Tick off geothermal wonders such as the Blue Lagoon, then head into the wilds for whale-watching tours, glacier treks and fjord-side hotels.
We don’t know if this iconic Iceland road trip, which loops around the entire Nordic nation, will put more miles on your car or on your favourite pair of hiking boots. As you wrap around the Ring Road, you’ll be tempted to jump out at every curve of this 1,322km glassine road to explore the rugged mountain trails, quiet coastal fishing villages and serene fjord-lined shore. Top up your tank and tick off every must-see natural landmark in this nature-studded island – with a few hidden gems mixed in – during this road-trip adventure, pit-stopping at some cosy places to stay along the way.
Around the Reykjavik area
You don’t have to venture far to witness Iceland’s natural beauty. If you’d rather let someone else do the driving, join Culture Trip on a five-day adventure to the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon and beyond.
Kick off your trip in style with a stay at the luxurious Retreat at Blue Lagoon. The hotel’s modern minimalist suites contrast with the otherworldly landscape outside: Iceland’s top landmark, the geothermal Blue Lagoon, sits right beyond your window – and some suites even have direct access to the mineral-rich pool. During your stay, you’re invited to join group yoga sessions and hikes. Prefer a more sedentary form of relaxation? You also get access to the Retreat Spa for massages, beauty treatments and a private dip in the hidden Lava Cove.
Since you’re here, where better to start your Ring Road adventure than by bathing in the Blue Lagoon? Your stay at the Retreat grants you access into one of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks, surrounded by a craggy lava field near Grindavík, less than an hour from the capital of Reykjavik. The tranquil waters of this geothermal lagoon will wash away your worries and let you unwind before you begin your journey proper. For the intrepid seeking something more adventurous, your body will thank you for the post-trek pampering.
Kex Hostel in Reykjavik is a budget-friendly option for those who prefer to save their kronur for a buzzing bar. This former biscuit factory invites you to break bread with other free-spirited travellers, ticking off Reykjavik’s scenic bay, whale-watching opportunities and main street of Laugavegur, before you continue onward. Bunking in the boutique dorms will introduce you to new friends, but you’ll get the most shut-eye in a private room. Well-rested, you’re ready to pop down to the breakfast buffet or sink craft beers in the lounge.
Using the capital as your base, head just east for a day of driving around the Golden Circle: a trio of landmarks that includes the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park. The former seat of the Icelandic parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries is now a resting place of ruins, shrouded in mysterious tales of witches and blessed with all-round natural splendour. Park visited, drive on Gullfoss and the Strokkur Geysir – and try not to jump when you see it dramatically erupt. The waterfall is much more even-tempered and far easier to photograph.
Into the North
Ready to rough it overnight in a tent? The glamping tents at Camp Boutique Original North are designed to handle Iceland’s worst weather and are equipped with their own heating system, minimalist furnishings and even wifi. You will have to brave the cold for a few metres to hit the loo, but we assure you that the thermal blankets will warm you right up after a shower. Pitched on the remote, glacier-fed Skjalfandafljot River banks, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise – and puts you in easy reach of whale-watching trips from Húsavík and Iceland’s northern second city of Akureyri.
The Capital of North Iceland is worthy of a pit stop for its many museums dedicated to Iceland’s motorcycle, aviation, art and literary history. The outdoor activities around the Eyjafjörður fjord are just as captivating and reflective of Iceland’s roots, too. Join a whale-watching tour and scout the waters for humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises – the fjord’s millpond-calm waters make them easy to see. Keep your camera aimed at the sky, too: seabirds circle overhead.
Head deeper into the north, towards the bird-rich volcanic lake of Mývatn, and welcome creature comforts with open arms at Icelandair Hotel Myvatn. Warm up with coffee and relaxing views in your suite, and take an extra long hot shower to redress the elements. You’ll find a bowl of piping hot Icelandic soup at Mylla Restaurant, or a pint and a plate of fish and chips at the hotel’s Gamli Baerinn pub, if you want a quick bite before bed.
You’ll have no trouble finding sites to explore on the Diamond Circle – Iceland’s northerly alternative to the busier Golden Circle route down south – including hikes to the Dimmuborgir volcanic caves, Leirhnjukur hot springs and Hverfjall crater. If you’re short on time, however, Lake Myvatn is an effortless yet amazing sight to conquer. Only a five-minute walk from the hotel, this scenic lake credits its beauty to the geothermal activity. The flora, fauna and wild birds will fill you with a sense of peace as you gaze into the horizon.
Onwards to the East
Hotel 1001 Nott will quickly show you why travellers who skip the eastern part of Iceland are missing out. Large suites with floor-to-ceiling windows each have their own private entrances from the garden. The Cognac lounge is intoxicating, but you may simply prefer the sobering sight of the Northern Lights dancing over your outdoor hot tub. A buffet of food and panoramic views await in the morning, with the Snaefell mountain, Fljotsdalur valley and waters of lake Lagarfljot as your breakfast backdrop.
Adventure seekers, the Wild Boys want to elevate your Icelandic experience. This tour group is ready to introduce you to the best sights in the east. Ski Mt Snaefell in the daytime or hike to the top to watch the midnight sun rise at night in June. Spend an evening out at the Egilsstadir campsite peering into Troll’s Cave or hike down into Hafrahvammar canyon for a geothermal shower. From demanding climbs to leisurely treks, Wild Boys has an experience queued up for you.
Looping back down South
As the Ring Road rounds down to the south, why not indulge in a little style at Hotel Höfn during the final leg of your trip? Sharp, modern decor creates clean and comfortable suites with views of the Vatnajokull glacier. Pamper your body with local organic skincare products, and spoil your palate with farm-fresh ice cream at their Osinn Restaurant – if you have room, that is, after feasting on the fishing village’s famously fresh langoustines.
Get to know the Vatnajokull glacier on a deep level at Vatnajokull National Park – and we mean that literally. Ice-cave tours take you inside the frozen glacier to surround you with unbelievable blue ice. Once you’ve returned to the surface, it’s time to view the park from above. Head over to the trails surrounding Vestrahorn mountain and explore the Viking village used for movie shoots. Cups of hot chocolate and beard-stroking beer are waiting for you back at the summit at the Viking Cafe.
With the most beautiful landscapes of Iceland in your rearview mirror, book a night at Hotel Rangá to relax, reflect, and repair before heading home. Walking to your room – with river or mountain views – you’ll see walls adorned with local art. The staff know just how comfortable the suite’s king beds are, which is why they’ll provide a Northern Lights wake-up service so you never miss a moment. Unwind in the hot tub beside the Rangá River or head to the observatory and get lost in the stars.
Before heading home, Seljalandsfoss is likely the last stop on your hit-list. So, may we tempt you into one last adventure? Head a half-hour south and hop on the Landeyjahöfn ferry for southern Iceland’s best-kept secret: the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. Ferries provide a round-trip service for you and your vehicle throughout the day. This 35-minute hop opens up opportunities for puffin viewing, ATV volcano tours, and visits to a beluga-whale sanctuary.
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Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.