28 Dec 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!