Iceland road trip itineraries
I spent 5 days on the road in the south coast, and then did the Golden circle on the last day and night. Depending on how many days you have, you can use this itinerary and then add the Golden Circle day trip as your last day.
You can find my article about what to see on the Golden Circle. https://bigadventuresonabudget.com/2014/07/23/how-to-roadtrip-in-iceland-in-one-or-two-days/
Driving the whole country (the Ring Road trip)
A very popular way to go if you have more than a few days, is to drive the Ring Route 1 around the entire country. This was my intention and I had read it could be done in 5-7 days, however once I set off myself I realised this was very unrealistic and I would have spent the entire day driving and not stopping if I had done this. I had 5 days on the road and spent it all on the south coast (south of Reykjavik).
Here is a day by day itinery of the south coast of Iceland, incorporating volcanoes, islands, waterfalls, hot springs, mud pots, geothermal rivers, glaciers and tectonic places.
We drove at a relaxed pace and booked our accommodation the afternoon of which we were staying, as we didn’t want to be pressed for time to reach a certain destination, in case something else came up. I would recommend doing less during the day than you expect, as it is tiring and you want time to unwind. This itinerary is rather relaxed and can be sped up, although I wouldn’t recommend it.
Head south of Reykjavik on Route 42 (remember to drive on the right side of the road; this was a slight setback for me being used to the left side). The roads are very well signed so there shouldn’t be a problem finding the right highway or turn off.
Not far out of the city you will see a complete change in terrain. Lovely greenery and buildings will turn into lava covered in flurescent moss as far as the eye can see!
About 30-40 minutes out of the city you will get to Kleifarvatn lake. This is a really cool black sand beach that has unbelievable green mossy mountains as a backdrop on both sides. You can just pull over in a small carpark on the side of the road when you see the beach on your left. Put your feet in the water if you dare, and take some sand as a souvenir!
Seltun mud pots
Continue along the same road for another 5 minutes and you will get to Seltun, an area with geothermal boiling mud pots. You walk up a relatively steep cliff for 20 minutes, but hang in there because it’s soo worth it!
As you walk up you will be surrounded by bubbling mud pots, streams and big rainbow coloured rocks. When you reach the top, take in the 360degree view of the entire countryside, including the beach you just visited. This is definitely a kodak moment!
Hverageroi geothermal river
After Seltun, take route 427 to Hverageroi town. If you are in need of supplies, as you drive into town there is a gas station on the left and Bonus supermarket on the right. There is also a yummy pizza place behind the supermarket if you want a decent meal.
Continue up the main street and you will see a continuous geothermal valley on your right with mud pots everywhere. Keep going past this and head towards the signs that say ‘Hot River Cafe’ (it’s very straightforward). Park at the cafe and then follow the slightly strenuous 3km track that is marked with yellow numbered poles to the hot river. Make sure you take your swimsuit, towel, waterproof camera and rain coat with you, as temperatures can change fast and you might need it hiking there or back.
Just when you think you have hiked enough and are wondering where these ‘hot springs’ are, you will see this valley open up and people in utter bliss bathing in the river at pole number 62. You are surrounded by volcanic mountains, greenery and lava, making it better than any postcard I’ve seen. The water temperature is in the early or mid 30s, so you can stay in for hours and not feel dehydrated.
There are usually a few people bathing and relaxing there, but it’s never that busy (it’s also a very long stream). I went in July and there was only about 8 people in at once. I stayed here for about 5 hours soaking and it was one of the most relaxing afternoons I’ve ever had!
Continue east down the highway and you will pass two towns; Hella and Hvolsvollur. Hella is rather small, but it is worth stopping in Hvolsvollur for a bite to eat in the local bakery and stock up on any groceries you may need.
Also, they have an awesome geothermal swimming pool in town for 500Kr. It has a large swimming pool, 3 hot pots of ranging temperatures and most imporantly, an awesome waterslide.
Vestmannaeyjar (Westman island)
This is a small island off the south coast of Iceland and is accessible by ferry. It is home to the volcanic eruption in 2010 that created an unbearable layer of ash over Europe, disrupting flights for days (they are very proud of this). After this, the island actually expanded in size from the new lava, which you can now walk on and explore. It is a very interesting place with a lot of activities so it is definitely worth staying a night here, or at least a full day.
As you pass Hvolsvollur you will signs directing you to the port. In summer there are ferries about 6 times a day and in winter, about 4, taking 30 minutes and it costs 2500Kr return. If you want to take your car over call them to reserve a place in advance as they fill places quickly.
Otherwise, you can buy a ticket when you arrive for yourselves and leave your car at the port for the night. The ferry is full of facilities and even has a movie room in which they were playing a marathon of How I Met Your Mother which was awesome.
When you arrive, the harbour is pretty much in the town just 5minute walk from most accommodation. The two best things to do here are explore the new lava formations, and take a speed boat tour through all the caves and islands.
The first is on the east of the island a 15 minute walk from the Harbour. You can spend hours wakling through the crumbled lava paths and eventually reach the top of a cliff fomation, where you get a panoramic view of the island. In between this, it’s fun just to get lost in amongst what seems to feel like the moon.
Around the island are many other smaller islands and caves, which definitely deserve exploring! for 8000Kr ($80) you can take an hour speed boat tour at 2pm with Ribsafari, where you roar in and out of caves at over 100km/hr.
The captain and guide are really informative of what’s around you. For a treat, when you’re in one of the larger caves, they will start blasting a cliche 80s rock song, and as the chorus hits you blast out of the cave and spin around the corner! It was awesome and a great adrenaline rush.
In terms of accommodation you have many choices here. There are several hostels and guest houses in the town centre at a decent price. I stayed at Guesthouse Hidaras, run by a lovely lady who drove us around the whole island and gave us ample amounts of information and recommendations.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, go to Voruhusid. It serves the best lobster soup and chicken curries. The staff are super friendly, giving you lots of information about the place. Especially the owner, this very funny guy who seemed to work in every place we visited! (the Icelandic people are known to work several jobs).
Take the ferry back to the mainland in the morning and continue to head east on Route 1.
After a short time you will see two stunning waterfalls on your left; Seljalandfoss and Gljufurrbui. Here you can walk behind the falls and feel their full effect.
Continue on and you will see signs for Skogar and its waterfall, Skogarfoss. These falls are extremely powerful and you can feel its effect as you step out of the car. You can walk on its right all the way up to the top. Do it- the view is unbelieveable!
For accommodation, spend the night in Skogar. This is the perfect place to stay, as the next morning you can do a glacier day tour only 15minute away to Myrdalsjokull volcano/glacier. There are 3 options right next to the falls; two hotels and a hostel.
I stayed at Skogar hotel and luxed out for $100, only because the hostel was full. It was absolutely beautiful and had a hot spa outdoors with a backdrop of the mountain range and Skogarfoss waterfall! It also included breakfast which we used to make sandwiches for lunch and dinner the next night.
Take a glacier tour! There will be loads of information on different companies and types of tours/hikes where you’re staying, so find one you like and call them up the day before to make sure there is space for you.
I drove a snowmobile over the glacier which is on top of the active volcnao Myrdalsjokull. It usually erupts every 50-60 years and it has been 90 so far, so they are a little on edge about the next eruption!
This costs 20000Kr ($200) with Arcanum tours and worth every dollar! You meet at their base and take a 30min Jeep ride through the volcano and highlands which has incredible scenery. You get to the glacier, receive a small talk on how to drive it and then off you go! It’s a private tour so just you and the guide infront which is really great for a personal experience.
You drive for an hour up to the very top of the glacier 750m high and volcano opening, essentially dodging lava clumps and cracks in the glacier. It is super powerful and soo much fun! It is a great way to see the glacier for those who like a bit of speed and adrenaline, as opposed to hiking.
If you’re finishing your trip with the Golden Circle tomorrow on day 5, head to Laugarvatn town to stay the night. This is in the middle of the golden circle and can set you up well to see all four wonders in that area.
I stayed on an Icelandic horse farm here in Laugarvatn through Airbnb. It was owned by a world record holder in horse racing and was full of culture- a truly authentic and very different experience to an everyday hotel.
If you’re around at dinner, eat at Lindin in Laugarvatn and try the reindeer burger! Then go next door to the local pool Fontana, it’s dubbed the Blue Lagoon’s little brother. It was 3200K ($32) to enter and probably wasn’t worth this much, but was a great way to unwind after a day exploring.
Set off for the Golden Circle. If you have time the day before you could make the 40minute trip to Geysir and Gulfoss from Laugarvatn, to allow more time at the Thingvellir National Park and Blue Lagoon. If not, you can do it all on the last day, it will just be a bigger day than the others.
Read my article on the Golden Circle to see what to see and expect for your last day!