On the Road: an Adventure-Lover's Guide to Iceland's Ring Road

Explore ice caves at Vatnajokull Glacier as you road-trip Iceland's Ring Road
Explore ice caves at Vatnajokull Glacier as you road-trip Iceland's Ring Road | © Glenn Nagel / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nick Dauk
13 September 2021

Tick off geothermal wonders such as the Blue Lagoon, then head into the wilds for whale-watching tours, glacier treks and fjord-side hotels in Iceland.

We don’t know if this iconic Iceland road trip, which loops around the entire Nordic nation, will put more miles on your car or on your favourite pair of hiking boots. As you wrap around the Ring Road, you’ll be tempted to jump out at every curve of this 1,322km glassine road to explore the rugged mountain trails, quiet coastal fishing villages and serene fjord-lined shore. Top up your tank and tick off every must-see natural landmark in this nature-studded island – with a few hidden gems mixed in – during this road-trip adventure, pit-stopping at some cosy places to stay along the way.

Around the Reykjavik area

The Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland

Spa Hotel
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland
Courtesy of The Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland / Expedia

Kick off your trip in style with a stay at the luxurious Retreat at Blue Lagoon. The hotel’s modern minimalist suites contrast with the otherworldly landscape outside: Iceland’s top landmark, the geothermal Blue Lagoon, sits right beyond your window – and some suites even have direct access to the mineral-rich pool. During your stay, you’re invited to join group yoga sessions and hikes. Prefer a more sedentary form of relaxation? You also get access to the Retreat Spa for massages, beauty treatments and a private dip in the hidden Lava Cove.

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The Blue Lagoon

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most well-known attraction
© Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Since you’re here, where better to start your Ring Road adventure than by bathing in the Blue Lagoon? Your stay at the Retreat grants you access into one of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks, surrounded by a craggy lava field near Grindavík, less than an hour from the capital of Reykjavik. The tranquil waters of this geothermal lagoon will wash away your worries and let you unwind before you begin your journey proper. For the intrepid seeking something more adventurous, your body will thank you for the post-trek pampering.

Kex Hostel Reykjavík

Hostel
Kex Hostel, Reykjavik
© ARCTIC IMAGES / Alamy Stock Photo

Kex Hostel in Reykjavik is a budget-friendly option for those who prefer to save their kronur for a buzzing bar. This former biscuit factory invites you to break bread with other free-spirited travellers, ticking off Reykjavik’s scenic bay, whale-watching opportunities and main street of Laugavegur, before you continue onward. Bunking in the boutique dorms will introduce you to new friends, but you’ll get the most shut-eye in a private room. Well-rested, you’re ready to pop down to the breakfast buffet or sink craft beers in the lounge.

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Thingvellir National Park

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
Pingvellir National Park, Iceland.
© STEPHEN FLEMING / Alamy Stock Photo

Using the capital as your base, head just east for a day of driving around the Golden Circle: a trio of landmarks that includes the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park. The former seat of the Icelandic parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries is now a resting place of ruins, shrouded in mysterious tales of witches and blessed with all-round natural splendour. Park visited, drive on Gullfoss and the Strokkur Geysir – and try not to jump when you see it dramatically erupt. The waterfall is much more even-tempered and far easier to photograph.

Into the North

Camp Boutique Original North

Camping
Camp Boutique Original North
Courtesy of Camp Boutique Original North / Expedia

Ready to rough it overnight in a tent? The glamping tents at Camp Boutique Original North are designed to handle Iceland’s worst weather and are equipped with their own heating system, minimalist furnishings and even wifi. You will have to brave the cold for a few metres to hit the loo, but we assure you that the thermal blankets will warm you right up after a shower. Pitched on the remote, glacier-fed Skjalfandafljot River banks, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise – and puts you in easy reach of whale-watching trips from Húsavík and Iceland’s northern second city of Akureyri.

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Akureyri

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
E8W279 Landscape taken from the road near Akureyri in Iceland.
© Marc-André Le Tourneux / Alamy Stock Photo

The Capital of North Iceland is worthy of a pit stop for its many museums dedicated to Iceland’s motorcycle, aviation, art and literary history. The outdoor activities around the Eyjafjörður fjord are just as captivating and reflective of Iceland’s roots, too. Join a whale-watching tour and scout the waters for humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises – the fjord’s millpond-calm waters make them easy to see. Keep your camera aimed at the sky, too: seabirds circle overhead.

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  • Icelandair Hotel Myvatn

    Hotel
    Icelandair Hotel Myvatn
    Courtesy of Icelandair Hotel Myvatn / Expedia

    Head deeper into the north, towards the bird-rich volcanic lake of Mývatn, and welcome creature comforts with open arms at Icelandair Hotel Myvatn. Warm up with coffee and relaxing views in your suite, and take an extra long hot shower to redress the elements. You’ll find a bowl of piping hot Icelandic soup at Mylla Restaurant, or a pint and a plate of fish and chips at ​​the hotel’s Gamli Baerinn pub, if you want a quick bite before bed.

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    Lake Myvatn

    Natural Feature
    Map View
    2DAGF3T Geothermal region of Hverir in Iceland near Myvatn Lake, Iceland, Europe
    © Mikadun / Alamy Stock Photo

    You’ll have no trouble finding sites to explore on the Diamond Circle – Iceland’s northerly alternative to the busier Golden Circle route down south – including hikes to the Dimmuborgir volcanic caves, Leirhnjukur hot springs and Hverfjall crater. If you’re short on time, however, Lake Myvatn is an effortless yet amazing sight to conquer. Only a five-minute walk from the hotel, this scenic lake credits its beauty to the geothermal activity. The flora, fauna and wild birds will fill you with a sense of peace as you gaze into the horizon.

    Onwards to the East

    Hotel 1001 Nott

    Hotel

    Hotel 1001 Nott will quickly show you why travellers who skip the eastern part of Iceland are missing out. Large suites with floor-to-ceiling windows each have their own private entrances from the garden. The Cognac lounge is intoxicating, but you may simply prefer the sobering sight of the Northern Lights dancing over your outdoor hot tub. A buffet of food and panoramic views await in the morning, with the Snaefell mountain, Fljotsdalur valley and waters of lake Lagarfljot as your breakfast backdrop.

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    Wild Boys Tours

    Sports Center
    Map View
    P9103K The mountain Stapafell reflected in a pool at Arnarstapi on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland.
    © travellinglight / Alamy Stock Photo

    Adventure seekers, the Wild Boys want to elevate your Icelandic experience. This tour group is ready to introduce you to the best sights in the east. Ski Mt Snaefell in the daytime or hike to the top to watch the midnight sun rise at night in June. Spend an evening out at the Egilsstadir campsite peering into Troll’s Cave or hike down into Hafrahvammar canyon for a geothermal shower. From demanding climbs to leisurely treks, Wild Boys has an experience queued up for you.

    Looping back down South

    Hotel Höfn

    Hotel
    Hotel Höfn
    Courtesy of Hotel Höfn / Expedia

    As the Ring Road rounds down to the south, why not indulge in a little style at Hotel Höfn during the final leg of your trip? Sharp, modern decor creates clean and comfortable suites with views of the Vatnajokull glacier. Pamper your body with local organic skincare products, and spoil your palate with farm-fresh ice cream at their Osinn Restaurant – if you have room, that is, after feasting on the fishing village’s famously fresh langoustines.

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    Vatnajokull National Park

    Natural Feature, Park
    Map View
    JR50NF Man inside an ice caver under the Vatnajokull glacier, Vatnajokull national park, East Iceland, Iceland.
    © ClickAlps Srls / Alamy Stock Photo

    Get to know the Vatnajokull glacier on a deep level at Vatnajokull National Park – and we mean that literally. Ice-cave tours take you inside the frozen glacier to surround you with unbelievable blue ice. Once you’ve returned to the surface, it’s time to view the park from above. Head over to the trails surrounding Vestrahorn mountain and explore the Viking village used for movie shoots. Cups of hot chocolate and beard-stroking beer are waiting for you back at the summit at the Viking Cafe.

    Hotel Rangá

    Boutique Hotel, Hotel
    Courtesy of Hotel Rangá / Expedia

    With the most beautiful landscapes of Iceland in your rearview mirror, book a night at Hotel Rangá to relax, reflect, and repair before heading home. Walking to your room – with river or mountain views – you’ll see walls adorned with local art. The staff know just how comfortable the suite’s king beds are, which is why they’ll provide a Northern Lights wake-up service so you never miss a moment. Unwind in the hot tub beside the Rangá River or head to the observatory and get lost in the stars.

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    Vestmannaeyjar

    Natural Feature
    Map View
    D8J65C Iceland, Vestmannaeyjar, volcanic Westman Islands, Heimaey Island, puffin (Fratercula arctica). Image shot 11/2012. Exact date unknown.
    © Christian Kober 1 / Alamy Stock Photo

    Before heading home, Seljalandsfoss is likely the last stop on your hit-list. So, may we tempt you into one last adventure? Head a half-hour south and hop on the Landeyjahöfn ferry for southern Iceland’s best-kept secret: the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. Ferries provide a round-trip service for you and your vehicle throughout the day. This 35-minute hop opens up opportunities for puffin viewing, ATV volcano tours, and visits to a beluga-whale sanctuary.

    These recommendations were updated on September 13, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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