The land of ice and fire, it’s how Iceland dramatically is called. But it’s true! In one day you can visit volcanic islands, geysers and hot springs, after which you take a hike over a glacier and admire the glacier lagoons. Iceland is a land of extremes and all of them are at manageable distances from each other. With these tips you put together your ideal self-drive Iceland itinerary to see all of it!
How much travel time do you need?
You can spend as much time in Iceland as you have. Do you only have a weekend or a stop over? Then Reykjavik is worth a great city trip! With a little more time you can go on day trips from Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon or the geyser and waterfalls in the Golden Circle.
But if you want to explore the island well, you’ll need more time. There are two great options to get around the island, so I will give you two travel routes in this blog below: explore the beautiful south or drive along the Ring Road around the island. It may sound as if you’d need weeks for this Ring Road itinerary, but the distances in Iceland are quite manageable. For example, you can drive the entire Rind Road in around 16 hours. So we would recommend to make sure you have at least 10 days for this. This way you can visit the best stops along the route for a day or two. If you have more than 10 days, we’d recommend the same route. Just use this opportunity to make more stops along the way and spend more time at all the destinations.
You can visit the south already in a week. To give you some perspective: there are day tours organised from Reykjavik in the west to Lake Jökulsárlón in the east. We would not recommend that, as you will have to spend a lot of time on the road in one day and you’ll skip all the beautiful waterfalls and other highlights along the road. But it does show how manageable the distances are and that you can easily make a road trip through the south in one week.
How to get around Iceland: a self-drive road trip
Rent a car! Iceland has no trains and buses run only during the high season between May and October to the main destinations. The best way to visit Iceland’s beautiful nature is during a road trip. The only other good option in our opinion is with a tour agency or through day trips from Reykjavik, but that way you will not get to experience the rugged landscape as you will driving around it with your own car.
Or car .. how about a camper van? During my trip to Iceland I rented a car the first week and later switched it for a camper van. It was amazing!
The best travel time to visit Iceland
Iceland can be visited all year round, depending on what you are looking for on your trip. Are you coming for a camping trip or the northern lights? For green hills and long days or for magical winter nights and snowy mountains? And is the temperature or avoiding crowds most important to you? Every season is magical, so there is actually no best time to visit the country.
The high season in Iceland is from June to August. The temperatures are pleasant, all roads are passable and the days are long. If you want to camp in Iceland, this is the best time to go. Many campsites are not even opened outside the high season and it is already quite cold at night in your tent or camper van in summer.
But of course it is also much busier in the high season. You’ll have to reserve your accommodation and rental car far in advance and the landscape may feel a little less desolate with all those other tourists. That is why I traveled to Iceland in spring and it seemed perfect to me. I can absolutely recommend travelling to Iceland in spring or autumn. The roads are usually all open – during my visit there was unfortunately still a heavy snowstorm in the north, so I had to skip that part of the country – and the temperature has already risen somewhat.
Yet perhaps winter is just what you are looking for. Because is the northern lights on your don’t miss list? Then of course you have to travel to Iceland in the winter months. The days are unfortunately very short, it is cold and a lot of snow can fall. But there are so many upsides! Iceland has many great winter activities, such as skiing, sleigh rides and visits to ice caves.
Two amazing travel itineraries for Iceland
Depending on the time you have for your trip, there are two beautiful itineraries to explore Iceland. Are you travelling here for a longer period of two weeks or even more? Then make the full loop around the island and complete the Ring Road. Do you have less time, but are you long enough in Iceland to see more than just Reykjavik and around? Then take a road trip along the south of the island, where most of the highlights can be seen.
Two weeks or more: complete the Iceland Ring Road
Start your trip in Reykjavik and head north from there. Your first destination is the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Take a mini road trip on this magical peninsula with its lava fields, mountain tops and fjords. You can spend the night in the cute town of Stykkishólmur. Depending on how much time you have, you can then visit the West Fjords for the most beautiful fjords and cliffs. A bonus: the fastest way to the West Fjords from the peninsula is by ferry from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslaekur!
Then drive along the Ring Road in the north. There are countless beautiful stops here, but at least hit Húsavík – whale watching trips! – and Mývatn – natural hot springs! Then head south, where you can visit the highlights of the south starting with the magical blue ice lake Jókulsárlón.
One to two weeks: a road trip along the south
Your road trip along the south leads you past the most beautiful waterfalls and coastal places of the island! As you will drive back along the same route, it is up to you to choose which places to visit on the way up and which ones on the way back. On our map above we have highlighted the best destinations in the south. Choose from the our below list or just visit them all and spend at least one day at each.
#1 Reykjavik. The capital of Iceland has the most beautiful church in the country, also one of the highest structures on the island. The colourful houses give the streets a picturesque atmosphere. Reykjavik has the best hotspots for eating, drinking and shopping. Read this blog for the best spots and hotels!
#3 The Golden Circle. A famous destination for tourists and a popular day trip from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle. During this one-day tour you will visit the geysers at Geysir and one of the largest waterfalls in the country at Gullfoss. Tip to avoid the crowds: spend more than just on day here and pick a place to sleep halfway. I camped near Geysir, so that we were at Geysir late in the afternoon and at Gullfoss early in the morning. There were hardly any other people!
#4 A tour along the waterfalls. You will find the most beautiful waterfalls in the south close together: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafos, Kvernufoss and Gljúfrabúi. At both Seljalandsfoss and Kvernufoss you can walk past the waterfall, a unique sight! You can also make some beautiful hikes here.
#5 The glaciers. Go on a hike on the glacier at Skaftafell, a unique experience! To complete the glacier experience, combine this glacier tour with a visit to the Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón glacial lakes.
#6 Fjaðrárgljúfur. The gorge of Fjaðrárgljúfur is breathtakingly beautiful. Along the gorge are a number of viewpoints for the best view of this canyon. Tip: sleep close to the Fjaðrárgljúfur in one of the cottages ofHunkubakkar Guesthouse!
#7 The Black Sand Beaches and Hálsanefshellir. The basal formations and caves at Hálsanefshellir are particularly impressive. Visit them during ebb, so you can see most of it. Combine a visit with the nearby Black Sand Beaches at Vik. Can you imagine that? Huge beaches with black instead of white sand! Here you can also find an old plane wreck. You can make a great hike to it. I skipped this wreck on my trip, but it is very high on my wish list for a next trip.
#8 Vestmannaeyjar. Take the ferry to the Westman Islands, a group of 15 islands of which Heimaey is the largest. At Heimaey, climb the volcano for a spectacular view and visit the largest colony of puffins in Europe between April and August.
#9 The hot springs. An Iceland trip is not complete without a visit to a hot spring. Whether you opt for the famous Blue Lagoon, close to Reykjavik and the airport, or one of the less visited hot springs in nature, make sure you take a dip in Iceland’s famous ‘hot pots’. Less well-known and more natural options than the Blue Lagoon are, for example, Hveragerði, Landmannalaugar and Mývatn.