Read all about the best attractions on and near the Ring Road in Iceland. Discover the best things to see and do near Iceland's famous Route 1. Get information on how to find spectacular waterfalls, black sand beaches, reindeer spotting locations, majestic glaciers, and towering volcanoes. Learn how long it takes to drive and plan our trip with our itineraries in this ultimate guide of the Ring Road of Iceland.
Iceland has one main road that circles the island. This is known as Route 1 or the Ring Road. An Iceland Ring Road trip would take you around the entire country, so the route is sometimes called the Iceland Circle Road.
Here are some facts and frequently asked questions about the Ring Road before we dive into the attractions you'll find along the way. Go here to find Iceland's largest selection of road trips and self-drive tours, or to this link to book the cheapest car rental in Iceland.
Iceland's Ring Road is 828 miles (1332 kilometers).
You can drive around the Ring Road in Iceland in 15-16 hours. However, we recommend spending at least a week so you can take in the sights and attractions along the way. We have some suggested itineraries for you at the bottom of the article.
The speed limit on most of the Ring Road is 55 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour).
98% of Iceland's Ring Road is paved. Most of it has two lanes, but there are also some single-lane bridges.
Conditions on the road are very different in summer and winter. In general, we recommend spending at least a week driving it in summer, but closer to two weeks in the winter, to take in all the sights and account for potential additional delays due to weather.
Driving the Ring Road in Iceland is the best way to see the whole country as it's the one road in Iceland that is continually maintained and cleared of snow in winter. This road will quickly take you away from 70% of Iceland's population who live in the Reykjavik area.
Driving in Iceland offers a unique set of challenges. The roads may not be what you are used to at home. Some roads may be narrower than you're accustomed to, and there are some blind summits and narrow passes.
Drive cautiously, take your time, and drive at moderate speeds so you can respond to any unexpected challenges.
It's recommended that you take at least a week to do it in spring, summer, or autumn.
With this in mind, you might want to budget 10-14 days to enjoy a trip around Iceland's Ring Road. This kind of time frame is essential for travel to Iceland in winter (October to March).
Driving the Ring Road in winter is slower than in summer. There's a chance you may need to drive through a snowstorm in winter, and sometimes roads are closed until snow can be cleared from them. So, there's always a chance that you'll have to wait in one location for one to two days. If you get your car stuck in the snow, it can take several hours to get it out. The days in Iceland are much shorter in wintertime, and you may not want to navigate the icy roads in darkness. While the northern lights frequently appear in winter, they're unlikely to be bright enough to light your path.
For this reason, we strongly recommend that you pick up a four-wheel drive, jeep, or SUV rental for your Ring Road trip.
If you have more time to enjoy traveling around Iceland, you can add in some longer hikes (in the summer) or explore sections of Iceland off the Ring Road, such as the rural Westfjords or the impressive Icelandic Highlands.
Note that in order to explore the Icelandic Highlands, you'll need to rent a four-wheel drive, and the Highlands are only accessible from late June until September.
See Also: The Best Car Rentals in Iceland
Although many attractions in Iceland are close to the Ring Road, some main attractions in Iceland are not, like the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. The same goes for most of the fjords in East Iceland, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the Westfjords, or the Highlands.
These attractions are recommended as detours if you feel like venturing off the main road. You'll need to add additional time to your journey to reach them.
Unlike in most countries where the main roads are big highways with multiple lanes, the Ring Road in Iceland is an incredibly picturesque two-lane road with impressive views all around.
Make sure you drive on the right side of the road and watch out for animals in the fields next to the road.
Just driving along the Ring Road, without taking any minor detours, provides the opportunity to view fantastic scenery. Iceland doesn't have many trees, so you can soak in the views of the dramatic coastlines, the North Atlantic Ocean, fjords, and mountains.
The Southwest of Iceland is mainly composed of flat, green farmlands, with the occasional river and mountain, including the Hvita river and Hekla volcano, which can be seen from the Ring Road.
Off the Ring Road, you can take half a day to drive the Golden Circle and then join the Ring Road again by the town of Hveragerdi. View incredible sites like Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Geysir Geothermal Area before continuing on your journey.
The Southeast of Iceland contains wide stretches of sand with glacial rivers running through it.
On the sands, you can see an overturned bridge as a reminder of one of the glacial floods that can occur in the area, with a background view of Vatnajokull, Europe's largest glacier.
The region is also home to Vatnajokull National Park, the largest National Parks in Iceland.
We recommend booking ash, sand, gravel car insurance when driving in South Iceland as your car may get damaged on windy days.
Photo from Hot Spring Hike to Reykjadalur Valley
If you don't want to hike, you can join a horseback riding tour to Reykjadalur. Hveragerdi is 29 miles (46.5 kilometers) from Reykjavik, an easy half-day trip option from the capital.
On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Westman Islands from the Ring Road in the south.
To reach the Westman Islands, you'll need to drive to Landeyjahofn and take a ferry across.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is one of Iceland's most popular attractions. You can see this beautiful waterfall from the Ring Road even though it's 328 feet (100 meters) away.
It's possible to walk around the waterfall during the warmer months and see the cave behind it.
The waterfall is 68.3 miles (110 kilometers) from Reykjavik, and you can also visit nearby Gljufrabui waterfall once you've arrived.
You need to tiptoe over a few rocks in a river to get inside the canyon, but the view is worth it.
Between the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, you can go off the Ring Road towards Seljadalur to bathe in the Seljavallalaug swimming pool in the mountainside.
You'll need to walk about 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometers) to reach the pool from the parking space.
Skogafoss is a big, impressive waterfall just slightly further than the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It's also the start (or end) of a known hike called the Fimmvorduhals trail that takes you to Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
Skogafoss waterfall is 18.9 miles (30.4 kilometers) from Seljalandsfoss waterfall, so a bit further from Reykjavik on the South Coast.
The DC3 Plane Wreck is a plane wreck found on a black sand beach in South Iceland. But to get there, you'll need to park by the Ring Road and then walk for 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) one way to it. So don't expect this to be a quick stop and be prepared for a long walk there and back.
It's often quite windy and cold on the beach, so be sure to wear warm clothes and good hiking shoes.
The Dyrholaey Peninsula is another attraction visible from the Ring Road, but it's a short drive off the Ring Road to reach it.
The best view is from the cliffs by the sea with the lighthouse on top. You can see spectacular views of the waves crashing on black sandy beaches over green fields and all the way up to the glaciers in the distance.
It's a fantastic place to bird-watch as the area is home to thousands of puffins.
The famous Reynisfjara black sand beach is a short detour from the Ring Road.
Though visiting this beach is on the bucket list for many travelers, Reynisfjara beach can have dangerous waves.
You should stay 100-165 feet (30-50 meters) from the waves to admire the strong forces of nature from a safe distance.
Vik, or Vik i Myrdal, is a quaint little village of 300 inhabitants, which sits on one of the prettiest black beaches in Iceland and has a view of the Reynisdrangar sea pillars.
It's the last village in South Iceland before you reach Kirkjubaejarklaustur 46 miles (74.1 kilometers) away, so be sure to fill up on gas in before you leave.
Kirkjubaejarklaustur is a villiage with about 120 inhabitants, named after a convent that once stood there.
The town has excellent camping sites and romantic hiking paths. It's a good base to explore the wonderful nature surrounding it. For example, you can take a short walk to the Kirkjugolf basalt columns or Systrafoss waterfall.
Fjadrargljufur canyon is the perfect place to explore on foot. It's a short driving detour from Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
The canyon was featured in the Game of Thrones television series. You can hike inside the valley or on top of the ridge. It's 328 feet (100 meters) deep and 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) long and its sheer walls are dotted with waterfalls.
The Skaftafell Nature Reserve was formerly a National Park. It's nestled at the base of the Vatnajokull glacier and is now considered part of the Vatnajokull National Park.
This area is surprisingly green and lush, even though it's next to a glacier.
You can go on a short hike to Svartifoss waterfall ("Black Waterfall"), which is surrounded by dark basalt columns that lend the waterfall its name, or join a photography tour to this picturesque location.
The Hofskirkja Church is a beautiful and picturesque church made of turf. It's located by the Ring Road between Skaftafell Nature Reserve and the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
This church was built in 1884, and it' the last church in Iceland to be built in this turf house style.
The Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon is one of Iceland's most visited tourist attractions.
Big blocks of ice break from the glacier and float around the lagoon until they make their way out to sea. It's possible to see seals resting or playing on the large chunks of ice.
In the wintertime, you'll have the option to go on an ice cave tour from Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon to the Vatnajokull Glacier.
1. Diamond Beach
Diamond Beach, next to the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon, is dotted with big chunks of ice.
If you walk down to the beach, you can see waves washing big chunks of ice ashore on the black sandy beach, where they sit glistening like diamonds.
This area is called Breidamerkursandur, but it has been crowned the "Diamond Beach" due to the appearance of the ice against the black sand, which makes it look like diamonds have washed ashore.
Rugged mountains and beautiful fjords characterize East Iceland. Almost every fjord has a town, and everyone has a favorite fjord or mountain that they claim is prettier than the next.
Some parts of East Iceland are hard to access during wintertime, as some mountain passes close due to heavy snowfall. Summer is the ideal time to visit East Iceland.
However, most of the fjords are not by the Ring Road.
The Ring Road excludes some of the best bits of the East, and most of the fjords need a little extra drive. So if you want to explore Iceland's East in more depth, make sure you add a couple of days to your schedule.
Here are the main attractions in East Iceland:
The town of Hofn is 50 miles (80.2 kilometers) from the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon and is a small fishing town (the largest in the area).
Hofn is well-known for its langoustine and in summertime holds a 'lobster festival' (Humarhatid a Hofn) where you can taste incredible Icelandic lobsters.
Vestrahorn mountain is possibly the most photographed location in East Iceland.
Despite the East being filled with numerous mountains, fjords, and beaches, Vestrahorn mountain still captivates all those who set eyes upon it. The long flat beach and relatively calm waters help photographers capture stunning reflections of the mountain in the water.
In the vicinity is the beautiful Alftafjordur (Swan-fjord), where flocks of swans gather. To either side of Vestrahorn mountain are other mountains, Eystrahorn and Brunnhorn, competing to be more picturesque than the next.
East Iceland is the only part of the country where you can find wild reindeer.
They were initially imported to the country, but some either escaped or were let loose, and now they roam wild.
Here you can see them posing in front of Brunnhorn or the Batman mountain.
If you drive a bit further off the main road, you'll come to Atlavik - a popular place to camp by the lake.
The Hallormsstadaskogur Forest is a short detour off the Ring Road and the largest forest in Iceland. Iceland has hardly any trees, so seeing a forest is quite unusual in its own right.
When you reach Hallormsstadur Forest, you've made it halfway around the country and 407.6 miles (656 kilometers) from Reykjavik.
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Hengifoss waterfall is a stunning waterfall that requires a 2.9 mile (4.7 kilometer) hike to reach, on the banks of Lagarfljot lake and with views towards the Hallormsstadaskogur Forest.
It's the third-highest waterfall in Iceland (after Glymur and Haifoss waterfalls) and stands at 420 feet (128 meters) tall.
It's surrounded by basaltic strata rocks, layered with red clay in between them, giving the waterfall a rather distinctive look.
Another detour that's worth doing is to visit the village of Seydisfjordur.
This colorful and artistic village is situated in a fjord that many consider one of Iceland's most beautiful fjords. You'll find a world-class sushi restaurant here, perfect for lovers of Japanese cuisine.
The ferry Smyril Line docks here, connecting Iceland to both the Faroe Islands and Denmark.
Seydisfjordur is 16.7 miles (26.9 kilometers) away from Egilsstadir via road no. 93.
North Iceland is quite mountainous and holds many of Iceland's most notable natural attractions.
However, a large portion of the attractions in the Northeast, such as Dettifoss waterfall, and Asbyrgi canyon, require a detour off the Ring Road of around 37.4 miles (60 kilometers).
If you want to go whale watching, you shouldn't miss out on visiting the whale watching capital of Iceland, Husavik. It's 34 miles (54.6 kilometers) from Lake Myvatn.
Here are the main attractions in North Iceland:
Egilsstadir is 108 miles (174 kilometers) from Lake Myvatn. There are hot springs, pseudo-craters, and plenty of other attractions in the area that should not be missed.
Dimmuborgir lava field is filled with dramatic rock formations. It's near Lake Myvatn and is often referred to as the gateway to Hell.
It was used as a location in the Game of Thrones series, during the scene where Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jeor Mormont, led a group of Night Watchers through the snow North of the Wall.
The Grjotagja hot spring is inside a cave and the location of Game of Thrones's famous love scene between Jon Snow and Ygritte.
It's forbidden to bathe in the water as the temperature is too unpredictable and can be extremely high, but it's a beautiful place to visit.
The Hverfell (also known as Hverfjall) is a dramatic volcanic crater just east of Lake Myvatn and is popular for hiking.
With a diameter of 0.62 miles (one kilometer) and a depth of 460 feet (140 meters), it's one of the largest explosion craters in the world.
The Myvatn Nature Baths are the North's answer to the Blue Lagoon, a natural lagoon where guests can bathe.
This natural lagoon is the ideal location to watch for the northern lights in winter or bask in the late-night midnight sun during the summer months.
Dettifoss waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Iceland and a popular Ring Road attraction.
You can either drive to a parking lot on the waterfall's east side along road no. 864, or you can drive to the west side along road no. 862.
From Dettifoss waterfall, you can head upriver to the Selfoss waterfall.
Asbyrgi Canyon is a lush, green valley shaped like a horse's shoe. It's also accessible on the same roads that lead to Dettifoss waterfall and is only possible on a detour from the Ring Road.
Husavik is a picturesque town on the North Coast of Iceland and is considered one of the best locations for whale watching.
It's 35 miles (56.4 kilometers) from Lake Myvatn. If you decide to add a whale watching tour to your trip, they usually last 3-4 hours.
Godafoss waterfall is a stunning waterfall that's right by the Ring Road. Godafoss waterfall shouldn't be missed when traveling between Akureyri and Lake Myvatn.
The name means "Waterfall of the Gods" and derives from when statues of Iceland's Norse gods were thrown into the waterfall. This occurred when Iceland shifted from the traditional Norse religion to Christianity around the turn of the 11th century.
Akureyri, also referred to as Iceland's "Capital of the North," is situated in a beautiful fjord. It's the second largest town in Iceland with a great swimming pool, a pretty church, good nightlife, and the best ski resort in Iceland, Hlidarfjall.
Akureyri is 49 miles (78.8 kilometers) from Lake Myvatn or around 240.5 miles (387 kilometers) from Reykjavik.
The Ring Road passes by two of West Iceland's most beautiful areas: the Westfjords and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
They contain most of West Iceland's best attractions, and both are worth taking a detour for a few days to explore.
Here are the main attractions in West Iceland:
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is often described as "Iceland in Miniature" as it contains all of Iceland's main features in one compact location.
There's a glacier that's also a volcano (Snaefellsjokull), lava fields, waterfalls, picturesque mountains such as Kirkjufell mountain, sweeping views of beautiful coastlines with both black and white sands, caves, and fishing villages.
The Ring Road does not include the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but it's well worth it taking an extra day or two to discover what this part of the country has to offer.
The Westfjords is truly stunning and the most remote location in Iceland.
Here you'll find dozens of gorgeous fjords, the stunning Dynjandi waterfall, the red beach of Raudasandur, countless hot springs to bathe in, rural villages, and the westernmost tip of Europe: Latrabjarg bird cliff.
The Ring Road doesn't extend to the Westfjords, making them more remote than the rest of the country.
If you plan on visiting the Westfjords, it's best to add another three to five days to your journey.
Please note that the Westfjords may not be accessible during the darkest winter months due to heavy snow.
Deildartunguhver is Europe's most powerful hot spring, but not one you'll want to take a dip in. The water temperature is generally around 207 F (97 C), but you can observe them from the wooden walkways.
Not to be missed by any history buffs, Reykholt was the home of Snorri Sturluson, one of Iceland's most famous writers and poets from the Viking age.
It's a short detour from the Ring Road and 4.3 miles (6.9 kilometers) from Deildartunguhver.
Some of the most stunning waterfalls in Iceland are the lava waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss that trickle down directly from underneath a lava field.
They're located only 78.3 miles (126 kilometers) from Reykjavik, along the same road to Deildartunguhver and Reykholt.
It's often a mandatory stopover on the way north, where travelers can enjoy a hot dog or ice cream.
Mount Esja is the mountain overlooking Reykjavik that offers a stunning view of the capital. While reaching the top is not easy, most of the trail is family-friendly.
That's the entire circle of Iceland!
This is a Ring Road map from our 10-day self-drive Circle of Iceland tour that takes you around Iceland. Colored tags mark all the attractions, and you can zoom in to look at each item closer.
We also have various other Iceland tourist maps and Iceland attraction maps, including one that adds Westfjords to the Ring Road itinerary.
There are plenty of Ring Road itineraries to choose from, but the major decision to make is between driving the circle yourself or going on a guided tour.
Taking a bus from one place to another is not a good idea since the buses often only run once or twice a day, and you'll want to be able to stop along the way to sightsee.
By driving the circle yourself, you'll have more flexibility and privacy and can choose how long you want to spend at each location.
In summer, this means you could be enjoying the sights until the middle of the night (since the nights are bright). But in winter, you'll want to get to your accommodation before dark and then look up in the sky during cloudless nights in search of the aurora borealis.
Only drive in Iceland in winter if you are highly confident with driving in snow and icy conditions. Iceland's road conditions change regularly. It's crucial to stay up to date with the current conditions and put safety first.
The weather conditions in winter might contain a snowstorm or two. You might feel more comfortable joining a guided winter tour.
If you don't want to drive in summer either, or simply want to get some local insight into the sights and attractions, you can opt for a guided or self-drive Iceland Ring Road itinerary.
A 10-day summer guided tour of the Ring Road is also a great mix of free time in Reykjavik and a guided tour of the Ring Road.
You'll be able to find a variety of Ring Road itineraries, ranging from one to two weeks in summer and from 10-12 days in winter. There are also plenty of Ring Road guided tours to choose from.
If you're on a budget, be sure to check out all the self-drive budget tours.
However you choose to do it and whatever you decide to visit along the way, touring the Ring Road in Iceland is an unforgettable experience. There are numerous attractions along the way, but these are our hand-picked best attractions by Iceland's Ring Road. Share your memories of visiting Iceland in the comments below.