A Unique Rail Journey in the Land of Fire and Ice

Icelandic Iron Roads A Unique Rail Journey in the Land of Fire and Ice

Trace Iceland’s element-blasted landscape on a road trip dotted with mystical sights. Hear Icelanders recount their brushes with the huldufolk, and understand why more than half of the country’s population entertains the possibility that another world exists.

The famous Ring Road loops around Iceland. You can rent a car to explore the route, but we recommend booking a tour with a guide for your safety.


The ring road (Hringvegur) stretches from the coast to the capital and crosses a number of glacial plains. These have led to problems with the road surface on occasion, notably during and after eruptions of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which caused the closure of the whole route in 2010. Other problem areas are bridges and stretches of road over glacial floods.

The majority of the road is paved, although some gravel sections are used in rural areas. The road is maintained by the Icelandic Road Administration, Vegagerdin. It is generally in good condition, and large improvements have been made to safety and capacity over recent years.

Driving the Ring Road can be a very rewarding experience, but it’s important to remember that conditions can change quickly and some roads are closed in winter. The best time of year to drive the Ring Road is between late April and October. This gives you plenty of hours of daylight for sight-seeing.

Throughout the countryside, you’ll be able to see many famous attractions along the route. These include the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss; the glaciers Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull; the black-sand beach of Reynisfjara; and the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

You can also see an array of historical settlements, lava fields and beautiful fjords. In addition, there is a wide variety of activities that can be enjoyed, including whale watching and puffin watching.

Another highlight is the drive from Stodvarfjordur to Egilsstadir, which is a stunning valley that seems to have waterfalls cascading down every few meters. This is a wonderful stretch of the ring road, and one that shouldn’t be missed.

A number of tour companies offer Ring Road tours, either independently or as part of a bigger trip to Iceland. When choosing a tour, it’s worth looking at what is included in the price to make sure you’re getting value for your money. For example, some tours include meals, while others don’t. You may find that a tour with meals is more cost-effective than a similar one without them. This guide to Ring Road tours in Iceland can help you choose the best option for you.


The Icelandic Iron Roads are dotted with villages and towns, each with its own unique character. In addition to being an ideal way to experience rural Iceland, the routes provide access to some of its most famous landmarks, including the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and the spectacular Vatnajokull ice cap. They also offer a glimpse into the country’s rich culture, as many of the stations along the Iron Roads are home to local handcrafters and artisans.

The road itself has a number of different levels of quality, depending on the area: Primary roads (S) are all paved and usually well-maintained; secondary roads (T) are mainly paved and connect regional services and institutions, but don’t qualify as tengivegi; and highland roads (F), which have a two or three-digit prefix and are only passable in summer when the snow melts, by huge super jeeps capable of driving through deep river crossings and other challenging terrain. Roads with a four-digit prefix are closed during the winter and impassable even by 4×4 cars, as they are not part of the main system.

Reykjavik’s streets are lined with rugged, cottage-like timber framed houses, clad top to bottom in a material usually reserved for warehouses and farm buildings. This contrasts with the rest of the country, where the majority of domestic buildings are made from corrugated sheet metal. Nonetheless, this should not be seen as an indicator of poverty; rather, it is proof that Iceland was one of the first countries in Europe to enthusiastically embrace practical new ways of building without abandoning care and charm.

A good place to start is Laufskalavarda, where travellers who were on their first trip to Iceland traditionally added a stone to the cairn for luck. The reason for this is that the area was historically dangerous, especially during or after eruptions of the Grimsvotn volcano. In fact, the section of Route 1 here is still periodically prone to glacial floods and road closures.

From here it is possible to drive up to Askja, an impressive field of hot springs, bubbling mud and boiling “kettles”, but this requires a tour from Myvatn, which you can book with Myvatn Tours or a similar company. You will need a large, high-clearance 4×4, as the trip involves driving through an inhospitable lava field and navigating several river crossings. It is only suitable for experienced drivers, and it’s only a summer-only tour – which in this part of the world means July to late August at the latest.


The roads in Iceland are, of course, also beautiful. Some are quite challenging to drive on, however, so you should always prepare yourself thoroughly in advance. The easiest way to do that is by visiting the official website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (Vegagerdin). Here you can get up-to-date information on the current state of all main roads in Iceland, including the interior highlands; weather conditions on certain mountain roads; safety information and even webcam locations.

A typical Icelandic highway is a road of many wonders, crisscrossed with ribbons of tarmac that lead to gushing geysers and grinding glaciers, majestic mountains and wild waterfalls. It’s a place where you can easily feel your own insignificance and the vastness of this otherworldly landscape. Especially when you’re parked under a glimmering stream of water, watching the two tiers of Gullfoss waterfall, with its dazzling, tumbling waters.

Iceland’s Ring Road connects all of the country’s major attractions, such as the Golden Circle (Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, Dyrholaey cliffs and Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon). But you can also use it to visit the mighty Vatnajokull volcano, Myrdalsjokull glacier and the Dettifoss waterfall.

Most of the country’s roads are paved and fairly easy to navigate, but there are a few exceptions. For instance, some F-roads (with two or three digits in the number) are only suitable for four-wheel drives and are open only during summer. They’re also prone to snow and often impassable outside of the season.

Another notable exception is the Vadlaheidargong tunnel, which is the only toll road in Iceland. The rest of the country’s roads are toll-free. Nevertheless, you should also be prepared for some additional costs during your road trip, such as parking fees and entry tickets to national parks. Make sure you check the exact fee structure before you start your journey!


The best way to experience Iceland is on the Ring Road, a circle of 830 miles that’s so well-maintained and popular that it’s become something of a national icon. But if you want to see the wilder side of this island nation, you have to drive off the beaten track.

In the north of the country, on F649, you’ll find a trail that leads to a fjord called Ingolfsfjordur, and then another trail that heads west over a mountain. Both are very bumpy and slow going. But once you get to the top, there’s a vista that rivals any of the best in the entire country. You’ll be looking out at a glacier-capped volcano called Snaefellsjokull, which was used as the setting for Jules Verne’s classic adventure tale, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

After the summit, you’ll wind down towards the Lake Myvatn area and Krafla, Iceland’s most volcanically active region. The landscape here is strange and otherworldly, with shattered boulders littering the roadsides, steaming geysers gushing from fissures in the earth’s crust, and bubbling mud pools oozing out of every crevice. The Ring Road passes by Godafoss, a deafening waterfall that seems to emerge from a ragged crack in the earth’s surface.

From there, the road starts to curve towards the west. After a few kilometers you’ll reach Eyri, which has a big deserted herring factory and some abandoned houses. Then the road turns north on F711 (Kjalvegur) and starts to get much more difficult and bumpy. The first section is on a flat, sandy riverbank and then the road will climb up to a canyon made of broken rocks.

This road is known locally as Botnlangalon and is one of the worst in Iceland. It’s only open during the summer, and it’s definitely not for any car other than a 44. You can either use the neighboring F649 (Strandavegur) instead or try to ford the river Nordingafljot (Hundrafljot), which isn’t recommended even in good weather conditions.

The rest of the trip will take you on a series of tracks that connect remote villages. Some of these are so bad that they’re known as “F”-roads, and you can only access them with a special permit from the Land Transport Authority (Landtransportdirektoratet).

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