Ah Iceland. Regardless of the type of traveler, Iceland finds its way onto everyone’s bucket list. It’s the otherworldly landscapes and magnificent waterfalls. It’s the midnight sun and northern light. And it’s the accessibility – many of the best destinations can be driven too, making an Iceland Road Trip the ultimate vacation.
Why You Should Visit Iceland
“Isn’t Iceland too crowded? Isn’t it overrated?” It’s true that Iceland has exploded in popularity, largely thanks to an impression marketing campaign by Iceland’s airlines and its Instagram-picture-perfect scenery. And the Ring Road must be one of the most popular road trips in the world.
But even with the crowds, Iceland is by no means overrated. There are still plenty of destinations that aren’t on the tourist radar. For those that are on the radar, visiting off-season or at odd times reduces the number of people (see below for insider tips for visiting Iceland).
Getting Around Iceland
Campervans were made for Iceland road tripping and this is an excellent way to see the country. You could also rent a car and pitch a tent at campsites too. Either way, you’ll definitely want your own vehicle and to avoid staying in hotels (as they can be very expensive). You can check out prices for campervan rentals here.
If you have rented a car from Reykjavik (and not the airport), make sure to book your airport transfer in advance here.
Packing for Iceland (it’s going to be cold)
Even in the summer, Iceland is cold (and this is coming from someone who spent four months in the Canadian Arctic). The average temperature from June to August ranges from 10 C to 11 C. The average high is just 15 C. And since almost every attraction in Iceland is outside, you’re going to want to pack the right clothing. If you’re unfamiliar with the Layering System or need a refresher, read this post.
If you are visiting any of the Scandinavian countries in the winter, this winter packing list will help!
For outside adventures / bad weather:
- Rain Jacket
- Insulating Layer (like fleece or a down jacket)
- Hiking / Quick Dry Pants
- Base Layers (merino wool or synthetic)
- Wool socks
- Hiking boots (check out this post if you don’t have a pair yet)
- Hat and mittens
For around town / sunny days:
- Casual clothing
- Bathing suit and quick-dry towel (for hot springs)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen (despite the temperature, 20+ hours of sunlight can do some damage)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Hiking Backpack
- Camera Equipment (here’s what I use!)
- Iceland Power Adapter
- Lonely Planet Iceland Travel Guide (I actually found this super helpful, especially in some areas that didn’t have cell service)
- Sleep Mask (if the light of the midnight sun will bother your sleep)
19 Destinations for Your Iceland Ring Road Trip
In this section you’ll find 19 incredible destinations to include on your Iceland road trip itinerary. I’ve included a mix of popular must-visit places and some lesser known, hidden gems in Iceland.
With a country as beautiful as Iceland, there are hundreds of possible places to visit. While it’s helpful to have a list of destinations you want to see, also allow time for spontaneity in your itinerary. If you pass a sign that looks appealing, make a stop. If another traveler recommends a destination you haven’t heard of, add it in.
Tip: Anytime you see a word that ends in ‘foss’ it’s a waterfall. Most, though not all, waterfalls have ‘foss’ at the end of the name.
This national park in Iceland straddles two tectonic plates: The North-American plate and the Eurasian plate. There’s a really nice walk that takes you through Almannagjá Gorge and to Oxarafoss. If you’re super adventurous, there’s an option to go snorkeling between the two plates.
Gullfoss is a large, two section waterfall in the southwest part of Iceland. There is a walking trail along the river toward the falls. Gullfoss, like many of the waterfalls on this list, can get really busy in the summer so you’re unlikely to have the place to yourself. That said, it’s a beautiful waterfall and easy to visit.
#3 Geysers at Haukadalur
Haukadalur is located in south Iceland and is a geothermal valley. There are two popular attractions here – the Great Geysir and Strokkur.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland and its location right off the main road makes it easy to visit. You can walk right behind the waterfall for some cool pictures!
Skogafoss is another great waterfall in Iceland, and this one even has stairs up the side of it so you can see it from multiple angles. Walk along the trail at the top to see the river above Skogafoss. But don’t go too far – this is actually the start of a multi-day trek too.
#6 Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
This is the location of the abandoned plane from a crash in 1973. Much of the plane is gone now, but what remains has become quite the tourist attraction. The plane rests on black sand, the only object in sight – it sure is a ghostly sight.
#7 Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
This is a stunning lagoon in southern Iceland with icebergs broken off of Vatnajökull Glacier. It’s especially beautiful around golden and blue hours (so around sunrise and sunset), making it a photographer’s dream.
In a similar area to the above is Gufufoss, which was another of my favourites. It isn’t the most impressive waterfall, but it was home to the most wildflowers I saw in Iceland. If you have a little spare time, it’s worth the trip, but not worth changing itineraries over.
What an underrated waterfall! Here the river is glacially fed and the brightest blue water I’ve ever seen. It rushes through a narrow opening in rocks and then disappears from view. Further down river the water reappears, as if coming right out of the side of the rocks. I just don’t understand it! So beautiful though.
#10 Fjadrargljufur Canyon
This canyon is located in southern Iceland and is a popular spot for photographers. The steep canyon walls are covered in bright green moss and the electric blue Fjaora river weaves its way through.
#11 Borgarfjordur Eystri
If you come in the springtime, this is an excellent place to see puffins. I unfortunately came in the late summer and wasn’t so lucky. But the trip out to this remote corner of the island was worth it. We saw Lindarbakki, a beautifully quaint turf house, and drove through colourful rolling hills.
Game of Thrones fans will definitely want to make a stop at Grjotagja, the secret cave where John Snow and Igrid got a little frisky. Visitors aren’t allowed to swim in the water, but you can climb down inside and get a look. I’m amazed people discovered this place at all – from the exterior it just looks like a crack in a very brown and mundane landscape.
This is Iceland’s most powerful waterfall. The spray and mist alone will soak you (and make it incredibly difficult to take a decent photo). It’s unbelievable to see and hear it up close – you can feel the power of the water resonating off the waterfall.
This little pocket of Iceland will have you thinking you’re on Mars. The landscape is red, white and grey, caused by sulfuric mud springs, with plumes of warm steam venting out of holes in the ground.
Godafoss was one of my favourite waterfalls in all of Iceland. It was a little busy, but you can walk along the shore of the water right up to the falls. The water is a pretty shade of light blue and the moss covering the rocks is bright yellow and green.
This is a photogenic basalt stock reaching 15 m and is located in northwest Iceland. It appears impossibly narrow for its height and is subject to the constant fury of the ocean, and yet it is still standing.
Hellnar is a fishing village on the far west coast of Iceland and at first glance might seem fairly unremarkable. But the unusual geography and gorgeous land bridge make it a worthwhile stop on your itinerary (there’s also a cafe nearby that makes the best latte in Iceland, in my opinion).
In total transparency, I was super disappointed by Kirkjufell. I’d seen hundreds of stunning photos of it on Instagram, and although I know nothing can live up to expectations that high, I was still disappointed. It’s very busy and right on the side of the highway (the photos make it look so remote!). That said, it’s still an attractive mountain and waterfall. You’ll drive right by it, so you might as well stop.
For a long time Glymur was considered the tallest waterfall in Iceland. Then some waterfall on top of a glacier and Glymur lost its moment of fame. That said, this was my favourite waterfall to see in all of Iceland. Unlike most waterfalls that are just a few steps from the road, this one requires some hiking (the whole journey is a half day hike). You will grab onto a cable as you walk over a small river, descend into a cave and come out the other side, climb a narrow trail gripping onto a rope before you see Glymur. It’s a lot of effort, but also a lot of fun.
Tips for Road Tripping in Iceland
Give yourself a minimum of 8 days to do the Ring Road: You don’t just want to drive the Ring Road – you want to do hikes and see sights and experience Iceland! So be reasonable with how much you can drive each day. We did the Ring Road in 8 days and that felt perfect.
Consider traveling to Iceland outside of the summer months: Iceland is most popular from June to August. But April, May and September are nice times to visit too. You won’t have as much sunshine hours each day, but there will be fewer people and more wildlife viewing opportunities.
Or consider traveling under the midnight sun: In the peak summer months Iceland receives just about 24 hours of sunlight. To avoid the crowds, you could shift your sleep schedule to hit up the popular destinations in the late evening or very early morning. This is what I plan to do the next time I visit!
Avoid eating at restaurants, but definitely try an Icelandic hot dog: A meal at a restaurant will chip away at your budget very, very quickly. Many campervan rentals allow you to add on a cooking stove and dishes. That said, there’s something so iconic (and deceptively delicious) about the hot dogs in Iceland. If you see a hot dog stand, be sure to stop!
Don’t speed – tickets are crazy expensive: My friend and I missed the sign saying the speed limit dropped and we got caught going 19 km/h over the limit. It was a $550 ticket! Apparently the max speeding ticket is over $3000. So be careful!
Camp at facilities and pay the fees: The campgrounds around Iceland really aren’t that expensive (some were just $20 per person per night). These give you access to a variety of facilities (washrooms, showers, laundry, kitchen) depending on the campground and price. It’s good to support the community and it’s better for the environment. As tempting as it may be to just pull off anywhere, please don’t!
Do your grocery shopping in Reykjavik: Purchase as much as you can in Reykjavik, as the groceries stores outside the capital can be significantly more expensive.
Have a great Iceland road trip
I hope this guide has been helpful and you’re excited to start planning your own trip to Iceland!
Don’t miss booking one of these tours before you go (some tours fill up fast!):
About the author: Mikaela is the voice behind Voyageur Tripper, a blog dedicated to outdoor adventure travel. Previously a wilderness guide in Canada, Mikaela can usually be found paddling, hiking or camping, and shares tips and resources on her blog and Instagram to help others get outside more.