A few months ago, I embarked on an 8-day road trip around all of Iceland. While 8 days does little justice to the natural wonders Iceland has to offer roadtrippers, it’s sufficient time to get a good feel for this incredible country.
The scenery from the Ring Road is enough to entertain, but there’s plenty worth stopping off to see as well. Definitely make the effort to check out a waterfall, go for a quick hike, or take a dip in a natural hot pool along the way (just make sure you dress appropriately for Iceland!).
I’ve handpicked my Top 10 favorite stops to make on an Iceland road trip below. Immerse yourself in the landscapes you’ve seen from inside the car and check these spots out!
Clockwise around the Ring Road, from Reykjavik:
I have to give Lonely Planet credit for this one. We were looking for something to break up the lengthy drive from Reykjavik to the Westfjords, and a stop to sample some of that legendary Icelandic ice cream seemed like a good idea. This dairy farm specializes in homemade ice cream, but also sells local goods and offers tours of the grounds. Our one-track minds went for the ice cream and were subsequently blown by it. Try the vanilla or the coconut!
Location: Rte 60 between Búðardalur and the Ring Road.
One of my favorite moments in Iceland happened in Drangsnes. I dare you to find a more satisfying travel experience than relaxing in a natural hot tub nestled into the Icelandic coast, swapping stories with the locals. Best of all, this town is so tiny and so off the grid that it is zero parts touristic. If your schedule permits, definitely try to get up to these hot pots in the Westfjords!
Location: Westfjords, on Rte 645.
There are about 80 kerjillion waterfalls in Iceland, but I’d peg Godafoss as one of the best value falls in the country: i.e. one of the biggest, most impressive falls that happens to take very little effort to get to. Not too long after passing through Akureyri, the Ring Road will lead you right to the falls. There’s a path on either side of the river that you can amble down to get a close-up from above, but it’s far more thrilling to follow the track on the left side that leads right down to the water. You’ll get soaked with mist in this front row seat, so mind your camera equipment and put on your rain gear!
We camped right by where we’d parked our car, outside Fosshóll Guesthouse ($10/night per person), and fell asleep to the sound of the roaring falls. They also have an excellent restaurant, where I splurged and enjoyed one of the few proper meals I had my entire two weeks in Iceland: lamb soup. Worth it!
Location: Ring Road, about a 53km drive east from Akureyri.
4. Viti Crater
The whole area around Myvatn and Hverir is full of geothermal and volcanic goodness – it’s well worth dedicating at least a day of exploration to this region. But the real stunner is Viti Crater, a bright blue crater lake about 300m in diameter, nestled on the slopes of Krafla volcano. Whatever you do, make sure you battle the winds and trudge up the slope to the top of the hill for a most excellent view. I guarantee you’ll have a *How does this even exist?!* moment.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, you can actually swim in this geothermal lake! You’d have to hike down a very steep and slippery hill and then back up, but I reckon it’d be well worth it.
Location: About a 20 minute drive from Myvatn, look for signs for Krafla on the north side of the Ring Road and follow the access road in. The parking lot for the crater is at the end.
Iceland’s famous glacier lagoon is terribly touristy, as evidenced by the loads of tour buses parked beside it and visitors taking selfies by massive chunks of ice. If you can get past that, Jökulsárlón is well worth a stop – because really, how often do you get to see icebergs?
To flee the crowd, head across the street to the black sand beach and check out the ice chunks that have washed up on shore. It’s on a much smaller scale than at Jökulsárlón proper, but still very cool to see.
Location: Ring Road, between Höfn and Skaftafell.
Svartifoss is renowned for its backdrop of dark hexagonal basalt columns. I guarantee you’ve seen pictures of this beauty if you’ve done any research at all on Iceland. It requires a steady uphill climb from the campground at Skaftafell, but like most all other natural wonders in Iceland: it’s worth it. Once you’re there, be sure to climb up the rocks on the right side for a higher vantage point; then, stare at those columns until you’re speechless with appreciation.
Location: About 1.5km or an hour’s hike from the info center at Vatnajökull National Park (Skaftafell).
File this under Really Cool Things: a massive canyon 100m deep, covered in bright green moss. I highly recommend inching close to the edge until you feel compelled to yell “Holy sh-tballs!” down into the canyon. It’s a little unnerving, but a lotta amazing. GO HERE.
Location: Nearly halfway between Vik and Skaftafell (about an hour’s drive from each), near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur you’ll turn north off the Ring Road and follow the road down for about 3km.
I’d heard about this seaside cliff via another travel blogger and, upon seeing images that promised some serious frolicking amidst green hills, it catapulted to the near-top of my Iceland to-do list.
The super-steep 220m climb is daunting, but once you’re up there the rest of the hike is on mostly level ground. You’ll have to hike up a bit more to get to the viking tomb, but it’s well worth the effort for the view it yields. You’ll be surrounded by green hills intersecting with the black sand and blue water below – a scene I still have imprinted in my mind. And, the typical icing on my travel experience cake: we were the only ones there. GLORIOUS.
Location: About 10 minutes east of Vik, you’ll see a massive headland leading toward the sea. Look out for a sign for Hjörleifshöfði on the south side of the Ring Road, on the west side of the mountain. Drive down this road, and near the middle of the headland will be a turnoff toward it where you can park and start the hike up. The loop starts and ends here.
Basically synonymous with an Icelandic black sand beach, Reynisfjara lives up to its hype. No, you won’t have it to yourself, but do wait your turn to climb up the hexagonal basalt columns because it’s SO MUCH FUN!
The beach itself is gorgeous, with a basalt column cave on shore and a few basalt sea stacks just offshore. In the other direction sits Dyrholaey, another headland (similar to Hjörleifshöfði) in the distance. I recommend hitting Reynisfjara late in the day: when the golden light hits the basalt cave, and the sun starts going own over Dyrholaey.
Location: About 5 minutes west of Vik, turn south off the Ring Road onto Rte 215 and follow it to the beach.
10. Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring
I’ve already sung praises for this hot river, so I won’t rehash Hrunalaug here. I love it because it’s one of the few totally natural hot pools in Iceland – i.e. it’s naturally heated, AND it wasn’t manmade. You’re literally sitting in the river, and it’s fantastic.
Location: Rte 344 will take you to Hruni. As you enter town, there should be a small hand-painted sign for the hot spring. Just a bit further you’ll take a right, then find a little parking lot a minute later on the left. An easy walk over a hill will get you to the hot spring in about 5 minutes.
PS – Check out these related posts on the Iceland road trip:
- Hot Pool Hopping in the Iceland Wild
- Scenes From The Road in Iceland
- My 13 Favorite Moments In Iceland
PPS – Check out Cozy Campers if you’re looking to hire a campervan in Iceland!