Glacier Lagoon Iceland South Coast Road Trip

6 Self Drive Road Trips in Iceland

Iceland is the perfect road-tripping destination. With gorgeous scenery and otherworldly landscapes around every corner, you will find plenty of sights that will draw you in and make you want to stay awhile. Some of these road trips can be done in a day, but it would be wise to plan as much time as your schedule allows. Rent a car, 4×4 or a campervan and get ready to explore some amazing locations around Iceland.

Crossing a bridge on Road 1 along the south coast of Iceland

We’ve taken two and a half of these road trips ourselves, and the others are on our list for our visit next summer. We can’t wait to head back to Iceland, and get out on the open road once again, maybe this time in a campervan.

Here are a few ideas for road trips in Iceland—we wanted to share with you a glimpse of what you can expect to see on each of these drives. Hopefully they will get you started in planning your own road trip!

Ring Road

One of the most popular road trips in Iceland is the Ring Road, or Route 1, which makes a giant circle around the island. The reason this road trip is one of the most popular is because it covers a large portion of the country and sights along the way. We only drove the southern portion of the Ring Road on our last visit—we were short on time, so we drove out to Vatnajökull for a glacier hike and then took our time stopping at sights on the way back to Reykjavik. Next time, we hope to drive the entire route.

Iceland Glacier

Start your trip in the capital city, Reykjavik and stock up on snacks for the road. Some great stops to make along the Ring Road drive are waterfalls such as Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Dettifoss, the adorable towns of Vik, Akureyri and Höfn, Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon), Álftafjörður (Swan-fjord), Hallormsstaður Forest, natural hot springs like the Mývatn Nature Baths, and be sure to oogle the wildlife including Icelandic Horses, sheep and even reindeer! There are so many stops along this 830 mile route that it will be hard to decide where to stop—plan a route ahead of time if you must, but be sure to explore the nooks and crannies you find along the way.

Glacier Lagoon Iceland South Coast Road Trip

Golden Circle

The other extremely popular drive in Iceland is the Golden Circle, and due to its proximity to the city, it is probably the most popular road trip in the country and can also be done in a day. This drive takes you out of Reykjavik on a 186 mile drive past several fantastic destinations, such as the Gullfoss waterfall, Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area and the Kerið Crater Lake. We made the drive a day trip from Reykjavik, which is totally doable, but you could also spend the night along the way if you really want to take time at each site. Most tour buses offer day trips, but we loved driving in our own car as we had a better chance of getting the sights all to ourselves. Our day ended with snorkeling in the icy waters of Silfra at Þingvellir National Park. It was a wonderful day and one we hope to repeat again next summer.

Gullfoss - Golden Falls along the Golden Circle in Iceland

Reykjanes Peninsula

The Reykjanes Peninsula is another great option for a day trip from Reykjavik. The airport is located in this section of the country, so it is a good area to explore after an early flight into Iceland (which we did) or if you have a late departure out. The popular Blue Lagoon is located here, and if you’ve never been, it is worth a visit just to experience the heat of the bright blue waters.

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Also, stop at the church, Hvalsneskikja, which was built in 1887, head to the black sand beach, Valahnúkur, and visit Reykjanesviti, a lighthouse that rests on a hill and overlooks the ocean. Gunnuhver is another fantastic stop on the Reykjanes Peninsula—it is filled with steaming vents, boiling mud pools and geothermal activity everywhere.

Gunnuhver geothermal area in the Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is located in the north of Reykjavik and the drive around the peninsula from Reykjavik and back is around 295 miles. A long day trip is possible if you are up for spending all day in the car; otherwise, there are a few small towns that you can spend the night in, as well. Some of the sights you can see on this drive are the Gerðuberg Basalt Columns, the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, the most photographed mountain in Iceland called Kirkjufell, Snæfellsjökull Glacier, Vatnshellir Cave, and Sugandisey Lookout Point.

One Day Road Trip around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula from Reykjavik, Iceland

The Westfjords

Little fishing ports dot the coast along the Westfjords, which is located in the northwest corner of Iceland. This area offers a wide range of adventure such as skiing in Ísafjördur, the bird cliff called Látrabjarg, the Drangajökull glacier, plenty of hot springs including Reykjafjördur, many museums such as the Museum of Jón Sigurðsson, and so much more.

Hiking and Puffins in Iceland at Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs

Highlands

For experienced drivers only, the highlands offer some of the most rugged landscapes and terrain in Iceland, and they mainly run through the center of Iceland. These roads are called the F-roads, and a 4×4 vehicle is required for this extreme adventure as the roads are gravel and there are no bridges over the rivers. It is advised that you travel in a group with at least two vehicles, bring a detailed map, research the road conditions in advance, and tell somebody about your travel plans, just in case something were to go wrong. Also, these roads are only open in the summer, and not all of them are connected, so it isn’t a continuous road trip but rather bits and pieces of the F-roads and the nearby roads connecting them.

Highlands in Iceland

CC image courtesy of Skarphéðinn Þráinsson on Flickr

If you are up for the challenge, you will see unspoiled landscapes, glaciers, mountains, hot springs, waterfalls, volcanoes, the Askja caldera, the rocky Sprengisandur desert, Hvitarvatn and Blonduos lakes, and so much more.

Final Notes

Whatever combination of road trips you decide on taking, be sure to rent the vehicle that is right for your trip. If you are staying on the main, paved roads, you are fine with a car, but if you plan to head into the highlands, or on some of the smaller side roads, you will definitely need a 4×4. Also, be sure to pay attention to the road conditions and weather forecasts—weather can change quickly in Iceland, so be prepared for wind, ice, snow and a variety of other challenges. Some of the roads are only open in the summer, as well.

Glacier Lagoon Iceland South Coast Road Trip

Stock up on snacks and grab a prepaid gas card (because some of the smaller stations might only have a pump that doesn’t accept foreign credit cards) and head out to explore on as many road trips in Iceland that you wish!

Have you ever been on a road trip in Iceland? Which one would you like to take most?

Iceland

20 Comments
  • Hugo
    Twitter:
    Posted at 10:39h, 02 January Reply

    I have to agree that Iceland is perfect for road trips. I’ve been to Iceland twice and done all of these trips.. and still going back for more in 6 months time. There’s always more to explore there!
    Hugo recently posted…2015, a year in reviewMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 19:36h, 07 January Reply

      Nice! Hope you have a great time when you return! Definitely agree–there is always more to explore there–such a great country!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Travel Mishaps from 2015My Profile

  • Jackie
    Twitter:
    Posted at 10:53h, 02 January Reply

    Iceland is at the top of my wishlist. The Ring Road drive looks like a classic must. But I would also love to make it over to explore on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The waterfalls and landscape look incredible. Definitely worth the time needed to get there and explore.
    Jackie recently posted…23 Super Helpful Posts to Travel Hack Like a ProMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 19:37h, 07 January Reply

      Yeah I know what you mean–we really want to make it to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on our next visit–the waterfalls look amazing! Hope you get to go and explore soon! 🙂
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Travel Mishaps from 2015My Profile

  • Patryk
    Twitter:
    Posted at 15:31h, 02 January Reply

    Incredible photos! We are thinking about visiting Iceland for a ver long time. Who knows, maybe we will go there this year? 🙂

  • Carol Colborn
    Twitter:
    Posted at 16:06h, 02 January Reply

    Road-tripping around Iceland sounds like the way we should have covered it. WE went on a cruise with 3 ports of call in Northern, southwestern and western Iceland. So we didn’t get to go to the inner parts where there’s spectacular scenery,

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 19:38h, 07 January Reply

      Looks like you’ll have to visit again! Always a nice excuse to go back 🙂 The cruise sounds like fun though–I bet you got to see some great scenery that way, as well!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Travel Mishaps from 2015My Profile

  • Tara
    Twitter:
    Posted at 09:08h, 03 January Reply

    Oh my gosh this is making me want to go back to Iceland!! I only had 3 days there and did day trips. I’d LOVE to go back and hire and car to do one of these road trips 🙂 Great article!
    Tara recently posted…Irish Phrases That Don’t TranslateMy Profile

  • Holly
    Twitter:
    Posted at 10:52h, 03 January Reply

    I love looking at the Blue Lagoon so pretty. Iceland was very popular for 2015, seems like almost everyone went.
    Holly recently posted…The Mazda 3 Shines in HollywoodMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 19:41h, 07 January Reply

      Yeah, it does seem like a lot of people went last year! We wanted to visit again last year but couldn’t work it into our schedule, so hopefully this next year we can make it back again!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Travel Mishaps from 2015My Profile

  • Rosemary
    Twitter:
    Posted at 11:03h, 03 January Reply

    Never been to Iceland and it’s top on my list. Love the pictures. Good to know that the best way is to travel by car. Good advice on the changing climate. Wishing you more fun filled trips in 2016.
    Rosemary recently posted…An Andean Christmas in Cusco, PeruMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 19:42h, 07 January Reply

      Thanks! Traveling by car is definitely a great way to see Iceland! Best wishes for you in 2016, as well!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Travel Mishaps from 2015My Profile

  • Brenda Tolentino
    Twitter:
    Posted at 13:41h, 03 January Reply

    These pictures look very enticing! Outerworldly is certainly the perfect word for these scenes. I like the sound of the Ring Road because of its proximity to a city. We’re such city folk that it’s hard for us to be away too long from a city. Although that Snæfellsnes Peninsula looks so beautiful and will have to add it to our must visit one day list. Beautiful post.
    Brenda Tolentino recently posted…The New Year at Holly Bush in Hampstead.My Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 19:44h, 07 January Reply

      Thanks! There are some great little towns along the way for sure, although they are all pretty small! Thankfully there are a bunch of great day trips from Reykjavik!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Travel Mishaps from 2015My Profile

  • Brianna
    Twitter:
    Posted at 15:25h, 03 January Reply

    I did a 4 day self drive trip that included the Golden Circle and Southern portion of the Ring Road last summer, definitely some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth.
    Brianna recently posted…The Casual Travelist Turns 2, Another Year of Adventures Near and FarMy Profile

  • Antonette
    Twitter:
    Posted at 00:11h, 04 January Reply

    I’ve done many of these and loved them! My plan for next summer would be to go and see the Westfjords as they must be stunning. The only thing I’d add to your list is that for the Highland route, they may be open in July only (some people also consider June summer). I work at an Iceland specialist and sell trips there, last summer, the highland routes opened way later than normal and we had lots of clients having to drive around.

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 19:49h, 07 January Reply

      Thanks for sharing! That’s definitely good to know! 🙂 Would love to see the Westfjords, as well!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Travel Mishaps from 2015My Profile

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