There is no better way to explore the island than making a road trip out of it. And if you were thinking of taking a drive around Iceland, the Ring Road would probably be your best bet. But how long does it take to drive around Iceland? What are road conditions like? What type of vehicle do I need? What are the rules of the road I need to adhere to? And how much is it going to cost me? We answer all these questions and more.
Driving Around Iceland: How Long Does it Take to Drive Across Iceland?
Iceland is roughly 6000 kilometers long (300 kilometers north to south and 500 kilometers east to west).
Technically, you should be able to drive around the island in just a couple of days (roughly 17 hours in total if you drive non-stop). But that completely defies the point of a road trip! You’ll be missing out on a lot of action along the way.
We always recommend that you plan a trip of no less than 7–10 days if you really want to explore the island and everything it has to offer.
Iceland's Ring Road
The best way to drive around Iceland is definitely through the Ring Road, and it's easy to explain why. Firstly, as the name suggests, the Ring Road is a circular loop road that runs the circumference of Iceland. This means that it will give you a taste of all the different landscapes and terrains the Land of Fire and Ice has to show off to visitors.
Secondly, many of Iceland’s main attractions and activities can be found along this route. That makes it pretty convenient for any road trip itinerary. Many shorter road trip routes such as the South Coast Way are merely a specific section of the larger Ring Road route. But how long is the Icelandic Ring Road exactly? Well, it is 1322 kilometers. But it’s not really the Ring Road’s length that will dictate the length of your road trip in Iceland.
The Ring Road distance is merely to use as a guideline. You will need to dive into everything this route has going on in order to properly plan out your itinerary and upcoming trip. Luckily, we’ve already included an itinerary in this article, so we’ve already done half the work for you.
Driving Conditions on the Ring Road
Here in Iceland, it’s not just the weather conditions that can throw a spanner in the works of a road trip - it’s also the Iceland roads themselves.
The island has many different roads and routes running all around the island. And while the majority of the main routes are all paved and well-maintained, there are a few gravel roads here and there. Then there are the rough-and-tough F-roads in Iceland that can legally only be accessed with a 4x4 vehicle.
Driving on a main road in Iceland will be fairly similar to driving on a main road in your home country (but probably with less traffic). It’s safe and you can just cruise along. But once you hit those gravel roads or F-roads, it’s another story altogether. These roads require focus and can take half an hour just to drive 1 kilometer.
These types of time constraints are very important to keep in mind when planning your itinerary. And you should have a chat with your rental agency regarding your route around Iceland. This way, they can properly advise you on which type of vehicle you’ll need and the rental insurance you need to get.
Speed Limits and Driving Hazards on the Ring Road
As we already mentioned, the Ring Road is one of Iceland’s main routes. In fact, even though it may not resemble what you’re used to, the Ring Road connects major cities and towns and is considered the island's highway.
Icelanders take road rules seriously, and breaking them can result in hefty fines. That’s why it’s so important that you know what these rules are and stick to them.
Keeping to the speed limit is probably one of the most important rules of the road, and is very different from most speed limits across the world. Speed limits in Iceland vary from 30-50 km/h in populated areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads, and 90 km/h on paved roads.
Since the Ring Road is the latter, your speed limit during your road trip will mostly be 90 kilometers. But keep an eye out for the Iceland road signs next to the road telling you what the speed limits are. Telling an officer “but I didn’t know” is not going to fly as an excuse here. The Ring Road has speed limits lower than 120 km/h. It highly affects how much distance you can cover in a day and should be considered when planning your itinerary.
Watch out for hazards like road closures due to weather circumstances and wildlife crossings. Or seasonal road closures in colder months (especially in the Highlands and Westfjords).
7-day Ring Road Itinerary
Here’s a 7-day Ring Road itinerary for your Iceland self-drive tour. Use it as it is or as a guide to create your own route:
Day 1: Driving the Golden Circle and then the South Coast Way
Silfra Fissure (where you can snorkel or dive)
Geysir Geothermal Area
Dyrholaey Rock Formation
Overnight in: Vik
Day 2: Continue Along the South Coast Way & Explore Vatnajökull National Park
Eldhraun Lava Field
A Tour Inside the Anaconda Ice Cave
Overnight in: Höfn
Day 3: Explore the East Fjords
Stokksnes Black Sand Beach
The Town of Djupivogur
The Town of Breiddalsvik
A Hike in Hallormsstadaskogur
Overnight in: Egilsstadir
Day 4: Explore the Northeast of Iceland & Drive the Diamond Circle
Husavik (the whale capital of Iceland)
Dimmuborgir Lava Formations
Skutustadagigar Pseudo Craters
Overnight in: Myvatn
Day 5: Explore the Northwest of Iceland, Akureyri & the Vatsnes Peninsula
Akureyri (the capital city of the north)
Ski at Hlidarfjall (only when visiting during the winter months)
Hvitserkur Rock Formation
Overnight in: Hvammstangi
Day 6: Explore West Iceland & the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Berserkjahraun Lava Field
The Londrangar Basal Cliffs
Overnight in: Borgarnes
Day 7: Reykhol, Reykjavík & the Blue Lagoon Before Flying Home via Keflavik Airport
Vidgelmir Lava Cave
Reykjavík (the official capital city of Iceland)
Overnight in: The Plane
What Months Can You Drive Around Iceland?
As we already touched on, there are certain roads/routes on the island that close during the colder months every year. This is especially true for the Highlands and the Westfjords. While the Ring Road is open year-round, the northern parts can still be tricky.
The road can be very tricky to navigate due to snow and ice, and sudden road closures are always a possibility. Many People often avoid driving on that part of the Ring Road during colder months and suggest planning your trip in the middle of a shoulder month or summer instead. Another thing that will impact your road trip is daylight hours.
Although the majority of the world will not see having just 4 hours of daylight each day mid-winter as normal, the island is pretty geared. So, you will find Iceland pretty lit up during that time. You can continue doing activities like skiing, etc. whether “night” has already fallen or not.
But many don’t feel comfortable driving in Iceland with so little daylight, and it does restrict other activities such as hiking. Even if it is just a couple of steps up to a waterfall. This is also why it is recommended that you rather plan your trip for one of the shoulder months or the summertime.
Iceland Driving Times; When is the Best Time for that Road Trip?
The best time to drive around Iceland? Now, of course! But all joking aside. Taking a road trip across Iceland truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s hard to highlight a specific season, since each has its own attractions and activities that make it unique.
Now that you know how many miles it is around Iceland, how long it takes to drive around Iceland, and you have a handy itinerary to follow, you simply need to decide which season is the right fit for you, rent a car in Iceland, and hit the road – your Iceland adventure awaits!