Driving Iceland’s Route One

In Europe, Iceland, Our Journeys, Road Trips, Trip-Types, World Travel by GaryLeave a Comment

And a little bit more too

I decided to write this post to supplement the posts Janis had written on our Tour of Iceland.  Janis has covered the journey, the destinations and the experiences en-route.  

Some amazing days on the road, Driving in Iceland

Some amazing days on the road

This post is written from my perspective as the driver, with the details that went into the planning, the contingency, the highs and the lows.  

The aim is to provide you with the lessons we learned from our time that can hopefully be of help if you're planning a  similar experience.

The beautiful thing about the trip is that everyone will be different, and I hope your experience is as enjoyable as ours.

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We planned a destination for each night, booked the accommodation, and drove between them.  We flew into Keflavík International Airport on the 13th March 2018 and were to return on the 24th.  We chose this time of year to maximise our chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Swirling Northern Lights at Reykjahlíð, Eastern Iceland

Swirling Northern Lights at Reykjahlíð

 I hope this is not a spoiler - we did!

So let's start with the planning.

It's time for a plan and a spreadsheet

We all know Iceland is a popular destination.  For many it's a great weekend break, the ideal opportunity to take in the Golden Circle, we know, that's what we did in 2007.  Therefore, we decided to fly in after the weekend, pick up our SIXT hire car and head on away from Reykjavik.  We'd end the trip with 24 hours in the capital.

The next item was to make out a list of points of interest we planned to visit along our route.  Our tool for this was to use Google MyMaps - the great news is it's free.   If you click on the map, you'll see there's a layer for 'Sights to See' & 'Waterfalls of Iceland'.

Once we knew what we wanted to see, we set about picking the destinations based on some facts we knew;

Breakfast was included at every accommodation
Experience suggested we wouldn't be stopping for lunch, Iceland's just too remote so we'd rely on snacks in the car.
We'd aim to hit the road by 8:30am
We'd like to be at our destination by 5:00pm
The speed limit is 90kph on tarmac, 80kph on gravel, but that's the limit. Driving in Iceland is about the journey so don't rush it, plus conditions may dictate you have to drive slower, so take that into consideration
Plan your stops along the route, give yourself time to enjoy & explore.

So based on that we started the spreadsheet.

One view from the Spreadsheet, Driving in Iceland

Now, this may look like we're a bit controlled, but it's just a high-level plan.  It took some time to fix the destinations, and we used Google maps for the distance & time - once again, accepting that the figures are indicative.  Everything is a bit fluffy, but that's okay, we're not setting the schedule in stone.

So with that in mind, we book our flights and set about diving into Booking.com to find our accommodation and booking the hire car.

Picking the right hire car

So this is a real personal choice, depending on your needs, and your group.  

As you know, it's just Janis and me, and it's March in Iceland.  What you may not know is we don't pack light, we've a backpack for the camera, and another for the drone.  

We expected changeable conditions on the roads, and experience had taught me some of the unmade roads could be a bit on the bumpy side.  So we opted for a Toyota RAV 4 4x4 (or equivalent) 

When we arrived, SIXT offered us the equivalent, a SsangYong Korando. 

To be honest, I'd had no experience of SsangYong, but as a Rav 4 had tried to dispatch us on our last visit to Iceland, (You can read more about the infamous toffee incident in 'Our epic road trip failures'), a switch to the SsangYong wasn't too bad.  

Actually the Korando was incredibly well equipped, with heated seats & heated steering wheel & cruise control. 

We also had full Bluetooth connectivity which guaranteed the soundtrack of the road trip was going to be  mix of  Björk, Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Rós & Rag 'n' Bone Man (Okay, the last one is not Icelandic, but hell, Human is a great album )

Etta

We often name our hire cars.  I don't know why because we don't name our own, but our SsangYong Korando got the name, Etta, just because the registration plate of the car was ET A74. 

Etta in Icelandic camouflage, Driving in Iceland

Etta in Icelandic camouflage

After checking over the car for visible signs of damage, we picked up the keys and headed off picking up route 41, before heading along 44.  So much for this being a tale of route one.

Fuel

We picked up our hire car fully fuelled, and had to return it in the same state. It's worth noting fuel stops can be a bit sparse so plan ahead.  On out 12 day trip we fuelled up 7 times.

The road to Selfoss

Time to get familiar with our new chariot.  She pulled slightly to the right, the winter tyres offered reasonable grip, but not exceptional, a couple of tests, when safe, proved that the ABS, and traction control worked.

Our flights arrived at Keflavík International Airport at 12:45pm, and we were at our first stop of the Miðlína bridge 13miles/21kms away at 2:15pm, so all in all, a smooth transfer. 

Janis on the Miðlína bridge between continents, Iceland

Janis on the Miðlína bridge between continents

Slowly onwards we headed to the Gunnuhver Hot Springs, the smell of sulfur, and the sound of the earth boiling - We've arrived in Iceland.  

Parking into the wind

One of the easiest ways to damage your hire car is for the door to be caught by gusting winds as you open them.  If you have the opportunity try to park your vehicle into the wind.

The start of the journey - Reykjanes Lighthouse in the south-west, Driving in Iceland

The start of the journey - Reykjanes Lighthouse in the south-west

We now enjoyed a slow drive along to Selfoss where we finally join Route One. 

The South of Iceland

Our first full day and it's the Golden Circle or part of it.  I don't plan on duplicating Janis's post 'The Golden Circle and a bit more.'  What's the point of that?

Gullfoss looking down the ravine, Iceland

Gullfoss looking down the ravine

What we noted was that despite it being a Wednesday in March it was still busy in places, with a mix of mini-buses, private tours, and groups in hire cars. 

I guess we all have our own pace, some quicker than others but what we noticed was there were often quieter periods, so if you have the time then enjoy it at your pace.

Be Sensible

The landscape is stunning, and you'll be tempted to stop, but make sure it is safe to do so. 

There's generally parking at Points of Interest, but occasionally you'll be following somebody who comes to a sudden halt in front of you without indicating and then jumps out and expects everyone else to avoid them - don't be that person.

Also, keep an eye out for the Place of Interest sign on your travels, we stopped a few times just to check out what there was to see.

The Point of Interest Road Sign

Our next day took us from Selfoss to Vik, weather not too good and the wind was pretty intense, gusting crosswinds could shift little Etta around.  With soft verges, it was a good idea to keep a reasonable grip and try to keep her as central as possible.

Remember to look back, Driving in Iceland

Remember to look back

The next day saw us head from Vik to Höfn, and the weather was still changeable. 

If I am honest, I probably would have hoped for better weather over the last couple of days, checking out Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was limited because of the conditions, but to be fair, you have to be pragmatic and accept what you have.  

Rest Breaks

So we know Iceland is sparsely populated and as a result there are few places to take a call of nature.  You may need to think ahead and use facilities when they are available - just sayin'

Reynisfjara Beach, Driving in Iceland

Reynisfjara Beach

Another thing that became apparent was that some people were in a hurry, and weren't necessarily too worried about keeping under the 90kph speed limit. 

Etta had cruise, I told you she was well equipped, so I stuck to an indicated 90kph, but I did get concerned that the speedo wasn't calibrated correctly at one point, so I checked with a GPS Speed app on my phone and it was a smidge under but in the region. 

I guess it's your choice, but again the journey is trip, the landscape is what you're there for - so enjoy. 

The only issue with Etta

We only had one problem with our hire car on the entire time was the battery failed in the remote keyfob.  Unfortunately, we were in the middle of nowhere. 

However, there was a manual workaround until we were able to replace the battery - so no real dramas.  

And then It happened.

We had noticed the numbers slowly dwindle as we headed east, but even our visit to the Diamond Beach was busy, however, that all changed as we headed beyond Höfn to Egilsstaðir.  You still saw the occasional car, but the minibuses & coaches had appeared to have all but gone.

Etta on the quiet eastern roads, Driving in Iceland

Etta on the quiet eastern roads

In planning the trip, we had allowed plenty of time to get from A to B, anticipating the worst. 

Each day started with a quick check of the paper map, yep that's right we picked up a paper map before the trip, relatively cheap, and we could check to see if there were any other points of interest or detours we could incorporate. 

We'd check the weather via the  Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration site (there's also the app, look for Vegagerdin), on day 5 the weather had improved, so that gave us the option to head off Route 1 at Fáskrúðsfjörður, and take the 955 and also take in Reyðarfjörður.  

Route 955 in Eastern Iceland

Route 955 in Eastern Iceland

This section of the route featured some gravel roads and the slower speed limit, but it was great to take in the views.

Driving on gravel

It's a whole new ball game.  Obviously, it's loose under 'foot', and then you need greater braking distances, but also be considerate when passing others because of stone chips!  Also, if it's dry, you can chuck up one hell of a dust trail too!

It was also on this section that we launched the drone and took in the stunning landscape

Arriving at Egilsstaðir earlier than planned, and with beautiful blue skies, we decided to head across towards Seyðisfjörður on Route 93.

Reflections at Seydisfjordur, Iceland

Reflections at Seydisfjordur

Halfway through the adventure

Eastern Iceland is breath-taking - there I've said it.  As we head from Egilsstaðir to Reykjahlíð, the roads are isolated  - So much so, Janis braves a stint behind the wheel.  The roads are perfectly clear, but there's snow on either side, this is a country equipped to manage the elements.

Which way?, Driving in Iceland

Which way?

On paper, we had pencilled in to visit Dettifoss & Selfoss, but that was only possible if Route 862 was open, and it was, and of course free from snow. 

When you plan, you need to be aware of routes that may not be available to you, especially the F-Roads. 

It's also worth noting for the majority of F-Roads you need to have a 4x4, an, in general, they only open from June/July time.

Snow on the verges

Another cautionary note here, the edge of the roads often have a ditch either side and when snow is moved off the road that trench can be covered in snow.  It looks as if you can pull off the road onto a snowy verge; however, you may end up in a ditch.

The view over Mývatn, Driving in Iceland

The view over Mývatn

Heading from Reykjahlíð to Akureyri, and Iceland's second city, with the weather being on our side we took in a detour via Grenivik.  

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Handy little gadget to keep your devices charged that you can use at home too.

Northern Iceland, Driving in Iceland

Northern Iceland

Within our plans we'd allowed a down day in Akureyri, potentially to explore the place, but to also give us a day out of the saddle.  However, we were loving driving, so we decided to jump in Etta for a detour from Route 1, and trip north of Akureyri on Route 82.

The view over Miklavatn, Iceland

The view over Miklavatn

What perhaps caught us by surprise was the tunnels on the route were single track and had passing places - interesting.

Day 9  saw us head from Akureyri to Laugarbakki. I don't wish to be rude to the residents of Laugarbakki, but this was so much about the journey, rather than the destination.  Again we took a detour onto the 716/717/711, and we popped into Illugastadir for some seal spotting.

Parked up off Route One, Iceland

Parked up off Route One

A detour from Route One

So our plan now took us off of route one toward Snæfellsjökull National Park as we headed from Laugarbakki to Arnarstapi, and the furthest west in our trip.

An Icelandic Horse off route, Driving in Iceland

An Icelandic Horse off-route

As always the landscape was epic, and we got another chance to relaunch the drone when we found a car park around a recycling point.

We had a mix of surfaces from tarmac, dirt track to some pretty rough roads on the trail to Öndverðarnes lighthouse.

Your eyes can deceive you

On some of the gravel roads, we found the edges could be really soft but visibly look no different.  Take care when moving toward the side because as the tyre sinks it pulls the car further in.  I speak from experience. 

The quiet trails out west, off Route One, Driving in Iceland

The quiet trails out west, off Route One

However, all in all, the driving conditions have been okay.  That was about to change.

The return to Reykjavik

Almost to remind us how lucky we had been, the relatively simple drive from Arnarstapi to Reykjavik of 135miles/218kms turned out to be adventurous.  

Etta near Anrarstapi, Driving in Iceland

Etta near Anrarstapi

You can check out our YouTube of a snippet of that journey.  

Interesting, to say the least, but in the end, it all turned out okay.

We had forgotten how quiet the roads had been since leaving Höfn, and as we approached Reykjavik the numbers suddenly ramped up, and it was clear we were in the countries capital.  However, we headed straight for our hotel, parked up Etta before heading out for 24 hours in Reykjavik

The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik, Iceland

The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik

So that was it, the tour had come to an end.  However there was one cautionary tale before we left the country.

A sting in the tail… 

… for somebody.  The drive to Keflavík International Airport was a relatively simple 45 minute of 31miles/50km from central Reykjavík.  

Within a mile of the airport we saw the sickening sight of a the flashing lights of the emergency services and a hire car on the side of the road with severe front end damage, and a locals rather ancient Volvo's rear end showing signs of battle.  We could see the hangars of the airport! 

Our own experience was much simpler.  We dropped Etta back off at the SIXT collection point, and waited to be collected by the pickup bus.

Some figures

Day 1 - Keflavík International Airport to Selfoss: 77 Miles vs 82 Miles
Day 2 - Golden Circle: 159 Miles vs 157 Miles
Day 3 - Selfoss to Vik: 102 Miles vs 116 Miles
Day 4 - Vik to Höfn: 172 Miles vs 192 Miles
Day 5 - Höfn to Egilsstaðir: 158 Miles vs 223 Miles
Day 6 - Egilsstaðir to Reykjahlíð: 185 Miles vs 167 Miles
Day 7 - Reykjahlíð to Akureyri: 115 Miles vs 206 Miles
Day 8 - Day in and around Akureyri: Miles vs 182 Miles
Day 9 - Akureyri to Laugarbakki: 163 Miles vs 172 Miles
Day 10 - Laugarbakki to Arnarstapi: 155 Miles vs 193 Miles
Day 11 - Arnarstapi to Reykjavík: 135 Miles vs 138 Miles
Day 12 - Reykjavík to Keflavík International Airport: 31 Miles vs 31 Miles

Our fuel costs for the trip were £327.07

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Driving Iceland's Route One

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About the Author

Gary

Gary, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born and raised in London. An IT guy who likes to takes snaps. Along with Janis his partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, over a Sherry in Seville, they decided that enough was enough with suits. The decision was made to take their knowledge and experience to create a blog to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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