Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is quickly becoming one of the world’s hottest travel destinations. The temptation is to fly in, spend a few days in Reykjavik with some day tours, and then fly out to your next destination. But this is not doing the country justice. Find a friend, rent a vehicle, and head out for a road trip adventure on Iceland’s most famous driving route. Here are the most incredible stops not to miss on Iceland’s Ring Road.
Ring Road is beautiful, and you will be constantly stopping and pulling over to take pictures. Plan on every drive taking longer than expected. You will definitely want to pull over for waterfalls, fields of flowers, mountain ranges, and stunning coastline views along the way. When visiting Iceland, it can be hard to narrow down what you want to see. This article lists some of the more popular places to help you schedule your itinerary. These are the stops you can’t miss, and they are listed in order if you drive around the island counter-clockwise.
This waterfall is off the beaten track but accessible with any vehicle. It is the perfect place to start your journey after seeing the Golden Circle. We stayed at Hotel Gullfoss on our first night, which had lovely views and a prime location between the Golden Circle stops and Haifoss. If you rent a car, be careful to avoid large rocks and potholes on the entrance road. From the car, walk 5-10 minutes to see the one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland and its neighbor, Granni. If you come in the middle of the day in the summer, you can see rainbows in the mist of the waterfalls. You can continue your hike from here into the rest of the gorge or even down to the base of the waterfalls.
2) SELJALANDSFOSS AND GLUJFRABUI
You will want waterproof clothing for these two! Selajalandsfoss is the more famous and visited of the two, but Glujfrabui is just a short walk away. Selajalandsfoss is the waterfall that you can walk behind. If you can get a clear sunset, it can make for some amazing photos. This one is popular with tours, so visiting in the middle of the day may mean lots of crowds.
Glujfrabui is set back in a canyon on a 10-15 minute walk from Seljalandsfoss. There is a campground here with bathrooms if you are looking for somewhere nearby to stay. You will get soaked if you decide to go in, but you can get a great view from outside as well. There was a path to climb to the top, but it was closed off while we were there. If you are planning to visit Skogafoss, it will be between this stop and the plane wreck site.
3) SOLHEIMASANDUR PLANE WRECK
This instafamous site is worth the hike! It’s about two miles each way, but the walk is easy and flat. We stayed at Solheimahjaleiga Guesthouse to get an early start on our hike because the parking lot was full even at 9 p.m. We got to the parking lot around 6:30 a.m. and only saw two or three other couples while we were there. By 9 a.m., there were quite a few more groups walking out. Be careful climbing on the plane – it’s not as easy as you would think. I ripped my pants wide open climbing back down, so thank goodness for a long jacket!
4) FINDING PUFFINS IN ICELAND
Not far from the plane wreck is a perfect place for spotting puffins. Turn south (right if coming from Reykjavik area) onto Dyrholavegur/218 and continue until the road ends (don’t turn for the Black Rock Arch). This takes you up to a viewpoint overlooking Reynisfjara Beach and gives you a good chance of seeing puffins in the summer. Take the trails all the way to the left to see them. You can also hike over to the Black Rock Arch viewpoint from here if you go to the right. If you plan to visit the basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach, the best time in this itinerary is right after this stop.
In the middle of the day, the puffins will be out on the nearby water, but some will come back to their nests. Do not climb over the railings here! They are not for your safety but for the safety of the puffin nests. We saw a girl climb over and lay right on top of them to get her shot. Not all of the chains in Iceland are to protect you; sometimes they are to protect nature from you. If you decide to climb over any of them, make sure you are only putting yourself at risk and not the wildlife.
5) JOKULSARLSON GLACIER LAGOON AND DIAMOND BEACH
This is one of the prettiest places in Iceland in my opinion. On one side of the road is the glacier lagoon with massive icebergs floating around. You can take different tours of the lagoon, but even the view from the walkways is impressive. If you are lucky, you will see some wildlife here as well. Across the street is Diamond Beach where the chunks of ice float out into the ocean and are washed up on the shore. They sparkle in the sunlight, giving the beach its name.
6) DETTIFOSS AND SELFOSS
The drive from the glacier lagoon area to these waterfalls is long but full of views you will want to stop and enjoy. To break up the drive, we stayed near Hofn in the cutest little cabin at Berunes Hostel. I found this to be one of the most scenic areas of Iceland, so it’s a good place to stop for a night. The next morning we continued our drive to the waterfalls. If you have time, you can visit both sides of the two waterfalls. It will take an hour and a half to drive from one side to the other. The west side is for buses and tours and looks across at Dettifoss, but the view is blocked by the mist. I recommend visiting the east side because it lets you walk right up the edge and feel the intensity of Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
From Dettifoss, take the walk back to Selfoss since it is less than a mile (about one kilometer). Selfoss is made up of what looks like hundreds of little waterfalls. From the east side, you will have a view across of all of these little waterfalls as well as the main waterfall. From the west side, you have a better view of the main waterfall, but you have to stay much further back because you are next to all of the little waterfalls that lead up to it.
Do not miss this waterfall if at all possible! Aldeyjarfoss is the only one that involves an F-road (four-wheel drive required). However, you can always park on the side of the road and walk the last part of it if needed. If the roads are dry, you could probably make it to the waterfall in a two-wheel drive vehicle since the road doesn’t get bad until after Aldeyjarfoss.
From the parking lot, it takes about five minutes to walk out to the waterfall. We had the entire place to ourselves for almost an hour before another couple showed up. You can get an amazing view from the top of the waterfall surrounded by basalt columns. Alternatively, you can hike down to the bottom to be right across from the base of the waterfall. There is a natural pool at the bottom. The rocks in the pool are covered in algae, the water is cool, and the pool is only about a foot deep. I saw pictures of people lounging in the pool and looking at the waterfall, but it was not deep enough for that at least when we were there.
8) REYKJAVIK AND THE BLUE LAGOON
From Aldeyjarfoss back to Reykjavik, you can stop to see Godafoss, Akureyri, and Kirkjufellsfoss. We did not spend much time in Reykjavik, but we spent our last night at Hotel Lotus and would stay there again. We visited Hallgrimskirkja early in the morning when no one else around. That morning we also took a short drive out to see the sunrise at the Blue Lagoon. However, we chose not to go inside and swim since their hours did not work with our schedule and the price was a bit high (about $90 a person). You can see parts of it for free 24 hours a day if you take the path to the left of the entrance.
If you are visiting during the summer, you can take advantage of the long daylight hours. We spent the middle of the day driving or visiting lesser known locations and explored mostly during the late evening or early morning. Most tours are out during the middle of the day, so the easily accessed sites will be crowded with tours. Iceland is quickly becoming more and more popular, so now is the time to go! When you do, be sure to rent a vehicle and prepare for the most epic road trip of your life with these can’t miss stops on the Ring Road.
We hope that this article has inspired you to take a road trip on Iceland’s Ring Road. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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