On (And Off) The Ring Road of Iceland: Tips on What to See, Where to Eat and Where to Stay

Kirkjufell Mountain, with Kirkjufellsfoss in the foreground

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, then you’re probably making plans to see waterfalls, visit beaches and sample local foods. But the first thing you really need to prepare for is the smell of rotten eggs. Most of Iceland’s hot water is heated by geothermal power and contains traces of sulfur, so after each hot shower, you’ll be left wondering, at least initially, whether you smell worse than you did before cleaning up. The hot water is perfectly safe to use and drink — as is Iceland’s cold water, which comes from glacial runoff — but still, as a new visitor to Iceland, it will take you some time to get used the smell. That’s tip number one.

Looking up Langjökull glacier

This article provides tips for exploring Iceland, arguably the most unique and interesting country in the world. It includes an itinerary for a 1–2 week trip around Iceland’s ring road, including drive times, recommendations for what to see, and where to eat, drink and sleep around the country. I’ve even included notes on where to venture off of the ring road, plus photos and videos to help you visualize your upcoming Icelandic experience.

All the photos in this article are mine, and you can find some of them on my Instagram. Check them out, and then say hello on Twitter if the tips below prove helpful to you.

Things you’ll need in Iceland

  • A good map. Unless you want to buy a local SIM card or pay for an expensive international data plan, then you’ll need a good map for your journey. I recommend this Iceland Travel Reference Map from ITMB Publishing LTD. I purchased it before traveling to Iceland because it had good reviews on Amazon relative to other maps. It’s very accurate, up-to-date, and is a good resource for spontaneous off-road diversions.
A life saver: Iceland Travel Reference Map from ITMB Publishing LTD
  • An early alarm. Iceland’s touristy spots, such as the Blue Lagoon and basically the entire southern coast — more on that later — attract large crowds by late morning. Arrive early to waterfalls, hot pools and other natural wonders in order to get a jump on other travelers.
  • Groceries. I cannot even prepare you for how expensive it is to eat out in Iceland. The food is very good, but it’s easy to drop $150-$200 for a family of four at a mid-range place that’s only about the level of quality of a U.S. chain restaurant. Higher end restaurants can easily set a family back $250-$350. In short, eating out on the road in Iceland adds up quickly. Save yourself some serious cash by picking up breakfast and lunch items at a grocery store each morning, and then splurge for dinner on the best foods that Iceland has to offer.
  • An eye for speed cameras. You’ll see signs with a camera icon and the words “Munum Eftir” all around the ring road in Iceland. Slow down when you see them, because they’re advance warnings of upcoming speed cameras.
  • A spare tire for the f-roads. At some point on your Icelandic road trip, even if you plan to stay on the main ring road, you’ll encounter Iceland’s infamous f-roads. These gravel and dirt roads vary widely in quality and difficulty. Some are relatively smooth, while others are dotted with huge bumps and deep holes. Many, many tourists pop tires on these roads, so have a spare tire for peace of mind.
The f-road obstacle courses typically include sheep
  • A calculator. After a while, prices for food and souvenirs in Iceland sound like they’re being quoted in Monopoly money. 3,000 ISK? Sure. 17,000 ISK? Whatever. Know the rough conversion rate between your home currency and Icelandic Króna and use your phone’s calculator to figure out the true costs of what you’re buying. This may seem obvious, but when prices are quoted in thousands of Króna, it’s easy to misjudge the difference between a $100 meal and a $300 meal.
  • Layers. There’s a joke in Iceland that if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. But it’s true. It can go from cold and wet, to sunny and warm, to cold and windy and then to sunny and rainy in the span of a half hour. You’ll want to be able to change your clothes quickly.
  • Eye masks. During the summer travel season, it’s light for 24 hours each day in Iceland. Those sunrise and sunset times you found on Google are lies. It will not get dark outside, at least during late June and July. So if you need darkness to sleep, bring an eye mask to Iceland with you.
Eye masks would’ve been helpful for the 24 hours of sunlight

Things you won’t need in Iceland

  • Cash. You can pay for everything in Iceland using credit cards. Large or small, Icelandic establishments accept plastic. Plus, carrying thousands of Króna worth of bills and coins is a pain.
  • An Icelandic phrase book. Nearly all Icelanders are fluent in English; in my time there, I met only one person, in a remote, northern town, whose English was less than perfect.
  • Bottled water. You can drink tap water everywhere you go in Iceland. The country has some of the cleanest water in the world, and locals will laugh at you for buying bottled water.
  • Shorts. I’m from Phoenix, Arizona, and when I left for Iceland, it was 110 °F (43 °C) in Phoenix. So naturally, I packed a few pairs of shorts, because, you know, it was summer. The shorts never made it out of my suitcase. Expect temperatures between 40-60 °F (4–15 °C) in the summer.
  • Fear for your safety. Iceland is ranked as the safest country in the world, and violent crime is extremely rare. You’ll never have that “hey, I think we ventured into the wrong part of town” feeling while in Iceland.
  • Help from the police (hopefully). In the two weeks that I spent driving around Iceland, I only saw police cars on roads in the southern part of the country between Kirkjubæjarklaustur (situated between Höfn and Vik, see the map below) and Reykjavik. I never once saw a police car in the western, northern and eastern sections of the country, and the police presence was light in Reykjavik. On the plus side, you won’t need to fear speeding tickets in most of Iceland, as long as you slow down for the speed cameras. On the negative side, help won’t be nearby if you need it.
Watch your speed on this section of the ring road

An Itinerary for the Ring Road in Iceland

The tips above will keep you safe, cut down on costs, and make for an enjoyable road trip around Iceland. Below, I’ll outline an itinerary that will take you on and off of Iceland’s famous ring road in under two weeks. I traveled clockwise around the country, but you can easily reverse this itinerary if you’d prefer to travel counterclockwise.

Consider this itinerary as sort of a rough draft for you to take and develop into your own story. Add and subtract from it as you wish in order to create your own unique Icelandic adventure.

Day 1: Keflavík to Reykjavik

Chances are that you’ll land at Keflavík International Airport early in the morning. You may be jet lagged, caffeine-deprived and slightly grumpy from a less-than-perfect night of sleep on your flight to Iceland. But even if you’re well-rested and energetic, it’s a good idea or get acclimated to Iceland by spending a day in Reykjavik on the front end of your road trip. There are a ton of great sights to see in Reykjavik, the restaurants are excellent, and it’s just a smart hedge against the possibility of driving for hours when you’d really prefer to have low key day and then call it an early evening.

Consider stopping at the Blue Lagoon on your way into Reykjavik

You should know in advance that Keflavík is located far outside of Reykjavik’s city limits. It’s a bit like flying into Denver, Colorado — the distance from the airport is a bit of a shocker. You land and start heading into the city, and it feels like you’re never going to get there. But unlike Denver, the landscape around Keflavík looks like scenery from another planet.

Lava field, similar to what you’ll see between from Keflavík and Reykjavik

Fortunately, the Blue Lagoon is on the drive from Keflavík to Reykjavik. Some travelers prefer the Blue Lagoon as a final stop on their way out of Iceland, while others prefer it as stop number one. It’s a personal choice whether you want the Icelandic equivalent of Disneyland to be your first in-country experience. I found it to be the perfect way to melt away the stiffness from a night spent crammed into an airplane seat. After soaking in the geothermal hot pool with a silica mud mask and then munching on some light snacks, I felt refreshed and ready for adventure.

Nothing like some 37–39 °C (99–102 °F) water and a silica mud mask

What to see

  • Hallgrímskirkja. This huge church dominates Reykjavik’s skyline. The design is inspired by the basalt columns that can be found in locations such as Reynisfjara and Svartifoss. Take the elevator to the top for amazing views.
  • Sólfar (The Sun Voyager). A sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, located on the waterfront off Sæbraut road.
  • Harpa. This concert hall and conference center is an architectural masterpiece. You don’t need to see a show. It’s free to enter and walk around inside.
  • Perlan. This building houses a restaurant, a few shops and many works of fine art. But the real highlight is the observation deck, which offers an amazing view of Reykjavik and the surrounding area.
  • The Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, Iceland has a penis museum, which holds, according their website, “fifty six specimens belonging to seventeen different kinds of whale, one specimen taken from a rogue polar bear, thirty-six specimens belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus, and one hundred and fifteen specimens originating from twenty different kinds of land mammal.” So snap some dick pics and enjoy the visit.
The view of Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja
Inside Harpa
Gorgeous view from the observation deck at Perlan
The Icelandic Phallological Museum

Where to eat

  • Reykjavik Roasters. This is serious, high-end coffee. If you’re a coffee lover, then you really shouldn’t miss this spot. It’s the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life, and the avocado toast is amazing.
  • Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Hot dogs just might be the national dish of Iceland, and Condé Nast Traveler calls the pyslur from this stand “the one dish to eat in Iceland.” The line is worth the wait.
  • Café Loki. Located next to Hallgrímskirkja, they serve authentic Icelandic food and local beers. It’s the perfect stop for a mid-afternoon snack when your body clock is all messed up. Go ahead and try the Hákarl — you only live once.
  • Sægreifinn. Probably the best lobster soup in all of Iceland — even better than the soups in the city of Höfn, which is famous for its langoustines. You’ll also find whale steaks and skewers of fresh, local fish.
Avocado toast from Reykjavik Roasters
Just one of the delicious coffees from Reykjavik Roasters
The line at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
The home of crazy good lobster soup

Where to sleep

Unlike most of Iceland, there are numerous options for lodging in Reykjavik. Hotels are pricey, but you’ll find plenty of alternatives on Airbnb. When traveling around Iceland, my family mostly used Airbnb, but in Reykjavik, we used airline points to book apartment hotels. On the front end of our trip — before the road trip — we holed up at Stay Apartments Einholt, which is about a 15 minute walk from Hallgrímskirkja and other centralized attractions. Stay Apartments Einholt is also directly across the street from a Reykjavik Roasters location.

Other tips

  • Renting a car from SADcars. A lot of blogs and travel websites recommend renting a car from SADcars instead of better-known rental car companies. And they do have cheap prices. But there are few things you should know about renting from SADcars. First, unlike many American rental car companies, SADcars has an “empty to empty” policy. Your car will have a nearly-empty gas tank when you pick it up, and you’re not expected to have any gas in the tank when you return it. Second, many of the cars on SADcars’ lot look pretty beat up. After you spend time driving on Iceland, you’ll understand why. But that’s okay, SADcars are well-maintained tanks. Third, turn left — not right — out of the car lot as you leave SADcars. This is important, because there’s a gas station there, and the team from SADcars probably won’t give you any guidance otherwise.
SADcars did a nice job disguising this tank as a Hyundai
  • Plan to walk the city. It can be a pain to find parking in Reykjavik. Fortunately, other than Perlan, the main attractions and restaurants in Reykjavik are within easy walking distance, regardless of your fitness level. It’s a small city.
  • Look for guesthouses. As noted above, there are plenty of hotels and Airbnb options in Reykjavik. This isn’t the case in much of the rest of the country. Use the term “guesthouse” in combination with town names as a Google search when you’re coming up empty on lodging options.

Day 2: Reykjavik to the Golden Circle, and back to Reykjavik

This is an easy day trip, and you’ll be back in Reykjavik with time to spare for dinner and other evening activities. Fortunately, the main attractions are all relatively close together, so the drives between stops feel short. You can drive the same route back to Reykjavik, or take an alternate road home to make the trip more of a true “circle.”

What to see

  • Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Þingvellir is not only a historically significant site as the location of Iceland’s first parliament, but it also divides Iceland in two — literally. The European and North American tectonic plates are pulling apart here, to the tune of 2 centimeters or so each year. It’s thrilling to walk between the plates.
  • Strokkur and Geysir. On the walk up to these two geysers, you’ll pass boiling mud pits and vents that belch water vapor. The term “geyser” is derived from Geysir, and it’s the larger of the two. Unfortunately, however, it rarely erupts anymore. Strokkur, however, still blows every several minutes.
  • Gulfoss. A staircase-style series of waterfalls, this is Europe’s largest waterfall, in terms of water volume.
Walking between tectonic plates at Þingvellir. In this photo, the European plate is of the left, and the North American plate is on the right.
Short video: Watch Strokkur erupt in six seconds
Lots of heat from Geysir, but no action on this day
A stop to pet some friendly Icelandic horses on the drive between Strokkur/Geysir and Gulfoss
Gulfoss roars
Mist rises from Gulfoss

Where to eat

  • Brauð & Co. Since you’re starting the day in Reykjavik, be sure to stop by this bakari for breakfast. You can smell the pastries, croissants and fresh bread from down the street.
  • Hotel Geysir. You can choose between a lunch buffet and a la carte selections. The food isn’t anything to write home about, but the restaurant is conveniently located across the street from Strokkur and Geysir.
  • Kol. After driving the Golden Circle, you’ll be back in Reykjavik in time for dinner. Kol offers great seafood and Icelandic fare. Be sure to try the fruits de mer.
Scrumptious breakfast treats in the window at Brauð & Co.
Inside the restaurant at Hotel Geysir
Go for it — try the fruits de mer at Kol

Other tips

  • Bankastræti (Bank street). If you’re in the mood to do some shopping and hunt for Icelandic souvenirs, check out this section of town. Bankastræti is one of the main streets in Reykjavik, but much of the road is closed to cars. It’s also difficult to find nearby parking, so plan on walking here and spending some time strolling along adjacent streets.
  • Local brews. Alcohol was prohibited in Iceland from 1915–1989. However, there are now a handful great craft breweries in the country. You’ll find beers from Viking, Einstök and Borg Brugghús all over the country — the latter makes particularly good brews — but be sure to check out Mikkeller & Friends if you’re a fan of good beer. Mikkeller offers up around 20 beers on tap — both its own and selections from other countries — and they’re a class above most of the other beers in Iceland.
A tasty draft from Borg Brugghús

Day 3: Reykjavik to Kirkjufellsfoss to Skagaströnd

This is by far the most aggressive day of driving on this itinerary, so plan on getting an early start. The trip to Kirkjufellsfoss will take over 2 hours, and you’ll want to spend some time there. From Kirkjufellsfoss, it’s an additional 3 hours to Skagaströnd, and for much of the drive you’ll be traversing bumpy and somewhat difficult f-roads. But don’t let that dissuade you, this section of west and northwest Iceland offers stunning views of mountains, waterfalls, coastline and fjords.

What to see

  • Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss. From the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall(s), you’ll have a beautiful view of Kirkjufell mountain. Tip: look for the trail that will actually take you behind the lower set of falls (see the video below).
  • Eldborg crater. We didn’t stop here, but it prompted a “wow, what is that?” as we passed it on the drive.
  • Fjords. Hvammsfjörður and Hrútafjörður are along the f-roads on this route. If you have good weather, they’re sights to see.
On the road in West Iceland
Horses hanging out beside ruins in West Iceland
Behind the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall
Beautiful Kirkjufell, with a section of Kirkjufellsfoss
Over the falls at Kirkjufellsfoss
One of the f-roads in West Iceland

Where to eat

  • Rjúkandi Kaffi. Located about 1 hour and 46 minutes from Reykjavik, this is a great place to stop on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in order to have lunch and gas up your car. The fish stew, cakes, sweets and other Icelandic dishes are excellent.
  • Borgin Restaurant. When you finally make it to Skagaströnd, make Borgin your stop for dinner. The chef — who visited our table multiple times during the meal — obviously takes great pride in his work, in everything from the flavor to the presentation of his food. With selections such as whale, porpoise and horse on the menu, this is about as authentic as you’ll get in Iceland. When we asked the chef about the fish of the day, he explained that due to weather, no fresh fish had come in that day, and that he only serves fish that’s caught earlier in the same day. I highly recommend this place.
Fish stew, salad and geysir bread at Rjúkandi Kaffi
Inside Rjúkandi Kaffi
Just a couple of the delectable sweets at Rjúkandi Kaffi
The entrance to Borgin in Skagaströnd
Whale steaks at Borgin

Where to sleep

The Iðavellir Guesthouse is a great option in Skagaströnd. We found this place on Airbnb, and Birna was a great host. With a queen size bed downstairs and three single beds upstairs, there was plenty of room for our family. And the experience of finding Ioavellir Guesthouse is so Iceland. When I asked Birna for directions for use in Google Maps, she politely replied, “Iðavellir has no address :) It is easy to find Iðavellir, you drive straight after the road when you come in town then you turn left after you pass the church and then left again after ca 100m. Iðavellir is a small red(violet) house just beside the church.”

Yes, you read that right. The place has no address. This turned out to be a common response from our Icelandic Airbnb hosts, with similar responses such as “look for the yellow house when you turn left after the first church you see in town.” But somehow, it all worked out.

We looked for the violet house beside the church, and we found it

Day 4: Skagaströnd to Akureyri

You may be tempted to make this a short day of driving after the long haul from Reykjavik to Kirkjufellsfoss to Skagaströnd. That was our plan as well, but fortunately, the chef from Borgin encouraged us to check out the northern peninsulas on the route from Skagaströnd to Akureyri. In his words, “I could visit America and just drive your highways, but I wouldn’t see shit. The same will be true for you, if you stick mainly to the ring road here in Iceland.”

So, we followed the chef’s advice and headed north from Skagaströnd, on the gravel road around the peninsula. The views were incredible, and I’ve mapped this route below:

This is the route we took from Skagaströnd to Akureyri

Unfortunately, we skipped the second peninsula, which is situated between the Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður fjords. Our kids were getting restless, so we decided to power on to Akureyri. In hindsight, this was a mistake, because we missed the Hofsós thermal pool. Plus, from a distance, we could see gorgeous snow capped mountains that ran along this coastal route. If I were you, I’d skip the first peninsula and follow this path instead:

I recommend this route from Skagaströnd to Akureyri

The third alternative on this day is to take the most direct route possible from Skagaströnd to Akureyri. It’s your call, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to get to Akureyri. It may be called Iceland’s “capital of the north,” but I found it to be the least interesting spot on our road trip. Perhaps the nickname simply reflects that, other than Reykjavik, it’s the only city in Iceland that takes more than 5 minutes to drive through. Anyway, here’s the direct route, which does include some stunningly-beautiful mountain views near Hörgársveit:

The most direct route from Skagaströnd to Akureyri

What to see

  • The northern coast. Simply stunning. Ocean. Mountains. Fjords. Islands. The northern peninsulas offer some of the most dramatic views in all of Iceland.
  • Hofsós thermal pool. As noted above, we missed this spot, and that’s a shame. It’s an infinity-style pool that looks out over the ocean, and it was designed by the same architect who designed the Blue Lagoon.
  • Lighthouses. The northern coast is dotted by lighthouses, which are picturesque but mostly closed to the public.
  • Akureyrarkirkja (Church of Akureyri). Beautifully-designed church with a 3200-pipe organ.
A lighthouse on the northern coast
Skagafjörður, with an island and snowy mountains along a peninsula (the one we should’ve driven around)
Mountain peaks near Hörgársveit
Roadside park near Hörgársveit
Looking up to Akureyrarkirkja
Walking through Akureyri

Where to eat

  • Kaffi Krókur. Located in Sauðárkrókur, this place serves traditional Icelandic food, desserts, coffee and beer. It’s a nice stop for lunch on the drive to Akureyri, and the fish stew and crêpes are very good. They also serve puffin, which tasted a bit too much like liver for my liking.
  • Brynja. This ice cream shop is known for having the best ice cream in Iceland, with several flavors and an overwhelming variety of toppings.
  • Kaffi Ilmur. Located in an old house on Hafnarstræti, with a great deck and the best coffee that I had while in Akureyri.
  • Pylsuvagninn hot dog stand. This little wagon, also located on Hafnarstræti in Akureyri, serves up pylsur in the same style as Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, and they’re nearly as good.
Kaffi Krókur not only has good food, but it also has a nice patio outside
This puffin dish at Kaffi Krókur wasn’t my favorite, but the fish stew was great
The legendary Brynja ice cream shop
The best spot for coffee in Akureyri
Time for another pylsur

Where to sleep

We used Airbnb to secure a little one bedroom apartment that was connected to the Brynja ice cream shop. It wasn’t our favorite place, but for $89, you can’t be too picky. We had mistakenly checked into the huge, beautiful, multi-bedroom unit that is located upstairs, so our cramped apartment downstairs felt like a letdown. But if you can get the upstairs unit, then I’d recommend it.

The nicer upstairs apartment has an outdoor deck and a glass-walled dining room

Other tips

Grettislaug geothermal pool. Many blogs and travel guides recommend this little hot pool near Reykir. When we arrived, we found it was crowded, small and dirty. It takes a long time to drive to Grettislaug, and it’s not worth it.

Day 5: Akureyri to Húsavík

This is a relatively light day of driving, with only about 1.5 hours behind the wheel. However, it includes a stop at one of the more impressive waterfalls in Iceland — Goðafoss. If you’re in any way tempted to skip Goðafoss, don’t. It’s where you truly to start gain an appreciation for Iceland’s approach to danger, in that there are no fences around Goðafoss. You can simply walk up to the edge of the falls and look over.

From Goðafoss, you’ll continue up to Húsavík, a pretty little harbor town that is home to the best whale watching in Iceland. Unfortunately, a new silicon metal production plant is now under construction in Húsavík, and this is likely to alter the town’s charm in the near future.

What to see

  • Goðafoss. The falls at Goðafoss are only about 12 meters high, but this waterfall definitely has an outsized roar relative to its height.
  • Whale watching. Húsavík is a cute town, but there’s not much to do there beyond whale watching. We booked our whale watching excursion through North Sailing, a company that also offers tours to view puffins and experience Greenland.
Just walk right up to the edge at Goðafoss
Up close with Goðafoss
Lupines are everywhere around Iceland during the summer, and this drive is no exception
Looking across Skjálfandi Bay, heading away from Húsavík to find whales
Hope you don’t get seasick easily
Thar She Blows! I managed to snap of photo of this humpback whale mid-jump.

Where to eat

  • Salka. This restaurant shares a parking lot with North Sailing and the other whale watching companies, making it a convenient stop for lunch before heading out on Skjálfandi Bay for whale watching. It offers a mix of Icelandic and American foods, as well as coffee and a good list of Icelandic beers.
  • Fjaran. A simple menu with fish, burgers and salads. The most notable dish is the fish soup, which is accented with curry and has a more buttery flavor than other fish and seafood soups around Iceland.
Check in for your whale watching trip, and then walk over to Salka for a quick bite to eat
Seafood soup and bread at Salka. Notably, the bread isn’t geysir bread, which is commonly served in Iceland.
The fish soup at Fjaran was more memorable than Salka’s version

Where to sleep

Lodging is very difficult to find around Húsavík. You may have better luck finding hotels or Airbnb options if you book far in advance. But even if you can find other options, take a look at Tungulending Guesthouse, which is located about a dozen minutes up the road from Húsavík in a renovated house that once served as a fish processing facility. The guesthouse is clean and has good food, but it also has shared bathrooms. Still, this is an affordable option, and our small room with two bunk beds was clean and comfortable.

Looking back at Tungulending Guesthouse from its pier
The lobby and dining area at Tungulending Guesthouse
Inside our small but clean room at Tungulending Guesthouse

Other tips

Book your whale watching tickets early! Like hotels and guided tours in Iceland, whale watching trips can sell out quickly. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to get up close with these magnificent creatures.

Day 6: Húsavík/Tungulending to Dettifoss to Mývatn

Be sure to get an early start on this day, because you’re on your way to perhaps the most interesting place in Iceland — Mývatn. The surroundings here will definitely remind you that you’re in a volcanic area. Take in as much as you can in the afternoon, and save some time the following morning for additional sightseeing.

What to see

  • Dettifoss. The most powerful waterfall in Europe, and, like Goðafoss, you can get as close to the edge as your comfort level allows.
  • Mývatn Nature Baths. These hot pools are better than the Blue Lagoon. They’re less crowded and not as touristy, although the temperature varies a lot as you move through the pools. One pool is kept significantly cooler, which is a shock when you slip in for the first time.
  • Krafla Power Station. With dozens of boreholes, this is Iceland’s largest geothermal power plant, and a fascinating spot for amateur photographers.
  • Viti crater. This crater, which was formed from an eruption in the early 1700s, now holds a bright blue lake.
  • Hverfjall volcano. You could fit nearly 11 football fields into this massive volcano, which last erupted thousands of years ago. The hike from the parking lot to the volcano takes about 20 minutes; from there, you can hike around the crater in approximately 40 minutes.
  • Grjótagjá cave. Icelanders have been bathing in this cave for centuries. It was closed during the 1970s when nearby volcanic eruptions caused the water temperature to rise, but people are once again slipping into its warm waters. And if you’re a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones, then you may recognize this spot as the love cave shared by Jon Snow and Ygritte.
  • Hverir geothermal area. Walk around bubbling mud pits and violent, steaming fumaroles.
The surface of Mars, or the drive to Dettifoss? Hard to tell.
Watch and listen to the roar of Dettifoss
The relaxing, serene Mývatn Nature Baths
Krafla Power Station
A borehole at Krafla
Viti Crater
Looking down into the crater at Hverfjall
Just to give you an idea of the strength of the wind atop Hverfjall
A peak down into Grjótagjá cave
Boiling pools of mud at Hverir

Where to eat

  • Gamli Bistro (aka Gamli Bærinn). Located inside Hotel Reynihlid, a mere 4 minutes from the Mývatn Nature Baths. The smoked arctic charr is a standout appetizer, and both the soups (seafood, lamb) and cakes are excellent.
  • Vogafjós restaurant. This might have been my favorite place to eat in all of Iceland. The dairy products — milk, skyr and cheese — are all fresh from the cows at the farm. The geysir bread is less sugary than elsewhere in Iceland, and the Mývatn mozzarella is dense and complex. The schnapps with local Angelica are house-made, and the desserts — especially the geysir bread ice cream — are fantastic.
Inside Gamli Bistro
Outside Vogafjós restaurant
Smoked charr, sweet skyr, homemade mozzarella and more at Vogafjós restaurant
The geysir bread ice cream at Vogafjós restaurant

Where to sleep

Vogafjós Guesthouse is located across the street from the restaurant. The rooms are small and the water smells more strongly of sulphur than most places, but it’s clean, cozy, and within walking distance from some of the best food you’ll eat in Iceland. Demand for rooms here is high, so book early.

The cows at Vogafjós

Other tips

Time to do some laundry. The Vogahraun Guesthouse has laundry service, and it’s cheap and fast. This little camp site, located next to Vogafjós Guesthouse, will take your laundry, wash it, fold it, and have it ready for you to pick up within a few hours.

Day 7: Mývatn to Egilsstaðir to Vallanes, Móðir Jörð

You’ll leave Mývatn wishing you had more time there, setting out towards east Iceland. There are some beautiful waterfalls on this drive, but it isn’t an overly memorable stretch of road, until you get near the beautiful town of Egilsstaðir.

What to see

  • Reindeer. You’ll have seen plenty of sheep and horses by this point on your trip, but if you look closely, you may see reindeer roaming in the area around Egilsstaðir.
  • Seyðisfjörður. This gorgeous town is located on the interior of a fjord of the same name. The place has an artsy, creative feel, and there’s a car ferry to Denmark that runs weekly. Seyðisfjörður is filled with shops, tiny art galleries and brightly-colored houses, and the drive from Egilsstaðir is one of the most picturesque in Iceland.
  • Gufufoss. As you’re descending towards Seyðisfjörður after the small mountain climb from Egilsstaðir, you’ll see this waterfall on your right. It’s not as powerful as better-known falls like Dettifoss and Gulfoss, but it’s a worthwhile stop.
Watching a reindeer run away near Egilsstaðir
Egilsstaðir, as seen from atop the mountain on the drive to Seyðisfjörður
The route from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður
Chances are you’ll have Gufufoss all to yourself
The charming town of Seyðisfjörður

Where to eat

  • Eldhúsið — Restaurant. If you’re a foodie, then this is the spot for you in Egilsstaðir. Elegant surroundings, higher-end cuisine, above average wine and beer offerings. The food — contemporary twists on traditional Icelandic dishes — is very, very good, but expect a dent in your wallet from this place.
  • Kaffi Lára El Grillo Bar. Located in Seyðisfjörður, this restaurant offers simple dishes and drinks. The real star here is the house’s own El Grillo beer, which is named after the SS El Grillo, a British oil tanker that was sunk in the fjord by Germany during World War II. When I ordered an El Grillo draft, the bartender explained that hundreds of passengers from the Denmark ferry had lined up earlier in the day, just for the chance to taste this special brew (which was, in fact, good beer, but not worth a line that long).
  • Móðir Jörð. This farm in Vallanes sells organic products and serves meals in a greenhouse. Make reservations in advance to have breakfast here, and be sure to ask for the Gabriel’s breakfast.
If you don’t spot a live reindeer in Egilsstaðir, then you might find one on your plate at Eldhúsið — Restaurant
Inside Kaffi Lára El Grillo Bar
The famous El Grillo beer at Kaffi Lára El Grillo Bar
Gabriel’s breakfast at the Móðir Jörð farm in Vallanes

Where to sleep

On both Airbnb and booking.com, you’ll find numerous options for lodging in the area around Egilsstaðir. We opted to stay at the Móðir Jörð farm in Vallanes, which we found on Airbnb. The two-bedroom guesthouse is small, but it’s clean and the farm fresh breakfast made the stay worth it.

Angelica growing on the Móðir Jörð farm in Vallanes
The guesthouse at Móðir Jörð

Day 8: Egilsstaðir/Vallanes to Höfn

This is probably the most beautiful drive on the ring road. You’ll climb a small mountain — where, even in the summer, you can hop out of your car and tromp through snow on the side of the road — and then descend into a serene valley. From there, you’ll pass Berufjörður, wind along miles of coastline, and finally, you’ll reach the langoustine capital of Iceland — Höfn.

Apparently, the most direct route from Vallanes to Höfn is just a 2.5 hour drive:

The most direct route from Vallanes to Höfn

However, that’s not the route we took. Instead, we opted to spend an extra half hour on the main ring road, coming close to Breiðdalsvík and driving all the way around the Berufjörður fjord. It’s a beautiful drive, and if your schedule allows for the extra half hour, I’d recommend it.

The extra time is worth it

What to see

  • Glacier hikes. You can book guided hikes on the nearby Vatnajökull glacier or drive up to any of its glacier tongues, such as Fláajökull, and hike at your own pace.
  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This lake is the result of the melting Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, and it’s filled with giant chunks of ice that have broken off from the glacier. This a must-see spot in Iceland, but Jökulsárlón boat tours tend to sell out, so book well in advance. The only problem with traveling clockwise on the ring road is that you’ll want to visit Jökulsárlón when you’re close to Höfn, and this requires you to overshoot Höfn by one hour and then double back into town.
  • Ice Beach. After your boat ride in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, head across the street to the Ice Beach, where chunks of glacial ice wash up on shore. Here, you can also watch as icebergs float out to meet the sea.
  • Langoustines. In Iceland, Höfn is famous for langoustines, and the town celebrates with a lobster festival each summer. If you’re stopping in Höfn, easting langoustines is the big thing to do.
Playing in the snow on the drive to Höfn from Egilsstaðir
Incredible scenery on the drive from Egilsstaðir to Höfn
A bridge on the hike towards Fláajökull glacier
At Jökulsárlón with Pam
Those black streaks in Jökulsárlón’s icebergs aren’t from pollution. They’re sedimentary layers from past volcanic eruptions.
Your moment of zen: a 1,000 year old iceberg that broke off of a glacier and floated out to sea
The Ice Beach across from Jökulsárlón
Horses hanging out by some ruins along the drive between Jökulsárlón and Höfn

Where to eat

  • Humarhöfnin. This might be the most well-known restaurant in Höfn, and the langoustines here are plump and juicy. I found them to be over-seasoned with garlic, however, which had the unfortunate effect of masking the flavor of the langoustines.
  • Pakkhús. This upscale restaurant by the harbor offers a variety of langoustine dishes, including langoustine pizza. The licorice créme bruleé is perfection, and the beer selection is very good. Overall, Pakkhús is superior to Humarhöfnin, but they don’t take reservations and the wait for a table can be lengthy.
Langoustines at Humarhöfnin
Langoustine pizza at Pakkhús
Langoustines at Pakkhús
The incredible licorice créme bruleé at Pakkhús

Where to sleep

Your best bets for lodging in Höfn are Airbnb and booking.com, with the former offering more options. We used Airbnb and rented a private room at this place, which was clean, comfortable, and had a large backyard for playing pickup soccer.

The “sunset” from the front yard of our Airbnb in Höfn (it never actually got dark)
Our large backyard in Höfn had plenty of room for soccer
Inside our Airbnb in Höfn

Other tips

  • Don’t say “hoe fen” for Höfn. In Icelandic, it’s pronounced “hup.”
  • Do some laundry at Höfn HI Hostel. This small hostel has an outdoor laundry room, and if you ask, they’ll let you use it to wash up your road clothes.

Day 9: Höfn to Vik

By now you’ll have figured out that the entire southern coast of Iceland, from Höfn all the way to Reykjavik, is the most touristy section of the country. All the cars and tour buses zipping along this section of the ring road attract police officers, so be careful on this drive. But the extra caution today is worth it, because you’re on your way to one of the most photogenic and in-demand destinations in Iceland — Vik.

The road from Höfn to Vik

What to see

Svartifoss, framed by basalt columns
DC-3 wreckage at Sólheimasandur
Inside the DC-3 wreckage
The Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks off Reynisfjara black sand beach
Family photo on the basalt columns at Reynisfjara
No puffins on this day, but a beautiful view of Dyrhólaey
Looking out of Loftsalahellir cave

Where to eat

  • Suður-Vík. In additional to traditional Icelandic foods, you’ll find pizza and chicken on the menu here. But the desserts — especially the Skyrcake — steal the show. Suður-Vík is located in a charming old house on a hill, and there can be a long wait at prime dinner times.
  • Halldórskaffi. A distance second place behind Suður-Vík, with a particularly good selection of pizzas, as well as burgers, sandwiches and soup.
Skyrcake at Suður-Vík
Waiting for a table at Halldórskaffi

Where to sleep

The Like Vik Guesthouse is located only 47 meters from Suður-Vík restaurant, and has a nice view of the Reynisdrangar basalt stacks. We enjoyed the breakfast that was included as part of our stay. Like Vik is only open during the summer.

The view from Like Vik

Day 10: Vik to Reykjavik

You’re the home stretch, but don’t rush back to the city. There’s a lot of natural beauty still to see, so spend some time outdoors today on a few remaining ring road gems.

Vik to Reykjavik, with Skógafoss in between

What to see

  • Sólheimajökull glacier. You can book a guided hike on this outlet of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, or you can simply take road 221 and drive the incredibly bumpy road to a parking area. From there, the hike to the edge of Sólheimajökull takes about 20 minutes.
  • Skógafoss. Even if you’ve seen enough waterfalls for a lifetime by this point in your trip, don’t miss Skógafoss. It’s one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, and was probably my favorite one. Plus, you can approach it from below and walk right into the waterfall’s spray.
  • Seljavallalaug. Located off road 242, this outdoor pool was built in 1923 and is heated with water from a natural hot spring. It takes about 20 minutes to hike to the Seljavallalaug pool from the parking area, and you’ll never swim in a more beautiful area. But I’m going to level with you: this pool is dirty. The water is green, the walls are slimy, and the changing room floors are coated with black muck. And yet, it’s worth it.
  • Seljalandsfoss. We saw this waterfall from a distance on our drive, but didn’t stop to walk up to the falls. Our loss. Visitors to Seljalandsfoss can hike behind the waterfall into a cave.
Examining the ash-covered ice at Sólheimajökull glacier
Walking into the spray from Skógafoss
The hike to Seljavallalaug Pool
Swimming at Seljavallalaug Pool

Where to eat

  • Hot Dog House Pylsuhúsið. We went to this hot dog stand on day 1 by mistake, thinking we’d found Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Save it for your return to Reykjavik so you can compare the two. I think the remoulade and other sauces were superior to Bæjarins, making for a more flavorful dog. Try it and judge for yourself.
  • The Laundromat Café. Wait to go here until after your road trip, when your luggage is bursting with stinky clothes. The menu is simple (nachos, burgers, etc.), but the beer selection is good and there’s a laundromat in the basement for washing your road garments.
Better than Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur?
Inside The Laundromat Café
Washing machines The Laundromat Café

Where to sleep

Knowing that we’d want more spacious accommodations after staying in smaller guesthouses and single rooms while on the road, we booked a two-bedroom unit at Room With A View — Apartments in advance of our trip. This was a smart call. The full kitchen and easy access to shops and restaurants were pleasant conveniences. However, there weren’t any blackout curtains in our apartment, and this made it somewhat difficult to sleep through the night (reminder: bring eye masks to Iceland!).

Day 11: Reykjavik to Húsafell to Langjökull glacier

The itinerary above makes for a great trip around the ring road in Iceland, but there’s so much more to see in the country. I wish we’d had enough time to visit the West Fjords, take a ferry to the Westman Islands, spend a night at the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, hike a glacier, or even just bum around Seyðisfjörður for an extra day. If you have more time, make sure to check out those destinations.

But with an extra day on our schedule, we planned a trip to Langjökull glacier, the second largest ice cap in Iceland.

You’ll be picked up in Húsafell on your way to Langjökull

What to see

  • Dogsledding. The best way to see Langjökull glacier is from the back of a dog sled. Trips are available through Dogsledding Iceland. This is not only a great activity for couples, families or groups, but it’s also a sobering, first-hand reminder of just how fast Iceland’s glaciers are melting.
  • Into the Glacier. Go beneath the surface of the Langjökull glacier and learn more about glaciers as you walk through an ice tunnel. We didn’t book this tour, but we watched as the tour company’s massive trucks rumbled to their glacial base camp.
Looking downward from Langjökull, you can see where the glacier has receded
Pick me! Pick me! I want to pull the sled!
A takes a big truck to make it all the way to Langjökull

Where to eat

  • Húsafell — Restaurant. Located at Hótel Húsafell, this restaurant isn’t anything to write home about, but it shares a parking lot with an Orkan gas station that serves as the pickup site for dogsledding trips. The buffet lunch is a welcome option for travelers who need a quick bite before traveling up to Langjökull.
The parking lot at the Hótel Húsafell’s restaurant also serves as the meeting point for dogsledding tours

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, the itinerary, photos and videos above will prove useful as you plan your trip to Iceland. If so, send me a note on Twitter — I’ll be overjoyed to know that this post was helpful to you. I’m also happy to chat via Twitter or email if you have any questions.

In closing, I’d like to thank a few people whose work was invaluable during the planning process for this trip:

If you’re still reading, thanks for your time and attention. My goal in writing this post was to build on the work of those before me, and make my own contribution for travelers seeking to plan an Icelandic adventure. Hopefully, I’ve accomplished that mission. Thanks again, and safe travels!

Shane Barnhill: @shanebarnhill on Twitter and Instagram