After my first trip to Iceland, I vowed to return and drive Highway 1, the Ring Road. It took me until 2015 to realize this dream, and, due to circumstances, Ruth and I had to do it in October, which might not be the best time of the year. This is, after all, ICEland. On the plane to Reykjavik, a flight attendant asked me why we were going to Iceland, and I told her we were driving the Ring. She looked glum. “We’ve had unseasonably cold weather this fall,” she told me. “Part of the Ring, especially one very difficult hill, might be snow-covered.” It wasn’t and we were extremely lucky. Except for one day, the weather was incredible with a temperature range from 38 to near 50 degrees Fahrenheit the entire week. Rain with rainbows alternated with intense sun, making the drive far more dramatic.
The Ring Road can be driven, non-stop, in 16 hours, but that, in my opinion, would be insane. This turned out to be the top travel experience of my lifetime, and a week wasn’t enough. Beginning and ending in Reykjavik, Iceland’s increasingly cosmopolitan and sophisticated capital, it’s 840 miles whether you go clockwise or counter with a top speed of only 90 kilometers per hour allowed. That’s almost 56 non-metric mph. This lower speed is understandable for 4 major reasons. While paved, the Ring Road is almost exclusively 2-lane and there are many one-lane bridges. Ruth and I started counting them early on but stopped at #20. Animals, especially sheep (but not goats like the Icelandic one below), are everywhere and can be on the road. This happened to us twice. And most importantly, this road is so continuously scenic that you won’t want to go any faster. At one point I pulled over to write in my trip log, “a passage of continuous wonder”. This is accurate.
I’d recommend at least a week to drive the Ring Road. This allowed us, sadly, only one day and night in Reykjavik. If you haven’t been there, allow at least 3 additional days to explore it. I’d also recommend renting a 4-wheel-drive vehicle if you plan some side trips. And you should. I’ll tell you about ours over the next few days. What Ruth & I didn’t realize when we rented a car was that many, many Iceland roads are gravel for a reason. It’s easier to drive them in snowy conditions. There was one particular road I was longing to take, but it was for 4-wheel-drive vehicles only. By that time we had acquired an invaluable map showing all paved and gravel roads in this oval island nation. We ended up taking one road that began paved but became gravel. We had no way to turn around. It was raining. The temperature kept dropping. The road got worse. It became dark. We survived.
The Ring Road is opened year round, except during winter storms. According to the Icelandic Met Office, Reykjavik is snow-white 52 days each year on average.