Iceland’s Ring Road is the fastest, easiest way to travel around the small, Nordic island. It’s almost as if the country was made for taking a road trip via car, campervan, or motorhome. So just how long does it take to drive around Iceland’s Ring Road and what are the main stops? What’s the best route to follow? Where you want to go and what you want to do depends entirely on your budget and schedule. Someone traveling for five days will have a completely different trip than someone on a 10-day or 14-day itinerary. Let’s look at a map of Iceland and explore all there is to see and do along the various parts of the country’s Ring Road.
Reykjavik and Environs
We start our trip around the Ring Road in Reykjavik. This is the logical choice as all international flights enter the country through Keflavik International Airport (KEF). When you land, you’ll have to either pick up your rental at the airport or head into the city to get the keys. Keflavik airport isn’t actually located in Reykjavik. It’s about 40 minutes away from the city. Both the Golden Circle route and Iceland’s Blue Lagoon are close to the Ring Road and make for great day trips from Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle
When basing yourself in Reykjavik, one of the first stops on your Ring Road itinerary is going to be the Golden Circle. While most of the sights lay on or are close to Route 1, the Golden Circle route is a bit of a detour. After leaving Reykjavik, you’ll drive on the Ring Road headed north towards the Snaefellsnes peninsula and Akureyri. Eventually, you’ll turn right onto Route 36, which takes you to the first stop on the Golden Circle: Thingvellir National Park.
Thingvellir National Park
The Golden Circle circuit consists of three main attractions: Thingvellir National Park, the Strokkur and Geysir geysers in the Haukadalur Valley geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. Thingvellir has special significance as the home of Iceland’s (and the world’s) first Parliament, the Althingi. It’s also home to the Silfra fissure. This incredible meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates is a sight to behold. More adventurous travelers can even go scuba diving between the two plates. The turquoise waters between the split in the earth’s crust are unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Strokkur and Geysir Geysers in Haukadalur Valley
Next up on the Golden Circle route are the powerful geysers of the Haukadalur Valley. This geothermal zone features not only impressive H2O towers of water but also hot springs. While the eruptions at Geysir are taller, shooting 70 meters (230 feet) of boiling water into the air, they are not that frequent. Sometimes the geyser has gone years without erupting. Your best bet for seeing a burst of water is to visit Strokkur. The geyser erupts pretty reliably, usually every 5-10 minutes. The word “strokkur” means “churn” in Icelandic and the natural fountain churns out a 15–20 meter (50–65 ft) high column of water. It has even been known to reach heights of 40 meters (130 ft).
The last stop on the Golden Circle circuit is Gullfoss waterfall. Meaning “golden waterfall” in Icelandic, this cascade is one of the country’s most beautiful. Flowing into the Hvitá River, the waters of Gullfoss sometimes freeze in the winter, giving it an eerie, stopped-in-time appearance. Its first drop forms a sort of staircase which then goes on to the larger, main drop in the canyon below.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is one the most popular stops near Iceland’s Ring Road. To get here, you head south out of Reykjavik towards Grindavík. You’ll arrive in about 45 minutes. Pack your swimsuit and get ready to take a dip in the lagoon’s silica-infused, healing waters. You can even get massages and other treatments during your day at the Blue Lagoon. Be sure to read our articles about the lagoon to brush up on your bathing etiquette. For example, the Blue Lagoon doesn’t use chlorine, so it’s imperative to shower in the nude to remove all dirt and impurities before hopping in. Another tip is to buy your ticket in advance. The lines can be quite long here as it is a popular tourist attraction. Purchasing your tickets online will allow you to skip the line and get your spa on sooner.
As you can see, there is quite a bit to see and do close to Reykjavik when traveling via Iceland’s Ring Road. The Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon are just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of a trip around Route 1 takes you to some fantastic sights in South Iceland, North Iceland, and West Iceland. Stay tuned for more of the main stops along the Ring Road.