Do you believe in magic? Thanks to Iceland’s Ring Road (less affectionately known as Route 1), I sure do. This road forms a circle around the edges of this beautiful country. While there are main roads in other countries that appear to be just emotionless ways to get from Point A to Point B, the Iceland Ring Road allows you to discover the true wonders of their country from the comfort of your own vehicle.
But how long does it take to traverse the entirety of the Ring Road? Can it be done in five days? If it can be driven in that short a time span, is it recommended?
A few notes on the Iceland Ring Road
Iceland’s Route 1 spans a total of 828 miles, or 1,332 kilometers, and stretches almost completely around the country, only missing the Westfjords and Snaefellsnes Peninsula (which we highly suggest you also make it a point to visit during your Iceland adventure).
This road is filled with splendor, and is one of the top-rated road trips on Earth. It is dotted consistently with spectacular landscapes, gushing waterfalls, majestic rivers, enormous glaciers, boiling mud pots, and much, much more.
One of the most impressive things about Iceland is that you can literally encounter every possible natural scene; from brilliant, green landscapes to magnificent high mountain ranges, from breathtaking rivers to beautiful lava fields. The Iceland Ring Road is simply the absolute best method to experience everything that Iceland offers its visitors.
It is through traveling the Ring Road last year that I began to understand the great Hannah Kent, who said: “I still don’t know why, exactly, but I do think people can have a spiritual connection to landscape, and I certainly did in Iceland”.
How long does it take to drive around Iceland on the Ring Road?
This depends on a wide variety of factors, including your own personal preferences. If your main goal is to drive the route, and not to see the sights, it can be done in as few as twenty-four hours’ worth of nonstop driving. This is more of a theoretical thing, though. Who wants to do that?
If you instead plan to enjoy the natural, stunning beauty of Iceland along the way, and take unforgettable adventures through rivers and caves and waterfalls, it can take up to two weeks to navigate the entire Iceland Ring Road and catch enough to consider yourself a seasoned Iceland traveler.
As anticipated by the name of our site, we spent eight days in Iceland. However, one of those days was dedicated almost completely to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, another day comprised of the Golden Circle, and the last day was mostly exploring Reyjkavik and taking a trip to the Blue Lagoon. This being the case, we were truly able to do the Iceland Ring Road in five full, action-packed days.
But twenty-four hours? That’s just madness. Even five days was cutting it close. But you don’t want to miss things like whale watching, or relaxing at the Myvatn Nature Baths, or exploring the beautiful black sand beaches of Vik, would you? And very few people have two weeks to spare to slowly traverse around the country, so most visitors need to find a happy medium. But is five days enough time to see what needs to be seen to truly appreciate everything Iceland has to offer?
Can you drive the Ring Road in 5 days?
Short answer: absolutely. You can drive Iceland’s route 1 in five days, and still enjoy many of the spectacular locations available along the way. If you are in a hurry, it can even be done in four days (as we spent a good bit of time on the south coast). However, we caution users of our custom itinerary service to shy away from doing this, as there is a lot of driving that takes place in those four days, and leaves less time for exploration and adventure.
It is important to be very careful and keep an eye on the weather when out and about. One of the most common sayings in Iceland is “Don’t like the weather in Iceland? Wait five minutes, it will change.” We were extremely surprised how true that statement was. We visited in late April and early May. When we flew in it was snowing. Ten minutes later it was hot and sunny. Five minutes after that we were driving through a torrential downpour. Later that day we were dealing with 40-plus mile per hour wind gusts as we trudged along the black sand beaches towards the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. It was unreal!
If the weather overall seems like it is going to be in your favor, grab your map, fill your car with gas, and then hit the road. It is highly recommended to start from Reykjavik at the east, and then do the Golden Circle. We didn’t do this, and instead did the Golden Circle last. After several days of exploring the quiet, solitude that was present for most of Iceland, the packed up attractions of the Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Strokkur, Gullfoss, and the Kerid Crater Lake) were underwhelming compared to such alternatives as Dyrholaey, Raudsfeldgja, Hengifoss, and the Viti Crater.
If you decide to start at the Golden Circle, this will likely take several hours. Once done, head to the southern coast, explore this wonderful area, and head up the treacherous Eastfjords, and finish with the volcanic valleys of the north shore and the expansive landscapes of the west. A trip like this can take five full days at a normal pace.
Do we recommend you drive the Ring Road in five days?
If you can spend more than five days on the Ring Road, we highly recommend doing so. Upon our return home, my wife and I started to discover things that we completely missed due to our lack of available time, and the constraints of having hotels booked along the way that we needed to get to by nightfall. It’s important when in Iceland to not rush around and miss things along the way. Enjoy the precious moments that for many are once in a lifetime, and cradle in the arms of Icelandic nature.
However, if you are in somewhat of a rush and have other things on your itinerary outside the Ring Road, and are looking to dive into the spectacular landscapes with minimal gap time, it can be done in five days, and we highly recommend doing so versus stretching down the south coast and driving back, then doing the Golden Circle and staying in Reykjavik like we see so many people do.
Five days on the Ring Road will end up being about five hours of driving each day. That is about what our days averaged out, with the minimum being around three and the maximum being around seven (that day going up the east coast was a real bear). This is more than enough time for a fruitful road trip and plenty of adventures. Heck, look at our full itinerary and check out all the incredible things we did with our limited time on the Ring Road.
Five days should be the minimum to consider for doing the Iceland Ring Road though. Any less will take away from the adventure and lead to more driving than should be necessary. If you choose to venture out and do the Iceland Ring Road in five days, here are a few extra tips to ensure a safe journey:
Tips for Iceland Ring Road travel
- It is important to always make sure you carry an offline, paper version of a map of Iceland. It is difficult to trust a phone’s signal once you get deep in rural areas such as the Eastfjords and the stretch between Myvatn and Akureyri in the north part of the country. An alternative that we used (although we did have a paper map handy) was the smartphone app Maps.Me.
- Ensure you have plenty of water with you for side trips you may take. There are plenty of service stations along the Ring Road to grab more water, but once you strap on the backpack and head up trails, the availability of drinkable water may be limited. Don’t let yourself get a mile up the mountain to Hengifoss and then realize you only packed one bottle of water.
- Exchange some of your native currency for Icelandic Krona when you arrive at Keflavik International Airport. While Iceland is a very digital-currency friendly country, there are some rural gas stations that do not support the use of foreign credit cards. These are few and far between, though.
- It’s not worth dying to get that Instagram selfie you’ve seen so many people get. We almost saw someone slip and fall to their death at the Fjadrargljufur canyon because they went over the roped off area and snuck out onto a slippery ledge. Don’t do this.
- Note that there are some rough parts of the Ring Road. While it is one of the most well maintained, and the longest, roads in Iceland, there are parts in the East and North that are gravel, and can easily get muddy or ice up depending on road conditions. Most of the Ring Road is in great condition, though.
Our Verdict: Five Days is Definitely Doable!
After traveling Iceland’s Ring Road with five days of driving, we know that it is something that should go on every adventurer and avid traveler’s bucket list. The landscapes, memories, and adventures are like something out of a dream. It is not something to be missed, and if you have at least five days to spend in beautiful Iceland, it should definitely be considered to do the entire Ring Road and experience all that Iceland provides travelers.
Did you do the Ring Road? How long did it take you? Share your experiences with us in the comments for the chance to win two tickets to the Blue Lagoon!