Before we headed to Iceland in the summer of 2016 we spent many days reading through blogs, travel sites, and guidebooks while planning a camper van road trip around the famous Highway 1 aka Ring Road. We only had 7 days on the road, so we wanted to select the right places to visit and we knew it would be a challenge to do the entire circle in one week without feeling that we missed some important site. So we spent a considerable amount of time reading other people’s Ring Road 7-day itineraries, which for the most part were invaluable. Yet, few had the type of details that we later wished we knew, and none made a clear distinction between south and north side of the island, in terms of where you should spend most of your time (i.e., the South!). So although we loved our trip, we experienced many “I wish I had known” moments. The purpose of this article is to tell you about our experience while giving you the Iceland Ring Road 7-day itinerary that we would do if we had to do it again. Technically this is for a 7-night, 8-day trip but could also be expanded as needed for a 10-day trip.
Note: We did not receive any compensation, including any free stuff, from any of the businesses mentioned on this site.
Day 1: Reykjavik to Vik.
What we did: Our flight arrived at 9am which allowed us to have a full day on the road, so we highly recommend choosing a morning arrival if possible. We rented the Happy Camper 2 from Happy Campers, which we loved. If you can afford it, rent the Happy Camper 3 for the head room. We think it would make a big difference. Happy Campers picked us up at the airport and took us to their base located only a few minutes away. After checking out the van, we headed towards the Golden Circle with a stop at the grocery store Kronan located next to Happy Campers to provision. We visited Pingvellir, the Geysir, and Gullfoss in the Golden Circle and spent the night at Skjol campground, which had possibly the best pizza in Iceland (and draft beer!). But we won’t go into details on any of this because if we had to do this again, we would skip all of it!
What you should do: Skip the Golden Circle. Yes, you read that right. Yes, we know this is controversial but although the Golden Circle is gorgeous, it is actually quite mundane compared to the rest of Iceland. Spending a day in the Golden Circle is a day you can’t spend in the amazing South East. You will get a chance to visit other Geysirs and many other amazing waterfalls. The Circle is also extremely crowded and no longer has that isolated Iceland feel that the rest of the Ring will give you. You know, too many tourists ruining it for us tourists! 🙂
So once you check out the camper van and buy groceries (don’t over provision as you will find many grocery stores throughout the trip), get on the Ring Road and head East towards Vik about 2h 40min away. It will take much longer of course because you’ll be making many stops, including Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Skogafoss Waterfall, and Dyrhólaey Black Sand Beach. The hike up the stairs at Skogafoss is worth it (there is a 2nd waterfall up there), so don’t miss it! After visiting Dyrhólaey drive towards Vik and stay your first night at the Vik Campground.
Day 2. Vik, Sólheimasandur Hike, Skaftafell.
What we did: Our Day 2 consisted of a long driving day from Skjol Campground to Skaftafell National Park with stops at Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, and Dyrhólaey.
What you should do: Since you are essentially one day ahead (compared to what we did) you get the chance to do something we really wished we did: visit the plane crash site at Sólheimasandur. The site is located a few miles back from Vik, so you will be backtracking a bit to go on the 4K hike (each way) to the site. Expert Vagabond has an excellent summary of how to get to the crash site so we won’t repeat the instructions here. Once you finish the hike, drive to the next campground at the Skaftafell National Park. You’ll be making several stops during your drive but don’t miss the detour to see Puffins at Dyrholaey beach, if you did not stop here the previous day.
Day 3. Skaftafell Glacier Hike.
What we did: Pretty much we did the itinerary on Day 4.
What you should do: This is our second regret of our trip to Iceland: not hiking on the Skaftafell glacier. Skaftafell is the largest Glacier in Europe and, as you will see multiple times throughout your drive, it is as beautiful as it is intimidating. Multiple hiking tours leave the National Park base each morning but our understanding is that you should book your tour at least a day in advance. Spend the night at the same Skaftafell National Park campground.
Day 4. Skaftafell, Hofn, Egilsstadir.
This would be one of the longest driving days but through the most beautiful backdrop in Iceland. You will literally be stopping every five minutes to take in the surroundings. Besides the mandatory stop at the incredible Glacier Lagoon of Jokulsarlon, we highly recommend a stop in the cute town of Hofn for a swim/shower at the town’s pool (see our Iceland Tips post for info on pools and showers in Iceland). They also have a large grocery store where you can do a second round of provisioning. Then drive to Egilsstadir taking the direct route up the mountains on highway 1. This the only section of the Ring Road that is not paved and is a bit of a scary drive up/into and through the mountains, but it is beautiful. Once you get to Egilsstadir, Stay at the Egilsstadir city campground. It is located in the middle of the city and has good amenities. It’s the least picturesque campground of the entire trip, but think of it as a utilitarian night. It just your stop on the way to Myvatn.
Day 5. Egilsstadir to Myvatn and Askja Tour
Wake up very early and make the 2-hour drive from Egilsstadir to Myvatn with enough time to catch the tour to Lake Askja, or any other of the Volcano tours that leave Lake Myvatn. The drive is quite incredible and includes passages from high plains that will make you feel that you are driving on a different planet. If you start your trip early enough, and depending on the departure time at Myvatn, you may have time to take the quick detour to see Dettifoss. Another likely stop is the Geysir you see from the road just minutes before reaching Myvatn. This is your chance to see an active Geysir if you skipped the Golden Circle. We highly recommend that you book a tour to the volcanic area. We made the mistake of thinking that just driving around Myvatn was enough, but it is not. Honestly, after spending 4 days in the South East of Iceland, Myvatn was a bit of a disappointment and we wished we had booked a tour to Lake Askja instead. Stay that night at one of the Myvatn campgrounds. There are 3 option in the main town: Daddy’s Pizza, Bjarg Campground, and Hlio. We stayed at Bjarg, which is the one at the very edge of the lake. This is by far one of the most beautiful campgrounds that you will see, but yet it was our most uncomfortable stay in Iceland because the place is extremely crowded. It seems the owners allow more campers and tents than the site can comfortably accommodate and it ruins the experience. Seriously, they packed the camper vans and tents like sardines. So despite the beautiful surroundings, we recommend you stay at Hlio campground instead.
Day 6. Myvatn to Husavik to Akureyri
Wake up early and drive 45 min or so from Myvatn to Husavik. Book your whale watching tour weeks/months in advance and we recommend you book it for Noon. That way you will have plenty of time to reach Husavik and explore the city before your tour starts, and then afterward you will have time to reach Akureyri once the tour is over. There are several options for whale watching tours and we did ours with Husavik Adventures. They are the smallest of the companies in town but we are glad we chose them. They use small RIB boats that are super fast and get within an arm’s reach of the whales. Their speed is a major benefit as they reacted quickly when we spotted a whale. The other larger boats were very slow and by the time they got to where we were often the whale was gone. Another reason we loved this small boat is that it never felt crowded. We had only 12 people total on our boat and had plenty of space given that each person had a seat. Other boats were standing room only and were packed! Once you are done with the tour, drive to the bustling town of Akureyri, but don’t drive directly to the campground. Instead go downtown, enjoy the nordic “city” feeling and have dinner at one of the many restaurants on the main street. We ate at Akureyri Backpackers and it was delicious! After dinner drive to the Hamrar Campground.
Day 7. Akureyri, Grundarfjordur, and Borgarness
Think of Grundarfjordur as an “extra” side tour. Driving the western peninsula is worth it, but if you are too exhausted by now then drive directly to Borgarnes. The drive out of Akureyri is forgettable so you will stop less than usual and will make great time to get to Grundarfjordur by midday. After driving around the peninsula and taking the “mandatory” pictures at Kirkjufellsfoss, drive back towards Reykjavik but spend the night at the Borgarnes campground. This unassuming site on the edge of the road will look pretty sad at first, but you will then realize that it has some of the most beautiful views of any campgrounds in Iceland. You will be inclined to take a right after you enter and park on the grass field, but the best views are actually from the gravel parking lot. There is a hidden spot for tents past the gravel lot with amazing views. Campground wise, the sunset on this site was the highlight of the trip. There are no showers, but the local pool is just a couple of miles down Highway 1.
Day 8. The Blue Lagoon and return to Happy Campers.
Yes, we did the Blue Lagoon and yes we would do it again! The Blue Lagoon is quite controversial with many hardcore Iceland travelers feeling that it is an over-commercialized, overpriced, crowded, pool of industrial waste water that only tourists that don’t know better would do. And they are may be right. And we still loved it! It was definitely the perfect end to the trip and the perfect transition to the urban life of Reykjavik. We drove the 1.5 hours from Borgarnes early in the morning for our 9am booking time (book well in advance because otherwise, you won’t get a ticket as it sells out every day). That timing was perfect as it had us almost 2 hours on the Lagoon. We exited the pool around 11am and that gave us just enough time to get dressed, drive to the gas station, and make it back to Happy Campers before the noon check-in deadline (Happy Campers is only 15min from the Lagoon). The van check out took less than 30 min and then we took their shuttle to the Airport where we took the FlyBus back to Reykjavik. If you book your outgoing flight for that evening or late afternoon you can definitely make it, but we spent 2 nights in Reykjavik and we are glad we did.
I hope you enjoyed the itinerary. Feel free to ask us questions here or in Facebook! Also, don’t miss our Top 10 tips for traveling the Ring Road in Iceland.