6 Tips for Driving the Ring Road in Iceland

This past spring, a friend and I set out to drive the Ring Road (also called Route 1) in Iceland. This stretch of highway wraps around the main part of the island, so in theory it’s pretty simple to drive–you just stay on the same road the whole way around!

I’d never driven abroad before, and my friend didn’t have a license, so it was something of a learning curve. Nevertheless, it was an amazing way to take in the diverse landscape and natural beauty of Iceland, and well worth doing.

But it will be even more fun if you use these tips…

1. Rent an Appropriate Car

Though most of the roads in Iceland are nicely paved, there are stretches of unpaved road even on their biggest highway. Long parts of the highway are covered in only gravel, and you might find yourself roughing the terrain in a flash-blizzard (even if it’s June), up the side of a mountain, or in an area where you haven’t seen (and won’t see) a car or house for miles.

Alyssa Hollingsworth / Own Work
Alyssa Hollingsworth / Own Work

My friend and I were in a cute little city car with automatic drive. While it worked well enough (and obviously, since I’m writing this, we made the full ring) there were several tense moments, especially when Thorny the Brave (our car’s name) wheezed its way up the side of a mountain.

Case in point: We went clockwise around the Ring Road. If we had been going counterclockwise, I’m not sure we would have made it up one particularly steep, unpaved mountainside (luckily we just had to coast down at about 5 MPH while I cackled like a madwoman and my friend stared in numb shock at the plummet to certain death outside her window).

If you can drive shift, definitely go with that option. If you plan to go inland much at all, or want to take some shortcuts to cut off corners of the Ring Road, really consider learning shift. Really.

JasonParis
JasonParis

(Sidebar: Get the GPS with the storytelling component if you can! It’ll go off automatically when you are driving, and tell you some of the history and legends of the area you’re going through.)