Iceland’s Ring Road is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. From its Eastern coastline to the Westfjords, the landscape is truly out of this world. Driving the ring road in Winter brings forth its challenges as you are always at the mercy of mother nature, but if you are willing to combat the elements, it’s one of the best and most authentic times of the year in Iceland.
Below I’ve outlined the perfect itinerary for driving the Ring Road in the Winter in 8 Days. You can always use this itinerary for a longer trip and just go at a slower pace, or add additional stops along the way.
This itinerary includes a few long days of driving as 4+ hour road trips are somewhat the norm for us in Canada. If you don’t want to be in the car for longer than 3 hours each day, I’d suggest budgeting over 10 days to see the entire country. Let’s get started!
Day one – Reykjavik & The Blue Lagoon
Touchdown in Reykjavik and head straight to the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is located halfway between the airport and Reykjavik (about 20 minutes from the airport), so it’s nice to visit on the way to or from the airport. After a long 8 hour overnight flight, we welcomed a chance to spend a few hours in the geothermal pools. Reserve ahead of time, about 2 hours after your plane lands.
Tip: If you’re on the fence about what time to make your reservation, I would reserve an earlier timeslot rather than later, as they don’t let you in early. We had a 9:00am reservation (flight landed at 6:00am, we arrived at the lagoon just before 8:00am) and we had to wait for all the 8:00am reservations to trickle in before we were allowed to enter.
After the lagoon, head to your hotel for a quick nap as you’ll most likely be jetlagged. I was pleasantly surprised at how many hotels let us check in early in Iceland!
Dinner in Reykjavik
Walk around Iceland’s largest city before eating at one of their most popular restaurants. I recommend ordering seafood!
Day two – Chasing Waterfalls
Start your drive along Route 1 (Ring Road) until you reach your first stop, Seljalandsfoss. This 60-meter glacier-fed waterfall is breathtaking, albeit a liiiittle damp. The Icelandic wind likes to carry the water from the falls over to the pathways, so prepared to get soaked. Another reason to wear waterproof clothing? This is one of the only waterfalls where you can actually walk behind it, offering a different perspective.
*Psst. Wondering why I didn’t start with the Golden Circle? I’ll explain at the end
Make sure you keep walking to Gljufrabui, often called the hidden waterfall of the south. It is located just to the right of Seljalandsfoss. Exercise caution as it can be slippery accessing it. The waterfall is tucked behind a cliff and you may need to wade in the water to see it in full view. Alternatively, you can use a path to the right to get a view closer to the top of the falls versus the base. For detailed instructions on how to get there, check out this post.
Only about a 10-minute drive down the road from Seljalandsfoss lies my favorite waterfall in Iceland, Skogafoss. When we arrived, the sun was shining creating a breathtaking rainbow over the falls. I got a little teary-eyed seeing nature put on such a majestic display. It was pure magic.
Make sure you take the time to see it from below and above. Bring a tripod and an ND filter if you’re into photography!
The cute detached rooms at Bru Guesthouse
Reynisfjara Beach (Black Sand Beach)
Reynisfjara Beach, also known as the black sand beach, is located about 30 minutes from Skogafoss. The basalt stacks, rogue waves, volcanic sand, and unique rock formations make it a beautiful yet eery spot to explore, especially on a cloudy, foggy day.
Tip: Don’t get too close to the ocean as the waves can be quite powerful and come out of nowhere! I saw a few people almost lose their backpacks while taking pictures.
Day three – Glaciers & Beyond the Wall
Jokulsarlon (2 hour and 20 minute drive from Vik)
Wake up early and head to Jokulsarlon, a stunning glacial lagoon. Marvel at the icebergs floating in the still water fed by Breidamerkurjokull glacier in the distance. This was by far the busiest stop on our Ring Road road trip, so going early before the crowds is a must! We went at sunset, but I’m sure sunrise here is beautiful.
Just across Route 1 from Jokulsarlon is Diamond Beach. This unique beach features black sand and diamond-like icebergs dotted along the shore.
You can access it by walking under the bridge along the pathway, or from the other side of the bridge if you want to pull to the right before crossing the bridge to Jokulsarlon.
Svartifoss Hike (50-minute drive from Diamond Beach)
Drive 50 minutes to the Vatnajökull National Park (enter Svartifoss in your GPS). Park your car and don’t forget to buy a parking pass at the tourist center. Now you’re ready to begin the 45-minute hike up to Svartifoss.
The dark lava columns that surround the waterfall took me right back to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The massive icicles clinging to the rocks and a dusting of snow layered atop the columns made this spot extra moody in the winter.
Svinafellsjokulsvegur (10-minute drive from Svartifoss parking lot)
This glacier is where all the Game of Thrones “North of the Wall” scenes were filmed. It’s truly a sight you need to see to believe. I was blown away. Svinafellsjokull is the outlet glacier to Vatnajokull, the largest ice cap in Europe. This makes it the ultimate place for glacier hiking if you’re interested! I absolutely loved the contrast between the blue ice marbled with the black volcanic ash trapped inside.
This was a highlight on our ring road itinerary, so I highly recommend stopping here and climbing up the pathway for a better view! Make sure you are in an SUV or have 4 wheel drive, as the road is unpaved, gravel and FULL of potholes. It will feel like the longest 2km drive in history as you bob back and forth dodging the seemingly unavoidable potholes. Don’t worry, it’s worth it! And you’re not the only ones crazy enough to do it.
Drive 1 hour and 45 minutes to Hofn
Spend the night in Hofn, a quaint fishing town about 2 hours from Svinafellsjokulsvegur. The area is known for seafood, specifically lobster, so keep that in mind when ordering your meals!
Compare Hotels in Hofn
Day four – Iceland’s East Coast (5-6 hours of driving)
Drive the Stunning East Coast to Myvatn
There are few drives more stunning than the epic coastline of Eastern Iceland. Weaving in and out of local farms and fishing towns, the jaw-dropping cliffsides that meet the Atlantic Ocean will take your breath away at every turn (and believe me, there are a lot of them).
Little churches, Icelandic horses and a bird’s eye view of the waves crashing on black sand beaches are reason enough to explore this side of the country. Take turns driving and use the viewpoints to pull over to take it all in.
In the summer, I’d suggest stopping in the Eastfjords if you’re an avid hiker but seeing as this itinerary is for winter travelers, I’d recommend just driving through.
Seyðisfjörður (3 hours and 15 minutes from Hofn)
If you’d like to break up the drive, the only stop I’d make is a quick detour through the mountains to the fishing village of Seyðisfjörðu, an area nature carved out of a glacier during the ice age.
This little town is an active trading hub, and has been since the 19th century. With colorful houses and small businesses surrounding the harbor, it’s a quiet place popular with young artists, college students, and skier/snowboarders.
Grab a coffee at Bistro Skaftfell and walk around a little.
Make sure you stop at the cute baby blue church below.
Now this is where you have a few decisions to make. You could either skip this fishing town above and drive straight to the sights in Northern Iceland, or go at a more leisurely pace and spend the night in the town of Fljótsdalshérað.
It should take about 2.5-3 hours to reach Myvatn from Seyðisfjörður, but there are a couple stops you’ll want to make along the way. We did it all in one day as we got an early start, but it’s totally up to you! We arrived in Myvatn around 4:30pm, but skipped a vital spot we wished we had seen, Dettifoss.
Decide what is best for you as this is definitely a long day of driving.
If you stay in Fljótsdalshérað, Icelandair has a hotel there: Icelandair Hotel Herad
Day five (or Day 4 continued..)
Dettifoss (2 hours 20 minutes from Fljótsdalshérað)
Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss, is a popular spot for both tourists and filmmakers. Prometheus fans will recognize this giant. You will need to detour off the main road by about 25 kilometers but if you’ve seen the pictures, it’s worth the trek!
Note: There will be a sign in the winter that says the road is closed. We later heard from a local and hotel staff that it’s fine to go in the winter but to exercise caution as it’s a gravel road. I’d use your discretion. Since it’s not the main road, conditions might prohibit you from visiting Dettifoss in the winter.
Myvatn Baths (1 hour 20 minutes from Dettifoss)
Soak your limbs in the geothermal pools that rival the famous Blue Lagoon, the less touristy and picturesque Myvatn Baths. These baths will be a welcome reprieve from the cramped car.
In the winter, the Icelandic winds can make the water a little chillier than normal, but it’s still worth visiting! Enjoy the view of the crater and Myvatn lake while sipping a cold pale ale and watch the sunset.
A few yards down the road from the bath’s is Grjótagjá, a hidden cave and thermal bath heated by volcanic activity deep beneath the earth’s surface. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, this popular spot is where Jon Snow errr abandons his oath to the night’s watch and seals the deal with Ygritte. Due to rising temperatures over the years, the water is too hot to soak in, but it’s still a cool place to check out/nerd out GOT style.
STAY: Fosshotel Myvatn. Have dinner here too! Great view, bread, food and wine!
Watching the hurricane force winds from the bar at Fosshotel Myvatn 😐
Day six – Godafoss to Arnarstapi
Good morning! Today we head to the monstrous Godafoss waterfall, about an hour away from Myvatn. Rumor has it that back in the year 1000 Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, the lawmaker in Iceland at the time, threw his heathen god statues into the waterfall after he made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. Hence the name, “waterfall of the gods” or Godafoss.
Explore Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city
Drive another 30 minutes to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city. “City” is used loosely here, especially if you live in a metropolitan city, as it’s more of a town than anything. Drive through here to grab a coffee, freshly baked bread and some of Iceland’s best fish and chips before continuing on to Arnarstapi.
If you want to break up the drive here, consider spending more time in Akureyi. Book a whale watching tour or horseback riding tour. After the tour, drive to Blondous for the evening.
Keep an eye on the aurora forecast while up here as the North is one of the best places to see the lights!
We were caught in a storm that held us back a day in Myvatn, so we drove straight through to Arnarstapi. It was a loooong day, but we were actually happy to have bypassed Blondous as there wasn’t a ton going on in that small town (but a perfect place to rest your head for the night between stops).
Note: If you have more time, the Westfjords would be the perfect place to explore on your additional days before heading to Arnarstapi.
Day 7 – Arnarstapi and the Snæfellsjökull National Park (Iceland’s Western Peninsula)
The western peninsula of Iceland quickly became one of our favorite stops on the trip. A popular day trip from Reykjavik, there’s a plethora of sights to explore.
While in Arnarstapi, make sure you walk along the coast for epic views.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
Spend the afternoon driving through the Snæfellsjökull National Park, stopping at the famous Kirkjufell mountain, Londrangar Basalt Cliffs, the crater, lava fields, and the famous Ingjaldshóll church where Christopher Columbus stayed in 1477.
As you’re circling back around to Arnarstapi stop:
- At the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge
- Take photos at the famous Budir Black Church, a popular spot for wedding photos in Iceland
- Pause to say hello to the stunning Icelandic horses between the church and Arnarstapi
Budir Black Church
Again, keep your eyes on the Aurora forecast!
Day 8 – Golden Circle
You might be wondering why I’m just mentioning the Golden Circle now. I highly recommend saving the golden circle for the end of your ring road trip in the winter for a few reasons. After exploring the whole country, the golden circle spots are going to be beautiful, but WAY more touristy than what you’ll find along the ring road.
I’d make sure you see the other spots first and then consider the golden circle an added bonus if you have time as it won’t take too long. Feel free to look up the spots along the golden circle to see if anything really jumps out at you. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Iceland, so if you have the time, I’d plan a day trip!
Wow, what a whirlwind. Driving the Ring Road in 8 days is, for lack of a better word, speedy, as you can probably tell from this itinerary.
Note: Stops I didn’t include on this itinerary as they are either closed or too chilly in the winter are:
- Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool as it requires a 15-minute walk to and from
- Solheimasandur Plane Crash as it is a 5-mile trek in (Can add to Day 2)
- Fjadrargljufur Canyon as it was closed when we went in March (50 minutes from Vik)
Time to head home! But first, spa?
If you have time the morning before your flight, I highly recommend finishing your road trip with a well-deserved massage at Icelandair Hotel Natura spa. We both agreed it was one of the best massages we had ever had!
Want a sneak peek at what Iceland looks like in the winter? Check out these 20 Photos to Inspire you to visit!
Before you book your flight, read this comprehensive post outlining the pros and cons to visiting Iceland in the Winter
Want to continue your Ring Road research? A great resource for me was Nikki, the talented woman behind the travel and romance blog, Resfeber Junket. Her travel guides are thorough and inspiring! The Blonde Abroad also has a ton of amazing Iceland resources to explore! Happy planning!