Iceland began to pop up in our “to-do” list after we saw the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We were mesmerized by the beauty of the scenery in the movie. After a little bit of research we discovered all that Iceland had to offer and were hooked. We wanted to do it all! It seemed that our best option was to simply rent a car and take on the two thousand kilometer journey around Iceland by traveling its famous Ring Road.
We tackled the ring road in a total of 7 days. What an awesome experience. I can’t imagine any other way of seeing this incredible country. We loved the fact that we were able to travel pretty much at our own pace. Unlike the various tour busses we saw, it was us two who decided how much time we wanted to spend at any given place. And trust me… its hard to leave any one of the dozens of magnificent sites we encountered while there!
So here goes our best shot at summarizing our road trip and itinerary around the ring road. I’ll give a day by day summary followed by a bit more detail of the place we liked most!
Day 1: Getting our feet wet…
We arrived at the Keflavík International Airport very early in the morning on a direct five and a half hour flight from New York’s JFK Airport and proceeded to pick up our 4X4 rental. From there we drove to the Þingvellir National Park where we walked from the North American continent to Europe in less than 5 minutes! We then witnessed a mighty geyser explode at the site that gave geysers their name. We continued on to the incredible waterfall of Gullfoss; the first of many waterfalls we will encounter in our road trip. To end the day, we took on a 6 kilometer hike over phenomenal views to relax by submerging in the hot springs @ Hveragerði. Slept in a great AirBnb at Sellfoss.
Highlight: Hveradalir Hot Springs
We arrived in this area at the end of our 1st day with the clear intent of indulging in some good R&R after a intense start to our road trip. The hot springs are awesome, but the hike up to the streams is equally worth the time. Yes, the trail is a bit long (about 3 kilometers one way) and up the side of the mountain, yet the views along this trek are breathtaking! Hiking next to the mountains seeing rivers, waterfalls and the geothermal activity coming off the sides of the hills make for a very interesting experience. Once at the hot stream you change into your swim suit behind some small walls that offer minimum privacy. While it was the end of July, I would estimate that the temperature was in the single digits celsius (say in the mid 40ºF). The contrast in the air temperature and that of the spring was simply sublime.
I would classify this spring as one of Iceland’s less known gems. We purposely chose this hot spring over the Blue Lagoon precisely for this reason. We wanted something more natural and less crowded. We were not disappointed! We arrived there close to 6:00 PM and found that while there were still a decent amount of people there I would not describe it as crowded. If you are traveling in the summer and have the blessing of practically 24 hrs of daylight, I guess arriving there a little bit latter in “evening” is worth it.
Day 2: Water and ice…
After a very interesting conversation regarding Iceland and a great breakfast (including homemade marmalade and honey harvested in their backyard) with our AirBnb host we were off to our second day in Iceland. We started by visiting what is probably one of Iceland’s best known waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss where we got drenched! We then hiked up the impressive Skógafoss falls canyon. A bit after noon, we found ourselves awestruck by the fantastic black, white and blue hues of the Sólheimajökull glacier. Ended the day walking hand in hand on the black sands of the beach at Vik. Slept at some really nice cottages in Kirkjubæjarklaustur were we were able to witness the midnight sun try to set (it failed).
Highlight: Our first glacier: Sólheimajökull
Of the three glaciers we visited while in Iceland, this was the one we were able to get the closest to. Literally right next to it! It was also our first. The dramatic effect of seeing millions of tons of ice crevassing down a mountain is indescribable. While we were there we saw various groups on tours to climb up the glacier. If that is your intent, you will need to sign up with one of these tour operators as climbing on the glacier can be dangerous. It might of have been that it was a bit latter in the day when we arrived, but it was also not as crowded as I would of have expected it to be. There is a small cafe at the beginning of the trail that has a restroom, but be aware that it closes by the late afternoon.
Day 3: Scenes you would expect to see only in movies…
You know those breath taking pictures that pop up in Pinterest or Instagram? Well, that is exactly how we started our day. We trekked one of Iceland’s most beautiful canyons: Fjaðrárgljúfur. This time we visited 2 glaciers! Skaftafellsjökull and the surrounding area is impressive… but the treat was the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier that slowly breaks away at the Jökulsárlón lagoon. First time on an amphibian vehicle to enter the lagoon. Ended the day with a stroll across the quaint town of Seydisfjordur before calling it a night. Wait… there was no night!
Highlight: Has to be the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
I would probably have to rate this place as one of the most awe inspiring sites we visited while on our trip. The site is breathtaking! I have often been disappointed by sites that on the pictures you grab of the internet look incredible only to deceive once you are there. This is definitely not the case with Fjaðrárgljúfur! It took us a while to get to the end of the trail simply because we were too busy shooting one pic after another! I would rate this place as a “must do” when visiting Iceland. Highly recommended!
Day 4: Hike, hike, hike!
This day can be described by one word: hiking! After a short two and a half hour drive from Seydisfjordur we arrived at one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls: the mighty Dettifoss and its sister a few yards away Solfoss. Along the way on Route 1 you will see what can only be described as a Martian like landscape. We then did an interesting expedition through the thermal fields at Hverarond. After a quick lunch, we set off to hike the rim of the Hverfjall crater. We drove along the banks of Lake Mývatn and took some nice pics at the Goðafoss waterfall before arriving at Iceland’s second largest city: Akureyri.
Highlight: Hiking the rim of the Hverfjall Crater
I must say we truly enjoyed this hike. We walked up the side of the volcano from the main parking lot. That is probably the only part of the hike that I would classify as “steep” although not really difficult at all. You just need to take it easy on this initial stretch. Once at the top the views are spectacular. We really enjoyed the quite time and just fun of walking hand in hand the little more than 3 kms around the rim of the volcano. Well worth it. Overall, you should consider setting aside about 2:30 hrs at the site.
Day 5: A happy misfortune
On this day we had planned taking a boat to the remote island of Grímsey which is the only part of Iceland that actually lies within the Arctic Circle. We had heard that the puffin colony there was spectacular. Unfortunately, due to bad weather our trip got cancelled. Plan B: After some very quick research, we discovered a great cove with a colony of puffins at the Voladalstorfa lighthouse. On our way back to Akureyri, we found a small village of elves at the Laufás Museum and ended the day with an incredible whale watching expedition in the bay around Akureyri! Slept again in Akureyri.
Highlight: Observing Iceland’s wildlife at its greatest
We had the incredible opportunity of seeing two of Icelands greatest treats when it comes to wildlife: puffins and whales! Puffins can be elusive little critters. There are a few pockets around the island where they come in the thousands every year to mate. One of these places lies just north of the whaling town of Húsavík off a peninsula that houses a lighthouse named Voladalstorfa. I have to warn that taking pictures of these birds is not an easy task. You must be very quite and have a long telephoto lens to achieve the task. This site was awesome. It was just the two of us and literally hundreds of these interesting looking birds! Latter that day we took an exhilarating speed boat tour to see various arctic whales. You have to be quick to respond with your camera as the whales are up only for a few seconds between every time they submerge to feed!
Day 6: Final day of fun
The drive between Akureyri and Reykjavik does offer some interesting sites along the way. Our first stop was the Hvitserkur rock formation where we submerged our feet in the frigid waters around the black beach that houses it. From there we drove to Hraunfossar where we saw what appeared to be hundreds of small waterfalls appear from nowhere! After a bit more than 2,000 kilometers we finally reached our final destination along route 1: Reykjavik. It was a bitter sweet feeling. We ended our journey by enjoying some great food, shopping and nightlife at Reykjavik before heading off to the airport the following day.
Highlight: Mission completed!
Really enjoyed the Hvitserkur formation and dipping our feet into the frigid arctic ocean, but the highlight of this day was simply the feeling of having accomplished driving the entire length of the Ring Road. In total I drove a little over 2,000 kms on this fabulous journey. If you really want to experience everything this beautiful country has to offer, nothing like grabbing a car and experiencing it yourself!
Some final pics! A snapshot of the route we followed along the ring road as well as a picture alongside it!