What goes around comes around

The Icelandic ring road and how driving the wrong way long way gets you to the right place.
April 23, 2018
Carlos Prieto Casquero

The infrastructure in Iceland is rather basic in relation to how big the country is. Basically, all population and cities are by the sea and the highlands are not accessible for part of the year. This leads to the unique circumstance that there is one road in Iceland which does the ring around the island. Conveniently it is road number one. It does not completely go around the island since it skips Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west and the west fjords.

So if you want to drive from Reykjavik in the south west to Reyðarfjörður in the east you can either take the route north or south.  The difference is 8 kilometers even though the south route may be more passable specially during winter time.   For other destinations there is usually one way which is shorter if you simply are driving from a to b.

But if you are travelling around Iceland for leisure the ring road is your perfect guide. Starting your trip in Reykjavik you will soon reach the cross roads where it splits into north and south. So you can decide whether you are going to go around Iceland clockwise or counter clockwise.   If you go clockwise you will quickly leave the capital area after having passed the suburbs of Reykjavik and the town Mosfellsbær.  After passing ( and usually stopping in)  Borgarnes you will soon reach Bifröst University which is close to crater Grábrok. Leaving Snæfellsnes peninsula to your left ( the west) you drive a bit land inward. Along your way you will reach your first plateau “Holtavörðuheiði” giving you stunning views over surreal landscapes and giving you an idea of what lies ahead. Once you reach the coast again you can have your next convenience stop at Staðarskáli. Leaving the towns Laugabakki and Varmahlíð behind you reach the next plateau “Öxnadalsheiði”, your last obstacle before reaching Akureyri the capital of the north.

From here the ring road takes your over plateau “Möðrudalsheiði” to reach Egilsstaðir the biggest city in the east. Here you also reach the coast again which you had left behind when leaving Akureyri.  If you remember this is the are which is almost the same distance if you travel north or south. With the big plateaus along the way it is usually easier to travel the south route. Since they can be hard to pass or simply closed due to heavy snow. Along the east fjords you pass the town Djúpivogur before reaching Höfn a town famous for its lobster and lobster festival.

Along the coast you travel west and pass Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. After passing the black beach in Vík you will see the two waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss to your right. After passing the town of Selfoss you can take a detour from the ring road and visit the golden circle with Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir before reaching Reykjavik again.

The ring road is about 1332 kilometers long so possible to drive in two days. With all the sites along the way people usually take about a week and try to drive about 200 kilometers per day to give themselves enough time to enjoy everything and not miss a thing. If you add the westfjords, highlands or Snæfellsnes you can of course take even longer.

No matter how you travel along the road remember to stay safe. If you are driving remember to read our guide on driving in Iceland.

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