Iceland is a top tourist destination with stunning scenery, picture-perfect towns and spectacular drives. We’ve picked some of the best things to see and do during this 10 day road trip in Iceland covering the south coast and western fjords.
Known as the land of ice and fire, Iceland's landscape is dominated by volcanic activity with great basalt columns, black sand beaches, and surreal landscapes of steaming sulphur. There are also ice lagoons, glaciers, and stunning fjords, making Iceland a top destination for outdoor adventurers, photographers and nature enthusiasts.
This small island has some fascinating history too. Iceland lays claim to the oldest running parliament in the world; Icelandic Parliament was established in 930 in Thingvellir National Park. It’s also home to the original geyser, all others take their name from this thermal hot spring. ‘Geysir’ was the first widely known geyser to modern Europeans and the first to appear in written word.
The best time to visit Iceland is Between May to September when the daylight hours are long and all of the roads are open. In winter it gets dark quickly, many attractions are closed and the roads shut due to heavy snowfall. The weather in Iceland can be very changeable at any time of the year and it’s best to be prepared. Allow time in your itinerary for things to change. Pack plenty of layers and make sure to have waterproofs and sturdy hiking shoes to hand.
Hiring a car is the best way to get around in Iceland. The main roads are wide and well maintained year round, even during periods of heavy snowfall. But the minor roads are often rough tracks, especially in the more off the beaten track places. It’s best to hire a 4 Wheel Drive as normal hire cars aren’t permitted to drive on these roads.
Here we’ve put together a flexible itinerary for how to spend 10 days in Iceland. You can fit the entire ring road into ten days, but you will have to spend just one night at each spot and rush through many of the sites. We prefer slower travel and have focused on the area of the south coast and the western peninsulas, giving you more time to enjoy the sites and spend longer in each place.
Iceland's capital is a must when visiting this small country. With a population of around 130,000 people, it’s completely different to any other capital city you’ve been to. With clean streets, simple Nordic buildings and a scenic harbour, it’s a beautiful place to just wander around. Depending on what time your flight gets in you will likely have just one full day in the city, but there's enough to do in the city to justify a longer stay.
One unmissable landmark on the Icelandic skyline is Hallgrímskirkja, a church with a 75 metre tower and cascading basalt-like columns. The interior is unusually sparse for a religious building, with the exception of a large 15 metre high organ by the German master Johannes Klais. A statue of Leif Eriksson guards the entrance, the Norse explorer was the first European to set foot on American soil during the 11th century. Explore 1200 years of human history at the National Museum of Iceland, visit the Harpa concert hall at the old harbour, and see remnants of 10th-century Viking settlements, preserved in the interactive Settlement Exhibition.
If you have more time in the capital Reykjavik is also one of the best places in Iceland to see whales from. Head to the Old Harbour and jump on a boat tour around Faxa Bay. Up to 20 species of whale gather here during the summer months of April to September, but the most common are minke and humpback. You may also spot puffins on the way past the island of Akurey as well as seals, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises.
Stay:The 4 star Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel is located in the heart of the central 101 district, housed in a former department store it’s part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. For groups the Eric the Red Guesthouse is the perfect apartment rental, it has everything you need to cook and relax in.
Book: A free walking tour of downtown Reykjavik, the best way to explore the city is with a local.
From Reykjavik travel north along the western fjords to the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Known as ‘Iceland in miniature’, Snaefellnes has a bit of everything; a glacier, waterfalls, mountains, a volcano, and lava fields. Snaefellsjokull National Park covers the very western tip of the peninsula and is home to the glacier topped Snæfellsjökull volcano. Take a guided tour inside a lava tunnel at Vatnshellir Cave, see volcanic sand at Djúpalónssandur beach, and climb Saxhóll Crater.
Another top thing to see in Snaefellsnes is the Kirkjufell mountain, its unique arrow head shape and coastal location make it stand out. It’s a popular spot for photographers and has even appeared in the TV series Game of Thrones. The best views of the mountain are from the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall at sunset. Other stops include Búðakirkja Black Church, Hellissandur- the street art capital of Iceland, and Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge.
Stay in the small village of Hellnar where there is a scenic viewpoint over the cliffs and lava fields across the water. Nearby you will also find Gatklettur and Arnarstapi Cliff where there is a great photo opportunity with a stone bridge.
Stay: Fosshotel Hellnar has everything you need for a short stay on the peninsula. It's an award winning, eco-friendly hotel with a restaurant serving traditional Icelandic dinners.
From Snaefellsnes drive for about 2 and a half hours to Langjokull Glacier, stopping at Hraunfossar waterfall or the Cave Vidgelmir if you have time. From Húsafell or Klaki, jump on an ‘Into the glacier tour’, where you will ride in modified glacier vehicles along man made ice tunnels into the blue heart of Iceland's second largest glacier, Langjökull. Other things to do at the glacier include snowmobile tours and a scenic helicopter flight that drops you off on a remote part of the glacier into sub zero temperatures. From here head south for a couple of hours to Laugarvatn Fontana, where you can warm up in luxury geothermal spas before heading to your hotel.
On the second day start with a visit to Thingvellir National Park where you can dive between two continents in the Silfra Fissure. Then witness the full force of Iceland's geothermal activity at Geysir and Strokkur, the latter erupts every ten minutes and reaches heights of over twenty metres. Round up the Golden Circle with a trip to Gullfoss, one of Iceland's most well known waterfalls, boasting an astonishing 141 cubic metres of cascading water per second.
Stay: The White House in Reykholt is just a 30-minute drive away from Gulfoss, choose from guest rooms or the entire self-catering holiday home.
Book: Langjökull tours can get busy so make sure to book well in advance.
Spend the day taking the leisurely two and a half hour drive down to Vik on Iceland's beautiful south coast. Make a stop at Kerid Crater - a 300 year old volcanic crater with a lake inside, Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. These two waterfalls are close together but one is well hidden. You can park right next to Seljalandsfoss and walk behind the waterfall.
Then head to an equally, if not more, impressive 60 metre waterfall at Skógafoss, from there it’s a straight run to the black sand beach of Reynisfjara and the small coastal town of Vik. A visit to the Black Sand Beach, Vik, is a great way to see the geology of Iceland; huge basalt columns line the shore akin to those at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Look out to sea towards the Reynisdrangar offshore rock formations, and see seabirds such as puffins nesting on the cliffs.
You can also take a shuttle or walk 8 kilometres along the beach to the Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck, a 1973 US Navy DC plane that crashed on the Black sand. For hikers a trip to Landmannalaugar with its colourful rhyolite mountains is a must. It’s a bit of a detour on rocky mountain roads, but provides some of the best hikes in Iceland.
Stay: The Kósý Vík is a quaint little homestay in the centre of town. The friendly owners make you feel right at home with lots of suggestions on places to visit.
Head further east along the ring road to Skaftafell National Park, optional stops include the Laufskálavarða rock piles and Fjadrargljufur Canyon. Don’t miss Svartifoss, a beautiful waterfall that features volcanic basalt columns, and the easy hike to the base of the Svínafellsjökull Glacier.
On the next day visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. You can join an amphibian or zodiac tour or rent kayaks to see the glacier up close. Then head to Diamond Beach (Breiðamerkursandur) to see stunning diamond-like chunks of ice washed up on the black sand beach. During the summer you can go on glacier walks or try your hand at ice climbing on Breidamerkurjokull glacier, or in winter join a tour to explore the eerily blue natural ice caves of Vatnajökull Glacier - the largest glacier in Europe.
I recommend an extra night here as the ice lagoons are really beautiful in the sunlight. As we know, the weather is changeable in Iceland so having a rainy day scheduled in is always a good idea! There’s lots of great hiking in the area too. Fjallsárlón is another beautiful glacier and ice lagoon just west of Jökulsárlón, there are less visitors here and you can spend the entire day hiking in nature, plus it’s free!
If you have more time visit the rugged mountainous headland of Stokksnes, and Víkingaþorpið - a Viking village. The settlement was originally made for a movie and shows the traditional turf roofs that are synonymous with Iceland, It’s located next to the imposing Vestrahorn Mountain. Head back for around a four and a half hour drive along the south coast towards Reykjanes, fitting in anything you missed on the way.
Stay: The Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon is just a two and a quarter hour drive from Vik, and is conveniently located for exploring SkaftafellNational Park. Jökulsárlón and the Diamond Beach are just 18 miles away from the hotel.
Book: Ice Explorers run glacier walking, super jeep and ice cave tours, as well as boat tours in the Jökulsárlón lagoon. Book in advance to secure a spot.
Finish your stay in the beautiful Reykjanes Peninsula, close to Keflavik Airport. There are lots of great things to do in the Reykjanes Peninsula. One not to miss is a stop off at the world famous Blue Lagoon. Take a rejuvenative dip in the milky blue waters and enjoy your last night in Iceland in style.
Stay: The Lighthouse Inn is located in Gardur, well known as a great spot to see the Aurora Borealis. Interiors are simply furnished and there are great views out over the North Atlantic Ocean.
Book: The Blue Lagoon gets booked up months in advance so book early, the general changing areas are very nice and have private cubicles, hairdryers, moisturisers etc. so there’s no need to book the upgrades.
It’s possible to cover the whole ring road of Iceland in ten days, the country isn’t huge, but for us it’s worth spending a bit longer in each place. This itinerary takes you to a few of the more off-the-beaten-track parts of Iceland, without having to change hotels every night, plus you won’t spend that long in the car.
Last Updated 12 November 2022