Photo: Chris Burkard
Driving around Iceland feels more like a rover-ride on a different planet than a different country, and as a rule of thumb, the further you get from Reykjavik, the better Iceland’s offerings become.
The Ring Road is a windy two-lane road circumnavigates the entire island, and since Iceland’s attractions are based predominantly around its perimeter, (that is, unless you’re ready for the Highlands, which you aren’t), the Ring Road becomes a perfect round trip itinerary for checking off some of Iceland’s coolest stops.
Starting in Reykjavik, begin by heading southeast to Vík, where you’ll find epic waterfalls, black sand beaches, abandoned plane wrecks, natural hot springs, and herds of wild horses. From there, move east to Höfn for a glacier trek and an afternoon with the bobbing icebergs at Jökulsárlón’s lagoon of crystalline glacial runoff. Next, head north to Akureyri for a glimpse of the northern lights, with pit stops along the way at the Myvatn Nature Baths, and Góðafoss (the “Waterfall of the Gods”). Heading west from Akureyri, don’t miss the grass — roofed houses at Glaumbær on your way to the Westfjords, where you can climb around on beached oil tankers in Patreksfjörður or play with Iceland’s only native land mammal at the Arctic Fox Centre. Finally, take a drive around the bony Snæfellsnes peninsula and visit the fantastical Kirkjufellfoss or the iconic Búðir Black Church. From there, it’s only a short drive to Reykjavik.
Things to note
Driving the Ring Road is definitively best in the summer, as the days are literally never — ending and the driving conditions are easy-going. However, summer months mean crowded campsites and tourist traffic-jams, so consider driving the Ring Road in the early fall. Winter and early spring are no-go’s, as weather conditions often render parts of the Ring Road impassable. Finally, if you’re not diametrically opposed to “roughing it” in the slightest sense of the word, opt for one of the rental car agencies that offer sleep-n-go vehicles with cooking equipment included and a bed in the back of the car. This is doubly important given Iceland’s ‘Law of Survival,’ which states that you can camp on any man’s land for 24-hours and eat anything that you find growing on the property. That means no hotel bills and, if you’re really dedicated, no food bills either.
Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.
ReykjavikReykjavík, IcelandStart your road trip in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. For the best views of the city head up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja and look out at the colorful rooftops spanning from the church square all the way down to the harbor. #free #history #viewpoint
GljúfrabuiVík, IcelandOn your way to Vík, make a pit stop at Seljalandsfoss to visit the waterfall. While Seljalandsfoss is a well-known and very popular tourist attraction, Gljúfrabui is tucked away behind a ravine only five minutes from its better-known counterpart, but sees only a fraction of the foot traffic.
ReynisfjaraVík, IcelandOne of Iceland’s better known attractions, this black sandy beach is lined with geometric basalt columns that seem to defy mother nature’s predilection for smooth, round shapes. Great for photos, not so much for swimming.
Solheimasandur, IcelandJust off of Route 1, a few miles west of Vík, this abandoned plane wreck makes for a perfect spot to stretch your legs and snap a few highly-instagrammable photos before continuing east.
Kvernufoss Falls, IcelandSimilar to the always-touristy Seljalandsfoss but without a crowd, visitors to this waterfall can walk behind the falls and snap some tourist-free gems. If photography isn’t your thing, you can simply take in the view and keep the stray sheep company.
Fjaðrárgljúfur, IcelandThis windy riverbed ravine is about as old as the Earth itself, having been around since before the dinosaurs. The ravine is deep enough now that a hike along the southern edge will give even the most vertigo-immune a healthy fear of heights.
Svartifoss waterfall, IcelandA quick one-hour hike will lead you to this remote and mostly tourist-free waterfall lined with sharp-edged geometric basalt columns. Don’t miss the view of duel volcanos on the hike up!
JökulsárlónHöfn í Hornafirði, IcelandMassive icebergs float lazily in a lake of glacial runoff. To the south, car-sized rafts of ice drift down the river to the sea and wash up on the black sandy shores.
Myvatn Nature Baths
Myvatn Nature BathsReykjahlíð, IcelandWarm up in one of Iceland’s most famous (and most commercial) natural hot springs. The nature baths at Myvatn have all the appeal of the Blue Lagoon to the west, but without the crowds.
Arctic Fox Centre
Arctic Fox CentreSúðavík, IcelandThis museum houses two floors of information dedicated to Iceland’s only native mammal: the Arctic Fox. The real treat is the pen out back where you can play with the foxes yourself.