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The Ring Road – Route Number One

·      Distance:        1322 km (820 miles)

·      Travel Days:        At least 7 days

·      Combinations:     Check out our list of scenic routes around Iceland beyond the Ring Road

·      Best travel time: Year-round.

·      4X4 required?     No.

What is the Ring Road?

The famous ‘Ring Road’ is a 1322 km (820 miles) loop connecting most towns and villages; a road trip renowned for its variety of scenery, passing many of Iceland’s most iconic sites.

Renting a car is the best way to explore the Ring Road. Public transport runs year-round but the schedule is sporadic outside of summer. Joining an organized tour is another option, usually taking no less than seven days.  

Officially marked as Route 1 on maps, drivers need to stay up to date on road conditions outside the summer months. The website Safe Travel has a current travel conditions map for road closures, snow and wind conditions, and weather alerts. More about driving in Iceland.

Clockwise, or counterclockwise? 

Mt. Herdubreid

Mt. Herðubreið viewed from the Ring Road

Travelers hitting the Ring Road can exit Reykjavík to the east or north.

The southern drive from Reykjavík to Egilsstaðir is the more scenic half, with waterfalls and glacial lagoons visible from the road. That is not to say this part of the country merits more of your time—only that there are more things to see and do along the Ring Road. Other regions reward a good detour, for instance along the Eastfjords or Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Travelers spending more than a week on the road should consider the scenic Arctic Coast Way and the Westfjords Way (Vestfjarðaleiðin).

When Icelanders hit the Ring Road for a vacation, they typically first check the weather forecast and then drive straight to the sunniest corner on the island! That’s one way to travel, and for those sleeping in tents and campervans, good weather sure makes the journey more extraordinary.

Iceland forest
Skogafoss waterfall

What to expect - by the region

South

The southern part of Iceland is the flattest part of the country: the road hugs the coastline, with few reasons to turn. The area is best known for waterfalls and glacial scenery. Valley glaciers extend from Iceland’s ice cap and can be visited up close in the region of Skaftafell. During the summer season, it is often hard to find available accommodation between Selfoss and Höfn, so we recommend booking well in advance.

The town of Akureyri is the largest along the Ring Road.

East

The drive from Höfn to Egilsstaðir is a zig-zag of fjords. During summer, it is possible to travel over the Öxi mountain pass on Route 939. This scenic gravel road shortens the way between Djúpivogur and Egilsstaðir by 68 km but requires extra precaution. On the other hand, many travelers mistake following only the main road through the East, bypassing the atmospheric Eastfjords with its wonderful slices of small-town Iceland.

North

The northern drive has muddy hot springs in Mývatn, the cosmopolitan vibes of Akureyri, and coastal detours, sustaining a multi-day road trip in itself. Here, travelers will be well rewarded by exploring the Arctic Coast Way and the Diamond Circle. If driving the Ring Road from September to May, stay up-to-date on road conditions on Holtavörðuheiði, Öxnadalsheiði and Möðrudalsöræfum -- these high mountain passes frequently close during storms or high winds.

Hraunfossar

The Hraunfossar waterfalls cascade is 40 km (25 miles) from the Ring Road.

West

The Ring Road cuts off much of the western part of Iceland due to an inland route via Borgarfjörður, bypassing the wonders of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the alpine Westfjords. But make no mistake: there is more to this region than its gas stations serving coffee and hot dogs. The roadside towns of Borgarnes, Hvammstangi, and Blönduós each have museums, pools, and restaurants well worth the stop. Traffic can get heavy on the Reykjavík to Akureyri route, especially during July when many Icelanders are on summer vacation.

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