How to Do Iceland’s Ring Road in 10 Days
Bunny Loves Iceland!
There is something darkly beautiful and mysterious about Iceland that fascinates Bunny. Her first visit to Iceland happened in the dead of winter, on New Year’s many years ago. There was barely any sunlight during her entire 3-night whirlwind tour. Despite the darkness, cold weather and the occasional rain, she fell in love with the country and dreamed of returning ever since.
Last summer, she finally did. And she did it in a big way, tackling the 1,332 kilometre Ring Road around Iceland, checking out the scenery and sights along the way. She reserved 10 days for the whole trip, but it could easily have been twice as long. There is a lot to see and do in Iceland…
Bunny went in July which is prime tourist season. Busy at times. Very busy at other times. As you may know, Bunny detests crowds, so it was tough going at times. Luckily, she did manage to also find some quiet corners of this beautiful country, along with seeing the massively popular sights, of course.
Below is a day-to-day itinerary of Bunny’s Ring Road adventure, including road distances, accommodation, major sights and remarkable scenery not to be missed.
Bunny's Ring Road route with hotels and scenic locations marked on Google Maps.
Day 1 - Arrive and Sleep
Flight times to Iceland can be awkward. Bunny was lucky enough to benefit from a direct flight, but she did land in Iceland very late at night. There was no point in planning any special programme for the first day, so Bunny decided to stay in accommodation close to the airport.
Bunny’s choice of hotel was Bed & Breakfast Keflavik Airport which was affordable by Icelandic standards. It is a short drive from the airport (with a free airport shuttle) but nothing to write home about. Mr. Bunny, a pretend-nice-guy-who-has-lately-turned-into-a-bit-of-an-elitist, was not particularly pleased with the choice. “Bare bones”, he muttered before falling into a deep sleep accompanied by the usual snore fest.
Day 2 - Reynisfjara Beach and Waterfalls
Bunny was up early the next morning to pick up the rental car at the airport. Having done her research in advance, Bunny signed up for extra insurance against gravel damage. Apparently, the local car rental agencies are skillful at screwing you at the end of the rental if you don’t have this insurance.
The first day’s drive was a manageable 135km to Hella. On the way, the Bunnies got their first taste of fascinating Icelandic landscapes, the ever-changing scenery giving a nice glimpse of what was to come during the rest of the trip. The roads were good, and the traffic was light, so this was a good start to the driving.
Bunny’s hotel for the first night on the road was a wonderful family-run Hotel Selid. It is only 10 kilometres from the Ring Road but sits in a nice verdant valley with absolutely nothing around it. Just the way Bunny likes it!
Scenery on the Ring Road from Reykjavik to Hella
From Hotel Selid, it was easy to visit the area’s main attractions in one afternoon: Reynisfjara black pebble beach and Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. These are extremely popular spots, due to their close proximity to Reykjavik so plan to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the tourist busses have departed. And be sure to check out the additional hidden waterfalls approximately 500 metres from the main site at Seljalandsfoss.
After these three attractions, the Bunnies were happy with their first day of sightseeing. They grabbed some takeaway pizza from the nearby town of Hella and headed back to their peaceful accommodation. As a perfect ending to the first day on the road, Bunny enjoyed a long session at the hotel’s outdoor hot tub in the evening - blissfully alone under the invisible stars owing to it still being light outside. 🙂
Reynisfjara black pebble beach, Hotel Selid and Seljalandfoss waterfalls
Day 3 - Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
After a good night’s sleep, Bunny was ready for the second day on the road, with an anticipated drive ahead of her of 260 kilometres to Hnappavellir. The Bunnies also decided to check out the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon on the way. The canyon is a fairly young sight, dating back a mere two million years. It is a detour of a couple of kilometres from the Ring Road and well worth the trouble.
The canyon is a nice place to stretch your legs, or even do a proper hike as there are nice footpaths around. The canyon itself is at places 100 metres deep and about 2 kilometres long. Unfortunately, Bunny didn’t have time to do the full-length hike, but she did appreciate the little outing. The only annoyance is the road leading to the canyon which is a bit painful. Bunny was at first hesitant about whether the rental car would even make the journey, but it was OK in the end. On the way to the canyon, Bunny also got acquainted with a new traffic sign which immediately became her all-time favourite.
After the canyon expedition, the Bunnies had a quick lunch of munchies on the road, whilst admiring Icelandic horses grazing nearby.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and a traffic sign to remember
Bunny’s hotel for the night was quite fancy: Fosshotel Glacial Lagoon. Bunny was impressed with her room and the hotel architecture in general but did not have time to revel in it as she was eager to head to one of her favourite places in Iceland: Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon.
Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon is an easy 20-minute drive from the Fosshotel - one of the reasons Bunny booked the hotel in the first place. Jokulsarlon is located next to Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, and has quickly become one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. The scenery is mind-blowing. Huge chunks of ice float around in the beautiful lagoon before eventually melting and drifting out to the sea.
The Bunnies spent a long time walking up and down the shore. It was great just to gawk at the icebergs from shore, admiring their amazing shades of blue and turquoise glistering in the sunlight. In sunny weather, the ice reflects beautifully on the still waters of the lagoon. This place is a photographer’s paradise and definitely one of Bunny’s highlights in Iceland.
Bunny's favourite Jokulsarlon
The Bunnies also took one of the amphibian boat tours available on the spot. The one-hour boat ride is an interesting way to see the lagoon, but Bunny doesn’t consider it a necessity. If you’re on a tight budget, save your money and just walk along the shore. It is easy to find quiet corners even on a busy day, particularly later in the day when most of the tour busses have left.
Amphibian boat ride in Jokulsarlon
Once Bunny had taken enough pictures, the Bunnies headed back to the hotel for a great dinner. The restaurant at the Fosshotel Glacial Lagoon was a topnotch experience, with a decent selection of vegetarian dishes on the menu - not always a given in Iceland.
Day 4 - Glacier Walk and Fjallsarlon
Bunny started day 4 with a big breakfast, followed by a check-out from the hotel. The first item on the day’s agenda was a glacier walk in Vatnajokull. For this, the Bunnies had to backtrack a bit on the Ring Road to reach Skaftavell (about 20 minutes’ drive from the hotel) where the hikes begin.
Bunny opted for a half day Glacier Explorer tour with Glacier Guides, one of the many companies offering glacier walks in the area. The participants (12 people) were taken in a minibus to the foot of Falljökull glacier where the walking starts.
It was a glorious warm day, the nicest day of the summer apparently, so Bunny was excited. The first part of the hike went through the ever-changing landscape carved out by the glacier. Once the group arrived at the tongue of the glacier, it was time to put on crampons and take out ice axes!
The guide then led the way through various ice formations, amazing shades of blue and panoramic views on the glacier. The Bunnies heard a massive sheet of ice come crashing down and later stood right beside another ice structure that collapsed. It was awesome and scary at the same time! Glacier Guides did a good job with the trip, making sure everyone was safe and comfortable at all times.
After the excellent half day tour, the Bunnies picked up their luggage at the hotel and headed for their next destination: a 110km drive to Hofn for a stay in another Fosshotel, this time Fosshotel Vatnajokull.
On the way, Bunny stopped at a smaller glacier lagoon of Fjallsarlon for a little outing. Fjallsarlon is pretty but not as awe-inspiring as its big sister Jokulsarlon. It is definitely worth a stop though if you are driving past it on the Ring Road.
The Fosshotel Vatnajokull was about a one-hour drive past Jokulsarlon. Mr Bunny (behind the wheel) observed noticeably less traffic after the lagoon. The scenery was amazing, with mountains giving way to glacier, giving way to unearthly green pastures.
Once at the hotel, the Bunnies enjoyed another very tasty dinner and decided to make it an early evening to gather energy for the long drive the following day.
From Fjallsarlon to Fosshotel Vatnajokull
Day 5 - Fjord Scenery and Villages
Bunny’s next destination was Ásgeirsstaðir. She decided to take the scenic route (199km) as there was nothing obvious to see on the way. During the drive, the Bunnies stopped a lot for pictures and enjoyed countless waterfalls, lakes and pretty valleys. They also decided to take a little detour to the small town of Seydisfjordur, population approximately 700 people.
Seydisfjordur is one of Lonely Planet’s top picks for Iceland: “if you visit only one town in the Eastfjords, this should be it”. Bunny didn’t visit any others, so she cannot draw any comparisons but Seydisfjordur was pretty with its colourful wooden houses and snow-capped mountains in the background. It was also pleasantly quiet although there was a cruise ship in town.
Scenery at and on the way to Seydisfjordur
The Bunnies walked around, had veggie burgers in Kaffi Lara and stocked up on groceries and wine (in Iceland you can only buy wine at special government-owned alcohol stores Vínbúðin!).
it was a little over half an hour of driving to reach their home for the night: Ásgeirsstaðir Holiday Homes.
Bunny had been slightly worried about this accommodation in advance as it was not a hotel and she couldn’t find many reviews about it online. Luckily, it turned out to be very nice. The Bunnies stayed in a private wooden cottage with all the comforts, including good Wi-Fi and a kitchenette. There was also a nice sunny terrace as well as horses grazing around the property! The Bunnies spent a relaxed evening there, enjoying a picnic dinner with the bottle of wine bought earlier in the day.
Day 5 ended in a well-deserved beer for Bunny
Day 6 - Puffins and Lava Fields
Day 6 on Bunny’s Ring Road itinerary was to be the biggest driving day of them all. The day started with a little detour (60 kilometers) from the Ring Road to see a puffin colony in Borgarfjordur Eystri.
Bunny is a big fan of puffins and she had read that the road to Borgarfjordur Eystri was very scenic. It probably is but Bunny couldn’t see a thing because it was so damn foggy! The driving bordered on dangerous but since Bunny had made up her mind about the puffins, puffins she would see. There was no question about turning back. It was a drive or die-like situation. Luckily there was practically no other traffic around. Apparently, the hordes visiting Iceland at the same time as Bunny were not as keen on puffins as she was.
The scary driving was all made worthwhile when the Bunnies arrived in Borgarfjordur Eystri. The fog dissipated, the rain reduced to a dribble and the puffins were at their best behaviour. It was great to get so close to the puffin colony (instead of gawking at them from afar aboard a boat as Bunny had experienced in Newfoundland) and to watch them interact with each other. Bunny spent the longest time just marveling at these funny animals and taking tons of pictures. There were barely any other tourists around.
Lovely puffins in Borgarfjordur Eystri
Bunny’s puffin expedition was followed by some delicious apple pie and hot coffee in Alpha Cafe. There were also some interesting photo opportunities, such as turf houses, in the town itself. Some tourist busses were around but generally the atmosphere was very quiet.
Then it was time to sit back behind the wheel and continue driving towards the destination of the day: Siglufjörður. It was almost 400 kilometres of road ahead for the Bunnies, but they had planned to stop around Myvatn for some geothermal adventures on the way.
In Myvatn, many of the attractions are located conveniently close to the Ring Road. No big detours were required to check out the Krafla volcano, Leirhnjukur lava fields with steaming sulphuric plumes and acid lake. The Hverir Geothermal Field was Bunny’s particular favourite which also happens to be located right next to the Ring Road!
Hverir Geothermal Field
The Bunnies were happily hopping along these sights, marveling at Icelandic nature at its best. In fact, Myvatn’s otherworldly scenery was an unexpected highlight on Bunny’s Ring Road itinerary and she wished she spent more time in the area, perhaps exploring the Myvatn lake as well.
Otherworldly scenery of Myvatn
In the early evening, the hungry Bunnies made a little detour into Akureyri, which is Iceland’s second largest urban area. It was a pleasant enough town, but the Bunnies were only interested in filling their growling (not so) little tummies with yummy food as soon as possible. Approximately an hour later, their mission was accomplished and they continued onwards.
The Bunnies finally arrived at Siglo Hotel in Siglufjordur village at 9pm. The hotel was new and fancy - Bunny’s favourite of all the ones they stayed on the Ring Road - and she was happy they would stay there for two nights to get a little break from the driving. The start of the stay was certainly promising when the Bunnies headed straight for the outside heated pool after arriving. What bliss!
Day 7 - Relaxation and Whale Watching
Day 7 on Bunny’s Ring Road itinerary was to be a quiet, relaxing day to slow the pace down a bit after some hectic days in Iceland.
Breakfast at the hotel was OK but, in general, the Bunnies were not impressed with Icelandic breakfast standards. They all seemed a bit bland somehow.
Bunny wanted to go whale watching while in Iceland and the north coast was just the place to do it. She found a local agency, Arctic Sea Tours, located in Dalvik, approximately half an hour’s drive from the hotel. Their whale-watching tours leave from the Dalvik harbour, just outside the office.
The weather was quite miserable, cold and drizzling rain, so Bunny was grateful for all the gear provided by Arctic Sea Tours before the trip: very warm overalls that were great for keeping out the chilly Arctic wind. Their boat was a cute, refurbished oak fishing vessel.
Siglo hotel and whale-watching in Dalvik
Bunny had three good sightings of the (probably) same humpback whale breaching the surface of the sea, so she was happy with the results. The company has a “whale back guarantee”, which lets you have a second tour for free if you don’t experience any sightings. At the end of the tour, the guide offered hot chocolate and Icelandic cookies to everyone, and the captain stopped the boat so that those interested in fishing could have a try. Bunny is not so keen on torturing fish, so she gave it a miss.
Back at the hotel, the Bunnies enjoyed another long session in the outdoor hot tub, with drinks delivered directly to the pool. Not bad for a rest day in Iceland.
Day 8 - Seals and Drive Back to Reykjavik
Day 8 was the last day of driving, at times in very bad weather. Bunny had not planned any particular detours for the remaining 380km stretch back to Reykjavik. The plan was to arrive early enough in Reykjavik to have a nice dinner in town.
As usual, Bunny didn’t quite follow the plan as she decided to take a little detour after all, to go see some Icelandic seals in Hvammstangi. The town is only six kilometres north off the Ring Road and has the Icelandic Seal Centre which provides a lot of information, including recommended times to visit the seal colonies outside the town (two hours before and after the low tide). The Bunnies decided to wait for the most opportune time and, while waiting, had a great quiche and coffee in Hladan Kaffihus.
The seal colonies are outside Hvammstangi and the Bunnies visited two of the three areas marked in the map they received from the Seal Centre. It was pleasant to walk along the coast and spot the seals but not the most exciting outing in Iceland. You don’t actually get very close to the seals, who are lounging on distant rocks beside the sea. Bunny much preferred her puffin expedition earlier in the week.
Seal central at Hvammstangi
The rest of the drive to Reykjavik was quite foggy, rainy and unremarkable. Closer to Reykjavik, the Bunnies took the Hvalfjörður tunnel, a 6 kilometre shortcut deep under the sea. Bunny is not so fond of tunnels, particularly underwater ones, so she was freaking out a bit. Thankfully the drive only lasts about 7 minutes and the Bunnies emerged unscathed on the other side - the tunnel did not collapse on them despite Bunny’s strong visions to the contrary.
Upon reaching Reykjavik, the Bunnies had a devil of a time finding a parking place downtown. Iceland’s ever-increasing popularity has made Reykjavik very crowded at times. Luckily, one spot was found in the end and Bunny was happy to park the car for the remaining two days. Driving on the Ring Road was practically at an end!
Bunny’s hotel for the last two nights in Iceland was Kvosin – “a nice hotel room even if the staff is a bit pretentious” was Mr. Bunny’s verdict. The Bunnies were very happy to find a Thai restaurant, Ban Thai, for dinner that evening. The restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside but serves excellent spicy Thai food with plenty of vegetarian options. That was such a welcome change after a week of Icelandic food on the road.
From foggy Hvammstangi to colourful Reykjavik
Day 9 - Reykjavik and White Night Hike
On day 9, the Bunnies enjoyed a self-catered breakfast at the hotel before strolling around Reykjavik for the first half of the day. The weather did not cooperate so lots of time had to be spent sheltered in bookshops (one of Bunny’s favourite pastimes) and cafes trying out different cakes and cookies (much to Mr. Bunny’s delight).
The day’s main programme was the White Night Volcano Hike with Goecco, starting in Reykjavik at 5pm. On her previous visit to Iceland, Bunny had done two tours with Goecco and was very impressed with the style and execution of their trips. As a result, her expectations for the hike were high…
Amazing scenery, company and fuel on Goecco's White Night Hike
And what a magical hike it was! All the elements were there: a small group, an interesting tour guide in a slightly crazy-kind-of-way, amazing scenery, a bottle of local Brennivin (vodka-type) produced early in the walk to fuel the hikers, a friendly sheep joining the hike, bathing in a hot spring at the halfway point of the hike with sandwiches and red wine magically appearing and being served by the tour guide as the hikers splashed around in the river… Bunny loved every minute of it! Sure, there was a bumpy car ride to get to the location and the hiking after the red wine and hot river bathing was a bit tough, but to her, the hike was a perfectly mad Icelandic experience. It’s not every day you get to hike through geothermal landscapes with hissing steam, gurgling mud holes and green luscious valleys with hot rivers running through them.
That night, the Bunnies were dropped back at their hotel well past midnight, exhausted but happy.
Bathing in a hot river with a glass of red wine in hand - Bunny's kind of hike!
Day 10 - Snorkeling in Freezing Water and Blue Lagoon
This was Bunny’s last day in Iceland and it was another early start. The Bunnies had to check out before they were picked up at 8 am for a snorkeling tour. Now hang on, snorkeling in Iceland? That’s right. Not quite the Caribbean experience but fabulous nevertheless.
The Bunnies were promptly picked up by Dive Iceland and taken to Silfra in the Thingvellir National Park (approximately an hour’s drive from Reykjavik). Upon arrival, the Bunnies got kitted up in dry suits with the rest of the group. It took quite a while to get all the gear on properly, but the water is so cold that you will want to be fully protected.
The snorkeling itself lasts only about 30 minutes but it’s well worth the effort. You drift between the tectonic plates of North America and Europe in crystal clear water that is pure enough to drink. Simply beautiful!
Amazing snorkelling at Silfra fissure. Images courtesy of Dive Iceland.
You can also combine the snorkeling tour with a visit to the famous Golden Circle sights (Geysir and Gullfoss waterfalls) nearby. Bunny didn’t take the combined tour this time as she had seen these other sights on her previous trip to Iceland.
After the snorkeling expedition, the Bunnies were taken back to Reykjavik where they enjoyed a fantastic lunch of pizza and avocado bread at Mikkeller and Friends. Then it was time for a final stroll in town before the Bunnies retrieved their luggage from the hotel and drove to the Blue Lagoon - a quintessential, even if very touristic, geothermal spa experience in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon is situated approximately 50 kilometres from Reykjavik, and very close to the airport, so the Bunnies decided to save it to the end of their trip and head from the Blue Lagoon directly to the airport.
Bunny had been to the Blue Lagoon before, so she knew the drill: Exclusive Lounge is the way to go. It costs a lot more than general admission but gives you access to the beautiful lounge facilities (with its own separate access to the lagoon), private changing rooms, fresh fruit, a free drink, as well as deluxe bathrobe, slippers and a goodie-bag full of Blue Lagoon toiletries. All in all, it is a very luxurious and civilized way of enjoying the sometimes circus-like Blue Lagoon. It is one of those exclusive experiences Bunny is quite happy to pay a lot extra for.
From snorkelling in the ice-cold water in Silfra to splashing out in thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon in one day
After three hours of splashing around in the Blue Lagoon, the Bunnies drove to the airport, returned the rental car (with no problems, phew!) and checked in to their evening flight back home. Their 10-day expedition to Iceland had been full of adventures, gorgeous scenery, amazing experiences and a lot of fun.
Bunny’s Lessons Learned
Bunny is convinced that her Ring Road experience was a success mainly because of the hard work she put into planning and researching the trip in advance. Here are some of Bunny’s lessons learned along the way:
- Reserve at a minimum one week for driving the Ring Road, 10 days or more is even better. You will be tempted to stop a lot along the route, so your driving times are likely to be longer than expected.
- Book all your hotels well in advance, particularly if you are travelling in summer time (months in advance!). Bunny used booking.com for her reservations, partly because of their generous cancellation policy so she had some flexibility.
- There is no need for fancy hotels. Bunny, if anyone, is a sucker for luxury accommodation but in Iceland the real star is the nature itself. Anyway, you won’t be spending a lot of time at your hotel so make savings there rather than skipping some special tours or experiences.
- Take the extra gravel insurance for your rental car. The roads are not always great and there is a real chance that you get charged extra for scratching the car otherwise. Bunny was able to return her car without incident but witnessed a very heated and uncomfortable discussion when those returning their car just ahead of her got dinged a lot for gravel damage.
- Gas stations and grocery stores are not that frequent in the more remote sections of the Ring Road, so make sure you always have provisions for emergencies.
- Sheep and cyclists are a common hazard on the road, so please watch out for them. Tourists stopping for photographs in unfortunate places is another common nuisance. Don’t be one of those idiots.
- It is sometimes difficult to get an idea of the distances and required driving times between different locations and sights in Iceland. For her planning, Bunny used a distance calculator which turned out to be pretty accurate and reliable.
- All of the driving and ever-changing scenery can also be exhausting. Bunny recommends staying put for two nights in one of the places during the tour. With hindsight, Bunny would probably do this in the Jokulsarlon or Myvatn area.
- If you go in the summer time, take advantage of the long hours of sunlight. It is a wonderful advantage as the days can last very long and be jam-packed with action if you so wish.
- It doesn’t really matter which direction you tackle the Ring Road. Choose according to your own preference and you are guaranteed to experience stunning scenery.