The Ring Road
Iceland’s Route 1 highway conveniently takes a circular route around most of the country and is therefore the preferred option for people on holiday in Iceland, with a hire car and a week or more to kill.
Of course, you don’t strictly need a hire car to make the trip. Over the summer there are several coach companies offering ring road tickets where you are free to get off when and where you like and complete the full ring in as long as you like. Hitch hiking is a fairly common and usually safe way of getting around Iceland; although we would certainly not recommend it officially. You can even complete the ring road by bike if you like.
Marketers in Reykjanes, Snæfellsnes, the Westfjords and the far northeast of Iceland often complain that sticking to the ring road means you miss some of the country’s greatest pearls – and that is undeniably true. On the other hand, you also drive right through some of the country’s greatest pearls and it is an excellent first-time introduction to Iceland before you return to the country again, and again (hopefully).
The many amazing highlights of the ring road experience include some of the biggest towns in the country, some of the most sought-after waterfalls in Europe, the Eyjafjallajökull and Vatnajökull glaciers, the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon…and that’s just on the south coast alone!
The Route 1 ring road around Iceland is 1,339 kilometres long, which makes it ideal for exploring slowly over the course of a week – or even longer. But the relaxed driving schedule also makes it easy to add in one or all of the missing areas mentioned above (like the Westfjords or Snæfellsnes) to increase the length of your journey and see more, erm, sights along the way. The same is very much true if you want to roam off Route 1 and explore the East Fjords, and if you want to save a thousand krónur by taking the beautiful old Hvalfjörður road instead of the much shorter tunnel.
Route 1 is considered the national highway and it is used by lorries carrying freight almost every day of the year. This means snow ploughing is top priority in the winter and the road will be open when others may be closed. Of course extreme weather can shut even Route 1 for short periods, so it is always best to check the road conditions before you set off. There are no such concerns in the summer though (stated with at least 90% certainty).
The road was finally completed in 1976 and these days most, although not all, of it is paved. The small remaining sections in the East are gravel. The speed limit is 90 km/h (80 on gravel) and the police are extremely hot on dishing out speeding tickets. Apparently about half of tickets issued are to foreign tourists, and they even chase speeders by helicopter, believe it or not…