With its countless waterfalls, out-of-this-world landscapes, and fantastic wildlife; Iceland is one of the most exciting destinations to visit. And, by far, the best way to discover all the treasures that the Land of Ice & Fire has to offer is to rent a car and drive around the island. If you have time to spend a week or more exploring the country, then you should definitely consider doing the Ring Road trip in Iceland.
The country’s main thoroughfare, Route 1, circles the whole island and takes you close to many of its top attractions. The entire loop is 1332 km (828 miles), so the Ring Road really covers a lot of ground, making it one of the best options for road trips in Iceland. It is possible to drive the Ring Road in a week; and, if you have more time, you can even take some detours to explore off the beaten path locations. Below you will find some of our suggestions for the top attractions to see during your road trip in Iceland and some tips to make the most of it.
Top Attractions in South Iceland
Home to some of the country’s most famous natural wonders, the south is also the most touristic part of Iceland. But there are plenty of good reasons for that. First, you can start by visiting the highlights along the Golden Circle, which include the Thingvellir National Park and the famous Strokkur Geysir. As you continue east, you’ll have the chance to stop at two of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Another great photo stop is the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. A bit further, there is the gorgeous black sand beach near Vík.
Continuing on the Ring Road will bring you to Skaftafell, which is part of the Vatnajökull National Park and a popular hiking destination with locals and travelers alike. About an hour’s drive further east, there is the Jökulsárlón Iceberg lagoon; where you’ll get a chance to get close to an impressive glacier and see big chunks of ice floating from the lagoon to the beach.
Best Ring Road Detour in South Iceland
If you have time for an off-the-beaten path adventure, head to Landmannalaugar. With its multicolored mountains and bright blue lakes is one of Iceland’s most unique places (and that is saying a lot!). To get there, you will need to drive on an F road; so a 2WD car won’t cut it. And the road is bumpy AF, so hold on tight!
Driving along the East Fjords
Probably the most underrated area in Iceland, the East Fjords are practically ignored by most travelers doing the Ring Road trip. Most people choose to drive through them quickly to get to Myvatn. However, the East Fjords have some undeniable charms. Here you will find winding coastal roads, Iceland’s largest forest, and, if you are lucky, reindeer!
Best Ring Road Detour in the East Fjords
If you want to hike in a stunning and remote location, head north from Egilsstadir to the tiny village of Borgarfjördur Eystri where there are plenty of hiking opportunities for any level.
Exploring the Myvatn Area
With its extreme geothermal activity, its stunning lake, and rich vegetation; the area around Myvatn is an amazing place to explore. In this are you will find more gorgeous waterfalls, steaming fumaroles, and soothing natural baths. And if for some reason you are craving a bit of city life, you just have to drive a bit further to Akureyri, Iceland’s second biggest city.
Best Ring Road Detour Near Myvatn
Just a few kilometres before arriving to the Myvatn lake, if you are driving from Egilsstadir, you will find the turn leading to Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Iceland (and Europe) by water volume. It’s force is truly magnificent. And if you venture further, you will get to the Ásbyrgi and Jökulsárgljúfur canyons; a stunningly gorgeous hiking area with other-worldly landscapes and impressive basalt columns. You should not miss this place, specially if you are traveling in autumn when the fall colours just add to the place’s mystic atmosphere.
Heading West and Closing the Loop
On the west side of Iceland, the Ring Road completely bypasses two areas of great natural beauty, the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The first is one of the most remote areas of the country and most visitors don’t get to see it. Still, if you have time, this detour is well worth the views.
On the other hand, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is much more accessible and offers other stunning attractions that you should also consider visiting. For example, here you will find the iconic Kirkjufellsfoss — Iceland’s most photographed waterfall —, lava fields, and kilometres of beautiful rugged coastline.
Useful Tips for an Epic Road Trip in Iceland
- Clockwise vs. Counterclockwise: no matter what you choose, the ride is scenic in either direction. If you are traveling at the end of summer, you might want to start your road trip by going north; since warmer weather lasts a bit longer in the south. Also, keep in mind that the south of the island is much more touristic (and crowded) than the north; which can feel a bit more remote.
- When to go: you can drive on the Ring Road year-round. However, if you are traveling during the colder months and plan to take some of the secondary roads, you should check road conditions first. The great thing about traveling during that time is that it’s much less crowded and you have a good chance to see the northern lights (you can check the forecast here).
- Choosing a vehicle: rentals in Iceland can be expensive in any season. The cheapest economy cars are a good budget option, but only offer limited possibilities to explore the island. If you can afford it, a 4WD is worth it because you can go further off the beaten path. Campers are also a great option to save on accommodation.
- Precautions: even though most of the Ring Road is paved, you will still find some rough patches, so drive carefully and respect the speed limit. Finally, if you are headed to remote areas, you should fill up your tank before. In some stretches gas stations are far between.
Are you traveling to the Land of Ice & Fire? If you have any questions about how to plan your road trip in Iceland, leave us a comment. We’d be happy to help!
The more I read about Iceland, the more I want to go!
Iceland is an amazing country! The landscapes are just stunning and it’s a great place to explore with kids. You should definitely go :)
I think the best attraction of island is the northern lights. That’s the only thing I wanted to see there. I also heard that everything is expensive there.
The northern lights are amazing, that’s true. But the landscapes of Iceland are also quite stunning. The nature there is just beautiful and makes you feel humble and small. So there is definitely more to Iceland than just the northern lights.
And yes, it is true that everything is expensive. That was a big surprise for us. The only thing that we didn’t have to worry about paying for was water… Everything else was very expensive, even for us that are based in the Netherlands, which is definitely not a cheap country.