Lava Car Rental Guide to Driving Iceland's Ring Road
The best way to experience the beautiful landscapes of Iceland is to rent a car from Lava Car Rental and take a road trip. Luckily, the country comes ready-made for these kinds of adventures. The famous Icelandic Ring Road, also known as Route 1, loops around the entire country in one big circle, taking in some of the biggest attractions in the country and providing plenty of opportunity for adventurous detours. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about planning and driving the famous Icelandic ring road, with lots of helpful links for more information.
What is the Ring Road?
Iceland’s ring road was officially completed in 1974, when the longest bridge in Iceland was constructed across the Skeiðaráin river in the southeast of the country. The total length of the Ring Road is about 1,332km long (828 miles), and the only two regions of the country it doesn’t go through are the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the west of Iceland. Much of the road consists of two lanes, one going in either direction, and the speed limit is 90km/h.
There are a few single-lane bridges along the way, and a few tunnels as well that either forge under a mountain or dive under a fjord. It loops around the whole island, connecting most of the major towns in the country and taking in some of the best sights that Iceland has to offer.
How long does it take to drive Iceland’s Ring Road?
The length of the ring road means that you could probably drive it in about 17 hours with ideal weather and traffic conditions. Of course, this isn’t recommended at all (why would you want to speed past all the good stuff?), so the real question becomes: How many days does it take to drive the ring road?
Some do it in 5 days, others in 2 weeks; it all depends on what you want to see on the way and the kind of activities you want to do. However, most will spend between 7-10 days driving around the Ring Road, which gives plenty of time for exploring, and still leaves you wanting more. We recommend giving yourself 14 days or so to properly explore the Ring Road, allowing you to linger in the places you love for longer. Take more pictures, enjoy the scenery and enjoy one more cup of coffee with pastries.
Should I drive clockwise or counter-clockwise?
It’s completely up to you and what you want to see and do. However, most will opt to drive it counter-clockwise, going first along the south coast to the east with cities like Höfn, known for its fresh seafood restaurants, and Egilstaðir (the only place where you can see reindeer), to the whale-watching wonders of Húsavík in the north and the capital of the north itself, Akureyri.
An even better idea is to start off with the popular Golden Circle route, as all roads tend to link up with the Ring Road in the south after you’ve finished. There are fewer sights in Iceland’s northwest unless you are planning to take in Snaefellsnes, so if you’re running out of time, it’s always easier to rush back to Reykjavik through that area rather than missing out on the sunny pasturelands of the south coast.
The Best Time to Drive Iceland’s Ring Road
Of course, thanks to its position in North Atlantic, Iceland experiences moody weather year-round. That obviously means that the summer months, from June through to August, are the best months to drive the Ring Road because that’s when the weather is at its calmest. In summer, Iceland is the home of the Midnight Sun, meaning you can pack more into each day and drive longer without worrying that you will lose the light.
But both the Spring and Autumn have their draws as well. There are fewer crowds at all the major sights, the chance of seeing the Northern Lights (from late August until late May), and more of the dramatic, ever-changing weather that’s typical of Iceland.
Driving the Ring Road in Winter
The road remains open during Iceland’s darker and colder months, but this is the time when the weather changes the fastest. Bad visibility, icy roads, and unpredictable weather can make driving the Ring Road quite dangerous. Also, during the winter there are parts of the Ring Road that are likely to close without much warning. Blizzards might close roads due to heavy snow, and wind storms can make it too dangerous for cars to drive, leading the authorities to shut down travel in different regions. The Icelandic Road Service does a terrific job keeping travelers updated on weather and road conditions. There is a website you can check regularly, a phone number you can call and even an app to download on your phone (see links below!)
It’s important to be cautious when driving the Ring Road in Iceland. The Ring Road follows old country roads, and in parts, there are blind hills and corners, so you always must make sure you’re paying attention to the road ahead of you and that you’re not too awestruck by the landscapes.
Because the road is still narrow, it’s also important to pull over in designated areas only. If you want to just snap a quick photo, there often isn’t enough room on the side of the road for you to pull all the way off, meaning that half your car might be sticking out onto the road.
This is especially dangerous for other drivers who might have to swerve around you onto the other side of the road.
Tips for Getting Gas on the Ring Road
For the most part, you’ll find gas stations spaced out conveniently along the ring road. To fill up, you usually do everything at the gas pump with your card rather than go inside to pay. For this, you’ll need a credit card with a PIN number (many American credit cards don’t have one) or a debit card. If you only have a credit card without a PIN available, it’s best to stop at a service station and buy a pre-paid fuel card for those times when you must fill up at an unmanned gas station, of which there are many in Iceland.
It’s important to note that when you’re choosing how much gas to put in, you shouldn’t select ‘fill tank’. The gas stations around Iceland will then go on to authorize the maximum amount of money on your card, usually somewhere between $150 and $200 USD. What money that isn’t used filling up your tank will obviously be returned to you, but only after a few days later meaning that you’ll be out of pocket until it returns.
Attractions Along the Ring Road
Heading first along the south coast, you’ll see the famous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Further on you’ll be able to make a quick detour towards Reynisfjara Beach, filming location for both Star Wars and Game of Thrones.
To the southeast, you can find the amazing Skaftafell Nature Reserve, providing some of the best hiking trails in the shadows of the behemoth Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. Head east to find the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach, two of Iceland’s most popular destinations.
The road then snakes its way up the East Fjords, characterized by the biggest mountains in Iceland and wide fjords. Small fishing villages are strung out along the coastline, each with their own interesting history. While most will speed through the East on their way north, it’s one of Iceland’s most undervalued regions and still has a lot left to discover.
Looping around the northeastern part of the country, you’ll probably want to make a quick detour north towards Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. On the way to Akureyri is Lake Myvatn, Iceland’s most beautiful lake known for its wonderful birdlife during the summer and incredible volcanic attractions scattered around its outskirts, all within easy reach.
Akureyri is Iceland’s second biggest town and capital in the north, with a cozy downtown area that hosts a good selection of bars and restaurants providing you with a chance to experience civilization again. From here on in, it’s smooth sailing back down towards Reykjavik through farmland, passing horses, mountains, and rivers along the way.
For more information about weather and road safety:
Icelandic Road Administration - You can also call 1777 on your phone to access this information!
Don't hesitate to contact Lava Car Rental for help with a breakdown or other issues. For non-emergency questions, find us at email@example.com Our emergency hotline is also open 24/7. If for some reason the vehicle is not operating as it should and/or you had an accident, call us right away at +354 788-4080.