Let’s travel from Reykjavík to Höfn on the South coast of Iceland on the famous Ring Road of Iceland.
Driving on the road number 1 or the Ring Road in Iceland is great fun and the beautiful sights on the way are sure to take your breath away. This is a short demonstration about driving on the ring road in an attempt to show visitors what they might expect (with emphasis on the driving part).
This is not a complete list of all the sights you can see in the area but rather an idea of how you might expect the roads to be, road sections to watch out for and how the weather can affect your trip. So put on your virtual seat belt and let’s start our journey on road 1 on the South coast of Iceland. Please do be aware that road conditions can change during the day, especially during winter. Don’t forget to read more about Driving in Iceland in Winter.
The south coast is a very popular tourist area so you might expect heavier traffic, especially tour buses, on this part of the ring road as compared to other parts! Popular tourist areas such as the Golden circle are in the area. We will pass Eyjafjallajökull glacier and Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Skógafoss waterfall, the picturesque town of Vík, Skaftafell national park and Jökulsárlón glacier on the way, just to name a few.
This South coast part of the ring road number 1 is all asphalt, there are no gravel parts on it. Most secondary roads in the south are also asphalt such as the Golden circle. The flatness of the South makes your ride a smooth and easy one all the way to Höfn. The roads are mostly one lane each side. Beware of the gravel on each side, it can cause gravel damage if you go out on it at full speed or when other cars are passing you. It is also easy to lose control if driving on the gravel hard shoulder at speed.
Your journey from Reykjavik starts on Hellisheiði heath/mountain passage. As is with all mountain passages, the weather can be drastically different up there than in Reykjavík so check it before you leave, especially in the winter time. You can visit the Icelandic Road Administration (http://www.road.is/) for a map of road conditions which is updated every hour.
Hveragerði to Selfoss
You will pass the “flower” town of Hveragerði with its greenhouses as well as the town of Selfoss which is the biggest town in the south. The speeding police is very active between the two towns. Selfoss has a good selection of supermarkets, fuel stations as well as restaurants. I would recommend stopping here if you have time.
In clear weather you will have good view into the highlands (to your left) from the town of Selfoss and on. You might be able to spot the very long and flat Langjökull glacier as well as Mt. Hekla, one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland erupting every 10 years or so. To your right you might spot the Vestmannaeyjar islands.
Selfoss to Vik
You will reach Eyjafjöll mountains (quick language lesson: Eyjafjöll means Islands mountains and Eyjafjallajökull means Islands mountains glacier) The islands are of course the Vestmannaeyjar islands.
Many people stop at Seljalandsfoss waterfall and Skogar waterfalls. The green Eyjafjöll mountains are spectacular as well so this part of the route is very beautiful. You will then drive on to the little town of Vík. Many visitors stop at the black beach of Reynisfjara or enjoy the view over to Reynisdrangar pillars that are out in the ocean.
Once you pass Vík the landscape changes from green valleys and mountains to the black sands of Mýrdalssandur sands. This is basically a black sand desert with a lot of single-width bridges. The ring road after Vik is slightly narrower as well which makes the driving experience a little different then what I have experienced so far, and gets even trickier in the Winter.
Once you leave the black sands behind you will cross into Eldhraun lava field (rough translation is Fire lava) which was created in one of the biggest eruptions in recorded world history. The eruption had devastating impact in Iceland as well as in Europe where it might have contributed to reasons that brought on the French revolution in 1789. As you can imagine the lava fields are huge, about 565 km2. If you have a 4×4 car that is allowed to go into the highlands you can visit Lakagígar craters which were also formed in the same eruption, you will find the turn near the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The roads are still similar, they are all narrow asphalt, single-lane roads and mostly through flat landscapes.
Leaving Eldhraun behind you will travel over Skeiðarársandur sands towards Skaftafell national park where the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull glacier, awaits you. The journey over Skeiðarársandur is ruggedly beautiful, black sands with the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur, straight ahead in the national park. Again you will cross glacier rivers on single-width bridges that only have double-width places to meet an oncoming car every once in a while. Please drive carefully on these bridges.
Sometimes the forces of nature are too strong for man-made things. Skeiðará river and other rivers in the area sometimes go on glacier runs destroying any bridge or road that stands between it and the ocean. This happens rarely but as recently as 2011 on Mýrdalssandur sands.
I do recommend you stop at Skaftafell national park and hike to the glacier (although please do not go on it as those things are dangerous without guided supervision).
Another tip; there are no stores or restaurants in the area from the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Höfn except Freysnes near Skaftafell which has ludicrous prices. So I suggest you stock up on refreshments before you reach this part of the way or be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for your coffee and sandwich.
Once you make it to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, you will have had Vatnajökull glacier on your left for a while enjoying the spectacular scenery. Well, the view does not get any worse at the glacier lagoon so make sure you stop there
Driving rules in Iceland
I need to remind you that the speeding limit is 90 km/h on asphalt roads and 80 km/h on gravel roads. The speeding limit in towns is 50 km/h. The police frequently checks speeding in the area and there are a lot of speeding cameras so I advise you to respect the speed limit.
Also, please be aware that off-road driving is against the law in Iceland as it causes real and irreversible damage to the Icelandic nature that could take decades to heal. Please do not drive off roads even if you see tire tracks!
And….also remember please remember to drive with your headlights on at all times, even during the day – it is the law in Iceland.