Ring Road, Iceland
These days, one of the hottest destinations on Earth is one of the coldest: Iceland. Well, that’s in name only. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, this island nation in the far reaches of the North Atlantic is fairly mild. Sure, it gets cold in the winter—and there’s not a lot of sun because the days are so short. But in the summer and shoulder seasons, there’s tons of light, bringing to life an incredibly colorful and complicated landscape featuring lava, black sand, moss, hot springs, massive buttes, crazy-looking rock formations, glaciers and unbelievably gorgeous chunks of ice. Oh, and there are waterfalls everywhere. And with affordable, frequent airline service, a really hopping food scene and a cute-as-a-button capital city, it’s no wonder travelers from Canada, Italy, China, Germany, the UK and USA are flocking to Iceland in droves. So be careful when you go to avoid crowds, rent a car to get around and start saving: the only major drawback to Iceland is the cost. It’s an expensive destination but definitely worth the steep prices.
Reykjavik is the charming capital. It’s easy to tour in one day and features many great shops, restaurants and places to stay. And it has some excellent museums and historical spots, too. Located on the island’s northside, Akureyri a another attractive town with all the amenities.
Keep in Mind
Rental vehicles and bikes are the best ways to explore. While the roads are generally good, distances are pretty far. And gas is expensive. Most rental cars are manual transmission which may be a turnoff but honestly, Iceland is easy to navigate—even "big city” Reykjavik.
Route & Map
This essay follows the western and southern portions of the Ring Road as well as the major highways in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Featuring several locations visited over a week, this video covers 700 km (435 miles) and includes the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls and Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon.
As its name implies, the Ring Road circles the island and takes several days to circumnavigate. And sometimes wintery weather or landslides make the road impassable. But it’s generally in good shape, particularly in the western and southern regions where most people live and many tourist sites are located.
Best Time to Visit
Go in the shoulder seasons, particularly fall, when there’s still a lot of daylight and the crowds are smaller. Spring is good, too, although the weather can be more wintery. Summer is awesome with almost round-the-clock daylight but that also means lots of visitors, sky-high prices and little chance of seeing aurora borealis, the northern lights.
Inspired by Iceland is the country’s official site with plenty of suggestions and gorgeous pictures.