Driving on the Ring road in Iceland

Driving on the Ring road in Iceland

How to drive from Reykjavík to Höfn on the South coast of Iceland on the famous Ring Road of Iceland.

Many people really enjoy driving along the famous road number 1, or better known as the Ring Road in Iceland. Here we will show you the drive from Reykjavík to Höfn. You will see many amazing geological sights along the way, and no matter what season it is, you will see many different landscapes along the way. This is a quick illustration of the route you would take as you drive along the ring road.

 

This is not a complete overview of everything you will see, as this would take many pages to complete, but it is rather a quick idea of what to expect as you drive along, and also gives an important overview of what to look out for in each different section. Please do always bear in mind how the weather might affect your journey, and always make provision for delays that might happen. So let’s strap in your virtual seat belt, start those engines, and  head towards 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 and busy tourist area so you might expect a lot more traffic, especially tour buses, on this part of the ring road. Popular tourist areas such as the Golden circle are in the area. We will drive past Eyjafjallajökull glacier and Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Skógafoss waterfall, the beautiful town of Vík, Skaftafell national park and Jökulsárlón glacier on the way, just to name a few. As you can see, with all these lovely sights, no wonder it is very busy with tourists.

This South coast part of the Ring Road is all tarred with no gravel sections, and if the weather is good it makes for good driving. Most of the secondary roads in the South such as the Golden circle are also all tarred. The majority of the roads to Höfn are flat and smooth. The roads are mostly single lane each direction. Be careful of the gravel on each side of the road, it can cause gravel damage if drive on it at full speed and also when other cars are passing you they can flick up bits of gravel and chip your windscreen. It is also easy to lose control if driving on the gravel hard shoulder at speed.

Reykjavik

You start your journey from Reykjavik and head towards the  Hellisheiði Heath/mountain passage. As with all mountain passages, the weather can be vastly different between here and in Reykjavík so I would recommend to check the weather before you leave, and importantly, every two hours during the winter months. You can visit the Icelandic Road Administration (http://www.road.is/) for a map of road conditions which is updated every hour. There are also various good Apps you can find for your smart phone as well.

Hveragerði to Selfoss

You will pass the “flower” town of Hveragerði with its greenhouses, where if you decide to leave the main road, you could hike towards the Reykjadalur valley where you will find a hot geothermal river running down it with magnificent views. Leaving Hveragerði you will drive towards 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. If you are hungry, I would recommend eating at the Steakhouse Surf & Turf restaurant in Selfoss. My family and I enjoyed our meal there.

In clear weather you will have good view into the highlands (towards your left) from the town of Selfoss and onwards. You might be able to spot the very long and flat Langjökull glacier as well as Mount Hekla, one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland erupting every 10 years or so. Away to your right you might sometimes see the Vestmannaeyjar islands on a clear day.

Selfoss to Vik

You will soon reach the  Eyjafjöll mountains (a quick language lesson: Eyjafjöll means Islands mountains and Eyjafjallajökull means Islands mountains glacier) The islands you might see are the Vestmannaeyjar islands.

A very popular destination for tourists are the Seljalandsfoss and Skogar waterfalls. The Eyjafjöll mountains are breathtakingly beautiful as well so this part of the route is very picturesque. You will then proceed to the small town of Vík. Many tourists stop at the dark black beach of Reynisfjara or spend time looking at  the view over to the Reynisdrangar pillars that are situated in the ocean.

Once you have passed the town of Vík, the landscape undergoes a dramatic change from the green valleys and mountainous regions to the dark black desert-like sands of Mýrdalssandur. This resembles a black sand desert, and you will drive over a few single lane roads. Take care over these bridges, especially in the winter months, and don’t drive too quickly. The ring road beyond Vik becomes slightly narrower as well which makes the driving experience a little trickier then what I have experienced so far, and gets even trickier in the Winter.

Once you have left the black “desert” behind you, you will enter the  Eldhraun lava field (which is roughly translated as Fire lava). This lava field was created in one of the largest known eruptions in recorded world history. The eruption had a tremendous impact in Iceland as well as other parts of Europe.  The lava fields are huge, about 560 km2. Should you have a  4×4 SUV that your car hire place allows you to drive into the highlands, you can visit the Laki craters  (Lakagigar, in Icelandic) which is a row of craters approximately 25km long, which were formed in the same eruption. If you do decide to go, you will find the turnoff as you approach the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The condition of the  roads are still the same: narrow tarred roads normally in a good condition.

While on the topic of volcanoes and mountains in Iceland, it might also be a good idea to check out our other FAQ on icelandic mountain guides.

Having visited Eldhraun, you now drive over the  Skeiðarársandur towards the Skaftafell national park where Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe, is located. The journey over Skeiðarársandur is spectacularly beautiful; with the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur, straight ahead  of you in the national park. Once again you will drive over glacier rivers on single-width bridges that only occasionally have double-width passing places to let a  car driving in the opposite direction pass you. Please drive carefully on these bridges.

I also recommend you spend some time in the  Skaftafell national park and walk to the glacier (although please do not go on it as it is dangerous without guided supervision).

Vatnajökull glacier,
Vatnajökull glacier
Photo by Keri Melich on Unsplash

 

Please also be aware that there are no grocery stores or restaurants in the area between the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Höfn except Freysnes near Skaftafell which is extremely expensive. So I suggest you buy everything you might need before you reach this leg of the trip, or be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for your food and drinks.

Once arrive at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, you will have had Vatnajökull glacier on your left for a distance, and I hope you have had a chance to enjoy the spectacular scenery. Do make an effort to stop at the glacier lagoon if you have the time, the view is worth it.

An important tip if you do drive this route, especially in the summer, or actually any month where storms are a regular event: Because of all the sandy areas in this region, it would be advisable to get insurance for your hire car that includes sand and ash protection.

Driving rules in Iceland

Please be aware that the speed limit is 90 km/h on tarred roads and 80 km/h on gravel roads. The speed limit in towns is 50 km/h. The police will very often do speed checks in the area and there are a lot of speed cameras so I advise you to respect the speed limit.

Very important: Off-road driving is against the law in Iceland as it causes real and often irreversible damage to the Icelandic nature that could take decades to heal. Please do not drive off road 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.

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