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best of iceland

13-Day Trip Around the Outer Ring of Iceland

Explore the “Land of Fire and Ice” on this 13 day trip around the island of Iceland. Visit some of the most popular sites the country has to offer, including Reykjavik, Þingvellir National Park, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Gullfoss and Geysir, Lake Myvatn and the amazing Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Your days driving the ring road will be filled with scenic views, city tours, nature walks, a glacier hike, volcanoes, a kayaking tour of icebergs, hot springs and more. With a population of only about 370,000, the country is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, allowing you to interact with locals in the bigger towns but enjoy untouched natural beauty away from crowds.

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Day 1 – Arrive Reykjavik: Upon arrival in Reykjavik, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. After dropping your bags at the hotel, a guide will pick you up for your private Reykjavik city walk. The guide will take you for a walk along a route and theme of topics according to your interest. Within walking distance from your hotel, you’ll find many of the highlights of this vibrant capital. A must stop for every visitor is the Hallgrímskirkja church, one of the most famous landmarks in Reykjavík. For a small fee, it is possible to go to the top of the bell tower, which offers great views over the city. The street leading down from Hallgrímskirkja is named Skólavörðustígur. It is home to storefronts that sell and display works by local artists, as well as locally made clothing and coffee houses. Continuing further downtown is Laugavegur shopping street.

Heading to the seaside in the downtown area, you will find Harpa Music and Conference Hall. This modern structure stands by the seaside and is neighbor to the Sun Voyager sculpture, a popular location for taking photographs. In the opposite direction, you’ll find the old harbor of Reykjavík. There you will find museums such as the Maritime Museum, the Northern Lights center and the Whales of Iceland exhibition. This area, which is quickly transforming into a modern city space, is also home to restaurants and cafes. A local favorite is the ice cream shop Valdís, which makes fresh ice cream every morning and always offers new flavors. Overnight at the Icelandair Hotel Marina. (B)

Day 2 – The Golden Circle: After breakfast, a representative from the car rental company will pick you up at your hotel and transfer you to their office where you will receive your rental car.  Start your day by driving to Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich with its incredible natural beauty, history and where you can see how the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are diverging. In the park, there is an information center where you can get general information about the nature and history of the plates. Þingvellir is the site where the Vikings first assembled in ancient times and through the history of human settlement in Iceland has been an important gathering place for various historical events. At Þingvellir, you can also take the short walk to Öxarárfoss, a relatively small but attractive waterfall. Don’t miss the Silfra fissure filled with water!

Up next, is the Geysir Spouting Spring (approx. 60 km from Þingvellir). Geysir itself has had minimal activity in recent years but its little brother Strokkur spouts with regular intervals and is now the most energetic spouting in Iceland. It spouts every few minutes, sometimes up to a height of 40 m, but generally around 10- 30 m. Afterward, you will head to Gullfoss waterfall (approx. 10 km from Geysir) to complete the formal Golden Circle. The waterfall’s total height is 32 meters in two drops, with an average flow rate of 140 cubic meters per second.  Gullfoss and Geyser are popular lunch stops and a chance to enjoy a traditional meal of Icelandic lamb soup. Drive through lush farmlands, but be sure to make a stop at Kerið, a volcanic crater displaying its crystal clear water. Overnight at Hotel Lækur. (B)

Day 3 – The South Coast & Glacier Hike: Today, you will enjoy a day full of sightseeing on the South Coast. After breakfast, start driving east where your first breath-taking stop will be Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This waterfall has a 60-meter drop and is one of the best-known waterfalls in Iceland. Those who aren’t afraid of getting wet can walk behind the waterfall for a different view. Next, you’ll continue your drive, going past the Eyjafjallajökull glacier which was made famous by its 2010 eruption. Next up is Skógarfoss waterfall, another well-known waterfall. Skógarfoss is one of the country’s biggest waterfalls, with a width of 25 meters and a 60-meter drop. You will find there as well, the Skógar Folk Museum, where you can see reconstructed turf houses and ancient artifacts on display.

This afternoon, you will have a private 3-hour glacier walk tour on Sólheimajökull glacier. Dependent on the weather and time, you will make a short stop at Dyrhólaey, a small but majestic promontory at the southernmost point of the mainland. There is a parking lot from where you can hike in the area. If the road up to the lighthouse is in good condition, then drive up slowly and enjoy the view from there. Afterward, drive further along the south shore to the village of Vík. Once there, visit the black volcanic beach of Reynisfjara with a view of the Reynisdrangar ocean cliffs. Overnight at Icelandair Hotel Vik. (B)

Day 4 – Vatnajokull And Glacier Lagoon: Today, you will be heading to Skaftafell, part of the Vatnajökull National Park. After breakfast, start your drive towards the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Just outside of town you will find “The Church Floor”, an 80 m expanse of columnar basalt that has been eroded and shaped by glaciers and waves. There has never been a church here, but it looks like it’s man made. Continuing east, you will reach Skaftafell, a part of the Vatnajökull National Park. Skaftafell is a site of immense beauty and variations. It’s a lush green oasis between a mighty glacier and vast black sand beach. You’ll find there many interesting hiking trails, including one to the waterfall Svartifoss, which drops from the edge of a wide cliff of basalt columns. Stop at Svínafellsjökull glacier fall, where the opening sequence of Batman Begins was filmed. Afterward, continue east to the spectacular Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon; the crown jewel of Icelandic nature where you can enjoy viewing floating icebergs and seals. Then, proceed towards the direction of the town of Höfn. Höfn is the lobster capital of Iceland. In Höfn, you will find the Glacier Museum and of course, great gourmet lobster restaurants. Overnight at Fosshótel Vatnajökull. (B)

Day 5 – Kayaking Tour And The Area Of Höfn: Today, you have a full free day in the Vatnajökull area. Enjoy and have a relaxed morning or, if you are up for a little sightseeing, visit Stokksnes. There, you will find Vestrahorn, one of the country’s most breathtaking mountains. With peaks reaching up to 1490 ft, steep cliffs rising from the sides of a stunning lagoon, and black sand beaches all around, it promises to impress anyone with an appreciation of stark natural beauty. Slightly off the beaten track, Vestrahorn is less ‘touristy’ than many of Iceland’s other mountains, making it popular among photographers. There you will also get a chance to spot seals in their natural habitat, swimming and resting on the rocks. By driving down a small gravel road twisting away from the main route, you will also find a Viking Village Film Set, created for a film that was never shot. This site is now open to visitors and it displays an interesting replica of a Viking Village. Upon passing out of sight of the local Viking Café set up to entertain guests, visitors will be able to spy the fake settlement in the distance. The farmers’ horses graze nearby on the fields beneath the shadow of the mountain, adding extra authenticity to the surroundings. After lunch, you will go on a kayaking tour between icebergs with your private guide. After an exciting tour, head back to Fosshotel Vatnajökull and spend another night there. (B)

Day 6 – East Iceland: Time to travel the tranquil and beautiful East Fjords of Iceland. Start by driving to Djúpivogur, a small town where you will find an art installation called “Eggin í Gleðivík” (The Eggs of Merry Bay) by Sigurður Guðmundsson, by the harbor. The work is a replica of the eggs of 34 nesting birds in the area, each made of polished granite at a scale at least 20 times the size of the actual bird’s egg. Afterward, you have the option of taking a short cut where you might spot some reindeer, or you can travel through the tranquil coastal villages of the East Fjords. Breiðdalsvík, a small village where you’ll have to count some of the local pets to reach a population of 200. The Breiðdalur valley itself is home to numerous waterfalls, such as the Beljandi waterfall, which is accessible within walking distance from the road. There you will also find Flögufoss waterfall, which is also a short and easy hike away from the road.

The next town, Stöðvarfjörður, is a charming small town that is home to Petra’s Stone Collection. Petra was a local lady who collected various natural stones throughout her life. The collection is very impressive and well worth a visit. The next town is Fáskrúðsfjörður. This town was formerly a setting for a French sailboat fishery and French influence can still be found in town. Some of the older houses have been preserved and even the street signs are both in Icelandic and French. Continue your drive to the town of Egilsstaðir, “The Capital of the East”. On the way, you will pass Lagarfljót river and the Hallormsstaðarskógur forest. In ancient times, it was believed that a large worm-like monster lived in Lagarfljót – their own Loch Ness monster. If you are up for a longer hike, you can visit Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss waterfalls (3-hour hike). Afterward, head to Egilsstaðir center where you will overnight at Lakehotel Egilsstadir. (B)

Day 7 – Lake Myvatin: Today, you will drive to the amazing and almost surreal Mývatn area. Drive straight towards Lake Mývatn but be sure to make a visit to Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe which has an average flow rate of 193 cubic meters per second. Afterward, make your way to Lake Mývatn. Námaskarð, a sulfuric martian landscape that looks far better than it smells. Situated on the north side of Iceland’s Lake Mývatn, this geothermal wonder of hot sulfuric mud springs and steam springs is otherworldly. Black rivers and bubbling pools of sulfuric mud cut through a landscape that’s rich with colorful minerals and are continuously steaming. There’s a reason why you won’t find vegetation in Námaskarð, take one deep breath in and you’ll know right away.

Another place worth visiting are the Skútustaðir pseudo craters. This natural phenomenon is formed when lava flows over wet ground and pushes the ground down. This causes a lot of steam to be trapped under the weight of the lava which then causes a lot of pressure. When the pressure becomes too much, it causes steam explosions and the formation of these beautiful pseudo craters. These pseudo craters are often called rootless craters as they have no end to them as do normal craters. It is possible to walk on the rim of the pseudo craters. The view from there of Lake Mývatn and the surrounding areas is very beautiful.

Continuing the same road, you will find the Dimmuborgir lava maze. Dimmuborgir consists of huge lava rock formations which make you feel like you stepped into another world. The formation of these extraordinary lava cliffs and pillars is caused by lava ponds, i.e. the hot lava streamed over these ponds trapping the water underneath the lava. Steam issued through the vent in the lava pools and formed these pillars, which then remained standing even after the crust around them had gone away. Overnight at Hotel Laxá. (B)

Day 8 – Lake Myvatin: Today, you will have a free morning in the Mývatn area. After lunch, you will join a private Krafla Wilderness Walk tour. On the tour, your private guide will take you exploring through the Krafla lava fields, created by the massive volcanic eruptions between 1975 and 1984. The Lake Mývatn area’s nature and society are heavily influenced by the eruptions. The newly created lava fields give a unique opportunity to see firsthand how geological activities sculpt the landscape. Your expert local guide will also give you a rare insight on how the eruptions influenced the people living in the area, being only a few kilometers from their backyards. The hike is slow through rough terrain and you will take your time enjoying the raw nature and panoramic scenery. At the end of the day, we highly recommend that you take a dip in Mývatn Nature Baths where you can relax and unwind in the mineral-rich geothermal water while enjoying a cold beverage. Overnight at Hotel Laxá. (B)

Day 9 – North Iceland: After breakfast, start your drive to the town of Akureyri, the biggest town in Iceland outside of the greater Reykjavík area. On the way, you may want to stop and enjoy the charming waterfall Goðafoss. This waterfall takes its name from a legend that says that when Christianity became official in Iceland, statues of the Old Nordic Gods of the mythology were thrown in this waterfall giving it its name. Goð means God and Foss means waterfall. Once in Akureyri, you can explore the town. Akureyri is home to several museums such as the Nonnahús (childhood home of writer and Jesuit priest Jón Sveinsson), the Aviation Museum, the Motorcycle Museum, and the Akureyri Art Museum. We recommend walking up the steps of Akureyri Church – don’t be surprised to see locals running up and down the steps as this is a favorite workout spot. After a day of sightseeing, it is popular to relax in the town’s geothermal pool and water park. There you will find a 25-meter pool, hot pots, wading pool, and a sauna. You can also make a quick stop at the Botanical Gardens, an oasis in the heart of this charming town. Overnight at a cottage at Hesta Sport Cottages in Skagafjörður fjord (an hour drive from Akureyri). (B)

Day 10 – Snæfellsnes Peninsula: Today, you will head to Snæfellsnes Peninsula, where the Snæfellsjökull glacier that the journey to the center of the Earth begins is located. On your way to Snæfellsnes, you will find Borgarvirki natural fortress after driving through Blönduós. You can take a detour to the Vatnsnes peninsula to view the basalt stack of Hvítserkur and the seals that bask there on the beach. You can make a small detour to see the volcanic crater Grábrók, where you can go on a small hike and climb the crater. Afterward, drive to Borgarnes and then to the southern part of the peninsula. After you arrive at the south part of the peninsula, you can turn right when you see the sign “Gerðuberg” and you will also spot them from the car as well. Turn right and stop by Gerðuberg basalt column cliffs. Overnight at Hotel Rjúkandi. (B)

Day 11 – East Iceland: Today, you have another day in Snæfellsnes. After some time to relax in the morning, you will join a tour of the Vatnshellir lava cave. Then you have a full day to explore the area. Hellnar is a location that is impressive. The harbor is beautiful – Arnarstapi is home to stunning cliffs with holes where the waves go through, and Gatklettur arch rock is also nearby. Then we recommend continuing driving along the peninsula and visiting its northern part. After Hellnar is Djúpalónssandur, where you’ll find an old shipwreck and stunning views to the rock pinnacles that rise up from the sea. The place is also interesting historically; fishermen used to come from all over the country to fish from here over parts of the year. In fact, those ancient fishermen left behind four lifting stones on the beach which are there to this day. They used the stones for strength competitions in ages past and the heaviest stone is about 330 pounds!

After admiring the beauty of the beach, you’ll find small villages such as Hellissandur, Ólafsvík and Grundarfjörður. By Grundarfjörður, you’ll find one of the most pictured landmarks of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Kirkjufell mountain. This picturesque mountain has gained some internet fame lately for being one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. And we agree, it is pretty perfect, with its distinctive shape and ocean on three sides. The pictures speak for themselves. Across the street from Kirkjufell, you will find the waterfall Kirkjufellfoss waterfall which has often accompanied the mountain in the famous pictures. In Grundarfjörður’s center, you will see a “viking ship” along with a fortress. If the hot dog stand is open, we highly recommend a taste of the local famous hot-dog called “Henrik”, which is a deep-fried hot dog, with chips and melted cheese. You can now decide to head back to your hotel or proceed to Stykkishólmur, which is certainly one of Iceland’s most charming villages, full of colorful old wooden houses that give it a timeless feel. The Norwegian house, a local folk museum, gives you an insight into everyday life through the ages. The harbor is extremely nice too and you can walk to the top of the Súgandisey hill and enjoy the view of the town. Overnight at Hotel Rjúkandi. (B)

Day 12 – West Iceland & Back To Reykjavik: After breakfast, you will head back to Reykjavik. Today, you can use your time to explore the parts of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula you did not visit yesterday. If you decide to head back early, we recommend looking at the highlights of West Iceland. Sights along the way are Hraunfossar and Barnafossar waterfalls, Deildartunguhver (the largest hot spring in Europe) and the settlement center in Borgarnes. You can then continue onto Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring. It provides 180 l/sec of 100°C hot water. Most of the water used for central heating in the towns of Borgarnes and Akranes is taken from Deildartunguhver. You can also stop at the newly open geothermal SPA Krauma, a great place to relax and have a quick bite. Borgarfjörður is also a historic place and if you are interested, you should make your way to the historic Reykholt, home to Snorri Sturluson, who is the best-known author and chieftain who lived between the years 1206-1241. There is an outdoor hot tub that is named after him called “Snorralaug”. Continue to Reykjavík, via the underwater tunnel. You will then head back to Reykjavik, where you will be returning your car. Overnight at Hotel Skuggi. (B)

Day 13 – Reykjavik/Depart: Enjoy a free morning exploring Reykjavik before you depart. You will be transferred to Keflavik International Airport for your international flight home. (B)

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Quick Facts

Perfect for:

  • Perfect for Adventure Seekers
  • Perfect for Active Travelers
  • Duration 13 days
  • Departures Anytime
  • Fitness Rating Moderate
  • Activities City tours, nature walks, scenic driving, glacier hike, kayaking tour of icebergs, hot springs
  • Safari Type Nature
  • Style Value
  • Land-Only Price* $$

*Pricing is per person and an estimate. Contact a Journey Specialist for a customized quote.
$ = Call for Pricing | $$ = $5,000 – $9,999 | $$$ = $10,000 – $20,000 | $$$$ = >$20,000

Contact a Journey Specialist