The Ring Road, Iceland – Day 1 – Reykjavik to Vik

Today was the beginning of our adventure and we were about to set out along the Ring Road in Iceland which circumnavigates the entire country. Iceland’s Ring Road total distance is 1,339 kilometers (832 miles) and we were going to be traveling from Reykjavik to Vik on our first day. Most travelers on this route wouldn’t typically make the full trip around the Ring Road in less than 6 or 7 days but we only had 5 days and we decided it was possible and undeniably worth it. If you break down the average number of hours you would spend each day driving, it comes out to about 4 hours per day. However, as I soon came to realize, with the landscape changing about every 10 to 20 kilometers, you would find yourself stopping the car every 20 or 30 minutes and hopping out to do some quick hiking, catch a waterfall or some other sight.

Our friends finishing their Ring Road trip

The Canadians... They were ending their trip and making good use packing up on the sidewalk in Reykjavik

Plus there were many other marked destinations along the route so that 4 hour drive each day could easily extend to 8 hours or more since we were stopping so often or making side trips along the way down gravel and dirt roads to sights not on the main Ring Road route.

As many of you may know, Iceland is definitely not a cheap destination. Accommodation and food are more expensive than you’ll find in mainland Europe but what was most expensive for us was the car rental for the Ring Road trip. And that was not just for the rental but the cost of gas here is especially expensive. So that I wouldn’t forget the cost per liter, I took the photo below to remind myself just how much we were paying.

Cost of gas for Ring Road Iceland

How many liters in a gallon you ask?? Answer: 3.78541178 liters to a gallon. But wait, how much is 233 per liter? Crazy expensive, that's how much. And that's what that word 'Sjalfsafgreiosla' above translates to... About $8 US per gallon

In the end, the cost of the gas was actually equal roughly to the amount of money it cost for the car rental for 5 days. Rentals are very expensive, especially if you want a 4WD (which you need on many roads off the Ring Road) but we found what I would call ‘the best’ car rental place in all of Reykjavik. Its name…

Sad Cars of Iceland

Yep, Sad Cars

So what did we end up with?

Um, no but I wish!

Not so sad...

Ahh, no. It would have been great though. I actually saw many vans and SUVs similar to this one all over Iceland. Many of the roads in the interior of Iceland are not paved and require a 4WD. These vehicles would be equipped with the largest street legal tires available, extra gas cans and even a snorkel for the exhaust so it could traverse in the most extreme conditions. Expeditions in Antarctica use similar type of vehicles for their landscape. So what vehicle did Sad Cars actually provide us? Ladies and gentleman, allow me to present the Mazda ‘Mean Machine’ 323-F in all its glory.

Our MazdaRati for the Ring Road trip

The MazdaRati 323 - It was said to us that this would have been the car used by the Vikings in present day. Even those named Thor...

If Sad Cars only knew what we put this car through! Dirt roads, sandy volcanic beaches, gravel roads, mud pits, and a landscape as close to the surface of the moon as you can get… we drove over all it. I honestly don’t know how the car managed to get us back. There were sections of gravel roads lined with thousands of pot holes with a speed limit between 60-70 kph. The Mean Machine pulled through. By the time we were done however, we had several great photos of the car  with some amazing backdrops. Too bad Mazda stopped advertising this car in commercials back in the 90′s as we could have given them some great ad material. One of the best things about our trip however was the time of the year that we spent on this road trip. The colors of fall had set in throughout the country and the weather was chilly but not frigid. Also, with the summer at end, this time of year is considered Iceland’s off season for tourism.

Starting out from Reykjavik to Vik

Along the Ring Road

So for all the major sites along the way that we stopped at such as a major waterfall there would literally be no one around for miles. Want to stop and chase sheep next to a waterfall? No problem, there would be no one around to think anything of it. There were many times we’d drive for an hour or more at a time and may see just one car along a stretch of road. It was a great time to visit. And just to add in a few fun facts on Iceland, the only native animal (other than many species of whale and birds) is said to be the Arctic Fox though I didn’t get a chance to see one. Everything else had been brought here over the years which included cattle, horses and sheep. Lots of sheep. So many sheep that we came across them at the tops of mountains, in canyons, above waterfalls and even in the middle of the road (more than once). I think its safe to say they out number the people in Iceland by 10 to 1. As for the trees here, there really aren’t any, at least not many species that weren’t brought from overseas.

Scenery along the Ring Road Iceland

Trees lining an Icelandic farm

The trees you see in this picture are typically planted to act as a barrier for homes for protection against the wind. You would usually only find them in small towns and around farm houses. Between the lack of trees and animals throughout the country, I think it is what adds to the barren and isolated landscape that makes up Iceland. You could go hiking up a mountain through some thick brush and never come across anything such as a snake or a squirrel. And that’s good too because I hate snakes and the snakes know this… Ok, so getting back to the start of our road trip, we set out to drive the south of Iceland first then we would head to the north of Iceland following the eastern Fjords before making it back to Reykjavik for our flight out. The reason for this route was the weather between the north and south that week. Typically the south gets much more rain than the north but there were two Glaciers to see along the south route and we just didn’t want to put it off till the end regardless of the weather.  So we were headed from Reykjavik to Vik, the first major town along the south route, which was our destination for the day and where we would stay the night. Once we set out, we came across a lot of places to stop and run around. And the falls you see below in this photo was our first stop. It was also one of the few places we saw other tourists. That was likely due to the fact that it was so close to Reykjavik which many don’t travel too far from when visiting. However, once we pulled up and starting walking to the falls, I noticed what appeared to be two bridesmaids off in the distance posing for the camera. Well, upon closer inspection, I was way off….

Seljalandsfoss waterfall along the Ring Road

The Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Turns out it was two brides. Ha, go figure…. I was in Iceland right? It got even better (and confirmed) when they started kissing….

Seljalandsfoss waterfall along the Ring Road

Close your eyes kids...

Aside from the brides, what was also nice about this waterfall was that you could walk behind it and out the other side.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall along the Ring Road

Walking behind Seljalandsfoss

The next stop we came across was a bit unexpected. As I’m sure everyone remembers, just this past year, Iceland had a volcano eruption that grounded many flights in and out of Europe. Well, here is the culprit…

Eyjafjallajokull volanic eruption

Its hard to see the glacier that sits on top due to the bright sky in background but this is where it happened.

Here is a closer photo showing the image of the Eyjafjallajokull volanic eruption in April 2010.

Eyjafjallajokull volanic eruption of 2010

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano of 2010

Volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajokull eruption

Volcanic ash

They set up a small container at the site  that held the volcanic ash that had spread over the land from the eruption. As we left the site and drove over the bridge, off to the left was an excavator still working to remove the volcanic ash left over in the area.

Volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajokull eruption

Remaining ash removal

After a few days of driving, it was not uncommon to see these types of houses pictured below along the stretch of road, especially in the south of Iceland along the coastline.

Along the Ring Road

A true definition of 'Mountain Homes'?

The next stop that was coming up was actually one of our only planned sights for the day, Skógafoss falls, which means ‘forest falls’. Skógafoss is one of the largest falls in Iceland and has a vertical drop of about 200 feet. You could walk right up to it too as there was black volcanic sand running all the way up to where the water met the ground and there was no pool of water at its base.

Skógafoss Waterfall on the way from Reykjavik to Vik

Skógafoss Waterfall

However, you couldn’t get quite that close. Since there was not a large pond below to catch falls, the spray coming off the sand was extremely strong as you can see in this photo. My friend Alex is the speck you can see off to the right corner. As you can imagine, he was a bit soaked when he got back.

Skógafoss Waterfall spray

You can see my friend off to the right... getting thoroughly soaked

The best thing about Skogar falls though wasn’t the waterfall but was the hike up above the falls, through the canyon that was snaking down through the meadows. And up in the distance from that, a glacier in the background was feeding this stream as it wandered down from the hills. When I finally reached the top, it was undeniable, this was Viking land.

 

From the top Skógafoss Waterfall

Viking Land

There was absolutely nothing resembling any signs of civilization up here and you could see for miles in all directions. It was simply a vast open meadow and the ground we walked on was covered in a type of thick moss. Your feet would sink at least 3 or 4 inches with every step you took.

On the way to a glacier along the Ring Road

On the way to a glacier

This photo above shows just another changing landscape as we drove out to mouth of a glacier. And driving out here was a bit treacherous for the 323 Mean Machine as the side road we took was a bit rough, quite long and the winds outside the car were howling at dawn, kicking up sand and silt on the car as a storm moved in. We did eventually reach the glacier but didn’t venture too far. It was nearly dark, the winds were gusting 40+ mph and we still needed to find accommodation. Plus, there would be more glaciers tomorrow….

Our guesthouse in Vik, Iceland

Our Guesthouse in Vik

And then finally, dinner that night….

An authentic Icelandic Burger

I don't know why they go with the ol' sunny-side up on top of the bun, but hey, this is Iceland. And it was under $10... I'll take it

 

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23 Responses to The Ring Road, Iceland – Day 1 – Reykjavik to Vik

  1. I love it,Rory! What a hoot of a trip. Looks like the other side of the moon. . …were the people friendly, nice?

  2. I love it! What a hoot of a trip, Rory. Iceland is thoroughly….*Unusual*…were the folks around there friendly, helpful? The photos are amazing.

  3. That egg thing on the hamburger is a nice touch. ;-)

  4. I feel like I’m following a bit in your footsteps, except a year later and quite a bit of difference in the weather. I’m in Vik right now, staying in what looks like the same guesthouse after enjoying a similar burger. I’ll post my pictures and you can see what Seljalanlandfoss looks like with snow!

    • Hi Katie! So cool of you to write and follow the same path we were on! Would love to see your pics and any stories you want to share. I really can’t wait to get back there to travel more. Hopefully the snow won’t last and you can experience everything you want while there. I was actually there about a month earlier than you are now though the weather there can definitely turn at any moment no matter what month it is…

      So how was the burger :) ??

  5. Nice, Rory! ….do you remember the name of the place you stayed at in Vik? Heading there in August. Thanks, N.

    • Hi Naomi,

      I believe it was ‘Hostel Vik’ although like many hostels in Iceland, it felt more like a guesthouse. I had no complaints when I stayed there and was a good option in such a small town of 300 people!

      I grabbed this and hope it’s correct:

      Suðurvíkurvegur 5
      Vík
      Iceland

      Tel. +354 487 1106 867 2389
      vik@hostel.is

      Best of luck on your trip and feel free to ask me more questions on my favorite country in the world!

  6. Hello! I am in the process of planning a self drive trip on the ring road as you did! Can you recall about how much you spent on gas over the entire trip in US Dollars? Thank you!

    • Hi Alex! I’m excited for you… you’ll have an amazing time. I think we spent between $250-350 as gas there was not the cheapest but understandable as to why it would be more than other places. You may want to check out my last Iceland post where I added a ‘Stats’ section from our entire Iceland experience as I believe I added up the miles to drive the entire ring road plus the extra miles/kilometers we drove on side roads along the way. Also, not sure what gas is currently going for there so you may want to check the price per gallon/liter. We took a small car too so we were getting good mpg. You really shouldn’t need a 4wd unless you’re planning to get off the ring road a lot or you’re going through snow. Happy to answer any other questions you may have. We rented our car from ‘Sad Cars’ which was the most affordable place we’d found in Reykjavik – I guess by the name, you could imagine it would be affordable but the car was actually in great shape

  7. My family 6 persons plan to visit Iceland on Mar 30,2013 return April 3,2013.
    We plan to drive a car along ring road. Would you please advise the planning along the ring road? We have already book the hotel in Raykjavik on March 30.2013. thank a lot for your advisory.

    • Hi Chalome,

      Are you planning to drive the entire ring road? Or only portions of it? If you arrive on March 30 and return on the 3rd, you would have 5 days but I would guess you’re planning to spend some time in Reykjavik and to visit areas around there like the golden circle. Let me know some more ring road details…

  8. great blog and it’s coming in handy for our upcoming trip (march11-24)
    we’re planning on renting but debating the 2 wheel drive vs 4 wheel drive route. would i be able to pick your brain & get some advice on the matter?
    keep up the great work!

    • Hi Michelle! I’m excited for your trip! We ended up taking a 2 wheel drive and it was just fine for us. However, I was there in late September/early October so there wasn’t an issue with snow at the time although it did snow a bit once. From all the icelanders I spoke with when I got there, they said that a 2wd would be fine on the Ring Road but if you anticipate a lot of snow or want to go off road a lot, I’d say it may be wise to do a 4wd. We did go off road a few times but in nothing serious and too far off the main road.

      For the price, ‘Sad Cars’ was the best rental place we found. Hope that helps and let me know if you have more questions I can help with!

  9. Hi Rory!

    Thanks for the pics and funny comments.. We will be traveling to Iceland for our honeymoon and plan on staying in Vik.

    Thanks again,

    Kelly

    • Hi Kelly! Thanks for writing… I’m excited for you two to go on your trip. You’ll have a great time, especially with the weather turning. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to ask!

      Best of luck,

      Rory

  10. chalome amarit

    visited Iceland in 30 March 2013 to 3 April 2013. I drove a car from Raykjavik to Vik. The view along the road is beautiful. I stayed at Vik one night. The weather was about 4 c. I would like to advice everybody who would like to drive a car from Vik to the North or counter clockwise of the ring road please top up fuel until full tank from Vik fuel pump station due to a few fuel pump will be open. Some fuel pump is not accepted the credit card before top up fuel . This fuel pump is self service. No body can service us at that time. Please check car performance before going this way . a little bit from me. good luck.

    • Hi Chalome,

      Thanks for all the thoughts and advice! Very true that there aren’t a lot of gas stations along the way from Vik. This is actually the case between many towns. Luckily most commutes between towns are less than 4-5 hours but its good practice to fill up full at every opportunity. We did come by one of those self service pumps but it was closed at the time we were there. I’d imagine they’d stay open during the warmer more touristy months of the year. I hope you had a blast on your Iceland trip! I can’t wait to go back…

  11. You might also find a better price at the peer to peer car rental carrenters.is .

    • Thanks for the advice Viktor! I’m sure it’ll help out some travelers on here… When I first got to Iceland, it was a challenged finding the best rental place to go with, especially because of the budget I was on.

  12. Hello,

    I am going to Iceland in early September. Great blog to read! Can i ask, did you just book accommodation as you were going, or did you have it pre-booked? I am hoping i can just decide where to stay while i’m on the road, but worried about whether there will be enough options. thankyou!

    • Hi Caroline! Very excited for your trip, you’ll have a great time. When I went, the only place I had booked was my hostel/guesthouse in Reykjavik as the one I wanted was rated well and apparantely filled up fast. However, since we decided to do the ring road trip at the last minute, we hadn’t pre-booked anything. The only time we had an issue was when we showed up in a small town and apparantly there was some huge event going on that night (on a Wednesday) and all the rooms/hotels, etc were full. We ended up stopping in a gas station, talked to the lady behind the counter and she put us up at her friends place. Yes, random I know but thats part of the travel adventure I guess:)
      If you think it’ll be high tourist season when you go (I went late Sept/early Oct), then it can be good to pre-book but then again, you may not want to limit yourself to a set schedule. There really aren’t a bunch of places to stay, especially if on a budget, but unless its high tourist season, you should be ok. I hope that helps, let me know if you have other questions!

  13. Arthur Robidoux

    I enjoyed reading your travels from Reykjavik to Vik . My wife and I plan to visit Iceland on our way to Amsterdam. Our trip will start in Reykjavik to Pingvellir National Park – Gullfoss-Great Geyser then to Vik to end the day.From Vik we will head back to Reykjavik .There seems to be a lot to see along the way,is there
    a list of must see in out travels in Iceland that we could miss.

    • Hi Arthur, thanks for the comments. How much time do you have? When are you going? This will help in giving you some advice. There are day trip/tours available from Reykjavik that I would recommend. Sounds like you already have plans to visit Pingvellir National Park which will be great. From where you’ll be, you could easily get to the following and would be worth seeing: Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skógafoss Waterfall and the site off the Ring Road which has a backdrop of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano of 2010. If you have more time and want to head a bit further to Hofn, you can catch: Skaftafell National Park and Jokull Glacier and Jökulsárlón which is known as the ‘glacial lagoon’. This for me was one of the best places I visited but will be more than a day trip from Reykjavik (but worth it)! While there you can also catch Iceland’s black sand beaches which are surreal as well. Hope that helps…

      If you want more information on some of these recommendations, catch this additional post here:
      http://www.travelingroundtheworld.com/the-ring-road-iceland-day-2-vik-to-hofn/

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