Iceland is made for road tripping adventures. With its easy to navigate roads and scenery packed landscapes, you will find yourself wanting to stop every few minutes for one spectacular sight after the next.
There are several options for car rentals when planning a self drive road trip in Iceland. If you are planning on sticking to the main roads, a regular car rental of an economy, compact, mid-sized or full-sized car would be sufficient. However, if you are looking to venture off on the F-roads, such as those in the Highlands, you would want a 4x4 vehicle that can handle rough roads and varied terrain on the lesser maintained roads. Camper vans are also an option when road tripping around Iceland. If you want an adventure vehicle that you can sleep in, camper vans are a fantastic choice. You can just pull into a campsite at night and you will have a small kitchen and warm bed ready to go.
While there are many regions to explore throughout the island, here are five ideas for a fantastic Icelandic road trip and stops to see along each route.
Iceland’s Ring Road, or Route 1, is around 1,300 kilometers and essentially creates a large circle around the island. This route is one of the more popular road trip routes around the country as it is easy to follow and it gives visitors an introduction to the wide range of landscapes, scenery and activities in Iceland. The road trip can be done in as little as a few days, but to give yourself time to stop and enjoy the sights, a week or more is recommended.
You can also drive just a portion of the Ring Road, such as the south coast of the island if you are short on time. There are endless opportunities for adventure and sights to see along this route. Some stops to add to your itinerary are the towns of Vik, Akureyri and Höfn, Vatnajökull Glacier and National Park, Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon), hot springs such as Mývatn Nature Baths or Seljavallalaug, or waterfalls such as Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, or Dettifoss. Plan out a few stops that you don’t want to miss and be sure to allow ample time for exploring the unexpected spots you are sure to find along the way.
If you are looking for a road trip that takes you through one of the lesser visited regions of Iceland, the Westfjords is the perfect spot. Located in the northwest corner of the island, the Westfjords are filled with rugged landscapes, bumpy roads, and beautiful fjords. Tiny towns dot the coastline and you are sure to find plenty of waterfalls, hot springs and hikes along the way.
Drive out to the Látrabjarg bird cliffs for hiking and puffin spotting, or soak in one of the geothermal pools such as Drangsnes hot pots, Hellulaug pool, or Reykjafjarðarlaug pool. Stop for photos at Iceland’s oldest steel ship that is washed up on the shore, or make your way to one of the beautiful waterfalls like Dynjandi. You will find several museums in the area, as well; some of the museums are the Westfjords Heritage Museum, The Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, and the Sheep Farming Museum. The Westfjord peninsula is a large area and you will need several days to explore the winding roads throughout the region.
The Golden Circle is perhaps the most popular road trip in Iceland due to its proximity to Reykjavik and the fact that it is jam packed with sights. This road trip is most often done as a day trip, but there are hotels and campsites along the route if you would like to spend more time exploring along the way. You can join a guided tour of the area or drive the route yourself.
We preferred driving ourselves so we could stop and spend as much time at the sights that we wanted. The main sights along the Golden Circle are the waterfall Gullfoss, Þingvellir National Park and Geysir geothermal area. Some people also add the Kerið Crater Lake into their itinerary, as well.
The entire drive from Reykjavik and back is approximately 300 kilometers and it will take around 3.5 hours without any stops. Of course, you will want to plan extra time in for stopping at the sights, so estimate anywhere from 5-10 hours to complete the route, which will give you plenty of time to soak up the amazing sights.
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is located north of Reykjavik on the western side of Iceland. This trip can easily take a few days of your time as there is plenty to see and do, but it can also be done on a very long day trip from Reykjavik. The adorable town of Stykkishólmur is located on the peninsula and you will find a harbor full of boats, cute shops, several places to eat, hiking trails and a lighthouse on Sugandisey, the Library of Water and the Volcano Museum.
Some natural wonders that can be found on the peninsula are Kirkjufell mountain, a natural hot spring called Landbrotalaug, Lóndrangar basalt cliffs, Snæfellsjökull glacier, a beautiful gorge called Rauðafeldsgjá, Gatklettur rock, and the Vatnshellir lava cave. If you are looking for a treat, you can stop at the Erpsstaðir creamery and farm for ice cream and traditional Icelandic Skyr. Or for a not so sweet treat, make a visit to the shark museum for a taste of hákarl (fermented shark) or dried fish jerky.
The Reykjanes peninsula is another road trip that can be driven in one day. Due to its proximity to the Keflavik International Airport, this is a great road trip to take after an early morning flight into Iceland or before an evening flight out of the country. Some of the notable stops in the area are Hvalsneskirkja (a church built in 1887), black sand beaches with rocky shorelines, the Reykjanesviti lighthouse, Gunnuhver geothermal area and the Blue Lagoon.
The peninsula is located around 40 minutes from Reykjavik and it will take you a few hours to explore, or more if you are planning to stop at the Blue Lagoon. It’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours exploring some of the geothermal landscapes in Iceland!