If you want to really explore Iceland, rent a vehicle and plan a road trip along Route 1, affectionately known to locals as the Ring Road. This 1330 km road loops around the entire island passing verdant canyons, massive glaciers, fields of lupines, natural hot springs and so many waterfalls that you eventually quit counting. The Ring Road is the best way to get around the country, but you’ll also want to plan some detours off the main road. There’s much to appreciate in small communities and wilderness areas that lie off the main road.
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Circumnavigating Iceland by Car
If you only have a few days, stick with the Golden Circle, a 300 km loop that covers some of the most popular tourist sites in southern Iceland near the capital city, Reykjavík. But if you’re fortunate to have more time, you should rent a car and travel further.
The map above shows the route we took and the distances covered each day of the trip.
At first, we stopped at every waterfall, but after a while we only stopped at the most spectacular ones. Godafoss Waterfall (Waterfall of the Gods) is one of the most impressive and beautiful falls in the world.
The largest waterfall in the Westfjords region of Iceland is called Dynjandi (or Fjallfoss). There are 6 other waterfalls below Dynjandi and the total height is about 100 metres. Hiking up provides great views.
Dettifoss is said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. 500 cubic metres of water per second plunges over the edge of these falls.
There are so many waterfalls that many of them are not identified with signage – like this random one just off the road. Each one is unique and awe inspiring.
Iceland is famous for puffins. These little birds seem to have unique personalities and love to pose for a picture. This one just returned from a successful fishing trip.
The Arctic tern has the longest known migration in the animal kingdom. Terns that nest in Iceland travel an average of 70,900 km per year. They are graceful birds, but they’re also fiercely territorial. It’s good idea to carry an umbrella for protection from dive bombing terns when you go for a walk during nesting season.
Reynisfjara Beach is a black sand beach and it contains these incredible basalt columns. You don’t have to be a geologist to find these formations amazing.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon looks like something out of a Lord of the Rings film. You truly feel insignificant when you stand of the edge of a canyon carved by erosion.
The continental rift is where the North American continent and the European continent meet. Since both plates are moving, the rift is in a constant state of change.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is full of icebergs. When the glacier scrapes across the land, it picks up dirt and debris and when the glacier calves, unique shades of black and brown show up in the icebergs.
A zodiac tour is the best way to explore Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. It gives you the closest views of the glacier. Plan ahead and book early, because these tours sell out.
Geysir Hot Spring area is a favorite stop along the Golden Circle route. There are boiling mud pits and exploding geysers. The lively Strokkur Geyser spouts water 30 meters (100 ft) into the air.
Hverarond geothermal area has hot springs, fumaroles, mud pools and mud pots. Plant life is almost non-existent here, but the colorful minerals can be very beautiful.
In northeastern Iceland, Mývatn Nature Baths are less crowded and less expensive than the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland. This shot was taken a 1:00 am.
Iceland is green and lush in the summer and farmers let their sheep loose to graze. In September, they are rounded up using Icelandic horses in an annual event called Réttir. You’ll see sheep everywhere, but sometimes you get lucky and you catch a rainbow just right.