Embarking on an Iceland road trip in summer is an exhilarating adventure that promises breathtaking landscapes, stunning waterfalls, and a true connection with nature.
In this comprehensive guide, I will provide you with all the information and advice necessary to start planning a successful journey.
From determining the best time to visit and deciding how many days to stay, to choosing the best route and exploring the must-see places, I’ll cover every aspect to ensure your road trip through Iceland is unforgettable.
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How to get to Iceland
The main gateway to Iceland is Keflavík International Airport, situated approximately 50 kilometres southwest of Reykjavík, the capital city. Keflavík Airport serves as a prominent layover point for many US-based airlines connecting the United States and Europe.
Ferry from Hirtshals to Seyðisfjörður
Another way to arrive in Iceland is by ferry from Hirtshals, Denmark. This option offers a unique and scenic journey, particularly if you wish to bring your own vehicle.
The ferry route from Hirtshals to Iceland takes approximately two days and includes a stop at the Faroe Islands before reaching the final destination of Seyðisfjörður in the east of Iceland. While the duration may seem long, the advantage of this option is the ability to bring your car from Europe, providing freedom and convenience for further exploration within Iceland.
The route is operated by Smyril Line and their vessel, MS Norröna, operates on this route. It runs from March to November through to Iceland.
How to get to REykjavík from the airport
Upon arrival at Keflavík Airport, several transportation options are available to reach Reykjavík:
Bus Service – A regular bus service operates between Keflavík Airport and Reykjavík. The journey typically takes around 45 minutes, providing a convenient and cost-effective mode of transportation. Bus tickets can be purchased at the airport or online in advance. There are a number of companies running this service but FlyBus has always been reliable for me.
Car Rental – If you prefer the flexibility of having your own vehicle, car rental companies are conveniently located either in the arrivals hall or in a separate building accessible via a short shuttle bus ride. Renting a car allows you to explore Iceland at your own pace and access more remote destinations.
Taxi Service – For those seeking a hassle-free transfer, a 24-hour taxi service is available at Keflavík Airport. Taxis provide a convenient option if you have a lot of luggage or prefer a direct and comfortable journey to your accommodation in Reykjavík. The taxi rank is just outside the main arrivals hall.
Best time to visit Iceland
When it comes to planning your Icelandic road trip, choosing the right time to visit is crucial. The summer months offer several advantages, including milder temperatures and extended daylight hours. However, it’s important to consider the increased tourist activity during this period.
Summer weather conditions in Iceland are relatively mild, with average temperatures ranging from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). Be prepared for changeable weather and rain showers. There may even be snow. To make the most of your journey, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of May-June or August-September, when the weather is still pleasant, but the crowds are thinner.
How many days do I need for a road trip to Iceland?
The duration of your road trip will depend on your interests, the attractions you wish to visit, and the pace at which you prefer to travel. To fully experience the diverse landscapes and attractions that Iceland has to offer, I recommend staying for a minimum of seven days. However, if time allows, a two-week trip will provide a more comprehensive exploration. Here are some suggested itineraries based on different trip lengths:
- Reykjavik: Explore the vibrant capital city and its surrounding attractions.
- Golden Circle: Visit Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall.
- South Coast: Discover Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, black sand beaches, and the charming village of Vík.
- Skaftafell National Park and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: Witness the stunning beauty of glaciers and icebergs.
10-day itinerary (in addition to the 7-day itinerary):
- East Fjords: Explore the picturesque fjords, fishing villages, and encounter unique wildlife.
- Mývatn: Discover the geothermal wonders, volcanic landscapes, and stunning Lake Mývatn.
- Akureyri: Visit the vibrant “Capital of the North” and enjoy its cultural attractions.
14-day itinerary (in addition to the 10-day itinerary if you don’t decide to stay anywhere more than a day):
- Westfjords: Venture into the remote and rugged landscapes of the Westfjords, renowned for their natural beauty and tranquillity.
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula: Experience the magical landscapes, lava fields, and the iconic Snæfellsjökull glacier.
What is the best route for a road trip in Iceland?
Iceland offers an array of captivating routes, each with its own unique charm. The most popular and iconic route is the Ring Road (Route 1), which encircles the island. This approximately 1,332-kilometer (828-mile) road provides access to many of Iceland’s stunning attractions. However, consider exploring additional routes to truly experience the country’s diversity:
- Arctic Coast Way: This road trip will take you along the remote and wild north coast of Iceland.
- South Coast Route: A picturesque drive along the southern coast, featuring dramatic waterfalls, black sand beaches, and glacier tongues.
- Diamond Circle Route: A loop in the north that includes highlights like Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss waterfall, and Ásbyrgi Canyon.
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula Route: Explore the mystical landscapes of Snæfellsnes Peninsula, home to Kirkjufell mountain and Snæfellsjökull glacier.
What are the must-see places on a road trip in Iceland?
Iceland is blessed with extraordinary natural wonders and cultural landmarks. Everyone has different things that they really want to see so this is a difficult question to answer, however here are some must-see places to include in your itinerary:
- Þingvellir National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its historical significance and stunning landscapes, including the Silfra Fissure.
- Geysir Geothermal Area: Witness the spouting geysers, including the famous Strokkur, and soak in the natural hot springs.
- Gullfoss Waterfall: Marvel at the powerful cascades of this iconic waterfall, located in the Golden Circle.
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: Experience the ethereal beauty of floating icebergs and take a boat tour to get up close to the glacier.
- Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls: Encounter the mesmerizing beauty of these majestic waterfalls along the South Coast.
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach: Explore the striking black sand beach, basalt sea stacks, and towering cliffs near Vík.
- Lake Mývatn: Discover this geothermal wonderland featuring unique volcanic formations, craters, and bubbling mud pots.
Flexibility is the key to travelling and exploring Iceland. The weather and road conditions change so rapidly that it is impossible to stick to a plan 100% of the time. You may also find somewhere unexpected and not want to go anywhere else.
What are the activities that are unique to Iceland?
There are so many natural and free attractions in Iceland that you really don’t need to pay for any experiences on your Iceland road trip. However, if you need an adrenaline rush then think about the following:
- Hiking on a glacier
- Seeing an erupting volcano
- Exploring ice caves (limited to Katla Ice Cave or the man-made ‘Into the Glacier’ in the summer)
- Heading into the Arctic Circle
- Whale watching
- Discovering puffins in the wild
- Fishing for Icelandic char
- Seeing Arctic foxes in the wild
Travel considerations when planning your Iceland trip
Iceland is huge and the roads are not great. On the map, it looks like you can travel easily from one place to the next but this isn’t always the case. The drive from Ring Road 1 to Dreki is about 100km on the map, but roads F905 and F910, take over four hours of 4WD each way. Add to that the need to stop in lay-by’s for photographs and breaks and the time slips away before you realise. I have found that 200km in a day with stops was about my limit. This worked out to be about 3 hours of driving maximum but filled a whole day with stops.
What are the Road Conditions like in Iceland?
I can’t emphasise this enough! The roads beyond Route 1 are rough gravel in places and take much longer to drive than you think. There may not be any traffic jams or other cars for that matter, but everything takes much longer than on motorways and good roads.
It is also worth having a plan B for each day. The weather may be against you reaching a destination or a road may be closed. Always check the conditions at the beginning of the day on road.is.
What car should I rent for a road trip to Iceland?
The hire car that you choose for your Iceland road trip will determine how comfortable and how adventurous your trip will become. If you are planning to venture beyond the Golden Circle or Snæfellsnes Peninsula then opting for 4WD will be your best option. Even the main roads in the north are rough and while you can do it in 2WD it is slow and uncomfortable.
Your hire company will give you advice on where you can and can’t take the vehicle. Listen carefully! If you ford a river and get stuck they are not going to help you out and your insurance is not going to pay.
The hire companies all have a range of insurance options. Only you will know what you want to take out and what is within your budget. I took everything offered, knowing that we had no excess and every disaster was covered other than getting stuck in a river. Read the small print and ensure you know what you are buying.
Also, think about how much stuff you have with you. All of the hire companies give details of bag space in the boot and some will hire roof boxes. Have a careful think when planning about how much space you really need to make the journey a comfortable experience.
Around Reykjavík fuel is easy, but as you head further east and north fuel becomes more of an issue. You really need to plan where you are going to fuel up. This is especially the case if you are going to the Highlands or Westfjords where there are large distances between fuel stations. Get into the habit of topping up and keeping an eye on your mileage.
When you refuel some pumps are automated. This may mean that money is taken from your credit card twice – once when you start the transaction for the amount you request and then with the final amount. The first payment will be refunded but it may take up to 30 days. The amount is usually 10,000ISK (about £60), which soon adds up. Make sure you have space on your credit card or enough funds on a debit card to accommodate this charge for a month.
Food on an Iceland road trip
In a similar way to fuel, food in Iceland needs to be planned. In the northeast and north-west shops are limited and it may be a day or two before you reach a town with a shop. Planning ahead is essential.
There are a number of supermarket chains in Iceland. Bonus with the pink pig is best known, however, I found that Netto actually had more choices and better prices. In Reykjavík, there is a Costco which can be used by any Costco cardholder.
The price of food in Iceland is more than anywhere else in Europe but similar to the UK. This is because of the import logistics. It is however not extortionate and with planning and a simple meal plan, it is not prohibitive.
Unless you are staying in a hotel with a restaurant, I would suggest that self-catering is the most cost-efficient way to eat on a road trip in Iceland. Restaurants can be expensive although the quality is always good. In the more remote areas finding a restaurant can be difficult so planning is essential.
Where can I stay on a road trip around Iceland?
So this is up to you and your budget! Google reviews and TripAdvisor are your friends in this process as things change, owners change and from one season to the next hotels, Airbnb’s and campsites can change.
Camping in Iceland
The check-in system was similar for most sites. Arrive and pick your spot and someone appears to take payment at some point in the evening or early morning. Other sites have a reception and some just have an honesty box (make sure you have some cash!).
Some campsites get busy in the summer so it is worth arriving in the early afternoon and getting set up before heading out for the evening. This is a good option as attractions are quieter but the short nights give you lots of time to explore.
Campervans in Iceland are a good halfway house between camping and a solid building. Research the company you are hiring from and read reviews. In the summer it is not as important, but in winter months check for insulation and heaters as well as the conditions that it will tolerate.
Airbnb or Guesthouses
AirBnB and hotels or guesthouses are the final options. Some are good, some are amazing and others are just plain awful. Look at what they provide and what you need. At the end of the day, it is just one night on a road trip before you move on and my thought is always so long as it is clean and welcoming everything else is a bonus. You may find your perfect holiday rental in Iceland with CozyCozy where they will provide options without the hunt or gamble of booking sites.
Route planning your Iceland Road Trip
This is the final part of the planning process. Have a look at the routes of tour companies, what they offer and the timings and use this to plan. However, this is not planning as you would imagine.
In the south where it is busy explore the Golden Circle in reverse or start your day ahead of the buses. Lots of the tours visit Geysir first, make sure you are there before they can possibly reach it from Reykjavík or make it the final stop of the day when the buses have all left. If the tours in the area all go clockwise then plan your route in an anti-clockwise direction.
As you head away from the popular areas this becomes less of a consideration and planning is determined more by fuel, food and accommodation.
Always have a plan B and a list of ‘must see’ and ‘less important’ stops that you can add in or remove depending on how your day is going. Weather plays a big part in any Iceland road trip and this needs to be factored in every day.
It is also worth putting in some short days. It is an intense experience and sometimes you just need to stop. Get to accommodation early and take time to have a swim or just catch up on a book. You cannot travel continually without burning out eventually. Far better to plan a break than have it forced upon you.
Taking your route on the road
After all the planning it is essential that you stick to your plan. Make sure the routes are saved somewhere that you can access. Google Maps is fine, but in some areas, there is no internet access even with mobile data. Make sure you have a paper backup of the entire route.
After months of planning it almost feels like you have walked the entire route from your living room, but once you are on the road, the planning will come into its own and hopefully reduce the stress. Being flexible is key. The weather and roads may mean changes are needed but this is a stress-free change as it is hopefully all planned.
My experiences in Iceland
This simple guide is based on my own experiences planning a 28-day road trip around Iceland followed by two return visits. For the road trip, I hired a car and camped with some Airbnb nights when the weather beat my tent. This trip covered over 4500km of roads and almost every town and larger village. The second trip was based in Reykjavík, tent camping for the whole time and using just public transport and tours. The final trip (so far!) was hotel based in winter and included flights to the Westfjords region. This trip exposed me to the harsh reality of Iceland in winter and how different the experience can be.
Final tips for a summer road trip in Iceland
Iceland is a land of natural beauty, and there’s no better way to experience it than on a road trip. The best time to go on an Iceland road trip is during the summer when the weather is mild and the days are long.
Once you’ve chosen your time of year, you’ll need to decide on your route. The Golden Circle is a popular choice, as it takes in some of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks, such as Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park. However, there are many other great routes to choose from, so you can tailor your trip to your interests.
No matter which route you choose, make sure to pack your essentials, including a good map, a camera, and plenty of warm clothes. You’ll also need to rent a car or book a tour, as public transportation in Iceland is limited.
Here are some additional tips for planning your Iceland road trip:
- Book your accommodation in advance, especially if you’re travelling during the peak season.
- Be prepared for the weather, which can change quickly in Iceland.
- Allow plenty of time for your trip, as there’s so much to see and do.
- Be respectful of the environment and leave no trace behind.
Planning a road trip to Iceland? Read all my Iceland Travel Guides