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The Ring Road, Iceland

Route 1 around Iceland

The Ring Road, also known as Highway 1 and Route 1 should certainly be on your travel to-do-list! You will travel through stupendous scenery and see stunning geological formations, great volcano landscapes and places which have a fascinating history. Traveling the Ring Road will give you a mind-blowing summer vacation in Iceland. June, July and August you will probably get reasonable driving conditions, May and September icy roads, particularly in the north and the east are far more likely. Unless you are used to driving on remote icy roads a tour is by far the best way to go.

Route 1 – The Ring Road Around Iceland

Iceland´s famous Ring Road is the 1332 km (828 mi) route which encircles Iceland with the exception of the West Fjords (Vestfjörður) and Snæfellsnes peninsula. If you want to explore these areas you would need to travel some extra distance. You will surely want to visit some of the amazing fishing villages, peninsulas, and attraction which are off the Ring Road. It is surprising how the distance adds up, you should expect to drive 1750 km (1087 mi) minimum, far more if you want to see Snæfellsness and the West Fjords. Sharing the driving with a buddy or joining a tour is best – no one wants to be the person who misses out on all the scenery.

Highlights on the Ring Road

Everyone who travels the Ring Road has a whole bucket list of extras – these are some of the spellbinding places which no visitor should miss:

  • The Golden Circle sights of Gullfoss waterfall, Þingvellir National Park and Geysir.
  • Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the very unusual falls where you can walk behind the cascade.
  • Skógafoss waterfall where steps will take you to stunning views and the beginning of the trail to Fimmvörðuháls.
  • Reynisfjara black beach with the troll-like Reynisdrangar peaks rising above the ocean.
  • Skaftafell, hike to Svartifoss waterfall or enjoy a never to be forgotten glacier hiking tour.
  • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach for amazing otherworldly views of stunning icebergs on their way to the Atlantic.
  • The fishing villages dotted along the coast on the road to Egilsstaðir. Visiting the bohemian “artists haven”, Seyðisfjörður will take you off the Ring Road but it is worth a couple of hours – the incredible views from the mountain road are a living work of art.
  • The drive from Egilsstaðir to North Iceland is filled with stark lava and very beautiful landscapes.
  • Ásbyrgi, a magical forested canyon will involve quite a detour but it is well worth it.
  • Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, also involves a detour but it is not far from the surreal scenery
  • Lake Mývatn and Mývatn Nature Baths and geothermal areas with hot springs and steaming fumaroles.
  • The supremely beautiful crescent shaped and atmospheric Goðafoss Waterfall is right by the Ring Road.
  • Akureyri and Dalvík on Eyjafjörður are charming towns on the longest, and one of the most spectacular fjords in Iceland. Whale watching on Eyjafjörður Fjord from either town is really outstanding – something no one should miss.

There are many interesting places to stop along the route between Akureyri and Reykjavík. You could return through the tunnel under the Hvalfjörður fjord, or take a 48 km detour around this spectacular fjord to see the majestic and serene scenery framed by high mountain peaks. A Fjord Serenity sea kayaking tour from Bjarteyjarsandur Farm would be a great final treat!

Accommodation Options

Some people plan their overnight stopping places in advance, which is fairly essential if you want to stay in cheap guesthouses or hostels. Traveling with a tent or using a campervan is fabulously flexible. There are camping areas all around the Ring Road. You do not need to book in advance at Icelandic camping sites, they are inexpensive and you get to use their facilities. Wild camping in Iceland – just remember the camping rules, okay? NEVER camp if the landowners have put up a sign saying “no camping”. You should leave NO trace and take ALL waste materials away with you – no one wants to see Icelandic beauty spots littered with food wrappers, toilet paper or worse!

Refreshment and Meal Options

In the larger towns, you will have a choice of cafés, restaurants and supermarkets to stock up on provisions. In country areas Gas stations offer refreshments and sometimes more substantial meals, there are cafés, country restaurants and sometimes hotels offering meals to non-guests. Finding places to eat, or buy food to cater for yourself is not difficult. In the more remote areas, particularly between Egilsstaðir and Lake Mývatn, the distances between facilities is greater. If you stay at a farm, or a country hotel or guesthouse an evening meal can often be arranged.

Ring Road Driving Information

Even in summer, you will need to check out the weather forecast and travel information. Forecasts and severe weather alerts from Veðurstofa Íslands, the Icelandic Met Office can be found in English at www.vedur.is. It is also important to check out the road conditions in the area you are planning to travel through, the official information source for adventure travelers in Iceland is www.safetravel.is. When alerts are posted it is really important that these are heeded.

Depending on where you are used to driving you may find the Icelandic roads in the countryside offer a different experience. Those areas with the most spectacular mountain scenery also have dramatic twists and turns and sometimes sheer drops. Speed limits in Iceland are clearly marked and should always be heeded. The maximum permitted speed anywhere is 90 km per hour, in residential areas the limit can be 30 km or even 20 km per hour. You always need to consider the conditions, sometimes traveling well below 90 km is necessary. Do not be tempted to drive faster than the limit, this presents a serious safety hazard. Foreign drivers who incur fines for driving offenses are pursued payment! Always go slower in icy conditions, and apply the brake gently, be particularly careful if you have very little experience of driving on ice.

You can travel around the ring road in a regular or small car. Most of the places you would want to visit along the coast will also be fine but for mountain or really rugged roads, you do need a 4×4. Road 862 between Dettifoss and Ásbyrgi is the shortest route. However, the terrain is extremely rugged, without a sturdy 4×4 the journey will take far longer. Drivers of regular cars should go back to Lake Mývatn, then take road 85 and head up from there (87 is quite rutted but it is much better than road 862 if you want to cut some distance). Some remote places you may want to detour to in the East Fjords, such as Borgarfjörður Eystri can only be reached by rough, unsurfaced roads.

Planning your tour

Always plan for the fact that the weather can change and a journey will then take longer. Make sure you have enough snacks and drinks for your group. One of the great things about the Ring Road is the opportunities to stop in unexpected places – so allow enough ‘slack’ time to visit extra attractions. Professional tour operators who know the best spots like the back of their hand will allow around 6 days for this kind of tour. If you are planning your own tour you should allow at least this, and preferably add on a couple of days. If you want to deviate from the Ring Road a lot, or you want to take things at a slower pace then allow extra time. Some people like to take 10 days or more. If you want to do a lot of hikes along the way, then again, you would need to factor in some extra days.

Some distance information

The attractions listed above are for the journey heading south. If you want to head north just reverse the process. Some attractions are quite close to one another, others are far apart, so it is good to know some distances between key points. Reykjavík to Þingvellir is 40.3 km, Þingvellir to Geysir is 60 km, Geysir to Gullfoss waterfall is 9.7km, Gullfoss to Seljalandsfoss waterfall is 117 km. Moving along a bit, Seljalandsfoss to Skógafoss waterfall is 29 km, Reynisfjara is another 34 km, and the distance from Reynisfjara to Skaftafell is 150 km. From Skaftafell to Jökulsárlón is 56 km, Jökulsárlón to Egilsstaðir is 257 km, Egilsstaðir to Reykjahlið at Lake Mývatn is 165 km, Reykjahlið to Dettifoss is 68 km (including 31 km on Highway 864). From Reykjahlið to Akureyri is 99 km, the distance between Akureyri and Dalvík is 43.8 km (including 34 km on Highway 82). Finally, from Akureyri to Reykjavík is 380 km, or 428 km if you drive around Hvalfjörður, instead of taking the tunnel under the fjord. You can see how easy it is to rack up an extra couple of hundred kilometers!