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Driving the Ring Road

Rick recommends driving the Ring Road clockwise, reasoning that the sights get more impressive as you go along. This reasoning surprises me because in all his other guidebooks he advises not to save the best for last because you never know what may happen to hamper your chance to see a sight during the later days of a trip (museum closures, worker strikes, sickness, less energy, bad weather). Even for planning the itinerary for the day, he has always recommended seeing the big museum or monument first thing in the morning while you’re still fresh. The layout of his other guidebooks starts with walking tours of the big hits first. Why he says the opposite for the Ring Road puzzles me.

I was afraid to wait until his Iceland guidebook was released in March to book accommodation for my trip at the end of June, so already have my hotel reservations lined up for driving the ring road counter clock-wise. Can anyone recommend another guide resource that they’ve used for driving it this direction? I’m just looking for a good point to point layout of sights to expect to see as I drive. I tried reading his guide backward and it was a little boggling. I get that I can at least start with the chapter of the driving tour of the south east that will take me as far as Vik. Then I have to jump to the Ring Road chapter and start reading backward. I suppose at the very least, I can re-write the chapter myself...

And if there’s anyone from the Rick Steve’s World reading these forums, may I suggest offering a supplemental counterclockwise guide for those of us who want to see the big hits of the south first?

Interestingly, for those driving the Ring Road clockwise as he recommends, he does just say for the Southeast, refer to the Southeast tour chapter, but there he at least offers up a quick run-down of point by point sights going in the opposite direction.

And, while I’m at it, a map of Thorsmork with the hiking trail options he describes would’ve been a nice addition too, instead of just describing it in words with zero reference points on a map to get at least a general sense of what these trails are and where they go. But now I’m just being picky…

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56 posts

I drove the Ring Road the summer before last and drove counterclockwise. I used mostly online resources paired with the Lonely Planet book to plan my trip. Here's the rundown of the places I stopped at/saw as I drove, in about the order I encountered them:

Along the south coast:
Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Geysir, Gulfoss)
Solheimasandur Plane Crash
Reynisfjara (from there, can see Dyrholaey)

Up into the eastern side:
Fjords in eastern Iceland--we drove into Neskaupstadur (highest mountain pass in the country!)

Northern Iceland:
Grjotagja Cave
Myvatn Nature Baths
Hverfjall (out of the way but beautiful)
Godafoss (I liked this one better than Gulfoss!)
Akureyri (2nd biggest city in country)

Western Iceland:
Stykkisholmur (small town)
Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum
Olafsvik (small town)
Snaefellsjokull National Park
Vatnshellir Cave

I really enjoyed that itinerary and seeing the more crowded touristy sights in southern Iceland first. Once I left Jokulsarlon, I saw very few other people until hitting Akureyri and the Myvatn area in the north, and then not many again until Reykjavik.

I wish I had left more time for stopping at random--there are lots of pull-offs from the road with gorgeous views, and I wanted to stop at all of them! The beauty of that country is just breathtaking. Enjoy your trip!!

Posted by
23 posts

We drove the ring road counter clockwise in 7 days last May, which most on-line will say not to do; however, we like to travel quick, do some, and see much. We don't regret our pathway and enjoyed every moment. Before the big tour rush, so not a lot of people around. There was some charter bus traffic, but not much.

We flew into Reykjavik, stopped at the airport ATM, and caught the bus to the car rental.

First stop was the Golden Circle
- Thingvellir National Park
- Geyser area (quick)
- Gullfoss (we would have researched more on-line on whether to stop here or at Dettifoss. One had to go for time purposes).
- Stayed/ate in Vik. Black sand beach and loved Dyrholaey Cliff. If it's windy, careful of your car door - it could buckle into the front of your car.
- If on a time crunch, I would skip the Golden Circle. The full ring road will give you much more than what this stop will burn.
The lagoon will burn a day - decide if this is where you want to put your time.

Stopped at:
- Seljalandsfoss Falls. Take the time to walk behind it. You'll wish you did. We brought rain coats and wore them for either rain or/and wind most of the trip. You can use it here.
- Laugavegar. Beautiful. Spent some time, did not hike.
- Skagfoss
- Reynisfjara Beach. Enjoyed this - worth seeing.
- Jorkulsarlon Lagoon. Spend some time on both sides of the road. One was for viewing, the other had huge ice pieces on the beach.
- Near here we found a short drive back to one of the glaciers that was just several feet from our car. Fabulous.
- Chose one of harbor towns on one of the east peninsulas to visit. Seydisfjordu was charming. There were whales in the harbor. Waterfalls.
- This is where is became interesting. We started the day in Vik and were to stay in Egilsstudir that evening. In hindsight, we should have stayed either at Seydisfjordu or near there. The drive on the road #1 is slow driving around the peninsulas. Make sure not to shortcut on the Oxi Pass - especially at night or in fog. After you get through the peninsulas, you begin to gain altitude to a mountain pass. We reached this spot about midnight in very thick fog. Very bad news. Had there been other cars, we would have been in double trouble. Eventually made it to Egilsstudir. This was our only poor decision. Bright spot - wildlife was very active at night.

Myvatn - stayed here
- Could have seen Dettifoss on this leg
- Mud pots and thermal vents/steaming areas
- Askja Caldera. Was worth it.

- other things to see in area

Akureyri - stayed here. Great dinner/shopped a bit. Church at of hill above hotel.
- Attempted to drive north to peninsula, but ran into thick, dangerous fog and backtracked.

Drove around then to the Snaefellsjokull peninsular and stayed in Hellnar. Enjoyed this area. It was foggy on day one. But given that it's a short distance from side-to-side, backtracked the next day to see a beautiful peak and waterway. Coastlines are pretty with some dramatic views.

Last day was Reykjavik at the Skuggi Hotel. It had underground parking and was within easy walking distance to grocery, Hallgrimskirkja, all the shopping and fantastic restaurants.

Pearls: Research websites and blogs. Discovered more there than in the guidebooks. Take a rain coat. Umbrellas will trash quickly in the wind. Buy snacks at a grocery - sometimes it's a long stretch to food/drink. Pay attention when driving. Animals and narrow roads can catch you off guard. If it's windy, hold on to your car door. Stop to look around - it's beautiful. Be prepared - it's expensive. We ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and Bugels (Bugels are big over there) for lunch and then had a good dinner. South and East coasts are fabulous - the rest is enjoyable. We were told to skip the northwest peninsula and did.

You can do this in 7 days and we made a lot of stops. You'll love this trip. Enjoy!!!!

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3 posts

This is very helpful. Thank you both for your insights!