9 Day Northern Lights Self Drive Tour of the Complete Ring Road with Waterfalls & Hot Springs
Step into a winter wonderland on this 9-day self-drive tour around Iceland. On this seasonal road trip, you will experience the sights and sounds of the Ring Road during the day and hunt for the Northern Lights at night. This itinerary is perfect for those who want to travel at their own pace with the ease and comfort of taking the wheel yourself.
Pick up your car from the airport upon landing, then travel straight to Reykjavik to start your adventure around Iceland. You will begin with the famous Golden Circle taking in natural wonders and sites of ancient importance like Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir National Park.
You will then travel along the South Coast, stopping at some of the most incredible waterfalls the country has to offer, before landing at the crown jewel of Iceland, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
You will then travel east to see the untouched beauty of the Eastfjords before you go north to the geothermal landscapes of Lake Mývatn and the surrounding areas. You will experience the capital of the North, Akureyri, and hang with the locals before returning to Reykjavík.
Not only will you get to be in control of your journey, but you also have the opportunity to experience exciting adventures; like horse riding, snorkeling, snowmobiling, visiting geothermal nature baths, and getting up close and personal with a glacier.
Whatever your needs are, this self-drive vacation allows you to experience Iceland at your own pace. All accommodation is taken care of, so all you need to do is enjoy the journey.
Grab your warm coat and get ready for a winter escape that you will remember for a lifetime. Check availability by choosing a date.
Day 1 - Arrival in Iceland
Once you have disembarked your plane and made your way through the locals, grabbing a deal at duty-free, you will pick up your car. There’s no need to worry about the hassle of transfers. As soon as you land, you will be able to start driving. From here, you will make your way across the moon-like terrain of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
On your way to Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik, you could choose to make a stop at the Blue Lagoon. This world-renowned spa is known for its healing waters, vivid azure colors, and luxurious treatments. It is located in the middle of a moss-covered lava field, giving it an otherworldly atmosphere. If you add the Blue Lagoon, it will be arranged according to your flights. If there is no time to visit the lagoon today, it can be added to another day. Your travel consultant will be able to arrange this for you. There is still plenty to see and do in Reykjavik and the Reykjanes Peninsula if you have extra free time.
Once you have made it to Reykjavík and checked into your accommodation, you can spend the rest of the day seeing the many downtown area attractions. The glass shimmer of Harpa Concert Hall, the architectural magnificence of the Hallgrímskirkja church, and the busy rhythm of downtown Reykjavík. You can choose to have an early night or soak up the vibrant, diverse atmosphere of the many bars, restaurants, and cafes.
Day 2 - The Golden Circle
You will begin your tour with one of the most explored trails in Iceland, The Golden Circle. Your first stop is Þingvellir National Park, one of the most popular destinations in the country. Þingvellir is a place of stunning beauty that sits between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It’s home to the world’s oldest parliament and featured in HBO’s Game Of Thrones as the Bloody Gate.
You will then get ready to experience the otherworldly landscape of the Haukadalur Valley. This area is a hot spot of geothermal activity and is also home to the Geysir region. Haukadalur Valley is filled with natural hot water which bubbles from the ground. The area is famous for its rock formations and geysers. The most popular geyser is Strokkur, which erupts every 5-10 minutes, pushing powerful jets of hot water 66 feet (20 meters) into the air.
The next stop is a place that combines power and nature, Gullfoss waterfall. Gullfoss is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. Its magnificent force and enormous size are nothing short of awe-inspiring. The falls were carved out of a valley in the last ice age and today are an example of the incredible natural beauty Iceland has to offer.
If you want to add a bit more adventure to the Golden Circle, you can choose to snorkel at Silfra. Silfra is a fissure situated between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Protected by a dry suit, you can gently float between two continents in pristine crystal clear water.
You can add adrenaline-pumping thrill to this day with a snowmobile trip on Langjökull Glacier. You will be equipped with overalls, a helmet, and a lesson on how to drive this unique mode of transport. Then you will be able to speed across the icy wonder of a glacier. Once you reach the top, you’ll be treated to a spectacular view.
If you’re an animal lover, you can choose to go horse riding. Icelandic horses are well known for their small yet sturdy size and pleasant disposition. They’re the only breed of horse allowed to enter the country, and due to their isolation here for hundreds of years, they have adapted perfectly to the countryside. Nothing can quite compare to a ride through the winter fields on an Icelandic horse, and this particular attraction is fit for riders of all levels.
At the end of a jam-packed day, you will relax at your hotel near the Golden Circle. If the sky is clear of clouds, you can go out in the evening in search of the elusive Northern Lights.
Day 3 - The South Coast
The third day of this trip will begin with you making an introduction to the picturesque South Coast. This incredible part of Iceland is home to a vast array of waterfalls and stunning landscapes. The first stop is Seljalandsfoss. This tall, thin waterfall cascades down a hefty 197-foot (60-meter) drop right in front of a cave. Seljalandsfoss is an incredible photo opportunity. The fast-running water means that no two images are ever the same.
The next stop is Skógafoss. This thunderous giant of a waterfall is 66 ft (20m) wide. As the water rapidly flows over its edges, it creates a loud roar. The fast flowing water creates a mist as it hits the flat ground of its base. On some days, sunlight flowing through this mist produces a rare double rainbow.
Next, you will witness the marvelous vistas of the Reynisfjara coast. The landscape of this black sand beach is unlike any other place on earth. Black sand separates the mainland of Iceland from the cold waters of the Atlantic. Reynisfjara is a reminder of Iceland’s volcanic creation when the land rose out of the sea. The cliffs surrounding the area are home to an abundant species of native wildlife, particularly birds who hunt and nest in the area as the waves crash on the shore.
You can choose to get up close and personal with Sólheimajökull glacier today. This is an experience that few can compare to. The boundless sheets of ice crunch under your feet as you travel over the white and blue ribbons of ice that seem to dance in front of you. The view from the top of Sólheimajökull will provide incredible photo opportunities as you learn about the tectonic and volcanic activity that shaped Iceland’s landscape.
You will end the day arriving at your accommodation in or near the seaside town of Vík.
Day 4 - Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Day 4 will bring you to the peaceful frozen landscape of the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This is the deepest lake in Iceland, and it’s situated inside the Vatnajökull National Park. This area is a popular destination due to the blue icebergs that seem to glow as they float through these frigid waters. The glacier lagoon has also been the setting of many Hollywood films, including Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins.
Some visiting here might even be lucky enough to see seals having a snooze on an iceberg or gracefully swimming through the water. This area is also the location of the affectionately named Diamond Beach. This name comes from the many icebergs that wash up on the shoreline, creating a jewel-filled landscape.
If you are traveling here in September, you can choose to get closer to the icy monoliths by hopping on board an amphibious vehicle or a zodiac boat. Some of the icebergs tower overhead, bigger than two-story buildings.
If you are here between October and March, you can add the extra experience of stepping inside an ice cave. Ice caves are rare naturally occurring phenomena, and no two caves are ever the same. They are as unique as fingerprints.
After a day digesting the sights of this ice haven, you will retire to your accommodation near the glacier lagoon area or in the nearby town of Höfn. It is the perfect place to go searching for the Northern Lights if the sky is clear.
Day 5 - The Eastfjords
Today you will make your entrance to a place of enchanting beauty - The Eastfjords region. Iceland’s Eastfjords are filled with steep mountains and ocean vistas and an abundance of wildlife. Birds, seals, and reindeer make up a great deal of the animals in this part of the country that largely remains untouched.
What makes the Eastfjords even more incredible is that very few visitors make it to this part of the country. The high abundance of natural landscapes, void of people or modern development, makes this remote region of the country an idyllic location for peace and tranquillity.
As you travel, you can make stops in quaint local villages and areas rich in Icelandic folklore before you reach the largest town in the east, Egilsstaðir. This is where you will stay for the evening.
Day 6 - Lake Myvatn & Surrounding Areas
On day 6, you will travel to the North, to the Lake Mývatn region. This area is a hotbed of geological and geothermal activity, and the sightseeing opportunities in this area are incredibly diverse.
The Dimmuborgir lava field is sometimes nicknamed 'The Dark Fortress' because of the lava rocks' color and composition. You will also be able to see the geothermal Námaskarð Pass, where natural hot springs and fumaroles dot the landscape. A shining jewel in the crown of the North is Lake Mývatn itself. This unique lake is filled with natural water and strange basalt rock formations.
On this day, you can choose to visit the Lake Mývatn Nature Baths. Often referred to as the Blue Lagoon of the North, these mineral-rich, warm waters are the perfect place to unwind at the end of the day.
Your accommodation for the evening will be in the Lake Mývatn area. Make sure to check the skies for signs of the beautiful Northern Lights in the evening.
Day 7 - Akureyri
Today you will make your way to the capital of Iceland's North, Akureyri. This charming town has a laid-back attitude and some beautiful touches like little love hearts on its traffic lights.
On the way to the town, you can visit Goðafoss, an incredibly beautiful waterfall. Goðafoss' name means 'waterfall of the gods', and it towers 39 ft (12m) with a width of 98 ft (30m). It's one of the most spectacular waterfalls as it falls down arch-shaped cliffs.
Once in Akureyri, you might want to spend a relaxing day hanging with the locals downtown. The town is filled with boutiques, cafes, and bars. Akureyri also has a vibrant arts and music scene, with many events taking place throughout the year.
You can choose some added adventure by going on a whale watching tour. Eyjafjörður fjord—where Akureyri is located— is well known for its abundance of humpback whales. Experienced guides know the best places to search for whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and tours in the area have high success rates for seeing these gentle giants.
You will retire to your accommodation in Akureyri this evening.
Day 8 - Back to Reykjavik
After you have soaked up the sights and sounds of the North, it’s time to start heading back to Iceland’s capital. The road trip south will show you even more untold beauty. You will very likely want to make lots of stops to take in some breathtaking scenery. You will watch as the enigmatic landscape of Iceland twists and transforms over the horizon from the comfort of your car.
Once you reach Reykjavík and check into your accommodation, you can check off some of the exclusive city sites from your bucket list. You can find a cozy bar to have a drink in as you reflect on the past days of your adventure or grab an authentic Icelandic dish from one of the many incredible restaurants around.
Day 9 - Bon Voyage
It’s been an adventure, but sadly all things must end. Today is a day to grab those final souvenirs, get those last selfies and pack your things. You will travel back through the lunar-like landscapes to Keflavík International Airport.
For those who have a later flight and choose to visit the Blue Lagoon today, you will finish off your stay unwinding before you head to the airport. This is the perfect place to relax as you bathe in the warm, mineral-rich waters as you look back on the incredible adventure you have just taken in the land of fire and ice. If your flight is later, there are plenty of things to do in Reykjavik. If you have an early flight back home, we wish you a pleasant journey.
What to bring
Good to know
Self-drive tours begin either in Reykjavík City or at Keflavik International Airport. A valid driver's license is required, along with a one-year long on-road experience. Please be aware that your itinerary may be rearranged to better fit with your arrival date and time.
The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon, and therefore cannot be guaranteed, but this itinerary is designed to maximise your chances to see them if weather allows.
It can happen, in the case of extreme weather, that an activity is cancelled. If your chosen activity is cancelled, we will assist you with rearranging or booking other activities when possible, and any potential price difference will be refunded to you. Please note that though this self-drive tour is available to book from September to May, the ice caves are only accessible from October to March each year.
Note that Icelandic roads and pavements can be slippery in the wintertime. We recommend you bring shoes with slip-resistant soles or ice-grip shoe covers. The covers can be purchased in most supermarkets and gas stations around the country.
See our accommodation levels below and our preferred accommodation partners under each day in the daily itinerary.
Super budget level accommodations will be arranged in hostel dorm beds. For other levels, bookings for one person will be arranged in single rooms, and bookings for two or more people will share a twin/double or triple room(s).
Teenagers and children will be arranged in the same room with parents. If additional room(s) is needed, additional costs will incur.
Guide to Iceland will provide you with the best available accommodation at the time of your booking from our preferred partners. Please keep in mind that hotel quality in Iceland varies among locations and availability is highly limited. If our preferred partners are fully booked at the time of your booking, we will find another suitable accommodation for you of similar level.
Please note that not all locations offer quality level accommodation. Comfort level accommodation will be arranged at those particular locations, which is reflected in the quality level upgrade price.
We always do our best to accommodate special requests, which may incur additional costs. Press choose a date to find availability.
Rooms with shared bathrooms in farmhouses, guesthouses or hostels, with good locations near the best attractions. Breakfast is not included.
Rooms with a private bathroom in three star hotels or quality guesthouses. Very close to the best attractions at each location. Breakfast is included.
Rooms with a private bathroom in a four star hotel or superior rooms in a quality three star hotel at the best locations in Iceland. Breakfast is included.
Below you can see the car rental options available for this self-drive tour.
All our vehicles are new or current models, of maximum 2 years of age. Super Budget levels come with standard CDW insurance, while all other levels also include Gravel Protection (GP) insurance. Please note that off-road driving is illegal for all types of cars.
All levels come equipped with free Wi-fi. You can enjoy unlimited data with the Wi-Fi device, which can be connected to up to 10 devices at once. The car rental will provide 24-hour roadside emergency services.
Age requirement for each level can be found below. For all levels, the driver must possess a valid driving license for at least one year before the date of the rental.
We recommend Budget 4X4 level for summer driving and Comfort 4X4 for winter driving.
A basic 4WD (4X4) jeep or SUV such as a Dacia Duster or similar. Comfortably fit up to 3 travellers with 2 large pieces of luggage. Fit for most travel and decent for snow and off-asphalt driving. Has basic highland capabilities. The driver must be of 20 years of age or above.
A medium-sized 4WD (4x4) jeep or SUV such as a Toyota Rav4 (automatic) and Suzuki Vitara (manual), or similar. Comfortably fit up to 4 travelers with 3 large pieces of luggage. Fit for most travel and good for snow and off-asphalt driving. Has basic highland capabilities. The driver must be of 21 years of age or above.
A large 4WD jeep such as a Toyota Land Cruiser or similar. Comfortable for up to 4 travellers with 4 large pieces of luggage. Fit for nearly all travelling. Has full highland capabilities to drive on accessible mountain roads. The driver must be of 21 years of age or above.
A large 9-seater van such as a Mercedes Benz Vito (4WD manual, has highland capabilities and better suited for winter driving), or similar. Comfortable for 5 to 7 travelers. If seated full, luggage space is limited. The driver must be of 23 years of age or above.