20 Essential Stops on Your First Road Trip in Iceland

20 Essential Stops on Your First Road Trip in Iceland

Essential Stops on Your First Trip to Iceland

The Road Trip Route

This Iceland road trip itinerary includes 1 day in Reykjavik, and stops along the southeastern portion of the Ring Road, and the Golden Circle completing a 7 day itinerary The Ring Road is an 800+ mile road around the entire country, but we focused on the southeastern portion of Iceland as far as the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon bordering Vatnajökull National Park. This drive is approximately 5-6 hours depending on road conditions.

These routes are the most popular for tourists venturing outside of Reykjavik. Visiting Iceland in October affords you little or no snow, sunlight during the day, less traffic, and the possibility of viewing the Northern Lights. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is late September to late March.  I was able to see the Northern lights in October of  2018, but 2019 the activity was low, and a constant cloud cover.

The most important thing you can do is start early each day. You will beat the crowds, and your lighting will be amazing for photos. 

Visiting Iceland more than one time allows you to see more of this magical country, and offers better odds of experiencing the Northern Lights.  The weather and lighting can dramatically change your experience.

Reykjavik Stops

There are many stops within Reykjavik. Reykjavik was founded in 1785, and is the capital and largest city in Iceland. It is located in southwestern Iceland on the Faxaflói bay. It is considered one of the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world. We chose the following stops on arrival day, and saved the last day of the trip to return to Reykjavik before flying out. You can use the last day to explore this charming city further.
Essential Stops on your first Trip to Iceland

Perlan Wonders of Icleand
1. Perlan Wonders of Iceland – A prominent landmark in Reykjavik, and a nature exploratorium. The Perlan is a fantastic first stop before exploring the land of fire and ice. The museum is beautiful and does a great job of explaining the amazing natural aspects of Iceland’s flora, fauna and unique geology. The tour takes about 2 hours, and if you spend quality time learning, you will be able to answer many of your own questions during the road trip.

2. Hallgrímskirkja – The Lutheran church founded in 1945 in the center of the city took 41 years to build. The unique design is similar to expressionist architecture. There is a 244 foot tower that offers breathtaking views of Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. The cost is 1000 Krona (about 8$). Definitely a great stop for photos.

3. The Sun Voyager – Is a sculpture by  Jón Gunnar Árnason described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the Sun. It was built to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city. The photo opps are great for the city skyline during the day and night. It is also one of the spots where we witnessed the Northern lights in October 2018.

To read more about this magical country and the best stops click the read more link!
Essential Stops First Visit to Iceland

Click this link to learn how to pack to keep warm and dry on a road trip in Iceland!
20 essential stops on your first road trip in iceland

View from the top of Hallgrímskirkja
Essential Stops on Your First Visit to Iceland

The Sun Voyager

The Ring Road Stops

The Iceland Ring Road, also known as Þjóðvegur 1, or Route 1, is a national road that runs all around the country, connecting all the major towns and cities. The Ring Road is 828 miles long (1,332 kilometres), making it the longest road in Iceland.
Essential Stops for your First Visit in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss – Waterfall
4.  Seljalandsfoss – Waterfall –  Location J286+6H Stóridalur, Iceland. This dramatic waterfall is close to Reykjavik at 1 hour 45 minutes. It was crowded both times I visited it.  The best part is that you can walk behind the water fall. The path to the left has a bit of rock scrambling on slippery rocks. You can also hike up to look down on the falls.
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip in Iceland

Skogafoss Waterfall – The Smaller Upper Falls
5. Skógafoss Waterfall – Another roadside waterfall about a half hour East of Seljalandsfoss. What makes this stop different, is the option to hike up 370 steps to see the falls from the top, and continue on to see the smaller falls pictured above. This is definitely a road trip for the active tourist. You can see some falls from the road, but the jaw dropping sights sometimes take a bit of a hike.
6. Dyrhólaey Viewpoint – Location CV2C+HJ Vik, Iceland. The Ride up to this view point is really fun. We were in a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but we passed many smaller vehicles along the steep gravel switch back road up to the lighthouse and view of Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach). This is a must see location. The mossy green cliffs are such a gorgeous contrast to the black sand beach. The vistas are incredible. 

View from the Dyrhólaey Peninsula of Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)
20 Essential Stops on your first Road Trip in Iceland

Dyrhólaey Peninsula Rock Formation
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We ate a quick lunch in the town of  Vik, but continued on the Ring Road so that we could reach our final destination of The Foss Hotel near Jökulsárlón Lagoon prior to dark at 6:20 p.m. Each day at this time of the year 7 minutes of light is lost. 

​The Ring Road can be a bit dangerous to drive on in icy & windy conditions. I prefer to drive only in daylight. We had several other stops, so we needed to time it efficiently. We would revisit the town of Vik on our return on the same road 2 days later.

20 Essential Stops on your First Road Trip to Iceland

Svartifoss Waterfall in the Skaftafell Nature Preservere within Vatnajökull National Park
7. Hundafoss and Svartifoss Waterfalls in the Skaftafell Nature Preservere within Vatnajökull National Park This nature preserve about 1 hour west of Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon is breathtaking!  The 2.9 mile hike is on the easy side with a bit of elevation on a wide heavily trafficked trail. You can hike & scramble down to be close to the base of Svartifoss.  At sunset the Eastern portion of the Svartifoss Loop has amazing lighting. Don’t miss the portion on the board walk going towards the glacier.
20 Essential Stops on your First Road

Svartifoss Loop Trail Going West towards the Glacier
8.  ​Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon –  A highlight on the most Eastern point of our road trip was the zodiac boat tour. The boat tour is a bit touristy and cold, but exhilarating.  The glacier borders Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland.  The magical blue waters are dotted with icebergs from the surrounding Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, part of larger Vatnajökull Glacier.  You suit up in survival suits to keep warm and many of the tour guides are commercial fisherman working during their off season. Highlights include viewing huge icebergs, grey & harbour seals sunbathing on ice chunks, and possibly a calving iceberg. The lagoon is also one of the most dramatic spots in Iceland to view the Northern Lights. 
20 Essential Stops on your First Road Trip in Iceland

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip in Iceland

Iceberg in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
9. Diamond Beach – This beach is directly across from the Lagoon. The icebergs break up and float through a canal out to the Atlantic. The result is a stark contrast of clear ice and black sand. You will spend about 45 minutes there capturing some cool images. The size of the ice chunks depends on the time of the year.
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip to iceland

Diamond Beach near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
10. Eldhraun Lava Field – The vast green, lumpy and mossy lava fields are located about 1 hour and a half southwest of the glacier lagoon on your return back towards Vik on the Ring Road (Route 1). The lava fields were created by a devastating eruption that lasted 8-months of the Laki Volcano in 1783 & 1784. The moss takes decades to grow, so it is important not to walk on it. There are viewing points in the area for great photos. Morning sun makes for the best photos.
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip to iceland

Eldhraun Lava & Moss Field
11. ​Hjörleifshöfði Cave – Location 9CM3C68P+Q5. This cave is about 45 minutes after the Eldhraun Lava Field. Make sure to add the coordinates for location to your GPS, because the entrance can easily be missed. You will drive down a long sandy road alongside the huge rock formation. The sign will have you turn left for parking and a hike to the cave, but you can also drive all the way to the entrance of the cave which faces the Atlantic. It is more of a carve out of the rock formation, and a quick photo opp.
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip to Iceland

Hjörleifshöfði Cave Opening
12. Reyniskirkja (Church) in the town of Vik – This quaint church is the main landmark in the town of Vik. It is perched on a hill with an amazing view and the red roof and steeple are a pretty contrast to the landscape. Another great photo opp.
20 Essential stops on your first road trip to iceland

Reyniskirkja Church in the town of Vik
13. Reynisfjara Beach (Black Sand Beach) – This is probably the most photographed site in Iceland. You will most likely recognize the dramatic rock formations just off the beach. It is always crowded, and tricky to take pictures without 100s of tourists in the background. The best recommendation is to go at sunrise to capture the dramatic solitude of this unique spot. 
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip to iceland

Reynisfjara Beach – Rock Formations
14. Solheimasandur Plane Wreck – This is an easy flat walk of about 3.5 miles out and back to the plane wreck. The DC plane crashed in the 70’s when the US Navy plane ran out of fuel. The crew survived, but the plane carcass has been sitting on the beach since the 70s. There is a new shuttle that runs and is about 8$ each way. We hiked out to the crash in 30 mph winds and rain, and were happy to take the shuttle back to the parking lot. This is another crowded tourist area, but you can go early or in bad weather like us, and only encounter a handful of people.
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip in Iceland

Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
15.  Hella Iceland to take pictures of Icelandic Horses – We found the best locale to see roadside Icelandic Horses is in Hella. The horses are accustomed to having tourists pull over and pet them and take pictures with them, and they are very photogenic!
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip in Iceland

Icelandic Horses

The Golden Circle Stops

The Golden Circle is a tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 190 miles looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. It is the area that contains most tours and travel-related activities in Iceland. The stops are amazing, but be prepared for the crowds, as always, early starts are a good thing!
16. Thingborg – Wool workshop in Selfoss Iceland – Gamla Þingborg, 801 Selfoss, Iceland.  Unless you live in Florida or Los Angeles (or a tropical climate) you will definitely want to take home a handmade Icelandic sweater. We searched and found that this shop had the most authentic and gorgeous supply of sweaters and yarn. The Handnkitting Association in Reykjavik also has a nice inventory, but we liked the charm of this stop.
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip in icelandd

Roadside Yarn Workshop Location in Selfoss
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip in icelandd

Thingborg – Wool workshop in Selfoss Iceland
17. Kerid Crater – Kerid is a striking volcanic crater lake, filled with milky blue-green water amid stark black and deep red slopes. It is an easy stop on the Golden Circle route, and a nice break to stretch your legs and take a short brisk hike. There is a charge of approximately $7 and parking is on-site. You will not see the stop until you are right on it. 
20 Essential Stops on your first Road Trip in iceland

Kerid Crater
18.  Stokkur Geyser – This  is the Old Faithful of Iceland. The geothermal geyser erupts every 8-10 minutes and reaches a height of 20 meters.  There are new additional trails as of 2019. You can walk past the geyers and continue onto the top for an amazing view of the valley. You can do the 1 mile approximately long hike as a loop and return back to the welcome center. The welcome center has a delicious soup bar and nice shopping area.
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip to Iceland

Stokkur Geyser
19.  Gullfoss Waterfall –  These falls are the Niagra Falls of Iceland! A powerful display of water and energy. The story of Gullfoss is also intriguing. Sigridur Tomasdottir the daughter of the original landowner, saved the waterfall from being destroyed in the early 20th century when business people had plans to turn the waterfall into a hydroelectric dam to generate electricity. The welcome center is at the top of the falls. It is a short hike down. There is also an option to take a higher hike to look down on the falls. If you arrive 1 hour after opening, you will miss the first round of tour busses.
20 Essential stops on your first road trip in Iceland

Gulfoss Waterfall
20. Thingvellir National Park – The most visited park in Iceland, Thingvellir has historical, cultural, and geological significance. The national parliament of Iceland, which was founded at Þingvellir in 930 and held its sessions there until 1798. The rift that goes through the park has become popular in pop culture when The Game of Thrones used the site to shoot various scenes in the well-known epic drama. The welcome center is amazing and you can spend over an hour just going through it.
20 essential stops on your first road trip in iceland

Thingvellir National Park – Mid Atlantic Rift
20 Essential Stops on your first road trip in Iceland

Thingvellir National Park Church

Thoughts on travelling in Iceland

I typically do not like to travel back to a country that I have already visited. Iceland was an exception. There is so much to see at every bend on every road. Iceland is dramatically different in every season. There is the midnight sun in the Summer, The Northern Lights Sept. – March, snow in the winter and so much more.

The hotels although not glamorous, are wonderful with Scandinavian design, clean lines and beautiful simplicity. The food is interesting and the Nordic diet is surprisingly healthy with a good balance of fiber, fat and fresh fish. Travel in Northern European countries is uncomplicated given wide use of the English language, tech forward approach to retail check out and well marked & maintained roads, and parks. 

I look forward to an opportunity to return to Iceland for the 3rd time to travel the full circumference  of the Ring Road to explore off-the-beaten path locations.

Published by Judy Hughes

I am a small group trip leader for 2 travel clubs. We check out cool and off the beaten path places around the World. Adventure is our specialty. I love to take notes and share the travel tips with you in my blog! Hope you check it out!