Driving the Ring Road in Iceland: Things You Should Know Before You Go
I just got back from an amazing adventure with a few friends in Iceland--road tripping across the country by driving the Ring Road.
We drove all the way out to Jökulsárlón in the east. We didn't make it all the way around the Ring Road, given that we only had 5 days in Iceland, and in fact that leads perfectly into tip number one:
1) Don't try to do too much.
For any trip you take, you'll miss some things you'd hoped to do. It isn't a catastrophe, especially if you follow the advice I give in my free Two Weeks to Travel course: always consider a trip your first trip to a particular place rather than your once in a lifetime trip. It takes the pressure off and lets you enjoy it.
We were hoping to make it to Vatnajökull, but a slow start after our night out in Reykjavik meant that it didn't quite happen. We could have stressed about it and pushed through, but y'all--we were exhausted.
We'll get there next time.
2) Make a list of your must-sees.
That said, you should have a rough list of what you definitely want to see. There are so very many places to pull off of the Ring Road, and it isn't obvious which sights are 'worth it' (hint: they almost all are, but I mean which ones are show-stoppers) and which are not. I'll put together a blog post showing some Grade A stunners, but definitely do a bit of research.
Hint: don't be like me and think "oh, we saw Skogafoss on the way out--so we don't need to stop again" only for your stomach to drop 50km down the road when you realize the waterfall you'd already seen was Seljalandsfoss.
3) Pay attention to word endings like 'foss.'
I saw a blog post before I left that said to pull off the Ring Road for any sign that had the word ending 'foss.' That's not bad advice, except for the rather long detour we took to get to Selfoss only to realize that the huge gorgeous waterfall Selfoss is in northern Iceland and we were in a rather normal town called Selfoss instead.
For the most part, though, any sign with 'foss' should point to a waterfall, any sign with 'fell' should lead to a mountain, and any sign with 'kirkja' should lead to a church.
Hint: take pictures of the signs as you pull off so that you can easily categorize your photos later on.
4) Pay attention to the camera signs.
Most of the Ring Road has a 90 kilometers per hour speed limit--which is not so very fast.
I don't want to advocate unsafe driving, but I will say that if weather conditions are good and you decide to speed, look out for the signs that have clip-art looking cameras on them.
They indicate speed cameras, and if you're speeding when you pass that, you can expect a hefty ticket to be charged to your rental car company, who will in turn charge you.
5) Sheep and horses are on people's private property.
I was able to capture some phenomenal photos (if I do say so myself ha!) of horses and sheep--because I took a telephoto lens that allowed me to respect people's property and also get the shot. I grew up in the South of the United States, so the idea of trespassing on farmers' land conjures up images of being met with a shotgun--I don't think that would be the response in Iceland, but still.
6) Get the gravel insurance.
I didn't actually incur any gravel damage, but knowing I was covered did make me that much more comfortable taking my little brand new (the only time I wasn't delighted to drive a brand new car!) rented Toyota Yaris off the paved roads and onto the gravel paths of the Ring Road.
It wasn't that expensive, either, especially considering that I was splitting it with three other people.
Hint: take care when the road transitions from pavement to gravel. That's where most accidents happen.
7) Never pass up the chance to pee, fill your water bottle, or buy food.
Take my word for this.
While we're at it, let's add 'fuel up' as well, if only to make sure you keep a keen eye on your petrol gauge.
There are places along the Ring Road to stop for bathrooms and snacks, but the hours of operation are not always what one would desire.
Restaurants (in Iceland in general) are quite expensive, so if you're on a budget like our group was, buy more snacks than you think it's possible to eat when you see a Bonus supermarket (look for the pig logo!) or a gas station.
On your way out of Reykjavik, you might pass a hot dog cart without a second glance, but on the way back? It'll look like a slice of heaven.
Don't write off a gas station bathroom sink as a place to fill your water bottle, either--it sounds gross, but the water in Iceland is uniformly delicious and clean.
8) Travel with a group that's always down to pull off when something looks interesting.
I got so lucky with my group of travel companions--especially given that most of us didn't know each other before we drove to the airport.
Our group was always down to stop for something interesting, whether a hobbit-hole cave (that turned out to be cursed), a particularly shaggy sheep (we were there when all the lambs were with their mamas), or a field of moss-covered lava rocks.
I loved not feeling self-conscious when I wanted to pull over and shoot (um, extra hint: pull off safely onto side roads or parking areas, the Ring Road doesn't really have a shoulder).
Have you driven the Ring Road? What was your favorite stop?