Think of our Iceland tours, and you’re likely to conjure images similar to what staffer Lindsay describes. “Mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes, lava fields, beaches, rock formations—they all seem taller, higher, more dramatic, and more vast,” she said. “The landscape there is larger than life, and so much fun to photograph.”
And what better way to capture that beauty than a cruise along the Ring Road of Iceland? This motorway hugs rocky coastlines, cuts through jagged mountain ranges, burrows underground, connects most of the nation’s towns and villages, and offers tourists incredible photo ops. Of all the sights on our Iceland: The Golden Circle & Ring Road tour, we think five stand out—but before you book your ticket, take a minute to learn more about this world-famous drive.
Ring Road 101
What is the Ring Road in Iceland?
We aren’t exaggerating when we say there’s no other road like it. Finished in 1974, this highway encircles (or rings) almost all of the country—from Reykjavík to the Eastfjords—providing a continuous route around Iceland and simplifying travel for truckers and tourists alike.
I see. So, how long is Iceland’s Ring Road?
It clocks in at about 821 miles: roughly the same distance as a drive from Rome to Prague or from San Francisco to Seattle. Nonstop, the Ring Road takes about 17 hours to complete—but you’ll definitely want to budget time for some stops.
That makes sense. What Ring Road attractions should I look out for?
We might say it a lot, but there really is something for everyone. Interested in hiking a hulking ice cap? Head for Sólheimajökull. How about visiting a glacial lagoon? Check out Jökulsárlón. Eyjafjallajökull volcano and the Eldhraun lava field offer stunning reminders of Iceland’s seismic legacy. All of these stops deserve your time, but if we had to pick a top five, the following make our cut.
Four-and-a-half hours up Iceland’s Ring Road from Reykjavík, you’ll come across one of the country’s longest fjords: Eyjafjörður. Various settlements, including Akureyri, sprouted up in the inner fjord’s flats, nestled between the water and the mountains.
Head towards its mouth, though, and things get hillier. Rugged terrain lines both sides of Eyjafjörður, flanking the island of Hrísey and leading directly to open ocean. Snap this majestic scene—and catch a glimpse of orcas, dolphins, and more of the fjord’s favorite inhabitants—on our optional Akureyri Fjord Whale Watching excursion, part of our Iceland: The Golden Circle & Ring Road tour.
4. Mývatn Nature Baths
It might get the most press, but the pastel Blue Lagoon isn’t your only option for an otherworldly swim. Drive about 80 minutes east from Akureyri on the Iceland Ring Road and you’ll find Mývatn—a volcanic lake with a photogenic hot spring all its own.
With milky blue water that surges over 8,000 feet to the surface, the manmade Mývatn Nature Baths bubble along at a toasty 104°F. And thanks to high levels of silica and sulfur, the mineral-rich lagoons are said to ease respiratory conditions like asthma. (They’re even great for your skin!)
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In the early 10th century—not long after the island was first settled—the chiefs of over 30 local clans sought to establish a general assembly. The spot they chose was a rift valley: Þingvellir. Pronounced "thingvellir," this directly translates to “the field of parliament,” and for the next 800+ years, it was the home of Iceland’s ruling body, the Althing.
Want to know why the country’s often dubbed the Land of Fire and Ice? Visit Þingvellir. Now a national park, the country’s cradle is a photographic feast: Wedged between two tectonic plates, it serves a visual buffet of mossy lava fields, ravines flooded with crystal-clear water, and much, much more. “I’d never seen anything like it before. It felt like being on another planet,” staffer Thea said. “It had the lush greens of Ireland with rocky formations that—aside from their black color—reminded me of places like Arizona and Utah.” The best part? This Ring Road attraction is just a 40-minute drive from Reykjavík.
When it comes to waterfalls, sightseers on Iceland’s Ring Road are truly spoiled for choice. Seljalandsfoss marvels with its sheer 200-foot drop; horseshoe-shaped Goðafoss rumbles year-round. But photographers treasure one above all others—Gullfoss, the Golden Falls.
The cascade draws its name from the rich hue it takes on sunny days, and its course downhill serves more visual gold. Surrounded by greenery, Gullfoss rains down over two separate tiers, creating an “absolutely gorgeous” panorama, according to staffer Priscilla. “This is one of the most popular stops and one of Iceland’s most beloved waterfalls,” she said. “Once you see her, you’ll understand why.” If you’re taking the scenic route around Iceland, don’t miss this destination.
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Fancy a little spelunking? Dotted with lava tubes, the Icelandic landscape invites rookies and pros alike to a little subterranean exploration. Regardless of personal experience, Víðgelmir never ceases to amaze.
Formed by a massive magma flow just decades before the creation of the Althing, this mile-long corridor stretches up to 52 feet tall and 54 wide. It’s the largest cave of its kind in the country—and with a walkway and installed lights, you can properly focus on taking pictures of every last stalagmite.
Be sure to pack extra film: There’s much more to Iceland than the Golden Circle and the Ring Road. If you’re ready, check out our other Iceland trips and prepare for the photo op of a lifetime.