Last summer I had the great pleasure of visiting Iceland. It was a super trip, one of my favorite vacations of my life.
Planning the trip was a bit of an undertaking.
It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking, but our efforts paid off: it all went pretty smoothly, and felt like an appropriate amount of activity.
I thought I’d share our itinerary here, in case its useful to anyone planning a trip of their own.
I’m calling this an 8 day Ring Road itinerary. We did 8 days of driving around, but availability of flights made the trip a bit longer.
We departed NYC on July 15, on a redeye from EWR – KEF, arriving on July 16.
Then we returned on July 24 on an early morning flight from KEF – JFK.
It was a busy itinerary, but not overwhelming or exhausting.
8 Day Ring Road Itinerary
The Ring Road is an 827 mile road around Iceland.
We drove all the way around, counterclockwise, starting and ending in Reykjavik (southwest corner).
Iceland is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. It was gorgeous and astonishing.
I didn’t take a ton of photos, but will include a mix of Nikon d800 photos, iPhone photos, and a few Iceland drone photos and video.
This wont be a very photo-heavy post, just some ideas for people planning a trip and looking for an Iceland Ring Road itinerary.
Our itinerary worked well, and hopefully will be useful to others.
If you’ve got some other ideas, I’d love to hear them!
What Kind of Car To Rent In Iceland
We rented a Suzuki Grand Vitara – a smaller SUV.
Maybe it was luck, maybe it was the time of year, but it worked just fine.
We landed in Reykjavik and picked up our car at one of several rental places at the airport.
We used the unimaginatively but accurately named “Iceland Car Rental.”
When planning the trip, we read all kinds of conflicting reports about what type of car you’d need to drive around Iceland’s Ring Road.
Many recommended getting a huge 4×4 so you could handle all kinds of terrain, and drive through deep water. We were unable to find any rental 4x4s in Iceland that were available for our whole trip, so if this is important to you PLAN WAY AHEAD.
We were cautious about driving through water – getting stuck in a river in a remote area of Iceland would really put a damper on things.
There were a few times when driving across little rivers that we wondered if we would get stuck. We were careful and, mercifully, it worked out fine.
The bigger cars, like Toyota Landcruisers, and some other giant 4x4s blasted around with no problem.
We mostly stayed on the Ring Road, with a few off-road excursions along the way.
There are some beautiful routes you can take along the highlands, but our little car was not equipped for that so we stayed away.
However, given that we only had 8 days, this was probably for the best anyway – our itinerary was completely packed.
Day 1 – July 16 – Golden Circle & Fosshotel Hekla
Our first major sightseeing of the trip was the Golden Circle.
I believe a popular weekend trip to Iceland is to fly to Reykjavik, spend a day there, and then drive around the Golden Circle and depart again.
That seems pretty manageable, but my favorite parts of the country were further along on the trip.
Above is the Gullfoss, a large waterfall. It was lovely! And totally packed with tourists.
We visited a similarly-packed geysir, which was very neat.
I liked this little geysir:
We didn’t do a full 360 of the Golden Circle, we diverged around Selfoss, in the bottom righthand corner of the Golden Circle.
Our first night we stayed at the Fosshotel Hekla, which suited us just fine.
It was a reasonable distance from the airport: we had made some progress, seen some sights, but hadn’t overdone it on day 1.
We explored Blakogabyggo a bit, on our way to the hotel. I love this electric blue water.
Note the horses in the bottom right hand corner.
Day 2 – July 17 – Vik & Hotel Katla
Our drive from Fosshotel Hekla to Vik took all day. The two stops aren’t that far apart, but we made a few big detours off the 1 highway and explored a bit.
I’m so glad we did!
We climbed the side of a large glacier, and flew the drone.
I was convinced we would plunge over the side of that ridge, I found it a bit unnerving. But we made it out unscathed, and got back on the road.
I always wave to the drone. It feels a bit rude not to.
Off the main highway, en route to Vik.
This is where we drove through lots of little rivers in our car. It was pretty exciting.
Some of the rivers we crossed were quite deep.
We visited the Reynisfjara black beach, which was beautiful. I’d never seen anything like it.
We spent the night at the Hotel Katla, which is just east of Vik.
It was a nice place to stay, after a long day of exploring.
Day 3 – July 18 – Jokulsarlon Glaciar Lagoon, Hofn & Seljavellir Guesthouse
This might have been my favorite day of all.
Hofn is a small town on the southern coast of Iceland.
As we got further from Reykjavik, the main road was starting to feel much more remote.
We visited the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, and flew the drone and took some photos.
The lagoon from the shore:
The glacier lagoon via the drone:
The Jokulsarlon Glaciar Lagoon is absolutely beautiful. We flew the drone a bit, and took some photos.
Here’s a video we shot on our drone:
It was great fun to get some drone footage of Iceland.
We were surrounded by so much open space, and natural beauty, it was the perfect place to fly the drone.
We checked into the lovely Seljavellir Guesthouse, a modern hotel beautifully situated by a large glacier.
For dinner we went to Pakkus Restaurant for dinner. You must go here!
It was absolutely delicious. Probably the best meal of the whole trip.
We walked around the harbor a bit and had a sensational dinner.
A great (and somewhat disorienting) thing about Iceland in July, is you can stay out late having a wonderful dinner, and then walk out of the restaurant and it’s still as light out as it was when you arrived.
Day 4 – July 19 – Seydisfjordur & an Airbnb
Seydisfjordur is a small town on the east coast of Iceland.
We stayed at a lovely Airbnb, and explored the town a bit. I was sad to leave!
Fog and some waterfalls in Seydisfjordur via drone:
I think that’s my favorite video from the trip. You can see my boyfriend standing on the left side, to give you a sense of the scale of the huge waterfall.
At some point along our drive from Hofn to Seydisfjordur, probably as I was starting to feel like an intrepid adventurer, I received a breathless phone call from my mother in NYC. She said that our friend dear family friend Olly Hicks was also on the east coast of Iceland while completing his Greenland to Scotland Challenge.
I knew that he and a friend were kayaking (!) from Greenland to Iceland to Scotland (!!!), but I certainly wasn’t expecting to cross paths with them. But that’s exactly what happened.
We had a fabulous reunion.
I will say, bumping into someone who is kayaking from Greenland to Iceland to Scotland will definitely make you feel like your your drive around Iceland is considerably less rugged than you may have thought. Oh well.
An outrageous sunset around 11pm, when we drove back to Seydisfjordur after dinner in Eskifjordur.
Day 5 – July 20 – Akureryri & Saeluhus Apartments
I think this was the busiest day on our Ring Road itinerary.
During our drive to Akureyi, we stopped in Myvatn.
We climbed a volcano, and visited the beautiful rock formations that surrounded it. They were really stunning.
Here’s a drone video up and over the side of the volcano. It’s a little slow, but gives you a sense of how large the volcano is:
It’s also impressive how steady the drone footage is, because it was pretty windy.
Next we went to the Namafjall geothermal craters. It’s like being on another planet.
The strong sulphur became a little overwhelming, but it was a fascinating experience.
The smell eventually made me feel a little bit ill.
I thought I was just being a wimp (it wouldn’t be the first time) but I read later that it’s possible to get sulphur poisoning from the smell – so be careful!
We also checked out the Krafla Geothermal Power Station, which was very interesting.
Next we visited the Grjotagja Cave – an underground rock formation featured in a sexy scene in The Game of Thrones.
I don’t watch that show (should I?) but always enjoy some salacious TV gossip.
Once we were back on the road we saw this bright blue pond. The sulphur smell was still with us.
We went into Akureyri for dinner.
Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland. It’s by no means huge, but there are lots of shops and restaurants to check out.
I think this was one of the first places we dined that had whale on the menu (which we did not order).
We stayed at the Saeluhus Apartments, which were lovely. A great option if you’re in the Akureyi area.
Day 6 – July 21 – Siglufjordur & Siglio Hotel
The drive from Akureyri to Siglufjordur is quite quick, and very pretty.
It was nice to have an easy day, after a few intense days of sightseeing and driving.
Siglio Hotel in Siglufjordur could be my favorite place we stayed on the trip.
It was a lovely place to relax and rejuvenate before the long drive the next day.
Siglio Hotel is featured quite a bit in the great Icelandic TV mystery Trapped, which is shot in Siglufjordur, and Seydisfjordur.
We watched the show after our trip, and it was entertaining to see some familiar sights.
We visited the much-more-interesting-than-it-sounds Herring Museum and learned about the history of the area.
Day 7 – July 22 – Olafsvik & an Airbnb
Day 7 involved a lot of driving. We didn’t do too much exploring off the main road, but there was plenty to see from the car.
I didn’t take many pictures, but it was a gorgeous drive.
We stayed in an Airbnb that had lovely views of the water; it was fun to be in such a quiet little town.
Day 8 – July 23 – Reykjavik, The Blue Lagoon & Kef Guesthouse
Reykjavik was charming and welcoming.
We had a lovely lunch, and I did a quick headshot shoot in the city, which was a blast.
Of course we visited the Blue Lagoon, which was loads of fun.
You definitely need to reserve Blue Lagoon tickets in advance, there are several different packages you can get.
I strongly recommend getting a package that includes a towel. You won’t regret having a bathrobe either.
Before I went to Iceland, my hairdresser gave me a very stern lecture about keeping my hair out of the water at the Blue Lagoon. Apparently the silica seawater there can make your hair EXTREMELY tangled.
I followed her directions and slathered my hair in conditioner (they have it in the changing rooms at the Blue Lagoon) before going in.
We showered and got changed and had dinner at the LAVA restaurant at the Blue Lagoon.
It was really tasty, and a nice way to extend our time there.
Late that night we checked into a small hotel by the airport, called the Kef Guesthouse. The hotel doesn’t appear to have a website, is that possible?
The hotel wasn’t particularly grand, but it was very close to the airport. This was handy because we had to wake up really early the next day for our flight.
If you aren’t leaving early in the AM, it might be nicer to stay in Reykjavik.
Given our early flight, this was a sensible option.
Day 9 – July 24 – Departure
Early that morning, we boarded our flight back to NYC. We were sad to leave!
Iceland was such an adventure, I hope to go back at some point.
Iceland Ring Road Itinerary Travel Tips
I’ve only been around the Ring Road once so I hardly feel qualified to give any major tips but – you guessed it! – I’m going to anyway.
We went in July and the trip varies wildly during different seasons. I’m certain that there were a ton of other things we could have seen and done, had we the time.
Here are my general musings though:
- Drive all the way around the Ring Road. I’m so glad we did. Yes, you can go to Reykjavik for a weekend, or as a quick stop over to the rest of Europe, but it’s worth spending the time and seeing more of the country. It’s magical, and definitely worth the effort.
- Bring maps, and make your google maps available offline so you can navigate without cellular service. By doing these things we did the trip without a navigation device for our car.
- Only do this trip with someone you like! It’s a lot of time in the car. Not suitable for a first date, or with a coworker who kind of gets on your nerves. I did the trip with my boyfriend, who is a wonderful travel companion (and now my husband!).
- Pack some snacks! When you see a grocery store, stock up on snacks. You’ll be glad to have them in the car.
- Fill up the tank. When you see a gas station, make sure you have plenty of gas. Running out of gas in the middle of Iceland would be….unpleasant. This sounds obvious, but it would be a shame to lose track of this little detail.
- Drive carefully. Don’t be so sure your car can make it across every little river you encounter.
- Consider bringing music or podcasts (here’s my favorite) for the drive. Make sure it is accessible offline since cellular service can be very spotty, or non-existent.
- Don’t stop in the middle of the highway to take pictures. This seems like unnecessary advice, but we saw people doing it. It is dangerous and obnoxious.
- Pack layers. Even though it was July, I was glad to have lots of warm layers. I bought a hat and a wool sweater along the way, and was very glad to have them.
- Pack comfortable shoes.
- Pack sunglasses, and a bathing suit. There are tons of hot tubs and swimming pools in Iceland. You may want to take a dip.
- You probably don’t need to bring a tripod. I saw so many people with tripods on this trip. I found it completely bizarre. They weren’t doing extended exposure photography, or even taking photos of themselves (plenty of people brought selfie sticks for that). Please chime in if you can tell me why having a tripod would be necessary. I’d love to know.
What Did We Miss?
You tell me!
I’d love to go back and see some of the things that we missed. I hope to return during the winter, to see the Northern Lights. I can only imagine how different it is during other times of the year.
I’d also love to return and plan some photo shoots in advance. I can’t think of a prettier destination. If you want to do a photo shoot in Iceland, just let me know!
Are you going to Iceland? Let me know if you have any questions.
I’d love to know about your Ring Road itinerary, see your Iceland drone photos, or hear anything else about your visit.
About Daisy Beatty
Daisy Beatty is a portrait photographer based in Greenwich Village Manhattan NYC, and East Hampton NY.
She specializes in vibrant, elegant portraits of pregnancy, newborns, and family, as well as winning headshots for actors, models, executives, and online dating.
Her work has been featured extensively in both online and print publications.