Is driving the Ring Road in winter safe?

  • Driving in winter in Iceland is often very difficult and can be dangerous
Oct 20 2016

Sometimes we get questions through our Facebook or Google+ or even direct through e-mail, and people ask about various things like driving in winter in Iceland, driving on gravel roads in Iceland, when to travel in the highlands, how to cross rivers and much more.  A few days ago we got a question regarding a trip on the Ring Road in the winter. 

Is the Ring Road drive enjoyable in winter?

In our Ring Road driving plan and Road Trip, we recommend taking the trip between May and end of September. It is the best time to view and visit most of the natural wonders, and the weather is quite stable. At that point, everything is blooming, and you will enjoy the best possible combination of vegetation, colors, and light around the places you are visiting. In the summer the days are longer, and you can enjoy the landscape and natural wonders from early in the morning until late in the evening and sometimes around the clock in daylight.  In winter everything is pale because of a lack of color, the weather is often quite unstable with storms, frost, and snow. The days are also considerably shorter with daylight sometime from late in the morning until about four to five in the day.  But winter also has a lot to offer, and you can have fantastic winter weather and of course you have the northern lights. So, in the end, it becomes a matter of taste and preference. But in our view, the Ring Road with all its landscape, stunning places, and natural wonders is more impressive in summer. There is quite a difference between summer and winter.

Driving in winter in Iceland is often very difficult and can be dangerous

Is it safe to drive the Ring Road in winter?

Icelanders that live in the south, east and the northern regions in Iceland travel those roads all year round, all the time. Most of them are quite competent as drivers on slippery and icy roads during winter as learning to drive in those conditions is part of growing up in Iceland. So in that sense, it is always possible to drive the ring road at any time of the year. But everyone who lives here also understands the importance of checking the weather and road conditions in details before driving some of the roads involved. Particularly in the months of November until the beginning of April. We also know that the days are much shorter than during summer, so the opportunity to see natural wonders and drive a specified distance is less than in summer when daylight is almost 20 hours.  So if you want to drive the Ring Road during winter you need to drive carefully and hire a 4X4 car. You also need to check the weather every day and even more than ones every day in addition to checking road conditions every day of your drive.  One of the best ways to stay safe is to use the resources on the website safetravel.is and download the safetravel.is app.  You can also check the weather here on the Icelandic Met Office website.  For information about the road condition, you can go to the website of The Icelandic Road and Costal Administration.

Winter driving the Ring Road can be quite rewarding

You should always check the weather and road conditions every day. If you are scared or intimidated by what is in front of you on a particular day, you should contact the police in any small town or village on the route and ask for advice. If you take this option of driving in winter and you get a calm weather, this could be a very rewarding drive. Cold weather often gives you a clearer sky and often spectacular sights around the glacier lagoon and a better opportunity to see the Northern Lights. A nice place for Northern Lights is Fáskrúðsfjörður in the East Region. A good place to stop for a night. And as always is the case in Iceland, good hiking shoes and very good clothing and keep some food and water in the car at all time.