One Ring to rule them all: Road trip on the Iceland Ring Road
A small guy named Frodo once had a ring with the inscription: One Ring to rule them all. If the had a GPS in Middle-Earth, it would point him not the way to Mordor, but directly to Iceland. There they have a road unlike any others: the Ring Road, or Route 1. 830 miles of adventure and surprises, majestic lava fields mingle with snow-capped mountains to create a world that would make our little Hobbit feel like he still is in Middle-Earth. This road trip is epic and unforgettable in many ways: relax in natural hot springs and see the erupting geysers, walk on the ancient ice of glaciers and explore volcanic craters.
Iceland Ring Road
Iceland is one of the warmest cold countries you’ll find. Proof of this are Reykjavik’s 18 mostly open-air geothermal pools (82–109°F).. Use a pool visit to introduce the concept of renewable resources. Iceland is on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a belt of mountains and rift valleys where periodic eruptions widen the ocean floor. One of the world’s most tectonically volatile places, it feeds more than 200 volcanoes and 600 hot springs and heats 85 percent of Iceland’s homes. Add to this energy produced by the nation’s rivers and streams, and the country essentially gets all its electricity from nature.
The blue lagoon hot spring near Reykjavik
From Reykjavik the Ring Road can be driven in either direction, but driving counterclockwise provides a faster introduction to what makes Iceland so special. Reaching the town of Selfoss, we make a detour inland to the steaming thermal field at Geysir and the Gullfoss waterfall, a churning wall of water that plunges more than 100 feet into a narrow crevice. The tectonic forces that give the country its thermal energy are also responsible for its dramatic landscape.
Back on on the ring road we continue to Dyrhólaey, a black-sand beach shadowed by volcanic cliffs. Over the years the volcanic ash has turned this coast into a black-sand desert. Continuing along the south coast, we see a lagoon filled with hundreds of icebergs calved from the Vatna Glacier. The glacier was used as the setting for the opening sequence (set in Siberia) of the 1985 James Bond movie A View to a Kill, in which Roger Moore as Bond eliminated some armed villains before escaping in a submarine. In November 2011, the glacier was used as a shooting location for the second season of the HBO fantasy TV series Game of Thrones.
The Vatna Glacier plunging into the ocean
Further down the road, the volcanoes and ice fade away into majestic fjords as we reach the island’s east coast. With its charming old wooden buildings, Seydisfjördur is a welcome break from driving and to explore the surrounding nature by foot or boat. Some of the biggest puffin colonies in the world are found here.
North of town, the road cuts through a vast volcanic desert. Several great detours are found here. There is the Askja caldera field, Dettifoss waterfall (Europe’s most powerful by volume), and the unearthly Leirhnúkur lava field, with its lunarlike landscape. The Apollo astronauts practiced here for moon landings.
Askja caldera field
Leirhnúkur lava field
When we eventually reach the west coast, the landscape changes and becomes green and lush. This is the Haukadalur Valley, where Erik the Red settled after he was banished from Norway. This didn’t stop him to start arguing with his new neighbors. After murdering three of them, Erik was ‘outlawed’ and could be killed without punishment. Rather than await a certain death, he sailed away to Greenland.
Tips and tricks
pick a car that matches your trip
Iceland isn’t like other European destinations; it literally feels like the end of the world sometimes and it’s key to plan accordingly. If you are planning to do just the Ring Road or a short trip, you most likely just need a regular car, unless you plan to go off the main roads in which case you’ll need a 4 x 4. If you are thinking of roadtripping during the months with snow (every season exept for summer), then you definitely need a four wheel drive.
The roads are smooth, the dirt next to it not
Don’t forget toilet paper!
Even though the Ring Road is a popular route, there are parts of it, especially in the east that, are the middle of nowhere. Which means also, no toilets! By the end of the trip you’ll be an expert in outdour peeing. Rocks, forest or ice, you will have mastered it all.
watch out for sheep
In the summer months, sheep reign over Iceland and they aren’t enclosed in any fields or anything. As you can imagine, sheep aren’t always the brightest of creatures, so be sure to watch out for them on the road. When you see a group of them lurking on the side of the road, your best option is to slow down and honk a few times to scare them off.
Stop at every gas station
If you see a gas station, stop and get gas. You never know when the next one will roll around. Sometimes gas stations will be closed or not monitored in the more remote spots, so before you leave, it’s better to buy gas credits loaded up with credit so you can just swipe and fill direct from the machines instead of having to pay at the counter.