Exploring Icelands Ring Road
Iceland is filled with exciting scenery, incredible culture, and plenty of activities. But, how do you find all of those interesting places and fun activities? Did you know that Iceland has a single highway that wraps around it in a ring-like shape? Further, did you know that this highway is a gateway to some of the best sights and activities in Iceland?
Understanding Iceland's Ring Road
From ancient volcanoes and black-sand beaches to stunning glaciers and charming coastal villages, Iceland's Ring Road (also known as Highway 1, Route 1, or Ring 1) is a massive Icelandic highway that stretches 1,332 kilometers (or 828 miles) across Iceland's beautiful, varied terrain. The beauty of the Ring Road is that it isn't contained. Various smaller roads connect and merge into the lengthy 2 lane highway, giving you the freedom to flow off into different villages, attractions, and sights.
The Ring Road was completed in 1974 — which also marked the 1,100th anniversary of Iceland when Norse settlers traveled across the North Atlantic. Due to the lengthy construction period, Ring Road is diverse, and while in the past some sections of the road were old community roads built with gravel, in 2019, Ring Road is fully paved.
What Will You See Driving Ring Road?
To say that Ring Road is one of the most visually stunning stretches of highway in the world would be an understatement. Almost all major sights and activities located in Iceland are close to (or a quick detour away from) Ring Road. In just 1,332 kilometers (828 miles), you can expect to see all of the following:
- Hot Springs and geothermal activity
- World-famous black beaches
- Vibrant cities and small, charming villages
- Large, striking volcanoes
- Icy glaciers
- Wonderful waterfalls
- Jagged, expansive fjords
- Wonderful lakes and pristine coastlines
Iceland is aptly named "The Land of Fire and Ice" for a reason — the chilly, snow-capped peaks and ice-covered glaciers are in a constant war with the massive, fiery volcanoes and black-sand beaches. This juxtaposition of scenery creates diverse and contrast ridden landscapes that you need to see with your own eyes as photos don't do them justice.
Ring Road, Iceland
Some Ring Road Detours Not to Miss
While the Ring Road has plenty of amazing places to visit (far too many to list here), there are some longer detours that you won't want to miss on your journey around the country.
Many people who chose to do the Ring Road tour of Iceland also take the Golden Circle — a 250 km /155-mile circle in the south-west part of Iceland. This famous Icelandic route will take you to wonderful sights like Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Geysir.
We heavily recommend doing both at the same time to see the best of Iceland. To learn more about the Golden Circle, click here. We have an entire post dedicated to the beautiful sights along this Icelandic route.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is located in West Iceland, and it contains some of the more famous Icelandic attractions. For example, you can visit Snæfellsjökull glacier — which has many legends surrounding it. Some believe that it was home to extraterrestrials, in the science fiction novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne written in 1864 the glacier was the entrance to the center of the earth. Others believe that it is one of the core sources of energy on earth. Either way, Snæfellsjökull glacier is certainly one thing — it's absolutely stunning to look at. Another scenic mountain Kirkjufell is located at the northern part of the peninsula and is claimed to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland and many might recognize it as the arrowhead mountain in the Game of Thrones series.
There are plenty of other sights to see along the peninsula. From mineral waters, massive basalt columns, and charming villages to bird cliffs, lava fields, and ancient churches — the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is definitely something those traveling Ring Road should be interested in.
While this isn't technically part of Ring Road, many itineraries include the Snæfellsnes Peninsula package as part of the traveling experience. If it's your first time, we recommend taking Ring Road, the Golden Circle, and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula tours simultaneously. It will give you a more complete view of Iceland.
Kirkjufell mountain in winter
Activities Along Ring Road
Along with beautiful sights, there are plenty of activities to partake in along Ring Road that offer fun, excitement, and relaxation. Here below are some examples that highlight the diversity of things to do while driving the ring road however there are a lot of other types of activities, museums and exhibitions available and we are happy to customize our packages to fit your interests.
With many different glaciers to choose from, Iceland offers year-round glacier hiking and walks. So, grab a pair of hiking boots and a few warm layers, because Iceland's glacier walks give you a breath of fresh air and stunning scenery.
Along with glacier walks, you can go and explore one of many of Iceland's ice caves. We recommend supervision during these explorative adventures. Massive blue ice caves look almost magical with brilliant lights and colors clashing against ceilings and walls completely forged of ice.
Spas and baths
If you are visiting Iceland be sure to experience a Icelandic spa or baths. Here are some great spa and bath locations in Iceland you should consider exploring
With many horseback riding opportunities, Ring Road is the perfect place to enjoy the freedom and wonder of riding a hardy Icelandic horse. This horse breed is shorter than most, but don’t let that fool you they're strong, durable and hardy. They are a five-gaited breed known for being sure footed and are entirely unique to Iceland.
Whale watching is a year-round event in Iceland. With plenty of opportunities along Ring Road and in the cities along the route, you have ample opportunity to see a whale in-person. These massive creatures inspire and strike awe, and they can be a great way to finish off an adventure-filled day.
Grabrok volcano crater landscape view
Should You Travel Ring Road in the Winter or Summer?
That's a matter of personal preference. Most visitors choose to travel Ring Road between May and September — giving them the clearest views and a chance to see the beauty of the blooming season. But, there are plenty of travelers who prefer hot cups of coffee on snowy nights looking at the spectacular Northern Lights. It depends on your personal preference.
We even offer a Winter Edition of our best-selling Ring Road tour and it is getting more popular as people have discovered that winter in Iceland isn’t as harsh as many would think . For those not familiar with driving in winter conditions might want to consider a guided circle tour during the winter months. If you choose to drive the ring road in winter, make sure you take a 4-wheel drive. Even though the ring road is well serviced and kept open the short drives off the main road to see the sights are usually not as well serviced. Having a 4-wheel drive in winter is not only recommended for more comfort and convenience they also are the safer option. If you are still not sure when to visit we have a dedicated article on When is the best time to Visit Iceland
Should You Travel Ring Road Clockwise or Counterclockwise?
Ring Road goes from Reykjavik across the coast of Iceland back to Reykjavik; you can choose to travel the road clockwise or counterclockwise. Which one should you choose? Honestly, it doesn't matter. Both ways are wonderful and you’ll see the same things along the way and both paths are unique. If you have to choose one, do it based on the itinerary of your travel package.
- Here is an example of a clockwise road trip package
- Here is an example of a counterclockwise road trip package
See which one you like more.
The Best Way to Travel Ring Road
There are two main ways to travel Ring Road — self-driving and as part of a tour. 9-day Ring Road packages can give you the time and resources you need to fully experience Ring Road in a no-pressure environment. Every 9-day Ring Road package comes with everything you need to truly experience the majesty of Iceland. This includes:
- A meet & greet at Keflavik airport and a transfer to Reykjavik.
- 8 nights accommodation
- Daily breakfast
- Rental car of your choice for 7 days — including unlimited mileage, CDW and more
- Fuel discount card
- GPS Navigation System
- Iceland Road Guide (in English)
- Detailed itinerary and road map of Iceland with the route and accommodations marked in
- Departure transfer from Reykjavik to Keflavik airport (KEF) by Flybus
- 24-hour Emergency telephone service
- Taxes and service fees
The 9-day package mixes the freedom of the open roads with a semi-structured itinerary. You'll have somewhere to sleep each night and a full list of activities to partake in. If you want to spend a little more time off-the-beaten-path, the 11-day package gives you the freedom to really explore some of the niche spots off of Ring Road.
Of course, driving isn't for everyone. Big groups, families, and many individuals prefer to sit back and enjoy a guided tour given by an Iceland profession. Our escorted coach tour will show you around the beauty of Iceland with tons of adventure and a splash of culture.
Ready to Explore Iceland?Are you ready to explore the majesty of Iceland via Ring Road? We can help you find a package that's suitable for you. In fact, we can help you find a friendly face when you get here. Next time you're planning a trip, think Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice is waiting for you. Contact us to learn more.