Iceland’s Ring Road is one of the best ways to see the country. The 828-mile journey travels along the country’s perimeter via Route 1, giving travelers an in-depth look into its diverse beauty. From flat farmlands to rugged mountains and stunning waterfalls, there’s never-ending natural wonder at every turn. With so much to see, planning a trip can easily become overwhelming, but keep reading to learn the top highlights of Iceland’s Ring Road.
Both the capital and Iceland’s largest city, Reykjavík is a worthwhile stop for anyone who’s never been before. Most trips begin and end around the area, so if time allows, take a day prior to or after your Ring Road expedition to explore the city. There’s plenty of charming sights to see, from historic landmarks to unique architecture. While there, head to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for a mouthwatering hot dog—one of Iceland’s beloved dishes! And for those interested in the famous Blue Lagoon, it’s a mere 40-minute drive from the city.
Although it’s a bit of a detour from the standard Ring Road route, the Golden Circle is definitely worth it. Here you’ll find the bubbling hot springs of the Geysir geothermal area, the breathtaking Gullfoss Waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park. The sprawling park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of great geological, historical, and cultural importance, and the buildings scattered throughout the land signify this. From 930 to 1798, an open-air assembly met every year for two weeks to create laws and settle disagreements.
This will be the first of many waterfalls, but you'll never tire of them! The mesmerizing fall is one of the country’s most famous, cascading off a steep cliffside. Look out for rainbows on sunny days—you may be able to see the vibrant colors sparkling against the rushing water.
Yet another otherworldly waterfall, Skógafoss can be found at the cliffs of the former coastline. It’s one of the country’s largest waterfalls, with a 200ft drop. Legend has it the first Viking settler buried treasure in the cave behind the fall. Years later locals found the chest only for it to be swept away in the water moments later, leaving them with just a handle (now housed in a museum).
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
This haunting site has become an iconic backdrop for traveler’s photographs. In 1973, a US Naval plane crashed on the black sand of Sólheimasandur Beach. Luckily all crew members survived, but the weather-beaten wreckage remains in the same spot today. Driving is no longer allowed on the beach, so you’ll need to make a 2.5-mile trek (one-way). But it’s definitely worth it to see the plane’s shell sitting frozen in time at the location where it crashed over 40 years ago.
Stop at this charming, seaside town along your journey. Stroll down one of the many surrounding black sand beaches, such as Reynisfjara, and look for puffins roaming around. The town rests at the foot of Katla Volcano and the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier that lies atop it. While in Vík, be sure to visit one of its renowned wool shops to pick up some souvenirs!
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is a truly unforgettable sight. Vibrant blue water winds between steep cliffs covered in lush greenery. This storybook location is the perfect place to stretch your legs and snap some photos.
Skaftafell/Vatnajökull National Park
Skaftafell is part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park. The vast stretch of land is known for its diverse landscape and wildlife, as well as numerous famous sites. Svartifoss, or Black Falls, paints a unique picture, with a modest stream cascading down black basalt columns. Another must-see site is Vatnajökull Glacier. Bright blue ice protrudes from pure-white snow, creating a striking scene. It’s the largest ice cap in all of Iceland, so there’s no shortage of awe-inspiring views.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Crowd favorite Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon borders Vatnajökull National Park. Glistening icebergs streaked with electric blue and charcoal black float in icy waters, providing a vista like no other. The size of the lagoon continues to increase as warming temperatures have caused glaciers to melt and break off at a higher rate.
Just standing in the presence of Europe’s most powerful waterfall is enough to give you a rush of adrenaline. Creamy, grey waters rush with a force that’ll take your breath away. The fall is located in the northeast of Vatnajökull National Park and is near Lake Mývatn.
The Mývatn area is a wonderland of magnificent views. With waterfalls, hot springs, craters, caves, and Lake Mývatn itself, it’s easy to get lost in the all-encompassing beauty. The area is known for its rich wildlife and is perfect for bird-watchers looking to spot various waterbirds.
As one of Iceland’s most picturesque waterfalls, you won’t want to miss Goðafoss. Set against rolling hills, this crescent-shaped waterfall rushes down moss-covered cliffs into turquoise waters. Although the setting changes with the seasons, the scenery is incredible no matter the month.
Welcome to Iceland’s second largest city—although with a population of 18,000, that’s not saying too much! However, despite its relatively small size, this enchanting town has no shortage of culture. Check out one of its many landmarks, botanical gardens, or museums, from history to contemporary art.
These two waterfalls located close to Reykjavík are the perfect way to end your Ring Road adventure. Barnafoss, meaning “Children’s Waterfall,” evokes an eerie feeling that’s reinforced by the old tale of two children who disappeared into the waterfall. Their mother cursed Barnafoss, declaring no one would ever cross it alive again. The misty water looks like thick smoke, billowing between the rocks. Hraunfossar means “Lava Falls,” and you’ll see countless streams of water flowing over a lava field and into milky, turquoise waters below.