We lapped around Iceland in 9 days (we spent the rest of our two-week holiday in Northern Spain as we wanted to combine Iceland with some warmer beach holidays). Two weeks is probably the ideal amount of time to spend in Iceland, so we had to pass quickly through certain areas, and completely bypass others (e.g. the WestFjords)–but hey, that’s just all the more reason to come back for another visit!
Because Iceland is filled with scenic sights to visit that are more or less evenly spaced out around the ring road, selecting bases to stay for several nights makes less sense than when visiting other countries. Usually we like to stay at the very least two, if not three nights at one place before moving on to the next. But because the main sights are laid out across pretty evenly across the country (along the ring road) and because our mode of transportation also served as our nightly accommodation (see next paragraph), we never stayed more than one night in one place during this awesome road trip. Although some may disagree, we felt that using bases for multiple night stays doesn’t really apply to an Iceland road trip along the Ring Road, as you will often have to backtrack along the same roads every day and will not make good use of your time. Obviously, if you have three or four weeks to spend in Iceland, bases with multiple night stays become more feasible. Alternatively, some travelers also choose to spend a 10-day trip to focus on South Iceland and the Snaefellsnes peninsula using different bases for 2-3 night stays.
It is also worth noting that you rarely find yourself driving nonstop for several hours along the Ring Road. Although most days involved 2-4h worth of driving, this was generally spread out over several segments with several stops to visit photogenic sights (e.g. waterfalls, canyons, glacier lagoons) along the way. We typically made between 3 and 6 stops per day (see detailed itinerary below). Most sights are less than a 5-min drive off the Ring Road.
We are not avid campers by any means, but Iceland offers great “glamping” via the several companies that offer fleets of campervans (large two-seat vans that double as your sleeping accommodation). They often include (ours did) a small fridge and a small heater (for the cooler nights) that operate on a separate battery.
Since we were camping (sorry, glamping), we didn’t have a hard-set itinerary. However, although we had clearly mapped out where our preferred campsites were located, we had rough idea of where we might spend each night (with backup plans in place should our pace be quicker or slower than anticipated). We did not make any reservations ahead of time, and generally found that there was plenty of space at all campsites (with the exception of the Skaftafell campsite, which was pretty busy). However, note that reservations may be required during the busier summer months (we visited in early September).
We had a short red-eye flight and landed at the Keflavik airport pretty early, so we were able to hit road around 7 am (we arrived at our first destination–the Kerid crater–a few minutes before it officially opened).
Given our early arrival, we were able to cover a lot of ground (the Golden Circle and more) on our first day.
Night 1: We spent the night at Thakgil (Þakgil) campground.
Note: the setting at this campsite was amazing, but getting there was quite the adventure. We drove through a mountainous gravel road that was much more slow going that anticipated. What looked like a 10 min drive on the map, turned out to be a 35 min adventure where we had to slowly wind up and down a very scenic (and at times a bit scary) country road.
Sights seen along the way (chronological order): Kerid Crater, Geysir/Strokkur, Gullfoss, Hjalparfoss (this one was somewhat out of the way; although a nice waterfall, it might not have been worth the detour), Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss.
* Please note, however, there are also other sites nearby (Þjóðveldisbærinn, Stöng, Gjáin, Þjófafoss) that we just didn’t have time to fit into our day 1.
Night 2: We spent the night at Skaftafell campground.
Sights seen along the way: We backtracked a bit to first visit the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck (which requires a good 1-hour walk each way to get from the parking lot), the Reynisdrangar Cliffs and the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, Skaftafell National Park & Svartifoss.
Night 3: We spent the night at Egilsstadir Camping site
Sights seen along the way: An early morning visit to Hofskirkja, then off to Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon (we arrived prior to the official opening and had the place to ourselves), Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach, a brief tour of Hofn with the classic Icelandic hot dog for lunch, Stokksnes & the Viking Village, and the southern portion of the Eastern Fjords before turning inland towards Egilsstadir.
Night 4: We spent the night at Borgarfjörður eystri Campsite
Sights seen along the way: Morning trip to the lovely fjord town of Seyðisfjörður, a mid-day hike and picnic along the trail to Stórurð (though we didn’t complete the full hike), and later on just chilling around Borgarfjörður eystri campsite in the late afternoon (where it was a surprising 20 C in early September). Unplanned sight: a 20-min aurora borealis spectacle shortly after sunset!
Night 5: We spent the night at Lífsmótun campsite near Laugar (35 km west of Myvatn).
Sights seen along the way: Dettifoss, Hverarönd and Námafjall, Grjótagjá (the lava cave made famous by GoT), Dimmuborgir (volcanic caves and rock formations also seen in GoT), and we finished our day at the Myvatn Nature Baths.
Night 6: We spent the night at Stykkisholmur Camping Ground.
Sights seen along the way: Góðafoss, Akureyri, Troll peninsula & Siglufjörður, Kirkjufellsfoss, and Stykkisholmur.
Night 7: We spent the night at Húsafell tjaldstæði campground.
Sights seen along the way: The majority of the sights on the Snaefellsnes peninsula (Returned to Kirkjufellsfoss, Berserkjahraun lava field, Skarðsvík Beach, Djúpalónssandur Black Lava Pearl Beach, Lóndrangar (rock cliffs), Arnarstapi, Búðakirkja, Ytri Tunga Beach (to visit seals, but there unfortunately weren’t any present during our visit), Eldborg Crater (from a distance), and Hraunfossar
Night 8: We spent the night at Tjaldsvaedi Campsite in Grindavik.
Sights seen along the way: Returned to Hraunfossar and followed the short foot path to Barnafoss, and Pingvellir National Park.
The next morning we left for 6 days in Spain.
We then returned and traded in our campervan for a small sedan.
Night 9: Our last night was spent in a lovely B&B in Reykjanesbær
Sights seen along the way: Reykjavik city centre, the shipwrecks around Grindavik, and the Blue Lagoon.
The next day we had a late afternoon flight back home.
Sights seen along the way: We drove around the Reykjanes peninsula: Garður Old Lighthouse, Bridge between continents (Miðlína), Brimketill (small naturally carved pool), The Giantess in the Cave, Hvalsneskirkja Church.