The Ring Road, or Route 1 is the world famous road that travels along most of the coastline and perimeter of this small European island country. It is a road trip unlike any other, and it has scenery along the way that matches nothing else on this planet.
This road trip is often mentioned as one of the best in the world, and for good reason. The views are limitless, and along the way, you'll come across active volcanoes, ancient lava fields, fjords, massive waterfalls, black sand beaches, cliffs, geothermal pools, glaciers, mountains, and more! There is not a dull moment when traveling this route.
It is definitely an opportunity to not miss if ever traveling in Iceland. If you are ever debating about going to this island country, use this road trip as incentive. Iceland is still looked at as a country that is a uncommon tourist destination (for reasons I do not understand), but its popularity has begun to grow in recent years for good and bad. Its untouched landscapes are part of what makes this such a ideal destination. It is a harsh environment to visit most of the year, but this is what makes this area so beautiful. It can often times add to the road trip, making the lands seem even more mystical. I should mention that many Icelanders entertain beliefs that trolls exist in these lands. After traveling through this country, you will begin to realize why they are suspicious of them!
This island country gives off a mystical and other worldly vibe. It is no wonder that it has become the filming location for various movies, TV shows (Game of Thrones), and music videos. Also, if you decide to film a music video here, don't do what Justin Bieber did, he's a fucking idiot :).
When to go?
If planning to do a road trip in this country, it is essential to plan appropriately for the time of year. Idealistically, early June through late August are the perfect months to see this country, but the busiest and most expensive time of year. Nothing ruins these beautiful locations more than a ton of cars and tourists wandering around. To avoid the crowds, try traveling in May, or September. The crowds will drop drastically, and prices reduce as well. October through April could make for rough travels on a road trip, and portions of the route could be closed down. It is not recommended to do this trip during this time frame, but it may be possible. There is also significantly less daylight during portions of October-April.
Regardless of time of year, weather can be very unpredictable, but outside of the summer months of June-August, even more so. Be prepared for high winds, constant rain, fog, overcast weather, ice, snow, and even volcanic ash! It is a harsh and unforgiving environment. Be sure to pay attention to weather forecasts and have the appropriate gear to handle said conditions.
Where to start?
Obviously starting in Reykjavik, the choice is yours. Clock wise or counter clockwise, it makes no difference. Whatever destinations you wish to see first!
Where to stay?
One thing that is interesting about Iceland is it is technically legal to camp anywhere, as long as you have permission from a landowner, and its uncultivated land. That being said, camping should be utilized in the various campsites throughout the country, and there are plenty! Camping anywhere will have a negative impact on the environment over time with the hundreds of thousands of visitors this island country sees every year.
Option 2 could be staying in various hotels around the country. A map I have generated below displays all of the larger cities I stopped in which had hotels and or hostels. There are plenty of places to stop if camping is not your thing. If hotels are too expensive, then resort to hostels, which are fantastic in this country. Still to this day, the best hostel I ever stayed in was located in Seydisfjordur. It was a former hospital turned into traveler's lodging. ( http://hafaldan.is/about/ ).
I highly recommend the hostel or camping experience when doing the Ring Road. You will meet lots of interesting people, and it will be a better social experience overall. Also with the hostel route, you can save money by preparing meals in a hostel kitchen.
How to do it?
There are several options on the possible ways to do this trip, though some are better than others. There are tour buses that go throughout the Ring Road during the more popular months of the year. I highly recommend not taking this way, as it limits your time and places you stop along the way. When i was driving the road, I was having a hard time not stopping every 10 minutes to take a photo of something cool. The ring road is all about adventure, and a bus can severely limit this.
Hitchhiking is another option. While many people may be turned away from this concept, it is actually very common in Iceland. It is a great way to get around, and a great way to meet people. Hitchhiking and camping is a very popular way people get from destination to destination. It is very safe to do this in this country. Don't be afraid of hitchhikers, and don't be afraid to help one out if you are able to.
Biking and Motorcycle is another very common way people get around, and I imagine this travel option would be pretty awesome.
The best option, in my opinion, would be renting a car. Any regular car will do during the ideal times of year. If it is a rougher time of the year, possibly a vehicle with 4x4 would be more realistic. Though the Ring Road is mostly paved, and in great condition. If you decide to do some off the main route driving, a 4x4 vehicle with good clearance under the body is highly recommended. Overall Iceland is a easy country to drive in once you get the basics of their traffic systems. The only difficult part for some people may be driving in Reykjavik, but odds are you will pick your car up outside of the airport. The airport is located about 20-25 minutes outside of downtown Reykjavik.
All options have their pros and cons, but the best way to do this is whatever way you can experience everything at your own pace, and not be constricted by a schedule. Remember if you drive, always keep your lights on, its illegal not to have them on here!
What are you going to see?
What aren't you going to see? This road trip is home to some of the most "other worldly" sights you can see on this planet. We'll start with one of the most common occurrences, waterfalls. If you love watching waterfalls, and visiting them, then this is the road trip for you. Be prepared though, because this trip will spoil you. There are endless amounts of waterfalls all over Iceland, and you may never look at waterfalls the same when you travel elsewhere in this world!
In the south western portion of this road trip, you will quickly come across many of the most iconic waterfalls in Iceland, such as Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Svartifoss. You'll never run short of awesome waterfalls to visit and watch while in Iceland.
Much more lies ahead of you to see during this road trip though, such as active volcanoes and ancient lava fields, which will do nothing more but add to the mystical feeling this country presents you with. Be sure to pay attention prior to arrival to determine if there has been any volcanic activity lately. Volcanic eruptions could quickly wreck a road trip for various reasons such as ash clouds, poisonous gases, flooding, and lava. One of the longer eruptions in recent country history was actually occurring while I was in Iceland, unfortunately, I was not able to find a way to go see it! There is always next time though.
Lots of crazy coastline drives, and drives in and out of fjords await you as well, or are a short distance from Route 1. There are some stellar scenes to be viewed driving in and out of these huge fjords. It is even more remarkable when these fjords are completely untouched by civilization, aside from construction of the road perhaps. They leave you with a sense of remoteness, how small you really are in the world, and desire to retire to such a destination.
One of my most favorite parts of this trip was in the south eastern portion of the country. It is the glacial lake filled with icebergs, which is known as Jökulsárlón. It was a very humbling experience when I first arrived at this destination. Everything was very quiet, and very peaceful. There are not many places in the world where you can see glacial break off floating around in a lake, but here is one of those unique locations where you can. This is one of my highest recommended locations in Iceland. It has been featured in many movies (two Bond films, Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins, as well as the upcoming Fast and Furious movie). It is no wonder why this location has been picked for filming, it is very stunning.
The glacier break off in here comes from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier outlet, from the largest glacier in Europe, which is Vatnajökull. The reason for the blue color in the ice is due to the countless years of ice compacting within the glacier, forcing out any air, and creating pure ice.