website statistics

Into the Wilderness—Cycling Iceland’s Ring Road

Traveling across Iceland’s dramatic landscape by car, bus, or camper van are all rewarding ways of soaking up the country’s immensity. But there’s another, extremely engaging way of losing yourself in the island’s magic: in the saddle of a bike. 

By Fabienne Lang
March 21, 2022

Your head is down and you are pedalling uphill against a headwind and freezing, sheeting rain. A car stops up ahead and as you get closer three elderly Icelandic women roll down their windows and fervently clap you onwards – your rapidly-waning energy receives the boost it desperately needs and you crack on with a smile. These exquisite unspoken connections between people are part of what makes cycling Iceland’s Ring Road an unforgettable experience.  

Photo: S Migaj / Pexels

The other part is the astonishing nature and topography. The scenery is stunningly varied with many marked contrasts—from peaceful rolling pastures, coastal beaches of black sands and thunderous waterfalls to the rugged desert and mountainous areas of the interior with colossal glaciers cutting right down to the sea. With the addition of lava fields, hot springs and Geysers and dancing northern lights, there is true beauty to Iceland’s wildness. 

Cycling through such rich scenery with endless daylight hours in the summer months in one of the safest countries in the world, where wild camping is legal and few animals are a real threat, guarantees a pure and unadulterated experience.  

Photo: Serey Morm / Unsplash

Naturally, such a journey requires a level of fitness, determination, a willingness to endure taxing and unreliable weather, and a time allowance of approximately two weeks. As a sparsely populated country with large stretches of distance between services and places to stay, not to mention a temperamental climate that sees rain, sun, snow, and wind appear in the space of 10 minutes, you’ll be faced with unpredictable conditions and remarkable challenges. 

But with some research and preparation, you can make your cycling trip around Iceland’s Ring Road, also known as Route 1, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure you’ll cherish forever. 



Cycling the Ring Road is the most popular route to follow as you encircle the entire island. Following this route, you gain an insight into four of Iceland’s striking regions, passing through all its major towns, cycling on paved, well-maintained roads, and seeing almost all of what the island has to offer.  

Photo: Joshua Sortino / Unsplash

Starting and ending in Reykjavik, the total length of the Ring Road spans 1,332 km. You begin by hugging the South Coast, arguably home to the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the country. It is made up of extremely varied landscapes, including the largest glaciers like Sólheimajökull, the most famous volcanoes such as Hekla, the most dramatic cliffs including Dýrhólaey, and the most enormous waterfalls like Skógafoss.  

You continue by meandering your way up to the remote Eastfjords and then cutting through Vatnajökull National Park into the geothermal wonderland that is North Iceland. Here, you can soak your weary bones in Mývatn Nature Bath’s geothermal pool with the ethereal landscape of Lake Mývatn as a backdrop.  

Photo: Kevin et Laurianne Langlais / Unsplash

You continue by pedalling past the remote western region of the island before ending back in the capital for some well-deserved R&R.  

Along your route, keep a lookout for the elusive huldufólk (human-like beings who live in a parallel world and make themselves visible at will), elves and fairies, who are an integral part of Iceland’s mythical folklore. With an estimated 62% of the nation believing in the existence of elves, Iceland is a country riddled with stories of such other-worldly creatures and beings, and when you see its natural environment, it’s easy to see why. 

Photo: Alex He / Unsplash

When discussing Iceland’s folktales about elves, water-dwellers, and trolls, the scholar B.S. Benedikz writes: "The reason is of course perfectly clear. When one's life is conditioned by a landscape dominated by rocks twisted by volcanic action, wind and water into ferocious and alarming shapes...the imagination fastens on these natural phenomena.”  

As you cycle the Ring Road, you’ll pass many of these rocks, cliffs, canyons, and crags that are said to be the homes of such mythical creatures. Not only will you lose yourself in Iceland’s mystical landscapes, you’ll also plunge deep into its long-standing folklore. 

Every corner you turn, every hill you overcome, every glinting star you see will connect you closer to nature and to yourself. Conquering such a thrilling and enriching feat in Iceland will certainly test your body and spirit but it will be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll live through.