The Ultimate Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: 12 Days road trip

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Iceland. Better Than Space.

While I was researching for my Iceland ring road itinerary, I came upon this campaign line. Now we are all familiar with marketing campaigns that are mostly hyperbole. But after walking on dried magma, seeing volcanic black sand plains, hiking over glaciers and entering sub-glacial ice caves, dipping into geothermal water, I have bought into Iceland‘s tourism campaign. And if you are the adventurous sort who wants to experience most of the rugged, wild beauty in this country, no better than this Iceland road trip Itinerary in 12 days.

Ring Road or Route 1 is Iceland’s main road that goes all around the country. So an Iceland road trip itinerary traverses mainly along the ring road. It is quite easy to rent a car and self-drive in springtime and summer (mid-April to September end). It covers all the must-do in the more touristy parts of south coast, and also to the lesser visited (but not less stunning) east, north and west regions. This route can be travelled clock-wise (which is what we did) or counter-clockwise.

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Summers are best suited for self drive to explore Iceland

This 12-days Iceland ring road itinerary is best suited for the active lot who pack in sightseeing and experiences each day. It is meant for first time visitors to Iceland and leaves out Westfjords completely. We did manage a day off the ring road into the remote Highland region in Central Iceland though. It can be easily curtailed to a 10-Days Iceland road trip itinerary or expanded to a 14 Days road trip.

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Iceland 12 Days Ring Road Itinerary Overview

Grindavik (1 night) – Hellnar in Snaefellsnes Peninsula (1 night) – Akureyri (1 night) – Myvatn (2 nights) – Hofn (1 night) – Vik (3 nights) – Nesjavellir (Landmannalaugar tour and to explore the Golden Circle, 2 nights) – Reykjavik (1 night)

As you can note, there is a lot of moving about in an Iceland road trip itinerary. Thankfully, the driving distances are not too long and the 24 hour daylight helps! But there are a lot of experiences and must-dos to cover in this amazing land. And do factor in weather. We experienced stormy, windy, rainy conditions for 3 days out of our 12 days in Iceland. You can’t travel light. Icelandic weather is temperamental and can change to rainy with strong winds from sunny blue sky days in a jiffy!

“If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait 10 minutes”.

You will hear this a lot 🙂

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary for 10 days or 14 days

You could go around the island in 7 to 8 days if you are not into hiking or many adventures. But do note that would be quite exhausting. I would recommend a minimum of 10 days for the Iceland ring road itinerary.

If you are keen on a 10 day Iceland itinerary, cut a day in Snaefellsnes peninsula / Glymur hiking and another to Landmannalaugar. You can choose to spend the second night in Hellnar or Akureyri. Combine the stay between Nesjavellir and Rejkavik (for 2 nights), they are close enough. And voila, you don’t miss out on any of the must-dos on your 10 day Iceland itinerary.

So a 10 day road trip across Iceland would follow this:

Grindavik (1 night) – Hellnar in Snaefellsnes Peninsula or Akureyri (1 night) – Myvatn (2 nights) – Hofn (1 night) – Vik (3 nights) – Reykjavik (2 nights, explore Golden Circle from Reykjavik)

Extending this to a 14 day epic road trip in Iceland is also easy. You can add 2 nights to explore West Fjords region. So a 14 day road trip across Iceland would follow this:

Grindavik (1 night) – Hellnar in Snaefellsnes Peninsula (1 night) – Patreksfjörður (2 nights) Akureyri (1 night) – Myvatn (2 nights) – Hofn (1 night) – Vik (3 nights) – Nesjavellir (Landmannalaugar tour and to explore the Golden Circle, 2 nights) – Reykjavik (1 night)

Day 1: Rejuvenating Blue Lagoon

On landing at the Keflavik airport, the first port of call was to rent a car. Rather pick up the rented car we had already booked with Lotus Car Rental, crucial step to start our Iceland road trip for 12 days. Unlike most international airports, rental cars are not at the airport. We took a shuttle arranged by the rental company to their office located nearby and picked up the 4-wheel drive.

We then drove to our hotel very close to Blue Lagoon. Blue Lagoon is close to Reykjavik and you can choose to do this from the city. But since the capital city was part of our last day, we chose to stay in Grindavik. It allowed us to go to Blue Lagoon during late evening hours. Being a very popular geothermal experience, it gets very crowded during the day. But less so in the early morning or late evening. There is a luxurious Retreat Hotel at Blue Lagoon that you can consider.

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Heavenly after a long day!

Do note that Blue Lagoon is not a natural geothermal water body, but water brought over by a power plant. In my opinion, it doesn’t take away from the experience. We had pre-booked a Comfort Pass and that served us well. Perfect antidote to fatigue and jet lag on Day 1 of our 12-days Iceland road trip. If you are visiting Iceland in winter, you should totally put Blue Lagoon on your itinerary.

If you choose to do Blue Lagoon from Reykjavik, then consider these popular tour options:

Also read – Croatia with kids: Two week Croatia itinerary for families

Day 2 and 3 of the Iceland road trip itinerary: Driving across the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Our first full day in Iceland started with a bang! A moderate level hike, challenging in parts for anyone who has fear of heights, to visit Glymur waterfall.

In a country featuring 10,000 waterfalls, Glymur holds a special place. It is the second highest waterfall in Iceland, but the tallest that is accessible by foot.

A hidden gem that can only be seen via a 1.5 to 2 hour hike to reach the top. And another couple of hours to come down after a river crossing through freezing water. Or you could hike the same way back.

What a beautiful hike!

The hike took most of the day and left us high on adrenaline but also on fatigue. If you are not into hiking, it is easy to explore all the West Iceland attractions over 2 days.

Post a late lunch, I didn’t enjoy my visit to the Ytri Tunga seals beach in windy conditions. And afterwards, we decided to give Budir with its famous black church a miss. En route to our hotel in the small village of Hellnar, we did explore the rugged beauty of Arnastapi coastline. Black basalt rocks plunge into the deep blue sea, what’s not to like!

Day 3 of our 12 days in Iceland ring road itinerary started with a tour booked at Vatnashellir lava cave (via Arctic Adventures). We then climbed to the top of Saxholl volcano crater. Scenic vistas all around!

Snaefellsnes peninsula has scenic coastal drives that during a summer day with the blue sky overhead, just lifts your heart! And while driving around the western peninsula, you cannot missed Kirkjufell, the “most photographed mountain in Iceland“. A short walk from the car parking lot takes you to the beautiful waterfalls, from where you can gaze upon this arrowhead shaped mountain. If you have more time at Mt. Kirkjufell, you could consider a 2-hour guided kayaking tour to view this mountain from different angles.

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View that takes in both Kirkjufell waterfalls & the mountain together.

And then we were on our way to the Capital of the North, a long drive to Akureyri. We reached the town late in the evening and didn’t have much time exploring it. If you are not into hiking, you can easily spend Day 2 exploring Snaefellsness peninsula and Day 3 in Akureyri.

If you choose to explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula as a day trip from Reykjaviik, consider these tours:

Day 4 and 5 of Iceland road trip itinerary: Exploring the Diamond Circle in North Iceland

We wanted to explore all the 4 main sites that constitute the Diamond Circle in North Iceland. This includes the area around Lake Myvatn, the charming Husavik, the mighty waterfall – Dettifoss, and finally, the crescent shaped Asbyrgi canyon.

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Humpback whales come to this bay in Husavik each summer

We did it all! Starting Day 4 of the Iceland itinerary with the whale watching tour with North Sailing in Husavik. We lucked out with a sunny day with calm waters. Some 5 or 6 whales put up a show that kept us enthralled for 3 straight hours!

If you have a day extra, I suggest to add this to Akureyri. Or if you are willing to retrace your steps, drive back to Akureyri after the whale watching tour.

We stopped at Godafoss waterfall en route to our farm stay in Myvatn area. This waterfall is compact and can be seen from both east and west sides. And finally a quick stop at Namafjall or Hverir geothermal area to see the boiling mudpools! The smell of sulphur is quite strong in this area. And the buzzing insects killed any enthusiasm I had to take the hiking path to Namafjall mountain.

Day 5 of our 12 days in Iceland started with the mighty Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe. Again, this can be viewed from the west side (with steps and railings, where we went) and the east side. And then a drive to hike an easy 8-km route over the rim of Asbyrgi canyon in North Iceland. The information centre at Asbyrgi canyon has knowledge staff and can recommend shorter and much longer hike options as well.

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Marked trail all over the rim of Asbyrgi canyon

We then needed some relaxation post the hike and called it a day. Except that Icelandic summer means 24 hour daylight! Rested and fed post dinner, we had energy to drive close by to explore Grjotagja cave and climbed the Hverjfall volcano crater.

We gave Myvatn nature bath a miss, though I have heard only good things about this natural geothermal spring. You can easily fit this natural geothermal spring if you do not do any long hikes at Asbyrgi canyon.

If you base yourself in Akureyri to explore North Iceland, consider these tours:

Day 6: Drive via the charming fjord town of Seydisfjordur

This was almost the mid-point of our Iceland ring road itinerary in 12 days. We started towards Eastern region of Iceland, first with a quick detour to Studlagil canyon. There is a 10 km hiking loop from the car park 1 to get to the bottom of the canyon, but we had a long day ahead. So we went to the viewing platform that is a short distance from the parking lot 4 km ahead. Stunning basalt rock columns and mesmerising blue water awaits! We drove through the town of Egilstaddir, the largest town in East Iceland, only stopped for re-fueling.


This unpronounceable name is for the town that was the highlight of our drive in East Iceland.

And then a mountain pass was crossed to go to the charming fjord town of Seydisfjordur. The adorable church and the rainbow street are a definite attraction!

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Isn’t this pretty?

We drove to this town mainly because my husband wanted to visit the Sound Domes. This is a site specific installation by Lukas Kahne. It is not for everyone (our friends didn’t enjoy it as much).

It started pouring crazily when we headed to Hofn, the city in South east Iceland. The original plan of driving first to the photogenic Vestrahorn or ‘Batman mountains’ had to be cancelled, and we reached Hofn just in time for dinner. If I had to re-do this Iceland road trip itinerary, I might add a night to Hofn and take away a night from Vik. Simply to be closer to glacier and ice lagoon area.

Day 7 of Iceland road trip itinerary: Too much adventure at Vatnajokull glacier

Crazy is the only way to describe Day 7 of our Iceland ring road itinerary. Weather gods that had been kind for the past few days had turned demonic. The rain that started on our drive to Hofn continued while we rushed to the meeting point for glacier hike at Vatnajokull. The meeting point of all tours to Vatnajokull are usually at Skaftafell Visitor Centre. These tours get sold out so you need to pre-book your glacier hike for sure.

We put on all our rain gear and took off, first for a short bus ride at the bottom of the glacier. We then hiked across gravel land to reach the ice. Learning how to walk with crampons was not tough. But the weather conditions steadily worsened as we moved up the glacier. The rain poured so much so that the gravel we walked on at the start of our hike disappeared beneath fast flowing water. We had several guides across tour companies work together to get us to cross back to safety. Phew! What an adventure to remember. This glacier hike was the highlight of all our South Iceland attractions.

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Gloomy and stormy weather. It didn’t keep us away from Vatnajokull.

We had booked a combo tour and the second part – Zodiac boat ride on the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon – was cancelled by the company. It was pointless to visit the Diamond beach in the stormy weather, so that was a regrettable miss.

We then drove to Vik in South Iceland. Another popular glacier hike starts at Solheimajokull Glacier, which lies closer to Vik. But if you have a day more to add, I would suggest Hofn to explore the ice lagoon. Do note that if your tour company cancels a trip due to bad weather conditions, you arre unlikely to get it rescheduled the next day. These tours are mostly sold out in peak summers.

Browse through tour options in Vatnajokull:

Day 8: Why everyone visits the South coast as part of Iceland ring road itinerary

The South Coast offers geothermal areas, black sand beaches, beautiful waterfalls, pleasing green vistas, glaciers, and ice caves. If you are in Iceland for 7 days or less, I would suggest to only focus on the South Coast, stretching from Reykjavik all the way to the south-east end of Vatnajokull glacier.

Day 8 was meant to explore a remote rugged part of Iceland: Landmannalaugar. Self drive here means taking a 4-wheel drive on unpaved F-roads, away from the smooth ring road. With the weather being what it was, the hotel staff suggested we don’t take a chance driving to the region. We had booked a hike in this region that we tried to cancel altogether.

Did I mention that the one constant in Iceland is NOT the weather?

It stopped raining on Day 8 morning, and we wanted to make it a relaxed day after the bone-drenching glacier hike. We drove to see 2 of the most popular waterfalls near Vik. Seljalandsfoss is one the few waterfalls where you can go behind. It is a lot of fun, but do prepare to get wet so carry a good rain jacket.

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The beautiful Skogafoss waterfall is a sight to behold.

Skogafoss is impressive and beautiful, no matter how many waterfalls you have seen. You can climb over 500 steps to a viewing platform above the falls. I found the close view at the bottom of the falls much better than the top view. We had originally planned a short hike that starts on the very top, namely The Waterfall Way, but we gave that a miss.

Day 9: Non-stop adventures to be had!

If we thought the glacier hike was adventurous, we were in for an awakening the next day. Day 9 of our 12 days in Iceland started with stormy weather and a ‘yellow’ wind warning. We had booked a 2-hour ATV tour on the black sand beach. So we head to the ATV tour office in rainy conditions, put on the gear, learn the basics of the machine and take off for yet another adventure.

It is easy to ride an ATV. Though the rain and wind (speed of more than 25 knots / 50 km per hour) made it difficult to focus on the path despite the helmet and face shield. We reached the famous Solheimasandur plane wreck site, a crashed DC-3 plane wreck and got off the machine for a short break. It was crazy to walk in that wind on an open beach. The river crossing on the ATV was my favourite part of the tour!

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Have you seen anything so dramatic?

Did I mention that Iceland is for the active and brave-hearted soul? Our second tour of the day got us to the region of the mighty Katla volcano that last erupted in 1918 and is due anytime! Katla ice cave sits beneath the Katla glacier, or Kotlujokull and the Katla volcano. This is the only natural ice cave that is open all year around. I can’t recommend this Katla ice cave tour with Southwest Adventures enough. You need to pre-book this natural ice cave tour.

Day 10 of Iceland ring road itinerary: More of the scenic South shore

The rainy, stormy weather completely cleared up just when we leaving Vik on Day 10 of our Iceland road trip. We couldn’t leave the area without a visit to Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach. More basalt columns and rock formations. And then we went up on winding roads to Dyrholaey peninsula. On a clear day like what we had, you get panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and black sand beaches on both sides of the cliff.

View of Reynisfjara black beach from Dyrholaey peninsula

And then we drove further on, happy with the blue sky and topography only Iceland can provide. Remember the cancelled plan to drive and hike in Landmannalaugar in central Iceland? Well, it was proving difficult to get a refund on the hike tour plus we really wanted to experience this surreal landscape. Just our luck, we managed to reschedule it for Day 11 of our Iceland ring road itinerary. This required redoing our original plan to visit the popular Golden Circle on Day 11 of our Iceland road trip itinerary.

This decided, we went for a quick visit to Geysir geothermal area (one part of the popular Golden Circle) before we checked into the fancy hotel in Nesjavellir. We gave Kerid crater and Gullfoss waterfall a complete miss due to paucity of time.

Browse through some of these tours in South Iceland:

Day 11 of Iceland ring road itinerary: The ethereal Icelandic Highlands

We chose Landmannalaugar, or Rainbow mountains over the Golden Circle? Yes!

Day 11, towards the end of the Iceland ring road itinerary in 12 days, as expected was long and wondrous and adventurous. Lava fields, geothermal activity, rainbow coloured mountains and epic hikes make Landmannalaugar unique in Iceland. To get to Landmannalaugar, you get off the ring road and get on F-roads, which are essentially unpaved gravel tracks.

We had traded self drive to central region of Iceland with a hike tour that included pick up from Selfoss town. If you prefer to reach Landmannalaugar on your own, you can pre-book just the hiking experience.

Within an hour of leaving Selfoss, the bus moved onto F-roads. The drive on F-roads and the river crossings, before we reached the enormous caldera area lined with sleeping tents, was exciting enough.

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One of the most popular areas for hiking in summer.

And then there were the rainbow mountains all around caldera. Shades of brown, red, yellow and green make for a spectacular palette. We did a moderate level hike for about 2.5 hours. After that, some folks on the tour went for a soak in the natural geothermal spring nearby, while others lounged around soaking in the views, until it was time to get back on earth!

Here are some amazing tours to consider for this area:

Day 12: Start with Thingvellir and end up in Reyjavik

We had planned to give Thingvellir national park (another part of the Golden Circle trilogy) a miss. We did find time the next day to give it a quick visit. So Day 12 of our epic Icelandic adventure started with a stroll through Thingvellir.

Where else can you walk, snorkel or dive in the rift between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates?

2 attractions out of 3 of the popular Golden Circle off the list, not bad!

This was the our last day in Iceland and we were to spend it in the capital city. Reykjavik is compact enough to see most of the attractions on a self-guided walking tour. Reykjavik sightseeing for us included Harpa concert hall, sun voyager statue, Hallgrimskirkja church, all interesting.

Sun Voyager Statue, Reykjavik

We then went to Perlan museum in the city, which was an enjoyable experience. There were informative videos on the aurora, volcanoes and glaciers that make for a unique geological land, and ofcourse, a freezing ice tunnel. Our epic Iceland trip ended with pub hopping on Laugavegur Street late in the night.

Morning flight back home was on Day 13 of Iceland road trip itinerary, but who’s counting. The Land of Ice and Fire gave us memories for a lifetime!

If you decide to base yourself in Reykjavik and give Nesjavellir a miss, do consider these tours to the Golden Circle from Reykjavik:

Planning an Icelandic road trip

Iceland tourism has been booming in the past decade.Do your research and lock in the places to visit and things to do in Iceland. And trust me, there is a LOT to do in a country this size! You must book your flight, accommodation and car rental 6 months or more in advance. And book the popular tours, especially on the south coast at least 2 months in advance for summer months.

You must pack suitably for Iceland. Weather even in summer months changes a lot, and you would end up using a rain jacket, fleece, long sleeved T-shirts, water-proof pants and even a light down jacket from spring to autumn. Winter is a different story altogether. And do pack sturdy water-proofshoes, even if you are not hiking.


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Have you visited the Land of Fire & Ice? What has been your favorite destination or experience there?

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Author: Shweta Singhal

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

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