Iceland is a hot travel destination right now, and will likely continue to be for some time. We’ve been wanting to get to Iceland for years now and have yet to fit it into our schedules. So for this guest post from a fellow travel nut, we are happy to have Tim from Annual Adventure to share with us his experience driving on the Ring Road in Iceland. We’re loving his gorgeous photos, and reading about his experience only makes us want to get to Iceland to do this road trip very soon!
Iceland is so utterly jam packed with incredible sights that it’s hard to narrow it down. When driving Iceland’s ring road, you’ll inevitably find yourself wanting to stop every five minutes, and asking yourself just how long of a detour you can squeeze into your schedule to see that one amazing thing. Well, let me help you out. Here’s a list of my favorite stops along Iceland’s Ring Road to help you narrow down your travel plans. I’ve listed them in order of appearance if you’re traveling counter-clockwise on the ring road, which I recommend doing to minimize the crowds.
Strokkur Geyser – Lesser Known and More Fun
Geysir may get all of the word of mouth for its famous name, but in reality it rarely erupts. Luckily, located right next door is Strokkur! Erupting every 5 to 10 minutes, Strokkur also creates a huge bubble with every eruption that becomes a joy to try and capture on film (er, sensor?). Another fun aspect of Strokkur is how close you can get to it, leading to great people watching when they inevitably scramble out of the way of the falling water from each eruption!
Strokkur is also extremely easy to reach, located right along the popular Golden Circle route that’s just outside of Reykjavik. There will always be crowds there, but watching the people get doused by falling water is part of the fun of the experience!
Háifoss Lives Up to its Name
Háifoss requires a bit of a detour off most routes along a bumpy gravel road, but it’s well worth the effort! One of my two favorite waterfalls in all of Iceland, Háifoss is the third highest waterfall in Iceland and is actually made up of two separate falls draining into an incredible valley view. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can hike all the way to the bottom for a close up view, but that would require making Háifoss a full day trip. Even if you visit along the way elsewhere, I’d recommend allotting at least an hour to explore the area and take in the awesome views and walking paths around the falls. Be sure to pack a wide lens to capture Háifoss in all of its glory!
Behind the Scenes at Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most popular falls in all of Iceland, thanks to its unique trait of having a path that runs behind the falls! Be prepared to get wet if you decide to venture along the pathway there, because there will inevitably be wind blowing water back your way. Still, it’s completely worth it!
There’s another “hidden waterfall” located nearby as well, making Seljalandsfoss a multi-purpose stop. If you’re planning on getting the iconic sun-behind-the-waterfall shot, plan your visit to Seljalandsfoss for sunset to take the best photos. I visited around sunrise, and while it was nice to have the place mostly to myself, it wasn’t the best light for photography. Allow yourself 45 minutes to an hour to properly explore the falls.
Fjaðrárgljúfur: Not as Difficult as it Sounds
Say that 10 times fast! Fjaðrárgljúfur is further along the ring road on the south side of Iceland. It may look wild and untamed in photos, but there’s a large parking lot and a very well defined walking path along it. When I say well defined, I mean that you’re required to stick to it no matter how tempting it may be to venture off and explore the other well-trodden but off limits paths.
When you make your way to the end of the short walking path, you’ll be rewarded with an outstanding viewpoint and twin waterfalls, almost like a mini Háifoss with a longer canyon! Fjaðrárgljúfur is an easy stop just off the ring road that only requires an additional 90 minutes or so of your time to fully enjoy.
Assorted Adventures at Vatnajökull Glacier
Vatnajökull is an awesome stop no matter what time of the year you visit. I was there in the middle of summer and went on a glacier hike, one of my favorite excursions during my entire trip. Our glacier guide was extremely helpful and informative, and it was completely surreal to walk along the gaping holes in the glacier. During my hike I learned about tardigrades (or more adorably named water bears) and how they are literally thought to be aliens from another planet! Pretty cool! Even better than the informative aspects was the scenery. There’s nothing like walking over that vibrant blue streaking through the white glacier. We even stopped for a sip of glacial runoff water when we got thirsty!
If you visit Vatnajökull in the winter, you’ll have the privilege and opportunity to explore an ice cave. I wasn’t so fortunate, because the caves are closed during the summer due to safety concerns. Nevertheless, it has at least given me a reason to return in the winter someday!
Jökulsárlón – The REAL Blue Lagoon
Besides the Blue Lagoon (which you may have noticed is not on this list), Jökulsárlón is probably the most recognizable landmark in all of Iceland. Situated right on the edge of the Vatnajökull Glacier, the lake is filled with huge chunks of calved ice all year long. The best part is that it never looks the same twice, because the Ice is constantly drifting out to sea.
While visiting Jökulsárlón, keep an eye out for seals swimming in the water and enjoy the countless birds swooping throughout the area. It’s also a fantastic place to visit for great sunset photos, as the blue ice contrasts beautifully with the warm sunlight. If you’re up for a tour, you can even take a zodiac or an amphibious boat out onto the lake!
Inches From The Edge at Dettifoss
Clear on the other side of the island in northern Iceland we have Dettifoss, my other favorite waterfall in the country. If you’ve seen Prometheus, you might recognize this as the location for the opening scene. The best thing about Dettifoss is that you can re-enact the scene yourself (minus the disintegrating and falling down the falls) because you can walk as close as you dare right up to the edge of the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe!
It seems like all of the best waterfalls are located off of gravel roads, and Dettifoss is no different. It’s about a 30 minute drive one way off the ring road to reach Dettifoss, and if you visit be ABSOLUTELY SURE to visit from the east side. This means taking Highway 864, NOT Highway 862. The reason for this is that you cannot access the waterfall from the west side, only a viewpoint. However, visiting from the east allows you to walk right up to the very edge of the falls and appreciate them in all of their grandeur.
Kirkjufell – The Popular Kid On The Block
Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland thanks to it’s pointy shape and placement next to a beautiful waterfall, creating a really pleasant natural composition. It’s a bucket list item for photographers all over the world, and it’s a lot of fun to explore the area and find just that perfect composition. Like most places in Iceland you’ll have to get a little lucky with the weather, but Kirkjufell looks great even when it’s enveloped in fog.
One of the great things about Kirkjufell is that it’s surrounded by other fantastic scenery thanks to it’s location on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Some people call the peninsula “little Iceland” because of all of the different geographic features located in such a small area. It doesn’t take much more than an hour to drive around it, but of course you’ll want to stop and properly appreciate all it has to offer.
Glymur: My One Regret
My biggest regret on my entire trip to Iceland was not having a flexible enough schedule. I had one day allotted to see Glymur, the second highest waterfall in Iceland, and it happened to be pouring rain that day. Considering much of the 3-4 hour hike is along cliffsides and across rivers, I decided the better of it and just headed straight to Reykjavik instead.
I suppose my regret is less that I didn’t leave a flexible schedule (I wouldn’t have been able to see as much if I did), but more that I just got unlucky with the weather.
There’s Always Next Time
I saw many different sights on my 8 day trip around Iceland’s Ring Road, but you could spend a month in Iceland and not see everything. I’ve vowed to go back for many reasons, including the Westfjords, Glymur and ice caves, but the truth is that Iceland is such an incredible country to visit that I could take the exact same trip again and have an incredible time. Do yourself a favor and start planning your Iceland road trip now!
Tim is an avid traveler who seeks out the most exciting trips he can find while still working a full time job. He started http://annualadventure.com in order to help inspire others do the same! From Antarctica to Uganda to Iceland, he has been to all seven continents and is excited to share his adventures with the world. Visit him at his website, or on Instagram!