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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Ring Road drive in Iceland is the best road trip itinerary plan for a perfect adventure vacation

Updated: May 6

Map of how to drive the Ring Road in Iceland
Map of how to drive the Ring Road in Iceland

The Ring Road is a great option if you're planning a self-drive or a trip to Iceland for the first time. If you don't have a clue about Iceland, you may be wondering where to go and how to make the most of your vacation.


While Iceland may be small, there are abundant sights and experiences to explore, making it impossible to see everything in one visit. A great option for your first trip is to rent a car and drive the Ring Road road trip, which is a highway that circles the entire island and connects most of the regions outside of the Highland. The total distance, including extra loops and secondary roads, is approximately 1,600 kilometers or 1,000 miles. This road trip will give you an idea of what Iceland is all about, with its extraordinary natural wonders and charming small towns and villages scattered along the coastline.


The Ring Road is also easy to travel, with many hotels and guesthouses, good campsites, easy access to gas and charging stations, hundreds of restaurants, good grocery stores, museums, recreational activities, and a lot more. It is also widely used by Icelanders to drive between the different regions on the island. A Ring Road trip in a rental car is the best way to see and understand what Iceland is about, both geographically and culturally.

 

Throughout this article, you can click on many links that will take you to more detailed articles about breathtaking natural wonders, towns and villages and more detailed information about various things connected to the Ring Road drive. These include articles about the best season, what kind of car you should choose, how to visit individual natural wonders and much more.

 

What is the Ring Road in Iceland? – the Icelandic historical background and 50th anniversary!


Driving the ring road in Iceland close to Skaftafell
Driving the Ring Road in Iceland close to Skaftafell is a spectacular drive

For decades, Icelanders have been using the term Ring Road or Hringvegurinn. It gained popularity in the early seventies when a bridge was constructed across the river Skeiðará, near Skaftafell National Park in the southeast, and was opened to the public in 1974. Son, this year in 2024 is the 50 anniversary of the Ring Road in Iceland. This new development allowed Icelanders to travel around the island and explore places that were previously difficult to visit, such as the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Driving the Ring Road road trip became almost mandatory, and the term Hringvegurinn became part of the Icelandic language and culture. Many Icelanders visited the southeast and the east fjords for the first time, as before the bridge's opening, many of today's most popular tourist destinations were isolated and difficult to reach. It is important to note that the Ring Road is exactly as shown on the map, and it does not include the Golden Circle, the Westfjords, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the Highland, the northeast Melrakkaslétta or the Reykjanes Peninsula.


The Ring Road, current state


From my Ring Road travel camping tour in 1992
From my Ring Road travel camping tour in 1992

Local expert who has travelled the Ring Road many times on a road trip in Iceland

I have traveled the Ring Road in every season, both alone on a photographic mission and as a guide for private tours, photographic tours, and larger groups. Consequently, I have experienced this remarkable road in various ways and conditions, visited every corner, and even discovered and named a natural wonder, Stuðlagil, which has become one of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations in recent years. Therefore, in this article, you can expect to gain insights and information from a local expert.


My wife and I went on our first Ring Road tour in 1984, a few years after the bridge was constructed. It was an unforgettable experience since my wife, who was eight months pregnant at the time, and I stayed in a tent in early August. In 2015 and 2016, I drove the Ring Road multiple times, conducting research and photography for the numerous articles on this webpage. As a result, I have extensive experience driving the Ring Road and exploring all the fascinating places it has to offer.


Even though I have often traveled the Ring Road, I always enjoy driving around the island. I have also visited the places I mentioned in the article many times. Recently, I went on a Ring Road road trip with my wife, Gunna. This time, we decided to stay at hotels instead of camping, which we usually do. One of the many good things about growing tourism in Iceland is that many magnificent accommodations are now available. Only about a decade ago, few nice hotels were outside Reykjavík, and food was primarily available at roadside gas stations. However, this has changed dramatically in recent years, and the quality of accommodation and food around the shoreline by the Ring Road is now an advantage that we have in Iceland. With the increase in tourism, there is a demand for more quality, and on this tour, we decided to stay at friendly quality hotels, dine at excellent restaurants, and visit places that we seldom see or new places that my wife had never visited before.


The time it takes to drive the Ring Road in Iceland


The Ring Road drive will take you to many great places in Iceland
The Ring Road drive will take you to many great places in Iceland

Driving the Ring Road in just two days is possible for those only interested in driving, as it is a well-maintained asphalt road. However, it is primarily a two-lane road, so some may find it narrow. In this article, I recommend taking at least six days to complete the tour, which is a reasonable amount of time to cover most of the fascinating and easily accessible natural wonders, landscapes, towns, and villages. Additionally, I mention a few museums, exhibitions, and new geothermal baths that are constantly growing in numbers. Therefore, for the best experience, I suggest driving for six days to make the most of your vacation and see and enjoy as many fascinating places as possible.


When to drive the Ring Road in Iceland


If you plan to visit Iceland, the best time for the Ring Road trip is from the beginning of May to the end of October. During this time, you can enjoy the blooming and colorful vegetation and have daylight from early morning until late evening. Every day, you can easily be on the road from 7 AM to 9 PM, giving you ample time to stop and admire each place you visit without being in a hurry. However, things are much more difficult during winter, as the most fascinating natural wonders are covered with snow, and the roads are more challenging to drive. The weather can be harsh and difficult. To better understand the other seasons or times to visit Iceland, you can read my article about the best time to visit Iceland.


What type of rental car for the Ring Road in Iceland?


Finding the right rent a car for your road trip in important
Finding the right rent a car for your road trip in important

Before you start, read my extensive article about driving in Iceland to better understand the roads and the road system, what kind of rental car fits best for you and the time you intend to travel. The roads are often different than in other countries, and conditions can change quickly in different weather situations. Most of the time, when driving on Ring Road, you are driving the official road, which is defined as number 1. But keep in mind that the term Ring Road doesn't necessarily always refer to that road, as the Ring Road concept is a travel or tour concept and can incorporate other roads when you need to take a loop to go to interesting places.


The landscapes and natural wonders should be your main objective

Natural wonders like waterfalls, canyons, lakes and more
Natural wonders like waterfalls, canyons, lakes and more

Many visitors who come to Iceland are eager to witness the country's natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes. From waterfalls, hot springs, and lava to black sand beaches, basalt columns, icebergs, glaciers, canyons, mountains, fjords, charming towns, and even volcanic eruptions - Iceland has it all. However, for those who are unfamiliar with the island, it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to plan a trip that covers all the must-see places. This article aims to help you optimize your itinerary and reach your destination as quickly as possible.


There are many stunning places to visit in Iceland
There are many stunning places to visit in Iceland

One of the best ways to explore Iceland is by renting a car and driving on the Ring Road. This will give you the flexibility and freedom to control your time, allowing you to make the most of your travel experience. It is especially helpful for photographers who want to capture the essence of this unique volcanic island. Alternatively, you can hire a private local driver guide who will provide you with a vehicle and a wealth of information about the country's history, culture, and geology. This will enhance your experience, and you will be amazed at how much you can learn about this small but remarkable island.


Starting the Ring Road in Reykjavík


Reykjavík is a wonderful small city and has a lot to offer
Reykjavík is a wonderful small city and has a lot to offer and is a great starting point for the Ring Road

I recommend starting your road trip in Reykjavík and drive east by the south shore, counterclockwise. When you start in Reykjavík, you drive the famous south coast, which is also one of the most popular day tours from Reykjavik, but instead of coming back to the city, you continue your drive towards the fjords in the east. You spend two days enjoying the magnificent landscape, waterfalls, and icebergs on the south shore all the way to the southeast town of Höfn í Hornarfirði.


From Höfn, you head to the magnificent East fjords or Austfirðir for a spectacular scenic drive. After spending two days driving the scenic fjords and visiting waterfalls, towns and villages, and natural wonders in the eastern and northeast Regions, you drive through the beautiful Northern Region, visiting many interesting places and heading to the historically rich West Region. Your last stop is the tiny museum of Snorri Sturluson, the most interesting individual who has lived in Iceland and then back to Reykjavík. It is a convenient drive in the summer months and a drive on an asphalt road. A drive that will take you to most types of the natural wonders in Iceland that people find interesting and rarely see in other countries.

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The day I discovered and photograped Stuðlagil in 2016 and made it world famous
The day I discovered and photograped Stuðlagil in 2016 and made it world famous

Accommodation, cell phone connection, fuel, charging, and practical things

 All the towns and villages by the ring road also have swimming pools, small convenient stores, and a gas station.
All the towns and villages by the ring road also have swimming pools, small convenient stores, and a gas station.

The Ring Road is a popular route in Iceland that offers various options for accommodations, ranging from luxurious hotels and quality guest houses to simple campsites. If you prefer camping, most towns and villages along the way provide excellent campsites, and you can rent a camper or bring your own tent. Additionally, all the towns and villages by the ring road have swimming pools, small convenience stores, and gas stations, making it easier for you to find everything you need.


If you are concerned about safety, you should know that the Ring Road has almost full cellular phone GSM coverage, and it is a commonly used road by Icelanders. Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates of any country, so you can rest assured that you'll be safe while driving on this road.


The drive along the Ring Road offers stunning views of Icelandic landscapes and natural wonders, making it a great opportunity for photography enthusiasts. You're sure to make beautiful memories on this road trip.



Here is what you will see on the Ring Road in Iceland.


  • The first Ring Road day: waterfalls, black sands, moss-covered lava, and ocean stacks

  • The second Ring Road day: icebergs, glaciers and mountains

  • The third Ring Road day: scenic fjords, interesting shoreline, and charming small fishing villages

  • The fourth Ring road day: mighty waterfalls, spectacular basalt column canyon and geothermal activity

  • The sixth Ring Road day: Sea stack, mountain climbing, a museum about the history and beautiful waterfalls


First Ring Road day, the south shore


Map of ring road first day drive in Iceland
Map of ring road first day drive in Iceland

The Southern Region of Iceland is known to have more fascinating places to see and experience than any other part of the country. The drive from Reykjavik to Kirkjubæjarklaustur on the first day is about 260 kilometers or 160 miles. If you decide to take the secondary roads leading to some of the natural wonders that you plan to visit, you can expect to drive around 320 kilometers or 200 miles. This means you'll be driving for approximately four hours. You'll have plenty of time to explore the breathtaking natural wonders. On average, you can spend anywhere from half an hour to two hours at each stop, depending on how much you enjoy the location.


The Lava Center and Hvolsöllur village


The region is full of natural wonders easily accessible from the Ring Road. To begin your journey, visiting the Lava Center in Hvolsvöllur village is recommended. This interactive museum provides an excellent understanding of volcanic activity, earthquakes, eruptions, and the geological factors that have shaped Icelandic landscapes. The center also features a short film about recent eruptions that is worth seeing. A visit to the Lava Center will undoubtedly enhance your tour and understanding of the area's natural wonders.

At Hvolsvöllur village, there are several places where you can buy snacks, soda, coffee, etc. There are also quite a few places where you can find a restroom. In this small village, there are two gas stations and one very good grocery store.


Seljalandsfoss, the waterfall you can walk behind


Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Seljalandsfoss is the first natural wonder you must visit in Iceland. This beautiful waterfall is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, and you can even walk behind it! It's only a half-hour drive from Hvolsvöllur village, and it's close to Eyjafjallajökull, which became famous in 2010 when its eruption stopped all air traffic over the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, Gljúfrabúi, another interesting waterfall, is located just 10 minutes north of Seljalandsfoss. It is a cave-like waterfall that is truly fascinating. Both waterfalls are particularly enjoyable for kids. You can enter by paying a parking fee at Seljalandsfoss. There's a small snack bar, a tiny gift shop, and public toilets available near the parking lot.


The beautiful waterfall Skógafoss


Skógafoss waterfall
Skógafoss waterfall

Less than an hour's drive to the East from Seljalandsfoss lies another famous waterfall named Skógafoss, which is also quite close to the main road. Both waterfalls are major attractions in Iceland, and people love to photograph them for a reason. At Skógafoss, admission is free, and you can choose to walk up approximately 500 steps to view the waterfall from above or stand in front of this magnificent flow of water falling down 60 meters. You can also walk towards this beautiful waterfall and get quite close until you feel the vapor spreading from the fall of the water. If you are a fan of waterfalls, another exciting waterfall named Kvernufoss is only about a 15-minute walk to the East of Skógafoss.

Skógafoss, or the small hamlet Skógar, has restaurants, public restrooms, and a parking lot. Admission is free, but payments are required to use the restrooms.

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The arch Dyrhólaey


Dyrhólaey is a great place to see puffins - in summer
Dyrhólaey is a great place to see puffins - in summer

After driving for about half an hour from Skógafoss, you need to take a right turn onto road number 218, which will lead you to Dyrhólaey. It is a half island and an arch that stretches into the ocean. Dyrhólaey is located in one of the southernmost parts of Iceland. The basalt rocks here have been protecting part of the coastline for thousands of years. It is situated in the middle of two large, black-sand beaches. During summer, it is a great place to catch a glimpse of the puffins up close. There are two parking lots at Dyrhólaey, both of which are interesting to stop by.


The first is on top of the cliff, and the other is by the shoreline. The upper parking lot provides an excellent view of the glacier Mýrdalsjökull towards the west.

The second, the lower parking lot, offers a view of the famous black beach, Reynisfjara. If you park in the upper parking lot, you can get very close to the puffins from June until late August.


Dyrjólaey arch by the ring road in the south region
Dyrjólaey arch by the ring road in the south region

I recommend taking a walk towards the lighthouse on the west part of the cliff to see the beautiful arch. From this point of Dyrhólaey, you can get a unique and spectacular view of the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers. On a clear day, it is one of the most impressive views of Ring Road. You can also continue down the path to the lower level and enjoy another spectacular view towards the east, where you can see the Reynisdrangar sea stacks and Reynisfjara black beach. However, you will need to walk back up to the upper level to get your car. This short hike is very rewarding on a good day.

There is no service at Dyrhólaey, and admission is free. On the lower level is a public toilet with a fee to pay at the entrance.


Reynisfjara black beach and Reynisdrangar by the Ring Road


Reynisfjara black beach is a very popular tourist attraction
Reynisfjara black beach is a very popular tourist attraction

While driving this part of the south shore, you will experience a breath-taking view of the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull from Seljalandsfoss to Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar, which is your next stop. The drive from Dyrhólaey is only about 15 minutes. Reynisdrangar sea stacks are captivating natural wonders and a joy to view. By the foot of the mountain, Reynisfjall stretches almost to the ocean; there is a beautiful formation of basalt columns and magnificent rock formations. The black beach extending west and to your right is a deceiving place. Be aware of the hazardous waves. You must pay attention and read the signs and warnings before entering the beach.

Admission is free, and a café is located by the shoreline. Public toilets are available for a fee at the entrance.


Vík the village


Vík village
Vík village

The next stop on your tour is the small villages of Vík. If you drive to the beach in the village, you can see Reynisdrangar from a different angle. Don't forget to stop by the beautiful church on the hill, which is an iconic spot for Vík and offers great photo opportunities. For your convenience, we recommend driving a little further to the tiny village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur to find hotels, guesthouses, or camping sites.

 

In Vík, you'll find many options, such as cafes, restaurants, tourist shops, a large grocery store, gas stations, and accommodations.



Mýrdalssandur and the lava from the Skaftáreldar eruption


Hjörleifshöfði at Mýrdalssandur
Hjörleifshöfði at Mýrdalssandur

As you drive east from Vík, you will pass through the vast Mýrdalssandur sand plain. This sand plain was formed by the powerful volcano Katla, which is located in the middle of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Katla has a history of erupting every 100 years and most recently erupted in 1918. For this reason, we keep a close eye on Katla as it is expected to erupt at any time.

As you continue along the road, you will come to the first lava from the 1783 eruption at Lakagígar ( click to see my Lakagígar road trip if you want to see a 4X4 Highland road trip), known as Eldhraun. This lava field is one of the largest ever recorded in historical times on Earth. The road runs through the lava field, which is covered with beautiful green moss. Near the junction to Fjaðrárgljúfur, at the end of the lava field, there is a viewing panel where you can stop and view the old moss-covered lava on both sides of the road.


Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon


Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon

Prior to arriving at Kirkjubæjarklaustur, travelers should take a left turn and drive approximately three kilometers, or two miles, to reach Fjaðrárgljúfur. This picturesque canyon features a tranquil stream that runs through its center and affords visitors the opportunity to walk along the convenient path located on its eastern side. After exploring the canyon, we recommend staying overnight in Kirkjubæjarklaustur village, where a variety of accommodations are available, including hotels, guesthouses, and campsites. Additionally, the village offers a selection of fine restaurants, both within the village itself and at nearby hotels.


Second Ring Road day, the southeast


Map of second day Rig Road drive in Iceland
Map of second day Rig Road drive in Iceland

On the second day on the Ring Road, you will drive towards the east on the south shore part of the Ring Road self drive. You will see waterfalls, basalt columns, and even a waterfall falling over a cliff of basalt columns.  You will also see glacier lagoons, icebergs, an ice cap, glacier tongues, and mountains. You are also driving through an agricultural area, and you will see a lot of farms and domestic animals in the field. It is a beautiful scenic drive displaying the many outlet glaciers south of the large icecap Vatnajökull.


A big part of the day is driving south of Vatnajökull Ice cap
A big part of the day is driving south of Vatnajökull Ice cap

Foss á Síðu waterfall and Dverghamrar


Foss á Síðu waterfall and Dverghamrar basalt column lava formation
Foss á Síðu waterfall and Dverghamrar basalt column lava formation

On your second day, you will drive for only 210 kilometers or 130 miles. The natural wonders are mainly by the Ring Road, so accessing them is easy and effortless. Your drive will begin from Kirkjubæjarklaustur, and the first noticeable place you will come across is the small waterfall Foss á Síðu, which is about 10 kilometers or 6 miles east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur town. This beautiful waterfall takes on many forms depending on how much water falls from the small lake Þórutjörn on top of the cliffs and is a great spot to park your car on the left side of the road and take some photographs.


Just a few minutes drive away from the waterfall, you will find a wonderful formation of basalt columns called Dverghamrar, also known as the dwarf cliffs. It's definitely worth making a quick stop to explore this beautiful area. The walk around the small formation of basalt columns is not too long and there is a well-defined path to follow. As you wander around, you can't help but imagine that this is the home of a community of elves. It's a great stop for families with children, as the place has a certain mysterious atmosphere that kids will love. I took my daughters there when they were young and it's a place that they still talk about and remember fondly.


Skaftafell National Park


A view from the road to Skaftafell National Park
A view from the road to Skaftafell National Park

The drive from Dverghamrar to your next destination, Skaftafell, usually takes around an hour. Along the way, you'll be treated to some truly breathtaking landscapes. Before you enter a long stretch of sand known as Skeiðarársandur, make sure to stop at Lómagnúpur, a mountain that stands 688 meters tall (2100 feet) and boasts impressive cliffs at the top. There are plenty of parking spots on the left side of the road around Lómagnúpur, but be careful when parking and ensure you have a good view of the road both in front of and behind you. There are also small ponds and other vegetation around Lómagnúpur, which make for great foreground reflections in photographs.

 

The drive from Lómagnúpur to Skaftafell is equally stunning. Throughout the journey, you'll have Öræfajökull glacier directly ahead of you, as well as the outlet glacier Skeiðarárjökull on your left side. At the top of Öræfajökull, you'll see the peak of Hvannadalshnjúkur, which is the highest mountain in Iceland. Once you reach Skaftafell, you'll need to pay the parking fee in order to gain admission to the park. The park offers a range of services, including toilets, camping facilities, and information about hiking trails.


Svartifoss waterfall


Svartifoss in Winter
Svartifoss in Winter

Upon your arrival at Skaftafell, we highly recommend embarking on a 5.8 km (3.4 miles) hike to Svartifoss waterfall, which is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Iceland. The hiking trail is well-maintained, easy to navigate, and suitable for all skill levels, taking approximately two hours to complete. Along the way, you'll be treated to breathtaking views as the elevation gradually increases by about 300 meters (900 feet) in all directions. Skaftafell serves as a service center for the Vatnajökull National Park and provides several amenities such as a restaurant, a fantastic campsite, and clean restrooms. As you travel east along Ring Road, you'll find another restaurant and a convenience store at Freysnes.


Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue


The magnificent glacier tongue of Svínafellsjökull
The magnificent glacier tongue of Svínafellsjökull

Located a short distance east of Skaftafell is the magnificent glacier tongue of Svínafellsjökull. It is definitely worth a visit as the view from the lagoon by the tongue is magnificent. You can also get close to the icebergs floating on the lagoon. To reach the glacier, take a left turn with a sign close to Freysnes. The parking lot is also a short distance from Ring Road. It takes about an hour to hike to the spectacular sight of Svínafellsjökull from the parking lot. You will walk to the top of the moraine and a magical view to the north will open up.


Jökulsárlón and the wonderlands of glaciers and icebergs


Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

After Skaftafell and Svínafellsjökull, your next destination is one of the most thrilling parts of your journey - Jökulsárlón. The drive should take less than an hour, covering a distance of about 67 kilometers or 42 miles. Jökulsárlón is the highlight of the Ring Road, and I suggest you park at the parking lot on the right side of the bridge. This will give you easy access to the beach. Walking under the bridge takes you to the main area of Jökulsárlón lagoon, where you can witness the constant battle between the tremendous forces of nature. Enormous icebergs fall from Europe's largest glacier and make their way to the ocean, floating through the lagoon. The water that comes from under the glacier pushes them to the coast, and they are then pushed back by the ocean forces of high and low tide to the shoreline.

Playing with small icebergs at Fellsfjara (Diamond Beach)
Playing with small icebergs at Fellsfjara (Diamond Beach) by the Ring Road in Iceland

The icebergs on Fellsfjara Beach (Diamond Beach), south of the lagoon, look like ice sculptures. Being here is like visiting a gallery of Mother Nature's finest works. Plan to spend at least three hours at Jökulsárlón and Fellsfjara beach, and if you take the 30-minute boat trip, a bit more. The boat trip is fascinating, but it doesn't add a lot to the experience. Photographers will find infinite possibilities and motives at this location. You should also walk the shoreline from the service center about 500 meters north. In any case, Jökulsárlón is one of the most interesting stops on the Ring Road and a place to enjoy.


Hoffelsjökull


Hoffellsjökull outlet glacier
Hoffellsjökull outlet glacier

Since this is a day of glaciers and icebergs, a stop is recommended by Hoffelsjökull outlet glacier not far from the town of Höfn, 60 kilometers, 37 miles. The outlet glacier and the glacier tongue are amazing, as well as the whole area south of the glacier and an attraction that is not visited by many people. Today, it is part of the Vatnajökull National Park, and the outlet glacier is retreating a bit faster, and the lagoon in front of the glacier tongue is getting bigger. The signs to on road nr. 1 to Hoffelsjökull are obvious, and the road number is nr. 984.


From Hoffelsjökull, the drive to Höfn takes about half an hour.  There are many accommodation options in Höfn and the rural area around the town. Mostly good-quality hotels and guest houses, as well as a great camping site at Höfn. One of the best in Iceland. It is a great place to overnight, with good-quality restaurants and cafés. It is truly a town worth visiting and a beautiful place to take an evening walk.


Third Ring Road day, the east


Map of third day Rig Road drive in Iceland
Map of third day Rig Road drive in Iceland

On the third day of your Ring Road road trip, as you leave Höfn and head towards the east, you'll be treated to a day full of stunning mountains, picturesque views of the Vatnajökull ice cap, beautiful fjords, and attractive shorelines. The drive ahead is approximately 350 kilometers or 215 miles, but you'll probably take it slow as you'll be driving through a breathtaking landscape. It's important to remember that stopping on the shoulder of the road to take photographs or observe domestic animals grazing in the fields can be hazardous, so please refrain from doing so. During your journey, you'll also get to explore four charming small fishing villages, each with its unique history and character. Before you turn east to enter Ring Road number 1, be sure to take a moment to look towards the west, where you'll witness one of Iceland's most spectacular views. You'll see some stunning outlet glaciers stretching out from the Vatnajökull ice cap, which is a sight to behold on a clear day.


Vestrahorn


Vestrahorn mountain ridge by the Ring Road in east Icealnd
Vestrahorn mountain ridge by the Ring Road in east Icealnd

A short distance from the junction heading east on the Ring Road drive, about 3 kilometers (2 miles), there is a turn to the right to Vestrahorn. It is the name of a beautiful small mountain ridge. The mountains are an inseparable part of the stunning view you have from the town of Höfn, but you are in for a treat by driving to the shore south of the mountain. There is an admission fee or a parking fee that enables you to drive to the beach. There is a great view and a pleasure to visit on that road and the beach.


Eystrahorn and Lónsfjörður


Eystrahorn mountain ridge east of Höfn
Eystrahorn mountain ridge east of Höfn

As you drive towards the east, you will pass through Lónsfjörður Bay and reach the mountain Hvalnesfjall, also known as Eystrahorn. This mountain stands out on the eastern side of Lónsfjörður, just like Vestrahorn on the west side. While driving by the cove, make sure to look back towards the west for a view of Mr. Vestrahorn. You can park your car at Eystrahorn either by the shore or by the lighthouse. I recommend stopping at the lighthouse, where you can walk around the area towards the shoreline and enjoy the beautiful scenery. This is a very photogenic place with a great view towards the cove's lagoon.


While driving in Lónsfjörður, you will see the entrance to Lónsöræfi backland on your left. This is one of the most wonderful places in the Icelandic Highland, but it is also one of the most difficult to travel. It is a hikers' and photographers' paradise, but you cannot drive a car to Lónsöræfi. If you have an extra day or two, there are local companies in Höfn that offer tours to Lónsöræfi during the summer.


Álftafjörður fjord in the east region
Álftafjörður fjord in the east region

The drive from Eystrahorn to Djúpivogur village


While driving past Eystrahorn towards Álftafjörður (Swan fjord), you will come across the majestic mountains and the bay. Álftafjörður fjord is unique among other east fjords as it receives glacial rivers that bring sediment from the glacier, making the bay shallow and perfect for photography. The whole bay and the surrounding area are peaceful and ideal for short walks and stops, just like the next fjord, the small fjord of Hamarsfjörður. When you reach the end of Hamarsfjörður, you'll come across the small village of Djúpivogur.


From Djúpivogur to Reyðarfjörður


Djúpivogur village in the eastfjords in Iceland ring road drive
Djúpivogur village in the eastfjords in Iceland ring road drive

Djúpivogur is one of four small villages and towns I recommend for this part of your Ring Road trip to Iceland. Djúpivogur is interesting because of its historical depth as a trading post and a fishing community. Here you can stop by the harbor and also drive to the beach east of the village. Because of the beautiful mountain towering over the village, the placement of Djúpivogur village is often defined as one of the most beautiful in Iceland. Here you also find restaurants and café.

Nykurhylsfoss waterfall by the ring road in east Iceland
Nykurhylsfoss waterfall by the ring road in east Iceland

The drive from Djúpivogur through Berufjörður fjord is a typical Icelandic "in and out" fjord drive. When you look across the fjord, the distance to the other side is only 4 kilometers or about 2.5 miles. The drive to the innermost part of the fjord and back on the other side is 35 kilometers or 22 miles. Fortunately, it is a scenic drive, and you must remember to drive rather slowly and stop where permitted to look at the view, the shoreline, and the mountains. After driving 14 kilometers distance from Djúpivogur, you come to a beautiful waterfall, Nykurhylsfoss. Most of the rivers you have driven by until now are either dirty glacial rivers or runoff rivers; this waterfall, on the other hand, comes from a spring-fed river. So, the water is clear and clean and comes from the valley called Fossárdalur, west of the waterfall. This is a great place to stop. You take a left turn and up the small slope, where you find a parking lot. is the fjord Berufjörður, and before you reach the bottom of the fjord, you will find the waterfall Nykurhylsfoss. The waterfall is part of the beautiful spring-fed river Fossá, which comes from the Fossárdalur valley.


Blábjörg cliffs
Blábjörg cliffs

From Nykurhylsfoss waterfall, you drive to the small and beautiful village of Fáskrúðsfjörður. A short distance from the waterfall before you leave Berufjörður, you should stop at Blábjörg, which is geologically one of the oldest parts of Iceland. There is a good parking lot on your right side and short walking trails around the cliffs. Another interesting spot to stop by and explore the shoreline is to stop at Streitishvarf lighthouse on the tip of the peninsula between Berufjörður fjord and Breiðdalsvík Bay. Here, the Ring Road takes you onward through the small fjord of Stöðvarfjörður and Breiðdalsvík Bay. On the north side of Stöðvarfjörður fjord, there is a small village with the same name. If you are interested in rocks, stones, and geology, Petra's Stone Collection is a small museum in that village.  It is a museum worth stopping at, especially for families with children. From Stöðvarfjörður to Fáskrúðsfjörður is approximately 30 kilometers, and on the way, you see an island outside the east coast, Skrúður, and beautiful mountains while driving the lovely fjord.


Fáskrúðsfjörður and Reyðarfjörður


The old french hospital at Fáskrúðsfjörur village - now a beautiful hotel
The old french hospital at Fáskrúðsfjörur village - now a beautiful hotel

The second village that I suggest visiting is Fáskrúðsfjörður. It is an interesting fishing village that has survived many changes throughout its history. Today, it has a solid economic foundation and a highly modern fishing industry. One of its most interesting chapters is the French connection and the French fishing activities during the 19th century. To explore the village, I suggest parking your car near the old hospital, which is now a hotel, and taking a walk around the old part of the village.


The old small fishing village of Reyðarfjörður has changed a lot in recent years
The old small fishing village of Reyðarfjörður has changed a lot in recent years

After visiting Fáskrúðsfjörður, you can continue your journey by driving through the tunnel Fáskrúðsfjarðargöng on road number 1 to the third village I recommend stopping at, Reyðarfjörður. Although it is also a small and old fishing village, there is a significant difference between Reyðarfjörður and Fáskrúðsfjörður. Around the turn of the century, a large aluminum smelter was built in Reyðarfjörður, which transformed the village from a fishing village to a more versatile economic base. Today, much of the development in recent decades is connected to the huge factory. I also recommend taking a short walk around the town center at Reyðarfjörður. It is more like a modern-day village than an old fishing village. Additionally, Reyðarfjörður has excellent restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and a grocery store.



Klifbrekkufossar in Mjóifjörður fjord and Seyðisfjörður village


Klifbrekkufossar waterfall in Mjóifjörður fjord
Klifbrekkufossar waterfall in Mjóifjörður fjord

To reach Egilsstaðir for accommodations from Reyðarfjörður, you drive through the valley of Fagridalur. This is a great starting point for the next day and an excellent opportunity to take a short evening drive to the beautiful town of Seyðisfjörður, which is our fourth recommendation for a town to visit.


While driving from Reyðarfjörður, a few kilometers before reaching Egilsstaðir, I recommend that you turn east on road number 953, Mjóafjarðarvegur, from Road number 1. Please note that this route is only available during summer as road number 953 is closed during winter. This road will take you to Mjóifjörður fjord, and you will cross a high mountain pass, Mjóafjarðarheiði. Once you arrive on the other side of the mountain pass and at the innermost part of the fjord, you will find one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Klifbrekkufossar.


The beautiful small town of Seyðisfjörður
The beautiful small town of Seyðisfjörður

If you have the time, you might want to drive to the village or hamlet, which is one of the smallest and most isolated in Iceland, located only a few kilometers from the waterfalls. The drive to Mjóifjörður fjord takes some time, but the main goal of this drive is to see and experience the mighty Klifbrekkufossar, a natural wonder that you will probably have by yourself.

The fourth Ring Road day, the northeast


Map of fourth day Rig Road drive in Iceland
Map of fourth day Rig Road drive in Iceland

The distance from Egilsstaðir to Mývatn Lake is around 160 kilometers or 100 miles. However, unlike the first three days of your trip, the most interesting places in the northeast region of Iceland are not located on the Ring Road. You will have to drive a bit to reach them. By the end of the day, you will have driven approximately 400 kilometers or 250 miles, including the recommended loops. Nonetheless, this part of the Ring Road is fascinating, and you're sure to enjoy it.


The puffins at Borgarfjörður Eystri

 

Puffin viewing at Borgarfjörður Eystri in Iceland
Puffin viewing at Borgarfjörður Eystri in Iceland

There is a widespread interest in puffins among tourists, and it's not hard to see why. Puffins are beautiful, likable, and not particularly intimidated by humans. Visitors can get up close to these charming birds and snap some great photos. Sometimes, the puffins even seem to pose and express happiness when they get a lot of attention. While there are many places to view puffins, few can beat the harbor area at Borgarfjörður Eystri, also known as Bakkagerði. That's why I suggest starting your fourth day of exploration in this small hamlet. It's a 70-kilometer drive, 44 miles, on road number 94 from Egilsstaðir and will take approximately 4 hours round trip. The drive is scenic through the east fjords, with stunning views of the Dyrfjöll mountains and a breathtaking mountain pass.


Stuðlagil canyon


Stuðlagil canyon is one of the most interesting basalt column places you can find on the planet
Stuðlagil canyon is one of the most interesting basalt column places you can find on the planet

When you return to Egilsstaðir, you will be back on the Ring Road. Your first stop should be at Stuðlagil basalt column canyon and Stuðlafoss waterfall. The basalt columns in the canyon are stunning and one of the largest in Iceland. The river that runs through the canyon is the famous Jökla river. Interestingly, when I visited Stuðlagil in 2016, hardly anyone had visited the place. After taking and displaying photos of the canyon on my website and in magazines, it became one of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations. This was confirmed in research published by the Iceland Tourist Board.

Stuðlafoss waterfall close to Stuðlagil canyon
Stuðlafoss waterfall close to Stuðlagil canyon

To reach the parking lot by the farm Klaustursel, you need to drive approximately 16 kilometers (9 miles) south on road number 923. There are two parking lots, one by the farm and a smaller one close to Stuðlafoss waterfall. The hike to Stuðlagil Canyon takes about 30 minutes. Make sure to hike to the canyon on the east side, as it is much more interesting than the west side near the farm Grund, which offers a limited view of the most spectacular parts of the canyon.

 

I am particularly fond of Stuðlagil since I discovered it in 2016, gave it a name, and turned it into one of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations, as you can read here.

 

The drive through Möðrudalsöræfi

When you continue on road number 1 after visiting Stuðlagil, you will enter the section of the Ring Road that is commonly referred to as Möðrudalsöræfi. On this part of the road, you will experience elevation changes of up to approximately 600 meters, which is almost 2000 feet. Due to this, it can be challenging to drive on this section of the Ring Road outside of the summer months. If you plan to drive between October and April, it is essential to keep in mind and check both the weather and road conditions before starting your journey.

Möðrudalsöræfi and this region of the Ring Road are the most isolated, with only a handful of farms and a few inhabitants. It is practically a cold desert and part of the Highland, unlike the fjords in the east and the vegetation-rich south. The area is bare, dry, and covered with sand and ash. It is a fascinating landscape but also a unique driving experience.

Ring Road Iceland Möðrudalsöræfi and Herðubreið
Ring Road Iceland Möðrudalsöræfi and Herðubreið

While driving on this section of the Ring Road, you will enjoy an excellent view to the south towards Herðubreið, the queen of the Icelandic mountains, and the northern part of the Highland. Not far from Herðubreið is the area where Iceland erupted from August 2014 to February 2015, creating the massive lava field Holuhraun.


Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss, Selfoss and Jökulsárgljúfur


Jökulsárgljúfur canyon in Iceland
Jökulsárgljúfur canyon in Iceland

Once you reach the bridge that crosses the Glacier River in the Mountains, also known as Jökulsá á fjöllum, I strongly recommend taking a turn on road number 864. This will allow you to witness the stunning Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, Dettifoss waterfall, Selfoss waterfall, and Hafragilsfoss waterfall. Dettifoss is not only the most powerful waterfall in Iceland but also in Europe. On the other hand, Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon is one of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the island.


Dettifoss waterfall a spectacular view from the east side
Dettifoss waterfall a spectacular view from the east side

The primary route to Dettifoss Waterfall is on the west side, via road number 862, and the main tourist parking lot is located on that side. However, I recommend viewing all these scenic spots from the east side, via road number 864 (see map), as the view from this side is much more exhilarating and breathtaking. The west side is often crowded with buses and mass tourism, but on the east side, you can enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere and see more.

 

Hafragilsfoss waterfall in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon
Hafragilsfoss waterfall in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon

On the east side, you can benefit from the advantage of being on your own schedule in a rental car. Please note that the road on the east side is a gravel road and not as well-maintained as the asphalt road on the west side and may be a bit bumpy to drive, but it is only about 33 kilometers or 20 miles long. When you reach the signpost to the parking lot for Dettifoss on Road number 864, drive a few hundred meters further and turn by the sign to the parking lot at Hafragilsfoss waterfall. From the viewpoint by that waterfall, you will get a spectacular perspective of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon to the north and the Hafragilsfoss waterfall to the south. This view is outstanding compared to the west side.

 


Selfoss waterfall in Jökulsá á Fjöllum Iceland Ring Road Drive
Selfoss waterfall in Jökulsá á Fjöllum

After enjoying the view, drive back to the sign by Dettifoss, turn to the parking lot, and park the car. There is a short hike to the most spectacular waterfall in Europe. A bit farther south, you can walk to the beautiful Selfoss waterfall. To visit all three waterfalls, the view, the foreground, and the background are much better and more attractive on the east side. You then take the same road back, number 864, to road number 1.


The Námaskarð and Mývatn


Námaskarð
Námaskarð geothermal area

After visiting the stunning waterfalls and Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, you will continue driving towards Námaskarð while heading west on Road number 1. Námaskarð, also known as Hverarönd, is an intriguing and beautiful geothermal location with hot springs, mud pots, and geothermal activity. Here, you will witness some of the forces coming from the ground that shape the surrounding landscapes. As you drive from Dettifoss, you will come across an area with lava on both sides. This is because you are now near the northern part of the rift zone, where active volcanoes exist, unlike the east fjords, which are all old geologically. A stop at Námaskarð is a must, and you should walk the paths to get a good view and proximity of the geothermal activity.


From Námaskarð, it's just a short distance to Lake Mývatn. Before you check into your hotel or park at the camping site, you should also enjoy the Mývatn Nature Baths, which are similar to the Blue Lagoon but with a spectacular view from the pool while you are in the warm water and steam. There are many hotels and camping grounds available at Mývatn in the small hamlet of Reykjahlíð and the surrounding area.


The fifth Ring Road day, the northwest


Map of day five at ring rod tour in Iceland
Map of day five at ring rod tour in Iceland

On the fifth day, you drive from Mývatn Lake to the small town of Blönduós. You stop at a mysterious lava field, pseudo-craters, and two interesting waterfalls. You also visit the beautiful town of Akureyri and dip into a geothermal pool named after a notorious Viking. The drive is about 250 kilometers, 155 miles.


Dimmuborgir and Skútustaðir pseudo craters


Your first task on your fifth day is to explore the Mývatn Lake area a bit further before you leave. To start off, you can visit Dimmuborgir. Instead of taking road number 1 from Reykjahlíð, you should drive to the south on road number 848. Soon, you will see the sign for Dimmuborgir and the parking lot on your left side. There is a service center by the parking lot, and from there, you can choose different paths through the Dimmuborgir lava field. The paths display magnificent lava sculptures that Mother Nature formed in an eruption.


Dimmuborgir lava
Dimmuborgir lava - Ring Road tour in Iceland

Once you have finished the Dimmuborgir trail, you can continue on road number 848 to the south. After a short drive, you should stop at Skútustaðir tiny hamlet and walk the path to the Skútustaðir pseudo craters. The paths offer an interesting view of the craters and a good view of the lake and birdlife.


Goðafoss waterfall waterfall


Goðafoss waterfall
Goðafoss waterfall

Continuing on road number 848 to the west, you soon merge into road number 1, the Ring Road. Your next stop is by the waterfall Goðafoss, one of Iceland's most famous waterfalls. You stop by the service center and walk the path toward the waterfall. There are options here to view Goðafoss from both sides and a walking bridge to cross.



Aldeyjarfoss waterfall


Aldreyjarfoss is part of my Ring Road drive in Iceland
Aldreyjarfoss is part of my Ring Road drive in Iceland

After visiting Goðafoss, take a left turn towards the south on Road number 1 and drive Road number 842, which will take you through the long Bárðadalur valley. This scenic drive of about 40 kilometers (24 miles) will lead you to another stunning waterfall, Aldeyjarfoss. This waterfall is located on the edge of the Highland and is known for its interesting basalt columns.


Akureyri, the largest town in the northern region in Iceland


Akureyri town in the North East Region in Iceland
Akureyri town in the North East Region in Iceland

From Aldeyjarfoss and Goðafoss, continue driving towards the beautiful and charming town of Akureyri. The town center is a joy to visit, and a must-see attraction is the towering church accessible by stairs. Take your time to explore the town and visit the Akureyri Botanical Garden. Akureyri is often referred to as the "Danish town in Iceland" due to its interesting history and unique architecture. The town center is home to many old and fascinating houses that are worth exploring.


Grettislaug Natural Geothermal Pool


Grettislaug pool
Grettislaug pool

From Akureyri, a stopover of at least 4 hours is recommended for visiting the Grettislaug geothermal pool. The pool, named after Grettir the Strong, is a natural outdoor pool. To get there:

1. Take a turn onto road number 75 from road number 1 at Varmahlíð small hamlet.

2. From there, drive to Sauðárkrókur town, which is a good place for a café stop.

3. Drive on Road number 744 for a short while and then turn north on Road number 748 to reach Grettislaug.


Grettislaug is a great place to relax and dip in the stunning natural pools while enjoying the breathtaking view of Drangey Island and the surrounding mountains. The drive from Akureyri to Grettislaug is 133 kilometers or 82 miles. After your Grettislaug visit, you can turn back on Road number 744 and head west on Road number 748 to reach Blönduós village.


The sixth Ring Road day, the west


Map of Ring Road in Iceland Day six
Map of Ring Road in Iceland Day six

On the sixth Ring Road Day in Iceland, you will see an interesting sea stack, do some "mountain climbing,” and learn about our history. The drive is about 360 kilometers, 223 miles.


Hvítserkur


Hvítserkur
Hvítserkur

When you drive from the town of Blönduós on Road nr. 1 in the Northwest part, you should take the time to visit Hvítserkur. You take the Road Nr. 711 Vatnsnesvegur to the north from Road Nr. 1. Hvítserkur is a magnificent sea stack and a lot of fun to visit.


Mt. Grábrók


Mt. Grábrók
Mt. Grábrók

From here, you have approximately a two-hour drive ahead as you continue on road number 1, heading south through the Hrútafjörður fjord and up to the Holtavörðuheiði mountain pass. This is quite a scenic drive, as the view is wonderful in all directions throughout the drive. Coming down from the mountain pass, you will drive through the beautiful Norðurárdalur valley, with one of our most famous salmon rivers on your left side. As you continue on the Ring Road, we recommend that you stop and climb the small mountain Grábrók. It is a tiny mountain, or a crater, with a convenient track to the top. At the top, you will have an excellent view of the nearby mountains, lava, and the renowned salmon river Norðurá.


A small museum about Snorri Sturluson and history


Snorralaug
Snorralaug is the spa Snorri dipt into in the evening

After you have climbed Grábrók, you can continue south on the Ring Road until you reach the junction of road number 50. Turn left and head towards road number 518, which will take you to the Snorrastofa Museum located by the church in the tiny hamlet of Reykholt. This museum is dedicated to Snorri Sturluson and is an excellent place to improve your knowledge about Iceland and learn about the Sagas and our literary heritage. Snorri Sturluson was a writer, poet, politician, and historian who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries and is probably one of the most interesting people in the history of Iceland. Although small, the museum provides a good overview of our remarkable Sagas and how they came about. Snorri's writing has inspired many writers and artists throughout the centuries.


Hraufossar


Hraunfossar waterfalls
Hraunfossar waterfalls

If you follow our recommendations, the last waterfall you will see is Hraunfossar. These waterfalls are unique as the clean spring-fed water comes from below the lava, making it a beautiful sight to see. Along with Hraunfossar, you will also witness the lovely Barnafossar rapids in the Hvítá River, and taking a walk around the area is a good idea to enjoy the striking scenery.


Deildatunguhver and Krauma spa


A great way to end the Ring Road drive in Iceland is to dip into the water at Krauma Spa
A great way to end the Ring Road drive in Iceland is to dip into the water at Krauma Spa

After leaving Hraunfossar on road 518, head towards the Ring Road on road number 50. Along the way, make sure to stop at Deildatunguhver Hot Springs, which has been delivering clean and boiling water from the ground since the settlement era. You can also take a relaxing dip in the water and enjoy the steam at Krauma Spa. Krauma is an excellent place to unwind after your tour, and you can even enjoy dinner at their fine restaurant before continuing your drive to Reykjavík.


From Hraunfossar, you drive to Reykjavík the capital of Iceland


This six-day journey should give you a good idea of what Iceland is all about and take you to some of the most interesting places in the country. You have seen many waterfalls, glaciers, icebergs, canyons, basalt columns, mountains, fjords, and geothermal areas. You have also seen many towns and villages and learned about our literary heritage and history. The best way to travel is to rent a car and find accommodations at a hotel, a guesthouse, or one of the many fabulous camping sites located almost everywhere in Iceland. This will give you flexibility and enjoyment and ensure that you get the most out of your trip to Iceland. Again, I recommend the best time for this trip to Iceland from the middle of May to the end of September.


If you want to take a private tour with a local guide and a driver, you can always contact me and check if this is something that would be convenient for you.

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