Highlights of Iceland’s ring road

For many, hiring a car and driving Iceland’s famous ring road is one for the bucket list. To do it justice, it’s worth spending at least a fortnight, but if your time is limited, what are the must-sees along the way? Here’s a brief guide to the ring road’s essential stops.

The waterfalls of Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss

Just a couple of hours east of Reykjavik, you’ll find two of the country’s most famous waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss has the distinction of being the only waterfall in the country that you can walk behind to look out over the surrounding countryside through a curtain of water. Skógafoss is dramatic as they come. These former sea cliffs have featured on many a location scout’s wish list, making the cut in films such as Thor: Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Skogafoss waterfall in Iceland at dusk.

Dyrhólaey

Wave erosion has created some spectacular coastal scenery, and one of the finest examples can be found near the southern town of Vik at Dyrhólaey. The wave-cut arch and surrounding coastline is as imposing as it is beautiful and you’ll have a clear view of the sea stacks at nearby Reynisdrangar. Twitchers will be pleased to learn this is one of the best places in the country for bird watching.

Dyrholaey in southern Iceland

Jökulsárlón

For many visitors, the stunning glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón will be the highlight of their trip. Icebergs calve off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and slowly drift towards the sea, washing up on the black sand beach. It’s a magical location at any time of the year, with boat trips taking to the lagoon throughout the summer.

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon in Iceland,

Mývatn

Looping north, you’ll reach Iceland’s most famous lake, Mývatn. The area surrounding the lake is spectacularly volcanic, reflected in landscape features such as bubbling mud pools, hot springs and lava rock formations. Be warned, though: its name translates as “midge lake” so slap on the bug repellent if you’re driving by in summer.

Goðafoss

Stunning waterfalls aren’t confined to the southern stretch of the ring road and one of the north’s finest is undoubtedly Goðafoss. Water tumbles over a 12 metre high cliff and spans a width of 30 metres, making it one of the largest in the country. To mark Iceland’s conversion to Christianity back in 999AD, pagan statues were thrown into the water here, giving these cascades the moniker “Waterfall of the Gods”.

Iceland, the amazing beauty of Godafoss, the God’s Waterfall.

Akureyri

Iceland’s second largest urban area has a population of just 18000, but it’s an easy going place that’s well worth a stop if you’re passing. In summer, pay a visit to the town’s botanical gardens which holds specimens of pretty much every Icelandic plant there is. The town is also home to numerous museums and galleries.

The Golden Circle

Not strictly on the ring road, but a popular detour, is the famous Golden Circle. Comprising Þingvellir, Geysir and another unmissable waterfall – Gullfoss – it attracts every holidaymaker in Iceland, but don’t let those crowds put you off making this easy diversion. Þingvellir is the site of Iceland’s first parliament, its setting a cleft in the landscape where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are ripping apart. Geysir, as the name suggests, is an active geyser field. Don’t miss Strokkur’s famed eruptions, during which huge plumes of boiling water and steam shoot upwards to a height of twenty metres or more every few minutes.

Eruption of Strokkur Geysir, Golden circle route in Iceland