Known for its extreme scenery, Iceland packs a big, beautiful punch into a very small space. Many visitors to the country stay for a short time and only explore the area in and around the capital city of Reykjavik. While the capital region does have a lot to offer, to get a more diverse experience, visitors should consider traveling around the country via the Ring Road. This itinerary combines classic sights with some truly offbeat experiences to give the highlights of the Rind Road tour.
For more visuals and a map of this itinerary, please visit its Reykjavik and Iceland Countryside Pinterest travel board.
Days 1 and 2: The One and Only City
Start your trip in Reykjavik, Iceland’s one and only city. This quirky capital is full of colorful architecture, interesting eateries, and crazy nightlife. Enjoy some self-guided exploration, and consider visits to the following:
- Harpa concert hall: The interior of this award-winning, architectural masterpiece is even funkier than its jagged exterior.
- Nauthólsvik Geothermal Beach: While you’ll have the opportunity to soak in a number of hot springs during your visit, consider checking out this popular local hangout. The complex features heated pools sitting directly under the nearby airport’s flight path.
- Hallgrímskirkja church: This recognizable landmark offers great views over the city.
While it can be expensive to dine in Reykjavik, there are some cheap eats serving up delicious fare. Favorites include:
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: Though touristy, this is the spot to try a pylsa, or a hot dog with remoulade and fried onions.
- Nudluskalin: A Thai noodle shop that incorporates Icelandic flavors.
- C is for Cookie: Warm up in this cozy sweet shop with a cup of their delicious hot chocolate.
- Sjavargrillid: More of a “splurge,” this rustic bistro dishes up local seafood with a modern flair.
The key to drinking on a budget in Reykjavik is happy hour! If you’re here during the weekend and are interested in joining the runtur, a weekend-long pub crawl, head to Laugavegur Street on Friday or Saturday evening.
Day 3: The Golden Circle
Today you’ll do the famous Golden Circle tour, a scenic loop that will provide you with a great introduction to the Icelandic countryside.
The first stop on your clockwise drive is Þingvellir National Park, one of the country’s two UNESCO World Heritage sites. The park is notable for being the location of the world’s oldest parliament and for being the place where the European and North American tectonic plates meet. On a pleasant day, spend some time exploring the park; you can pick up a trail map at the visitors center.
The tiny town of Laugarvatn has a few lunch spots, the best of which is the charming Lindin Bistro Café. A more affordable option is packing a picnic; adventurous eaters can pick up dried fish and other local snack foods from the Kolaportið flea market in Reykjavik.
The next stop on your tour is Geysir, the vertical jet stream of hot water for which all other geysers are named. The final stop on the traditional loop is the Gulfoss waterfall. But don’t leave the area without a visit to the Strokkur geyser, which is more reliable and arguably more impressive than Geysir.
Day 4: Water, Water Everywhere
Today you can appreciate water and its many forms by soaking in some hidden hot springs, walking behind a waterfall, and touching a glacier.
Take the Ring Road to the town of Hveragerði and pick up a village map at the gas station. Drive just beyond the horse stables to find a trailhead and car park. The walk to the Reykjadalur Valley hot springs is easy and takes about an hour. You’ll see the bathing pools – the ones by the waterfalls are the perfect temperature.
Lunch back in town before moving on to your next stop, the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Walking the path that goes behind the waterfall affords you an incredible opportunity to view this natural beauty from every angle. Just down the road is another waterfall with a different look. Skógarfloss, is picture-perfect – the quintessential waterfall.
Nearby is the Sólheimajökull glacier. Guided hikes across the ice are offered, or you can just walk right up to it and touch its tongue.
Continue on to Vik, a charming, seaside town known for its black-sand beaches and mysterious rock formations. Explore the basalt columns, and then enjoy dinner at Halldorskaffi in the center of town.
Day 5: A Hidden Canyon and an Iceberg Lagoon
About 45 minutes east of Vik, off of route 206, you’ll find one of Iceland’s most hidden treasures. Though small for a canyon, Fjadrárgljúfur’s breathtaking landscape is filled with interesting spikes and arches. Take a little time to enjoy this unique view.
Continue on to Vatnajökull, the largest National Park in Europe. Pick up a trail map from the visitors center, and spend some time exploring. A recommended walk is along the 1.5 km Svartifoss Trail, which leads hikers to the picturesque Black Waterfall.
Just down the road is Jökulsárlón, the country’s stunning iceberg lagoon. Here, the Jökulsá River chips away at Breiðamerkurjökull, a once-inland-residing glacier. As pieces of the massive ice block crumble, the force of the river pushes runoff sediment downwards, creating a giant and continually growing basin. The result is an iceberg sculpture garden floating on a lake of electric-blue glacial water. Enjoy lunch at the onsite café, and consider a boat tour, which will bring you up-close-and-personal with the basin’s main inhabitants: playful seals.
Day 6: Remote and Rugged
Today is all about the scenic drive. You’ll be road tripping to Seydisfjordur, an artsy town located in the far eastern part of the country. While the drive itself should only take about 4 hours, you’ll find many spots where you can linger over the stunning and remote scenery of the eastern fjords. Keep an eye out for reindeer herds; this is the only part of the country where they roam in the wild.
You can also make stops in some of the quaint fishing villages scattered along the route. Stop for lunch in the tiny town that calls to you the most.
Once in Seydisfjordur, take some time to enjoy the pleasant surroundings. With its charming architecture and position at the mouth of a beautiful fjord, the town is considered one of the most attractive in Iceland. Enjoy the lovely walking paths, and take some time to appreciate the local art. Creations are displayed in the Cultural Centre and in outdoor installations. Exhibits are also on display at Skaftfell, a space that doubles as a bistro and makes for a great dinner spot.
Day 7: Volcanic Voyage
Today you’ll be exploring the volcanic areas of northern Iceland. Before immersing yourself in this explosive region, consider taking a detour to Dettifoss. If you’re not already tired of waterfalls, Europe’s most powerful one is worth a visit.
Next, head to the Krafla, where you can take a walk through the lava fields. This unusual “moonscape” feels otherworldly, and navigating it is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Spend the night in Reykjahlíð where there are a number of lodging options that provide easy access to the area’s attractions. Check into your hotel and grab a late lunch before doing some afternoon exploring of the area.
Go to the Hverfjall volcanic crater first. You can take an easy hike around the symmetrical rim of this 2,500-year-old geological wonder. After a full day of exploring, relax in the Grjotagja, a stunning underground lava cave with a warm pool fed by hot springs. This is a great, hidden place to take a warm soak on a cold day.
Once back in Reykjahlíð, unwind with dinner and drinks at Tivoli.
Day 8: Horses and Turf Houses
If you’re feeling drawn to your watery surroundings, consider taking a lakeside hike along Myvatn before leaving the area. Once on the road, your first stop should be at Godafoss. While you’ve likely already seen some spectacular waterfalls during your time in Iceland, this thunderous sight is still worth a stop.
Stop for lunch in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest “city.” Explore the streets and settle into the Blaa Kannan Café where you can enjoy tasty sandwiches and yummy pastries.
You’re in the heart of Icelandic horse country, so you may want to take a ride on one of these fast and friendly animals. A good place to do so is at HestaSport, just outside the tiny town of Varmahlíð.
You may have been noticing the grass-covered houses scattered throughout the country. The Glaumbaer Museum in Skagafjordur allows visitors to pay a visit to a historical turf-house colony. A tour through these fascinating structures will give you interesting insight into Icelandic rural life of the past. Enjoy the hot tea and traditional Icelandic pastries at nearby Askaffi, where the staff dress in traditional clothing.
Day 9: The Home Stretch
You’re nearing the end of your epic road trip, but there are a few sights left to carry you along that final home stretch. The first is Borgarvirki, an ancient fort from the Viking era that rests on top of a volcanic plug. Climb to the top of this massive structure, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over the region.
Next, take a detour to the Glymur waterfall. Another waterfall?! Yes – it’s Iceland’s tallest, and seeing it requires a beautiful one-hour hike, which will take you up cliff faces and through a cave. You’ll love it!
Back in Reykjavik, celebrate your return to civilization with dinner and drinks!
Day 10: A Spa Day
After trekking through the mud and ash and braving some chilly conditions, you’ve earned a spa day at Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon.
Most of the sights you’ve visited up until this point have been free, which means you might be able to splurge on spa treatments and a tasty dinner at the lodge’s Lava Restaurant. Plus, you can save on admission by buying your tickets ahead of time online.
Note: if you have a flight to catch on this final day of travel, consider going to the Lagoon on day 1 or 2, as a side trip from Reykjavik.
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