Self-Drive Iceland | Follow my Itinerary
Are you looking for information about self-drive tours in Iceland? I have just spent 12 days touring around Iceland and this article will teach you everything you need to know about self-drive tours in Iceland.
Self Drive Tour vs Planning the Road Trip on Your Own
If you are looking for self-drive tours in Iceland you might either want to book a tour package or just get an itinerary and explore Iceland on your own. There are benefits and disadvantages to both options. Here is a short overview.
Booking a Self Drive Tour Package
When booking a self-drive tour package, the company will provide you with an itinerary, rental car as well as accommodation. It is a bit easier in terms of planning as you don’t need to spend time researching points of interest and review accommodation options or deal with car rental companies.
On the other side, you will probably not have much time to explore the hidden gems of Iceland as the tour usually doesn’t allow time for detours. Additionally, self-drive tours are cheaper only if you book it with more people. In case you travel as a couple, planning your own trip might be a more budget-friendly option.
The most popular tour around Iceland usually take 7 to 8 days and start at €700 per person.
You can look for various packages on Getyourguide.com
Touring Iceland on Your Own
With a little bit of time and some preparation, you can plan your trip around Iceland on your own. There is a lot of content online that will help you to find places in Iceland that are worth visiting.
Google Maps is one of the best resources that I have used while touring around Iceland.
Keep reading if you are the type of budget-conscious traveler that loves planning the trip on your own. I will provide you with a lot of tips on how to save money while enjoying the most about Iceland.
Driving according to your own plan allows you to get off the beaten path and explore less touristy places. Planning your trip will highly likely save you some money as you can book accommodation that allows you to cook your own meals.
Iceland is expensive and cooking your own food can save you a lot of money. The main course in Iceland is between ISK 2.500 and ISK 3.000 (€18 – €22). If you add up a drink you are at about €30 per person – that’s a lot.
Touring around Iceland on your own will, therefore, give you more flexibility.
In this post, I will give you some information that will make your trip to Iceland as painless as possible, even if you drive on your own. It will help you also to estimate the budget for your trip.
Self Drive Iceland – Things to Know
First things first. Driving around Iceland isn’t difficult if you follow certain rules and are aware of your surroundings.
Roads in Iceland
If you plan to take the ring road that goes all around Iceland you will be just fine with a small budget car (if you drive in summer). We have had a small Renault Clio. It wasn’t the strongest car but it got us through without any issues.
I booked the car via rentalcars.com and I paid €25 per day for the rental and €21 for the optional car insurance. Be aware that if you don’t pay the insurance the rental company can take up to €1.700 from your account if they find some damage on the car (even if it was not caused by you).
In case you plan to drive through central Iceland, you will need a 4WD that you can use to cross rivers.
Be ready to encounter gravel roads in the east as well as in the west of the ring road. If you respect the speed limits you should be just fine.
For more information about road conditions check road.is.
Weather in Iceland
The weather can be quite unpredictable. When we were in Iceland at the beginning of June we have encountered snowfall, rain, and wind. The weather in the northeast is often much worse than in the southwest.
You should not underestimate the weather situation. In some cases, roads might be closed due to flooding. If you plan to drive off the main roads, check the weather forecast here to make sure you can get back on your desired route.
Especially in the winter time, the roads in the north or east towards the fjords might get closed.
Self Drive Iceland – Checklist
There are a few items that you should think of before arriving in Iceland. This checklist will help you not to forget anything important.
Bring warm clothes – Take a few layers of clothing with you. During our trip, we had to wear heatgear on several occasions. A winter hat, as well as some gloves, are highly recommended as it might give you better protection against freezing wind even in the summer months.
Bring a camera – Most travelers you will meet in Iceland will have some kind of camera to capture their memories. I had a GoPro, DJI Mavic Air, and my phone One Plus 6 on me during my trip to Iceland.
The GoPro was useful during our snorkeling tour between continents in Silfra. Bringing a small drone is fine, however, be aware that in the most touristy places (popular waterfalls and national parks) drones are prohibited.
All the other pictures you see on my posts from Iceland were captured with my phone, drone or with the GoPro.
Book your rental car – book your rental car in advance. I chose to pick it up right at the Keflavik International Airport. This way we saved money for transportation to Reykjavik. I compared prices and booked my car with Budget via rentalcars.com.
Get a SIM card – if you have a European SIM card you should be able to use your data like at home. Travelers from the US or Asia better go get an Icelandic SIM card. There are a few options available – read more about it in my recent post about SIM cards in Iceland. I am also sharing a secret tip on how you can save half the price on food with one specific SIM card.
Wear comfortable hiking shoes – Having some proper footwear for Iceland is highly recommended. Get something comfortable that you can wear in all weather conditions. I would suggest any of the hiking shoes by Salomon (buy them on Amazon).
Don’t forget about the insurance – when traveling abroad you should always have some travel insurance that will cover your medical cost in emergency situations. You can slip while walking towards a waterfall and suddenly you end up in the hospital. Iceland is expensive – having proper travel insurance is a must.
Insurance for 7 days in Iceland will cost you only €8,17 with Safetywing. If you happen to forget about your travel insurance, you can still get one while being in Iceland with companies like Worldnomads (in this case it’s a bit more expensive, you will pay €26.64 for the standard plan).
Drive Around Iceland by Car – Itinerary
Finally, we get to the exciting part – Self Drive Iceland Itinerary. I have done extensive research for our trip to Iceland so I can plan it by myself. I am sharing my experience with you to give you an idea about what you can expect.
Here is a map of all the points of interested we have visited.
Here is my suggested itinerary for your self-drive experience in Iceland. Note that this should give you just an idea where you can go and what to expect. Feel free to “get lost” during your trip around Iceland as those experiences are often the best.
I suggest spending at least 8 to 10 full days in Iceland. If you have less time I would not aim to do the full circle but rather explore the south and the east only.
Day 1: Reykjavik – Silfra
Spend the first half of the day in Reykjavik. If you want to avoid paid parking, park a bit outside the city center. Reykjavik’s downtown is rather small. There are a few tourist shops, bakeries and coffee places. I highly recommend to get a cup of coffee at Reykjavik Roasters (it’s the best coffee you will get in Iceland – here is the location). Apart from that, there are two points of interest worth checking out: The Sun Voyager and the Hallgrimskirkja.
Spending a few hours in Reykjavik will be enough to see the main attractions. From there take the Route towards Thingvellir National Park.
Before you get out of your car at the National Park (location), make sure you pay the parking to avoid any fines. You can only pay online, that’s why it’s good to have an Icelandic SIM card. You can pay your park fee here.
There are few interesting points to visit in Thingvellir National Park such as the Pingvellir church, Öxarárfoss, and the Silfra fissure. A must do is to book a tour and go snorkeling. It’s about €120 per person and it was one of the best experiences I have done in Iceland. You can book a tour here.
We stayed overnight at The Old House Fellskot. It is located between Thingvellir National Park and the Geysir Strokkur. We paid €93 for a twin room with shared bathroom. If you plan to stay here as well, I suggest shopping for groceries in advance as the grocery stores in the area close at 6 PM (that’s the case in most places in Iceland).
Day 2: Geysir Strokkur – Gullfoss – Seljalandsfoss
On the second day, you start your journey at the Geysir Strokkur (location). It is a small geothermal area with an impressive Geysir. There is also a breakfast place right next to the parking lot if you didn’t make it to the grocery store to get some breakfast.
From here you continue the drive towards the Gullfoss waterfall (location) which is also known as the golden waterfall. It’s the first big waterfall that you will see – there is a nice story about how it got the name. Make sure to read the information about it at the tourist board located just in front of the paths to the waterfall.
At this point, you will need to turn around and drive to the south. You are currently on the Golden Circle Route and your next destination will be another breathtaking waterfall called Seljalandsfoss (location).
If you park right at the intersection to the road that leads to the waterfall you will save €5 on parking. It’s a 10 min walk from here to get to the waterfall.
The Seljalandsfoss is beautiful and it’s the only waterfall you will be able to walk behind. Take some pictures, enjoy the moment and make sure not to slip, it is quite a slippery path.
It isn’t easy to find affordable accommodation around the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. We ended up on a farm, not far away from the waterfall. You will find the Airbnb listing here. It wasn’t anything fancy, neither very clean. We paid €46 for a twin bedroom with shared bathroom. Use this Airbnb coupon to save €30 on your next stay.
Day 3: Skógafoss – Solheimasandur Plane Wreck – Dyrhólaey
Day 3 is going to be a lot of driving. Make sure you are well rested. First, you will stop at Skógafoss (location), which is another popular waterfall in the south of Iceland.
It’s massive and I suggest you hike up the waterfall to enjoy the view from the top. It’s very easy to access, there is a free parking lot right in front of the waterfall.
You should go there early in the morning as it tends to get crowded with buses full of Chinese tourists.
From the waterfall, you will follow Route 1 to the east. A short 10-minute drive will bring you to the parking lot from where you will be walking 3,5 km to the Solheimasandur Plane wreck (location).
Back in the days, you could have drive all the way to the plane wreck. Now you can take a shuttle bus, which operates every 45 minutes and cost around ISK 2,500 (€18) per person – so we heard from other travelers.
We ended up walking. Depending on your pace you will get there within 45 – 60 minutes.
The wreck is located on a black sand beach which makes it a nice place to take pictures from.
We went there at the end of May and it was freezing cold. Take a winter hat and proper jacket to protect yourself from heavy winds.
The next stop is the cliffs at Dyrhólaey with the black sand beach (location). It’s just a few minutes drive towards Vík and in my opinion, it’s worth stopping by. There are two nice viewpoints from where you can enjoy the cliff and the beach.
If you get hungry, there are a few options in Vík. We went to get a burger at Smiðjan Brugghús (location) and a coffee at the Lava Bakery (location). There is also a big supermarket with decent choices to stock up your food supplies.
We continue our drive to Hof, where we had our accommodation for the night. We stayed at Adventure Hotel Hof and it was €100 for a twin bedroom with shared bathroom.
Day 4: Skaftafell (optional) – Jökulsárlón – Hengifoss
On day 4 you can either drive a few kilometers back and visit Skaftafell (location) or keep driving towards the east. In Skaftafell you can do a glacier guided tour, which we did not know about, unfortunately. If you are there in the winter, I suggest to take some time and hike the glacier or explore one of the glacier caves.
From here you will drive towards Jökulsárlón (location). Before you get there you will be driving a few hours next to the biggest glacier in Iceland. I suggest you make a stop somewhere and hike towards the terminal.
You should certainly make a stop the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. You will see ice blocks that slowly float into the ocean. It’s an impressive place where you can spot some seals as well.
If you have some time, join the boat tour and enjoy the lagoon from a different perspective. During the winter season, I would absolutely suggest going explore the ice caves.
You can find further tour options around this area here.
As we aimed to drive all around Iceland we were on a tight schedule and decided to continue driving to Hengifoss (location). It is quite a distance to drive.
At Hengifoss it’s 5 km to walk up the mountains to get all the way under the waterfall. There is however a viewpoint 3 km away which you can reach within 45 minutes.
That’s where we went. From there I used my drone to get a closer at the waterfall.
This day we have had our accommodation a bit off the main Route 1 in Eskifjorður. On the way there we stopped at a grocery store to cook some dinner. You can find the listing here, they also have a hot tub. You have to pay a bit extra to use it but it’s certainly worth it. We paid €71 for a twin room and shared a bathroom. Use this Airbnb coupon to save €30 on your next stay.
Day 5: Seyðisfjörður (optional) – Borgarfjörður (optional) – Dettifoss
On the fifth day, you have the option to visit some of the cities located in the western fjords of Iceland. Seyðisfjörður (location) is rather easy to reach, however, if the weather isn’t nice, there isn’t anything impressive to see.
Another option is the small village of Borgarfjörður. It’s a famous location where you can spot puffins. It’s a long drive across a volcano to get there. You need to drive all the way to the harbor 3 km from Borgarfjörður to reach the bird colony. Here is the exact location from where you can spot puffins.
From Borgarfjörður you can drive all the way to Dettifoss (location). It’s a 3-hour long drive.
We had to approach the Dettifoss waterfall from the Route 862 (west) as the road from the east (864) which Google suggests was closed.
Dettifoss is considered to be the most powerful and one of the largest waterfalls in Europe. It’s certainly impressive and you should not skip it while self-driving around Iceland.
We stayed at Öndólfsstaðir Farm B&B which I would consider the best accommodation we had while driving around Iceland. The hospitality of the landlord was beyond everything we would have expected and their breakfast was the best we had. We paid €74 for a twin room with private bathroom.
Day 6: Mývatn – Goðafoss – Húsavik (optional)
The area around Mývatn (location) has some interesting points of interest. You should hike the Hverfjall crater (location). It is just a short walk from the parking lot and absolutely worth it. If you decide to hike along the rim of the crater it’s 3 km.
Not far from there you will also find the famous Grjótagja Cave (location) in which you will find a geothermal spring (you can’t swim there though). If you happen to be a fan of Game of Thrones, go check it out. Some of the scenes were filmed there.
From here you can drive towards Hverir which is another impressive geothermal area. On the way there you will pass a blue lake which is also worth a quick stop.
There are two geothermal baths in this area. One is in Mývatn and one an hour away in Húsavik. We went to visit the geothermal baths in Húsavik as there are located on top of the cliff overlooking the ocean. The entrance is €32 per person which is half the price of the entrance to the popular Blue Lagoon. If you are on the budget, the geothermal baths in Mývatn are even cheaper.
On day six we stay at the “biggest” town in the north called Akureyri. If you are going that direction you should know that you need to pay for the tunnel (that leads to the city). To avoid paying ISK 1.500 you can take the Route 84 and drive around it.
In Akureyri, we stayed at Guesthouse Hvítahúsid, which was a nice stay. There is a kitchen so you can also prepare your own food and save some money on eating out. We paid €50 for a twin room with shared bathroom.
Day 7: Reykjafoss
It’s day 7 and today it is time to visit Reykjafoss (location). Reykjafoss is an impressive, less visited waterfall with own natural geothermal spring.
Unfortunately, we didn’t know this when we went, otherwise I would have taken my swimsuit with me.
Google Maps navigation does not show the exact road to get there. From the Route 752, you need to turn left to 753 and at some point drive up the hill (turn right) all the way to a fence.
You need to cross the fence and walk for about 10 minutes. The geothermal spring is located on the top of the waterfall (you need to walk around the “canyon” to get there.
From here you will be heading towards the peninsula. As the distance was quite big, we stayed a night at Hvammstangi and paid €72 for a small studio. Use this Airbnb coupon to save €30 on your next stay.
Day 8: Grundarfoss – Kirkjufellsfoss
It takes a few hours drive from Hvamsstangi to get to the peninsula. The next must-see waterfall on the way there is called Grundarfoss (location).
There is no tourist and you need to hike for about one kilometer to get there.
It was the first sunny day after a few cloudy days we have had in the north of Iceland. The visit to the Grundarfoss waterfall was well worth it.
The next stop is at the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall (location). This is one of the most iconic waterfalls in Iceland.
It is indeed impressive but there are more majestic waterfalls in Iceland in my opinion that is less touristy.
We stayed for the night in a guesthouse called Bikers Paradise. There is also a kitchen in the guesthouse and a grocery store nearby. We paid €59 for a twin bedroom and a shared bathroom.
Day 9: Svödufoss – Lóndrangar
On day 9 you will be driving around the peninsula. First, you should stop at Svödufoss (location). There is a parking lot 1 km away from the waterfall.
Take the path to walk until the end, walk along the river (to the left) until you find a place to cross the river. Continue walking towards the waterfall and climb it from the left side.
When I was there, there were no tourists and we had the waterfall for ourselves. It seems to be a hidden gem and I absolutely loved it.
Right next to Svödufoss you will see Kerlingarfoss. You can walk along the hill all the way to the second waterfall and make a loop hike back to the parking spot.
From here you will continue driving towards Lóndrangar (location). It’s a scenic place with an interesting rock formation and a lighthouse. I would recommend to walk around and enjoy the views.
On the way back to Reykjavik there are few more places to see such as Hellnar, Gatklettur or the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge.
At this point, we decided to book accommodation in Reykjavik. We booked two nights in Reykjavik and paid €98 for a twin room with shared bathroom.
Day 10: Glymur Waterfall – Blue Lagoon (optional)
Before you leave Iceland you should not miss the Glymur waterfall (location). I promise that it’s going to be one of your highlights from Iceland. The Glymur waterfall is 1-hour drive from Reykjavik and the hike takes around 3 to 4 hours, depending on your fitness.
Glymur is the second tallest waterfall in Iceland with a drop of 198 meters (that’s two football fields). The hike to the waterfall along the canyon as well as the two river crossing is an amazing Icelandic adventure.
Check out more photos from Glymur and read about the hike in my latest article.
Blue Lagoon – Is it Worth it?
Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular places to visit in Iceland. Whether it’s worth it depends on your expectations.
Be ready for a crowded geothermal bath where everyone is walking with their phones and takes selfies. If you have €84 left to spend, you can certainly go visit the Blue Lagoon. You should reserve online, since they might not let you if the maximal capacity is reached.
I was curious about the experience and I went to check it out as well. Personally, I would say that this place is a bit overrated.
What many people don’t know is, that you can see the Blue Lagoon geothermal area also from the outside – at least part of it. You can’t swim in there but the surrounding is quite impressive as well.
If you are on a budget or don’t have much time to go swim in the Blue Lagoon I would suggest to stop by on the way to the airport and walk along with it. In my opinion, it’s worth it.
Otherwise, I suggest you visit one of the geothermal baths in the north in Mývatn or Húsavik which are cheaper.
7 Days Iceland Self Drive Itinerary
If you only have seven days to explore Iceland I would not bother driving the Ring Road. Instead, start your trip to the east, go explore the peninsula for two days and drive the Golden Ring in the south.
Here is my suggestion for a 7-day Iceland Self Drive Itinerary:
Day 1: Grundarfoss, Kirkjufellsfoss
Day 2: Svödufoss and Lóndrangar
Day 3: Glymur Waterfall and Silfra – Thingvellir National Park
Day 4: Geysir Strokkur and Gullfoss
Day 5: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Dyrhólaye
Day 6: Skaftefall area and Jökulsárlón
Day 7: Drive back to Reykjavik – Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
What you will miss is the north of Iceland. The area around Mývatn is certainly worth visiting if you have the time for it. The north also offers whale watching tours or recreation plane tours above the volcanic area.
Find Cheap Accommodation in Iceland
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries I traveled to. Saving a bit of money is, therefore, more than needed if your wallet shall survive the trip. It is going to be a challenge to find accommodation that is less than €100 per night for two people.
Here are two tips on how to save money while booking your accommodation in Iceland.
1. This Booking.com coupon will give you €15 credit on your next stay.
2. The second option is to use this Airbnb coupon and get €43 travel credit from which you can use €30 to finance your accommodation and €13 for tours listed on Airbnb. The credit can only be applied on bookings above a certain order amount. It usually works if you book a listing that costs more than €70 in total.
In order to redeem the credit, you will need to click on the link and create a new account. If you already have an account, you will need to create a new one with a different email address. It works, I have done it a few times already – it takes 10 minutes and you save €30.
Planning your Iceland Trip on Your Own – Cost
Iceland isn’t cheap to travel. Here is a rough overview of the cost for two people during our 12 days touring around Iceland.
Car Rental: €552
Groceries & Food: €600
Silfra Snorkeling tour: €250
Húsavík Geothermal Baths: €63
Blue Lagoon: €174
The total cost for two people was around €2.630. I have one-year travel insurance so I did not have to pay anything extra for this trip. You should also add the price of the flights from your location. For cheap flights, compare rates at skyscanner.com.
I have paid all my expenses with my N26 black card and the Revolut Premium card. If you live in Europe I suggest getting one of these cards. You don’t need any cash in Iceland as you can pay cashless everywhere. Revolut and N26 offer transactions in foreign currencies for the best exchange rate without any additional fees and markups (even the free versions). Read more about how they compare here.
Final Thoughts on Our Self Drive Experience Around Iceland
Planning your own trip to Iceland is now much easier. Use my guide to Iceland as a possible suggestion. There is plenty of interesting viewpoints and spots to stop along the way. Always plan a bit more time when making the schedule for your next day. Unexpected weather change or spontaneous stops can add easily an additional 3 hours on your timetable.
At the end of the day, you should also enjoy your trip and don’t feel rushed by anything. I booked all of our accommodation for one or two days in advance. Apart from the tours, rental car and flights there is no need to plan too much ahead.
Enjoy Iceland and let me know how you liked it!