Over the last few years, Iceland has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, and for good reason! Though the entire country only takes less than 24 hours to drive around, there are so many incredible things to see and do along the way that planning a trip can easily become a bit overwhelming.
When I first booked my flight to Iceland (a 6-day layover on my way to Spain) I was determined to maximize my time and see as much of the country as I could. Therefore, in the months leading up to my trip, I spent hours researching Iceland in an effort to create the perfect itinerary.
I am happy to say that all of the planning paid off and that my Iceland road trip turned into an adventure that exceeded even my wildest expectations.
In just 6 days my best friend and I worked our way around Iceland’s scenic Ring Road, discovering the surreal, stunning, and sometimes strange landscapes of Iceland along the way. We encountered massive glaciers, erupting geysers, hidden hot springs, and unforgettable waterfalls before pausing each evening to set up our tent and sleep in the great outdoors. We explored Reykjavik, snorkeled between tectonic plates, soaked in the Blue Lagoon, and marveled at the Northern Lights. We (nearly) ran out of gas, met some awesome fellow travelers, sang along to our favorite songs for hours as we drove, and took hundreds of photos. Each night we would reminisce about the day and earnestly proclaim that today was “the best one yet” only to turn around and say the exact same thing the next.
If I haven’t made myself clear- what are you waiting for? Get that ticket to Iceland and begin planning the trip of a lifetime!
To help you plan your own Iceland road trip, I’m sharing my 6 day Ring Road itinerary and all of my best tips for road tripping around Iceland! You’ll also find a helpful map at the end of the post which was a lifesaver for me during my own trip.
My Trip Details:
I designed this itinerary with the desire to see as much of Iceland as possible in only 6 days! That means that our days were typically jam-packed, and we were on the road by 9:00 AM and didn’t pull over to set up camp until around 30 minutes before sunset (~7:30 PM).
Like any itinerary, it is important to keep in mind what works best for your style of travel! This particular route is pretty ambitions-after all, we did squeeze in the entire Ring Road in just 6 days. If you are staying in Iceland for longer, you’ll easily be able to slow down this itinerary and add a few extra stops, and if you are only spending a few days in Iceland, you can cut it short at day 3 or 4.
Note: This itinerary is meant to be a guide, feel free to make it your own! Spend more time in places that are more interesting to you, or skip some things altogether. Just make sure to stay on top of driving so you don’t miss your flight back home! (Not that a few extra days in beautiful Iceland would be that terrible! 😉
When we visited: September
September is an optimal time to visit Iceland! The weather wasn’t too cold (54°F-40°F) and there were fewer tourists than in the summer.
Car we rented: Small/Economy Car
We spent our 6 days driving around in Iceland in a small/economy car and got around just fine (with the exception of a few ridiculously potholed roads!). If you plan on off-roading or traveling on any of Iceland’s F roads, you will need a 4 X 4 vehicle. You may also opt to travel in a campervan if you would like to stay at campgrounds but don’t feel like camping!
Accommodations: The great outdoors!
I highly recommend camping on any Iceland road trip! Not only is camping the most affordable way to see Iceland, but it offers you a lot of flexibility. Instead of having to make it to a specific hostel or guest house each evening, you can simply pull over and set up shop at the nearest campground. I loved how easy it was to adjust our itinerary or break up our long driving days since we didn’t have any concrete reservations. Discover everything you need to know about camping in Iceland in this post!
The Route: Iceland’s Ring Road
Iceland’s Ring Road, also called Route 1, or Hringvegur, is the main road that circles around the country. The Ring Road is 828 miles long and connects most of Iceland’s major cities and tourist sites. In some ways, a road trip in Iceland will be the easiest one you will ever take, as nearly every stop you make will lie just off this main route. (Thank goodness, because I am terrible with directions!)
While there are many incredible places to explore beyond the Ring Road, with a 6-day trip (and a mini car) it is best to mostly stick to this main route.
Day 1: Arrival, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik
Driving time: Approximately 1 hour
Distance: 42 miles, 68 kilometers
My flight to Iceland conveniently landed at Keflavik Airport at 6:35 AM, meaning I had the whole day to begin exploring the so-called “Land of Fire and Ice”.
Purchasing a SIM card
Once you arrive at the airport, you’ll probably want to purchase an Icelandic SIM card. They aren’t very expensive and I found ours to be essential for navigating while driving around. I purchased one with 10 GB of data for 2900 ISK (~27 USD). You can purchase your SIM card at the little grocery store right in the arrivals area. While there are other SIM card options available in Iceland, this was the most convenient for us and we had internet immediately after stepping off the plane, which was perfect because we had a busy day ahead!
Rental Car Pick Up
Once your internet is squared away, you’ll want to pick up your rental car! We made sure to book a rental car through a company which had airport pick up/drop off. We waited in line, got our keys, inspected our car for damage, and were ready to hit the road about 40 minutes later.
What better way to kick off a visit to Iceland than with a visit to the iconic Blue Lagoon? This well-known attraction is the perfect way to unwind and relax after a long international flight. Stepping into the warm waters felt incredible, and I had an amazing time swimming around, slathering silica mud all over my face, and taking in the beautiful landscape surrounding the lagoon. While I was initially worried that the Blue Lagoon would feel too touristy or overrated, it was absolutely a highlight of my trip and is a must when visiting Iceland!
The lagoon is conveniently located less than 20 minutes away from the Keflavik airport, and visiting on the first day got our trip off to an excellent start. You’ll want to be sure to book your tickets in advance, as time slots do fill up! You can read more about what to expect when visiting the Blue Lagoon in this post!
Iceland Camping Equipment + Campsite Reykjavik
Next, we drove about 40 minutes to Reykjavik to pick up the camping equipment that we would be using for the duration of the trip. We arrived in Reykjavik after 5:00 PM, which is when Iceland Camping Equipment closes, but they offer 24 hour pick up which was a lifesaver! Once we had our camping equipment in tow (see what we rented and tips for camping here), we headed to nearby Campsite Reykjavik, a charming campsite in the center of Reykjavik. After checking in, we set up our tent for the first time, which went surprisingly well and only took us about 20 minutes. (By the end of the trip we were pros and had out entire campsite set up in under 10!)
(Grocery) Shop ‘Til You Drop
You’ll want to be sure to stop at a grocery store and get provisions for the trip. Since we planned on leaving early the next morning, we made sure to get the shopping done the day we arrived. There are several grocery stores around Reykjavik to choose from, the budget ones are called Krónan and Bónus. We purchased the bulk of our food and water for the trip here, as parts of Iceland are more remote and have fewer shopping options. Even if you are planning on dining out more, you’ll still want to stock up on some classic road trip snacks!
Once you are all checked into your hotel or have set up camp for the night, its time to explore Reykjavik! Reykjavik is Iceland’s largest city, but it can be easily explored on foot. As we only had 6 days in Iceland, we weren’t able to see much while in Reykjavik. However, we did make sure to check out the Sun Voyager sculpture along the waterfront, the Harpa concert hall, and the iconic Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to climb it, but the view from the top is supposed to be incredible! If you have more time to spend in Reykjavik consider visiting one of the city’s many museums.
While in Iceland I was so happy that I got to see nearly everything on my itinerary! 😍I just wish I had been able to see the view from this stunning Cathedral! 👀I've seen gorgeous photos from the top all over Instagram. 📸 Are there any locations you've seen on Instagram and are now hoping to visit?! 🌎
See more of my favorite Iceland shots-follow me on Instagram @missadventuresabroad!
When the sun went down we returned to our campsite to get an early night’s sleep in preparation for a very busy Day 2.
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Driving time: Approximately 3.5 hours
Distance: 146 miles, 236 kilometers
Day 2 was quite a full day! We woke up, showered, packed our tent up, and hit the road at around 7:30 AM.
The Golden Circle
Iceland’s Golden Circle, or Gullni hringurinn (aren’t Icelandic names fun?) is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist routes. This less than 200-mile route is particularly popular among tourists because it is easy to see waterfalls, gorgeous Icelandic scenery, geysers, and other unique sites in just one day without straying far from Reykjavik.
Thingvellir National Park
After a 35 minute drive, you will arrive at Thingvellir (Þingvellir), a national park where you can actually see the rift between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates. The park is also of historic importance, as the Icelandic Parliment met there between 930-1798! While a visit to Thingvellir is free, you will have to pay 500 ISK (~4.50 USD) to park. I would have loved to have had more time to explore the area-there is much to explore here, and the fall colors of the vegetation were so captivating!
Snorkeling Between Tectonic Plates At The Silfra Fissure
One activity I was dying to check off my Iceland bucket list was…snorkeling? Yes, believe it or not, you can actually snorkel in Iceland! Though this is definitely a more expensive excursion (16990 ISK or 158 USD) it was the only thing besides the Blue Lagoon that we booked for Iceland and we decided to splurge.
The fissure is located inside Thingvellir National Park and is about a 40-50 minute drive from Reykjavik.
The ~coolest~ part about snorkeling or diving in the Silfra fissure is that it is home to some of the clearest and cleanest water in the world! The water is so clean that we were even able to drink it as we snorkeled! You’ll have to squeeze into a dry suit to stay warm, as the water is only 35-40°F. While there are no fish to see along the way, exploring the blue waters of the fissure was an awesome experience, and I can officially cross off snorkeling in Iceland off my bucket list!
You can read more about my experience snorkeling in Iceland and decide if this activity will make it on you Iceland itinerary here!
Regardless of whether or not you decide to snorkel, be sure to stop by the fissure and take a peek on your visit to Thingvellir National Park. Our snorkeling tour went from 11 AM- 2 PM, so we saw the remainder of the Golden Circle sites in the afternoon.
This weekend I celebrated another birthday abroad! 🎉This past year, I was lucky enough to visit Spain, Portugal, Morocco, New Orleans, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, California, my home state of Illinois, and (most recently) Iceland! 🌎 I am so grateful for the travel experiences I have had, and cannot wait to see what this year has in store! ✈️ Thank you for following the journey! 💕
Just 6 minutes from the Silfra fissure you’ll find the beautiful Öxarárfoss waterfall, which is definitely worth stopping at. We visited after our snorkeling session, but you could easily stop by before if you have time. My favorite thing about this waterfall (the first of many that we would see in Iceland) is how the water cascades over the rift that is a visual reminder that you are standing on the border of tectonic plates.
Strokkur + Geysir
After leaving Thingvellir you’ll travel for 45 minutes to the town of Geysir. Here you’ll find an incredible thermal area that totally reminded me of one of my favorite places-Yellowstone National Park.
However, unlike Yellowstone’s famous Old Faithful geyser which only erupts once every 90 minutes, Strokkur Geyser erupts every 6-10 minutes, so you won’t have to waste any time waiting. You’ll be able to watch the boiling water burst from the earth as many times as you’d like!
One of my favorite parts about Strokkur Geyser is how close you can get to where the geyser erupts. When you arrive, you’ll probably spot a group of fellow explorers standing around a roped off area staring at a hole filled with blue bubbling water. As the pressure begins to build, the water will start to boil more and more, until the water shoots up between 50-70 feet in the air. If you can, stick around and try to capture a photo of the moment just before the geyser erupts-it took me about 3 viewings, but I finally got one of the giant blue bubble!
After we had seen the geyser erupt several times, we walked around the area a bit before continuing along the road to our next stop. We packed a lunch, but there are also places here to dine if you are planning on eating out!
You can also visit the famous Geysir geyser, however, it does not frequently erupt.
The massive Gullfoss waterfall is just a 10-minute drive from Geysir and is the next stop you’ll make today. Since Gulfoss is located along the Golden Circle, it is one of the busiest waterfalls you will encounter while in Iceland. While there are quite a few tourists, the waterfall is magnificent nonetheless!
You are actually able to view the waterfall from two vantage points-above and below, and a short walk and some stairs will take you to both viewpoints. The unique triangular shape of the falls for some reason reminded me of a giant wedge of cheese! I highly recommend checking out both viewpoints so you can experience the waterfall from all angles. Listening to the rushing of the Olfusa river is so exhilarating!
Kerið Crater Lake
The final stop for the day is Kerið, a volcanic crater lake 45 minutes away. I must admit that Kerið was not my favorite stop of the day, which is ironic because unlike most of Iceland’s tourist locations this one actually cost money! Fortunately, admission is only 400 ISK (3.75 USD).
The crater is known for its brilliant blue water, which appears even more blue against the reddish soil and green vegetation surrounding the crater. Unfortunately, the afternoon light prevented me from getting a great picture of the crater’s unique coloring, but I did manage to get a nice shot while perched on the walking path above the lake.
If for some reason you are running behind schedule, this is the spot I would recommend cutting from your Golden Circle route. We only spent around 30 minutes here, which was plenty of time to walk around the edge of the crater and explore.
The next major town you’ll hit is Selfoss, which is where we decided to set up camp for the night. Selfoss is decently large and is equipped with several stores, so if you have any other groceries to purchase now is the time to pick them up!
Day 3: Seljalandsfoss, Seljavallaug Thermal Pool, Skogafoss, Solheimajokull Glacier, Solheimasandur Plane Crash, Reynisfjara Beach
Driving time: Approximately 1.5 hours
Distance: 247 miles, 129 kilometers
As you can tell from the above description, there is so much to do and see on Day 3, so you will definitely want to get an early start! We were a little tired from the previous day, so we didn’t arrive at our first stop until 11 AM. There is so much to see on this stretch of the drive that we didn’t even get to do everything we had planned, so don’t feel bad about cutting a few of the stops to stay on track!
Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most unique waterfalls-you are actually able to walk behind it! Unfortunately, the morning we visited it was pouring rain, and the morning light isn’t the best for photographing this natural wonder. If you have time, it may be worth trying to squeeze Seljalandsfoss onto your day 2 itinerary. Even without the rain, the area where you can walk behind the falls is quite wet, so you’ll definitely want to bring a raincoat and some sort of protection for your camera.
I made the mistake of allowing my nice camera to get sprayed and had to deal with a partially functioning camera during the rest of my trip! The good news: I was still able to take photos, and my camera thankfully ended up drying out and is now right as rain (pun intended). Lesson learned!
Swimming in Seljavallaug
Prior to visiting Iceland, I’d heard about and seen photos of the Seljavallaug “hidden” outdoor pool. While these springs certainly weren’t crowded, there were definitely other people there! Since I am a total hot spring/thermal pool/outdoor swimming junkie, I knew we had to make a stop.
To get to the pool, you’ll have to drive off the main road for a few minutes until you arrive at the parking area. Once you’ve parked your car, be sure to grab your swimsuit, towel, and anything else you may need! The walk to the pool is about 20 minutes and is quite scenic.
Seljavallaug is actually Iceland’s oldest swimming pool, although much of what I’d read online described the pool as more of a hot spring. It is important to note that the water isn’t very hot, though there are 2 areas in which naturally warm water is fed into the pool. I would describe the temperature as warm, and am not sure that I would have braved the tepid water in winter! There is a changing room available for visitors, but it is not heated and there are no restrooms. Unfortunately, we found the changing facilities to be a little dirty and discovered litter and trash inside, so you’ll want to bring some flip flops along as well.
Even though the water wasn’t as warm as the Blue Lagoon, my friend and I still stayed in the water for around an hour and really enjoyed our time here! The scenery surrounding the pool is simply stunning, and as we soaked in the water we were in awe at the beauty of Iceland and the tranquil atmosphere of Seljavallug. There were around 6 people swimming in the pool when we first arrived, but by the end of our visit, we had the pool all to ourselves. The little pool and changing house make for quite a pretty picture against the green mountainous backdrop! A definite must for hot springs enthusiasts like myself!
Time for another epic waterfall! Once you leave Seljavallug, a short drive will take you to Skógafoss, a gorgeous waterfall that is 50 feet wide and 200 feet tall. Don’t just settle for the view from the bottom, be sure to head up the stairs and check out the area above the falls. If you keep walking along the river, you’ll also encounter some mini falls before the main drop which are quite beautiful and perfect for a tourist-free photo op!
We also encountered a couple of Icelandic sheep as we explored the area which was a fun and cute surprise.
I loved this waterfall because it was a great area to simply walk around and explore. The waterfall itself was awesome, but the surrounding area was also so much fun to wander around. My best friend Amanda said that Skogafoss was her favorite waterfall we visited for this reason!
The next stop of the day was the Sólheimajökull Glacier. If you aren’t able to complete the entire 6-day itinerary, then you will definitely want to stop here so you can see an Icelandic glacier before you leave! However, I found the glaciers we encountered further along the Ring Road to be more impressive and whiter in color, so if you are running low on time, you may want to skip a stop here.
I would have loved to have gone on a glacier walk here or to try ice climbing, however, time and budget did not allow this! If you are interested in adding a glacier walk to your itinerary, there are several companies and tour options to choose from. Tours typically start at around 9500 ISK (~90 USD) and last between 2 and 5 hours.
Solheimasandur Plane Crash
As the day wore on, it became painfully clear that we wouldn’t have time to visit the Instagram famous Solheimasandur plane crash. The wreckage is from a 1973 crash landing of a US Navy plane. Fortunately, everyone survived the crash, but the plane wreckage still remains. While visiting certainly would have been cool (and would have made a great addition to my Iceland Instagrams), the 2.5 mile hike would have taken too much time out of our day. If you decide to keep the crash site on your itinerary, you can learn more about how to get there here!
Our final stop of the day was the Reynisfjara beach, a black sand beach known for its sea arch and the massive hexagonal basalt columns which make for a perfect backdrop. (So I did get the perfect Instagram shot after all!)
It was quite windy and cold when we visited, so we didn’t stay long and mostly stopped by for a quick photo op before continuing on to our campsite. While the beach was definitely a cool sight and the columns are worth seeing, if you are struggling to keep up with the itinerary, this is a stop that could also be cut!
There you have it! Its crazy to believe how many amazing things we were able to fit in the first 3 days of our trip! To see what we got up to on day 4-6, be sure to check out 6 Unforgettable Days in Iceland: The Ultimate Ring Road Itinerary (Part II)!
You might also like these helpful Iceland posts:
- 6 Unforgettable Days in Iceland: The Ultimate Ring Road Itinerary (Part II)
- Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
- The Ultimate Guide To Camping In Iceland
- Unforgettable Iceland: Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure
- The Ultimate Iceland Packing List For Ladies
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