Iceland’s magnificent glaciers, jaw-dropping waterfalls, and active volcanoes make it a unique travel destination filled with adventure. Rather than cities full of trendy restaurants and skyscrapers, the country offers sweeping views and chances to spot the rare Aurora Borealis.
The best way to see these natural wonders up close is a trip on the Ring Road. Rent a car in Iceland and head out on the open road to see what Route 1 has to offer.
Some of the Most Amazing Waterfalls
Iceland is known for having some killer waterfalls and the Ring Road allows you to see many of them up close. Head counterclockwise from Reykjavik to find the 200-foot Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, an impressive sight that offers great photo opportunities. A trail leads to a small cave behind the falls, allowing guests to walk behind the waterfall.
Down the road from Seljanandsfoss lies Skógafoss Waterfall. The two falls are of similar height but Skógafoss has a heavier flow. A small platform atop wooden stairs offers a great viewing area from which you can often spot rainbows streaking through the water.
Svartifoss Waterfall in the southeast part of the country is another must-see. A short hike in Vatnajökull National Park leads you to a waterfront where the falls rush over jagged black basalt columns—a unique sight.
Save time toward the end of the loop to visit Little Ireland or the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s home to Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall, one of the most popular falls in the country. Though not nearly as tall as the other two, Kirkjufellsfoss empties into a beautiful pool just below Kirkjufell Mountain.
Glaciers and Caves in Iceland are a Must
While it may require the help of an adventure or tour company, you simply cannot leave Iceland without experiencing the country’s icy glaciers. Sólheimajökull glacier, located near the first two waterfalls on the Ring Road, offers chances for ice climbing as well as hiking.
While not a glacier on its own, Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon offers a chance to spot plenty of icebergs. Pieces of the blue-hued Breiðamerkurjökull glacier break off and wash up onto the lagoon’s beach.
If you visit the Vatnajökull glacier, make sure to visit the crystal ice caves below it. Rivers of meltwater have carved sparkling blue tunnels, caverns and ice formations that can be explored if you’re willing to crawl to get through some of the tight spaces.
Other Unique Sights on the Ring Road
Also under the Vatnajökull glacier is the Bárðarbunga Volcano. Two years ago, it erupted, spewing lava over the mountain. Now, visitors can take jeep tours or ride in small planes to see the aftermath of the Holuhraun eruption.
Then there is Námafjall Hverir, a geothermal area filled with boiling hot springs, steaming fumaroles and other volcanic activity that provides plenty of interesting yet somewhat rare sights.
Then, of course, there is the Aurora Borealis—the Northern Lights. For many travelers, this is a major plus of travel to Iceland. But you can’t ensure you’ll see them in any one spot so you may have to do some hunting. Driving at night definitely improves your chances of spotting them, but you’ll also want dark, clear skies. When they do start to dance, it makes the whole drive worth it.