Driving Iceland’s Ring Road – Ultimate Guide

January 26th, 2021

Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois

8 min read

Have you always wanted to go on an epic road trip? Take the wheel and drive around an entire country. Sing along to the radio as your partner in crime puts their feet up on the dashboard. Then you look outside, and you can see black sand beaches, volcanoes, ice caps, and steaming hot springs.

This is what awaits you when driving the Ring Road in Iceland. A safe route with amazing sights and attractions along the way. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about driving Iceland’s famous Route 1.

What is the Ring Road in Iceland?

First and foremost, the Ring Road is the nickname for Route 1, or Þjóðvegur 1, its official name on the map. This is the national road that makes its way around the island in a circular loop.

It is 1,322 kilometers (821 miles) long and connects most of the inhabited regions of Iceland.

Look at a map of the route and you’ll see that some areas aren’t included on the Ring Road. These include parts of North Iceland, the Westfjords, the highlands, and the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Any of these can be added to your summer itinerary if you want to head off the beaten path.

How long does it take to drive around the Ring Road?

At 1,322 kilometers long, a trip around Iceland’s Ring Road could be done in 24 hours. Check out Icelandic band Sigur Rós who did this back in 2016[1]  for a live show.

But we don’t recommend doing that! Not only because the journey would be exhausting, but because you’d miss all the amazing sights and attractions that make a visit to Iceland so memorable. It’s all about the experience along the way, isn’t it?

For a good amount of time to visit locations along the Ring Road, we recommend taking at least one week to explore the route. This should get you around the country with a comfortable amount of driving each day.

Depending on what you want to visit during your time in Iceland, you can extend your road trip as much as you want. Then you can stop at iconic waterfalls, take detours, and spend more than one day in a single location. The possibilities are endless!

Is it also worth pointing out that the speed limit is only 90 kilometers (55 miles) an hour? And the speeding fines aren’t cheap. So take your time and enjoy it!

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, Iceland

Tips for driving the Ring Road in Iceland

Ready for your road trip but unsure about how to take on the Icelandic roads? We’re here for you. Read these tips to know what to expect and make driving in Iceland easier.

Drive on the right

If you’re coming from North America, you won’t have to worry about this. But if you’re visiting from Australia, the UK, or South Africa, among other places, be aware that motorists in Iceland drive on the right side of the road. And the left side of the car.

  • If you would rather leave the driving to someone else, book a private tour instead. You’ll enjoy a local guide as your driver.

Be aware of Icelandic conditions

Driving in Iceland may be slightly different than you’re used to. This includes the weather and road conditions. So it’s best to come prepared.

Always check the coming day’s conditions before setting off, especially in winter. And make sure to leave enough time to reach your next accommodation safely.

It’s good to also be aware of potential road hazards. These may be unique challenges you’ve not encountered before, such as the many sheep in the country.

Most of the highway is paved, but short stretches of the road in East Iceland have a gravel surface.

There are also a number of narrow passes, blind summits, and single-lane bridges to take with caution. When in doubt, always slow down.

Finally, be aware that you’re likely to drive through road tunnels, built to bypass mountain roads. These includethe sub-sea Hvalfjörður Tunnel (5.7 kilometers) and the Almannaskarð Tunnel (1.3 kilometers).

View of the sunset behind Vestrahorn mountain, Iceland

Stop when you can

Don’t take stops for granted. In certain parts of Iceland, there can be long stretches of road without shops or towns. This is especially true along the south and east coasts.

For that reason, refuel, use the bathroom, and grab snacks whenever you can. Most importantly, make sure to keep an eye on your fuel levels to avoid running out.

Do not drive off-road

Off-road driving is prohibited and you shouldn’t attempt it. This is because it damages the vegetation and could potentially be dangerous. People caught driving off-road are fined heavily by the authorities.

You can always go for a hike if you wish to see the natural beauty from up close.

Enjoy the journey

After taking these tips and precautions to drive safely in Iceland, all that’s left is for you to enjoy yourself. It isn’t a race. Take your time to make the journey and marvel at the scenic views along the way.

Which way do you drive the Ring Road in Iceland?

As the Ring Road is a circle, you can pick whichever way you want to drive it. You’ll notice a lot of our tours go clockwise. This means you’ll first head north before coming around the east and south coast, finishing with the famous Golden Circle. What a way to end your epic Iceland adventure!

But maybe you want to start with the Golden Circle? It’s all up to you. As it’s a loop, you’ll see all the same spots regardless of which way you drive.

Can you drive the Ring Road in Iceland in the winter?

Yes, you can drive the Ring Road in wintertime. In fact, some people prefer to visit in winter to experience a quieter side of the country.

At this time of year, you can enjoy less traffic on the roads as well as the stunning beauty of the snowy landscape. You can maybe even spot the Northern Lights. Winter road trips are growing in popularity for these reasons.

If you decide to visit at this time, you should prepare yourself for the adventure. Be aware of road safety precautions, be a confident winter driver, and always purchase travel insurance!

The top tip for a winter road trip is to always check the weather and road conditions before setting off each day.

For the best experience, why not hire a 4×4 vehicle? It will make driving in such conditions easier and more comfortable.

Waterfall Seljalandsfoss in winter

Suggestion for an Iceland Ring Road itinerary

There are so many ways to see the highlights of the Ring Road in Iceland. Here is one of our most popular itineraries, taking you around Route 1 over 8 days in Iceland. This timeframe allows you to relax and explore to your heart’s content.

Day 1: Arrive in Iceland

Depending on when you fly into Iceland, you’ll have the rest of the day to explore Reykjavík. The capital city is a treasure trove of interactive museums, fun activities, cozy cafés, and excellent restaurants. You can also marvel at the surrounding natural beauty from here.

If you would like to relax after your flight, you could also book a slot at the Blue Lagoon to dip into the geothermal waters. It’s the perfect way to decompress before setting off on an adventure!

Day 2: Drive north to Akureyri

Today you start your road trip by heading north. You’ll make your way through Borgarfjörður and Skagafjörður. The latter is known for its horse breeding, so keep an eye out for the fluffy and sturdy Icelandic horses.

As one of your stops for the day, you’ll want to see the magnificent Hraunfossar waterfalls, flowing from lava fields into a river.

Reach the capital of the north, Akureyri, for your overnight stay.

Top tip: If you want to extend your stay to include the Snæfellsnes peninsula or the Westfjords, this is when you would do it. These regions are located in the western parts of Iceland.

Day 3: Lake Mývatn area

You have a full day of adventure ahead of you. Drive to the Lake Mývatn Nature Reserve to see why it is one of the most inspiring areas in Iceland. On the way, don’t miss the impressive Goðafoss, known as “the waterfall of the gods”.

The Mývatn Baths are very popular if you would like to spend the day relaxing instead of exploring.

You are staying for a second night in Akureyri.

Day 4: Exploring the northeast

Are you a fan of whales? Because today you’ll start the day by driving to the charming fishing village of Húsavík. It is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland. 

You’ll then follow the coast and drive the Tjörnes peninsula. We recommend making a pitstop at the tip of the peninsula to enjoy the view and try to spot some seabirds.

Another recommendation for a leg-stretching stop is the lush canyon of Ásbyrgi where you could go for a walk.

Continue your journey southwards to the edge of East Iceland. You’ll spend the night in the Egilsstaðir area.

Horses in Iceland

Day 5: The East Fjords

Today you drive through East Iceland and discover the East Fjords. Visit small museums and marvel at the long fjords and quaint seaside villages. At times, you’ll see that the road hangs precariously on the mountain slope providing stunning views below.

You’ll spend tonight in the Höfn region.

Day 6: Highlights of the southeast

Today you’ll stop by one of Iceland’s biggest bucket list items. After passing various outlet glaciers from Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest ice cap, you’ll arrive at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Many travel to Iceland just to see its glistening icebergs.

This enchanting sight nestles at the foot of Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur. In summer, you could book a boat trip to go onto the lagoon to see the bobbing icebergs from up close.

We then recommend spending some time in the Skaftafell National Park. This natural oasis, surrounded by glaciers and stark black sand plains, is ideal for hiking.

You’ll stay in the Vík area tonight.

Day 7: The Golden Circle

From Vík, you’ll continue west back to Reykjavík. Along the way, you’ll discover some breathtaking waterfalls and the highlights of the famous Golden Circle.

As you make your way back to the capital, through South Iceland, stop by Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. These last two waterfalls will not disappoint!

And then head on to the Golden Circle, featuring three of Iceland’s most famous landmarks. See jets of steam being blasted over 50 feet in the air by Strokkur at the Geysir area. Walk through history and marvel at the geology of Þingvellir National Park. Take a picture of the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall.

If you are visiting for a shorter amount of time, don’t miss the Golden Circle as it is an ideal day trip from the capital.

Day 8: Departure

And just like that, your journey in Iceland is over. Or maybe it isn’t if you’ve extended it. Stay as long as you wish!

But in this itinerary, you’re boarding your flight back home today. Depending on what time it is, you may have time to squeeze in more visits and tasty treats in Reykjavík.

Top tip: Don’t leave without trying the local ice cream!

If you didn’t go on arrival, you could book a slot at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. It is located near the airport and the perfect activity to say goodbye to Iceland.

Blue Lagoon sunrise, Iceland

How to book a trip to Iceland to drive the Ring Road

You may think the first step is renting a car and booking accommodation, but we recommend choosing what you want to see before doing anything else. Pick what you want to experience most and it’ll direct you to the best time to visit.

Then you can start reserving your transportation, hotels, camping sites, flights, and so on. When you travel around the Ring Road, make sure to keep the driving distances in mind when booking your accommodations.

Want to have it all done in one? Book through the local travel specialists at Iceland Tours. We know the country like the back of our hand and have created tried-and-tested packages so you can see the very best of Iceland.

We can even tailor your tour or advise you on attractions and activities depending on your interests. Just ask!

It’s easy to do on the Iceland Tours website. Select your vacation start date and length of travel and then add what you’d like to do. You can pick your car, accommodations, and activities based on your budget. Then we organize it all for you, so when you arrive, all you have to do is enjoy yourself!

Look up all our Iceland vacation packages to get started with planning your dream trip.

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Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois