Iceland in 11 Days: The Ultimate Road Trip Itinerary and Guide

Black beach at Stokksnes with mountain in background

Stokksnes black beach

Iceland sits at the top of everyone’s bucket list because it’s such a unique place with rugged landscapes that look completely out of this world. A road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road is an adventure you’ll never forget.  A visit to the  Land of Ice and Fire is not complete without soaking in geothermal hot springs, admiring beautiful glaciers, trekking to a secret waterfall, and exploring lava fields.  The wild untamed landscape will make your jaw drop and leave an impression that will not soon fade.

We spent 11 days driving ourselves around the country, including Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and the famous Golden Circle. In that time, we managed to easily see all the major sites.  This comprehensive guide and road trip itinerary will help you plan your OWN trip to make the most of your time in Iceland and experience all the natural beauty this country has to offer. In addition to the trip route and maps, this guide will also give you drive times, accommodations, and restaurant suggestions.  The itinerary is broken out by day, with ideas on where to stop and what to see at each location.

Blue iceberg floating in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Puffin in the wild at the Borgarfjarðarhöfn nature reserve

Our Trip Detail

Duration: 10.5 Days

Dates Visited: May 19 – May 29

Distance Covered: 3000 km

Travel Style: Road trip with lots of hiking stops

Zodiac boat tour in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Zodiac Boat Tour

Important Information

Iceland, located near the Arctic Circle,  has a milder climate than it sounds due to the Gulf Stream that brings warm water north. Unfortunately the cold Arctic air mixed with the mild Atlantic air results in unpredictable weather patterns.  The average temperature in Iceland is around 1-2°C (33-35°F) in wintertime and around 12°C (54°F) in summer. Spring in Iceland comes later than other more southern parts of the world. When we were there at the end of May, the temperature was around  5°C / 41°F.  Even though I checked the weather religiously in the weeks leading up to the trip, nothing prepared me for the temperature fluctuations, variable weather patterns, and gale force winds that could rip off your car door!

The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Krona (ISK). Most of the country accepts credit cards; even Apple pay or Google pay for transactions less than 5,000 ISK. We only had to use cash a handful of times.

Two SUV in Eldhraun the largest lava field in Iceland

Driving through Eldhraun, the largest lava field in Iceland

Getting there

Conveniently located between Europe and North America, Iceland is easily accessible from both continents.  With a slew of airlines like Icelandair and Wow Air offering nonstop flights for incredibly low prices, traveling to Iceland has never been easier or cheaper! Coming from New York, our direct flight to Reykjavic was only 5 hours long, which is less than the time it takes to fly to the West coast.

Sun Voyager the famous metallic boat sculpture in Reykjavic against stormy sky

Sun Voyager the famous sculpture in Reykjavic

When To Go

Everything I’d read indicated that the shoulder season of  May/June is a great time to go.  The weather is supposed to be milder and you avoid the peak season crowds.  You also get to enjoy the late sunsets and extra daylight, perfect for more exploring.  All that sounds great, except that when we went it was cold and rainy.  There was a storm cloud hovering over the country, bringing with it rain, sleet, and high winds. We saw the sunset once out of the 11 days we were there.  We heard that the week after we left, the sun came out and there was a heat wave in Iceland with “scorching” temperatures reaching a high of 21 degrees Celsius.  Our bad luck aside, don’t let it stop you from visiting this beautiful country. Early June is probably the best time to go if you want to see the midnight sun. If Northern lights are what you’re after, then March or September is the time to go.

Plate of langoustine at Humarhöfnin restaurant in Hofn

Langoustine, the most delicious food in Iceland

What to Eat

Iceland is not just about hotdogs and skyr; although I can probably eat both for days.  There are many great restaurants and cafes serving contemporary Icelandic cuisines featuring fresh local produce.  Aside from cod and lamb, you’ll find other interesting items like langoustine, minke whale, and puffin on the menu.  It’s true that food is expensive in Iceland, but the portions are often generous and the price already includes tax and service. To save money we alternated dining out with cooking at home whenever we had a place with a kitchen.  Below in the itinerary, I’ve included a list of all the restaurants we’ve frequented on our road trip.

Outside the famous Ion Adventure Hotel in Iceland

Ion Adventure hotel

Where To Stay

It was hard to find a place that would fit 7 people, so we ended up staying in a mix of airbnbs and hotels.  Even though there are plenty of accommodation options in Iceland around the Ring Road, things book up quickly, especially in the high season. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options. Hotels have amenities like a pool and black out curtains while airbnb usually offers a fully equipped kitchen where you can cook your own meals. This is especially helpful when you want to dine in to save money. One of my favorite places from this trip was a gorgeous cabin in the mountains rented through airbnb. Included in the itinerary is a list of our accommodations for the trip.

Woman with packed luggage at airbnb with Arrowhead mountain in the back

First stop in Snæfellsnes Peninsula

What to Pack

Iceland is cold and rainy, so make sure you pack waterproof gear like raincoat, rain pants, and waterproof hiking boots.  In the Spring, you will not need a big winter coat, a packable down jacket combined with thermals and layers will be adequate to keep you warm and give you flexibility when the weather changes.  If you need more packing tips, check out my guest post that I wrote for Brics that lists out everything you need to bring for Iceland.

Driving Ring Road in Iceland with scenery of ocean and mountains

Driving Ring Road in Iceland

Driving in Iceland

The best way to get around Iceland is by car.  It allows you a lot of flexibility to go around at your own pace and make unscheduled stops for photographs or to admire nature.  The Ring Road (also known as Route 1) is perfectly designed to allow you to see the most of Iceland.  It spreads out over 1,300 km and covers the entire country. The route takes about 17 hours to drive non-stop, however, I recommend at least 8-10 days for your Iceland road trip itinerary, which allows plenty of time to explore. 11 days and 18 hours of sunlight might seem like a lot time, but we found that we were always running late and didn’t usually get to our next accommodation until late each night.

Dramatic mountain ranges in the East fjord in Iceland

Dramatic scenery in the East Fjord

Roads

We choose to drive the Ring Road counter-clockwise for no particular reason. It doesn’t matter which way you go, just optimize it for the weather.  Driving in Iceland was pretty easy as long as you stay on the main roads which are paved and well maintained. The smaller roads are mostly gravel and full of giant potholes. Most of the sites are located just off the main roads so there was no problem getting to them. On the other hand, some of our hotels and airbnbs were harder to get to because they were located in more remote areas.

Man waiting to pick up car at Blue Car Rental in Keflavik

Picking up car at Blue Car Rental

Car Rental

After much research, we decided to go with Blue Car Rental, a local car rental company in Iceland.  We’d read on travel forums that their prices are reasonable and their customer service is unparalleled.  They are not one of the unscrupulous companies that try to charge you extra for unwarranted damages at the end. After deciding on the company, we were debating between getting a 2WD vs 4WD and a sedan vs SUV. With 7 people, we decided to get two 2WD SUVs. Since we were there at the end of May, and planned to stay mostly on the Ring road, we didn’t need to get a 4WD and pay the extra money. We were especially thankful that we opted for the bigger car because it was a lot more comfortable on the long road trip.

When you exit the arrival area, you’ll find kiosks for the big car rental companies like Budget, Hertz and Enterprise. For the smaller local rental companies, you’ll need to take the yellow shuttle bus to their offices a few minutes away.  The pick up/drop off process was really seamless, probably one of the best ones that I’ve seen so far. You enter the office and click on the tablet by the door to get a number, then approach the desk when the agent calls your number.  There was hardly anyone there and we were able to pick up our car right away.  Our 11-day rental cost $730 USD including car insurance.  At the desk, they might ask if you want the additional Sand & Ash coverage. We decided to forgo this because we didn’t think it was needed during the rainier season.  It was also mentioned that if a gust of wind ripped off the car door, it would not be covered by insurance.  Good to know!

Getting wet behind Seljalandsfoss a big waterfall in Southern Iceland

Walking behind Seljalandsfoss

Maps

I found the custom Google Maps really helpful in planning out the trip as well as figuring out where everything was and how long it took to get to each place. While in Iceland, we used a combination of Google Maps and Maps.me to help us get around.  From my experience, Google Maps is accurate as long as you are on the bigger paved roads while Maps.me is much better for off-the-beaten-path destinations.  You can download an offline map for both apps so you don’t have to worry about not having internet signal.

Gas

Gas is expensive in Iceland at about about $2 USD a liter or $8 a gallon! Most gas stations in Iceland take credit cards but some requires a 4-digit PIN.

View of the town of Vik from above with church in foreground

View of Vik from above

Ultimate Iceland Road Trip Itinerary

The following is our Ultimate11 Day Road Trip Around Iceland’s Ring Road including all the places we visited, highlights of the day, accommodations, and restaurant guide. We decided to do the ring road counter clockwise, but it’s a personal preference and you decide on what you want to see first.  No matter how you decide to explore the island, you’ll see incredible landscapes and have an unforgettable adventure.  This guide will have everything you need to know to plan your own trip.  Make sure you follow me on Instagram to see more photos from Iceland.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Keflavik airport to Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Day 1: Keflavik Airport → Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Day 1: Arrival/Snæfellsnes Peninsula

(200 km, 2:40 hours)

We flew WowAir direct from NYC to Keflavík arriving at 10:45 am, which was the perfect time for us to pick up our car at Blue Rental and start our journey. We got into Iceland 2 days earlier than the rest of our party and decided to go up to Snæfellsnes peninsula. This involved a little bit more driving and doubling back, but it was worth the effort to explore this area.  Snæfellsnes peninsula is one of the best regions to explore with its dramatic landscapes. Since it was a long day after our red-eye, we decided to skip the sights and just call it an early night.

Woman sitting on luggage looking at the stunning view of Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Admiring the stunning view of Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Highlight of the Day: We decided to skip the toll tunnel and took the scenic route around Hvalfjordur. The 45 minute detour was worth it for the breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, and waterfalls.  It was a great introduction for what we could expect in the next 10 days.

Accommodation: We stayed in a modern cabin with a view of Kirkjufell, found on airbnb.

Lunch: Our first stop when we landed in Iceland was to satisfy our craving at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, touted by The Guardian as Europe’s best hot dog.

DinnerBjargarsteinn Mathús came highly recommended from our host.  This quaint seaside restaurant served up a delicious seafood soup.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Thingvellir

Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula → Thingvellir

Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula → Thingvellir

(291 km, 4:10 hours)

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up refreshed and ready to explore Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  After seeing the dramatic landscape on our drive in the day before, we were eager to see more.  We started at Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, and made our way around the peninsula before finishing the day at our hotel in Thingvellir. We were pleasantly surprised to find that aside from Kirkjufell, a lot of the other places were not very busy. 

Búðakirkja the famous black church with storm sky

Búðakirkja, the famous black church

Sights
  • Kirkjufell / Kirkjufellsfoss – The combination of waterfall and mountain made this a photographer’s dream.
  • Ingjaldshóll – An old farm and a church that can be seen from miles away against the mountain backdrop.
  • Saxhóll – A crater that erupted 3-4 thousand years ago. Climb up to the top for great view of the surrounding area.
  • Lóndrangar  –  Located deep in Snæfellsjökull National Park, this dramatic cliff and rock pinnacles are a stunning sight to behold.
  • Fishing Villages – Made a quick stop at Hellnar for lunch and Arnarstapi for a few pictures. If you have time, consider the coastal hike between the two villages.
  • Búðakirkja – A tiny wooden black church, dating back to the 19th century.
  • Ytri Tunga – This is a rocky beach where seals like to hang out. The best time to spot a seal is June – August, but we managed to see a few when we were there.
Kirkjufell with waterfall in the foregorund in Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The iconic Kirkjufell in Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Highlight of the Day: The distinctively shaped mountain, found on the northearn coast of Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula was our favorite stop of the day.  GoT fans will recognize this landmark as Arrow Head Mountain, from season 6.  There is a short trail that takes you around for the perfect shot of the waterfall in the foreground and the mountain in the back.  Aim to go earlier because the  visitor’s parking lot is very small and tends to fill up quickly. We were there around 9 am, and there were still ample spaces available.

Accommodation: We stayed at the iconic Ion Adventure Hotel

Lunch: We wanted to go to Fjoruhusid, but the wait was too long so we went to Primus Kaffi instead. It was a mistake, because the food was expensive and terrible.

Dinner:  We were both tired and didn’t want to venture too far, so for dinner we decided to eat at the hotel.  The food was delicious, especially the fish of the day that came with cauliflower three ways: pureed, pickled, and grilled.  The mains cost about 5,000 – 6,000 ISK, but the portions were generous, so even though we didn’t order appetizers, we were both full.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Thingvellir to Vik

Day 3: Thingvellir → Vik

Day 3: Thingvellir → Vik

(173 km, 2:37 hours)

On the third day, the rest of our group arrived and we headed towards the South coast of Iceland. This stretch of road has some of the most interesting sites in Iceland including famous waterfalls like Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss.  But to avoid the crowd, make sure you venture off the beaten path and explore lesser known waterfalls as well. We ended our day in Vik where we spent 2 nights, giving us ample time to explore the area around this town.

Seljavallalaug Pool a natural hot pool surrounded by mountain

Seljavallalaug Pool surrounded by moutain

Sights
  • Urriðafoss – This cascading waterfall is located a 5 minute drive from the Ring Road and worth the short pit stop.
  • Seljalandsfoss – You can see this powerful waterfall all the way from the main road. You can walk behind the waterfall for the perfect picture, but be prepared to get drenched by the mist. I was completely soaked from head to toe.
  • Gljúfrabúi – Walk a little further from Seljalandsfoss and you’ll find this waterfall hidden behind a cliff wall. To get in you have to wade through shallow water.
  • Skogafoss – This massive waterfall is probably one of the most recognizable in Iceland.  You can get as close as you want, but be prepared to get wet or you can climb the stairs to the top for a different view.
  • Kvernufoss – This secret waterfall is like something out of the hidden world of Jurassic park.
  • Seljavallalaug Pool– This popular natural bath is nestled in the mountains. Unlike the other hot springs, the water in this pool is only about room temperature.
Kvernufoss a hidden waterfall in the valley

Kvernufoss a hidden waterfall

Highlight of the Day: The most memorable part of our day was finding Kvernufoss, which turned out to be our favorite waterfall in Iceland.  It’s definitely a high bar because there are so many other stunning waterfalls in this country.  This secret waterfall is not easily found on a map, but the challenge made the reward that much sweeter.  Our jaws literally dropped when we crested the hill and got a first glimpse of of the waterfall.  It looked like a scene from a fantasy movie and you’ll feel like an explorer discovering this lost world.

Accommodation: We stayed at the Puffin Hotel Vík, a self-catering unit we rented out on airbnb.  It was not one of my favorite stays on the trip, but there were not that many options for 7 people in Vik.

Lunch: We wanted try Sveitagrill Míu, a fish and chips food truck near Skogafoss, but it was closed that day.  Instead we went to Hotel Skogafoss Bistro Bar, located right next to the falls.  We were pleasantly surprised that the food was delicious.  Their wings special and burgers were the highlight.

Dinner:  It was a public holiday in Iceland and by the time we made it to Vik, all the restaurants were closed.  We made a dash to the nearby grocery store to get supplies to make dinner at home. We also made sure to pick up lots of skyr and fruit for breakfast the next day.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip exploring Vik and surrounding area

Day 4: Exploring Vik

Day 4: Vik

(67 km, 1 hour)

We decided to stay in Vik an extra day because there were lots of things to see and do. Since it was a light driving day, we booked an excursion to go glacier hiking and ice climbing. I was excited because this was the first time I would get to go ON a glacier, in the past, I only saw them from afar.  But unfortunately, the weather was not co-operating and it poured the whole day.   After our trip got cancelled, we decided to head to the Sólheimasandur plane wreck instead.  We didn’t get very far – after 15 minutes of fighting against the intense wind and rain, we gave up and turned back.   We ended going to the Loftsalahellir cave, which was our favorite stop of the day.

Women in yellow rain coat standing in front of Skogafoss

Standing in front of Skogafoss

Sights
  • Reynisfjara – The famous black sand beach with basalt columns and sea stacks is an iconic sight in Iceland. Due to its popularity, the beach is always crowded – even in the dead of winter,  if you want to have the place to yourself make sure you get there before 8 am.
  • Hálsanefshellir Cave – This cave located right on the black sand beach is only accessible at low tide
  • Sólheimajökull Glacier – We planned to do ice climbing and glacier hiking with Icelandic Mountain Guides, an adventure company based in Iceland. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, our tour was canceled and we were only able to see the Sólheimajökull Glacier tongue.
  • Sólheimasandur Plane Crash  – This site is where the famous DC-3 plane crash-landed in 1973.  Since the road is closed, the only way to get there is by foot.  The easy walk takes about 45 minutes each way on a nice day, but the bad weather derailed our plans. Due to high winds and rain, we couldn’t reach the plane crash and had to turn around after only 15 minutes in.
  • Loftsalahellir cave – Located near Vik,  this cave has a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape including the Dyrhólaey archway.
  • Dyrhólaey Archway – You can drive to the top of the archway to get a great aerial view of the black beach below.
  • Vík í Mýrdal Church – The church is located at the top of a hill where you can get a nice view of the town below.
Woman standing in Loftsalahellir Cave with views of Dyrhólaey Archway

Loftsalahellir Cave with views of Dyrhólaey Archway

Highlight of the Day: Loftsalahellir Cave is a tuff cave located near Dyrhólaey Archway. Its unusual opening makes the cave a favorite spot for photographers.  Even though its popularity has increased in recent years due to Instagram, it still remains relatively unknown. To get up to the cave, you have to scramble up a small hill.  The path can be slippery on a wet day.

Accommodation: We stayed another night at the Puffin Hotel Vík

Lunch: We packed a light lunch of Skyr and fruits thinking that we were going to go glacier hiking.

Dinner:  We went grocery shopping and got some frozen pizza and ingredients to make a salad at home.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Vik to Hof

Day 5: Vik → Hof

Day 5: Vik → Hof

(217 km, 2:50 hour)

The drive up to Hof is about two hours total, but since we made a detour back to the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash, it added another hour to our trip. This part of the road is rugged with moss-covered lava fields on both sides.  The out-of-this-world landscape  provided endless photo ops along the way.

Women posing on top of DC-3 Plane Crash in Sólheimasandur

Sólheimasandur Plane Crash

Sights
  • Sólheimasandur Plane Crash  – Since we didn’t make it the day before, we decided to wake up earlier and give it a try again.  We were there early and  had the place to ourselves for a good 30 minutes before other people showed up.
  • Laufskálavarða – This is a lava ridge, surrounded by stone cairn formations.
  • Eldhraun – This is the site of the biggest lava flow in the world formed by the one of the greatest volcanic eruptions in history back in 1785. Two hundred years later, the field is completely covered with Woolly Fringe Moss creating an unearthly landscape.
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – This steep canyon with the Fjaðrá river flowing through is one of the most photogenic sights in Iceland. We were looking forward to it, but the area was closed for maintenance.
  • Unnamed Road (63.765427, -18.125122) – Since Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon was closed, we headed back to the main road.  But right before we got there, we found this little parking lot and decided to pull over to go exploring.  We ended up finding a gorgeous canyon with a waterfall at the end of the path.  It was not as beautiful as Fjaðrárgljúfur, but it was extra special because we had the place to ourselves.
  • Foss a Sidu – This is definitely not the most impressive waterfall in Iceland, but it is one of the most scenic.  Driving on Route 1, you’ll see it cascading down the side of a mountain over a village. We pulled over to admire the view and for a few quick photos. This is the reason why we loved doing a road trip around Iceland, for these unplanned scenic spots.
  • Svartifoss –  This waterfall requires a little effort to get to, but is definitely worth the 2km hike. The waterfall cascades over basalt columns, and is a unique sight to behold. At the base of the waterfall, we dipped our feet into the ice cold glacier water.
  • Svínafellsjökull Glacier TongueSvínafellsjökull is a tongue of the famous Vatnajökull glacier, the largest ice cap in Europe. It has also become well-known as the location “north of the wall” in GoT.
Women sitting by side of cliff enjoying the view of Svínafellsjökull Glacier Tongue

Enjoying the view of Svínafellsjökull Glacier Tongue

Highlight of the Day: It’s amazing to be so close to such a magnificent force of nature. Svínafellsjökull Glacier Tongue is massive and quite a sight to behold.   At the base, you’ll see large chunks of ice floating in a milky brown lake, like a big giant cup of iced coffee.  Climb to the top for a better view of the glacier. It’s also peaceful up there away from the crowds, where you can have a quiet moment to admire the raw beauty of Iceland. That was probably my favorite part of the trip so far.

Accommodation: There were not too many hotels or airbnbs on this stretch of the road, so our choices were limited.  We decided to stay at the gorgeous Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. 

Lunch: After a quick search on the internet for a lunch spot, we settled on Systrakaffi, near Foss a Sidu. This café serves a delicious all-you-can-eat soup and bread for a reasonable price.  They also have a delicious burger on the menu amongst other things.

Dinner:  After another long day, we didn’t have the energy to venture out for dinner, so we decided to eat at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon restaurant.  The spicy pork belly and langoustine and scallop bisque sounded very enticing.  I am glad we stayed because it was one of the best meals we had on the trip.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Hof to Egilsstaðir

Day 6: Hof → Egilsstaðir

Day 6: Hof → Egilsstaðir

(300 km, 4:40 hour)

On this day, we decided to stop in Egilsstaðir instead of driving all the way to the Myvatn region.  The route along the East Fjords is gorgeous, with snow capped mountains and dramatic cliffs along the coast and is worth exploring.  We started the day with a boat tour in the Glacier Lagoon and ended it frolicking on the Stokksnes beach.  It was one of the best days of our trip.

Two Zodiac boats touring Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Zodiac Boat Tour

Sights
  • Jökulsárlón  – Glacier Lagoon is an enormous lagoon filled with floating chunks of ice that have broken free from the famous Vatnajökull glacier.  This is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, and for good reason.  If you look carefully, you might even find an adorable family of ducks zipping around the icebergs.
  • Diamond Beach – Right across the street from Jökulsárlón is Diamond Beach, where you can see glacier ice up close. The place got its name from the sparkling icebergs that wash up onto shore. The chunks of ice are so clear, they look like diamonds on the black sand beach.
  • Zodiac Boat Tour – You can take a boat tour that takes you around the lagoon and brings you close to the glaciers.  You can choose between an amphibious boat or a smaller zodiac boat. Even though the zodiac is more expensive it’s worth the splurge because the smaller boat will get you closer to the glaciers and ice floats while the bigger amphibious boats just skirt around the outside.
  • Hoffell Hot Tub – This is a good pit stop in the Hofn area if you have time.  The admission fee is 1,000 ISK and you can use the hot tubs for as long as you like.  There are 5 hot tubs with varying temperatures.
  • Stokksnes – This is a headland on the southeastern Icelandic coast near Hofn.  You’ll see a breathtaking view of Vestrahorn mountains looming over the black sand beach. Since this is on private land, you’ll have to pay an admission fee of 600 ISK.
  • Laekjavik Coast – A random stop along the coast.
Looking down on Stokksnes black beach with Vestrahorn mountains looming in the back

Stokksnes black beach with Vestrahorn mountains looming in the back

Highlights of the Day: Zodiac Boat tour and Stokksnes were two of my favorite stops of the day for similar reasons even though they are completely different.   In both places, I left feeling small in the face of the nature. Their beauty, while imposing, brought a feeling of serenity.  The towering mountains and magnificent glaciers made quite an impression on me.

Accommodation: The two-story wood cabin that we found on airbnb is located conveniently about 15 minutes from Egilsstaðir. It had a hot tub, washer/dryer, fully-loaded kitchen and many other amenities.  The best part was the view of the snow capped mountains. If you are lucky, you might even spot a reindeer in the yard.  This place was gorgeous and I wish we were able to stay for a couple of days.

Lunch: Hofn is known for its langoustine, a small sweet lobster that’s only found in the cold water of the northern Atlantic and the North Sea.  Humarhöfnin is a restaurant that specializes in langoustine, serving everything from langoustine bisque to langoustine pizza and everything in between.  This was my favorite food in Iceland.

Dinner:  For dinner, we kept it simple with some instant noodles.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Egilsstaðir to Myvatn

Day 7: Egilsstaðir → Myvatn

Day 7: Egilsstaðir → Myvatn

(406 km, 5:58 hour)

This is the day that we headed north to the amazing and surreal Myvatn region. Since a lot of the popular sights are located in southern Iceland, not a lot of people venture up this far, but that is their loss.  Extreme geothermal activity and stark landscapes will make you feel like you’re walking around on Mars.  We spent the afternoon exploring lava fields and volcanic craters, and ended with a dip in soothing geothermal nature baths.

Grjótagjá is a natural hot spring inside a cave

A natural hot spring inside a cave

Sights
  • Borgarfjarðarhöfn – Before heading off to Myvatn, we made a little detour to the top of the East Fjord to see puffins.  The road was treacherous, but seeing these cute birds more than made up for it!
  • Krafla Viti Crater – The landscape in Myvatn looks like something out of this world, but nowhere more so than the Viti crater.  You can hike around the circular crater or walk down to the bottom where you’ll find a little lake filled with turquoise water.
  • Námafjall Hverir –An impressive looking geothermal field with hot springs and bubbling mud pits. Be prepared for a strong sulfur smell that permeates your clothes and skin.
  • Grjótagjá – This natural geothermal spring is found under a secluded lava cave.  This is the filming location for Jon Snow’s love scene with Ygritte in season 3 of GoT. Unfortunately the water is too hot for people to bathe in the hot springs.
  • Mývatn Nature Baths  – This is another man-made geothermal pool found in northern Iceland.  It’s a smaller and much less expensive alternative to the Blue Lagoon.
  • Lake Mývatn – The volcanic lake is the main attraction in this area and serves as a lovely backdrop in photos.
Puffin in the wild at the Borgarfjarðarhöfn nature reserve

Puffin in the wild at the Borgarfjarðarhöfn nature reserve

Highlight of the Day: I had always wanted to see puffins in the wild.  After researching on the internet, I learned about Borgarfjarðarhöfn, a small protected island in east Iceland home to thousands of puffins.  Even though it was a 2 hour detour from our route, we were more than happy with the early wake up call if it meant we could see these cute birds. The puffins were so close, I felt like I could almost reach out to touch them.

Accommodation: We spent the night at Vallakot Farm Guesthouse, this is one of the few places that offered breakfast.  The hosts were very accommodating and even let us use their washer/dryer.

Lunch: We made sandwiches from ingredients we got from Bonus and a local bakery.

Dinner:  After reading many good reviews of Vogafjós Cowshed Café, we decided to have dinner there.  This is a farm-to-table restaurant, where you can dine while watching the livestock next door.  Unfortunately the food did not live up to the hype. The food was really expensive ($50 dollar burger anyone?) and not that amazing, definitely not worth the splurge.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Myvatn to Borganes

Day 8: Myvatn → Borganes

Day 8: Myvatn → Borganes

(451 km, 5:44 hour)

This was going to be a long day because we had to cover a lot of distance going from Myvatn all the way down to Borganes.  Luckily, it rained most of the day and we didn’t feel like we missed out on much.  Before we started heading south, we visited the last few stops in Myvatn that we missed the night before.  We started the day early  exploring the sights around Lake Mývatn before driving to Akureyri where we stopped for a long lunch before ending in Borganes.

View of Myvatn lake with snow capped caldera in background

View of Myvatn Lake

Sights
  • Dimmuborgir  – The lava rock formation of  Dimmuborgir is home to the famous  “Yule Lads”, a gang of mischievous trolls who supposedly live in these caves and come out in the winter. They have funny names like Sausage Swiper and Skyr Gobbler.
  • Skútustaðagígar  – These  craters were formed by steam explosions when boiling lava flowed over the wetlands. If you have the time, you can walk around the rim of of theses pseudo craters. From the top, you’ll have a perfect view of the Myvatn lake.
  • Góðafoss – This is the most spectacular waterfall in Northern Iceland with an impressive name that translates to “The Waterfall of the Gods.” If you’re brave, you can walk right up to the edge where you feel the power of the falls.
  • Akureyri – This charming city is the second largest city after Reykjavik and known as the “Capital of the North”. Since we didn’t have enough time, we were only there for a few hours on our way South.
Women in red jacket sitting at the edge of Góðafoss

Sitting at the edge of Góðafoss

Highlights of the Day: My favorite part of the day was sitting at the edge of Góðafoss staring down into the abyss.

Accommodation: We spent the night at Múlakot Countryside Cabin in Borganes.  This was my least favorite accommodation of the trip.  Even though the cabin said that it could fit 7 guests, it was way too small for any more than 4 people.  It took us over an hour to find this place because of detours and the road there was full of potholes.

Lunch: We decided to stop in Akureyri for lunch.  We went to Strikid, a restauant in town with views overlooking the fjord.  My favorite dish was the steak and fries.  The beef was tender and juicy and the fries were nice and crispy.  After lunch we headed over to Brynja for some delicious soft serve ice cream.

Dinner:  Since our cabin was so remote, our only option was to cook.  We got some ribs and salad at the local Bonus and made our own dinner.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Borganes to Golden Circle

Day 9: Borganes → Golden Circle

Day 9: Borganes → Golden Circle

(211 km, 3:18 hour)

We did it, we drove all the way around Iceland.  We were going to spend the last few days around the Reykjavic/Golden Circle area. A trip to Iceland just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this tourist hot spot. Even on a foggy and rainy day, there were still a lot of people around.  This place is popular with visitors because packed into a small area, you can see waterfalls, geysers, and a national park where the Earth’s tectonic plates meet.

Close up of Bruarfoss and the icy blue water

Close up of Bruarfoss

Sights
  • Þingvellir National Park  – Þingvellir is the site of the world’s oldest parliament, established in 930 AD. It’s also where the tectonic plates meet. You can wander between the rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and explore an area that played a huge role in Iceland’s heritage. There are also more waterfalls if you’re not sick of them by this point.  The best place to park is at parking lot number 2.
  • Bruarfoss – This is one of the waterfalls that is not accessible from Route 1.  Getting here is a bit tricky, but after seeing pictures of the icy blue water cascading down, I had to see it in person. This waterfall was also a nice refuge from the crowds.
  • Strokkur Geysir  – This is another must stop in the Golden Circle.  The original Geysir is closed, but you can still see Strokkur.  The geyser goes off about every 5-10 minutes. We were there long enough to get a boomerang and saw it go off about 3-4 times.
  • Gullfoss  – This waterfall is probably the most popular attraction in Iceland, not to mention one of the biggest.  There are two ways to view the waterfall: at the top near the gift shop, or at the bottom near the lower parking lot.  At the top, you can see the whole falls, but at the bottom  you can feel the magnificent force of the water.
Strokkur Geysir water explosion out of the ground

Strokkur Geysir

Highlight of the Day:  My favorite part of the day was standing in the rain, waiting around for Strokkur to go off.  The excitement of the onlookers was palpable each time the steam came bubbling up to the surface. Everyone cheered when the water exploded out of the ground.  It is a great demonstration of the powerful force of nature.

Accommodation: Our Reykholt airbnb was a spacious 4 bedroom cabin that came with a hot tub, washer/dryer and a barbeque.  Its location in the proximity of the Golden Circle attractions made this a great find.  The thoughtful host also provided us with a fully loaded kitchen with lots of ingredients to cook a great meal.

Lunch: I can’t remember the last time I decided to have ice cream for lunch, but we did just that when we were in Iceland. We stopped by Efstidalur II, a working dairy farm that serves the best ice cream that comes in many different flavors.  Their upstairs restaurant also serves food if you are not into having dessert for lunch.

Dinner:  We got hot dogs and hamburgers and grilled them at our airbnb.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Golden Circle to Reykjavik

Day 10: Golden Circle → Reykjavik

Day 10: Golden Circle → Reykjavik

(122 km, 2:00 hour)

This was our last full day in Iceland and we were going to spend it exploring Reykjavic.  Iceland’s capital is a charming city, but it’s not too big, so you can definitely visit the main sites in a day.  It’s also a big bonus that they are all within walking distance of each other.  Before we headed back into civilization, we thought we would go on one last adventure together, hiking up to the Reykjadalur hot spring.

View of colorful Reykjavik houses from Hallgrímskirkja

View of Reykjavik from Hallgrímskirkja

  • Reykjadalur – Only about an hour away from Reykjavik, you’ll find the beautiful Reykjadalur valley filled with natural hot springs, mud pools, and even a hot river where you can bathe among nature.  It is a 45 minute uphill hike to the valley from the parking lot below, but the gorgeous mountain landscape will be more than enough to distract you from the fatigue.
  • Hallgrímskirkja – This is the largest church in Iceland and also one of of the tallest buildings in country. The design was inspired by the basalt columns, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape.  Head up to the top for a panoramic view of Reykjavik.
  • Harpa Concert Hall – I’ve seen pictures of this beautiful building before, but nothing quite prepared me for it in person.  From the outside, it looks like a massive iceberg , but inside it looks like a honeycomb.  This distinguished landmark was also inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland.  The colorful glass façade makes a stunning back drop for any photo.
  • Sun Voyager – If you walk along the harbor from the Harpa Concert Hall, you’ll come across a shiny skeletal ship that resembles a Viking ship. This is the famous sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason.
  • Bankastraeti – Reykjavik is best explored on foot.  Bankastraeti is the main street where you’ll find all the shops, restaurants, and cafes.  The core area of Reykjavic is not too big and can be done in an afternoon.
Man and woman bathing in Reykjadalur natural spring

Bathing in Reykjadalur natural spring

Highlight of the Day:  I was not prepared for the hour long hike to get to the Reykjadalur hot spring, but once I was there, I forgot all about the up hills.  The sun was out and we were lying in a natural hot spring, surrounded by mountains, what’s not to love about that.

Accommodation: We decided to stay at an airbnb on the outskirts of town to be closer to the airport, since the next day we had to fly out.

Lunch: We ended the trip the same way we started, at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, getting our fill of Icelandic hot dogs before saying our goodbyes.

Dinner:  Since it was our last dinner in Iceland, we wanted to splurge and eat at a nice restaurant.  Our choice was between Fiskmarkaðurinn and Grillmarkaðurinn, we decided to go with the Fish MRKT. This place serves the most delicious locally-sourced seafood, we each tried a different fish on the menu and it was all amazing.  They also have Icelandic dishes like puffin and whale.  Out of the two, I prefer the whale. The puffin tastes like boiled liver and if you’re not used to the taste, you might not like it.  My sister went to Grillmarkaðurinn the next day and also loved the food there, you really can’t go wrong with both options.

Map of Ultimate Iceland Road trip going from Reykjavik to Reykjanes Peninsula

Day 11: Reykjavik → Reykjanes Peninsula

Day 11: Reykjavik → Reykjanes Peninsula

(160 km, 2:32 hour)

Our Icelandic trip had come to an end.  With a heavy heart, we were getting ready to say our farewell to this lovely country that showed us so much over 11 days.  This was our last day, but since our flight didn’t depart until 9pm, we still had time to do a little more exploring.  We tried to stay in the Reykjanes Peninsula to be near the airport.  We also left the Blue Lagoon until the very end because it was a relaxing way to end our adventure.

Gardur lighthouse on the southern coast of Iceland

Gardur lighthouse

Sights
  • Fishrack – Fish drying is an age-old practice in Iceland that preserves fish for the long winter months.  While driving around the Reykjanes peninsula we found wooden racks full of dried fish heads – a throwback to the olden days. Just be prepared for a rancid smell when you step out of the car.
  • Reykjanesviti  – Located at the tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula, you’ll find the oldest lighthouse in Iceland and a rugged rocky coastline.
  • Gardur  – Another interesting lighthouse on the southern coastline
  • Hvalsneskirkja  – There are so many lovely churches dotting the country, but this one is a standout against the lush green background.
  • Blue Lagoon – I have mixed feelings about the Blue Lagoon.  This world-famous place is by far, the MOST popular tourist destination in Iceland.  There is no arguing that the icy blue water in a black lava field makes for a photogenic capture.  The restorative water of the lagoon rich in silica and blue-green algae is reputed to have healing powers. But is all that worth the exorbitant cost and the never-ending crowds?  That I am not so sure about.
Icy blue water of Blue Lagoon contrasting against mossy lava field

Icy blue water of Blue Lagoon

Lunch: We stopped by the Bryggjan café  by the Grindavik harbor on our way to Reykjanesviti. This homey place serves all you can eat lobster and vegetable medley soup for a reasonable price.  The soup also comes with free coffee, bread, and butter.

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Puffin in the wild at the Borgarfjarðarhöfn nature reserve  Blue iceberg floating in Jökulsárlón Glacier LagoonStokksnes black beach with mountain in background  All the must stops in the ultimate Iceland road trip itinerary

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16 thoughts on “Iceland in 11 Days: The Ultimate Road Trip Itinerary and Guide

  1. Pingback: Is Iceland Cold in Spring? A Packing Guide | BRIC'S MILANO

  2. I did the road trip in reverse and headed north first as I went late in September and wanted to miss the cold weather (as luck would have it, I had gorgeous weather in the north and horrific weather in the sout – but that’s Iceland for you). I had to hurry doing it in 9 days, so I think 11 days would be perfect. Although, I ended at the Golden Circle, too. And, after spending 8 days in the wilds of Iceland, I felt it a bit too touristy and was underwhelmed. i think it would be a great intro to the landscape early in the trip. Great post!

    Like

  3. Pingback: Chasing Waterfalls in Iceland | life after 9to5

  4. Pingback: 25 Most Instagrammable Places in Iceland | life after 9to5

  5. Pingback: Trip Report: Iceland | life after 9to5

  6. Your pictures are gorgeous , it’s been less that 20 days since I left Iceland , and believe me the holiday hangover continues . Do visit my site and check out my latest posts on Iceland 🙂
    Will be happy to hear your thoughts 🙂

    Like

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