Route 1, Hringvegur, Iceland
When we think of ring roads, the mundane dredge and gridlock of London’s M25, Germany’s A10 Berliner Ring or Los Angeles’ Interstate 405 springs to mind. So, a ring road named as a nation’s most congested could purport to be the worst driving road ever.
Iceland’s Hringvegur, though, is a different animal. While Icelandic congestion accounts for little more than seeing another car on the same stretch of tarmac, Route 1 offers one thing many other roads cannot – huge diversity.
As the name suggests, Route 1 is the country’s most important road. With Iceland’s central regions largely uninhabitable due to mountains, glaciers and volcanic activity, by area it is the most sparsely populated nation in Europe.
With the majority of its inhabitants living in coastal towns, the ring road is the only way of connecting the population. The scenery can change quickly; picturesque glacial plains give way to beaches, fjords, rivers and hot springs, while distant mountains, lakes and glaciers sneak up fast.
Here you’ll also find many of Iceland’s famed tourist attractions, such as the 63-metre Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the Hallormasstadur Forest, and the Jökulsárlón – a lagoon at the foot of a glacier where hundreds of icebergs break off and float out to sea.
Don’t deviate from the main road too much though, particularly in the highlands where you’re legally obliged to have a four-wheel-drive car… and we don’t mean a Carrera 4.
Variety also comes in the ever-changing road conditions and you’ll need a veritable Swiss Army Knife of driving skills to negotiate Route 1 at the best of times.
Even though the majority is paved with asphalt, there are a few stretches with gravel. For the most part, the road is a single two-lane carriageway made up of the ‘new’ 1970s stretches and linked with original 1940s roads known for their sweeping curves, blind summits, sudden bends and precarious single lane bridges.
The weather can also change in a heartbeat; a sunny stretch can be consumed by snow within minutes, and in winter you’ll need studded tyres and nerves of steel. It’s not the easiest road, but it offers a unique and breathtaking experience.
Take a drive at night and you may catch the eerie light show of the Aurora Borealis – and if there’s one thing worth pulling over your 911 for, it has to be the Northern Lights.