We plan to rent a car from 22nd to 26th of March 2019. Our plan is to explore the Ring Road, including the Golden Circle.

Do we have enough time to explore these places in 4 days? Is it safe to drive? It is my first experience of driving in the winter, please advice, as we 3 are all women.

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    The Iceland ring road is 828 miles long and the speed limit is mostly 55mph, so in theory one could drive it in 15-16 hours, but you won't see much. Various sources on the internet talk of seven day tours, with winter tours taking 10-14 days. Four days in March would seem optimistic. – Cannon Fodder Sep 20 at 5:24
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    Four days maybe enough to drive that distance (if the weather is fine) but it's definitely not enough to discover it. – Neusser Sep 20 at 8:35
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    Iceland's many volcanoes have a habit of ... rearranging parts of the Ring Road. If that happens, you might have to drive back the same way you came. Not in itself a bad thing, but if you have to drive 3/4 of the Ring back to catch your plane that evening, you may have a problem. – Elise van Looij Sep 20 at 9:25
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    You can do the 300km Golden Circle, including a half day at the lagoon, but that's about it. – Strawberry Sep 20 at 15:36
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    Speaking as former couchsurfing host in Iceland: don't. Stick to the Golden Circle and see if you can squeeze in a stop at Fontana in Laugarvatn (during the trip to or back from Geysir/Gullfoss) and see that you have some time to see Barnafoss and Hraunfossar. And since you have a car, see that during some of those nights you get away from the city lights to see the aurora. And have a look at an answer I wrote not so long ago. – 0xC0000022L Sep 21 at 20:48

No, 4 days is (way) too short for tourists and especially in the winter.

Yes, you can probably drive around the ring road (Route 1) in Iceland; it's 1,332 km and the Golden Circle is only 300 km. The roads are paved, in good condition, and the maximum speed is 90 km/h (with a few exceptions in villages). That means that with ~5 hours driving per day, you should be able do to the trip, right?

First of all, you're at 64/65 degrees latitude. Mid-winter, that means only a few (3-4) hours of daylight, but you're going in late March, so that means 12 hours of daylight. Still, expect snowfall when you drive (you have no experience with that, so please rent a 4x4) and some parts of the road may be closed due to floods, excessive snowfall or mudslides. The Icelanders will try their best to keep the road open, to prevent villages from being isolated, but Icelandic weather can be very unpredictable and violent at times. Which means you're better off staying in a village for 1-2 days; you don't want to miss your plane because of that.

Even if you do manage it, you won't have time to enjoy all the sights and venues along the route (and there are many). I've traveled the Ring Road (without the Golden Circle) in 8 days a month ago (actually, two thirds of it, I went back via the F25, which is closed in winter); that was really enjoyable but it was during the summer. I have no experience myself in winter but I heard from locals (and read on the Internet) that one should plan at least 2 weeks for such a trip.

Regarding safety: Iceland, especially outside Reykjavik, is virtually devoid of criminals; I left my valuables in the car and even forgot to lock it sometimes. Cell phone reception is adequate along most of the Ring Road. It's absolutely safe, please enjoy Iceland with the three of you but do it at a slower pace :)

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    Iceland ... is virtually devoid of criminals: indeed, when we went a few years back the car rental company advised us to take a refund of the pre-paid theft insurance, saying "Nobody steals cars here. We are an island. Where would you go?". – MadHatter Sep 20 at 7:44
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    This is the correct answer, 4 days is much too short for the entire Ring Road if you plan to do anything other than driving all day (especially in winter). We recently took 8 days to drive it and could've taken longer if we had more time. Use the time to explore Reykjavik and the Golden Circle instead, there's plenty there to keep you busy. – HenricF Sep 20 at 9:04
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    We were there for 5 days in mid-September. We had enough time for the Golden Circle and a day-trip to the Vik area on the Ring-Road (Seljalandsfoss & Skogafoss). Spent the rest of the time around Reykjavik, with plenty-plenty of sights skipped there as well. – SztupY Sep 20 at 9:35
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    I think the safety question is more about driving conditions than criminals. – David Richerby Sep 20 at 11:22
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    Is there an out-and-back on part of the ring road that they could do in four days and see interesting things? – user3067860 Sep 20 at 13:28

I'd say that's plenty of time for the Golden Circle, but not nearly long enough for the ring road. I went around the ring road in about 8 days in late September a couple years ago. It felt a little rushed to me. There was a lot I wanted to see, but didn't have time to visit because of the distances we had to travel. It also usually took longer than what Google Maps indicated.

If you only had 4 days, you'd be driving most of the time with little time to do anything else, and that's during good weather. I've found that when traveling, it's better to not be too ambitious and have plenty of time to see things.

By the way, I recommend the local municipal pools found in many towns. They were quite nice and affordable. The water is very well heated (even the "cold" pool was quite warm), and we enjoyed the outdoor pools even when it was around freezing outside.

  • What's the best with the pools is that you can get into conversations with the locals who in 99% of the cases will speak English, albeit with a thick (and very sympathetic) Icelandic accent. – 0xC0000022L Sep 21 at 20:14
  • Oh yeah, that's true. In one pool we met some German tourists and in another pool we met a local and his 8-year-old daughter who played with my kids. He was telling us how the cost of living had been rising a lot for them in recent years. The little girl spoke fantastic English, which amazed me. – Kevin Peter Sep 21 at 21:04

We traveled to Iceland a few years ago. In a sudden storm one windscreen wiper got stuck, and then got ripped off in the wind, at another point the handbrake on the car froze solid then got stuck so we couldn't release it.

While you COULD do this journey like this, you really want far longer. If you're in Iceland for 4 days, you could visit the geysers and the beautiful waterfalls, and likely see the northern lights too. (Though this might not happen; it's very variable! We managed to see it almost every night in February.)

  • Well, it also depends on the rental company (and car) you get. Certain cheap offers may indeed more trouble than you thought you had bargained for ... – 0xC0000022L Sep 21 at 20:17
  • True, but this was a Jeep, and something else which was suited to the environment - we just got unlucky!. – djsmiley2k Sep 21 at 20:22
  • also happens, of course. But there is literally a company calling itself cheap jeeps and I've rented from them and others during my eight years of living in Iceland (never owned a car there, for lack of need) and I've had some bad experiences with said company. I mean the owner was nice and helped out eagerly. But when you rent a car you don't expect it to be half a car wreck ;) – 0xC0000022L Sep 21 at 20:27
  • Ouch, yeah that'd be no good. – djsmiley2k Sep 21 at 20:47

The other answers present valid concerns (notably winter conditions) and many reasons why someone may want to take longer to enjoy to its fullest the trip.

I'm going to go the opposite way and take the assumption that if you say you rent a car for 4 days, that's because that's the longest you can spare. After all Iceland is a very expensive country for a foreigner and you may be there only for a week in all.

I personally did the Ring Road in 4 days (3 nights) in late October, my first time in Iceland. I had spent a few days in Reykjavik and touring the Golden Circle, but wanted to hit the road and see what the country had to offer, far from the main tourist attractions. The lady at the car rental company was horrified. I had to drive 5-7 hours per day, but I still had time to hike every day. And let me tell you, as someone who enjoys driving, I had more fun driving the South road between the sea and the glaciers and the many waterfalls, than I had hiking in marked trails.

There are many (and I mean many, as in one every few kms) small stops on the side of the Ring Road. We're talking small patch of dirt for maybe 2-3 cars tops, but enough to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the scenery before moving to the next one. To me this was the height of my trip. YMMV of course.

So assuming that you cannot spare more than 4 days for the Ring Road, but still want to see as much as possible of Iceland, and that long drives in relatively tough condition don't scare you, even excite you, then I recommend it. I also recommend doing the full circle: the South takes longer, but was the best part by far. Going back by the North saved time on the return trip. Do check the conditions prior to your trip, you may need to get back the way you came if the roads on the North side deteriorate, as mentioned by @Willeke.

Go for the all-wheels drive though.

  • I edited the answer. Thanks! – Alex Millette Sep 21 at 12:56
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    I would suggest staying in the south, not trying to go all around, as there is much more chance of roads going bad in the west and north. – Willeke Sep 21 at 13:04
  • Iceland is very expensive even to Icelanders and residents in the country, in no small part thanks to tourists and renting out apartments via AirBnB and friends, which makes living much less affordable in several locations. Btw, late October versus March is quite a difference. The winter is not "symmetric" around the end of the year. Although October will be quite gloomy and weather isn't usually too great, your chances of snow (in Reykjavík) are considerably in October than in March (speaking from the experience of eight years living there). – 0xC0000022L Sep 21 at 20:24
  • @0xC0000022L "are considerably in" considerably what? – stannius Sep 21 at 21:34
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    @stannius considerably lower, sorry. Thanks for pointing it out. – 0xC0000022L Sep 21 at 22:07

We drove around the Ring Road in 5 days in early April, 2017. That did leave us time to do sight-seeing and enjoy the trip, but trying to take it even one day shorter would have certainly felt rushed.

Our trip was

  • 1st night - Reykjavik
  • 2nd night - Hrafnagil
  • 3rd night - Myvatn
  • 4th night - Hofn
  • 5th night - Kirkjubæjarklaustur
  • 6th night - back to Reykjavik

(We also spent a couple days in and around Reykjavik on either end, so there was decompression time in there.)

Weather permitting, you could drive from Reykjavik to Myvatn in one day (7 hours or so), which brings you to a four day/five night trip. So technically, yes, it's possible.

But, even though that was a couple of weeks later in the year than your plans, we still ran into a blizzard (by Icelandic standards!) on the north coast. It didn't end up affecting our schedule, but I can tell you that driving 300 km over near-deserted, icy roads was not great fun, and it would have significantly impacted our trip if the blizzard had started a few hours earlier or lasted a couple of hours longer.

I learned to drive in Canada and am reasonably experienced with winter driving. Given that you say It is my first experience of driving in the winter then I would say by no means is this a good idea.

  • Whoa, that sucks. You skipped some really nice places between Reykavík and your first and second stop. Could have gone to Akureyri by plane and rented a car back to Reykjavík there. Agree with your conclusion, though. – 0xC0000022L Sep 21 at 20:21
  • We spent a few hours in Akureyri - which honestly was about what it needed as far as I can tell. Not sure how flying there and driving back would have worked - we would have missed out on half the ring road either way, right? The "decompression time" in Reykjavik I mentioned included the Golden Circle and some other things, so I don't think we missed a whole lot other than the northwest peninsula that was still closed to driving while we were there. – iayork Sep 22 at 21:10

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