Iceland’s Ring Road: Clockwise or Counterclockwise?

Iceland’s Ring Road: Clockwise or Counterclockwise?

James Taylor James Taylor
12. May 2022 ∼ 8 min. read

Iceland’s Ring Road circles the entire country, the perfect route for week-long road trips that take in some of the country’s most stunning sights. It’s easy to navigate and leads campers past waterfalls, hot springs, glaciers, and some volcanically charged landscapes.

When you’re in the planning stages of your trip, you might wonder whether it’s better to drive clockwise or counterclockwise around the ring road. This article will go into the advantages and disadvantages of both, what will help you decide, and why a lot of people decide to travel counterclockwise around the ring road.

What Does the Weather Dictate?

First of all, even the best-laid plans can be scrapped at a moment’s notice due to some bad weather rolling in. It’s very common for storms to blow across Iceland, even during the summer, that puts out weather warnings and makes it unadvisable to travel. Even if you planned to travel counterclockwise around the ring road, stormy weather in the south and sunny days in the north could mean that you change your mind after you arrive.

That’s why the first and most important rule about campervan travel in Iceland is to remain flexible and have a backup plan. A sudden dust storm could blow in, or strong winds could make a mountain road impassable. In that case, you’ll always need to have an idea of where else you can travel to at a moment’s notice.

So, we would always recommend having some backup options to your trip. Iceland is filled with plenty to see and do that’s not on the ring road, from the raw and powerful energy of the Reykjanes Peninsula to the gargantuan nature and little crowds of the Westfjords.

As always, it pays to keep an eye on the Icelandic weather service website, which goes into detail about winds (a near-constant), temperatures (almost always chilly), and precipitation (don’t forget your raincoat!).

The Safe Travel website is also behind the weather warnings for the country, letting you know if the conditions in Iceland are too difficult for driving.

Iceland’s Ring Road Itineraries for Campervans

Browsing our sample ring road itineraries for campervans, you’ll notice that they all follow the counterclockwise direction around Iceland’s ring road. This is for a few good reasons, which we’ll explain below.

The Advantages of Driving Counterclockwise Around the Ring Road

The Golden Circle

The first big reason as to why driving counterclockwise around the ring road is the location of Iceland’s Golden Circle. For many campervan travellers in Iceland, this will be your first port of call. Northeast of Reykjavik, this can be completed in less than a day and contains some fantastic sights. The main highlights are a trio of natural wonders: Thingvellir National Park, where you can admire rifts in the tectonic plates; the erupting geyser, a powerful force of nature in the middle of a steaming geothermal area; and Gullfoss, one of the largest and most impressive waterfalls in the country.

The way the Golden Circle works is that the road slowly delves further into the northeast, ending at Gullfoss. Then, all roads lead south towards the ring road, spitting you out on the ring road near Hveragerði and Selfoss. For many with a camper rental in Iceland, this is reason enough to make the drive counterclockwise, as you won’t have to retrace your tracks after a Golden Circle tour to reach the ring road heading into the north.

The South Coast

Another one of the big reasons we recommend a counterclockwise ring road trip is that the south coast is crowded with a lot of the country’s most famous sights. From Skogafoss waterfall to the striking Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, there’s a lot to see and do.

With so much to discover, it’s also one of the busiest places in the country. Travellers who aren’t going around the entire ring road will more than likely choose to drive down to at least Vik, letting them admire the glaciers, catch some picturesque waterfalls, and in general get a taste for the beauty of Iceland.

But we think that’s a great reason to get it out of the way. When you set out, you’re fresh, excited, and energetic, not tired of the crowds or seeing another waterfall. Excited to stop and get out at every small stop.

Get inspired for south coast adventures with our Guide to the South Coast of Iceland!

Timings

There’s also the argument that doing the south coast is better for the overall timing of your campervan rental in Iceland. At the beginning of your trip, you won’t feel as much pressure to keep moving, letting you really enjoy all that the south has to offer. If you were to end your trip through the south coast, you might be short on time, having to rush past some of the best sights in the country. And we don’t want that.

From Crowded to Peace and Quiet

The final argument for driving counterclockwise around the ring road is the overall experience of going from crowded to peace and quiet. Once you travel past Höfn, you leave most of the crowds behind, with the East and North far less crowded.

For most, a trip to Iceland is about escaping the crowds, finding some peaceful corners of nature, standing in awe of a majestic view. Driving counterclockwise around the ring road is also good for this kind of travel. You’ll have more of an idea of what you like to do in the country

Driving Clockwise Around the Ring Road

For all those reasons to drive counterclockwise, there still might be those travellers looking at a clockwise trip instead. There are a few reasons why you might decide to travel in Iceland this direction, and it’s not just the weather.  

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Campervan rentals in Iceland love these two regions in the west of Iceland. Driving north along the ring road from Reykjavik, you’ll quickly be able to drive out onto the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This is an exciting region of the country, often called ‘Iceland in miniature’ thanks to the area possessing all the incredible landscapes and natural sights you’ll find around the rest of the country.

If this area is on your bucket list during your campervan rental in Iceland, then it might be a good idea to tackle it first before continuing along the ring road afterwards. In the same way that the south coast is filled with sights, you might not want to reach this area with a few days left, having to skip out on a few sights that you really wanted to see.

The Westfjords

Another reason for driving clockwise along the ring road is the region of the Westfjords. Marooned in the far northwest corner of the country, the remote beauty of the landscapes here are incredible, and for the few who do travel there, they rank it as one of the best destinations in the country.

For those campervan travellers who want to focus a lot of their time on this region before cruising around the ring road, heading clockwise is recommended. For inspiration in this region, you can even check out our campervan itinerary for the Westfjords Way

The Arctic Coast Way

Finally, another great reason to drive the ring road clockwise is if you’re keen to explore along one of the latest tourist routes in Iceland, the Arctic Coast Way.

Taking in the sub-arctic coast along the North of Iceland, this route pulls you off the ring road to tour along the six peninsulas across the top of the country. Beginning in Hvammstangi, you’ll wind your way past misty cliffs, epic mountains rolling into the sea, and spectral black sand beaches along the remote stretches. Eventually, you’ll finish in the small hamlet of Bakkafjörður, where you can re-join the ring road in the east and continue along to see the fantastic sights along the south coast.

The Verdict

For a campervan rental in Iceland, in general, driving the ring road counterclockwise is a great idea. The reasons behind this are that there’s a lot to see and do in this region, starting you off with some of the country’s most famous sights which you’ll want to take your time and really experience, instead of rushing by to return your camper on time.

For those that are looking at driving the ring road clockwise with your campervan rental in Iceland, there are a few good temptations as well. With the incredible nature of Snæfellsnes, the remote Westfjords, and ring road alternative in the Arctic Coast Way, there’s a lot to keep you entertained early in your campervan ring road trip.

Ready to hit the road? Our campervan rental in Iceland offers a wide range of campers to suit your needs.

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