A common theme among those wanting to go to Iceland is to find a sense of solitude, to get away from the hustle and busle of daily life. As more and more people also prefer to plan their own trips and what to do and see an option many opt for is the so-called ring road.
The Ring Road is the main road in Iceland, connecting all the different parts of the country with each other and the capital area. As Iceland is a mountainous volcanic island built up by volcanoes and carved by glaciers the ring road goes over desolate mountains, through deep valleys, over black sands and pretty much covers any geological formation you could think of.
The Ring Road. iStock/StoneC2017
A couple from Colorado that has travelled all over the Western US described their experience with the ring road as a mini sample of everything the Western US has to offer, except they found they never had to drive more than 30 minutes before stumbling upon the next gorgeous place they just had to further explore.
The ring road serves sort of like a sampling platter of all of what Iceland has to offer, so it’s a great choice for someone coming for the first time to Iceland and wanting to make the most of their visit. However, there are some details about planning a ring road trip that you should be aware of so you don’t just end up spending most your time in the car.
Here are some practical tips and suggestions to make the most of your ring road adventure to help you make it truly memorable for other things than the inside of the car you rented and the smelly socks in the back seat.
This one may seem like an obvious one, but a smart thing cannot be stated enough. Try to plan your ring road trip in the lighter and warmer months of the year. The ring road is 1332 km with many parts of it consisting of switchbacks up and down mountain passes and it includes a large number of single lane bridges in the East of Iceland.
If you are traveling in winter you may only have a few hours of daylight to enjoy the views and the parts that cross mountain passes may be closed and will probably be covered in a thick layer of ice if they keep open. Believe me, you don’t want to find yourself driving on a windy narrow road with a layer of ice and hurricane force winds shaking the car, which is not uncommon in the winter. Unless you truly enjoy hazardous winter driving try to do the ring road when the driving is more pleasant and less hazardous!
Winter driving in Iceland can be a great challenge. iStock/StockWithMe
If you are still determined to drive the Ring Road during the winter, you can check out this article for tips and guidelines.
Now that you’ve been smart about it and you plan to go in the lighter months, my next tip would be to take enough time to do it. A pretty common story for those visiting Iceland for a week and wishing to make the most of it includes a few days in Reykjavik, a day dedicated to the golden circle, half a day visit to the Blue lagoon and then the ring road in 3-4 days before flying off.
Ain't nothing wrong with wanting to make the most of your visit, but keep in mind that if you do the ring road in 3-4 days most of your time will be spent in the car, with short stops in between to briefly enjoy what you see and being out in nature. I don’t know about you, but I always aim to maximize my outdoor exposure and limit the car time to make the most of my vacations!
If you really only have 3 days to do the ring road you are much better served to plan shorter trips from Reykjavik and really enjoy being outside instead of being behind the wheel for your entire trip.
A tent can be a smart way to have more flexibility during your trip if you don’t mind bundling up in a sleeping bag. Not only is it very economical as camp sites are usually very fairly priced in Iceland but you can adjust your trip to your fancy once you are on the road depending on what mood strikes you.
There are so many nice camping spots along the Ring Road. iStock/Nadia Moroz
This is both useful for doing smaller detours that you didn’t think of or plan beforehand but also for choosing which directions to go (clockwise or counter-clockwise). A trick that many Icelanders use is to “follow the weather” meaning adjusting your trip by the weather forecast and stay longer in a certain part of the country if it is sunny and beatiful there but rainy and dull in other parts. So pack your tent and follow closely on vedur.is for the latest updates and forecasts!
One brilliant and unique feature of Iceland is the sheer number of public pools and baths all around the island. So no more 4 day greasy hair and sweat caking on your body like you may be used to on your regular road trip that includes camping. With all the pools and natural baths to be found in Iceland it’s refreshing and uplifting to start your day with a shower and a soak in the hot tubs at whatever happens to be your local pool.
The swimming pool in Hofsós. Flickr/Richard Toller
Even if you are not camping it’s something that will make your trip around the country truly memorable and make you appreciate the different features and details of each location in a special way. There are tons of pools to choose from and you really can’t go wrong but some of my favorite public pools around Iceland include Laugardalslaug (Reykjavík), Sundlaug Hafnar (Höfn í Hornafirði) and Sundlaugin á Hofsósi. The Hofsós pool probably has the best views from any pool ever in existence.
A thing that should not be missed when in Iceland is to hike aplenty! Iceland is a hiker’s paradise and it offers the easiest way to find solitude and a deeper connection with nature than is possible at the overfilled parking lots crawling with tourists. There are plenty of gorgeous trails that start from places where you will probably be visiting anyway so why not make your stop a bit longer and take a couple hours to wander?
Iceland is a hiker's paradise. Travelade/iStock
After 15 minutes of hiking you will find yourself in solitude just listening to the sounds of the birds and the wind and enjoying the best of Iceland: Unspoiled nature! For example there is a trail from Skógarfoss (it goes all the way over the mountain if you have a full day) up the mountain where you can enjoy a series of beautiful waterfalls that you can enjoy away from the crowds, where each one would be considered an attraction in and of itself if it where in any other country besides Iceland and not overshadowed by the neighboring Skógarfoss.
You will also find a plethora of beautiful trails in Skaftafell national park, in the East of Iceland near Egilsstaðir and in the Mývatn area to name a few options.
Now have a great trip around Iceland and remember to stock up on tax-free liquor at the airport if thats your thing!