Driving the Ring Road in Iceland possibly is the most scenic, idyllic road trip I’ve ever made.
Imagine this: miles and miles of freedom. Nothing but endless landscapes, mountains and a view over the ocean surrounding you. Here and there you’ll find the wind pushing against your car – almost making you struggle to keep it on the right side of the road. If you’re lucky you’ll find yourself looking at an Artic fox crossing the road. If you pay enough attention you’ll spot the waterfalls, making their way down back into the ocean. You don’t have to check your navigation for what feels like hours – you just drive straight ahead.
But with every meter your car moves forward, you’ll realise again and again that you are driving through Iceland. With every meter that you move, you’ll realise that Iceland can get more beautiful than you ever imagined and that freedom is easier to find than you actually thought.
If you have enough time I urge you to drive the Ring Road. Drive to places that you never imagined seeing in real life and explore where most tourists won’t head.
But before doing so: here is everything you’ll want to know.
It takes 17 hours to drive the entire Ring Road
Which means, that when you are visiting Iceland for 7 days, you’ll have to spent over two hours a day in your car. On an average. Some days you’ll have to hurry more, because you’ll be in an area with a lot of hiking trails, or somewhere with a lot of highlights. However, it’s doable. It’s definitely doable. It just means that planning is key.
We drove the Ring Road in 5 days – which basically ment that we spent three hours driving a day on an average. I think the longest distance we drove took us fours hour. While that might seem long – you’ll always have plenty of stops during your drive which means that it doesn’t feel that long of a drive. You’re not just driving from A to B – you’re driving from A to B to C to D to E …
As long as you are in good company and listening to a good Spotify playlist – you’re good to go!
Driving doesn’t come cheap
You most probably knew it already: Iceland is freaking expensive. A salade already costs 25,00 euros, you can expect renting a car is a hell lot more expensive.
Now, cars in Iceland come in all shapes and sizes (not colors I’ve learned – 90% is white), and in low season you can already rent a car for 5 days for 200 euros. Which isn’t so bad actually. However, do keep in mind that with a 17 hour drive in sight you’re expected to fuel up quite a bit.
Something to keep in mind beforehand.
The most popular landmarks are the easiest to reach
The Seljalandsfoss, the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon or Akureyri are all examples of popular must-sees that are really easy to reach. Before driving the Ring Road myself I figured that I had to have a good navigation to find all the highlights. To make sure that I didn’t accidentally miss something. However – even without navigation you’ll probably find 80% of all the landmarks you want to see.
It’s no coincidence that the Ring Road is so strategically placed – but it is. Which makes driving the Ring Road so much more easy for the tourists among us.
The Northern area isn’t the easiest to reach in Winter
While extremely pretty – and while you probably want to head North in Winter just to see the Northern Lights – don’t expect it to be easy. With the roads covered in snow, driving around the Northern area can get pretty challenging.
I mean, locals do it – which means it can be done. But just be prepared when you are visiting in Winter: choose the right car, have the right tools for hands and know how to drive in these conditions.
Book hotels beforehand
While I was traveling in low season myself, I was really glad that I booked all our hotels beforehand. Fact is: the Northern and Eastern region aren’t really populated – which means that there aren’t a lot of hotels. So save yourself the long quest of finding a hotel – and know where to navigate to.. before driving off!
Know which car to pick
Before booking our rental car, I read online that I should definitely rent a 4×4. Basically because a lot of the roads are gravel and this can be quite tricky when not having four wheel drive. Or at least.. that’s what I’ve read.
So of course, being the prepared traveler as I am, I booked us a 4×4. Long story short: six days later, when handing in the car I still had no idea how to turn on the 4×4 option NOR had I needed it.
As long as you don’t tend to take a lot of detours other than the Ring Road you really don’t need 4×4 – especially when traveling in Spring or Summer when the roads are at their best.
So save yourself the money, and ask yourself which car (or how big of a car) you’ll need during your trip!
Embrace Bonus Supermarkets
Spreaded around Iceland you’ll find a couple of Bonus Supermarkets. Money-wise this supermarket is probably the best tip I can give you. I basically lived for Bonus Supermarkets whilst traveling through Iceland.
You probably figured it out already – but Bonus is probably the cheapest supermarket in Iceland you can find. The perfect solution for your cravings on the road.
Most of these supermarkets are located around the bigger cities in Iceland, so plan your visits wisely!
Stick to the speed limits
Even though it’s tempting to reenact Formula 1 when seeing the long stretched Ring Road.. you better stick to the speed limits and other rules of the road. Since as far as I’ve heard, from the guy who rented me a car, traffic tickets are NOT cheap.
It’s Iceland after all.
So be careful, behave and enjoy. After all, you don’t want to oversee a highlight because you were driving too fast.
Just in case: get a physical map
When driving further away from cities like Reykjavik you’ll start to understand that reception isn’t the most common luxury to have. You’ll always have moments when you aren’t able to load Google Maps. And again, to save yourself the costs of a navigation system with your rental, you should just get a map.
Since Iceland isn’t the most difficult country to drive a physical map should do just fine. Plus you can basically get it at every hotel or car rental. So my advice: do so!