Iceland’s Ring Road, the epic 828-mile-long route that circles most of the island, is the road trip to end all road trips.
There’s breathtaking, otherworldly scenery at every turn, but trying to cram all those waterfalls, caves and lagoons into one trip can be daunting.
My husband and I were in awe of almost everything we saw during our trip (including the hostile Icelandic sheep that crossed the road in a pack), but a few sights made us linger longer than usual.
If you’re trying to piece together a Ring Road itinerary, make sure you add these five stops to your list. Some of these sights involve a bit of a trek, but I promise they’re worth it.
1. Svartifoss waterfall
You’ll quickly realize that Iceland has thousands of waterfalls, but Svartifoss, in the Skaftafell area of Vatnajokull National Park in southeast Iceland, is something else. It’s surrounded by tall, black basalt columns that were formed inside a lava flow and cooled slowly over time. Seeing Svartifoss up close requires a 45-minute walk (each way), but it’s well worth it.
2. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
I’ve never seen anything like Jokulsarlon, which is at the edge of Vatnajokull National Park. You can see massive chunks of glacial ice from multiple viewpoints along the Ring Road. The scene is dramatic and surreal.
The charming, bohemian town of Seydisfjordur was one of my favorite destinations in the East Fjords. It’s known for its artistic community and houses a few site-specific sculptures, including a sound sculpture that is a series of concrete domes. There’s also a beautiful, pastel blue church, aptly named the Blue Church, that tourists love to photograph.
4. Grjotagja cave
Known as the setting for an infamous scene in “Game of Thrones” between Jon Snow and his love interest Ygritte, Grjotagja cave is fun to explore, even if Jon Snow isn’t present. It’s a hot spring inside of a lava cave. Bathing in it is prohibited because of its temperature, though it used to be a popular bathing spot for locals.
Glymur, the second highest waterfall in Iceland, is another standout, but the trek to get there may have been more memorable than the waterfall itself. Seeing it from above requires a 3- to 4-mile roundtrip hike that can be treacherous in bad weather conditions. (Be sure to check the weather forecast.) Those willing to hike will be rewarded with amazing views at the top — and a huge sense of accomplishment.
Photos by Valerie Lai.The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of NerdWallet or its partners.