Iceland is a nation that was made for road tripping. The country’s main highway stretches 1,332 km (828 miles) and circumnavigates the entire island. All you have to do is hop on and drive; what could be easier? If you’re looking to plan the perfect journey on four wheels, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the coolest tips for an Iceland road trip. Buckle up your seatbelts and get ready to hit the road!
#1 Go chasing waterfalls
If you’re wondering what there is to see and do in Iceland, here’s my first recommendation. Get behind the wheel, take one of the detours off the Ring Road (Route 1) and go chasing waterfalls! Iceland has over 10,000 breathtaking cascades to choose from, and you won’t be disappointed. Some of the most famous Iceland waterfalls are Gullfoss, Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, Godafoss, Dettifoss, and Kirkjufellsfoss. And in case you haven’t figured it out by now, “foss” means “falls” or “waterfall” in Icelandic.
#2 Do a hidden hot springs hunt
Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice, which means there are lots of places for geothermal activity and hot springs. The Landbrotalaug hot pot is a tiny little Icelandic hot spring on the Snaefellsnes peninsula hidden behind an abandoned farm. Many adventurers include trying to locate the mini hot pot among the fun places to visit with your family on a road trip while in Iceland.
Remember to pack your swimsuit, because once you find it, you’ll want to take a dip! A word to the wise: The Landbrotalaug hot pool is small, so it only fits two or three people. If you get a bit claustrophobic, some larger options are the Blue Lagoon, the Mývatn Nature Baths, and the Hofsós pool.
Of course, there are plenty of hot springs and pools all over the island. Areas like Landmannalaugar or close to the Reykjadalur hot river are especially popular. Anything goes when you’re road trippin’, so follow our tips and go wherever you please!
#3 Explore the black sand beaches of Vik and South Iceland
One of the natural wonders Iceland is most famous for are the midnight-hued shores of its volcanic black sand beaches. The most well-known zone for viewing the dark black sand and pebbles is Vik and Reynisfjara along the country’s South Coast. Reynisfjara is especially appealing because it has rock formations on the beach made of hexagonal basalt columns. These jagged yet geometrical shapes add a layer of beauty and complexity to an already stunning landscape.
#4 Eat the quintessential Icelandic road trip food: Hot dogs
Is an extended journey by car really a road trip if there’s no road trip food? My vote is no. Along with road trips playlists, one of the must-haves on your list of things to do in the car on a road trip should include Icelandic hot dogs. These special frankfurters are sold everywhere, including gas stations. And don’t knock Icelandic gas station food before you try it!
Icelandic hot dogs are unique in that they’re made from lamb and are topped with sweet mustard, crispy onions, remoulade sauce, and ketchup sweetened with apples rather than sugar. This combination of toppings gives them an unusual yet delicious taste. Yum, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
#5 Pretend you’re a Game of Thrones character
Jon Snow is the King in the North! Even though he knows nothing. Anyone who has even slightest inclination towards being a GOT buff has probably googled “game of thrones filming locations”. Fans of the hugely successful HBO medieval series are usually pleasantly surprised to discover that many scenes from the show were shot in Iceland.
From Grjótagjá cave where Jon and Ygritte made things official to Thingvellir, home of the Bloody gate, GOT locations are everywhere. Perhaps when walking on the black sand beaches of Vik, you’ll feel a bit like Daenerys Stormborn as she walks the shores of her ancestral home at Dragonstone.
#6 Climb a volcano
Here’s a hot tip. Of the island’s 120 volcanoes, Iceland still has around 30 active volcano systems. Part of the roadtrip fun here is seeing which ones you want to climb. You can play it safe by visiting the crater or crater lake of an extinct volcano like Eldborg, Kerid, or Askja. There are also volcano treks where you can feel the heat beneath your feet. Certain spots can begin to melt soles of your hiking boots if you stay stationary too long.
#7 Do a Northern Lights hunt
The Aurora Borealis is another one of our numerous magnificent sights. One of the most fun things to do in the car is to head out on a road trip at night to see what you can find. If you ask me, a Northern Lights excursion in Iceland with your BFF is the definition of road trip fun. One of your road trip games (other than Padiddle) can be seeing who can spot the most colorful, whimsical aurora.
A special tip for viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland is to make sure conditions are ideal. If the skies are cloudy or overcast, you won’t be able to see much. And if you’re close to a city, there’s going to be too much light pollution for you to really see the emerald waves undulating across the nighttime sky. Aim to get away from civilization on a clear night.
You should also check the aurora forecast on the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s official website.
#8 Look for elves
Did you know that most Icelanders believe that elves might exist? These magical creatures, known as Huldufólk or “hidden people”, have been a part of Icelandic folklore for centuries. Just outside of Reykjavik in Hafnarfjörður, you’ll supposedly find the larget elf colony in Iceland. Take a Hidden Worlds Tour that offers a guided educational 90-minute elf walk.
#9 Go to Vatnajökull National Park
Sometimes one of the most fun things to do in a car while on a road trip is to get out of it! Iceland is a place filled with outdoor pursuits, and your vacation is a time to get back to nature. Vatnajökull National Park is the largest national park in Europe and home to Europe’s largest glacier outside of the Arctic. Vatnajökull and Skaftafell glacier have activities like ice cave treks, glacier hikes, and glacier cave exploration.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Svartifoss black waterfall are also major highlights of the park. One of the fun things to bring on a road trip is your camera, so remember not to leave it at home. You’ll want to remember every moment.
#10 Stop to take in the scenery
When you’re out the open road, the sheer beauty of your surroundings will leave you speechless. The haunting lava fields and rolling landscapes of Iceland will give you plenty of spectacular photo opportunities. One of the things to do in the car is taking photos to try to capture everything during your road trip, but it’s easy to get distracted. The driver on your trip will probably want to snap some pics as well, so why not make photo stops?
Pull over to take pictures so that both the driver and their travel companions can get out to take pictures. Everyone will have plenty of posts for Instagram or footage to upload to iMovie to have great memories of your Iceland road trip.
#11 Take a day trip
There’s nothing like a nice day out on a road trip before heading back and having dinner and a fun night on the town. There are actually multiple day trips from Reykjavik that you can take. The first is the Golden Circle, an oval-shaped circuit east of Reykjavik. You’ll visit the world-renowned Thingvellir National Park and Silfra fissure, witness Strokkur geyser erupt in the Haukadalur geothermal valley, and see the mighty Gullfoss waterfall in all its golden glory.
North of Reykjavik is the Snaefellsnes peninsula, and it makes another great day trip option. Highlights include Snæfellsjökull National Park, Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, Budir black church, the Vatnhellir lava caves, Djúpalónssandur black pearl beach, and much more. I actually recommend spending two days on the peninsula to see everything.
#12 A Whale Watching Outing or Puffin Excursion
Whales are the friendly beasts of the sea and every year they return to Icelandic waters. With over 20 species of cetaceans swimming around in the summertime, you can spot blue whales, sperm whales, humpback whales, minke whales, killer whales, dolphins, and more.
Atlantic puffins also return home to Iceland in the summer. The bird cliffs at Látrabjarg become a hotbed of avian activity as thousands of our adorable feathered friends mate, socialize, and form colonies. It’s quite a sight to see.
12 Fun Things to Do on a Road Trip in Iceland
There’s no denying that a road trip is hands down the best way to experience everything Iceland has to offer. Getting a rental car in Iceland is great for exploring much of the country. If you’ve got a short amount of time for your holiday, this could be the perfect option for you. There’s so much to see and do during an Iceland trip. I hope this list of fun things to do has provided a good head start and gotten you excited about your vacation.
On a positive note, driving distances in Iceland are relatively close together. You usually won’t spend more than two or three hours driving to your destination. It might even be less. If you bring a couple of books, you can read a few chapters each way. If you plan to go around the Ring Road in a complete circle, be sure to give yourself plenty of time for fun. You don’t want to rush or feel overwhelmed trying to fit everything in. When planning this type of itinerary, I would say give yourself at least seven days. If you can do ten to fourteen, that’s ideal.