With miles upon miles of well-maintained roads and relatively little traffic, Iceland’s a smart choice for a road trip. Though it’s easy to arrange a guide and a spot in a minibus, the very best way to explore the Nordic island is at the wheel of a rental car.
Here, you’ll have the freedom to set your own pace and go as you please, sticking to either a rigid self-imposed itinerary or stopping on a whim as the fancy takes you. And if you're traveling in a group, you can always rent a minivan in Reykjavík and go on a self-drive adventure with your friends.
No matter whether you find yourself at a loose end in Reykjavík for a day, or have grander plans to explore further afield on a longer excursion, the variety of Iceland self-drive tours means you’ll always have a suitable option.
Why not let us help you figure out which one is best for you with our guide to the top self-drive tours near Reykjavík?
Single Day Self-Drive Tour
Even if you only have a hire car for the day, you’re still spoiled for choice when it comes to self-drive tours. The obvious route is the famous Golden Circle, the ideal bolt-on to a Reykjavík city break for first-time visitors. Coach tours operate daily, but they can be rushed, so it’s far better to have the freedom to set your own schedule.
Typically, most people drive to Gulfoss first when doing the Golden Circle route. That’s because it’s furthest from Reykjavík and, outside of the summer months, you’ll have a shorter distance to drive back to the capital city if it gets dark while you’re out.
It’s hard to top the dramatic sight of gallons of water cascading down the Hvítá River. That’s Strokkur, the tallest and most reliably active of the geysers in the Haukadalur geothermal valley.
Round off this unforgettable day trip at Thingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland’s first parliament and the place to see, up close and personal, how the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates have drifted apart.
A weekend getaway
If you’re hiring a car for the weekend, plan to split your time between these two wonderful peninsulas on either side of Reykjavík:
Snæfellsnes sits just to the north of Reykjavík, and its glorious scenery makes it a popular choice with day-tripping drivers. You can kick off the day by admiring the basalt columns of Gerðuberg cliffs.
On its southern shore, sandy beaches and wave-cut arches make this one of the most attractive coastlines in the country. Towards Snaefellsnes peninsula’s western tip, team up with a local to hike to the Snæfellsjökull glacier.
Vatnshellir Cave is a lava tube that can also be explored with a guide, while another known as Sönghellir (the name translates to “singing cave”) has superb acoustics.
The most famous landmark of all is the picturesque Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain. Thanks to its adjacent waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss, it’s also one of the most photographed places in the whole country.
This is the peninsula you’ll have crossed as you set out from Keflavik Airport. This rugged landscape is a reminder of just how new Iceland’s geology is, with a host of barren lava fields.
At Leif the Lucky’s bridge, there’s a chance to walk from Europe to North America without having to cross the Atlantic Ocean – this is another place where the gap between the tectonic plates can be seen.
Of course, the Fagradalsfjall volcano is now a must-see. It erupted suddenly and in spectacular fashion throughout a large part of 2021, with lava fountains and rivers of molten rock making every visitor’s jaw drop.
Though the eruption has now officially ended, you’ll still be able to park up and hike to the ridge overlooking the main crater, with the chance to see the hardened lava and yellow sulfur deposits on its surface.
Top of all the Reykjanes attractions is without a doubt the Blue Lagoon. This famous geothermal spa is one of the swankiest in the country. Surrounded by lava fields, its milky blue appearance is actually caused by the water’s high silica content.
As you relax in its warm water, with silica mud smothered on your face and a hot drink in your hand, you’ll see why so many visitors say this is the highlight of their stay.
A Seven days self-drive tour
With an entire week at your disposal, you could explore the south of Iceland by following the Ring Road east. After about thirty miles, pull into the layby and take in the view along the south coast before you drop down to the town of Hveragerði.
Nicknamed the hot spring town, it’s worth hanging around here long enough to experience Reykjadalur, aka Steam Valley, a huge geothermal haven where you can bathe in a hot river.
Further east, it’s all about the waterfalls. Grab your camera for a selfie in front of Skógafoss and step behind a curtain of water at Seljalandsfoss.
Lace up your hiking boots to check out the surrounding countryside – a short stroll from Seljalandsfoss reveals another waterfall hidden behind a cleft in the rock, while a climb up the steps beside Skógafoss unlocks a fabulous coastal view.
Vik’s another must-see, for its black sand beaches and sea stacks, sneaker waves and basalt caves; tours to ice caves are well worth the time, money and effort. In Skaftafell, ride horses in the shadow of glaciers and take a boat trip out onto Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
On the other hand, you could swap your car for a tractor and cart to visit Ingólfshöfði, the home to early settlers which is now a windswept nature reserve populated by skuas and puffins.
A week behind the wheel also gives you time to catch the car ferry to the Westman Islands. The ride only takes half an hour or so but unlocks a stunning archipelago rich with birdlife – it’s a great place to see puffins in summer from a hillside hide.
The islands’ volcanic past is evident in the raw lava of Eldfell, now colonized by purple lupins in the warmer months.
14 Day Self Drive Tour Around Iceland
With an additional seven days to spend, you can’t pass up the chance to drive the entire loop of the Ring Road. Technically, you could drive the whole thing in a day, but there’s no way you’re going to want to pass all the awe-striking scenery without making loads of stops.
As a bare minimum, to do it justice you should allow ten days, but you won’t regret adding on more time as you could drive for a month or more and still not see everything.
Once you have a rental car sorted, the first thing you’ll need to do is figure out whether you’re going to drive the Ring Road anti-clockwise or clockwise. One is not better than the other, but many people prefer to tackle the more crowded sights of the south coast while they’re still fresh or in case the weather turns ugly and they’re forced to hole up somewhere.
Aside from the south coast, Iceland Ring Road self-drive tours will also give you the opportunity to explore some of the quieter parts of the country. East Iceland feels a lot more remote, but there are some incredible sights just a minor detour off the main road.
One of these is the breathtaking Studlagil Canyon, whose iron-stained basalt columns flank a dazzling blue river.
Further north, you’ll have the chance to drive the Diamond Circle loop. This delightful scenic drive can be achieved in a day, though you might want to stretch it to two, particularly if you plan to take a whale-watching boat tour when in Húsavík.
Be awed by two of Iceland’s largest waterfalls, Dettifoss and Goðafoss, as well as the horseshoe-shaped canyon at Ásbyrgi.
North Iceland is growing in popularity as word gets out about its dramatic coastline. Fans of the Netflix series Trapped won’t want to miss charming Siglufjörður, also known for its fascinating herring history.
Add a stop at Hvammstangi to learn about the local seals – it’s only a short drive to see them hauled out on the rocks in several places on the Vatnsnes peninsula.
The roads are at their emptiest in the Westfjords, with wild beaches and beautiful fjords to explore on two feet when you fancy a break from the driving.
Plan a pitstop at Holmavik to visit the quirky Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, and Flateyri where you can visit Iceland’s oldest bookstore.
Ísafjörður, the region’s tiny capital, is the ideal base if you plan to visit Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Arctic fox. No matter how much time you have, taking yourself on a tour opens up a wealth of possibilities.
A Road trip adventure
Hopefully, this guide to Iceland self-drive tours has inspired you to customize an itinerary that will suit your own likes and dislikes. When you rent a car rather than book an organized tour, the sky is truly the limit.
But don’t worry if you can’t fit everything in this time. Iceland’s landscapes will work their magic and before you know it, you’ll be planning a return trip.