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A road trip through the Nordic nation of Iceland should be on everyone’s bucket list. The beautiful scenery is endless and is unlike anything else. The immense amount of natural attractions include waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, and black sand beaches. There is no better way to explore Iceland than by driving the Ring Road. Iceland’s Ring Road, or Route 1, encircles the entire country and is its one main road. It covers 1,322 km (821 mi) and connects most of Iceland’s inhabited parts. Renting a car and traveling independently is the best way to see everything the Ring Road has to offer; however, there are tours available throughout the country. The Ring Road is fairly easy to drive. Route 1 is well paved and has plenty of gas stations and rest areas, but the weather can vary greatly and can be challenging. A vehicle with 4-wheel drive is recommended in wetter months or if you plan on visiting more remote locations.
The weather should also be taken into account when planning the length of your trip. The entire length of the Ring Road can technically be driven in under 24 hours, but you can expect it to take at least a week when making stops along the way. There are so many incredible places to stop for photos that even a week is pushing it. During the summer months, 8-10 days is ideal and 2 weeks is recommended for winter months. You never know when you might have to unexpectedly stop and wait out a snowstorm during the winter. Many of Iceland’s most popular attractions are found along the South Coast, so I recommend making it the focus of your trip. The following is the perfect five-day itinerary for driving Iceland’s Ring Road and exploring its stunning southern coast:
Day 1: Reykjavik
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital city and the main hub for international travel. Most travelers will either begin or end their journey here. It’s a great place to spend some time soaking up Icelandic culture. The small and artsy city is full of colorful houses, quirky cafes, and museums. Be sure to take in the views from the tower at Hallgrimskirkja Church and visit the world-famous Blue Lagoon. There are also many great day trips that can be done out of Reykjavik. The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s top attractions and is an absolute must. It can be visited from Reykjavik or added to the beginning or end of this itinerary. You’ll need at least two days to explore the city plus additional time for any day trips you may be interested in.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik:
Kex is a trendy hostel in what was once an old biscuit factory. It’s conveniently located in the city center and is one of Reyjavik’s hippest places to stay. It has a great bar and patio area and is just a short walk from Laugavegur shopping street.
Fosshotel Reykjavik is a 16-floor hotel with modern and stylish rooms. It has an on-site restaurant and even a beer garden. The location is great and is within walking distance of many of Reykjavik’s attractions.
Day 2: Reykjavik to Vik
The drive from Reykjavik to Vik is 185 km (115 mi) and is about two and a half hours without stops. This stretch has some of the best attractions on the south coast so I recommend an early start.
Seljalandsfoss is the first stopping point and is a little under two hours from Reykjavik. It’s one of Iceland’s most visited waterfalls, mainly due to its location right off the Ring Road. It can actually be seen from the road and is nearly impossible to miss. Seljalandsfoss is fairly large with a drop of 60m (200ft). It may not be quite as big as some of Iceland’s falls, but it does have a feature that the others don’t. Visitors can actually walk behind it for a completely different perspective. Just be prepared to get drenched.
Seljavallalaug is a swimming pool tucked away in the mountains. It’s was built in 1923 and is one of the oldest pools in Iceland. The pool is built into the landscape and the secluded area is a great place to relax. To reach the pool, continue driving down Route 1 for about 40 min and then turn onto Route 242. From the parking lot, you will begin hiking north. The hike is short and takes about 20 minutes each way. The terrain can be a bit rocky and wet so make sure you have the proper footwear. The pool is free to use and there is a changing room on-site; however, there are no showers.
Another 20 minutes down the road is Skogafoss. Skogafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls. The waterfall is 62 meters tall (200ft) and 25 m (82 ft) wide. It sits on the Skoga River and the powerful waters flow from two different glaciers, the Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers. A series of 370 steep steps can be found on the side of the falls. The climb is exhausting but the view is worth it. There’s an observation deck that sits over the waterfall and the coastline can be seen for miles. It’s impossible not to get wet, so visitors will want to dress in rain gear.
Solheimasandur Plane Crash
In 1973, a US Navy DC plane crashed on the black sand beach of Solheimasandur in Southern Iceland. It is said that the plane either encountered severe weather or it ran out of fuel. All the crew members survived, but the fuselage was abandoned. It remains there today, on a desolate stretch of beach, slowly deteriorating away. The site is easily accessible but is also easy to miss.
After departing from Skogafoss, visitors will want to pay close attention to the road. Not far on Route 1 will be a bridge with blinking yellow lights and an access road to Solheimajokull Glacier on the left. Continue driving straight for another 2 km (1.25 mi), until you come to another dirt road on the right. There will be a gate and a parking lot. If you go over a second bridge, then you have gone too far. Vehicles are no longer allowed to drive to the plane wreckage and visitors must walk. The walk is 4 km (2.5 mi) from the parking area to the plane and will take about 40 minutes each way, depending on the conditions when you visit.