7 Day Essential Iceland Ring Road Trip Itinerary

See for yourself why Iceland’s beautiful features have become an increasingly popular destination. Here’s how to see the highlights of this unique country in a weeklong road trip.
One of Iceland’s many stunning waterfalls. Photo: Koushik Chowdavarapu | Unsplash

Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice, and it’s no secret that this country has unique scenery you won’t see anywhere else. While its capital Reykjavik is certainly cool, Iceland’s biggest attractions are its natural features. We’ve created a 7-day Iceland itinerary to guide you to some of the best things to see in the country.

The Northern Lights. Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq | Unsplash

There are many beautiful areas to explore. Stunning waterfalls, giant glaciers, active geysers, and black sand beaches are just a few of the natural wonders Iceland offers visitors. 

The best way to see as many of Iceland’s attractions as possible is by car. You’ll be able to explore at your own pace and have the flexibility to change your plans as needed. During your trip, you’ll mostly follow Iceland’s Ring Road which traces the perimeter of the island. Even though most of the stops you make are in remote places, enough other tourists take the same route that you’ll be able to find the basic amenities you need.

You could easily spend much longer just exploring Ring Road, but here’s what to do if you only have a week to spend in Iceland.

Day 1: Reykjavik

Aerial view of Reykjavik. Photo: Annie Spratt | Unsplash

Fly in for your first day on your Iceland adventure. Most international flights land at Keflavik International Airport. Book a rental car in advance to pick up when you arrive at the airport. Keflavik International Airport is about 31 miles away from Reykjavik and driving to the city takes around 45 minutes.

Besides being Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik is home to around half of Iceland’s population. While Reykjavik may be a small city, it’s the largest city in Iceland, and it’s full of unique architecture, vibrant nightlife, and unique museums. You’ll definitely want to spend a full day in this city before venturing into the more remote parts of Iceland.

What to Do and See in Reykjavik:

Hallgrimskirja Church. Photo: Ferdinand Stöhr | Unsplash

One of the most famous landmarks in Reykjavik is Hallgrimskirja Church. It’s free to look around the church, and for a small fee, you can go up into the tower to get a beautiful view of the city (well worth it!).

Another must-do is to walk along Laugavegur, one of the city’s oldest roads, to find many of the city’s coolest shops, cafes, and restaurants. Make sure to stop by Hús Máls og Menningar, a music venue and bookstore, as well as Spúútnik, a second-hand store with cool clothes from the 80s and 90s.

If you get a chance, you should also walk around Lake Tjörnin where you’ll see ducks, swans, and geese swimming in the summer and get to admire the buildings along the shore. The Fríkirkjan Lutheran Church is one of the notable landmarks in the area.

Lake Tjörnin. Photo: Evelyn Paris | Unsplash

The National Museum of Iceland is another interesting attraction. It highlight’s the nation’s history from the days of the Vikings up to today. You’ll enjoy the rest of your time in Iceland more if you’re able to visit this museum at the beginning of your trip.

What to Eat:

Stop by Sandholt on Laugavegur for warm coffee and delicious rye bread. If you get there in the evening, you can swap out the coffee for Norweigan beer. For dinner, you can splurge on Icelandic delicacies at Old Iceland or grab a more budget meal at Icelandic Street Food which serves traditional Icelandic food in a more fast-casual setting.

While in Reykjavik, stop at a grocery store to get some food to take with you on your road trip. There will be other stores and restaurants along your route, but it’s a good idea to have a few things on hand in case you don’t make it to your intended destinations in time for a meal.

Where to Stay:

$$$$ – Sand Hotel by Keahotels

$$ – Hotel Orkin

Day 2 – Snaefellsness Peninsula

Ytri Tunga Beach. Photo: Ziqian Chai | Unsplash

Travel Time: 4-5 hours

Wake up early in the morning and begin your adventure by heading north of Reykjavik to Snaefellsness Peninsula. In English, this name roughly means Snow Mountain’s Peninsula, which makes sense given that one of the area’s major features is a volcano with a glacier at the top. You’ll immediately begin to see Iceland’s enchanting natural beauty as you start your drive.

What to Do and See:

As you drive from Reykjavik to Kirkjufellsfoss, there are several places with stunning scenery you should stop to explore.

Hraunfossar Waterfall. Photo: Adam Edgerton | Unsplash
  • Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls in Borgarfjörður – Make a stop to admire these beautiful waterfalls. Harunfossar is the more unique and attractive of the two, but both are worth seeing.
  • Ytri Tunga – This is one of the few beaches in Iceland with golden sand rather than black sand. However, the real attraction here is the seals. You’ll see them hanging out on rocks just off the shoreline year-round, but they’re more active during the summer months.
  • Arnastapi – This is a charming little coastal town that you’ll want to see. You can enjoy the views from Port Arnastapi, and the village is also a good place to stop for food. Fjöruhúsið is a small, cozy cafe with delicious stew, bread, and pastries. Fosshotel Hellnar Restaurant is another good option offering a fine dining menu.
  • Vatnshellir Cave – A lava tube was created here over 8000 years ago when molten rock began to cool from the outside in during an eruption. Visits are only possible through a guided tour, so book in advance if you’re interested in seeing this lava cave.
  • Kirkjufellsfoss – If possible try to time your drive so you get to see this mountain during the golden hour before the sunset. It’s one of the most beautiful sights of the entire trip

Where to Stay:

Spend the evening in Grundarfjörður, a tiny town not too far from Kirkjufellsfoss. 

$$ – Helgrindur Guesthouse

$$ – Kirkjufell Guesthouse and Apartments

Day 3: Travel to Akureyri

Akureyri. Photo: Simon Hurry | Unsplash

Travel Time: 4-5 hours

Once again you’ll be leaving early in the morning to make your drive. While there aren’t any particular stops that you must make, you can pull over at viewpoints that look interesting along the way. 

Akureyri in North Iceland is the 5th largest town in the country, and you’ll find more than enough to do there to fill an afternoon. There’s even a bit of nightlife in the town which won’t be the case at any of your other stops outside of Iceland’s capital city.

What to Do and See:

One of the most popular things for visitors to do in Akureyri is taking a whale-watching tour. While you can also go whale watching in Reykjavik, you’re more likely to have a sighting while in Akureyri.

Whale watching. Photo: Chris Yang | Unsplash

Depending on when you arrive in town, you might have a good bit of time to explore. The downtown is a pedestrian-friendly area that’s easy to get around. Hafnarstraeti is one of the most popular streets for visitors. It’s filled with lots of little shops, and you’ll be able to see examples of the area’s traditional architecture in the surrounding area.

The Akureyri Church is one of the most popular tourist attractions. You’ll notice it has a similar look to Hallgrimskirja Church in Reykjavik because architect Guðjón Samúelsson designed both buildings. However, each church also has its own distinct set of features.

Another interesting thing to do is see the Arctic Botanical Gardens. Given how close you are to the Arctic Circle, the gardens are quite different from what you’d normally find in a botanical garden. You’ll see all the plants that are native to Iceland along with other specimens capable of surviving in Iceland’s high latitude and high altitude. The gardens are also free to enter which is nice given the high cost of driving around Iceland.

What to Eat:

Akureyri may be small, but it has a good number of restaurant options. Try Rub 23 for seafood and dishes made with ingredients sourced from local fishermen and farmers. For a local favorite, head to Greifinn for pizzas, burgers, and pasta. If you want fine dining with a view, the rooftop restaurant Strikið is a good choice.

Where to Stay:

$$ – Centrum Hotel

$$$ – Hotel Kea in Akureyri

Day 4: Travel to Seydisfjordur

Stop to see Lake Viti on the way to Seydisfjordur. Photo: Pavol Svantner | Unsplash

Travel Time: 5-6 hours

By now, you probably already know to expect to get up early. Today is the busiest day of the entire itinerary, though, and you don’t want to miss anything. Even with an early start, you probably won’t have much time in Seydisfjordur due to all the stops on the way.

What to Do and See:

Here are the best things to do along your drive from Akureyri to Seydisfjordur.

  • Godafoss Waterfall – This huge waterfall is a must-see. There are two different vantage points where you can park. One allows you to get close to the falls while the other is farther away and allows you to take the best photos. It’s worth doing both.
  • Myvatn Thermal Spa – This man-made lagoon has hot geothermal spring water, and is a great place to relax for a few hours. It’s both cheaper and less crowded than the more well-known Blue Lagoon.
  • Lake Viti – Plan to spend some time walking around this volcanic crater lake and admiring the bright blue water.
  • Dettifoss and Selfoss Waterfalls – You can never see too many waterfalls, especially not when they are as impressive as these two. 
Seydisfjordur Church. Photo: Freysteinn G. Jonsson | Unsplash

If you have time once you arrive in Seydisfjordur, you can explore a little bit there. The town only has about 700 inhabitants, but it’s very popular with visitors. One of the biggest attractions is the blue Seydisfjordur Church on the rainbow road.

What to Eat:

Because the town is small, there isn’t an abundance of dining options in Seydisfjordur. Luckily, the places that are there are good. Hotel Aldan offers great Scandinavian cuisine, and Bistro Skaftfell is a fun, popular choice. For nice views and great sushi, try out Nord Austur.

Where to Stay:

$$ – Hotel Aldan – The Post Office

$$ – Við Lónið Guesthouse

$$$ – Hotel Aldan – The Old School

Day 5: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Photo: Russell Moore | Unsplash

Travel Time: 4-5 hours

Located in Vatnajökull National Park, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is the deepest lake in Iceland. You might recognize the area thanks to its frequent use as a film location. Die Another Day, A View to Kill, and Lara Croft all had scenes filmed here.

Vatnajökull National Park covers 14% of the entire island. The area used to be two separate national parks–Skaftafell in the southeast and Jökulsárgljúfur in the northwest. The two parks were combined into one giant park in 2008. The national park is full of stunning landscapes and natural wonders. You’ll be visiting a few of the more accessible highlights.

What to Do and See:

Diamond Beach. Photo: Dave Herring | Unsplash

On your way to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, take time to see the view of Vestrahorn, a scenic mountain with two distinct peaks that’s not far from the lagoon.

Once you arrive at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, the best way to see the glacier is by taking a boat tour. The two different tours offered are The Amphibians and the Zodiac. The Zodiac tour gets you closer to the glacier, but both are incredible. During the summer, a large number of boat tours take place each day, but it’s still better to book in advance just to make sure you get a seat.

After exploring the lagoon, make a stop at Diamond Beach. Small pieces of ice break off from the glacier and wash up on the beach. The area gets its name because the ice looks like diamonds scattered across the shore. It’s yet another natural wonder in Iceland that you won’t encounter in many other places.

Where to Eat:

The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Café is located right beside the lagoon. The food is nothing outstanding, but you can sit outside and watch the icebergs while you have your meal. 

Where to Stay:

$$ – Skyrhúsid Guest House

$$$ – Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

Day 6: Travel to Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Photo: Robert Lukeman | Unsplash

Travel Time: 3 hours

While there’s not too much driving time today, there’s plenty to see. Expect to make lots of stops as there are many attractions all next to each other.

What to Do and See:

Here are the best scenic stops to make as you travel to Seljalandsfoss.

  • Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach – Iceland has many pretty black sand beaches, but this is one of the most dramatic ones. Get here earlier before the rest of the tourists arrive for the best photos.
  • Dyrholaey Arch – Don’t miss the viewpoint for the archway and scenic coastal vista. You can also walk along the arch as long as it isn’t nesting season for the birds living in the area. If you visit during the summer, you’ll likely be able to catch sight of a few puffins.
  • Skogafoss Waterfall – Another one of Iceland’s impressive waterfalls. Skogafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in the country. On sunny days, you’ll see a rainbow in the spray from the falls.
  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – Arrive at this waterfall during golden hour to get the best pictures of the landscape. Seljalandsfoss is one of the most visited and photographed waterfalls in Iceland. During the summer, you can walk in the caverns behind the falls and fully encircle the waterfall.
Dyrholaey Arch. Photo: Tamara Bitter | Unsplash

What to Eat:

Eat at the Skogafoss Bistro Bar where you can see the waterfall while sitting at the restaurant. Another popular option nearby is Mia’s Country Van serving fish and chips. It’s the perfect meal after you’ve used up your energy seeing all the sights.

Where to Stay:

$$ – Hotel Selja

$$$ – Seljalandsfoss Horizons

Day 7 – Golden Circle

Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Photo: Benjamin Rascoe | Unsplash

Travel Time: 4-5 hours

The Golden Circle is home to some of the most well-known attractions in Iceland. No visit to Iceland would be complete without time spent exploring the area. Your journey will take you by waterfalls, moss fields, lakes, and geysers as you make your back to Reykjavik.

What to Do and See:

Strokkur Geyser. Photo: Freysteinn G. Jonsson | Unsplash

Here are the stops you cannot miss on the way back to Reykjavik. It’s a full day, but you should try to see as much as you can. 

  • Geysir Geothermal Area – This highly active hot spring area is home to some of the most famous geysers in the world. The Great Geysir is mostly dormant, but it used to have eruptions up to 550 feet high. The most active geyser there today is Strokkur which erupts once every few minutes.
  • Gulfoss Waterfall – One of the most visited waterfalls in the country, this waterfall has three tiers with a total drop of over 100 feet and empties into a canyon below. During the summer, you can walk right up to the edge of the falls.
  • Thingvellir National Park – The only UNESCO World Heritage Site on mainland Iceland, this park is significant for its geology as well as its history. The area was the location where Icelanders created the first version of a parliament government. On the geological side, the area is the only place where you can see the Mid-Atlantic Rift above sea level.
  • The Blue Lagoon – Iceland’s most famous lagoon is pricey, but it’s worth the experience. The pools are large and beautiful. The experience is more pampered than at other lagoons. You’ll get a face mask as well as a free drink included with your entrance fee.

The Blue Lagoon is not far from the airport, so it’s a good stop to make before you need to get to your flight. If you’re not flying out until the next day, consider booking a spot then instead of in the evening the day before.

Iceland Travel Tips

Taking a road trip is one of the best ways to see Iceland. Photo: Rory Hennessey | Unsplash

Here are a few important pieces of information that will help you plan the perfect road trip through Iceland.

Getting around Iceland

The best way to see Iceland is by car. If you want to see the more remote parts of the country, you won’t be able to do it relying on public transportation. Driving in Iceland isn’t difficult though as long as you pay attention to the road. Download an offline map or buy a physical one so you have a backup when wifi isn’t available. Reserve a rental car that you know how to drive. Manual is more common than automatic, so make sure you get a rental car that works for you. 

Also, be sure to fill up on gas frequently. Sometimes there are long stretches without gas stations. The same goes for food. It doesn’t hurt to buy a snack or two to keep for later as you travel.

When to Visit Iceland

View of the Northern Lights. Photo: Jonatan Pie | Unsplash

Iceland is beautiful throughout the year. It’s magical in the snowy winter with the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights, but the days are long and sunny during the summer. However, since you’ll be driving, you’ll want to avoid taking your trip in the winter when the roads can get dangerous. 

The crowds are largest during the summer months. There are somewhat fewer visitors during the spring and fall, so that’s a good time to plan your visit if you’re able. If you visit during the fall, there’s a chance you may see the Northern Lights.

For more information on when to visit see The Best Time to Visit Iceland.

What to Pack

Walk around to see the puffins at Dyrholaey Arch. Photo: Yvon Hoogers | Unsplash

Regardless of whether you visit in the winter or the summer, you’ll want to pack warm clothes. Items like jackets, sweaters, wool socks, thermal pants, and gloves will keep you warm when the weather changes suddenly. Bring items you can layer. 

Make sure you bring sturdy shoes as you’ll spend time walking and hiking at some locations. If you have room in your bag, consider bringing two sets of boots. If you only bring one pair, be sure they’re waterproof boots.

You’ll also likely want a poncho, rain jacket, and umbrella. There’s a chance you might get lucky and not need them, but you’ll be miserable if you get caught in the rain without these items.

If you’re planning to visit the lagoons in Iceland, you’ll need to pack at least one set of swimwear. Bring a good conditioner for your hair because the water in the lagoons can make your hair unmanageable for a few days.

Final Thoughts

A week is just long enough to get a sense of Iceland’s majestic, wild beauty. Along the way, you’ll also enjoy the friendliness and hospitality of Icelanders whenever you encounter them. After visiting Iceland, you’ll understand why this country captivates its visitors.

For more information as you plan your trip to Iceland, see all of our Iceland guides including 5 Hidden Places to Visit in Iceland.

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