When it comes to road trips, you may imagine green valleys, long roads, coastal roads and picturesque villages. But have you ever imagined driving close to majestic lava fields mingled with snow-capped mountains and relaxing in natural hot springs. That’s what Iceland’s Ring Road has to offer. Within 1830 miles you will have unforgettable adventures and surprises. You will see the erupting geysers, walk on the ancient ice of glaciers and explore volcanic craters.
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 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.
From Reykjavik the Ring Road can be driven in either direction, but driving ccounter-clockwiseprovides 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.
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. In November 2011, the glacier was used as a shooting location for the second season of the HBO fantasy TV series Game of Thrones.
Further down the road, as we approach the east coast, we meet the majestic fjords. With its charming old wooden buildings, Seydisfjördur is a welcome break from driving and you can 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 lunar-like landscape.
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 from arguing with his new neighbours. 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 for the trip:
The trip may look promising and beyond the usual but you should have in mind that 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 road-tripping during the months with snow and these are every month except for summer, then you definitely need a four wheel drive.
You may be astonished by the view but you should have in mind that 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.
Last but not least be sure that you are not going to run out of gas. 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 and get loaded up with credit so you can just swipe and fill direct from the machines instead of having to pay at the counter.