The journey along the Ring Road (Road Number 1) in Iceland takes you on a circular route around the country. Hence the name The Ring Road of Iceland which is what this particular road trip is most famously known as. The Ring Road can either be done clockwise, heading north from Reykjavik ending south or counterclockwise, starting along the south coast before making your way north and back down into the capital. There are extraordinary sights and attractions along the ring road, many of which are astoundingly different from the one before and the one after. Some visitors have even gone as far as saying that driving the ring road one feels like a trip around the world, or even to the next galaxy! Nevertheless, prepare for gleaming glaciers, active volcanoes, picturesque waterfalls, mysterious black sand beaches, bubbling hot springs, wild reindeer and charming fishing villages. There is no way to get all of the things you can explore and experience in one blog. But nonetheless, in this blog, we will make an attempt to. Here are (in my opinion) the ultimate highlights from South to East, then North and ending in the West – The best along the Ring Road one!
Best Thing to do in the South of Iceland
Gluggafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Gljufrabui and Skogafoss Waterfalls
This quadruple waterfall perfection is absolutely the best way to begin your journey around Iceland. The waterfalls all draw their water from the famous stratovolcano Eyjafjallajokull that erupted in 2010 creating complete chaos for all air traffic around Europe. Today the glacier/volcano rests at ease but the waterfalls continue to flow forcefully.
First up is the Gluggafoss or the window waterfall. The name is taken from the tuff rock that the waterfall spouts off. The tuff is a soft type of rock that has through the centuries cracked from the force of the waterfall. This has created symmetrical openings in the rock, which look like big windows that the water now spouts out from. Sometimes four in a row. It’s pure magic!
Second is the well known Seljalandsfoss or the one you can walk behind as it is often referred to. It can be seen from the roadway long before it is reached adding even more excitement to the visit. Its baby brother, Gljufrabui hides away west of the waterfall. Tucked in a small gorge. There is no way of exploring Gljufrabui as it deserves without getting wet. So, prepare for a bit of a soak both in dressing and in covering of any electronics that you might bring along.
Third and last but definitely not least is Skogafoss. Amazingly sculptured by Mother Nature with a few different angles to view it this charmer is one for the books. Legend says that under the solid stream sits treasure but we strongly urge you don’t go looking. It is way better to stay safe and simply admire the waterfall and its folklore for its mystery. At Skogar (Skogafoss’s home) you can also find a cute heritage museum, a café, a restaurant, and a hotel.
Vestmannaeyjar Islands | The Westman Islands
Vestmannaeyjar or the Westman Islands as they are talked about in the English language are an archipelago right off the South Coast with a population of about 4500 living on the biggest island, Heimaey. This is a place of delicious food, an amazing swimming pool, a state of the art volcano museums and impeccable views.
The islands are especially famous for being a puffin colony so if you visit between the months of May and September you are in for a cuteness fest! The islands are also famous for incredible rib boat tours many of which take you to explore the unbelievable Elephant Rock. A natural rock formation found in the islands.
In the 70’s Heimaey’s biggest volcano erupted ruining a large part of the island but also adding to it new terrain. This is the perfect place to go off the Ring Road for a day trip or a one night adventure. Moreover, can you take your rental car as the island is best reached by ferry. They leave from Thorlakshofn in winter and Landeyjahofn in summer.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and The Diamond Beach
Jokulsarlon is Iceland’s deepest lake but that is not what makes it so special. It is a glacier lagoon filled with glistening icebergs. Those of which have broken off the towering glacier resting above. The glacier is called Breidamerkurjokull and is an outlet glacier from Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier.
As you walk around the lagoon you can see the icebergs, nature, and wildlife come together in the most idyllic setting. Furthermore, during the summer, you can join a boat tour that takes you around the lagoon. This is to me the best way to experience the lagoon.
Afterward, there is a mandatory stop to be made at the Diamond Beach. Just down off the Ring Road. There you’ll find the glittery icebergs sitting on the pitch-black beach which now usually goes by the name the Diamond Beach. It’s easy to see why once you have visited!
Best Things to do in the East of Iceland
Probably the most picturesque collage of mountains you’ll ever find. Seeming to rise out of the ocean surrounded by a black sand beach this place is every photographer’s dream. You might find photos of this place under the names Vestrahorn, Stokksnes or Vesturhorn but all of them are in fact the same place. Fun Fact, they are sometimes nicknamed the Batman mountains!
The Ring Road cuts right through Egilsstadir (the capital of the East) but I am adding Seydisfjordur to the list, even though there is a 30 min drive off the Ring Road to see it. Seydisfjordur is simply worth it! An authentic town with a bustling art scene and an incredible charm. There you will find amazing food, the cutest blue church, lovely galleries, cafés and boutiques. Along with many different hiking paths for those who wish to see the town from above. Undoubtedly worth the detour!
Hengifoss, Rjukandi and Klifbrekkufoss Waterfalls
These three water-gems are truly one of the most stunning waterfalls in Iceland but for some reason, they aren’t visited as much. Sure, they are a bit off the Ring Road and in the East but in my opinion, they are worth the effort. Hengifoss or the hanging falls has an incredible red layered background displaying the extraordinary geological history of the islands.
Second is Rjúkandi, the most layered waterfall, offering short and long drops and numerous different ways to enjoy it. Third and last are the least known of them all, Klifbrekkufossar which truly look like they are falling down gigantic troll steps. Each one of them creates an atmosphere that is hard to explain but could easily remind someone of an elf scene from Lord of the Rings.
We advise anyone who visits to bring your hiking shoes, you’ll need to track a bit of terrain and make sure to check the weather forecast if you are traveling in winter. Those areas can get heavy snow.
The Icelandic Wilderness Center
The Icelandic wilderness center opens up an amazing opportunity to dive deep into traditional Icelandic food, authentic culture and charming heritage. Staying a night in a rural setting, with the friendliest of hosts is just what your trip needs to leave one extra fond memory about Iceland. They offer lovely hiking trips around the homestead, horseback riding adventures, a detailed exhibition, and a hot spring spa. If you are looking for relaxation and tranquility, the Wilderness Center my friend is the place for you!
Best Things to do in the North of Iceland
Myvatn Nature Baths
The Blue Lagoon is amazing, don’t get me wrong. But, what if I told you that there was another Blue Lagoon with fewer people and more variety of surrounding attractions that you could visit? I know somethings are too good to be true, but Myvatn Nature Bath is most definitely not one of them. A natural geothermal pool filled with turquoise blue water that contains healing algae and silica that are known to work wonders on difficult skin. The water will leave you feeling soft and rejuvenated. However, it does not do the same for your hair so try to keep it out. Unless you are trying for an 80’s fluff, the hair is best kept up in a bun, preferably with conditioner in whilst bathing.
The facilities have showers, steam baths, locked lockers and even their very own restaurant. You’ll also have the option of visiting their gift shop, where you can pick up souvenirs or some of the renowned skincare. Make sure to take your time at Myvatn Nature Barh. A soak in a hot spring is the number one bucket list item for visits to Iceland and should not be rushed. Particularly when the spring is as nice as Myvatn’s.
Asbyrgi is one of those places you’ll visit in Iceland that will leave you in absolute awe. Mother Nature truly gave it all when she created this one. This might actually be an opinion that the settlers could relate to since the lore surrounding its formation is ancient and godly. In the Pagan religion, which was the first religion in Iceland the main god is called Odinn. He is said to have owned an eight-legged horse, by the name of Sleipnir. Once when Sleipnir was traversing over Iceland he stepped down, leaving a permanent deep mark. This mark we now know as Asbyrgi but this is how it’s horseshoe-shaped form was explained.
Since then scientists have come up with a less godly explanation containing glaciers and natural occurrences but I’m personally more fond of this one. The horseshoe-shaped gorge is spectacular and offers amazing hiking trails through its birch forest. And, even a darling camping site where many travelers choose to rest their head when traveling in this part of Iceland. A night at Asbyrgi’s camping ground is definitely on my bucket list!
Fun Fact: Iceland’s most famous band, Sigurros once performed a free concert in the gorge. Inviting anyone who wanted. It was all videotaped and remains an important part of Icelandic music history.
Best Things to Do in the West of Iceland
Deildartunguhver and Krauma Baths
The forceful Deildartunguhver is the most powerful hot spring in Europe. It provides heating and electricity for a great majority of the surrounding towns and villages. A visit to the hot spring is truly a great way to get up close and personal with the real energy that bubbles beneath Iceland’s surface. Especially when paired with a dip in the modern Krauma baths. The hot geothermal water from the hot springs is now harvested and can be enjoyed by bathing in the state of the art spa. The perfect stop along the Ring Road and always a welcomed way to refresh and fill up the energy bar when driving in Iceland.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls
Yet another waterfall combination but no to worry this is something that is hard to get enough of. Every single waterfall in Iceland has its own charm, own history and own marvelous setting. And, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are in no way an exception.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are within walking distance of one another and should therefore never be visited on its own. The name Hraunfossar actually means the lava waterfalls but the cascade drops down from a lava field named Hallmundarhraun. Its water originated in the second-largest glacier in Iceland Langjokull and has traveled through the rough terrain to then spout out in the most awe-inspiring of ways.
Barnafoss, on the other hand, is named due to a tragic tale of young brothers who fell into the waterfall when crossing its lava arch bridge never to return again. Barnafoss means the children’s waterfall. The waterfall was believed to have been cursed by their mother but nature kicked in and an earthquake took the lava arch down. Since then visitors have loved visiting the waterfall but people are still careful in the steps. You never know with those curses!
Things you must do in Iceland, regardless of location
- Try the local cuisine
- Catch the Northern Lights
- Experience the Midnight Sun
- Go Whale Watching
- Taste Icelandic Beer
Best Things around the Iceland Ring Road | Tours
- Iceland Grand Discovery – 19 days and 18 nights| Ring Road
- 9 Days/8 Night around the Ring Road Tour | Best Seller
- Ring Road Highlights 8 Days/7 Nights
- The Arctic Coast Way | North Iceland
- Classic Whale Watching from Husavik | North Iceland
- Reindeer Safari | East Iceland
- Dettifoss Waterfall and Nature Baths | North Iceland
- South Iceland in 5 Days | South Iceland
- South Coast – Small Group Tour including Glacier Hike | South Iceland