Exploring Iceland’s Ring Road > Unique Itinerary and Travel Tips

Driving Iceland’s Ring Road seems like the perfect thing to add to an Iceland itinerary. However, before setting off, many people underestimate the size of the island and how much time they’ll spend driving. Here’s what you need to know before driving Iceland’s Ring Road.

There are many beautiful things to see in Iceland, like Seljalandsfoss Waterfall but sites may be many hours apart. Instead of driving around the island nonstop, never having the time to soak in the sites, we’re going to challenge you to do Iceland a bit differently.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Several followers have reached out to us asking for some advice on how we did Iceland. So we put together this post explaining how, and why, we did Iceland a little differently.

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Don’t Leave Disappointed

A few years ago, before our visit, our friends decided to cross Iceland off their travel bucket list. Upon their return, we excitedly asked them to tell us about their experience.

What they told us shocked us, and our jaws dropped. They said they were disappointed. What?!?!

For many people, seeing Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest in Europe is a must-see attraction.

How on Earth could anyone not like Iceland? How was each of our experiences so different, that we flew away from Iceland with such different perspectives? Keep reading, we’ll explain.

A detour from Iceland’s Ring Road, and a day trip from Reykjavik, the Golden Circle features three of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland: 1.) Gullfoss Waterfall (pictured), 2.) the Geysir geothermal area, and 3.) Thingvellir National Par.

If you peruse travel blogs and Iceland guides, most visitors take on Route 1, or Iceland’s Ring Road, which is the national road that circles the island. The positive aspect of Iceland’s Ring Road is that it makes it pretty easy to lay out your route.

The negative? Once you begin, the only logical way to complete it is to make the full 828-mile (1,332 km) loop. Attempting to drive the entire ring in 10 days or less may very well leave you feeling miserable.

Year after year, this is ranked as the #1 excursion to go on in Iceland—it’s epic!

Driving Iceland’s Ring Road takes about 15 hours non-stop at 56 m.p.h., yes, 56 m.p.h. As a result, the comically slow speed limit makes many drivers (and passengers) feel like they’re crawling through what feels like an endless landscape.

Why so slow? Countless speed cameras are issuing expensive tickets all along the route. We’ll discuss this in detail further down but first check out Iceland’s must-do tours below.

Our Top-5 Must-Do Tours in Iceland

If you’re visiting Iceland then the tours below are must-do excursions!

  1. 🌋 Discover Thingvellir National Park on a Golden Circle tour from Reykjavik. Witness Gulfoss Falls, Strokkur geyser, and Kerid Crater. Learn about tectonic plates’ impact.
  2. 🚙 Experience the stunning landscapes of southern Iceland on a full-day tour from Reykjavik. Explore glaciers, black-sand beaches in Vik, and majestic waterfalls like Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss.
  3. 🏞️ Optimize your Iceland visit with a small group tour of all of the best sites. Explore the Golden Circle’s highlights—Thingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss, and Kerid. Conclude at the Blue Lagoon for a relaxing soak.
  4. 🤿 Snorkeling Between Continents Discover Iceland’s geological marvels as you snorkel in the Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir National Park. Encounter marine life between tectonic plates. Gear and GoPro photos provided for an unforgettable adventure.
  5. 😋 Explore Reykjavik’s culinary treasures on a guided walking food tour. Sample Icelandic delights from restaurants and food trucks, including cheeses, lamb, ice cream, and hot dogs. Pass by landmarks for photo ops.

Feeling Adventurous? Want to Get Off the Beaten Path? > Choose Your Tour

Driving Iceland’s Ring Road

Our friends used their one week of vacation to drive Iceland’s Ring Road. They described long days of driving from point A to point B, often bored by much of the monotonous scenery. Many days, they felt as if they were driving through uninspiring landscapes before they would reach the next scenic “must-see” natural attraction.

Don’t be surprised to drive long distances without seeing much.

This is why Iceland is a tricky travel destination. The best way to describe it is that it’s made up of all these small, scenic spots scattered across the country that together make up this all-encompassing essence of Iceland. But to experience them all is not an easy task.

Add to the fact that many segments of Iceland’s Ring Road are so isolated, that it’s hard to find stops for bathroom breaks and quality food. Most visitors don’t brag about eating hot dogs in gas stations which is many times the only food option.

Dining options are limited on Iceland’s Ring Road, and gas (petrol) stations are sometimes the only place to get a bite to eat.

If you are someone who needs to check off a ton of boxes by seeing everything, or you’re a die-hard road tripper, or a camper van enthusiast and don’t mind spending five-plus hours in a vehicle per day, you’ll love touring Iceland. Unfortunately, we’re none of those.

For the reasons mentioned above, we agreed that we didn’t have the time nor the desire to spend all of our time in a car. Here’s how we decided to do Iceland a little differently.

Don’t Spend Your Entire Trip in the Car, Unless You Want To

Iceland has become one of the hottest must-see countries in the world and reminds us in many ways of New Zealand. Travelers are drawn to its dramatic landscapes, the quirky vibe of Reykjavîk, and the chance to experience the elusive northern lights.

Of course, the Hollywood movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” added to Iceland’s allure. After having the opportunity to explore this country, we agree there’s nothing else quite like it in the world.

Travelers flock to the small town of Vik to take pictures of the Vík i Myrdal Church and the Reynisfjara black sand beach.

Instead of trying to see the whole country in 10 days or less, we decided to try and slow our trip down. As a result, we decided to focus on Reykjavîk and the surrounding area, and the Westfjords.

One theme we live by is that if we like a place or feel like we missed something we can always go back, even if it’s as out-of-the-way as Iceland. It’s not worth rushing through a country to check boxes—for us, it’s more important to have quality time.

Below is a quick overview of our itinerary. We used Discover Cars to get a car rental for about USD 35 per day.

1. Reykjavîk: We spent three nights in Reykjavîk touring the city and local area with day trips to nearby attractions. For example, we visited the Golden Circle, Reynisfjara black sand beach, Selfoss Waterfall, and Eyjafjallajökull.

2. Bíldudalur: For the next three days we drove up to Bíldudalur from Reykjavîk. This is one of the most scenic drives in all of Iceland. We spent three nights exploring the Westfjords from our home base in Bíldudalur, the most remote part of Iceland!

3. Keflavik: After a long drive from Bíldudalur, we spend our last night in Keflavik near the airport to make the transition back to the real world as seamless as possible.

One thing’s for certain, it’s no wonder Iceland is on so many travelers’ bucket lists—it’s the land of waterfalls!

It’s Time to Do Iceland Different

There’s another important travel tip that many don’t discuss—everything’s pretty expensive. Especially, accommodations that are hard to come by on a low budget.

This may be an urban legend, but fellow travelers told us the guest house they stayed at was the same one that hosted Ben Stiller during the filming of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” they supported this claim with photos.

Fans of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” may desire to spend their time seeing all of the filming locations, including this one in Stykkishólmur.

They were surprised at how unkempt it was, especially the bathroom and shower. In our research, we also had a general sense of high costs for mediocre accommodations, especially during August, when we visited.

If celebs are showering in grimy conditions, well then the rest of us are probably up the creek.

Our One Week Iceland Itinerary

So what did we do? Below is how our one-week itinerary panned out.

Dyrhólaey Arch is about a 2.5-hour drive (one-way) from Reykjavík.

We hope it encourages you to explore Iceland uniquely, perhaps even reconsidering doing a week-long drive around Iceland’s Ring Road.

Days 1 to 3 – Reykjavîk

During the first three days, we toured Reykjavîk and took day trips to visit nearby attractions. Here are some of the most amazing attractions visitors can easily visit from the city:

  • Stykkishólmur: a significant filming location in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
  • Kirkjufell Mountain: or ‘Church Mountain.’
  • Hellnar Arch: naturally formed stone arch on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
  • Hraunfossar waterfalls
  • Golden Circle: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall.
  • Blue Lagoon
  • Seljalandsfoss waterfall
  • Skógafoss waterfall
  • Vik: Dyrhólaey Arch, Vík i Myrdal Church, Reynisdrangar sea stacks, and Reynisfjara black sand beach

We didn’t have the time to visit all of the sites above but we did see a lot of them. Nevertheless, it should give you a good idea of how many must-see attractions are located within a day’s trip distance from Reykjavîk.

This is the best and easiest way to see the Northern Lights >> Northern Lights Tour by Superjeep from Reykjavik.
Mobile Data – Using Your Cell Phone in Iceland

With its funky letters, seeing Iceland’s main attractions (in print) for the first time may seem a bit overwhelming. While the majority of the population speaks English, you may be concerned about communicating, information gathering, or getting lost.

From hot dogs and SIM cards to bathrooms and coffee, Iceland’s petrol stations are a traveler’s lifeline while touring the country.

Luckily, all of the major routes in Iceland provide good access to mobile data. So, unless you’re getting way off the beaten path, most likely you’ll have access to mobile data to research your itinerary along the way.

Prepaid SIM cards may be purchased at Keflavik Airport (KEF) or most gas stations. Major carriers include Síminn, Nova, and Vodafone.

🏨 Hótel Múli in Reykjavík is the Best Affordable Hotel in the City > Check Availability

Days 4 to 6 – Bîldudalur

This is where our itinerary deviates from the norm. Rather than take on Iceland’s Ring Road in its entirety, we opted to pick one area of the country and explore it casually—we chose the Westfjords region.

With just over 200 inhabitants, the charming town of Bîldudalur is where we decided to make our home base in the Westfjords.

Considered to be the most remote part of Iceland, in short, the Westfjords are stunning. Created from ancient glaciers cutting dramatic fjords into the landscape, the scenery here is epic, and mostly free of other tourists.

The roads are often gritty and slow but well worth the journey. The Westfjords include some of the most amazing scenic drives we’ve ever done in the world and the most breathtaking in Iceland.

The scenery in the Westfjords is stunning, with steep tabletop-like mountains.

Stats differ but estimate that only 3-14% of visitors make it to this part of Iceland, and it was glorious. By now, our followers know that we love getting off that typical backpacker/traveler route. If you seek out experiences that take you off the beaten path, then the Westfjords are for you.

Dynjandi waterfall is one of the most beautiful in the world.

Two special natural attractions in the Westfjords include 1.) Dynjandi waterfall (meaning ‘Thunderous’) and, 2.) Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, which is one of Europe’s last untouched wildernesses

Numerous, magazines have ranked Iceland’s Westfjords as one of the world’s best-kept travel secrets. Before leaving Reykjavík, we stocked up on three days’ worth of groceries and drove to our beautiful getaway in the village of Budíldalur.

With the Hornbjarg cliffs and wide-open trails, Hornstrandir is a hiker’s paradise.

After three full days of road-tripping, we relished in that isolated, “cabin on the lake” feeling. It was here that we were hoping to see the northern lights, but unfortunately, our evenings were cloudy.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in this sleepy little village just south of the Arctic Circle. It felt unexplored and remote. To us, this was exactly what we envisioned when thinking of Iceland.

In the summer months, on a clear day, it may be tempting to go swimming at Barðastrandarsandur beach or at least sunbathe.

The beauty of this segment of our trip was that we were able to slow down! We had time for a memorable picnic lunch surrounded by one-of-a-kind views, long walks exploring, and sunset cocktails on our balcony. In our opinion, rushing through Iceland on the Ring Road was just not how we wanted to spend our time.

🏨 Budíldalur’s Harbour Inn Guesthouse is Perfect > Check Availability

Day 7 – Keflavík

The drive back from Bíldudalur took us about six hours. We opted to stay near the airport so that when we arrived in Keflavík, we could cook dinner and relax for the night after the long day of driving. Moreover, the car rental agency was kind enough to drop us off at the house as it was nearby.

Located in southwest Iceland, Keflavík is a small town that’s home to Keflavik International Airport.

Speaking of car rentals, it’s important to not only get the best rates possible but also to book with trustworthy travel search engines, which is why we always compare prices between Discover Cars and Skyscanner. Furthermore, we booked an economy car and had no problem getting around (in summer).

🏨 Nupan Deluxe in Keflavík Has an Outdoor Hot Tub > Check Availability

General Iceland Travel Tips 

If you are going to drive Iceland’s Ring Road, we suggest allowing yourself at least two weeks to enjoy the trip. Road-tripping through Iceland can be expensive and tedious.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to feel like you can’t wait to get out of your vehicle. Moreover, long days spent driving could quickly turn into a feeling of trapped confinement, instead of adventurous and fun.

If You’re Not First, You’re Last

Pay attention speed demons! Another reason driving Iceland’s Ring Road is so aggravating is due to the infamous speed cameras. Although roads are wide open, speed cameras are everywhere.

It can be challenging to avoid putting the pedal to the metal because there isn’t another soul to be seen. You can look up horror stories online, they’re there.

We caught this student walking home from school on another dreary day in Keflavik, Iceland. Ironically, this is how many travelers have felt after trying to drive Iceland’s Ring Road in 10 days or less.

We read about one driver’s mistake of hitting two-speed cameras costing them about USD 800 in fines. On average, the speed limit is about 50 mph, which makes you feel like you’re crawling from one destination to the next.

Finding Accommodations

It’s important to reserve lodging far in advance. June through August is the peak season and there is simply not enough high-quality accommodation to meet the ever-increasing demand. For hotels, to make sure we’re getting the best prices we compare rates at TripAdvisor, Skyscanner, and Priceline. For vacation rentals, we compare prices on booking.com and VRBO.

Additional Iceland Tips

Below are some additional Iceland tips:

  • We are not camper van enthusiasts and don’t prefer to travel that way. But even if you are road-tripping via car, stock up on snacks, food, toilet paper, etc., before you embark on Iceland’s Ring Road journey. When we say you may not encounter food/rest stops, we’re not joking.
  • If you are a campervan enthusiast, however, know where you are allowed to camp—campsites don’t usually require booking in advance, to be fair. And you might need to book a 4×4 campervan depending on your itinerary.
  • Bring music to enjoy in the car. In remote areas, there are no radio stations to make long travel days go by faster by listening to your favorite tunes.
  • If you’re a wine lover or want to enjoy sunset cocktails, plan on purchasing your alcohol at the duty-free shop at Keflavík International Airport. Alcohol is extremely expensive in Iceland and the airport is the most budget-friendly place to buy it.
  • If you are not a budget traveler and/or don’t enjoy long-distance driving, you may want to consider traveling with an organized tour group.
  • We traveled to Iceland in the first week of September, and it was fairly cold. Bring layers as the weather often changes within minutes. Raincoats come in handy if you want to take the opportunity to explore behind waterfalls.

How Much Did We Spend?

For one seven-day Iceland itinerary, we spent USD 1,188 or USD 170 per day, and this includes the flight from Norway. Please note, that this is probably cheaper than most would spend as we weren’t driving much while in Bíldudalur.

However, there are plenty of opportunities to take scenic drives throughout the Westfjords. Driving the entire Ring Road will add additional cost to your budget for petrol which is currently about USD 9 per gallon.

Once again, we think driving Iceland’s Ring Road would be awesome. If you have the time and money to do it properly then, by all means, do it! Unfortunately, at the point in our lives when we visited it was just too darn expensive. and so we had to pass. Nevertheless, our modified itinerary was a big hit (with us) and we look forward to exploring the rest of Iceland in the future.

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8 thoughts on “Exploring Iceland’s Ring Road > Unique Itinerary and Travel Tips
  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful information. Helps so much as we plan for our trip to Iceland!

  2. Loved this post! Iceland is, ironically, one of the “hot” destinations of the moment, but you don’t see a lot of details beyond the Ring Road, or a stay in Reykjavik. Thanks for helping us fill in some of the blank spots, and the tip on Bildudalur.

  3. I love this blog post….I love that you did AirBnB. Also, I would recommend not being afraid of Hostels in Iceland. I went in April 2015 and stayed in Reykjavik and Skogar both places in Hostels and they were nicer than most hotels I have stayed in around the globe. They are clean, efficient, and cost effective.
    The one in Skogar was right in front, walking distance from the famous Skogarfoss (waterfall).

    1. Hi Eric,
      Thank you for adding some great, additional budget savvy information for anyone coming across this blog post. I’m sure our readers may find your tips very useful. 🙂 I’m so glad you stopped by.

  4. That’s a much cheaper itinerary that I’ve seen a lot of people travel on. Iceland much more expensive than I ever expected, I recently read on another that a pint of beer in a pub will cost about $15 US. That’s crazy. We’re right in Prague where it’ll cost a little over $1 for a beer. That alone puts me off going to Iceland.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Hi Frank,

      Thanks for checking out our post. We made sure to include ALL travel expenses. (We get aggravated when bloggers flub numbers by leaving out such things as airfare.) It’s funny that you made this comment. Harry and I were just discussing how travel may look for us in the future after living this budget oriented lifestyle. For example, back in the day we spent SO much money on our 2 week vacations. Now, we can’t even fathom “getting ripped off” on things such as 3€ gelato or 5€ coffees! We wonder once we start having income again, if we will give in to those splurges. Constantly assessing the value of everything really does influence one’s spending priorities!

  5. VERY nicely done, and with beautiful pictures…if only i could have read this post before going there myself! :)~

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