By now, the hype about Iceland has already risen dramatically, and for good reason. The entire country is breathtaking. But, simply looking at pictures online isn’t going to get you any closer to seeing the views in person, so here’s a complete guide for your road trip around Iceland.
For my trip, I wanted to trek around the country on the Highway 1 Ring Road, but had no idea how to do so. I had to do a magnitude of research and look on dozens of different guides to pull together all the locations, dining, site destinations, and activities. But, hopefully this guide rounds up everything and gives you most of--if not all--the resources to set your expectations in check, properly prepare, and get you ready for the trip of a lifetime.
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Trip Length: 12 days
9 days around Ring Road (Including Golden Circle & Blue Lagoon)
2 days in Reykjavík
Direction: South, East, North, West, back to Reykjavík
Spent the night: Slept in car with sleeping bags, parked at campsites
Car: Kia Sportage, 4x4 Diesel
Car rental company: Blue Car Rentals
We did a 9-day tour of the ring road, our map shown below.
The following is our itinerary from our trip. You can shorten your trip to 7 days (which is quite rushed and I wouldn’t recommend) or extend it past 12 days (which allows for more exploring). It’s all up to personal preference.
*You can find an excel file of our Itinerary at the bottom of this blog post
Take Flybus from Airport into Reykjavík
Hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Walk around downtown, Harpa Opera House
Shopping for groceries for ring road
Dinner: Kopar Seafood Restaurant in Harbor
Night: Airbnb in Reykjavík
Locations: Golden Circle, Geysir
Þingvellir National Park
Kerið Crater Lake
Geysir, Strokkur Geysir
The Secret Lagoon in Flúðir
Night: Skjól campground
Location: South Coast
Enjoy views on South Coast Route 1
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash Site
Solheimajokull glacier, an outlet glacier from Myrdalsjokull
Dinner: in Vik, hot dogs
Night: Kirkjubaejarklaustur Campsite
Location: South East Coast
Foss a sidu waterfalls
Dverghamrar rock formations
Roadside falls (500 meters south of Dverghamrar)
Vatnajökull National Park - south Skaftafell entrance:
In the park:
Svartifoss - Hiking trails S2 & S6
Other small falls along the way
Skaftafellsjökull Glacier Hike - Hiking trails S1
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Dinner: at Hafnarbuðin diner in Höfn
Night: Höfn Campsite
Location: East Coast
Lots of driving up East Coast
Laugarfell Hot Springs
Night: Egilsstaðir Campsite
Locations: North, Mývatn, Húsavík
Dettifoss & Selfoss Waterfalls
Namaskard Geothermal area
Mývatn Nature Baths - Jardbodin vid Myvatn
Dinner: Gamli Baukur
Night: Húsavík Campsite
Locations: North, Akureyri, Sauðárkrókur
Akureyri - Lunch & Walk around town
Glaumbaer Farm Cottages
Hot springs at Grettislaug
Night: Grettislaug Campsite
Location: East Coast
Explore Blönduós town
Hraunfossar & Barnafoss waterfalls
Snaefellsjoekull National Park
Vatnsborgarhóll Crater & Grashólshellir Lava Cave Hike
Night: Hellisdandur Campsite
DAY 10 - 12
Icelandic Penis Museum
Lunch: Svarta Kaffid Soup & Bread Bowls
Valdis Ice Cream
Dinner: Reykjavík Fish & Chips
Explore Reykjavik Nightlife
Night: Airbnb in Reykjavík
Emergency phone number in Iceland is 112 (Equivalent of 911 in the US)
Easy temperature conversions: 10°C = 50°F, 5°C = 40°F
Tipping is not expected in Iceland
The water quality in Iceland is excellent and COLD tap water is always drinkable. I would not drink hot tap water unless you want to taste rotten eggs (aka sulfur taste).
On that note, most of your hot showers will smell like eggs (sulfur), and you just have to get used to it.
If you want to purchase alcohol, BUY IT AT THE AIRPORT. This seems unintuitive to westerners, because usually airport goods are widely regarded as significantly higher priced. However, in Iceland, the alcohol tax is high, and so stocking up on duty free (non-taxed) alcohol at the airport can cut costs later during your trip.
In Iceland, the power sockets are of type F. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
Almost everyone speaks English, so you don’t have to worry about trying to pronounce the gazillion syllable words
The Budget grocery stores are: Bónus, Krónan, and Netto. Hit up these when shopping for groceries before the Ring Road, and use these along the way to restock.
If you’re going out for nightlife in Reykjavík, most bars don't have many people before 12AM.
Yelp is not used in Iceland, so turn to TripAdvisor for all your reviews/ratings of restaurants, companies, and activities.
Location: Húsavík Whale Watching
Whale + Puffin Watching with North Sailing
Húsavík Whale Museum
Dinner: Naustið Fish Restaurant
Night: Húsavík Campsite
RING ROAD TIPS
Although we rented a Kia Sportage, I would highly recommend a camper van instead for the Ring Road. It gives you flexibility in where you stay the night, and is an experience of a lifetime.
Given that Iceland is the safest country in the world, it’s also one of the best places to try this out. Most camper vans come with a built-in bed, some small tables, cabinets, and propane stoves.
*More info on campervans and reviews of different camper van companies given below.
Hold onto car doors! Wind is intense and can break doors.
Watch out for sheep on the road (While we thought this was a joke at first, we saw over 5 families of sheep just wandering on the road up North).
For breakfast and lunch, stock up on ingredients at grocery stores. The most popular are Netto and Bónus and they usually have one or the other at big towns around Iceland.
For dinner, you can also make sandwiches or other food using a propane stove, or take the chance to dine out at larger towns and experience local Icelandic food (which is incredible).
SPENDING THE NIGHT
There are usually campsites at each big town around the Ring Road, although you can also check www.campingcard.is for more unique campsites in more rural areas.
You can also rent hostels/cottages at campsites in large towns, but these are usually pricy (5000 ISK + per person) and you still use communal showers and bathrooms, same situation as campervan, so it is not that much more worth it.
Most campsites "soft open" around beginning of May, meaning water and power work but no need to pay.
Campsites usually start charging for payments around end of May/beginning of June.
Cost: free (during off peak season)
or between 1000-1500 ISK per person per night (during peak season)
Extra 500 ISK fee for WIFI, showers, etc. usually
CAMPER VAN COMPANIES
Like I said before, I would highly recommend a campervan for the Ring Road because they offer flexibility and great interactions with other travelers.
The reviews for all the campervan companies in the "Most Popular" and "Okay" categories were good, and the ones listed under "Most Popular" on this list were the ones we saw used the most during our trip.
*During our research, we read horrid reviews for CamperIceland and would advise you to avoid it as well. Travelers were being charged improper damage fees, swindled out of their deposits, etc.
For our trip in Reykjavik and on the Ring Road, we cut costs by honestly eating the two extremes: cheap sandwiches for breakfast and lunches, but going all out on our dinners. Here are some of my food recommendations!
Hot Dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsu ($)
Classic Icelandic lamb hot dog with crispy fried onions and raw onions. Ask for both sauces (sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs) to get the whole package. From our research, this was the local favorite hot dog stand, (and many locals were there as well when we went), and supposedly a lot better than the “Hot Dog Stand” for mainly tourists on Laugavegur.
Reykjavík Fish Restaurant ($)
Fish & Chips! Their fish and chips are done very well, and slightly different than the UKs. They have a lot of dipping sauces to choose from, but the Lemon Dill Pepper and Honey Mustard were both very good.
Svarta Kaffid ($)
Pub atmosphere, serves 2 soups in bread bowls each day for around 1800 ISK, which is a good deal in Reykjavík. For the chilly and rainy days, this place is perfect for a quick, warm meal.
Really great food (obviously). They have tons of starters, so you can either spend your money chosing lots of those rather than an entrée and try out all the Icelandic dishes. I would highly recommend the seafood and lamb choices as those are Iceland’s specialties (Don’t order a steak at a seafood restaurant just like you wouldn’t order pasta at an oyster bar in SF).
Here’s what we got:
Lamb tartar *complimentary
Battered Cod Tongue
Glazed Lamb Chops
Catch of the Day
*While this was the only fine dining place we stopped at, I would highly recommend you also check out others if you have the time and the money!
More resources on fine dining:
There aren’t many guides online to figure out the best restaurants in each small city. What I would recommend if you’re camping is to ask the campsite managers/staff for their recommendations, or ask other campers along your trip which restaurants and destinations they preferred!
However, here is a list and reviews of our favorite restaurants along the route.
Diner style and a local favorite. Has a drive-through, but the cozy little interior is good for relaxing and avoiding the Icelandic wind.
Here's what we got:
Lobster sandwich (Hofn is famous for Lobster)
Fish Burger + Chips + Sauce
Ice-cream sundae “McFlurry” Dessert
*we saw a lot of locals getting this dessert, and thought we would try it out too. Imagine a fresh McDonalds McFlurry where you get to choose between a lot of chocolates (Toblerone, KitKat, Snickers, etc) and fresh fruit. We got a Toblerone Strawberry Banana flurry with vanilla ice cream and it was incredible.
Osinn Restaurant at Hotel Hofn ($$$)
While we didn’t go here for food, it was also highly recommended by the campsite staff as a favorite for seafood, but a little on the more expensive side.
We went here originally because our North Sailing Whale Watching Tickets gave us a discount to this restaurant. But, the food was really good! Again, we stuck to seafood.
Here’s what we got:
Catch of the Day: Cod
*We thought we would try this Icelandic dessert but it was very mediocre. Maybe we haven’t quite acquired the taste. This tastes exactly like what you would imagine Rye bread blended up in pudding form. I don’t know what else we were expecting haha.
Naustið ($$) TripAdvisor link
This seafood restaurant in Reykjavík is a local and tourist favorite for a reason.
They are famous for their seafood soup and grilled fish.
Fish Soup (*highly recommended online for good reason) - light, creamy, tomato based soup with fish and veggies. Comes with bread and butter on the side for dipping.
Fish Kebabs (Redfish & Catfish) – incredible. Probably my personal favorite because the seasoning, mix of veggies, and grilling of the fish was so perfectly done. The fish was crispy and smoky on the outside and then just falls apart in your mouth. Sooo good..
Check out my Instagram for more photos