Drawing up itineraries is never fun. But you may need a rough one for Iceland considering how many incredible experiences this little country has to offer. The worst thing you can probably do is park yourself in Reykjavik and only take day trips from there. Ditch that plan and opt to explore the entire Ring Road. You will end up meeting a lot more people and will find so many hidden gems sans the throngs of camera-happy tourists. Here are some of the highlights you can expect along the way.
The Golden Circle
We reckon there isn’t a person in the world who goes to Iceland and misses the three or four high points of the Golden Circle. This looping route takes you past Thingvellir National Park; the marvelous geysers: Geysir and Strokkur; and Gullfoss – a waterfall that was encompassed by multiple rainbows when we saw it.
Thingvellir is quite special because it is home to the largest natural lake, where you’ll find the Silfra fissure, which you can actually dive into and snorkel through. But make sure you book in advance.
Seljalandsfoss & Skogafoss
More waterfalls but such exceptionally beautiful ones. Seljalandsfoss actually has a walking path that takes you to a cave behind the waterfall. And Skogafoss has a hill beside it, which you can hike up to take in the views from every angle.
The Plane Wreck
Nobody tells you how far you have to walk to get to this plane wreck. So we will. You have to walk for what feels like an eternity to get to this place, guys. And while they say, follow the waypoints, there aren’t any! So just do yourself a favour and follow the other tourists. While the walk is supremely boring as you stare out at a rather barren landscape that stretches on endlessly, once you get to the beach, it’s all quite surreal. The plane wreck itself is pretty eerie and against this barren landscape even more so. Would I do it again? Probably not. But I do strongly recommend it if you’re keen on some great photographs or if you have any interest in aviation at all.
The Black Sand Beach, Vik
Reminiscent of a scene straight out of Game of Thrones, the Black Sand Beach is a pebbled beach with a backdrop of these enormous and incredible basalt columns, which occur when lava dries up into these cool hexagonal patterns. The beach is just a few miles from Vik: a gorgeous little seaside town that we stopped at for a bite. We wish we could have stayed the night here but the few accommodation options they had were sold out by the time we got down to booking. They say that this area is also famous for puffins. While we were eager to see them, we spotted just one during our entire trip.
Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell National Park is a popular camping spot because you have a lot of walking trails in this park that take you past different kinds of terrain. Some even take you right to the glacier. Here, you can also book glacier walks, snowmobiling tours and ice cave tours (although the ice caves are only doable in winter).
Jokulsarlon or Ice Lagoon
Now is when things start to get a little chilly because you’re going to be driving alongside Vatnajokull, the biggest glacier in Iceland. At one end of the glacier, lies the famous Ice Lagoon or Jokulsarlon, a lagoon dotted with enormous floating icebergs making their way from the glacier to the sea. These gorgeous blue and white bergs are simply spectacular and while we’re not ace photographers, we can say with certainty that pictures absolutely don’t do them justice.
You can book a zodiac or a regular boat tour around the lagoon and get up close to the icebergs. We even spotted a seal in the lagoon and couldn’t help but wonder if there were sharks lurking around too.
The Eastern Fjords
As you snake your way around the majestic fjords in the Southeast part of the country, you cross a bunch of beautiful fishing villages and towns. We spent the night at Breiddalsvik, a quaint seaside town that was incredibly charming. The locals here were also exceptionally friendly though then when your entire town’s population barely touches 200, I presume you’d want to talk to whoever is willing to listen.
Lake Myvatn & Hverir
This was undoubtedly the highpoint of our trip. The drive from the southeast coast all the way up north to this point is stunning. The landscape changes dramatically every 30 minutes or so. Consequently, we found ourselves stopping constantly to just savour it all.
Eggilstadir, one of the larger cities in the east, is en route and while it comes across as any other town, it happened to be buzzing because it was a weekend and the sun was out in full glory.
There’s also a slightly long diversion on this route that takes you to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. But we skipped it and went straight to Hverir.
This was another sensational drive, considering that you are driving past snow-capped peaks one minute and geysers the very next. The terrain goes from icy white and blue to warm browns and terracotta in a matter of minutes. The colours are simply superlative and although we had seen the rather volatile Strokkur geyser in the south, the ones here were simply breathtaking.
Myvatn Nature Bath
A few minutes from the geysirs lies the Myvatn Nature Bath, which we couldn’t possibly recommend enough. We heard that the more famous, Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik was far too commercial and overpriced. But we had no such complaints when it came to Myvatn. The changing facilities are extremely well organized, you get lockers for your clothes and other possessions and you can rent towels. The water itself goes from tepid to boiling depending on which spot you choose to park yourself in. And since it’s a natural thermal pool, you’ll find bits of jagged rock under your feet occasionally.
The capital of the north as it is often referred to, Akureyri is a lively seaside town dotted with cafes and restaurants. If you are interested in whale watching, you can book a tour from here. This region is known for its horse riding. Icelandic horses are gorgeous, mild tempered animals and although they look smaller than the horses you may have seen elsewhere, don’t make the mistake of calling them ponies.
Most travellers tend to skip the western fjords and peninsula and do only three-quarters of the ring road, after which they make their way back straight to Reykjavik. While we didn’t have time for the former, we did manage to spend a day discovering the Snaefellsnes peninsula, which was pretty magical. Rich in folklore and stories of elves and trolls, every cave, canyon and rock formation in the area has a legendary tale behind it. At the far end of the peninsula lies the magnificent Snaefellsjoekull, that played a significant role in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The highpoint for us, however was an 8000 year old, freezing cold lava cave that we descended into. And, well, the outstanding cake and hot chocolate spiked with Brennivin at a café at the very tip of the peninsula. But we’ll leave the details of those decadent adventures for another post.