The best way to experience the unspoilt nature of Iceland and take part in some of the unique activities it has to offer is to road trip around Iceland. We give you the low down on which routes should be on your Icelandic road trip bucket list.
Iceland offers travellers various routes for their Iceland road trip, each with its own unique Iceland road trip itinerary. This makes it quite tough to decide which route to go for (especially if you have limited time available). In this article we do a deep dive into the 5 best road trips around Iceland, so you can make an informed decision. And, who knows, even decide to extend your stay.
Ring Road 1
This route takes driving around Iceland very literal. The Ring Road is pretty much a circle trip all around the island. The biggest benefit of the Icelandic Ring Road is that, in many other countries, a Ring Road means completely travelling on the outskirts of civilization. Iceland doesn’t have much of a civilization in terms of big cities to begin with and, because of its size, most attractions, sights and activities are only a short drive off this main road.
This is probably one of the most popular routes since it’s easy to navigate and all 1322 kilometres of the road are paved with most of it having double lanes. This becomes especially important in a country where fickle weather conditions have a major impact on driving around and excursions.
If you're travelling on a budget, renting an economy or city car for your road trip in Iceland is a good option to lower down a bit the total rental cost, but make sure weather conditions won't be too harsh during your trip. However, if you plan to either get out of the Ring Road and travel through the famous F-roads, Iceland's unpaved mountain roads, you will be legally obliged to rent a 4x4 in Iceland.
Ring Road main attractions
Along Ring Road 1, you will find that all the other routes are directly connected, making this the star of any Iceland road trip itinerary.
Going counterclockwise around Iceland by car, you can see attractions such as the Black Beach in Reynisfjara, Jökulsárlón in the south, Hengifoss in the east with the majestic basalt pillars, the Game of Thrones-famous cave Grjótagjá where Jon Snow took a bath in the north, and the amazing Westfjords in the west. Apart from these, there are a myriad of stops to make all along Ring Road 1. We suggest you plan out this trip carefully to get the most bang for your buck. And your time.
The most convenient Iceland road trip you can make if you’re not in the mood for a multi-day excursion. It is situated very close to Reykjavik and can be done in a day if you’re in a hurry, or in 2-3 days if you want to take your time with these amazing landmarks and explore the lesser-seen parts this route’s Iceland road trip itinerary has to offer. The route starts in the capital and goes for about 300 kilometres, so it is a proper drive, even if it may look small on a map.
The Golden Circle is an extremely popular choice, not only because it is close to the capital, but also because it represents very well what Iceland has to offer. When you take a road trip around Iceland, you will experience amazing nature as well as unique culture and adventures. Around the golden circle, it is as if all of this is distilled down to a micro Iceland road trip that offers a little bit of everything (and a lot of some things).
Main stops at the Golden Circle
The most famous parts of the Golden Circle are the Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Field, and the Gullfoss waterfall. Geysir is especially spectacular since it’s a somewhat unique phenomenon that does very well on camera.
Other parts include the adventure of having a swim in the secret lagoons, going on a tour through an ice cave, or strolling through an actual lava tube! If you are more interested in culture, you can visit a historical village along the way and learn about life in the 1000’s.
Ring Road 2
Sitting pretty on the north-western part of a road trip around Iceland, the Ring Road 2 wraps tightly around the Westfjords. This is one of the newest roads established in Iceland and wasn’t inaugurated until autumn 2020. With this new road, adventurers can simply go off Ring Road 1 and embark on a journey of roughly 950 kilometres (if you go all the way around).
The Ring Road 2 road will take you through the Westfjords and introduce you to the incredible sights that come with driving in and out of the stunning fjords. This route is not for the faint of heart due to the many cliffs and steep mountain roads. However, everyone brave enough to make the journey will be abundantly rewarded.
What to see along Ring Road 2
For starters, this is the most likely place to spot Iceland’s largest (and only) land-living predator: the arctic fox. This elusive little furball loves the Westfjords due to the abundance of food. You see, this particular area is known for a plump and colourful bird that resembles a cute, but sad, feathery clown – the puffin bird.
When creating your Iceland road trip itinerary, making some plans to see the puffins is a must. They are only there from May to August, but that also happens to be the best time of year for tourists to be there, so no harm, no foul.
Other exciting sightings along the north-western route when seeing Iceland by car include the red beach of Rauðasandur, the hot spring in Hellulag, and the fishing town of Isafjorður to restock the snack supply for your road trip in Iceland.
The northern equivalent of the Golden Circle is the Diamond Circle. Even though this route is a little bit shorter (and parts of it are only accessible in the summer), it doesn’t let you down in terms of sights to see and adventures to have.
The Diamond Circle uses a part of Ring Road 1, so as long as you’ve taken a road trip around Iceland, you’ve actually driven a part of the Diamond Circle too. Since this route is a mere 250 kilometres (which is nothing in road trip terms) this is a must on your discovery of Iceland by car.
When you incorporate the Diamond Circle into your Iceland road trip, you should make time to visit the largest waterfall in Europe: Dettifoss. This majestic display and force of nature will leave you in awe and is perfect for a photo or five. Other important stops are (of course) Lake Mývatn, Húsavík, and the Ásbyrgi canyon.
When speaking of the real adventures to be had when you take a road trip around Iceland, the F-roads in the highlands are a must. These roads take you into the raw wilderness and far away from any form of civilization, which means that you need to make proper preparations before you dare embark on this part of the journey.
When you see this part of Iceland by car, you’ll first need to make sure to get a car with four-wheel drive, otherwise, you’re not allowed to even get on any of the F-roads. There's a wide range of 4x4 vehicles in Iceland, from the cheap but reliable Dacia Duster 4x4, to the more expensive and comfortable Land Rover Defender 4x4 or our automatic Jeep Renegade.
All of these roads aren’t going to be a Game of Thrones-level adventure, but all of them are tough to traverse and demands a skilled driver. The F35 Route is the most well-known and popular mountain route to take, but its 170 kilometres are only open in the summer months. The opening date is also subject to the state of the roads, so it’s extra important to make sure it’s going to be open when you plan your trip.
Nature is the name of the game in the highlands, and the F35 Route offers you everything from the hot springs in Hveravellir to the colourful mountain range of Kerlingarfjöll. This is also a route littered with history and saga, dating back as far as the Viking ages when travellers used this route to get from Reykjavik to Akureyri.
Where to Go and What to Choose
When taking a road trip around Iceland, you could spend months travelling back and forth to try and see everything and still not succeed. Make sure you have decided on a route and stick to it as much as possible to not get lost in the wonders of the land. That way, you won’t miss anything you set out to see and you won’t have to rush anywhere.
When it comes to planning an Iceland road trip, most start in Reykjavik by renting a car and gathering supplies. Making sure you get the right car for the right price is tricky, so make sure to check Reykjavík Cars to get the best bang for your buck and don’t be afraid to ask us for tips and tricks regarding your journey.