Route 1 or Ring Road (Hringvegur in English) is the main road in Iceland, with a length of 1330 kilometers (827 miles).
It roughly follows the coastline as it round the country. The route runs through practically all of Iceland’s major cities, including Reykjavik, Borgarnes, Akureyri, Egilsstadir, as well as some major tourist sites such as Godafoss, Mývatn, Jökulsárlón, Skógafoss or Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
The circular route allows travelers not to miss anything of this sublime country. Route 1 will give you access to the most beautiful sites in Iceland.
Indeed, as you travel around Iceland’s Route 1, you will get the opportunity to see the incredibly gorgeous and natural wonders of the country. You’ll see bubbling geothermal springs, shimmering rainbows, magnificent horses, dramatic waterfalls, and rugged mountains while driving Iceland’s Ring Road.
What is the best Ring Road itinerary ?
Officially, the kilometer zero of the Ring Road is located at Skeydaraursandur, at the border of the two localities, Hordnafjordur (Eystiland region) and Skaptaurhreppur (Südürland region).
But traditionally, locals and tourists take the point on the outskirts of Reykjavík where Vesturlandsvegur (Western Hrigvegur) and Sudurlandsvegur (Southern Hrigvegur) meet as kilometer zero, so the list shows both counts through the slash – from Reykjavík and from the official kilometer zero.
You can see the itinerary of the Ring Road on this map:
Facts about the Ring Road
How long is the Ring Road?
The total length of the road is 1330 kilometers (827 miles). Hringvegür is entirely paved and is almost always two-lane, i.e., it has one lane in each direction. When the road passes through Reykjavik and the capital region, the number of lanes can increase to three or four. In the northern part of the Hvalfjarđargöjng tunnel, which is under the seabed, an additional lane is also added for the tunnel ascent.
At the same time, more than thirty small wooden or metal bridges on the ring road are single-lane (some of them have niches for overtaking oncoming or passing vehicles).
The speed limit on most of the road is 90 kilometers (55 miles) per hour, dropping to 70 kilometers (45 miles) per hour in the tunnels. And 60-30 kilometers (35-18 miles) per hour in populated areas.
The Hrinvegur passes through four tunnels along its route:
- Almannaskarðsgöyng: 1,300 meters (4,265 ft) long, built in 2005 in the Eistyurland region, under the Almannaskard Pass.
- Vaðlaheiðargöng: 7,400 meters (2,4278 ft) long, built in 2018 in the Nordyurland-Eistra region, under the Vadlaheidi mountain range.
- Fáskrúðfjarðarðargöng: 5,900 meters (19,356 ft) long, built in 2005 in the Eisturland region under the Breidalsheidi mountain plateau.
- Hvalfjarðargöng; 5,770 meters (18,930 ft) long, built in 1998 in the Hvydborgsvaid and Vestyurland area under the Hvalfjord bottom.
History of the Ring Road:
The first sections of the road were built from Reykjavík, on the one hand northwards to Akureyri, and on the other hand, southeastwards to Selfoss on the Hellisheiði plateau following the routes of the traditional paths. These were still quite difficult to walk on in the 1930s. Some old tracks are still visible in some places near the road.
The road was finished in 1974, on the 1100th year of Iceland’s colonization, when the country’s longest bridge, crossing the Skeiará river in the southeast, was inaugurated.
The road was damaged by the overflow of the Skeidará river in 1996. It was repaired immediately afterward.
The last part of the road between Egilsstadir and Breiddalsvík remains to be improved. On the other hand, some parts of the road were gradually improved. Such as the construction of a tunnel under the Hvalfjördur near Akranes.
What to see on the Ring Road in Iceland ?
The Skogafoss waterfalls:
The Skogafoss waterfalls, which flow from the Skógá river in southern Iceland, are the river’s highest point, plunging more than 60 meters (197 ft). Visitors crossing the circular road will be delighted by this massive wall of water. Its water curtain may be seen from the settlement of Skógar. It is recommended that you pack waterproof clothing if you want to go as near to the waterfalls as possible. Take the Skógar village exit off Route 1 to get there. The distance from the road is approximately one kilometer.
Myvatn, a volcanic lake:
Lake Myvatn is one of Iceland’s largest water sources, located in the north of the country. Despite its mineral-rich water, the lake is frozen for six months of the year. Lake Myvatn is home to over fifteen kinds of ducks and a variety of bird species thanks to its natural surroundings and fresh water. Volcanic craters and fractures surround the springs, enclosing this natural gem.
The beach of Vik:
The small town of Vik is home to probably the most beautiful beaches in Iceland. Located in the south of the country along Route 1, its beaches are characterized by black sand and are located at the foot of the cliffs of Mount Reynisfjall. In the heart of the sea, columns of lava carved by it can be seen. According to the legend, these Reynisdrangar would be ancient trolls surprised by the twilight, out of their caves.
Godafoss Waterfall, located less than 5 minutes from Route 1, stands out among the rest. Despite not being the biggest or the largest, it is referred to as “the gods’ waterfall.” Its pure water flows sweetly at a height of 12 meters (40 ft) in the shape of a circle. You will have the opportunity to view this waterfall from the level of water or at the top of it during your trip around the circular road.
The Jokulsarlon lagoon:
The Jokusarlon lagoon is without a doubt one of Iceland’s most magnificent natural wonders. The global warming helping, it is possible to view the massive icebergs floating in the water. The region’s magic is this spectacle, which is both magnificent and horrifying. It is best to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds, as it is located along the south coast of the circular road. Choose a day when the sun is shining and the icebergs in the Jokusarlon lagoon are mirrored.
A preview of the Ring Road:
If you are planning to drive Road 1, or just want to discover this beautiful road, you can obviously watch this YouTube video:
Is the Ring Road open?
The Ring Road is open in the winter, however, travel might be hazardous due to snow and ice. Due to snowfall, some areas may be closed (or because of volcanic activity). Most parts are open during the peak season. If you want to see all of Iceland, go between May and August. Especially because the daylight hours are shorter in the winter. Unless you come to see the Northern Lights, of course.
Some sections of the road are potentially dangerous because of blind curves and climbs, single-track bridges and mountain passes. In winter, many sections have icy pavement, and some sections of the Hringvegur may be closed due to snowdrifts or high winds.
The Ring Road is Iceland’s most important transportation artery. Indeed, it connects all parts of the country except the western fjords and the lifeless lands of the central part of the island.
The road is very popular with tourists, as there are many sites nearby such as waterfalls and glacial lagoons, glaciers and volcanoes, black sand beaches, seal colonies, and bird colonies. So don’t miss it!
If you want to take up the challenge of covering the Ring Road in one go, count on a minimum of 16 hours of driving. But not taking advantage of the natural sites along this road would be insane! To take full advantage of the landscapes and attractions, count on one to two weeks.
Pictures sources: By rheins, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59472764 / By Alpár Bakó – Imported from 500px (archived version) by the Archive Team. (detail page), CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73617850 /By Jonathan Bean jonathanbean – https://unsplash.com/photos/GfKB3h8484gImageGallery, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61823135
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