Most visitors to Iceland stick to the most common tourist attractions such as Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon, or maybe the Golden Circle if they’re feeling adventurous. However, those who really want to get to know the country circle Iceland by following the Ring Road. Officially known as Route 1, this road circles all of Iceland and is considered by many travellers to be one of the best road trip itineraries in the world. By renting a car and driving in Iceland, especially when you’re following this scenic route, you’re almost guaranteed to see amazing vistas at every bend in your road trip.
What Is the Ring Road?
The Ring Road connects almost all of Iceland’s major tourist attractions and inhabited areas. Although it almost completely circumnavigates Iceland, the road itself is only about 1,322 kilometers, or 800 miles, long. Iceland’s small size makes the country perfect for road trips.
Tourists hoping only to circle Iceland can probably drive this route in a few days. However, a big part of the Road’s appeal is the many destinations along the way where you can stop and take in Iceland’s breathtaking scenery. You’ll probably want to dedicate at least a week to this road trip for the complete experience. Many tourists take even longer and stop frequently for photo opportunities.
How to Take an Icelandic Road Trip
Driving in a foreign country can be intimidating. However, driving in Iceland is a pleasant experience. Renting a car is the best way to see the countryside because it gives you the freedom to stop wherever you want and explore more isolated destinations. Some road trippers choose to camp along the way in some of the many campgrounds.
Some sections of the Ring Road are more hazardous due to the mountainous terrain, and drivers should exercise caution in the winter. However, overall conditions are pretty good as this is Iceland’s most popular road and many locals use it to commute. As long as you are as careful as you would be in any other place, you should have a smooth road trip experience.
Some sections of the route are quite remote, so take advantage of the gas stations that you do come across to stock up on fuel and snacks and use the bathroom.
Attractions when you Circle Iceland
Route 1 takes you past some of Iceland’s most famous attractions, from volcanic landscapes to stunning waterfalls to the capital itself. However, the trip itself is a big part of the experience. As you circle Iceland, look out for gorgeous landscapes, herds of reindeer, and even the Northern Lights. Most tourists start at Reykjavik and go counterclockwise, so they hit the most popular attractions first.
The Golden Circle
After Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle is one of the country’s most famous attractions. This road trip within a road trip connects three destinations: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.
Thingvellir National Park is right on the rift between the North American and Eurasian plates. It was also the site of Iceland’s first parliament, founded over a thousand years ago. The Geysir Geothermal Area is home to two geysers, including one that erupts regularly every 10 minutes. Finally, Gullfoss Waterfall is a stunning fall that often produces rainbows.
These three sights offer a taste of Iceland’s beauty, but there is so much more to see on the rest of the route.
Waterfalls on the Southern Coast
After the Golden Circle, most drivers follow Route 1 to the southern coast. The south has many beautiful sights, including black sand beaches, glaciers, and Solheimasandur plane crash. However, this stretch of the road is most famous for its waterfalls.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is one of the best places to take photos of the sunrise in Iceland. There is even a short hiking trail that takes travelers beyond the falls themselves. Nearby Skogafoss Waterfall is a larger waterfall known for the frequent rainbows that appear in its spray.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
The next stretch of the Ring Road takes you to the southwestern corner of Iceland. One of the most famous destinations in this region is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Jökulsárlón is where glaciers come to meet the sea. Parts of the ice break off in a process known as calving to form icebergs, and the sight of giant hunks of ice floating in the bright blue waters is unforgettable.
Another good place to stop in this region, especially for avid photographers, is the ice cave complex under the Vatnajökull glacier.
The eastern part of Iceland is one of the more desolate areas of the country, although the landscape is full of gorgeous fjords. Once you pass this region, you will reach Lake Myvatn in the northeast.
The area around Myvatn has something for everyone. Those who need to relax after several days in the car can head to the Myvatn Nature Baths. Committed nature lovers can hike lava fields and explore geothermal areas and blue mud pits. If you take a detour to the village of Husavik, you can even go whale watching!
The last part of Route 1 curves across northern Iceland. Here, some people choose to spend time in the town of Akureyri or add on a detour to the fantastically named “Peninsula of the Trolls.”
Your Ring Road journey will probably start or end in Reykjavik, the capital, which is worth at least a day or two of exploring in its own right. Enjoy the city’s vibrant nightlife, presidentially-approved street food, and traditional and modern architecture. You can also take a quick trip to the Blue Lagoon to soak off the effects of many days on the road.
These are just a few of the sights you can see while taking the Ring Road, one of the world’s most beautiful road trips. The beauty of driving in Iceland is that you can make your own itinerary and stop whenever you see something that interests you—and in Iceland that is sure to happen often.