How Long Does it Take to Drive Around Iceland and the Ring Road?
September 5, 2019
Renting a campervan and driving around Iceland is the ultimate road trip regardless of the time of year. Planning an Iceland itinerary is an exciting prospect once you really start getting into the details. Deciding when, where, and how to see the island’s volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, and geothermal areas is no small undertaking. While plotting your course, you’ll want to know the answer to several questions. The first is how long does it take to drive around Iceland?
This is key as a starting point for planning your trip. Along with how long to drive around Iceland, you also want to know, “What’s the speed limit in Iceland?”. We will cover these questions along with the approximate times and distances between Iceland's major areas of interest. It will hopefully give you a better idea of just how much time you'll be spending on the road.
Driving in Iceland
Iceland is a place that is unusual in many ways. You'll find otherworldly landscapes, extreme weather conditions, and in certain areas, unpaved gravel roads. This is all par for the course, which is why driving safety is so important. When trying to figure out how long to drive all the way around Iceland, there's a few factors to keep in mind.
The first is the speed limit in Iceland. The second is the road conditions you will encounter. And lastly, what people really want to know when they ask about driving times around Iceland is how many days should they spend visiting. Can you drive around Iceland in five days, seven days, or ten days is a much more common question than how many hours to drive around Iceland.
What’s the speed limit in Iceland?
Just to quickly put things in context, let's look at the speed limit in Iceland. It varies depending on the area where you're driving as well as the surface material of the road.
The majority of Iceland's Ring Road is paved highway along remote stretches of countryside. Every now and then you'll pass a village or a small town. But for the most part, when you're behind the wheel in your Iceland campervan rentalit will be open roads and open skies. The speed limit for paved roads in rural areas is 90 km per hour (56 mph).
If you happen to be driving on the limited part of the Ring Road that's made of gravel, this speed slows down to 80 km per hour (50 mph). When driving in populated areas, the speed limit is 50 km per hour (31 mph).
90 km per hour (56 mph) on paved roads in rural areas.
80 km per hour (50 mph) on unpaved gravel roads in rural areas.
50 km per hour (31 mph) in urban areas like cities or towns.
How many hours does it take to drive around Iceland?
This gets to the real crux of the matter. But like many things in life, the answer is not always straightforward because there are a large number of factors that come into play. The distance to drive around Iceland and the Ring Road is 1,332 km (828 miles). So if you just divide this by the top speed limit, that should give you your answer or something close to it right? Or perhaps just see what Google Maps has to say about the matter. I say not so fast.
It would be easy to guess that you could circumnavigate the entire island in 14.8 hours if we divide the distance by the speed limit. Conversely, it could take 16.5 hours if we follow the Google Maps estimate. But in reality, it takes a bit more time. The journey around Iceland is really closer to 18-21 hours if you drove it non-stop.
I suggest this is range because anything from a storm appearing out of the blue to you getting stuck behind a slow semi can reduce your pace to a crawl. The 18-21 hours figure is a guesstimate based on the assumption of relatively good weather and not encountering any major delays along the way. You want to also add in time needed to stop for meals, taking pictures, and filling up your gas tank. Each of these micro delays will add minutes and hours do your daily driving schedule.
And of course, you'll be spending a lot of time each day visiting our beautiful country’s stunning natural attractions.
One of the great things about Iceland is that it's a small island. This means that you usually won't spend more than two to three hours driving from one big destination or highlight to another. Some, like Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Vik are even close together or along the same route. There are also must-see destinations or one-day excursions, like the Golden Circle route or Iceland's national parks, which are completely off the Ring Road.
Driving conditions on the Ring Road
This is probably the thing that's going to most affect how long it takes you to drive around Iceland. Both driving conditions and weather can vary wildly, so it's best to expect anything. It's also good to make the assumption they're probably going to need to go slowly at some point during your trip. This is especially true with winter driving. A good rule of thumb is to double the estimated driving time when there is ice or snow on the road.
Freak snowstorms crop up in Iceland all the time, even in June. This means you want to check the weather on a regular basis, regardless of when you visit. As we mentioned previously, around 97% of the Ring Road is paved. Slow down when approaching the gravel sections of the highway so that you don't lose control of your vehicle.
Driving times to attractions around Iceland
Let's look at some stops going counter-clockwise on the Ring Road around Iceland. Driving from Reykjavik to Vik takes two and a half hours and there are several spectacular sightseeing detours along the way. It's the same distance from Vik to the eastern entrance of Vatnajökull National Park. From Vatnajökull to Egilsstaðir in the East fjords, it's a little over three and a half hours. And from there to the Akureyri, the capital of the North, it's another three hours. After Akureyri, it's another three hours to reach the turnoff point for the Westfjords.
From Borðeyri, Iceland near the Westfjords, it takes another 30 to 60 minutes to get to either to Búðardalur or Borgarnes respectively. These towns are usually the starting points for exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. And once you've completed this part of your journey, it takes around two and a half hours to return to Reykjavik.
Your Iceland itinerary
How many days should you plan for a road trip around Iceland? If you only have five days, I wouldn't recommend trying to squeeze everything into such a short timeframe. A smarter move would be to stick to one region of the country, like the South Coast. You'll see iconic sites like Vik’s volcanic black sand beaches, Svartifoss basalt waterfall, haunting Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon or the mammoth ice cap in Vatnajökull National Park.
So really, how long does it take to drive around Iceland? The minimum suggested time for driving around all of Iceland, in my opinion, is seven days. Even then you'll still be missing out on some places like the Diamond Circle, which could take three or four days alone. If you want to take in all of those places as well, I suggest spending 10 days driving around Iceland.
How long does it take to drive around Iceland and the Ring Road?
What do you spend a few days or a few weeks exploring all that Iceland has to offer, you won't be disappointed. This is a country that was made for road trips, and the Ring Road makes everything so easy. So don't rush, take the time to enjoy the ride, and remember that life and your trip are a journey rather than a destination.