Iceland is riding the wave right now, as everyone and their mother seems to be heading that way. After I’ve seen it, I can tell you I now understand why. I rarely use the term “unique” for something, as I feel it’s used too much and its meaning is vanishing, but Iceland deserves it for sure. See why in the following Iceland ring road itinerary for 10 days!
As usual, a few things to begin with. Iceland is unlike any other place you have been to. You cannot cover as many miles a day as you think. You cannot visit as much a day as you think. It looks nothing like anything you have ever seen before.
So, don’t schedule more in a day than you can fit in. I know days are bigger since there’s more sunshine, but your body still needs rest, and you’ll be really tired if you don’t schedule accordingly. Also, try to use the driving time to relax, if possible. For this, it’s recommended you have at least two drivers, to share the load.
Of course, the road trip can be made clockwise or counter-clockwise, it doesn’t matter. We choose this approach as we wanted to be sure we have enough time for the activities planned in the beginning, and to only be in a hurry towards the end of the trip if we would have noticed there’s some time pressure involved.
As always, be flexible. Schedule the things you want to see towards the beginning of the day and hope for the best for the rest of them. You’re only human and can only fit that much in a day. Don’t beat yourself up and let everything else get on your list of things to do as a second timer in Iceland.
You can see the map if you follow this link. You won’t be able to modify it, but you can make a copy and modify that for your needs. Then, just use it as it is when you get there. Convenient, right?
Iceland ring road itinerary – Where to stay for 10 days
Iceland offers plenty of accommodation types, but not that many places. Let me explain. You can stay in farmhouses, family-owned guesthouses, luxury hotels, and camping sites, but you can, at the same time, drive for a full day and not find a place to crash. Parts of the country are almost deserted, no one lives there, so accommodation options in the area will be hard to find.
You might find campsites if that’s your preferred way of traveling, but if you want a cozy bed and to not be cold if you get out of your sleeping bag, you’ll have to research and choose your places to stay the night. This is, in the end, how you’ll define your main points for your Iceland road trip.
Here are a few options you can choose from when you decide where to stay during your Iceland ring road trip. We used mostly Agoda to reserve ours, but as always, I advise you to check out both Agoda and Booking and to check the hotel’s website for potential better offers there.
In Reykjavik, we stayed in two places, as we had a night here both when arriving and when departing. We loved Hotel Island – Spa & Wellness, as it had a pool and saunas, friendly staff, and a good breakfast. The other hotel (First Hotel Reykjavik Kopavogur), was not bad, it was just less pretty than the first one. Check the prices for both of them below.
In the Golden Circle area, we have chosen Gullfoss Hotel (check prices on Booking and Agoda), and everything was very nice. It was a bit secluded though so you might feel a bit lost, the quiet area was what just we needed. The breakfast is good as well and the staff is nice. I would have loved to stay next to Laugarvatn Fontana, but they weren’t providing the rye bread experience so we thought it’s not worth paying the price only to stay here. You can check out some options below.
In South-Eastern Iceland, we stayed at Hellisholar cottages and it was pretty cool. Not exactly luxurious, but the place felt nice and warm after our Silfra dive. Check out the prices on Booking and Agoda.
We had also booked this other place (Booking and Agoda) in Eastern Iceland, but we ended up not staying there, as we could crash on a Romanian’s couch for a few days (yes, there are Romanians – and plenty of them – even in Iceland).
In Northern Iceland, we stayed at our preferred accommodation on our road trip, and I can only recommend the place. Everything was great and I couldn’t complain even if I tried. It’s part of a small chain so check it out, you might find places to stay in other areas as well, with what I assume it’s the same quality standard.
And finally, in Western Iceland was the greatest disappointment of the trip. Tangahus guesthouse (Booking and Agoda links, if you want to check it out) was our choice because there was a long drive to reach Reykjavik again and we had to split it in half, but otherwise, there’s nothing to see here. We had some difficulties finding the place, but it was just enough to keep us warm for the night, so nothing fancy. Check out these other options that look better than what we had:
- Dalahyttur (Booking / Agoda)
- Hraunsnef Country hotel (Booking / Agoda)
- Borgir – The house by the sea (Booking / Agoda)
Renting a car in Iceland – a short guide
I promise I’ll keep this chapter short, as I already have a more detailed guide about driving in Iceland. But since you won’t have a road trip without renting a car (duh!), I need to give you the scoop about this as well.
We rented our car from SadCars and I can tell you the name is wrong, there was nothing sad about it. They were very professional, they have great reviews (which helped us in making our minds) and the price for our 4X4 SUV (Subaru Forester) was what I would call decent (about 1100 euro for 12 days).
As for some very quick tips, I can advise you to not go on F roads (gravel roads) if you don’t have an SUV and some pretty darn good driving skills. The next piece of advice is to buy the insurance, especially the one for gravel, as driving in Iceland is like nothing you have ever done before.
Also, pay attention to sheep. They’re not the brightest of the animal kingdom and they will come towards you when you’re driving 90 km/h on an empty road. And open the doors carefully, as the wind can pull them out – No joke!
Days 1-2 – Iceland Golden Circle
Depending on how you want to plan your Iceland ring road itinerary and what do your flight times allow, you could start or end with Reykjavik. We decided to start strong, with the coolest activities, and end with relaxing Reykjavik. Of course, you can adjust the plan as you wish.
Some visitors come to Iceland only to see the Golden Circle. I would have done the same if I would have had only 3-4 days, but my personal opinion is that you’re missing a lot if you do it like this. Iceland needs to be seen and it’s much more than two waterfalls and a geyser.
To fill out your two days here, of course, you’ll see the Gullfoss waterfall. I know you’re going to get waterfalled out (it’s not even a word, I just made that up) by the end of this road trip in Iceland, but if you didn’t see any waterfalls, have you even been there?
Then, head out to see the one geyser that named all the other ones after it: Geysir. Yes, it’s really how it’s called. This is why we call all of them like this. And since Geysir is more capricious and you won’t see it blow out that often, you can enjoy any of his (her?) brothers, the most known one being Strokkur. It erupts every 6-10 minutes, so you have a good chance of catching it on camera. But be VERY careful, it’s VERY hot!
The last two activities I suggest you do on the same day, the last one. You’ll see, they go nicely together. First off, snorkel at Silfra, in the Thingvellir National Park. Or dive, if that’s your choice. It’s an experience you cannot get anywhere else in the world, as you snorkel between two continents. Check out my detailed review here.
I’m pretty afraid of deep waters, and we were with a friend that has a phobia of not being able to touch the ground. Both of us did it (and the poor husbands that had to keep our hands plus a 12-year-old that had about 0 issues with the whole thing) and we’re both very happy we did. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve snorkeled in the Maldives, Indonesia, Cape Verde, Sicily, and Greece.
After you gain your sense back from the icy water from Silfra, engage in a three km long hike to Reykjadalur, and you’ll do something new again. I mean, have you ever bathe in a hot river surrounded by cold air and beautiful mountain scenery? Yeah, me neither. It’s a great way to shake off that cold feeling you might have after Silfra, and something to brag about to everyone you know.
Another activity you can do here, but we didn’t do it due to being too poor (it felt too expensive for us, but now we kind of think we should have done it), is to go inside a dormant volcano. You can do this at Thrihnukagigur and your fitness level should be at least medium, but I’m sure it’s worth the effort. Again, an experience you can only enjoy in Iceland.
And if at any time during these two days you have some time to spare, head out to any of these hot springs:
- Secret Lagoon Hot Spring
- Hrunalaug (Hruni hot springs)
- Laugarvatn Fontana
We went to the Secret Lagoon and I can tell you it’s very intimate, but not very large. It’s a pool surrounded by green hills. If you want different types of pools, a massage, or saunas, head to Laugarvatn Fontana, as it seems it has more options.
Day 3 – South-Eastern Iceland
Hey, it’s waterfall day again! Are you ready? Oh come on, it’s not THAT bad! You’ll see you’ll love these places. These waterfalls are the ones you can usually see in pictures when you google “Iceland”.
Seljalandsfoss is the waterfall everyone wants to see, as you can go behind it and take some really beautiful pictures (it doesn’t mean that you will, as you can see from my desperate tries to make it look nice).
Skógafoss is the very large one, and in the summertime, it’s usually very pretty as it gets green and fresh. You cannot go very close to it, as you’ll become soaking wet in no time, but you can admire this majestic force of nature from a safe distance and even hike above it, to see it from a different angle.
Now, Kvernufoss is the one I loved the most. It’s very close to Skógafoss, and some people might not be tempted to make the effort, but it’s not a big deal and it’s beautiful. There are few people here and you feel in a more intimate relationship with nature, and you can go behind this waterfall as well. The scenery is gorgeous and you’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale.
Tired of waterfalls? Already? OMG, you’ll have so many others to see. But, not just yet. In this area of Iceland, you can also see some pretty cool other stuff. For example, the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck is a place where people go these days. It’s not my cup of tea (you know, working in aviation and all that), but some people find it interesting, and you might be one of them.
If you want to take beautiful pictures (I’ve lately seen wedding photoshoots being done here), you can go to the Reynisfjara beach. The violent sea waves, the black sand, and the basalt blocks make it a dream for any photographer, but be very careful as the rocks can be slippery and the sea is not forgiving at all.
For another type of beautiful views, head to the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and try to enjoy this piece of nature alone. Also, respect it, as tourists have lately started to damage this breathtaking place and it’s a shame this is happening.
Days 4-5 – Eastern Iceland
This area of Iceland is where most people stop if they’re not in for the full Iceland ring road itinerary. I advise you to not stop here, of course, as the best is yet to come, but spend a few days in this area as well, as there’s plenty to see and do.
You can start with a snowmobile tour of the Vatnajökull glacier. We used this company as our Romanian friend works there, and I can recommend it for sure. Andrei and Laufey are great guides, and Laufey has the advantage of great humor on her side. They also provide ice cave tours in the winter, so keep them in mind for your next Iceland trip (you’re going to want to come back, I can assure you).
Everything in the area is related to this glacier, and this Diamond beach is no exception. If you’re into black sand beaches and ice pieces floating in a quiet lagoon, this is the place for you. All the talented photographers recommend you do this at dusk or dawn, but this might mean some pretty hard to handle times in the summer.
Another beach you can go to for a short picnic at the Vik black beach. We were lucky enough to arrive here after a pretty hot day (for Iceland at least) and the sand was very warm. Everything was so calm and serene it felt like we weren’t hiking for 5 days already. Give it a shot for a few relaxing hours.
Have you ever been on an amphibian? Yeah, me neither, until I took a Glacier Lagoon boat trip. This lagoon was not here 10 years ago, it used to be the glacier’s tongue getting into the water, which kind of reminds us all that climate change is real. The experience is interesting, to say the least, so don’t miss it if you can!
You thought you’re not going to see any waterfalls here? Oh, that was so naive of you! On your way to Northern Iceland, you can check out the Hengifoss waterfall. It looks like it’s from another planet, and the effort to reach it might be a bit intensive, but you’ll at least see how a Martian waterfall would look like.
And at last, would you like to see the famous puffins? Not sure if you would, as not everyone is in love with them, but if you are, head to Höfn Borgarfirði Eystri to see plenty of them. Just, don’t feed and don’t bother them, please. Just enjoy them from a safe distance, they’re very fragile.
Days 6-8 – Northern Iceland
Now we’re talking! The area where not all tourists get to go! It is pretty hard to get here, it takes a lot of time and determination, but you’ll see it’s pretty unbelievable.
Start your time here with a visit to the Geothermal area of Námafjall. It looks like it’s from another planet but it smells like it’s from this one. Still, the landscape is so out of this world that you’ll want to give it one hour of your time.
Next, climb up an extinct volcano crater at Hverfjall. It’s not as intensive as going into a magma cave, and the climb is a hike, but the view is pretty impressive, even if the volcano is extinct for a few thousand years.
Right next to it you’ll find the famous Grjótagjá cave, the place where Jon Snow and Ygritte you know…met each other. But the fact that they took a bath here does not allow you to do so. It’s a reserved area and the water is SO hot it will give you third-degree burns. So, just look at it, don’t swim in it.
Another volcano-related activity is to see the beautiful, blue Krafla volcano caldera. The water has a color similar to the Maldives if you can believe this, and the view is spectacular. It takes you less than half an hour to see it so go there, take a few pictures, and be amazed by the colors nature can provide.
If you want to see the whales, you must go to Húsavík. This small town is known as the whale capital, as most whale tours start from here and you can even see some whales from the shore if you’re lucky enough. We couldn’t do a tour as the water did not look friendly that day, but it sounds like an activity I would do the next time I’m there.
And because I’m sure you missed seeing some waterfalls, of course, I will provide you with a few options in here as well. Enter Selfoss, Dettifoss, and Goðafoss waterfalls. The last one is probably better to be visited on the way to Western Iceland, but the first two can be seen together on the same day.
As for the relaxation you’re probably longing by now, check out these thermal baths:
- Mývatn Nature Baths – get your admission ticket here
- Geosea – Geothermal Sea Baths
- Bjórböðin – Beer spa
The Mývatn Nature Baths are known as The blue lagoon of the North, and I advise you to make a reservation here to be sure you get to see it, and it has the blue waters you want for your Instagram pictures.
The Geosea sea baths were visited by our friends and they said it’s beautiful, you have infinity pools and your view is over the ocean. Pretty cool, huh?
The beer spa was something I wanted, but I couldn’t get any more volunteers for this (and you might have thought I was the boring one). Still, it seems like a pretty interesting thing to do, so could you guys do it and tell me how it is? Thanks!
Check out more hot springs in my detailed guide. I added there all information you would possibly need about visiting hot springs in Iceland, and it has a map included. What else could you possibly need?
Day 9 – Western Iceland
The most boring part of your trip, in my humble opinion. There’s so much nothingness when leaving Northern Iceland that your eyes will hurt. The only cool thing to see here is Hvitserkur, a big rock shaped like a rhino. That is if you’re not heading to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which is like another Iceland of its own.
In case you get VERY bored and want to at least soak in a hot spring while you’re here, choose one of the following suggestions:
- Guðrúnarlaug hot spring
- Reykjafjarðarlaug Hot Pool
- Landbrotalaug Secret Hot Springs
Day 10 – Reykjavik
Finally, back where it all started! The most northern Capital city in the world, Reykjavik, has a few things to offer, at least for a day or two. If you only have 24 hours for it, check out this one-day itinerary for Reykjavik!
The most representative building here is the Hallgrimskirkja church, an image you probably recognize even if not by its name. This is probably one of the best places to enjoy a full view of the entire city, and it’s still an operating church, so you can come here for mass, services, or concerts.
Of course, you can enjoy this city on foot (it’s very walkable, so just leave your car at the hotel and wander around) and you can enjoy the gastronomical and nightlife scene as you wish.
A beautiful sculpture that some people like is the Sun Voyager, and the city hides some pretty cool street art decorations that you can only find by walking around aimlessly.
And, finally, I’m going to say it: you can also go to the Blue lagoon. We didn’t see it as it seemed too expensive for our taste (read: bank account), and we thought the one in Mývatn was quite enough, but who am I to tell you where to spend your money?
Some other hot springs to visit in the area are:
- Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach
- Sundhöllin public baths
Key takeaway for this Iceland ring road itinerary – 10 days summer road trip
I know, this itinerary is pretty intense and it might just be the vacation you come back from more tired than you left. Iceland is not the type of place to go to when you want to relax. It’s intense, it’s even brutal sometimes, but it’s unlike anything else you have ever seen.
Again, I advise you to make this Iceland ring road itinerary for 10 days your own. Take out some waterfalls if you feel like it! Visit just one black sand beach if you think they all look the same. Choose just a few of the activities if you think they’re not worth your effort.
I hope you’ll find this Iceland ring road itinerary for 10 days useful. It was a big effort for us to research it but we’re very proud of how it turned out. I hope it’ll help you as well when planning your trip. And I truly hope you love Iceland as much as I love it now. It gets under your skin, you’ll see.