by Gary / 0 comments

A perfect Icelandic Ring-Road itinerary

I decided to write this 'Driving Iceland's Route One' post to supplement the articles that Janis had written on our Tour of Iceland. Janis has covered the journey, the destinations and the experiences en-route.

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 of our Icelandic road trip adventure.

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

The wonderful thing about a road trip is that everyone's experience will be different, and I hope your Iceland tour is as incredible as ours.

The pin image for our post - 'Driving Iceland's Route One '
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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.
The swirling green colours of the Northern Lights over the mountains just outside Reykjahlíð in Eastern Iceland

Swirling Northern Lights at Reykjahlíð

I hope this is not a spoiler - we did!

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So let's start creating an Iceland itinerary.

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 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 our list of points of interest we planned to visit along our Iceland road trip. 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.
A screenshot of the itinerary of our icelandic road trip from an excel spreadsheet

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.

If you're tempted to tour the Land of Fire and Ice and would love to discover the whole country, then take a look at this  DK Eyewitness book. This Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide is invaluable, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.

You can now grab the revised copy.

Picking the right hire car for Iceland

Choose wisely; you're in for an adventure
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.
Our little 4x4 parked up in a snow-covered landscape in southern Iceland
Etta, Our chariot for our Icelandic road trip

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 our 12-day trip, we fuelled up seven times.

The start of our Icelandandic self-drive tour

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 posing on the Bridge Between Continents in southern 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.
A gravel road in iceland leading to the Reykjanes Lighthouse atop a hill
The start of the jouney - Reykjanes Lighthouse in the south-west
We now enjoyed a slow drive along to Selfoss where we finally join Route One.

A few good ideas for your Icelandic trip

Here are a few things we picked up ahead of our trip to make things a little smoother for us.  Simple stuff that may be helpful on your travels.  All from Amazon.
A good old paper map
A USB car charger
A USB rechargable tourch
A USB power bank
A water bottle

    Discovering Iceland's Route One

    The South of Iceland
    Our first full day in Iceland 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?
    A view of the blue waters falling into the gorge that forms the Gullfoss waterfall
    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 Iceland's Place of Interest sign on your travels, we stopped a few times just to check out what there was to see.
    The Icelandic Point of Interest 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.
    An almost black and white image of the black beach & cloudy skyline from the window of our 4x4 with the only colour from a rock formation in the side mirror
    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'
    Waves breaking on the Reynisfjara Beach on a stormy day with Basalt Rock pillars in the background
    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 this Iceland journey is a voyage of discovery, 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.

    Picking your accommodation in Iceland

    When choosing where to stay in Iceland, we had a few basic requirements.
    Breakfast included or available nearby.
    Scooby snacks along the way can be expensive.
    Parking is a requirement, as this is a road trip after all.
    Nearby cafés/eateries, or onsite restaurant for the evening.
    Preferably a close-by fuel station; they can be few and far between en route.
    Booking.com

    Further into Iceland's Route One

    And then It happened.
    We had noticed that the tourist numbers were slowly dwindling as we headed east, but our visit to Iceland's Diamond Beach was busy. However, that all changed as we ventured beyond Höfn to Egilsstaðir. You still saw the occasional car, but the mini buses & coaches had appeared to have all but gone.
    Etta, our little SsangYong Korando 4x4 hire car for our icelandic ring road tour, parked up in a layby off iceland's route one.
    Etta on the quiet eastern roads
    In planning our Iceland road trip we had allowed a 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.

    A view of the gravel route 955 and the blue ocean lapping against 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 take in Iceland's stunning landscape

    Why not take a look around our YouTube channel from more on our road trips.

    Arriving at Egilsstaðir earlier than planned, and with beautiful blue skies, we decided to head across towards Seyðisfjörður on Route 93.
    Homes and the mountains behind reflected in a lake in Seydisfjordur, Iceland
    Reflections at Seydisfjordur

    Planning your trip to Iceland

    So you're planning a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice? There is so much to see and do in Iceland that you'll wish you were staying longer. To ensure you make the most out of your visit, head over to the official website of Visit Iceland for a little help and guidance.

    Have fun!

    Our driving tour of Iceland

    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.
    Two yellow road signs on iceland's route one, one pointing to Egilsstaðir 81km away, and the other to Mývatn 83km in the opposite direction, against the backdrop of white mountains of eastern iceland
    Which way?

    On paper we had pencilled in to visit Dettifoss & Selfoss waterfalls, but that was only possible is 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 sun setting over the frozenlake mývatn in eastern iceland surrounded by mountains and extinct volcanoes
    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.
    The landscape of Northern Iceland full of dried grasses against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains
    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.

    A mirrored view of a mountain range in the frozen Miklavatn lake in Northern 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 of our Iceland road trip itinerary 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.

    Our little 4x4 parked up in a layby off Iceland's Route Oneas it makes its way around snow-covered mountains
    Parked up off Route One

    Creating your own Icelandic road trip adventure

    A detour from Route One
    So our plan now took use off of Iceland's route one towards Snæfellsjökull National Park as we headed from Laugarbakki to Arnarstapi, and the furthest west in our trip.
    A chestnut-coloured Icelandic Horse looking back at us as we travel the gravel roads of northern 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 open landscape of western iceland alongside route 54
    The quiet trails out west, off Route One
    However, all in all, the driving conditions have been okay. That was about to change.

    In search of the Northern Lights in Iceland

    If you are Northern Light hunting, you need to be aware of the sunset & darkness times and the KP Index for the evening. It also requires dark and partly clear skies.

    KP Index scale ranges from 0 to 9;
    0-2: Low
    2-3: Moderate
    4-6: A big solar storm is coming
    7-9: Highly unusual

    You can monitor this via the Icelandic Met Office which is updated around 6 pm.

    Completing a loop of Iceland's Route One

    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 parked in a layby just outside near Anrarstapi, in the west of iceland, in front of a snow-covered peak.
    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
    A conceptualstainless steel sculpture of a Viking boat on the water's edge 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.

    Planning your trip to Iceland

    So you're planning a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice? There is so much to see and do in Iceland that you'll wish you were staying longer. To ensure you make the most out of your visit, head over to the official website of Visit Iceland for a little help and guidance.

    Have fun!

    Iceland's Route One

    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.

    The actual distances from our Icelandic road trip

    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 total distance covered was 1856 miles/2998km, and our fuel costs for the trip were £327.07 (2018 prices).

    I adopted a very light-footed approach to driving, using cruise control on the open stretches of tarmac, and always kept to the speed limit.

    As I say, time and time again, a road trip in Iceland is always about the journey, not the destination. The points of interest along the route will still be there is you arrive a few minutes later, so why not relax and enjoy the scenery?

    The Complete Icelandic Journey

    Why not take a look through our entire 12-day Iceland tour? Staring as we left Kevflavik and continued anti-clockwise around Iceland

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