Anyone planning a road trip in Iceland will quickly discover that the country was made for driving. The Ring Road that encircles the small Nordic island also happens to pass by the majority of its most iconic and well-known attractions. This makes it extremely easy to plan a 5-day, 7-day or 10-day itinerary that encapsulates the country’s most popular sites. But exactly how long does it take to drive around Iceland? Do you need a week, or more? And what’s the speed limit in Iceland? While some people are curious as to the actual length of the Ring Road and driving distances, more often than not, what they really want to know is how much time they need to see Iceland, which is a different question entirely. Let’s find out all there is to know about driving around Iceland and even discuss some winter driving tips.
Length of Iceland’s Ring Road and Speed Limit
Iceland’s principal highway, Route 1 or the Ring Road, is around 828 miles (1,332 km) long. It’s a two-lane road which is almost 100% fully paved. The Ring Road curves, snakes, and stretches through vastly different types of landscapes. You’ll drive past everything from shadowy volcanic fields to sloping fjords to quaint seaside villages. Throughout most of your journey, the speed limit is 55 mph (90 km/h). So if we’re doing the calculation of how long it takes to drive around Iceland, technically you could complete the trip in 14-15 hours. This estimated time for driving the Ring Road includes several assumptions.
Making Stops Along The Ring Road
First, the estimate of 14-15 hours assumes that you plan on driving non-stop around Iceland. But of course, you’re not going to do that. You’re going to stop along the way and spend the night in places like Vík on the South Coast or Húsavík in the north. And even when driving between destinations, like the two and a half hour drive between Reykjavík and Vík, you will probably take small detours to visit waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss or the abandoned DC-3 plane crash site at Sólheimasandur beach. These short yet remarkable tourism and sightseeing stops will be among some of the highlights of your trip. Taking the time to really explore the areas in depth is what will make your trip truly memorable.
Other Factors That Affect How Long it Takes to Drive the Ring Road
While things like being stuck behind a large transport truck or waiting to cross a single-lane bridge can temporarily slow you down, other unforeseeable elements may tack even more extra time onto your journey. The weather is a big one. Not only is Iceland’s weather unpredictable, but it can also have a huge impact on driving time. For winter driving in Iceland, I always like to add an extra 15 minutes per hour of driving time when estimating how long it takes. This is a good general rule of thumb. And if for some reason you end up driving in the middle of a snowstorm, or other inclement weather conditions, you need to drive even more slowly. This makes precisely estimating how long it takes to drive around Iceland in the winter a bit more complicated.
An approximate guess might be 18-20 hours minimum, but really there are so many factors that affect this. Slippery conditions, icy roads, and unexpected storms can delay your journey by hours or even days.
How Much Time Do You Need to See Iceland?
This really gets to the heart of the matter. If you’re curious about how long it takes to drive around Iceland, it’s likely that what you really want to know is how long you should stay. So how much time do you need to really see Iceland? Well, there are people who come for five days and there are people who come for a month. Those lucky enough to have a large number of vacation days can really take their time making their way around the Ring Road and get to know the country in depth. At a minimum, I would say seven or eight days gives you the chance to see all of the country’s major attractions along the Ring Road. You probably won’t have time for everything (the Diamond Circle itself can take three or four days alone), but you’ll cover the majority of tours and attractions.
Planning An Iceland itinerary
So now that you know how long it takes to drive around the Ring Road and how much time you need to see Iceland, let’s start planning your itinerary! If you’re short on time and can only complete a 5-day itinerary, I highly recommend sticking to Iceland’s South Coast. If you’ve got time for a seven-day itinerary, you can definitely drive all the way around the island, but you’ll have to miss a few stops along the way. A 10-day itinerary is the ideal choice if you want to both drive all the way around the island and explore Iceland in depth. And a 14-day itinerary or longer is great for more extended activities like multi-day hiking trips in Landmannalaugar or visiting areas like the Westfjords or Snaefellsnes peninsula.
It’s up to you how long you decide to take and which activities you decide to partake in. The important thing is to take your time and really enjoy your trip. It’s always about the journey, not the destination. Take a look at a list of Iceland’s main attractions, plan your specific route, and book your overnight accommodation as far in advance as possible.
How Long Does It Take to Drive Around Iceland’s Ring Road?
As with most things in life, the answer is: it depends. It can take 15 hours to drive around Iceland or it can take you a month. It all comes down to you, your travel style, your priorities, and exactly what you want to get out of your Iceland trip. What I know for sure is that whether you come for five days or five weeks, you’ll experience the adventure of a lifetime in a stunning country. Iceland is known for its natural beauty and geological wonders, so come on over.