The duration of a journey along the Ring Road in Iceland depends on what you want to see, when you are there, how many stops you want to make, and many other factors. Therefore, it’s essential to consider each case individually and decide how much time you want to take for a complete circumnavigation of the island or for specific sections. You won’t have time for everything, so you need to prioritize and plan accordingly.
There’s no universal answer to this question. Some have successfully completed the journey in three days, while others have been disappointed after a three-week tour of Iceland because they didn’t have enough time for everything. Generally, I recommend a week to have enough time for the main attractions and a healthy buffer to be able to change your plans if necessary. With seven days, you can cover approximately 200 km each day and take a break if needed. The speed limit on the Ring Road in Iceland is 90 km/h, and theoretically, you could complete the daily routes in less than two hours, but I suggest allowing for three hours based on experience. However, those who want to save time can cruise at a constant speed of 90 km/h in less exciting areas. Please pay attention to the road conditions and weather warnings in rural areas.
It depends on which section of the Ring Road you want to drive and the context of your trip. For example, if you want to know how much time it takes to travel from Akureyri to Reykjavík, it’s essential to know whether you’ll be staying overnight or catching a flight from Keflavik that day.
Here are some frequently driven sections of the Ring Road, including their travel times and recommendations for various weather conditions and attractions:
This section is usually the start of the tour around Iceland and can be completed as a day trip. Along the way, there are various waterfalls and beautiful areas in the mountains and along the coast. At the end, you’ll find Vík’s pitch-black sand beach and various hotels and restaurants.
Minimum duration: 2.5 hours
Recommended: 6-8 hours (a relaxed day trip)
From Vík, the journey often continues eastward, passing the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon at the foot of the Vatnajökull volcano. You can comfortably take a day trip along this route. If you want to see the Svartifoss and take your time, it’s best to start early.
Minimum duration: 3.5 hours
Recommended: 1 day
This section can be driven in two ways: as a relaxed day trip to the fjords in the east or inland west of the Ring Road. Both areas have their charm, and you can easily spend 2-4 hours there. Alternatively, you can save time by driving directly north from here and making a stop in the Myvatn region or Husavik. That takes about 5-6 hours of pure driving time.
Minimum duration: 3 hours
Recommended: day trip to the fjords or inland
You can drive from Egilsstaðir to Husavík along the Ring Road or take route 85 along the coast, but it doesn’t pass Myvatn.
This can of course be incorporated into the next day’s journey, and the detour is minimal. So individual preference is key here.
Minimum duration: 3 hours
Recommended: day trip along Route 85
It’s just a stone’s throw away, you can reach Akureyri within 1.5 hours and optionally drive directly to Reykjavík from there. However, it is not recommended because you will definitely miss the beautiful area around Akureyri and especially the Westfjords.
Minimum duration: 1.5 hours
Recommended: stay in Akureyri, followed by a drive to the Westfjords
The segment from Akureyri to Reykjavík along the Ring Road marks the end of a classic tour around Iceland, and this is usually where return visitors catch up on what they missed, as there is no time left for the Westfjords. But don’t panic: this is okay, because a tour that includes the Westfjords would significantly exceed one week, so you should either plan more time or simply come back again.
For those who still want to get the most out of this segment, a detour to Snæfellsnes is possible, but it will add an extra 2-3 hours of travel time. Therefore, if you have a night flight and need to be in Keflavik by midnight, you need to be prepared for a fully packed day. If you are flying the next day, you can relax and enjoy Reykjavik late in the evening.
Minimum duration: 5 hours
Recommended: day trip with a detour to Snæfellsnes and overnight stay in Reykjavik
I have already written in several places about how to find the right rental car for your trip to Iceland, as well as experience reports on renting cars and vanlife in Iceland.
To summarize briefly: In the summer, during the peak season in Iceland, you can drive around the Ring Road with a regular car. There is no reason to book an expensive SUV or other all-wheel drive vehicle unless you plan to drive into the highlands. Those with the budget for it may prefer an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it is not necessary.
However, things are different in the winter: If you want to drive around the entire Ring Road in the cold season, you would do well to choose a vehicle with all-wheel drive. Without it, you can quickly find yourself stuck or pushed to the limits. If you don’t have the budget for it, you can alternatively take bus tours from Reykjavik.