The Ultimate guide to your Icelandic Road Trip!
Below is a per-day breakdown of how the Ring Road can be completed in 6 days. But before. here’s a quick run-down of things to consider when embarking on this epic road trip.
What do I need to know about driving the Ring Road?
What is the Ring Road?
The Icelandic Ring Road is a circular loop that runs along the circumference of the country. Just driving on this loop will take you through several changing landscapes and natural wonders. The general recommendation across multiple travel sources is that it takes at least 8-10 days to navigate the ring road….Challenge Accepted! For people short on time like me, this can be consolidated into 6 days. Sure, it gets pretty crazy and packed, but to me it was well worth it.
What is the best time to drive the Ring Road?
Anytime between late May to early September is ideal considering the weather conditions and extended hours of daylight. There is almost no snow / very little snow during these months and daylight lasts from 4-5 AM to 10-11 PM. Road closures and snow storms become a lot more common during the winter making it a challenge to keep to a schedule and tour the Ring Road. I have a more detailed post on when to visit Iceland that outlines the pros and cons of each season.
Is Golden Circle a part of the Ring Road?
No. The Golden Circle is a smaller loop of its own on the Western part of the country. This loop is easily accessible from Reykavik and is considered an ‘introductory’ tour to the wonders Iceland has to offer. If you’re planning on including the Golden Circle in your itinerary, you will need to add an additional day to your estimation. I will also recommend doing the Golden Circle before anything else. Here’s a detailed post on navigating the Golden Circle.
Will Reykavik be covered as a part of the Ring Road?
Yes, the highlights will be covered!
Can I start touring the Ring Road as soon as I get out of the airport?
You can if you really want to. It might be better to take a day and workout the jetlag. There are tons of chill things to do in Reykavik or you can spend some time relaxing at the Blue Lagoon before starting out on this 5-day drive.
How are the Road Conditions on the Ring Road?
Generally, the Ring Road is extremely well maintained. It is cleared up asap, when there’s a snow-fall or land-slide. However, the weather in Iceland is unpredictable! So while the road is well-maintained, it is strongly encouraged to check Iceland’s Road Conditions Website regularly during the day, to stay ahead of any closures. It is also recommended to keep an eye on their Weather Website to be forewarned on any extreme weather conditions.
Is the entire Ring Road paved?
I would say about 90% of it is. There was a piece of the journey that was on a gravel road (easily navigable by a sedan). If you venture off the Ring Road and into the Icelandic highlands (summer months only), then the roads are mostly gravel.
Are there sufficient number gas stations and restrooms along the Ring Road?
There are restrooms at most tour sites and gas stations, along the Ring Road. But once you go past South Eastern Iceland, the rest of the loop is a bit more of a challenge. The gas stations can get few and far in-between and some towns might have just one gas station that is closed for the day. There are two things I did to make sure I got around this:
- I would start looking for a gas station as soon as my fuel tank hit the half-way point. All the stopping points in my itinerary are in relatively bigger towns that have multiple 24 hours gas stations, so I would make sure I filled up before heading out.
- I would find a coffee shop / restaurant and buy a tea or coffee if I needed to use the restrooms. I found these are open a lot later than convenience stores.
What to pack/download specifically for the Ring Road?
- Torch and First Aid Kit – in case of emergencies
- Phone with a temporary Icelandic SIM or an international plan
- Download the Google Maps for Iceland
- Bookmark the websites that provide live updates on the weather and road conditions
- Download Smart Guide and the tours you are interested in
- Car phone charger
- Snacks and water
- Party play list!!
Renting a car in Iceland
Where to rent a car?
While I’ve seen a lot of blogs recommending SadCars as they are the cheapest. I decided not to go do it as one of my friends had a bad experience. This might have been one bad experience, tbh, because I’ve seen a lot of people recommend SadCars.
I went with Alamo \ Enterprise, which was priced the same as SadCars, at the time. Most rental car places have a location at the airport, which is where I rented from.
As a lot of people in Europe drive a manual car, you will need to specify the transmission type (automatic / manual) while making the reservation as most rental places have a limited number of these in their inventory!
What type of car to rent?
Reasons to rent a sedan:
- Traveling between May to September
- Driving on the Golden Circle loop and the Ring Road only
Reasons to rent a 4WD / SUV:
- Traveling during the winter when there is snow
- Driving into the Icelandic highlands (open only during the Summer June-August)
Note: If you are planning on driving into the highlands in the summer, a 4WD is a must, by law. There will be signs around that specify the requirement of a 4WD to go into these roads. These routes branch off from the ring-road and are mostly unpaved.
As it was my first solo trip in an isolated country, I ended up treading on the safe-sode and getting a mid-sized SUV, which then got upgraded to a full-sized SUV. I would have saved around $150 on a sedan but I just wanted the peace of mind of being in a bigger car. Bit of an overkill, tbh, but no regrets!
Should I get insurance?
There’s a mixed opinion on this out there. A lot of credit cards should cover your basic insurance and if you’re sticking to the ring road, this should be fine. If you’re planning on taking off into the highlands, I will recommend the gravel and sand protection add-ons to be on the safe side. I ended up getting the basic insurance and the gravel / sand add-ons as I didn’t trust my credit card’s policy. This can be bought last minute, at the counter, so you will have time to decide.
Should I buy gas cards before I head out from Reykavik?
Yes! There are plenty of gas stations and convenience stores along the way but the frequency does drop the farther away you get from Reykavik. I will recommend starting off about $70 in gas cards that you can replenish when you get the chance.
Below is a compilation of the itinerary I followed to drive the Icelandic Ring Road. For a more detailed account of each day and some wanderlust-worthy pictures, click on the links!
Seljalandsfoss – Waterfall that can be viewed from behind.
Seljavallalaug – Hidden Pool
Skogafoss – Waterfall that can be viewed from the top
Vik – One of Iceland’s prominent towns
Reynisfjara / Reynisdrangar – Black Sand Beach
Plane crash scene (optional) – 8 km round trip to the iconic plane crash site.
Skatafell Glacier Hike – At the Vatnajökull National Park, organized tour booked in advance
Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon – Boat tour around the Lagoon, booked in advanced
Long Drive along the East Fjords
Eskifjörður – Fishing village, audio walking tour
Namafjall Hverir – Geothermal field
Lake Mývatn – View from the coast
Dettifoss – One of the most powerful waterfalls in Iceland
Krafla – Volcanic Crater
What watching – Husavik, costal town north of Mývatn
Akureyri – One of the other prominent cities in Iceland
Long Drive back to Reykavik
Fishing villages to stop at on the way
Icelandic Horses – To picture and/or ride
Thrihnukagigur – Previously erupted volcano that can be viewed from the inside, tour booked in advance
Harpa – Tour of Reykavik’s famous Concert Hall
Downtown Reykavik – Audio walking tour
Hope that was helpful! Let me know if you have any questions/comments that were not covered in the post above and I will be more than happy to try answering it.