Driving The Ring Road in Three Days

Iceland’s famous Þjóðvegur 1 highway, or the Ring Road, is a 1322 km long road that circles the country. Technically it can be covered from start to finish in less than 24 hours but rushing the road trip would defeat the purpose of experiencing the beautiful nature and eccentric small towns that Iceland has to offer. The optimal way to travel the Ring Road is in approximately seven days with plenty of pit stops, but it’s also entirely possible to have an enjoyable trip in much less than that. For those who have limited time to travel, here’s a guide to a three day trip around Iceland.

Where to Begin?

At the start of the trip, travellers have two options, driving north or south but for the purpose of this article, the northern route is chosen. Heading north takes travellers through the Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel towards Borgarnes which is a popular first quick stop for gathering snacks or having lunch, but for a little less crowded option we recommend Baulan, a small gas station twenty minutes past Borgarnes. Baulan is perfect for a coffee break and a hot dog before getting back on the road. About 40 minutes from Baulan marks the beginning of the drive through Holtavörðuheiði, a long stretch of road that ascends through barren hillsides. During the summer, Holtavörðuheiði poses no difficulty for drivers but during winter the road can get quite icy and it’s worth staying up to date on road conditions when travelling in the winter months. Coming back down from the hills, travellers are greeted by Staðarskáli, a good sized gas station and restaurant that was originally opened in 1960 and then reconstructed in 2008 under the N1 chain of gas stations. Due to its location right between Reykjavík and the North part of Iceland, it has been one of the most popular rest stops on the Ring Road. Although some of the old time charm was replaced by a more modern look by N1, it’s still a classic stop to restock on drinks and road snacks. Before getting to Akureyri, the road crosses Blönduós, a decent sized town named after the Blanda river that rushes through the area. Blönduós has a number of restaurants and gas stations to drop in, but for people who crave an old fashioned burger joint there is the North West restaurant in Víðigerði, some 39 km from Blönduós.

Photo: Golli. A collection of waterfalls in Borgarfjörður

After that the Ring Road heads into Skagafjörður, a large region known for its dramatic history during the Sturlunga Era and for its rich horsebreeding culture. The last proper stop before Akureyri is Varmahlíð in Skagafjörður, a tiny community that still manages a hotel and a swimming pool along with a restaurant and gas station. From Varmahlíð it’s about an hour drive to Akureyri with no other options for pit stops through the sometimes treacherous Öxnadalsheiði. 

Akureyri, Capital of North Iceland

Akureyri, the second biggest town in Iceland, is nestled at the roots of Hlíðarfjall mountain, a popular skiing area during winter time. It has a more “city feel” than the other smaller towns that are scattered around the country, and is an ideal place to stop for the first night of the trip. Akureyri offers numerous hotels, guesthouses and camping areas along with a diverse restaurant scene and a huge swimming pool with a funky waterslide. The climate in Akureyri is often a lot calmer than in Reykjavík and during summer it’s more likely than not to catch beautiful, sunny days there while Reykjavík has more unpredictable weather. There is no shortage of activities available in Akureyri and it is sure to leave an impression on any traveller passing through. In 2022, a new geothermal bath spot opened right outside Akureyri called Skógarböðin, or Forest Lagoon, a beautifully designed, modern take on the natural bath. It’s a great spot to unwind after the long drive and enjoy the surrounding nature. For breakfast in Akureyri there are a few options, but a great little café called Kaffi Ilmur is a great choice. Kaffi Ilmur serves breakfast all day long and has amazing Dutch specialty pancakes that should not be missed.

Photo: Golli. Akureyri is the second largest town in Iceland

Experiencing East-Iceland

Heading out east from Akureyri, the next stop should be Egilsstaðir, a small town with a big personality and a great natural bath called Vök, which is located on top of Urriðavatn lake. Visitors can soak in the hot pools and then take a dip in the lake to cool off. East-Iceland has a lot to offer and it’s the only part of the country where wild reindeer roam free. Because of the short trip and long drives between destinations, it might not be possible to go on many excursions, but travellers should try to squeeze in a reindeer safari to see these adorable animals in their natural habitat. On the South-Eastern edge of Iceland, close to Vatnajökull glacer is Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake that is a must see on the Ring Road trip. The lake runs directly from Vatnajökull and out to the ocean and carries with it beautiful icebergs from the glacier in all different colors of blue. Close by is the Diamond Beach where pieces of the icebergs have broken off and collected on the shore. It’s a stunning display of the ever changing elements of Icelandic nature.

Photo: Berglind. The Glacier Lagoon in East-Iceland

 For the second night on the trip, Höfn í Hornafirði is a great spot, a small coastal town on the  South-East tip, or travellers can duck into Hotel Jökulsárlón, a cozy hotel close to the glacier lake. About 20 minutes before entering Höfn there are the Vestrahorn mountains, a picturesque range of ragged mountains that seem to rise up from the black, sandy beach. 

The Scenic South Coast

On the third day, driving from Höfn, begins the home stretch, a beautiful, scenic drive along the southern part of Iceland. This part of the country doesn’t have the many hills and valleys of the western and northern parts and so the drive is smooth and peaceful. The southern route also has some of the most popular nature highlights of Iceland, and as travellers get closer to Reykjavík, there are numerous spots to stop and enjoy the views. Three hours from Höfn is Vík í Mýrdal, another small seaside town that is surrounded by dramatic mountain formations. There are a number of food options in Vík, including a craft brewery pub called Smiðjan Brewery that offers a good selection of local specialty beers. Thirty minutes from Vík is the famed Skógafoss, an iconic waterfall that can be seen right from the highway. Continuing west is another, smaller waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, where visitors have a chance to walk up close and get behind the gushing water. Close by Seljalandsfoss is Seljavallalaug, a beautiful natural bath, hidden from the views of the Ring Road. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the pool but the soak is worth every minute.

Photo: Golli. Seljalandsfoss on the South Coast

Getting back on the road from Seljavallalaug, travellers have the option of taking a small detour to see Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geysir. As part of the Golden Cirlce, these spots are a popular attraction for tour groups, but it’s easy and fun to get around there on your own. From the Golden Circle it’s a short one hour drive back to Reykjavík where it all started. A short trip like this around Iceland is only able to give a small preview of all the possible things to see and do around the country, but it is a great way to get familiar with driving on the roads and to hopefully get hyped for a longer return trip in the future.

Skógafoss, Iceland – Popular for a Reason

Skógafoss waterfall is one of those instantly recognisable landmarks in Iceland that has been used in countless movies and advertisements to showcase the natural beauty of the countryside. Nevertheless, it is striking in person and should not be missed if given the opportunity. Skógafoss is a popular attraction on most tours around the southside of Iceland and it’s easy to find an accessible group tour that includes a stopover there. For those who want to travel on their own, Skógafoss is about two hours away from Reykjavík on a straight drive down Þjóðvegur 1 highway. It is located in Rangárþing eystra, south of Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

The Legendary Skógafoss

Skógafoss is around 60 m high and 25 m wide, making it one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland and while it’s usually viewed from below, there is a trail close by that leads up to the cliffs above that offers impressive views down the cascading water. Legend has it that one of the first Vikings in Iceland buried a treasure behind the waterfall that was later partially recovered and given to a nearby church for savekeeping. Today, a ring from the treasure trove is found in a museum at Skógar, a small village close to Skógafoss. Along the river Skógá, from where Skógafoss falls, are a number of smaller waterfalls that are worth the hike up to enjoy, along with impressive views over the South Coast. Skógar village is a short twenty minute walk from Skógafoss and is a great little place to stop for coffee or a meal and unwind from the thunderous vistas. Although small, the village has a number of accommodation options for those who want to extend their stay, and at least one of them, Hótel Skógafoss offers a nice view directly at the waterfall. 

Photo: Golli. The Skógar Museum close to Skógafoss

Skógafoss and Beyond

Skógafoss is only one of many attractions in this area of the south that includes the Seljavallalaug hot pool and Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It also marks the beginning of the hike up Fimmvörðuháls, a 22 km trail between glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. The hike takes about 11-14 hours but because of its great accessibility it’s one of the most popular hikes in the country. Close by is also the iconic Þórsmörk, a breathtaking highland valley with beautiful hiking trails. There’s a reason why some places are used to advertise Iceland and it’s safe to say no one will be disappointed with a visit to Skógafoss and the surrounding area.

A Guide to Iceland’s Most Popular Waterfalls

dynjandi waterfall in iceland

Skógafoss Waterfall

This 60-metre [200 ft] waterfall is immersed in legend. The tallest waterfall in Iceland, Skógafoss is fed by two glaciers. Its icy waters plummet down to a pool below, where visitors can walk close to the falls, likely getting drenched in the process. 

The waterfall itself can be seen from two different viewpoints: at its base and from above. Visitors can climb a metal staircase to reach the top of the falls, where they are often greeted by the song of birds and a carpet of luscious greenery. A double rainbow typically accompanies this view, a result of the sunlight striking the water. 

skógafoss waterfall in south iceland

The legend surrounding Skógafoss details how the viking Þrasi Þórólfsson buried a chest full of treasures behind the falls:

“The chest of Þrasi is filled with treasures, 

located beneath Skógafoss waterfall,

the first man who goes there will find great richness.” 

Years later, three men set out to find this chest. They were successful. Yet upon trying to remove it from its watery hiding place, one of the golden rings, which served as a handle, broke off and plunged the chest deep beneath the waterfall, never to be found again. Travellers can find this infamous golden ring at the Skógar Museum. 

Traveling to Skógafoss

Located in the South of Iceland, Skógafoss is an ideal destination for anyone travelling on the Ring Road. Only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, visitors who choose to drive to this destination can take advantage of free parking and the nearby campsite in the village of Skógar. Skógafoss is also accessible by bus line 51. 

Activities Near Skógafoss

Adventure enthusiasts who are eager to savour the natural beauty of their surroundings can hike in the area. A hiking trail can be found at the top of Skógafoss. It leads to the Fimmvörðuháls Trailhead, which many consider to be one of the best hikes in Iceland. This challenging trail spans 24.5 km [15.2 mi] with a 1300 metre [4265 ft] ascent and typically takes seven to twelve hours to complete.

For those who prefer a less strenuous activity, the Skógar museum is close to a five-minute drive from Skógafoss. The museum was opened in 1949 and is located beside a school building from 1901, an old magistrate’s house, a farmhouse, and a turf storehouse. Visitors can find national costumes, a tapestry, other artifacts, and the golden ring from the legend inside the museum. 

 

Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss, a waterfall which boasts of nature’s strength, is known by many as “the beast”. The most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, this natural wonder is a spectacular vision.  Fed by the largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajokull, Dettifoss is 100 metres [328 ft] wide with a 44 metre [144 ft] drop. Some say by placing one’s hand on top of nearby rocks, you can feel the power of Dettifoss reverberate through the landscape. 

Dettifoss offers two different vantage points. The upper view is accessible via a path along the river, where travellers may experience a chilling spray from the waterfall. For the lower viewpoint, visitors can embark on a steep downhill walk, which is also likely to result in being drenched in the waterfall’s mist.

dettifoss waterfall in north iceland

Travelling to Dettifoss 

Located in Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland’s northeast, this waterfall is a seven-hour drive from Reykjavik. However, it is only a 35-minute drive off of the Ring Road. Travellers can access Dettifoss from either the east or west side. Road 864 will take travellers to the west side of the waterfall, while Road 862 will lead to the east. There is free parking on both the east and west sides of Dettifoss. Some travellers may also prefer discovering Dettifoss from the comfort of a guided tour.

Activities Near Dettifoss

Dettifoss is not the only waterfall in the area. Explorers can hike a rocky 1 km [0.62 mi] trail to Selfoss. This waterfall is found in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and is 100 [328 ft] metres wide. Often dwarfed by the magnificence of its neighbour, Dettifoss, Selfoss is worth the 30-minute trek. Travellers are often mesmerised by its horseshoe-like shape and the gentle spray of mist which compliments the Icelandic landscape. The Mývatn nature baths are also nearby, making a great stop on a tour of the area.

Hafragilsfoss waterfall is located downstream from Dettifoss and is only a five-minute drive north. Hafragilsfoss is fed by the same glacier as Dettifoss and stands at 27 metres [89 ft]. Nestled within rocky terrain, this waterfall can be viewed from the east or west. 

 

Gullfoss Waterfall

A popular Hollywood destination, Gullfoss waterfall has made an appearance in a myriad of films. Will Ferrell’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Lost in Space, Vikings, and Twice Upon a Time, have all taken advantage of the stunning landscape and thundering falls. 

Called the Golden Falls, Gullfoss lives up to its name. Rather than a single cascade, this waterfall flows over two rocky plateaus, carrying water from the Langjokull glacier to the pool below. In the summer months, the sunlight shines upon Gullfoss, causing the water to take on a spectacular golden hue. 

To travellers who are visiting Gullfoss in the winter months, it is prudent to take caution as the terrain can often by icy and slippery and requires caution when exploring. 

gullfoss waterfall golden circle
Golli – Gullfoss Waterfall

Travelling to Gullfoss 

The Gullfoss waterfall is in Iceland’s southwest in Haukadalur valley. It is a popular stop for those who are travelling along the Golden Circle. It can be reached from Reykjavik in only two hours by car. There is a visitor center and parking lot near Gullfoss and parking is free.  There are no city buses available from Reykjavik to Gullfoss, but many guided tours are available. 

Activities Near Gullfoss

Gullfoss Café is located next to the main parking lot where customers can purchase tasty delicacies. A nearby shop is also available, selling Icelandic souvenirs. 

Gullfoss also has a couple different walking paths that visitors can travel for a truly immersive experience. Different views of the waterfall and canyon are available, mostly looking from the waterfall above as it tumbles into the canyon below. A truly breathtaking view.  

Check out even more ways to see the Golden Circle.

 

Dynjandi Waterfall

For travellers with an inclination for waterfalls, Dynjandi is the place to be. Known as the “jewel of the Westfjords”, Dynjandi shimmers amidst the landscape. It stands at 100 metres [328 ft] tall with a width of 60 metres [197 ft]. However, it is not the only waterfall nearby. Rather, Dynjandi is one of seven other waterfalls in the area. In order to access Dynjandi, travellers must hike past these six other waterfalls. They are called: Strompgljúfrafoss, Göngumannafoss, Hrísvaðsfoss, Kvíslarfoss, Hundafoss and Bæjarfoss. However, most agree that Dynjandi, which has often been equated to a bridal veil, is the most spectacular in the area. 

dynjandi waterfall westfjords
Berglind – Dynjandi Waterfall

Travelling to Dynjandi 

A six-hour drive away from the nation’s capital, Dynjandi is not easily accessible from Reykjavik. This means the waterfall is not often crowded by tourist and is worth the trek for travellers who wish to avoid large crowds. For those travelling by car, there is free parking. 

It is also possible to reach the waterfall from the comfort of an organised tour. 

Activities Near Dynjandi 

In order to reach Dynjandi waterfall, travellers must make a fifteen-minute hike uphill on a well-maintained pathway. This hike is steep and may not be accessible to everybody. This journey will take travellers past six other smaller waterfalls along the path and serves to be a quick but beautiful hike. 

 

Lost in Space to Film in Iceland

Netflix series Lost in Space has received the green light from the Environment Agency of Iceland to film at Skógafoss and Dyrhólaey in South Iceland, RÚV reports. Around 100 people will be involved in the filming, which is to take place over several days at the locations.

Skógafoss waterfall is one of the most visited sites in South Iceland. The Environment Agency placed the fall on a list of sites in danger last year due to the impact of increased tourism. Filming at the location will take two days. The crew was granted permission to build a 20m2 platform over the river which will be secured with legs dug into the gravel. The application states it will be necessary to restrict access to the waterfall while filming is underway. In response to this, the Evironment Agency has asked the crew to limit the time of filming in consideration of visitors, most of whom only visit the fall once in their lifetime.

The crew also received permission for filming on the beach east of Dyrhólaey, another popular tourist site on Iceland’s south coast. The Environment Agency granted the project permission for off-road driving in order to transport equipment to the site, as well as digging three to five holes on the beach where electric smoke machines will be placed. The Environment Agency pointed out to the production team that the project may encourage other visitors to the area to engage in off-road driving. The location is a popular tourist site and therefore it is important to clarify the area is closed to all other off-road driving.

Gullfoss waterfall is the third and final shooting location for the project. Located on the popular Golden Circle route, the fall will be filmed from the lower platform using a drone. The show’s second season can expect high viewership – 6.3 million viewers tuned into the first season during the first three days of its release, according to Variety.