Driving Iceland’s Ring Road
After traveling Iceland extensively I can with out a doubt tell you the best way to experience this stunning nation is to drive what is referred to as the “Loop”. Iceland’s #1 highway slowly takes you through desolate lave fields, across epic fjords, past timeless landscapes, quaint villages and lets you experience Iceland at its own pace. Driving Iceland’s Ring Road also provides ample opportunities to make detours into the dramatic Westfjords, wild Snæfellsnes Peninsula and plenty more. Follow this guide to get the best out of Iceland’s Loop!
Iceland’s Capital Reykjavik, Start of Iceland’s Ring Road
All self driving tours around Iceland begin and end in the countries capital city, Reykjavik. Reykjavik has a funky hipster vibe and is where you will find some of the best art, food, pubs and museums. In the past you had to rent your car in Reykjavik itself, but it’s now possible to rent directly from Keflavik International Airport eliminating the costs of taking the bus.
I highly encourage you to spend a few days in Reykjavik to prepare for the Loop. Start on foot exploring the downtown, climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church, get a history dose at the National Museum of Iceland, see Iceland’s modern architecture at Harpa and check out the cities insanely cool street art.
When you have had enough of sightseeing dip into a few pubs and try some of Iceland’s amazing beer or sample a few Icelandic style meals at one of the downtowns amazing restaurants.
The Golden Circle
With its proximity to Reykjavik, Iceland’s Golden Circle is the most popular place for day-trippers. Even though the crowds can be overwhelming at times it’s for a good reason, The Golden Circle has a plethora of unique sights all concentrated in an area that you can cover in a day or two.
Staring in Þingvellir National Park for its natural beauty, waterfalls and preserved Viking community then move on to the roaring Gulfoss Waterfall and the Geysir. On way you will see plenty of Icelandic Horse farms, where the ponies galloping across rugged lava fields all while dramatic moss covered hills as a backdrop, its one beautiful place.
The Golden Circle has many guesthouses as well, where you can live the Icelandic farmer life!
Top Things to Do on Iceland’s Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir, Kerið Crater
Iceland’s South Coast
This is easily one of my favourite parts of Iceland. Here epic volcanoes have shaped the landscapes into a fairy-tale like scene. You could easily spend weeks along Iceland’s South Coast slowly taking in a destination unlike anywhere on the planet.
The waterfall of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are quite possible Iceland’s most dramatic. The coast is covered with climactic cliffs and black lava sand beaches. Entering Vatnajökull National Park you can ride snowmobiles up volcanoes, seek out emerald blue ice caves amongst the glaciers and zip in between icebergs in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The South Coast is Iceland at its best!
Top Things to Do in Iceland’s South Coast: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Dyrhólaey, Eldhraun Lava Field, Fjaðárgljúfur Canyon, Vatnajökull National Park, Svartifoss Waterfall, Svínafellsjökull Glacier, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Remote East Iceland
By this point you feel as if you have crossed several countries as the landscapes of changed so many times. Saying goodbye to Iceland’s South Coast may be difficult, but continue on and you will discover one of Iceland’s’ least visited and most incredible regions, Iceland’s East.
The Mountains of the South Coast gradually get larger and more inhospitable as you enter the East. Driving the East fjords it’s hard to focus on driving as the scenery gets phenomenal. Many of the sleepy fishing towns here have only recently been connected by road to the rest of Iceland.
My most memorable experiences in the East were watching the sunset of the rugged mountain peaks of Vestrahorn, dining on Christmas Lamp in Hofn, stepping back in time at the Vestrahorn Viking Village and taking the detour to the rainbow road village of Seyðisfjörður. This is a remote corner of Iceland that will take you well off of the beaten track!
Top Things to Do in East Iceland: Höfn, Fáskrúðsfjörður, Seyðisfjörður, Egilsstaðir, Vestrahorn, Vestrahorn Viking Village
North Iceland Across Iceland’s Ring Road
Leaving Iceland’s East Coast you climb high into the highlands entering the lunar like landscapes of the North. Much folklore lies within the deep black lakes of Mývatn which is said to be home to a giant worm like monster! This region is highly volcanic and many regions you can find steam vents. The Námafjall Geothermal Area is a fascinating example of this with massive steam vents, yellow tinged sulphuric pools and multi colored earth. Goðafoss is also worth a stop if you are not tired of waterfalls yet!
Continue further to the coast and you will find the city of Akureyri. This is the place in Northern Iceland to board a boat and whale watch. It’s an exhilarating experience in which you can get so close you can almost touch the whales.
Near to Akureyri there are many home stays. They are a way to learn more about the people who call this region of Iceland home and if you’re lucky they will cook you some delicious Icelandic meals!
Top Things to Do in North Iceland: Dettifoss Waterfall, Ásbyrgi Canyon, Húsavík, Lake Mývatn, Skútustaðir Pseudo Craters, Dimmuborgir, Goðafoss, Akureyri Botanical Garden, Akureyrarkirkja Church, Akureyri, Námafjall geothermal area
Detour to Iceland’s Westfjords
This detour is relatively new to the Classic Loop itineraries and your chance to really get off the beaten track into the wilds of Iceland. Be prepared as this region is very remote, the tourism infrastructure is lacking and the roads are terrible, but it’s quite possibly Iceland’s last true great adventure!
Nature and remoteness is the main reason to come to Iceland’s Westfjord region, but there is many cultural sights like the Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft Museum or the Icelandic Monster Museum where the old timers will sweat on their lives of the monsters they have seen. Brave the rough dirt roads and you will find plenty of surprises, my favourite was the abandoned herring factory in which you can explore some incredible history.
It’s not uncommon to see wildlife in the Westfjords, Seals and Arctic fox’s are just some to name! This is the region you want to get lost in and do plan on extending your time as the Westfjords are very addictive.
Top Things to Do in Iceland’s West Fjord: Dynjandi Waterfall, Látrabjarg Cliff, Hrafnseyri, Patreksfjörður, Skrímslasetrið – The Monster Museum, The Arctic Fox Center, Abandoned Herring Factory
Snæfellsnes Peninsula Along Iceland’s Ring Road
Locals refer to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula as “Little Iceland”. This is because almost everything that makes Iceland amazing can be found within this small region. Dramatic Mountains, rugged coastlines, but for me what is truly amazing here is the cultural sights.
The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum is the last place in Iceland where the traditional fermented Greenland Shark dish can be found known as Hakarl. Sampling this delicacy might not be the most appealing thing to do, but you are given the option to wash it down with an alcoholic beverage known as the Black Death… mmmm yum.
Kirkjufell Mountain in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is another iconic sight most travellers have seen on Icelandic tourism advertisements. This pointed mountain with its cascading waterfall seems to be the scene of a fairy tale. I highly recommend revisiting this place at multiple times of day to really see the magic happen when the light changes.
Top Things to Do in Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula: Búðakirkja Church, Kirkjufell Mountain, Snæfellsjökull Glacier, Arnarstapi, Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum