This *was* our plan for the Ring Road around Iceland, however, if I've learned anything about Iceland, it's that everything depends on the weather, and plans will change! We decided after much debate to go clockwise, and are quite happy that we did so - we arrived the day after they'd had a foggy stormy three day patch and we wound up with gorgeous sunny excellent weather for the first few days we were there (with foggy evenings on and after day 2). A storm was brewing by day 5, but at this point we were making our way East and South so we managed to avoid the snow that was hitting in the North.
We used this map put out by GuideToIceland.is as a base and added/removed things along the way as we saw fit:
Image Credit: Guide to Iceland
We were in Iceland for 10 days total, we did the ring road in 8 and spent the last two days in Kopavogur (just outside of Reykjavik). I would recommend at least a couple more days on the ring road as we felt pretty rushed and did miss a few of the things we wanted to see. For example, the day we were scheduled to head to Vestmannaeyjar Island was the day that the storm hit in the South, and with the crazy weather and the road closures we didn't want to risk getting on a ferry and being stuck on the island if the ferry stopped running due to the extreme winds.
Which brings me to a few tips for traveling in Iceland:
Do not blindly follow Google Maps. It is NOT updated for road conditions. On our 3rd day in we were heading from the Snaefellsness Peninsula to Akureyri, and Google maps was taking us down a rather interesting but very scenic route - however about an hour in to the drive we hit a closed road! There was absolutely no warnings or road signage prior to the blockage informing us about the closed road, so we had to backtrack. At that point we were very happy that we had both Google Maps loaded on my phone AND the GPS that the car rental company had provided, because we lost cellular data. While the GPS had proven quite useless in trying to find specific landmarks and places we wanted to go, it was very helpful in finding cities around the island, including locating a route back, up, and around the closed road. I highly recommend having a data plan on your cell phone or picking up a sim card upon arrival in Iceland with a data plan so that you can access maps because the GPS systems don't tend to have some of the big tourist attractions programmed - however, the GPS is a must if you will be out of cellular reception at any point throughout your trip.
Photo credit: Elijah Martinez
Make sure you have enough gas or diesel to get where you need to go, with enough extra in case you have to backtrack a bit or find yourself somewhere with no open gas stations. If you have a pinless American credit card or a card with more or less than a 4 digit pin you might have issues paying at the pump - I have a Canadian credit card with a 4 digit pin and I was able to use my card at the pump (and I'm sure it's the same for any card with a 4 digit pin), but my partner in crime's pinless American card would not work (at the pump). In which case you will need to fill up during store hours and pay inside, so be mindful of when the service stations close.
At the service stations, the black handle is for diesel and the green handle is for gasoline.
A lot of the rental car options are manual/standard, so if you need an automatic (I did!) then make sure you rent early enough that they aren't all sold out, especially if you're going during high season (and if you haven't driven a standard you definitely need an automatic - this goes for pretty much anywhere but especially on mountainous and hilly roads). We had no issues with the rental company or with renting an automatic, but I had heard a couple horror stories where a few of the less reputable rental companies have said they were out of automatics upon arrival, don't take it and don't let them force a standard on you. Most rental companies are required to provide a vehicle as good or better than the class you have ordered - ask to speak to a manager and they should give you a higher class vehicle or a rental in the equivalent class from another company.
We contemplated renting a motorhome/RV, and teetered back and forth with this idea for a few weeks before finally deciding on an SUV instead. The motorhome would have been great, and we would have been fine to drive it, but the main reason we decided against it is because most motorhomes in Iceland are manual/standard vehicles, and while I sort of know how to drive a small manual car, I don't consider myself good enough to drive a stick shift through the mountains on very narrow roads. There are a few automatic RV's available but not nearly as many, and most of them were of the small van style which has no bathroom (which was one of the reasons we were leaning towards the RV rental in the first place).
We finally decided on renting a Hundai Tucson from IceRental4x4.is. The vehicle was fine, a bit old and beaten up, but worked just great to get us around the island. I actually think it's better to rent an older vehicle for Iceland so that when you return it you don't get dinged for every little chip and dent (but always take pictures of the vehicle before you drive away so you have proof of any pre-existing damage). While the 4x4 was not really necessary while we were there, due to the inconsistent weather in Iceland I decided that booking a 4x4 was the better way to go. We did encounter both a snowstorm and a windstorm while we were there (in early May, 2017). There are a few places where a 4x4 is required in order to even access the road (any of the 'F' roads include at least one river crossing), but for circumnavigating the ring road in the summer you would be fine with a car.
This was our car after a few days of driving on muddy roads lol. Another awesome thing about Iceland is that there are FREE car washes at many of the gas stations!
Driving in Iceland is on the Righthand side of the road. Keep your eyes on the road, there are long stretches with not a lot to see but then BAM outta nowhere you will see the most amazing things and you'll want to turn your head and look, but don't! Find a safe spot to pull over (don't stop in the middle of the road! And please don't stop in the middle of the highway and make a 5-point U-turn *in the middle of the road* blocking traffic on both sides like we saw one dumbarse do...). I recommend watching this entertaining video on how to safely drive in Iceland with Elfis the Elf put out by drive.is.
There are a LOT of single-lane bridges throughout Iceland. The rule seems to be that whoever arrives at the bridge first has the right of way, however if you arrive first but the guy on the other side doesn't appear to be slowing down, by all means let them go first! It's not a game of chicken after all ;-)
Bathrooms were NOT quite as plentiful throughout the ring road as we had been led to believe. Sure, if you're in a town or city there's bathrooms at the gas stations or the swimming pools or restaurants etc, but there are long stretches of road between towns and cities where there is nothing on the road, and late at night there's not much open. Something to keep in mind.. Bring a bottle or ziploc or plastic bag with you to dispose of your waste if you need to go when there's no bathrooms around. Don't leave anything behind!
Food can be quite expensive in Iceland, so we kept our food budget down by bringing We brought 3 kg of food with us (import allowance current at June 2017), and I recommend doing the same. Especially if you are planning on driving the ring road, as you can go many hours without finding a restaurant or grocery store. This food often wound up being our breakfast and lunch, plus snacks along the way.
We brought: peanut butter (and a plastic knife), jerkey, trail mix, breakfast bars, and protein bars. Then we added to our mix upon arrival by purchasing bread and fruit at the supermarket. The bread in Iceland was soooo delicious! (the bakery stuff not the generic stuff - that's the same as everywhere). The main grocery store that we used is called Bonus (we had read that this is the more budget friendly grocery store in Iceland).
Check Tollur.is for the current import allowance for food, alcohol, and cigarettes.
Cash is not really necessary in Iceland - we had a little bit of cash with us but mainly used credit card. I can't think of a single spot that we stopped where we wouldn't have been able to use credit.
**It is highly recommended that you leave your travel plans with safetravel.is, especially if you are going to be off hiking by yourself.
Inspired By Iceland has put out the "Icelandic Pledge", asking people to be responsible tourists. Check it out here!
I'm going to teach you the tiniest bit of Icelandic that we were able to figure out while we were there ;-)
Waterfoll = foss
Glacier = jökull (pronounced like 'yokul')
Forest = skógur
Beach = strönd
Crater = gígur Church = kirkja (pronounced like 'kirk-yah')
Yes = já (pronounced like 'yah')
No = nei (pronounced like 'naye')
Thanks = takk (informal, pronounced like it's spelled) takk fyrir (more formal, more like thank you very much)
Where's the bathroom? = hvar er klósettið (kind of sounds like 'var eh close atid')
Eyjafjallajökull (the volcano that closed the skies a few years ago): aye-ya-fye-yadt-la-yer-kuht-luh
See our journey around The Golden Circle!