Ring Road Drive in Iceland

  • Ring Road in Iceland
Jan 28 2016

How many kilometers is the ring road in Iceland and how long does it take to drive?

If you are planning to take a vacation or a tour in Iceland, you might be thinking about how to plan your trip. One of the best options is a self-drive road trip or to drive the Ring Road in a car for hire. The whole drive with all the loops and secondary roads included is around 1.550 kilometers. In this article, we recommend five days to drive the whole tour.  It is a reasonable time to get the most out of your vacation and see as many interesting natural wonders as possible.  On our website, we also offer excellent accommodation in all regions and on every part of your trip.  Also, make sure to read our article about driving the ring road in Iceland in winter if you plan to travel during winter.  Notably, although most of the so-called Ring Road in Iceland is on the official road defined as nr. 1, the term Ring Road doesn't necessarily always refer to that particular road, as the Ring Road concept is a travel or tour concept. 

On the ring road you will drive by Vatnajökull icecap for hours

While driving the Ring Road in Iceland, you will drive by Vatnajökull icecap - Glacier - for hours

Most of the visitors who come here are looking to see the many natural wonders and magnificent landscape: waterfalls, hot springs, lava, black sands, icebergs, glaciers, mountains, fjords, towns and villages, and much more. For those who don't know the island of Iceland, it can be quite time-consuming and tedious to go through all the options regarding where to go and how to organise your tour to get the most out of your trip. One of the best options is to rent a car and drive the Ring Road, the main road around Iceland. This way you have the necessary flexibility and control over your time which is necessary if you are in serious about your photography.  Here you can also read an article about driving the sometimes difficult roads in Iceland. You will be amazed by how much you can see. This travel plan will give you the most flexibility and enjoyment.

Starting your raod trip in Reykjavík and drive the Ring Road east by the south shore 

Reykjavík City Center District

Reykjavík City Center district

Our recommendation is to start your road trip on the Ring Road on the south coast from Reykjavík, towards the fjords in the east, and spend two days enjoying the magnificent landscape, waterfalls, and icebergs. After spending a day in the towns and villages in the Eastern Region, you can drive through the beautiful Northern Region to the historically rich West Region, and then back to Reykjavík. It is a simple drive on a road that is 95% asphalt, except for a small portion in the Eastern Region, so you will also experience the famous gravel road in Iceland. It is also a drive that will give you all the things in Iceland that people find interesting. The Ring Road has multiple options for accommodations, from luxurious hotels and quality guest houses to excellent campsites, if you prefer to take a tent or a camper.

If you start in Reykjavik the capital of Iceland you might be looking for a places to stay. Here you can book from a selection of accommodationin Reykjavík and Reykjavík districts.

What will you see on a self-drive tour on the Ring Road in Iceland?

  1. The first day: waterfalls, black sands and ocean rocks
  2. The second day: icebergs, glaciers and mountains
  3. The third day: scenic fjords and interesting villages
  4. The fourth day: mighty waterfall, hot springs and lava
  5. The fifth day: Akureyri town in the north, mountain climbing & the sagas

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland.

If you are concerned about safety, the Rig Road has full cellular phone GSM coverage, and Iceland has one of the lowest crime rate of any country on the planet. It is a drive that offers much of the best in Icelandic landscapes, natural wonders, and spectacular photo opportunities, and it will provide wonderful memories. To get the most out of your trip, we suggest driving for five days and four nights. We also recommend the best time for this trip to Iceland from middle of May to the end of September. For a better understanding of other seasons or time to visit Iceland read our article about the best time to visit Iceland.

On the first day on the Ring Road in Iceland, you will see waterfalls, black sands, and spectacular ocean rocks.

The South Region of Iceland has more interesting places to see than any other part of Iceland. The drive on your first day from Reykjavík to Kirkjubæjarklaustur is about 260 kilometers. If you include the secondary roads leading to some of the natural wonders you plan to see; you can expect to drive around 310 to 320 kilometers.  This is approximately a four-hour drive, so you have a lot of time to enjoy the view and the natural wonders. The whole region is practically loaded with natural wonders. Fortunately, some of the most interesting and most visited places are right on the Ring Road. The first stop is Seljalandsfoss, the beautiful waterfall behind which you can walk. It is about one-and-a-half hour drive from Reykjavik, so it is a good first stop. The waterfall is also interesting because it is next to the volcano Eyjafjallajokull. Before you start enjoying natural wonders, it is an option and a good idea to stop at the Lava Center in Hvolsvöllur village.  It is a new interactive museum that explains volcanic activity, earthquakes, and eruptions quite interestingly and gives you a good understanding of relevant underlying geological factors in Icelandic landscape.  Only an hour's drive to the East is another famous waterfall, Skógarfoss, also on the Ring Road. Both waterfalls are places that people love to photograph.  About an hour's drive from Skógarfoss, you can take a right turn to Dyrhólaey, an arch rock stretching into the ocean.  Here, you meet the southernmost part of Iceland, a basalt rock that has defended the coastline for thousands of years, placed in the middle of two large, black sand beaches. Just a bit farther east are the stunning Reynisdrangar sea stacks.

Dyrhólaey in Iceland Ring Road

Dyrhólaey is the southernmost part of Iceland.

While driving, if the day is bright, you will experience a breathtaking view of the glaciers Eyjafjallajokull and Mýrdalsjokull from Seljalandsfoss to Vík, the small village that should be your next stop.  Here in Vík, you can see Reynisdragngar from another angle. From Vík, the drive continues east and through the huge Mýrdalssandur, mostly a creation of the enormously powerful volcano Katla. The volcano, located in the middle of the glacier Mýrdalsjokull, is constantly under supervision as it is expected to erupt anytime soon.  When you reach the end of the sand, you will encounter the first lava from the 1783 eruption at Lakagigar, the largest eruption ever recorded in historical times on Earth.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon by the Ring Road

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon by the Ring Road

Just before you reach Kirkjubæjarklaustur, you should take a right turn and drive the three kilometers to Fjaðrárgljúfur. It is the most beautiful canyon in Iceland and has a peaceful little creek in the middle. It is a great spot to end your first day on the Ring Road and drive to your accommodation. There are many options for accommodations in the Kirkjubæjarklaustur area, including hotels, guesthouses and, of course, campsites.

If you are visiting the Southern Region in Iceland you might be looking for a places to stay. Here you can book from a selection of accommodationin the Kirkjubæjarklaustur region.

The second day on the Ring Road, you will drive towards the east and see a stunning waterfall, icebergs, glaciers, and mountains.

Your second day drive is only about 210 kilometers. Since the natural wonders are mostly by the Ring Road, you are probably not going to drive much more than this. When starting the drive from the Kirkjubæjarklaustur area, the first noticeable thing you will see is the waterfall Foss á Síðu, located about 10 kilometers east of Klaustur. This is one of those wonderful waterfalls that grabs the eye and takes on many forms depending on the amount of water falling from the small lake Þórutjörn on top of the cliffs. The drive between Klaustur and your next stop, Skaftafell, is about an hour and a half long. Although you will be driving through some spectacular landscapes, there are only two highly interesting photo spots: the waterfall Foss and Lomagnúpur, an exceptionally beautiful mountain that is 688 meters high, with palisades that are almost on the Ring Road. 

Skaftafell national park

Skaftafell national park

When you arrive in Skaftafell, we recommend that you take the 5.5 km, two-hour hike to Svartifoss. It might take about two hours to reach it, but it is the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland. If you want to make more of your hiking, take a turn to Sjónarnípa on your way back from the waterfall to view the spectacular glacier Skaftafellsjökull. This will only add half an hour to your hiking. Only about five kilometers east of Skaftafell is the magnificent glacier tongue Svínafellsjökull, best known for its role as a shooting location for the northern part, the wall, in Game of Thrones.  A place worth visiting a doesn't take more than an hour. From Skaftafell and Svinafellsjökull you head on to the most exciting part of your drive, Jökulsárlón. This is where the big forces of nature dominate. Huge icebergs that have fallen from the largest glacier in Europe, fighting their way to the ocean, pushed by the water, come from under the glacier. Here, you should take the 40-minute boat trip and experience the iceberg landscape on the lagoon and its magical feeling. For photographers, the possibilities and motives are infinite. From Jökulsárlón, the drive to Höfn takes about two hours through a spectacular landscape.

Jökulsárlón in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is impressive and on the Ring Road in Iceland

There are many accommodation options in Höfn and the rural area around it: good-quality hotels and guest houses as well as great camping sites. Höfn is a great place to stop overnight, with good-quality restaurants and cafés. It is truly a town worth visiting.

If you are visiting the South East Region near Höfn in Iceland you might be looking for a places to stay. Here you can book from a selection of accommodationin the Höfn region.

On the third day Ring Road trip, you will see scenic fjords and four delightful villages.

When you leave Höfn and drive towards the east, you will begin a day filled with spectacular mountain and fjords scenery. Ahead lies a drive of less than 200 kilometers but your pace is probably slow since you are driving through a spectacular landscape of fjords and high mountains. You will also visit four beautiful small fishing communities with fascinating histories; each has its own characteristics. If you take a look at the western view before you turn east to enter the Ring Road from Höfn, you will see one of the most spectacular views in Iceland, looking towards Hvannadalshnúkur, the highest mountain in Iceland, and some of the many spectacular small glaciers that stretch out from Vatnajokull. On a clear day, it is a breathtaking view. As you head on towards the east, the drive takes you through Lónsvík to the mountain Eystrahorn. Eystrahorn is a mountain that stands out on the eastern side of Lón and is a fascinating place to make a stop, both on the west side to see the beach and the large lagoon, and the east side to see the cliffs by the shore. While in Lónsvík, the entrance to Lónsöræfi will be on your left. This is the most spectacular place in the Icelandic Highland and also the most difficult to travel.  It is a hikers' and photographers' paradise.

Djúpivogur in the Eastern Region in Iceland has an interesting history

Djúpivogur in Iceland is an interesting village to visit in the Eastern Region

As you go past Eystrahorn and towards Álftarfjörður (Swanfjord, which is almost always packed with the Icalandic swan, the whooper swan), you drive all the way to the small village of Djúpivogur. This is one of four small villages and towns we recommend for this part of your Ring Road trip to Iceland. Djúpivogur is interesting because of its historical depth as a trading post and a fishing community.  The drive from Djúpivogur to Stöðvarfjörður is a typical Icelandic "in and out" of fjords drive. A short distance from Djúpivogur you will find two magnificent waterfalls in the fjord Breiðadalsvík, Flögufoss and Beljandi.  If you are interested in waterfalls you might want to take the time and make a stop at these waterfalls. The tiny village of Stöðvarfjörður is an interesting place with an impressive stone museum. From Stöðvarfjörður to Fáskrúðsfjörður is approximately 30 kilometers, and here you see islands and mountains. The village of Fáskrúðsfjörður is among the most interesting in Iceland. It is a town that has survived many changes, and it is also a town with a strong economic foundation. One of its most interesting chapters is the French connection.  After you stop at Fáskrúðsfjörður, you drive to another interesting and very affluent small village, Reyðarfjörður.  It is a small town with a humongous Aluminium smelter. 

Klifbrekkufossar only accessable during summer

If you have the time, you should visit Klifbrekkufossar.

From Reyðarfjörður, we recommend driving to Egilsstaðir for accommodations or finding accommodations in the villages near Reyðarfjörður. If you have the time, you should take a turn east on the road Nr. 953 Mjóafjarðarvegur when on the Road Nr. 92 Norðfjarðarvegur between Reyðarfjörður and Egilsstaðir. This is only possible during summer as the road is closed during winter.  The road will take you to Mjóifjörður over a mountain pass.  Once over the mountain pass and in the bottom of the fjord, you will find one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, Klifbrekkufossa

When you are visiting the Eastern Region in Iceland you might be looking for a places to stay. Here you can book from a selection of accommodationin the Egilsstaðir region.

The fourth Ring Road day in Iceland, the largest waterfall and geology

The drive from Egilsstaðir to Akureyri is approximately 270 kilometers, but it is probably the most interesting drive on Ring Road.  The first part is a drive from the lowland into the mountains on the edge of the Icelandic highland. If you have an early start at Egilsstaðir and you are traveling from late May to the middle of August, you might want to take the time to visit Stuðlagil and Stuðlafoss.  This will take a few hours but is absolutely worth it. 

Stuðlagil canyon in the eastern region in Iceland

Stuðlagil is a beautiful exotic place, a canyon with a interesting story

While driving, you have a good view to the South toward Herðubreið, the queen of the Icelandic mountains. It is also the area where Iceland had a huge eruption from August 2014 to February 2015. After you drive over the bridge on the river Jökulsá á fjöllum (the Glacier River in the Mountains), you will look for the sign for Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. When you see the sign, the drive from the Ring Road to Dettifoss will be approximately 22 kilometers north, and it is totally worth it. 

Námaskarð is a perfect place to see hot-springs  and geothermal activity

Námaskarð is a perfect place to see hot-springs  and geothermal activity 

From Dettifoss, you continue on your drive to Námaskarð, one of the most interesting and beautiful hot springs and geothermal sites in Iceland. From Námaskarð, it is a short distance to Lake Mývatn, a spectacular place. Apart from the lake and its surroundings, you should visit the lava formation at Dimmuborgir and enjoy the Myvatn Nature Baths, which are similar to the Blue Lagoon but with a spectacular view. On your drive to Akureyri, you should stop at the waterfall Goðafoss, right by the Ring Road.

Dettifoss waterfall is one of the largest in Europe

Dettifoss is one of the most interesting tourist attractions in Iceland

Finding accommodations around Akureyrir is usually easy, as there are many hotels, guest houses, and camping sites in the area. Since Akureyri is the most interesting town in Iceland (in our opinion), an evening and a dinner at one of many excellent restaurants in town will not disappoint.

Here you can book from a selection of accommodationin the Akureyri region. The town center is a joy to visit, and a walk up the stairs to the church that towers over the center is a must.

On the fifth day on the Ring Road, you will see the number one town, "mountain climbing," and the sagas.

Before leaving Akureyri to finish you Ring Road tour from Akureyri all the way to Reykjavík, we recommend staying until noon in Akureyri. The drive from Akureyri to Reykjavík is 390 kilometers. You should take the time to visit the Akureyri Botanical Garden and take a walk in the area around the town centre. Akureyri is a wonderful town; it has an interesting history and is often called the "Danish town in Iceland." No other town in Iceland has as many old and interesting houses around its centre area.

Akureyrir is a town of rich culture and history

Akureyrir is a town of rich culture and history

When you drive through the town of Blönduós in the North West part you should take the time to visit Hvítserkur.  You take the Road Nr. 711 Vatnsnesvegur to the north from Road Nr. 1.  Hvítserkur is a magnificent sea stack and a lot of fun to visit.  As you continue on the Ring Road, we recommend you stop by Hreðarvatn and “climb a mountain” Grábrók. Actually, it is a very small mountain, or a crater, with a very convenient track to the top. At the top is an excellent view of the nearby mountains, lava, and the renowned salmon river Norðurá. After the short hike, the Settlement Centre in Borgarnes is a good place to learn about the Icelandic settlement and the Sagas.

Hvítserkur sea stack near Vatnsnes Peninsula

Hvítserkur sea stack in Vatnsnes Peninsula

This five-day journey should give you a good idea of what Iceland is all about and take you to some of the most interesting places in the country.  The best way to travel is to rent a car and find accommodations at a hotel, a guesthouse, or one of the many fabulous camping sites located almost everywhere in Iceland. This will give you flexibility and enjoyment and ensure that you get the most out of your trip to Iceland. Again, we recommend the best time for this trip to Iceland from middle of May to the end of September.


Read this important article before you choose a car.