It’s possible to see the best parts of Iceland if you follow it’s main road, the Ring Road (aka Route 1). As its name says, it circles the entire island. Here are some basic facts about Route 1 in case you plan to go around the country on it:
It’s difficult to say how much time you should take to drive around the ring road. If you want to fully enjoy the attractions and make the most out of it, allow up to 2 weeks in wintertime and around a week in summer. Of course if you have more time (and money) on your hands, you can take even longer and combine your trip with other activities and many stops along the way. In summer, the days are longer so you can spend more time driving and exploring. Due to the milder weather, most of the highlands are also accessible by road, but you still need to have a 4WD, take care and follow all the rules and precautions when driving around Iceland . During the winter you should always follow closely the weather forecast when planning your driving on a daily basis and allow for some extra time in case the roads are closed due to snow storms or generally bad weather.
Here we would like to give you some ideas on how you can make the most out of the Ring Road, and your visit to Iceland, going round east after you land at Keflavik airport.
Arriving in Iceland
Right after you land, if you hire a car from Keflavik airport, you will drive through the Reykjanes Peninsula on your way to the capital. You can stop at the famous Blue Lagoon Spa (or do it as you depart). Same goes for visiting Reykjavik - you can stop and have a night there as you head east on Route 1, or you can do it on your return when you close the circle.
The Golden Circle
It’s great to do this very popular route as your first day of real adventure after leaving the city. There are three ‘must see’ natural phenomena that are part of this route.
The first one is Þingvellir National Park which is the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Iceland. The area’s history is one of the things that draw so many visitors - Þingvellir is the site where the Icelandic Parliament was formed in 930 AD and after all it was the world’s first democratically elected parliament. In addition, Þingvellir is literally on two tectonic plates, it is where the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates lies.
If you make your way through Almannagjá gorge, you can observe them in close proximity.
Next head to the Haukadalur Valley, so you can see the two most famous hot springs, Geysir and Strokkur . Nowadays Geysir is not active but Strokkur erupts every five minutes or so, with huge jets of water shooting high into the air.
Finally, the last Golden Circle stop should be Gullfoss, one of the most splendid waterfalls in Iceland. But this is not the end of your adventure! Nearby, you can also see the water-filled crater-lake Kerið and Seljalandsfoss, considered the most popular waterfall on the South Coast.
South Coast and Glacier Lagoon
The South coast probably the most popular sightseeing route in the country. It’s very accessible, the rocky and furrowed coastline stands out from a background of mountain peaks, rolling hills and many waterfalls. Here you can see Eyjafjallajökull , the one that erupted in 2010 and caused havoc in the Northern hemisphere. Stop also at the 60m high Skógafoss and further east visit the glorious Reynisfjara black sand beach, with the basalt formation Reynisdrangar, which according to folk tales is an ancient troll, that turned into stone caught in the sunlight.
If you have the time and inclination then you can book a tour to climb the Sólheimajökull. glacier.
Driving east you will eventually reach the Vatnajökull Glacier, where you can see the amazing Jökulsárlon glacier lagoon. You will be mesmerized by the huge icebergs floating on the water’s peaceful surface. Go to Diamond Beach, a stretch of black shoreline famous for the icebergs that wash up against the volcanic stones.
Once you leave the glacier lagoon, head towards the Vestrahorn mountain, famous for its rugged peaks against the horizon. For a more cultural and historical experience, visit the settlement of Stokknes and the nearby Viking Village. Then you’ll head deeper into the mysterious and spooky Eastfjords. The area is famous for its quaint fishing villages as well as the opportunity to see herds of wild reindeer roaming the countryside. Wildlife is abundant here, so if you are lucky you can also spot whales, dolphins, porpoise and even the only mammal native to Iceland - the Arctic Fox.
Lake Myvatn and Diamond Circle
The Diamond Circle is another sightseeing route which just like the Golden Circle in the South, draws large crowds of visitors. After the sights around Lake Myvatn, you should head to Dettifoss, in the Jökulsárglúfur canyon. Nature is at its most dramatic and photogenic here, so don’t forget to take loads of pictures.
Another stop you can make is at the Námaskarð Pass, famous for its steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud cauldrons. Relax at the Myvatn Nature Baths after the busy day. The views will take your breath away.
The North of Iceland is beautiful and varied. Stop at the delightful little village of Húsavík for some Whale Watching. Apart from the Minke and Humpback whales there are twenty other kinds you might be lucky to observe. While up there you have to visit the ‘capital of the North’ aka Akureyri. On the way there you can see not just another waterfall but the one ‘of the Gods’ - Goðafoss’. The name comes from the fact that the pagan inhabitants of this part of Iceland threw their idols in the waterfall after being converted to Christianity.
Finally, on you will head back south on the Ring road. You should stop at the rock stack, Hvítserkur, which people think looks like a dragon drinking water from the ocean. Again another very photogenic site. Don’t miss the village of Hvammstangi, famous for its seal colonies. After the beautiful lava field of Hallmundarhraun you can visit another two waterfalls - two of West Iceland’s greatest, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Also stop at the hot spring of Deildartunguhver, which has the highest flow rate in Europe. You can spend your last night in the area before heading back to Reykjavik. If there is enough time, visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a must.