Iceland has to be one of the most unique and beautiful places on Earth. It’s almost like being on an alien planet, because the terrain and landscape is so different from what I’m used to, especially in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Driving Route 1, also known as the Ring Road, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. The route goes around the entire island to catch more of the waterfalls, highlands, volcanoes and many of the unique geological features the lovely Scandinavian country has to offer.

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How much time will you need to do it? I did it in five days, but it felt pretty rushed. So it can be done, but I would recommend taking at least a week to be able to spend more time and soak up all of the scenery it has to offer. The Ring Road is about 825 miles long and covers most of the country.

“The speed limit for most of the way is 90 kilometres per hour (55 miles per hour), and speeding fines aren’t cheap,” according to the Nordic Visitor blog. From experience, this is true. I got pulled over and paid over $200. They do let you pay with a card right away, at least.

Some of the best stops to make while driving Iceland’s Ring Road

1. Snæfellsnes Peninsula

I would recommend starting at the Snæfellsnes Peninsula first. It’s a ways off the Ring Road, but it’s definitely worth a stop. It is featured as Arrowhead Mountain on “Game of Thrones” for a reason.

“Kirkjufellsfoss is a beautiful three-tiered waterfall with the perfect view of Kirkjufell in the background,” Iceland Trippers writes.

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The peninsula also hosts a shark museum that harvests Greenland sharks, so you can snag a taste. It was pretty disgusting in my opinion, but learning about the sharks was cool, and tasting it was still an experience. Plus, I ate the most delicious fish and chips I’ve ever had at the restaurant next door, Barnarhöfn Bistro.

2. Dalvik or Husavik for whale watching

Great whale watching is a huge draw for visiting Iceland.

According to the Arctic Sea Tours, “Whales tend to love the North-Icelandic waters. There is a volcanic fissure in the ocean ground that allows some heat to filter up from the deep. Zooplankton and the krill flourish in this mixing of warm and cold currents in the sheltered Eyjafjörður bay. This creates especially rich feeding grounds that attract all kinds of the whales.”

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Make sure to bring a hat and warm layers, because even in the middle of summer, it is cold on the water. Most tours provide snow suits, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

You can also try the iconic Icelandic fish soup at the Gísli, Eiríkur, Helgi - Coffehouse.

3. East Highlands, especially the Easter Cave in Neskaupstaður

This area was my personal favorite. It takes longer to arrive there, but it’s worth the drive. The area hosts towering green highlands, pristine water views and hikes away from the crowds.

The Easter Cave is a fairly flat 212-mile hike that is worth the work.

On the drive from Dalvik to Neskaupstaður, here are some stops worth making:

  • Godafoss waterfall.
  • Dettifoss waterfall.
  • Namaskardh hot springs.

4. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the southern coast

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon hosts icy blue “icebergs that have broken off the glacier,” per Earth Trekkers. You can soak in the views by walking around the water or rent a kayak. Warning: get there early because it can get very crowded, especially with big tours.

Diamond Beach is right next to the glacier and offers a unique contrast of melted-down iceberg pieces that wash up on the black sand beach, so that it looks like the beach is littered with diamonds. Play “Snow on the Beach” by Taylor Swift if you go.

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Some other stops that are worth seeing on the south coast include:

  • Svartifoss waterfall.
  • Eldhraun lava fields — you see these surrounding the drive toward Vik.
  • Reynisfjara Beach — don’t plan on getting in the water. It’s one of the most dangerous beaches in the world.
  • Abandoned U.S. Navy DC plane crash site — also featured in Justin Bieber’s music video “I’ll Show You.”
  • Katla volcano.
This is the iconic Skogafoss, located on southern Iceland on the Golden Circle on Aug. 29, 2022. | Sarah Gambles, Deseret News

5. Iceland’s Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is perhaps Iceland’s most popular and well-known tourist hotspot. While it is popular for a reason, it also gets very crowded, so be prepared to park far away and fight crowds to get your pictures. Skogafoss was one of my very favorite stops though, and probably my favorite hike I’ve ever done. It feels like endless cascading waterfalls cast against stark green highlands. Crowds are large at the bottom of the falls, but the higher you hike, the more isolation you can find.

Here are some of the other stops worth making on the Golden Circle.

  • Þingvellir — this is where two tectonic plates meet. You can scuba dive between the plates. Just book early.
  • Gullfoss waterfall.
  • Kerið Crater.
  • Reykjadalur Valley hot springs.
  • Selfoss is a great place to stay, with more restaurants and night life than the more rural areas.

6. Blue Lagoon, Sky Lagoon in Reykjavik

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The main airport is just outside of Reykjavik, so you could start and end in the city, depending on your itinerary. There are two spa lagoon experiences near the city, and I would highly recommend both if you have the chance.

Sky Lagoon focuses on a seven-step ritual that implements geothermal heating. You start in the geothermal hot pool and alternate between hot and cold experiences until you end in the hot pool. The area is beautiful, less crowded than the Blue Lagoon and closer to the city as well.

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However, the Blue Lagoon is iconic for a reason. The Lava Restaurant is a fine dining experience that is delicious and feels truly special. You can even wear your robes and bathing suit at the table if your Blue Lagoon reservation is close enough to the restaurant reservation. The spa package is worth the extra money if you can do it, but just being there alone is an incredible experience.

Other stops in Reykjavik:

  • Omnom Chocolate and Ice Cream.
  • Brikk Bakery.
  • Hallgrimskirkja.
  • Einar Jonsson Sculpture Garden and Museum.
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