Iceland is a travel hot spot for good reason – it’s magnificent and there are so many mind-blowing things to see and do. From the modern town of Reykjavik to the famous black sand beaches near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland is an island of wonders. We put together a 7 day Iceland Itinerary around the Ring Road and had a trip of a lifetime. This is set up as a road trip and some of the stops require a 4WD.
Weather and Best Time to Go to Iceland
Iceland travel offers different experiences year round. While summer is the most popular time to go, don’t write off spring and fall, especially if you want to see the Northern lights. The shortest day of the year, December 21 has 4 hours of daylight and the longest, June 20 has 21 hours but the 3 hours of supposed darkness is more like daylight on a cloudy day.
- Daylight Hours – Summer is a perfect time to visit for midnight sun. You will be able to do so many things per day with the extra daylight hours. We often didn’t check into a hotel until 10 or 11pm. Personally I loved all the daylight hours but we often forgot to eat before restaurants closed and ended up eating at the gas station/mini mart more times than I care to admit. We also had to wait up until midnight for a sunset photo.
- Weather is a mild and pleasant 50-65°F. Although the weather is warm for Iceland, you will still need a warm clothes. See the packing list below.
- Prices – The prices are higher in summer and you’ll have a harder time booking hotels due to the high amount of summer visitors. bigger crowds.
- Icelandic Highlands – You will have access to multiple areas including Landmannalaugar. Enjoy incredible hikes and a true experience in Iceland’s wilderness. The driving routes are usually open from late June to mid September.
Fall and Spring
- Northern Lights – Iceland is one of the best places on the planet to see the Northern Lights. October through March are the best times to see them. If you are going for Northern lights, check the predictions before you book your flights. Also, plan to stay at least 4 nights to improve your chances of seeing them.
- Ice Cave Tour – The crazy cool experience of going into ice caves happens when it’s safe (basically not summer).
- Sunrises and sunsets – you will get to enjoy more dramatic sunrises and sunsets and they will happen at times that are easy to manage with your sleep schedule.
- Prices – This is the time to get a better deal. It’s also a much nicer time to see things without tour busses.
- Weather – As you can imagine, the weather will be cold but most of the places you will visit are near the sea and that helps to regulate the temperature. You can expect the coldest Iceland winter temps to average 35°F. Fall and spring 40-50°F with fall being the wettest.
7 Day Iceland Itinerary Around the Ring Road
7 Day Iceland Itinerary Starting Point: Reykjavik
Reykjavik, is a perfect starting point for your first or last night. Walk around and acquaint yourself with this charming, walkable town filled with bright rooftops and Scandinavian design. There are terrific restaurants. You’ll also find cute shops, a nice museum and Hallgrimskirkja church like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Reykjavik is known for it’s nightlife and trendy bar scene. If you love a good party, pack accordingly. During the summer months, there are festivals and other fun events like the Secret Solstice, also known as The Midnight Sun Festival June 26-28, 2020.
I didn’t count this as a day on our Iceland Ring Road itinerary because we just used it as time to arrive and get oriented for our trip. Our flight to Keflavík International Airport landed at 2pm. We rented a car and went to the grocery store by the airport. Then drove to our hotel for the night Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina. The hotel was so artsy and fun with the most comfortable room and was walking distance to everything. We highly recommend it.
Hallgrimskirkja & Downtown Reykjavik
Hallgrimskirkja church has an incredible view of the city. You can go inside and take an elevator to the top for the incredible view of Reykjavik. The ticket price is $7 for adults and less than $1 for kids 7-16. Afterwards, take a walk around town and check out a few shops. Head to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur famous hot dog stand. We had a delicious dinner at Caruso, a cozy Italian restaurant in a historic building.
Harpa Concert Hall
Harpa Concert Hall hosts the Icelandic Symphony and Opera in addition to other events. Definitely check the event schedule while you are in Reykjavik to see if there is something you would enjoy. Regardless, it’s worth a visit to see the interesting architecture and you can take a guided tour of the building.
Iceland Itinerary Day 1: The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a fantastic place to see on a tour of the Iceland Ring Road but it is also a good day trip out of Reykjavik if you have an extra day and need something to do. We took a private photo tour of the area with Bragi from Arctic Shots. They have Northern Lights Tours too. If was nice to have someone that knew all the secret spots and he helped us take our photography to the next level! The best parts about this area aside from it’s beauty, is the close proximity to Reykjavik (about an hour) and the lack of tourists.
Our day started out with seeing the best cows ever. Iceland provides a sensational opportunity to interact with animals. You will literally see animals like cows, sheep and Icelandic horses everywhere. If you decide to pull over to interact with them, make sure you are legally pulling over onto the side of the road. We saw people stopping in the middle of the highway, which apparently happens often and will get you a ticket. Not to mention that it’s dangerous.
The other interesting thing we saw were a lot of farms with bales of hay rolled up in plastic covers. At first we saw huge white rolls and then we saw pink ones that raise awareness for breast cancer.
Búðakirkja – the Famous Black Church
This is a pretty stop for photos but it’s not the most interesting thing you will see in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Don’t stop for too long because there is so much to see on this day.
The expansive coastline is incredibly beautiful with black and white sand beaches. Londrangar, shown above, is an area with basalt cliffs and pillars. When you get off the road, there is a parking area and then a walking path to the viewpoint. You can leisurely explore the area on foot. Those taking photos might catch some cool wildlife with a big telephoto lens.
This black pebble beach is such a nice place to stop. From the parking area, you take a short walk through a lava field where you’ll find a small lake. The beach is full of these black pebbles and remnants of a ship wreck that have surprisingly lasted on this beach since 1947. You will also see the Lifting Stones, 4 large rocks that fishermen would use to test their strength. If you want to test your own strength they weigh 154kg, 100kg, 54kg and 23kg. One word of caution, this is not a good place to swim in the ocean. Fatal accidents have occurred and you will see warning signs posted.
Puffins & Svortuloft Lighthouse
It’s very exciting when you get a chance to see puffins. There’s something about them that is so cool. Puffins are typically found in the Westfjords but we were lucky to find some right by Svortuloft lighthouse. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is part of West Iceland so I’m sure it’s not unheard of to find them where we did. Keep an eye out and you might get lucky too.
I love the bright colors in Iceland like the Svortuloft lighthouse. The cheery colors probably help in the dead of winter. There is another smaller orange lighthouse nearby. We got super lucky to see puffins here.
Kirkjufell mountain is definitely one of the most photographed spots in Iceland and exciting to see in person. We arrived around 7pm and were happy to find it completely empty. You can hop out and just quickly see the area or take some time and explore. To get the photo that everyone loves, you need to walk from the car park up towards the waterfalls. There is a bridge to cross over and walk down.
We left our guide Bragi around 9pm. It was a LONG sightseeing day. We got food at the gas station in Borgarnes. It’s not ideal to eat at the gas station, I know, but the Snaefellsnes peninsula is a long day trip. You could easily plan a 2 day itinerary for this area if you really want to explore.
Our day ended with us trying to find our bed and breakfast under the spectacularly beautiful setting sun at midnight. Many people love Guesthouse Hvítá but we didn’t realize we were getting a shared bathroom (whoops). By the time we booked, everything was sold out so we were happy to find accommodations. If you are looking for an inexpensive place to stay with the nicest hosts, it’s lovely to get some time out in the country where they are located.
Accommodations in West Iceland
- Fosshótel Reykholt – Great location for a Ring Road trip because it’s close to the highway
- Icelandair Hotel Hamar – We loved every Icelandair hotel we stayed in. They always have pretty decor and are very comfortable. This hotel has a golf course, pool, sauna and jacuzzi.
Iceland Itinerary Day 2: Akureyri, Northern Iceland
Day 3 was the beginning of our first big drive on the Iceland Ring Road. The road conditions are amazing and it feels like an open invitation to experience this wondrous country. Driving from the Snaefellsnes peninsula to Akureyri. While there are not towns to visit along the way, you will often want to take pictures during this 3.5 hour drive. Other than the somewhat long drive, we didn’t make any big stops so we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy Akureyri.
The delightful town of Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland and a great place to stay for the night. There are plenty of things to do in Northern Iceland but if you are just in Akureyri as a stopping point on the ring road, my advice is to walk around and enjoy.
Start your day with a yummy breakfast at Kaffi Ilmur, a little yellow house perched on a hill. From there you can make your way up to Akureyrarkirkja church stopping at the cute shops along the way. Continue on your walk to the Akureyri Botanical Garden. There have the prettiest flowers. Head back towards town and stop for lunch at Akureyri Fish & Chips.
For the afternoon, take advantage of Akureyri’s position on the Eyjafjörður Fjord, and take a 3 hour whale watching tour. If you are a nut like me and want to actually venture into the Arctic Circle, you can catch a flight from Akureyri airport to Grimsey Island, where you can go for a day tour to see oodles of puffins. You can also get to Grimsey Island by 3 hour ferry from the town of Dalvik, which is a 40 minute car ride.
Where to Stay in Akureyri
- Torg GuestHouse – we stayed in the 2 bedroom loft apartment in the center of town. It’s cozy with a full kitchen.
- Acco Luxury Apartments – Really stylish. contemporary apartments. Great location.
- Icelandair Hotel Akureyri – One of the nicest hotels in the area and centrally located.
Iceland Itinerary Day 3: Waterfalls of Northern Iceland
We decided to spend day 3 seeing all the amazing natural sights of Northern Iceland and working our way to Egilsstaðir, East Iceland for night 3. The drive from Akureyri to Egilsstaðir is 3.5 hours. We took detours off the road to see Aldeyjarfoss, Detifoss and Selfoss. The detours added 3 hours to the drive time not including time to get out and explore.
Goðafoss waterfall is breathtaking and huge. All my photos only show a small part of the waterfall but I found this beautiful shot of Godafoss with snow. This was also the most crowded spot we visited in Northern Iceland probably because it’s right off the Ring Road. It’s definitely worth the trip but the next waterfall was so much more exciting.
My favorite waterfall of the trip is accessed by 4 wheel drive, off the main road by 40 minutes. Most people don’t know about Aldeyjarfoss because it’s in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, the most spectacular things we saw in Iceland were on 4WD roads. You will be missing out if you don’t get a 4WD contrary to a lot of advice I’ve seen on the internet. In the summer, some people use a 2WD to get there but your rental car insurance may not cover the mountain road.
Aldeyjarfoss will add 1.5 hours onto your drive time for the day but it is soooo worth it. You will drive and down a long road and then all of a sudden you will be blown away! Skjálfandafljót river drops down through basalt columns and fans out into the basin below. We were there with 4 other people and it was MAGNIFICENT! To get there you take the ring road to route 842 and then turn on to F26.
We were greeted by these cute friends on the drive around Lake Mytvan. Icelandic sheep are pretty funny. They have a huge desire to cross the road. No matter where they are, you will find them wanting to cross to the other side. They will let you take their photo but they don’t want you to get too close unlike the cows and horses around Iceland.
Lake Mytvan is a protected volcanic lake that has a lot of wildlife. The surrounding area, referred to as the Diamond circle, is chock full of fascinating, active, geothermal wonders. If you have enough time, stay overnight and use this area as your home base. It’ll also give you a chance to visit the Mytvan Nature Baths, a smaller version of the Blue Lagoon
Important Gas Tip: Get a full tank of gas in Reykjahlíð when you leave Lake Mytvan. You won’t see another gas station for awhile. We had some stressful moments thinking we were going to run out. Also, you need a credit card that takes a pin to use the pump. Your ATM card will work if you don’t have that type of credit card.
A 10 minute drive will get you to otherworldly geothermal field of Hverir. The landscape is comprised of multicolored clay with boiling mud pits and natural steam vents called fumaroles that let off a surprising amount of steam. It honestly feels like a different planet and it’s right on the ring road. Hverir sits at the base of Námafjell, a mountain that you can quickly hike and see more steaming wonders. There is no cost to visit Hverir.
Leirhnjúkur Lava Field
Hop in your car for another 10 minutes to get to the Leirhnjukur Lava Field. It’s located inside the Krafla caldera. From the parking lot, there are 2 walking paths through some of the most active landscape, from beautiful algae covered lava rock to bubbling mud pits to actual smoking ground seen above. There hasn’t been an eruption here since 1970 but the ground is still smoking which is shocking.
The short trail is an easy 2.4 mile loop that will give you a good view of all these natural wonders. It’s so interesting, you may want to continue onto the larger loop which will add an extra mile onto your walk. Stick to the path where it is available and the signs that tell you where to walk so you don’t ruin your shoes.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. When you are standing near it, you can’t help but think how you would be dead in one second if you got too close and there is no one to stop you. This is a true waterfall/nature experience unplugged. The raw power of Dettifoss is mind-blowing. Even though it looks close on the map, it will take you 1 hour to drive from Leirhnjukur to Dettifoss.
You can visit Dettifoss and Selfoss (below) from the east (road 864) or west (road 862). Here are some things to consider if you are only visiting one side.
- View: I prefer the views from the east side and if you are there for photography and only choosing one side, the east side is better, especially if you are walking to Selfoss. Bring a wide angle lens and something to wipe your lens from the waterfall overspray.
- Path: The west side has the easier, flat walking path. On the east side, you will be navigating your way across rocks which weren’t difficult at all but it’s not as easy as a flat path. Wear sneakers/hiking boots with decent tread.
- Drive: The west side is a 23 km paved road and the east side is a longer 32 km gravel road.
Selfoss and Dettifoss share the same parking area. To get to Selfoss, you take a 30 minute easy hike from Dettifoss. What’s interesting about Selfoss is the amount of falls down a long plain. It’s really pretty if you have the time.
After seeing these waterfalls, we did a 2 hour 15 minute drive to Egilsstaðir to stay overnight. It was a really long day and in hindsight, I would have added an extra day to our Iceland itinerary in between day 4 and 5. We left Akureyri after breakfast and arrived in Egilsstaðir at 11:30 pm. If you aren’t planning to go to the off the beaten path waterfalls, it’s very manageable but those waterfalls were worth our entire trip to Iceland.
If you opt for adding an extra day between 3 and 4, consider adding Studlagil basalt canyon, and a 5.5 mile round trip hike to Litlanesfoss and Hengifoss.
RELATED: THE 15 BEST ICELAND WATERFALLS
Iceland Itinerary Day 4: East Iceland
The 3.5 hour drive from Egilsstaðir towards Vatnajökull National Park is filled with one amazing view after the next. There are 3 ways to get from Egilsstaðir to South Iceland. The first is the Ring Road (route 1), which is open all year. We opted for Route 95, which is open during summer months and has incredible views of Flögufoss waterfall and the Eastern Fjords below. I unfortunately didn’t take a picture. Sorry folks. The last is the shortcut Route 939 a steep gravel road that should be avoided on any day that has rain, fog or wind as it’s dangerous and scary.
We pretty much made a beeline from Egilsstaðir to Höfn stopping only for a bathroom break. The views of the coastline are amazing and we can see why so many people love the Eastern Fjords. We stopped in Höfn for a delicious lunch at the Pakkhus Restaurant before heading to the Fosshotel Vatnajökull to check in for the night.
Our hotel was 6 miles outside of town in an area that was right off the Ring Road but felt remote and just gorgeous. It has a view of the glacier that makes you feel like you can drive right to it, so we did and had one of the most magical experiences of our whole trip.
We took a detour off the Iceland Ring Road when we saw Vatnajökull Glacier. Our 4 wheel drive felt like it would fall apart driving over the rocky road but at the end, we were the only people at this peaceful, jaw dropping lagoon at the base of a massive glacier. Just us and quiet stillness that I will never forget! I took photos that really don’t do this area justice but we actually drove there twice from the hotel because it was so spectacular.
Iceland Itinerary Day 5: Southeast Iceland
Most of the trip up to this point had a lack of tourists because we were outside the route people would take for a 2-5 day itinerary. From this point of the trip, it got more and more crowded by the day as we moved closer to Reykjavik. That said, the places we visited on Day 5 were spectacular, even with the extra people and it was only 50 minutes to our first stop.
Jökulsárlón Lagoon is another glacial lagoon at the base of Vatnajökull National Park filled with Icebergs that have calved off of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. This one is filled with many more icebergs and you can take a boat trip around the vibrant blue icebergs or just view them from the shore. There are ice caves in this area with tours that start at Jökulsárlón Lagoon base camp. The ice caves are typically open from October to March.
Jökulsárlón Lagoon opens up to the ocean and the ice drifts down the channel and lands on the beach. The area is known as Diamond beach. It seems impossible that glistening glacial ice would be laying on this perfect black sand beach next to the ocean on a sunny summer day – but it does and there is tons of it. I thought it would only be a winter thing.
From Jökulsárlón Lagoon it’s about a 45 minute drive to the parking area for Svartifoss Waterfall. It’s an uphill, but not that hard 1 mile hike to get to this beautiful basalt waterfall in Skaftafell National Park. You will be able to see Skaftafell also has some beautiful ice caves and glacier hikes. This area is a nature lover’s paradise with tons of hiking trails.
One hour past Skaftafell National Park, you can stretch your legs by taking a walk into the breathtaking, 330 foot deep and 1.25 mile long, ancient Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. To get there, you will take Road 206 off the Ring Road. Drive a little less than 2 miles to the parking area. You can see the canyon from the top (an easy path) and bottom (requires some wading through water). It is periodically closed to protect the vegetation. The prettiest time to visit is summer when the canyon is green or winter when it’s covered with snow. If you visit in winter, you will need crampons and a 4×4 for the road.
Eldhraun Lava Field
From Fjaðrárgljúfur heading towards Vik, you can see the enormous Eldhraun Lava Field about 10 minutes down the ring road. Caused by an eruption from 1783-1784, it had a massive toll on Iceland and Europe overall. Now, it looks like a huge peaceful, teletubby area with delicate woolly fringe moss that you are not allowed to walk on. I found this pretty stock photo to show you, so no, that’s not us standing on the moss.
Another 45 minutes on the Ring Road and we finally checked into Hotel Vík í Mýrdal. It’s a quiet, comfortable and stylish hotel that’s really well located. You can walk across the street to the beach
Iceland Itinerary Day 6: South Iceland
Even a 3 day Iceland itinerary will allow you to experience the South. There is so much to see and do that you can be as busy as you want. Visiting ice caves is a must do in the winter and we unfortunately were sad to miss that. Guess we need to make another trip!
Skógafoss attracts a large amount of visitors but you can still get up close and personal to enjoy the view. There is a hiking trail that will take you to the top for an expansive view.
The circular path around the back of Seljalandsfoss allows for sensational photos. Being able to go behind a waterfall is so cool. Bring a rain coat and trail shoes to this one. You will definitely get wet. It also gets pretty slippery in some spots.
Gljúfrabúi is the secret waterfall, hidden in a cave, that’s only a 10 minute walk from Seljalandsfoss. You have to wade through a shallow stream into this cave that looks like a crevice in the rock. Don’t miss it.
Icelandic horses are on the smaller side but are full of personality and attract a lot of attention.
Iceland Itinerary Day 7: The Golden Circle
This area of Iceland is the most heavily visited. The Golden Circle consists of Geysir geothermal area, Gulfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park (also referred to as Thingvellir National Park). You can rent a car and see all three in one day or you can easily take a guided tour. If you are making a short visit to Iceland, this will give you a sense of the awesome beauty available.
Gulfoss is a two stage waterfall that drops into a canyon. There are multiple vantage points to get a full perspective. This was by far the most crowded waterfall with tons of tour busses. It’s completely worth the visit because it is breathtaking but I would encourage you to go see waterfalls in remote locations to experience the raw beauty of Iceland’s terrain.
Strokkur Geyser erupts every 4-8 minutes shooting 60-130 feet into the air. It’s quite impressive. This is also a popular attraction with lots of people. If you hang out for 20-30 minutes, you will definitely get to enjoy the geyser in between tour groups.
Þingvellir National Park
At first glance Þingvellir National Park may not seem that exciting. The area is pretty but there are jaw dropping spots all over Iceland. What’s remarkable about Þingvellir National Park is not always seen above ground. The geology in this rift valley allows you to walk, dive and snorkel between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
The Flosagjá fissure, pictured above, is seen above and below the water. You can walk through the tectonic plates at the Almannagjá gorge. Along the way you’ll be treated to a view of the Öxarárfoss waterfall.
If you want to go for a major bucket list experience, snorkel between 2 continents in the Silfra Fissure. The tectonic plates here drift 2 cm apart every year. Snorkeling through the crystal clear, freezing cold water, is made possible by the dry suit you’ll be wearing. Those that want to dive here need to be certified and have experience diving in a drysuit.
The Blue Lagoon is a huge draw in Iceland and if I’m being honest, it was disappointing. We went during the height of summer in late afternoon, which probably had a big impact on my feeling about it because it was very crowded. If you were to go during the winter on a weekday, you would probably have a completely different experience.
The Blue Lagoon is a 45 minute drive from downtown Reykjavik. The first thing you may notice is that everything including the entrance fee is very expensive. Don’t worry, you can enter for free to look around and decide if you want to go in the water. A day visit with entry into the water, a mud mask, use of a towel and one drink is $49. The Blue Lagoon itself is like a public pool with tons of people. While I would have happily paid the entrance fee, the idea of bathing with 100+ people was a complete turn off.
7 Day Iceland Itinerary Travel Tips
- Go to Iceland ASAP. It’s a bucket list trip that will blow you away.
- Spend as much time as possible. Our 7 day Iceland itinerary could have easily been expanded to a 10 days.
- Rent a car and go around the entire Ring Road. All of my favorite sights were outside of the famous Golden Circle. Driving in Iceland is very easy – great roads and directions. If you are driving during the winter or possible bad weather, always check current Iceland road conditions.
- If you want to see the coolest places in Iceland and have the best adventure, get a 4-wheel drive. A regular car will allow you to see tons but one of the best parts of an Iceland road trip is seeing the most incredible, massive glaciers, waterfalls, etc… almost completely by yourself. No ropes to keep you from falling in. No tourist paths or bathrooms. Just you and nature.
- Pack well. During the summer, there were times we would be in t-shirts and an hour later freezing in a parka, hat and gloves. Bring layers. The weather changes all day. Winter is obviously colder.
- Iceland is an expensive place to visit. Here are some tips for visiting Iceland on a budget.
Iceland Packing List
The weather in Iceland is kind of crazy. If you are going in summer, plan for fall clothing. Layers are important because the weather changes all day long. There were times I was fine with a long sleeve tee and an hour later my teeth were chattering with a puffer jacket, beanie, scarf and gloves.
- Raincoat – There’s a lot of back spray at waterfalls so bring a longer raincoat that covers your butt. This raincoat is thin and easily packable. A red or yellow one will stand out and look great in photos.
- Warm Jacket – You need at least a lightweight puffer jacket in summer. In winter you need a really warm jacket.
- Trail Running Shoes or Hiking Shoes – You need shoes with good tread because the terrain is slippery. I love these Brooks trail runners.
- Beanie hat – Trust me, you will take this on and off all day.
- Camera and Drone
- Tripod for great waterfall shots.
- Camera Filter – This 10 stop filter for your DSLR will give you those smooth water photos.
- Waterproof sleeve for your camera to protect it from rain/overspray.
Iceland is a visual cornucopia of mesmerizing sights. There’s no better way to see this amazing country than to drive around the Iceland Ring Road. This 7 day Iceland Itinerary gets you all the way around the Ring Road but can definitely create a Ring Road Itinerary to keep yourself busy for a few weeks. If you are a cyclist, there are plenty of people that do cycle-tours too. Start planning early – Iceland is a hot destination.
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