In May 2018, we spent nine days traveling around Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1), the major roadway that encircles the island. We also ventured up into the Westfjords where there are virtually no tourists and the landscapes are vastly more stunning and dramatic. Visiting Iceland is as close as you can get to visiting another planet. It is a geographically diverse landscape that is constantly changing. It's a land of waterfalls, glaciers, volcanos, and natural hot springs. If you visit, spend as much time here as possible because there are endless things to explore. While we discovered a lot of Iceland’s treasures it also left us with countless natural jewels left to discover.
Southern Peninsula & Southern Region
Upon landing in Keflavik and fetching our vehicle we headed South along road 425 into Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula. Our first stop was the Bridge Between Continents where you can stand in-between North American and Europe. At the southern tip of the peninsula, we stopped at the Valahnúkamöl cliffs, Reykjanes Lighthouse, and Gunna geothermal hot springs. We caught up with the Ring Road in the town of Selfoss and continued on our way to our first-day destination, Vik. We spent all of our first and part of our second day in Iceland's Southern Region. Some of the highlights along this portion of our journey included Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi, the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck, the black sand beaches and basalt columns of Reynisdrangar and the Dyrhólaey Arch.
After leaving Vik, our first stop after crossing into East Iceland was Skaftafell National Park where we hiked up to Svartifoss. Svartifoss is notable for being flanked by basalt columns. A short drive from Skaftafell is the popular but there is a similar less crowded iceberg lagoon nearby called Fjallsárlón which we highly recommend. Our third day took us from outside the town of Höfn to the town of Egilsstaðir, the heart of East Iceland. Along the way, we drove along the stunning Lækjavik coast and made a stop in the quaint town of Djúpivogur. In the evening we drove to the charming town of Seyðisfjordur for dinner then stopped at Gufufoss on the ride back. In East Iceland, there’s a lot to explore. Not mentioned but worth noting are the numerous waterfalls and natural gems you should stop and check out.
Day four we headed out from Egilsstaðir toward Mývatn in the Northeastern region of Iceland. The landscape takes a dramatic turn as it changes from steep hills and valleys to flat volcanically active terrain. This region features some of the most stunning and unique geography in Iceland. Our first stop was the trio of powerful waterfalls, Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss, and Dettifoss. Dettifoss is considered the most powerful waterfall in Europe. From there we stopped at the Námafjall Geothermal Area, also known as Hverir, there the fumaroles smolder and boil away. The sulfur gives the soil vibrant different colors (and smells). Just north from these fields is Viti Crater, one of two craters part of the Krafla volcanic caldera. The volcanic activity in this area results in numerous hot springs like the one at Grjótagjá cave. Swimming is prohibited there but you should consider spending an evening at nearby Myvatn Nature Baths as we did. Our fifth day started with two magnificent waterfalls, Góðafoss and Aldeyjarfoss before spending the early afternoon in Iceland's second biggest city, Akureyri.
Northwestern Region & the Westfjords
The second half of our fifth day we ventured up and around the fjords, through the town of Siglufjörður, stopping for the night in Hvammstangi at the base of the Westfjords. Two of the highlights around Hvammstangi are Hvitserkur, a tall basalt stack along the shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula and the quaint Geitafell Restaurant which served amazing local Icelandic cuisine.
Getting an early start the next morning we stopped in the town of Hvammstangi at a small cafe run by a mother and daughter, called Hladan Kaffihus for breakfast of quiche and coffee before stopping at the local grocery store to stock up on supplies. This was our longest day of driving because we were headed up into the most remote part of Iceland, the Westfjords. To comfortably explore the Westfjords you should allow for two full days. This is a lesson we learned by experience. There is so much to see and explore that the day got ahead of us and had to head to our guest house in Isafjordur before it got too late. The most spectacular stop that day was the Látrabjarg Cliffs. A hike up the cliffs peaks reveals some of the most dramatic sheer cliffs on Earth as well as a wide variety of seabirds. Come at the right time of year and you can get up close with Puffins though there were no Puffins when we were there.
The following day we made our way out of the Westfjords and toward the Snæfellsjökull Peninsula with a quick stop in Eiriksstadir to see the replica Viking Longhouse. We stopped to check into our guest house in Grundarfjörður before driving around Snæfellsjökull National Park and taking a tour of Vatnshellir caves, which were formed when lava flowed underground toward the ocean leaving behind this incredible cave system. We were treated to some intense weather the rest of the afternoon so while we missed out on truly exploring the Snæfellsjökull National Park as much as we had planned. That night we were really lucky to be within walking distance of the restaurant Bjargarsteinn, which we had one of our best meals in Iceland. The staff was extremely accommodating and the decor was cozy and the food was unforgettable. Oh and the restaurant sits on the water looking over Kirkjufell Mountain, not too shabby.
Our eight-day began early in the morning visit to Kirkjufell Mountain while the light and weather were favorable. After getting some shots we drove back toward Reykjavík. Just outside Reykjavík are some of Iceland's most famous and popular natural sights. These sit along the route known as the Golden Circle which unlike other parts of Iceland are crowded with tour buses and gift shops. We swung around and stopped at each iconic location, Þingvellir (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Geysir, and Gullfoss before heading to Reykjavík.
After eight days traveling around Iceland, we ended the final 24 hours of our trip shopping for records and sweaters, eating local favorites like Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, and checking out some of Reykjavík’s iconic buildings such as Hallgrimskirkja and Harpa Music Hall. We wrapped up our trip with another great dinner at Sjávargrillið and drinks the Lebowski Bar (yep, that Lebowski).
Iceland gifted us with life long memories and while we saw and did a lot we’re now highly motivated to return and continue exploring. We have many more sights and experiences we want to do. If Iceland is on your bucket list make sure to go out around the country and support the hard-working people in the small towns and villages and not just stick to the Golden Circle.