an hour from Gullfoss, reached by following Route 35 all the way south.
The contrasts here between the vivid red rock and the permanent pool of azure water within barely look natural.
If this does not appeal, you could relax in the heated, healing waters of the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir, by heading south on Route 35, then following Route 30 to the village.
Otherwise, why not visit Sólheimar Ecovillage, found on Route 354 off of Route 35 South, and see upcoming Icelandic arts and crafts within a framework of sustainable, community living?
On your second day, you will start exploring the incredible South Coast of Iceland.
After the Golden Circle, this is Iceland’s second-most popular tourist route, and as can be expected, it is lined with features.
From Hella or Hvolsvöllur along Route 1, the first site you will come to is Seljalandsfoss waterfall, another one of the country’s most beloved falls.
It is particularly unique due to the fact that it falls from a concave cliff. Also, if the conditions are safe, it is possible to take a walk fully encircling the cascade.
Seljalandsfoss is visible from the road, so many visitors divert to investigate it.
A site often overlooked, however, which is within easy walking distance, is another falls, Gljúfrabúi. Nestled in a cliff, it requires you to walk up a ravine into a grotto, where you can marvel at it tumbling from above.
Continuing east along Route 1 South, you will pass in the shadow of Iceland’s most notorious feature: Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
This was the peak that erupted in 2010, causing enormous problems with air travel and generating an equally large amount of international attention on Iceland.
Many credit the eruption, strangely enough, with starting Iceland’s tourist boom. Who knows what the next eruption will bring!
The next site you will stop at, however, is another waterfall, Skógafoss.
Of all the waterfalls you will stop at on this day, it is by far the most classic in its form.
Over sixty metres high, and twenty metres wide at its heaviest flow, it cascades off a cliff in one drop, thundering to the earth with enormous power.
By taking a short drive over to Skógar Museum, you can hike to a fourth and final waterfall, this one’s even lesser known that Gljúfrabúi.
Kvernufoss falls is located in a hidden gorge not far away, and though it cannot be encircled like Seljalandsfoss, it is also possible to stand behind the water here.
Photo from Solheimajokull Glacier Hike
The next major attraction following these waterfalls is Sólheimajökull glacier, a tongue of the greater Mýrdalsjökull (which, it should be noted, covers an even more explosive volcano than Eyjafjallajökull, Katla).
You can approach this glacier tongue right to its edge, where you can marvel over the dramatic formations, and over the colouration of the ice blue and black veins contrast beautifully with the white snow.
The black colour comes from the ash dropped after the 2010 volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.
It is imperative that you never climb on a glacier without a guide. There are, however, opportunities to take a guided hike upon Sólheimajökull, if you wish.
Photo from the South Coast Elements tour
The landscapes south of the glacier are of desert-like black sands due to the floods that flash through this area whenever an eruption occurs beneath Mýrdalsjökull.
The area is called Sólheimasandur. In the period between the last eruptions and now, however, a plane crashed here, and the wreckage can be walked to with relative ease.
This is a great place for a photo opportunity, and can be done without guilt; the pilot managed to eject from the aircraft in time and survived the accident.
Continuing along Route 1, you will soon see a dramatic feature curving out into the ocean from a range of cliffs: the Dyrhólaey Rock Arch.
From a distance, its scale is incredible, yet it is even better up close. Throughout the year, you can see hexagonal basalt columns here, and in the summer months, thousands of nesting puffins.
The black sand coastline that stretches east of Dyrhólaey is your next destination.
Reynisfjara beach is as renowned for its striking beauty as it is for its sneaker waves.
Make sure you heed the signs, and stay away from the edge of the water, regardless of the time of the year and weather.
From a safe distance, you will still be able to see the Reynisdrangar sea-stacks towering from the ocean near the arch, all that is left of two legendary trolls, petrified by the light of the morning sun.
Keen Game of Thrones fans will recognise these sea-stacks from the penultimate episode of the seventh season.
Those seeking to see more of the shooting locations can drive through the village of Vík (stopping for refreshments if need be) to the Höfðabrekkuheiði hiking area, where the Fist of the First Men was filmed.
Finally, you will continue along Route 1 until you reach the historic settlement of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, where you will have accommodation arranged for the night.
Reaching Skaftafell from Kirkjubæklaustur takes just under an hour following Route 1.
Like the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Skaftafell Nature Reserve has a hugely diverse array of landscapes and features. Parts of it are covered in lava fields, other black sands, others verdant forest.
Glacier tongues from Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, stretch into it and are easily reached by foot.
One of these glacier tongues, Svinafellsjökull, can even be hiked on as part of a guided tour.
Photo Credit: Skaftafell Glacier Hike
Even without the glacier hike, however, you will find numerous other treks in the area to enjoy. The most notable and popular of these hikes leads to Svartifoss waterfall.
This falls tumbles from a cliff composed of hexagonal basalt columns, the bizarre formation of which has inspired art and architecture around the country.
Once you have enjoyed the diverse, beautiful sites of the reserve, you can continue to ‘the crown jewel of Iceland’s nature’, the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón, forty-five minutes further drive along Route 1.
The glacier lagoon is the deepest lake in Iceland. It is also so vast that the glacier tongue Breiðamerkurjökull is often obscured due to how far off it is.
Icebergs breaking from this tongue fill the waters, some as large as multistory buildings, and creep across the length of the lagoon, filling it with incredible white and blue sculptures.
To make this site even more spectacular, it is also home to many seals that those with a keen eye should be able to point out.
The beauty of this area defies imagination. You could easily spend hours on the shores, marvelling over the phenomenon.
To better immerse yourself in this spectacular location, however, you can take a boat tour into the lagoon.
The more affordable of these are conducted on amphibious vessels, while zodiac tours allow you to get closer to the ice.
These tours, however, are only available from May to October and September to October, respectively.
Those seeing Jökulsárlón should not miss the short walk over to the nearby stretch of coast, where the icebergs wash upon the shore after finally making it out to the ocean.
The way the icebergs glitter in the sunlight, against the black sands, have leant this area the name ‘the Diamond Beach’.
What to do with the rest of this day depends on the season you are coming.
If you’re planning on doing this tour in summer, it is recommended to follow Route 1 a little further to the east, to Vestrahorn Mountain. This dramatic peak, one of the few made of gabbro rock in the country, is another favourite amongst photographers.
If, however, you have decided to take this road trip between November and March (or mid-October with certain operators), you have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a naturally formed ice cave under Vatnajökull glacier.
These spectacular features are incredibly rare, yet barring certain conditions, you can take a guided tour into an ice cave from the car park at Jökulsárlón.
When you have explored the incredible wonders of south-east Iceland, you can drive back to your choice of accommodation in Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
Your fourth day will be spent driving from your accommodation back to Reykjavík.
You can, however, use this opportunity to visit any sites you overlooked en route, or to revisit your favourites under different conditions.
If travelling in the summer months, however, you could also use this opportunity to visit the Highland region of Landmannalaugar (if in a four-wheel-drive, and after checking to see if the roads are accessible).
Landmannalaugar is a spectacular place, filled with brightly coloured rhyolite mountains, snaking rivers and bubbling hot-springs, many of which it is possible to bathe in.
It should be noted, however, that this will change a journey that is otherwise just under five hours to one which lasts over six and a half hours in total.
If you have nearly a week in Iceland set aside for your road trip, you could use it to combine the above two options for an immersive experience.
If, however, you want to see sites that fewer others get to, you may wish to instead take a journey through the Highlands to the North of Iceland.
While this journey means you will miss out on incredible sites such as Jökulsárlón and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, it allows you to witness the equally spectacular Lake Mývatn, and the Kjölur and Sprengisandur Highland Roads.
This road trip, however, can only be conducted in the summer months and only then in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, with an experienced driver.
Exploring Iceland in July and August are the most recommended, though conditions allowing, you may be able to visit in June and September.
The first day of this road trip will be spent in almost exactly the same as the first day of the previous one: seeing the sites of the Golden Circle. The only difference is that you will finish your day around Fluðir.
To reach the North through the Highlands via the Kjölur Highland Road, you need to begin close to it so that the drive is manageable. There is no better way to reach this area than via Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss.
On day two, this adventure will become much more unique, as you will cross the entire width of the country through its incredible, untouched interior.
To reach the Kjölur Highland Road from Flúðir, drive north on Route 30, turn right onto Route 35, and continue past Gullfoss as this becomes Route F35, an alternative name for Kjölur.
All in all, the journey north should take just over four hours, but considering the number of stops you are likely to make, will probably consume your whole day.
The Highlands of Iceland is a place of incredible, untouched beauty, as will be clearly demonstrated on your drive.
Parts of the highlands will be dominated by haunting, seemingly endless stretches of gravel, lava, and black deserts. Other parts will be conducted in the shadows of mighty glaciers such as Hofsjökull and Langjökull.
Conveniently placed halfway along your route is the Hveravellir geothermal area, with natural pools, immersed right in the incredible landscapes, that you can bathe in without charge.
Be aware, however, that the temperature can fluctuate here, so dip a toe in first to make sure that it is not going to scald you.
After you have been revitalised by the waters, you can marvel over the steaming fumaroles, boiling mud-pots, and cerulean pools of water contrasting with the vividly coloured earth.
You can extend your time here by taking a short hike over to the cave Eyvindarkofi, which once was a hiding spot for the 18th Century outlaw couple Fjalla-Eyvindur and Halla.
From the outside, Eyvindarkofi could be entirely overlooked, but within is a surprisingly large and comfortable space, perfect for a picnic. A monument to the couple stands nearby, of two stone hearts caged by iron bars.
The Kjölur Highland Road ends when it merges with the 731, which will take you right up to your destination, Blönduós.
Here, you can retire for the evening, enjoying a few drinks, dinner, or a dip in the town’s large swimming complex.
On your third day, you will head to ‘the Capital of the North’, Akureyri.
En route to this destination, however, you will see several beautiful northern settlements, most of which are on the dramatic, mountainous Tröllskagi Peninsula.
The first, however, is Skagaströnd on the Skagi Peninsula. It can be reached by following Route 74 North.
This historic fishing village has beautiful coastal vistas, modern architecture, and views of the mountain Spákonufell.
It is also home to the Museum of Prophecies, based around the settlement’s first inhabitant, Þórdís Spákona, who was said to have second sight and is thus a great destination for the superstitious, and for families.
Photo from Skagaströnd Village and Þórdís the Prophetess, by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Following your time at Skagaströnd, you will cross the Skagi Peninsula to reach Tröllskagi.
The quickest route is to go back down Route 74 and turn left onto Route 744 back near Blönduós.
However, if you would prefer the scenic route, you can go all the way around Skagi by going north around the headland, until this road merges with the 744.
Regardless of the route you take, the 744 will change into Route 75, which you will follow up to Route 76. Turning to the north onto this road will lead you to your next destination, the tiny settlement of Höfsós.
This village has spectacular, cliff-top views of the fjord Skagafjörður, and if you approach the edge from the right angle, you will be able to see some of the unusual hexagonal basalt columns that are dotted around Iceland.
Höfsós’s main claim to fame, however, is its Infinity Pool. Without a doubt, it is one of the best-located swimming pools in Iceland.
The infinity pool is open-aired and positioned perfectly so that you can admire the fjord and open ocean in the heated waters.
By following Route 76 North a little further, you will reach the settlement of Siglufjörður.
This beautiful, remote fishing town is renowned for its picturesque harbour, the dramatic mountains that frame it, and its excellent museums.
The most notable museum, and the only one in Iceland that has won international awards, is the Herring-Era Museum.
While spending a few hours at a fisheries museum may not seem appealing to everyone, it is, in fact, a fascinating place that holds more than its name suggests.
The survival of Icelanders for nearly a millennium relied hugely on fish, and the Herring-Era Museum helps demonstrate the vital relationship between the two throughout history.
From Siglufjörður, you will continue around the Tröllaskagi Peninsula, heading south on Route 76, which becomes Route 82 and eventually Route 1, taking you into Akureyri.
Though there are no essential points to stop at along the way, this drive runs along Eyjafjörður, a massive and spectacular fjord that is renowned for its whale-life.
As you will be spending the night in or around Akureyri, it is well worth it to spend the evening enjoying its many sites.
It has the world’s northernmost botanical gardens; a lively shopping street with many boutiques and gourmet restaurants, and a surprisingly active nightlife.
Day four will be centred around taking the most popular tourist route of North Iceland: the Diamond Circle.
Lesser known than the Golden Circle only due to its distance from Reykjavík, this route will introduce you to some of Iceland’s greatest sites. There is a huge wealth to see today, so ensure you rise early.
Following Route 1 East from Akureyri, you will first stop at the waterfall Goðafoss. Not only is this wide, long, rapid falls powerful and breathtaking, it also played an essential part in Iceland’s history.
During the Settlement Era, Icelanders were largely followers of the Old Norse Religion, Ásatrú, which followed deities such as Óðinn, Loki, and Þór.
However, under the threat of Norwegian invasion, the law speaker of the Alþing at the time, a trusted man called Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, decided that for the good of the nation, they should reject their old Gods and embrace the Christian one.
To broadcast this decision, he tossed his idols into Goðafoss. Its name thus translates to ‘the Waterfall of the Gods’.
Further, along Route 1, you will come across the vast Lake Mývatn region.
This area, like the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, is somewhat of an ‘Iceland in Miniature’ due to the diversity of landscapes and features that can be found here.
One of the main attractions is obviously the lake itself. This is a paradise for birdwatchers in summer as it is home to dozens of different species, including Arctic Terns, Golden Plovers, Harlequin Ducks, Gyrfalcons, Snipes, Redshanks and more.
Geology enthusiasts will also find interesting focal points in the water. There are even many unusual basalt pillars that rise from the surface, remnants from centuries past.
Other fascinating geological sites in the area include the Skútustaðagígar pseudo-craters, which can be ascended and walked around, and the Dimmuborgir lava fortress.
Dimmuborgir is often referred to as a ‘fortress’ or a ‘castle’ due to the scale of the vast rock formations here.
The dramatic beauty of this site was not overlooked by those seeking sets for the Game of Thrones franchise - in winter, this is where Mance Rayder’s wildling camp was shot.
Photo from Private Lake Mývatn Tour
Game of Thrones fans can also visit the shooting location of the cave where the love scene between two main characters North of the Wall, John Snow and Ygritte occurred, Grjótagjá.
Grjótagjá, however, is not just a lava tunnel, but also a hot-spring.
The water that sits within its depths is naturally heated, and though it usually is a bearable temperature, it is not regulated, and it is known to change quickly - you must not swim in it.
If you seek to bathe in geothermally heated waters, you can head to the Mývatn Nature Baths for a dip instead.
Following Lake Mývatn, you will head to the geothermal area of Mt. Námafjall. Hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles break up this stark, barren landscape, and dye the soil bright colours with the elements of the earth.
Half an hour from Mt. Námafjall, reached by heading further east along Route 1 then north up Route 862, is the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon within the Vatnajökull National Park.
This canyon is home to three incredible waterfalls: Dettifoss, Selfoss, and Hafragilsfoss.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with a thunderous average water flow of 193 metres cubed per second. Considering it is over one hundred metres wide and forty metres high, its scale and force make it one of the North’s most incredible sites.
Selfoss can be reached from Dettifoss by taking a short hike upstream; unlike with the other two falls, you can witness this one pouring from below.
Seeing Hafragilsfoss from above, however, grants you spectacular views of the canyon; Hafragilsfoss requires a short drive downstream to reach.
Heading north from these waterfalls along Route 862 will bring you to another geological marvel, called Hljóðaklettar, or the Echo Rocks.
These are a series of basalt columns which used to be part of a crater before time eroded most of it away.
The highlight here is a rock called ‘Tröll' (The Troll), one side of which is covered in smooth hexagons. It is the cross-section of these bizarre columns, and in a few other places in the world can you see them in such a fashion.
At the end of Route 862, you will come to a crossroads; taking Route 85 to the east a short way will bring you to Ásbyrgi Canyon.
This enormous, horse-shoe shaped valley, surrounded by steep cliffs and filled with verdant forest, looks like a place of legend.
It is said that it was formed when one of the eight hooves of the God Oðinn’s horse touched the ground.
Once you have marvelled over the beauty of Ásbyrgi, you can turn back along Route 85 and follow it to the town of Húsavík, your final destination for the day.
This journey, however, will take you by the Tjörnes Peninsula, which is renowned for two things. Firstly, along the cliffy coast, you can look out for the puffin colonies that nest here. Secondly, while inland, it is one of the few places in Iceland where you can find fossils.
When you finally reach Húsavík, it is understandable that you may want to just relax at your accommodation. However, you will be in the whale-watching capital of Europe, so it is highly recommended to take an evening tour out into Skjálfandi Bay for a great chance at seeing the creatures of the deep. This tour is only available between September and November, however.
You will return to the south of Iceland today, via the Sprengisandur Highland Road, otherwise known the F26.
To reach it from Húsavík, head south along Route 85, and turn onto Route 845. When you reach the crossroads to Route 1, head west, then turn onto Route 844 until it becomes Route 842; this road leads into the Sprengisandur Highland Road.
Historically, this route across the country was avoided at almost any cost. The route is barren, desolate, treacherous and uninhabited.
The folklore that thus grew around it, of ghosts, elves and trolls, as well as the actual presence of hidden bandits, meant that any who were forced to use it often drove their horses to exhaustion.
The word Sprengisandur thus comes from the Icelandic word for ‘to exhaust’, sprengja.
Today, it is more mentioned for its stark, dramatic beauty than it is for its haunted history.
Even so, as you cross the endless stretches of twisted lava and black sands, shadowy peaks and plunging valleys, you will little wonder why it warranted so much fear to those who had to spend days traversing it.
To reach your accommodation at Hella or Hvolsvöllur would take nearly seven hours if you did not stop. But there will be many places for you to take photographs and stretch your legs en route.
If the weather is clear, you will get magnificent views of Vatnajökull and Hofsjökull glaciers, as well as volcanoes such as the great Askja and the unusual Herðubreið.
This route has moments where you will need to ford shallow rivers.
While fording rivers is good fun, they can be running high if there is a lot of meltwater coming from the glaciers, so ensure you check the road conditions online before heading out and heed local advice.
On your sixth and final day, you will make the most of your location in South Iceland to see some of the features along the South Coast.
While you will not be able to reach Jökulsárlón or Skaftafell, you should be able to get to see all the sites up to the town of Vík.
This means you have the chance to visit the four waterfalls mentioned in the four-day road-trip, Sólheimajökull, Dyrhólaey, and the black sand beach Reynisfjara, all by travelling east along Route 1.
Once you reach Vík and refresh, you can turn back the way you came, and follow the road back to Reykjavík.
If you are in Iceland for longer than a week, it is possible to complete the entire ring-road that encircles the country, with an immersive visit to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
While this route can be done in fewer days, this ten-day road trip will allow you to enjoy each location, and minimise your driving time.
While it is possible to do the ring-road yourself in winter, it is not recommended due to the volatile conditions and icy roads.
The East Fjords, in particular, may be difficult to pass. If you want to see the ring road in winter without worrying about driving, a package tour may be more suitable.
Your first two days will be spent the same as those on the four-day road trip.
Firstly, you’ll see the sites of the Golden Circle, retiring in Hella or Hvolsvöllur. And secondly, you’ll see the sites of the South Coast up to Kirkjubæklaustur.
Something which you may want to squeeze into your second day is a visit to Landmannalaugar, as you will not be returning along the same route so this is your one chance to visit.
If you wish to, it may be better to spend your first night around Vík, having a longer first day, so that driving time is more manageable.
If you do choose to stay in Vik, it may be best to skip sites such as the Secret Lagoon and Kerið Crater, so that you have time to visit the waterfalls of the South.
Day three will be similar to that on the four-day road trip, with a focus on Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and the Diamond Beach.
However, rather than returning to Kirkjubæjarklaustur to rest after visiting Mount Vestrahorn (or, if you are daring to take this road trip in winter, after your visit to the ice cave), you will retire in the south-eastern town of Höfn.
Höfn is located just slightly west of Mount Vestrahorn along Route 1, at the bottom of Route 99.
On day four, you will wind up the incredible fjords of East Iceland.
This remote part of the country is little travelled, meaning your road trip here is likely to be without traffic, and the places you stop at without the crowds.
The East Fjords are spectacular in and of themselves. The mountains of the east are monumental, and the bays sparkling and beautiful.
The fishing villages you will pass through are sleepy and idyllic, and the nature is spectacular.
In the sea, you have a better chance to spot whales and dolphins from shore than much of the rest of the country.
Along the coast, you may see seals, as well as many seabirds, including puffins, nest in the cliffs. East Iceland is the only part of the country that wild reindeer roam.
Travelling along Route 1 will expose you to a wealth of incredible vistas and nature opportunities.
It is not just the wildlife and landscapes that are of interest, however. The first major settlement you will come to will be the village of Djúpivogur. Though it is home to less than five hundred people, it is renowned for its art and its ethos.
The Eggs of Merry Bay is a series of outdoor sculptures that line the coast just to the west of the town.
The artist who created them, Sigurður Guðmundsson, modelled each of the thirty-four pieces after the eggs of the different bird species that nest in the area.
Many of these birds can be seen in the ponds and lakes nearby.
Picture from Djupivogur Bay in East Iceland and the Eggs at Gledivik Bay, by Regína Hronn Rangarsdottir
Djúpivogur is also Iceland’s only ‘Cittaslow’ settlement. This means that it lives by the ethos of a slow-paced, stress-free lifestyle.
The relaxed atmosphere is infectious, and if you want to truly make the most of it, you can bathe in the hot tubs that sit open, free of charge, by the coastline.
Continuing along Route 1, you will pass through the charming village of Breiðdalsvík, admiring its black sand beaches and beautiful ocean views, before the road curves inland.
You will then head through a mountainous region, and hit Iceland’s largest forest Hallormsstaðaskógur. This verdant area has many hiking and biking routes, and great spots for birdwatching.
Before reaching the largest settlement in the region, Egilsstaðir, you will also pass the lake Lagarfljót.
Those interested in cryptozoology should spend a minute looking across the still waters here. The waters are said to hold a terrifying wyrm creature somewhat similar to the Loch Ness Monster.
The difference, however, is that records of the Lagarfjót Wyrm have been recorded since 1345, while Nessie was first seen as recently as 1872.
You will be spending the night in the Egilsstaðir area, but it is unlikely that the drive will have taken you all day.
Driving directly along the suggested route, without stops, should take less than three and a half hours. It is thus a good idea to use the extra time to see other sites in the East Fjords.
Route 92 will take you to another of the region’s larger towns, Eskifjörður, which sits in an incredibly picturesque location overlooking Reyðarfjörður fjord. Route 93 will take you to Seyðisfjörður, past a beautiful waterfall named Gufufoss.
Most of the time, this fishing village, encased by enormous, sheer-sloped mountains, is very sleepy, but if travelling in July, you may find it much more lively, during the Lung-A Festival.
A final option is to take Route 94 to Borgarfjörður Eystri. This tiny village has a resident puffin colony, and is beside the hill Álfaborg, said to be the home of the Queen of Elves and her court.
On day five, you will take Route 1 north towards Mývatn. En route, however, you will find yourself passing by Jökulsárgljúfur.
As mentioned above, this canyon, within the Vatnajökull National Park, is home to Europe’s most powerful waterfall Dettifoss, as well as the smaller but still very impressive Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss.
After enjoying these sites, you can continue on the Diamond Circle as you would in the six-day road trip, albeit from a different starting point.
You will head north to see Hljóðaklettar, the Echo Rocks, and the horseshoe-shaped Ásbyrgi Canyon, before turning west along the Tjörnes Peninsula towards Húsavík, where you can take a whale-watch.
Rather than head to Akureyri via Goðafoss, however, you will head straight from Húsavík to Lake Mývatn, where you will be spending your fifth night, by following Route 85, then Route 87, South.
When here, you can start exploring the many surrounding sites, or else head to the Mývatn Nature Baths for a well deserved bask, recharging yourself at this halfway point in your road trip.
On day six, you can better explore Lake Mývatn and its many attractions; be sure not to miss Dimmuborgir, Grjótagjá and Mount Námafjall.
After enjoying the diversity and beauty of the area, you can continue along Route 1, heading west, to visit Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods, en route to Akureyri.
You will be spending the night in the capital of the north. You can use the remainder of your day to enjoy the city’s bustling cultural sites, shops, and bars.
On the seventh day of your road trip, you will drive the same route as the third day of the six-day tour, but in reverse.
You, therefore, will leave Akureyri, heading north on Route 1, transferring onto Route 82 then Route 76 to Siglufjörður.
This route will take you along the coastline of the fjord Eyjafjorður, providing you with beautiful seascapes on one side, and views of titanic mountains on the other.
After enjoying the sights of Siglufjörður and perusing the Herring Era Museum, you will continue along Route 76 to Höfsos. Here, you can recharge in the Infinity Pool while looking over the incredible Skagafjörður.
Following this, journey around the headland of the remote and sparsely populated Skagi Peninsula, all the way to Skagaströnd.
Taking Route 74 South from here will bring you to Blönduós, where you will spend the night.
On day eight, you will see some of the lesser-known sites of north Iceland as you head towards Snæfellsnes. Your first destinations of the day are all found on the Vatnsnes Peninsula.
Taking the turn onto Route 716 from Route 1, and following this road onto Route 711, will bring you onto Vatnsnes.
As soon as you reach the ocean, you should be able to see a bizarre formation stood fifteen metres tall from the surface of the waters; some believe it resembles an elephant, others a dragon, and others a troll.
Regardless, it is called Hvítserkur, and it is a popular subject amongst photographers for its unusual form and positioning. You can approach the coastline by foot for your opportunity to shoot it.
As you continue along Route 711, keep your eyes on the craggy shore. The Vatnsnes Peninsula is the most reliable place in Iceland for spotting seals, so even if you did not see any in Jökulsárlón or the East Fjords, you have a great shot at it today.
To learn more about the seals of Iceland, in terms of their biology, distribution, and historic relationship with people, you can visit the Icelandic Seal Centre in Hvammstangi.
This beautiful coastal town also has several shops and restaurants for you to refuel at.
Once you have enjoyed the Vatnsnes Peninsula, you will begin your journey to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Rejoin Route 1 heading west, then turn north up Route 68 as if driving into the Westfjords. When you reach Route 59, turn onto it, and take Route 60 heading South. As soon as you turn onto Route 54, you will have reached ‘Iceland in Miniature’.
You will not have time to see the entire peninsula today but can visit a few locations along the northern shore.
Heading to Stykkishólmur will enlighten you about Iceland’s folklore and history, while Mount Kirkjufell is an awe-inspiring, standalone mountain that begs to be photographed.
After enjoying these sites, head to the Grundarfjörður area, where you will spend the night.
Today, you can fully immerse yourself in the wonders of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Following the road around the headland will take you to all of the major sites, but before departing Grundafjörður, you can enjoy a whale watch for the best chances in Iceland at spotting orcas.
Your day will be consumed by the peninsula’s incredible destinations.
You will have plenty of time to admire Snæfellsjökull National Park; the Lóndrangar sea stacks; Rauðfeldsgja gorge; Ytri Tunga beach; and the Eldborg Caldera.
After making the most of ‘Iceland in Miniature’, you will follow Route 54 down to Borganes, home of the Settlement Centre, and spend the night in this area.
On the final day of your holiday, you will explore the many wonders of West Iceland. From Borgarnes, you can travel north on Route 1 then east on Route 50 to reach your first destination, the highest flowing hot spring in Europe, Deildartunguhver.
From here, you can follow Route 50 onto Route 518 to arrive at the historic village of Reykholt.
After enjoying the quaint settlement, you can continue east on Route 518 to reach the waterfalls Barnafoss and Hraunfossar.
Barnafoss is a rapid falls, twisting its way through a narrow canyon.
Its name means ‘the Children’s Waterfall’ due to its macabre history of two boys falling from a since destroyed bridge to their deaths.
Hraunfossar is comparatively serene. It is not tall, but very wide, and the water trickles through the lava rock in many gentle streams.
In spite of how different they are, these waterfalls are within easy walking distance of each other.
Heading back along Route 518, then south down Route 50, will bring you to the Trolls Waterfalls at Fossatún.
This is a great area for kids, as there is a short walk, many little elf houses, troll statues, and information posts about Iceland’s folklore.
Continue south on Route 50, turning onto Route 52 then back onto 50 after half a kilometre.
When you reach Route 47, take a right, and drive along Hvalfjörður, a verdant, mountainous fjord. Nestled right at the end, you will find a hiking trail to the second-tallest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur, which will be your final site on this incredible Iceland road trip.
After marvelling over the height and magnificence of Glymur, you can follow Route 47 around the other side of the fjord until you reach Route 1, taking this South back to Reykjavík and thus completing the ring-road.
You have now seen road-trips that will reveal to you the entire ring-road of Iceland, the Highlands, and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, but so far, one major region of the country has not been mentioned; the Westfjords.
If you seek to explore this region alongside all the others, then you need to look no further than this suggested itinerary for a twelve-day road-trip.
This journey can only be taken in summer.
The first week of this road-trip will be the same as the ten-day itinerary. You will, therefore, have seen the Golden Circle, South Coast, and the majority of the North, and will be staying at accommodation around Blönduós.
The eighth day of this road-trip will begin very similarly to that of the ten-day one; you will leave Blönduós, and start to explore the Vatnsnes Peninsula, to see sites such as Hvítserkur and the Icelandic Seal Centre.
Rather than take Route 60 South, after reaching the end of Route 59, however, you will take it north.
Once you reach Route 607, you can follow it south until you arrive at the town of Reykhólar. This is the first town in the Westfjörds that you will be staying at. While here, there are a wealth of things to do.
Avid bird watchers will appreciate the many ponds and lakes, along with the high tidal range, that allow both freshwater and seawater-favouring avian species to flourish.
There is also a museum on the bounties of nature, detailing how much Icelanders relied on birds, fish and seals for survival, and Iceland’s only kelp factory, where you can take a revitalising seaweed bath.
Photo from The Magical Westfjords
Today, you will fully immerse yourself in the many, many wonders of the Westfjords. You should rise early, as today will be packed with adventure and sightseeing.
Your first destination will be the largest settlement in the region, Ísafjörður.
Though it is over three hours drive away, the journey promises to be spectacular. The mountains of the Westfjords are ancient and huge, with waterfalls tumbling from their many nooks, and the seascapes simply spectacular.
Many resident seals rest on the shores and humpback whales frequent the waters, so keep an eye out as you travel.
To reach Ísafjörður from Reykhólar, you need to drive north on Route 607, then north on Route 60, and north again on Route 608. Head west on Route 61, and you will soon start winding around the incredible fjords.
Ísafjörður is a hub for locals and visitors, with a lot to entertain those passing through.
The Old Town still has many 19th Century wooden houses and authentic relics from Iceland’s history.
The Old Hospital is now used as a cultural centre, where you can see art from the locals on display. Ísafjörður is also home to the Westfjords Maritime Museum.
After having lunch at one of the town’s many restaurants or cafes, you will take Route 60 South, travelling over giant mountains until you start winding around the fjords once more.
Eventually, you will see signs for Dýnjandi waterfall, and, considering its ethereal beauty, you should ensure you follow them.
Dýnjandi is one of Iceland’s greatest waterfalls, and as anyone who knows anything about Iceland’s waterfalls is aware, that is a bold statement.
It is, in fact, a series of falls, tumbling from a height of over one hundred metres down a cliff-face that resembles a staircase.
The contrasts between the foaming white water, ancient grey rocks and creeping green moss help add to the magic of this awesome site.
To reach Dýnjandi requires a short walk, and this route will take you past many other smaller, but still beautiful, waterfalls.
After marvelling over this great natural wonder, you can rejoin Route 60 headed south until reaching Route 62, facing Breiðafjörður.
Take this road to the West, and again, keep an eye on the waters as you do; this is the prime place in Iceland for spotting orcas.
This route will take you to the village of Patreksfjörður, your final destination for the day.
The Látrabjarg cliffs are arguably the westernmost point of Europe. Though officially on the North American plate, Iceland is considered a European nation and no other sovereign European state has territory this far west.
That is not, however, what they are renowned for. These cliffs are best known for the millions of birds from dozens of species that nest here throughout summer.
Gulls, auks, fulmars and forty per cent of the world’s razorbills can be found at Látrabjarg, to name a few, but what most visitors come here seeking are the puffins.
The puffins nest within their thousands, and are rather unafraid of people; you can get within arm’s reach without disturbing them (although for the sake of the birds, do not get closer or try to touch them).
It is possible to hike along the edge of the cliffs for some spectacular views. They are 440 metres tall at their highest point and stretch on for fourteen kilometres.
To reach Látrabjarg from Patreksfjörður, follow Route 62 South to Route 612, and follow it to its end. Head back along this road and turn down Route 614 to reach your next destination, Rauðassandur beach.
This stretch of coast is very unusual for Iceland; rather than the sands being blackened from volcanic ash, they are vibrant colours of red, orange and pink.
It is pleasant year-round, but if you are here in the first week of July, you can partake in the lively Rauðassandur music festival.
With these sites enjoyed, it is time to leave the Westfjords for the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Rather than driving, however, a journey that would take over four hours even to begin, you will take your road-trip to the sea, and take the Baldur Ferry from Brjánslækur to Stykkishólmur.
It is no problem for you to take your car on the boat.
To reach Brjánslækur, head North back onto Route 612, and follow it east until you reach Route 62; take this road to the south, and follow it to your destination.
Once you reach Stykkishólmur, you will have time to explore its sites, as well as a few sites on the northern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, such as Mount Kirkjufell.
You will spend the night in the area around Grundafjörður.
The final two days of this road-trip have the same suggested itinerary as the last two days of the ten-day journey.
Taking a road-trip around Iceland, no matter how many days you have, is an incredible, inspiring experience.
The ever-changing landscapes, ethereal landmarks and quaint towns make it one of the best countries in the world to see from the road.
While the five options above will help you make the very most of your time here, you can tailor any route around the country, and are sure to be awed.
Whether you are planning on exploring Iceland by car or a guided tour, a road trip around Iceland is always spectacular, no matter the season. We hope our top 5 road trips in Iceland help you to make the most of your time on our wondrous shores. We’d love to answer any questions and hear about your experiences in the comments below.