You may remember a blog post I did about a brief 3 day stopover in Iceland a couple of years ago. If not you can read about it here. My husband and I fell in love with the country in those 3 days and knew we had to plan a trip back. This past summer we did return; and for 10 days. This time we drove the entire country and their famous ring road. The ring road is called route 1 and takes the explorer roughly in a circle around the entire country.
I’ll have some blog posts coming in the next couple of months about more specifics, such as killer waterfalls, otherworldly beaches, and beautiful landscapes. For now I am going to give a brief overview of what we did each day; in hopes it helps someone else planning their Icelandic adventure. Besides a daily picture, most days I included a Google Map image. To give one a sense of where we drove, what we stopped to see, and how much time we spent in the car. Just know that some places on the map, may have ended up being skipped at the end (not many, but some).
I also want to note we visited in the summer. The last week of June to the first week of July. We liked the idea of being there during the time of midnight sun and zero darkness. Most of what we wanted to see was the outdoors and natural scenery. The constant daylight never limited to a specific time of day to visit most attractions.
This could almost be considered day two, but I am going to call it day one. The reason is that we took an overnight flight landing at 6:30 am Icelandic time. I didn’t get much sleep on the plane but with the help coffee and excitement for being in Iceland again, I managed to stay up the entire day. This day was dedicated to the country’s capital, Reykjavik. A city with a small town feel but abundant in culture. We were there when they were competing in the world cup and the excitement from the locals was palpable.
Things to see: Hallgrimskirkja Church (go up the tower for amazing views such as picture below), Perlan(the ice cave tour is a must), and the Arbear Open Air Museum. We stayed at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica. Recommend Bryggjan Brugghus Bistro & Brewery for dinner.
Reyjkavik from above. Photo from Wanderer Steve.
We headed out of the city and did what is called the Golden Circle. Not to be confused with the ring road I mentioned earlier. If you follow the circle of this road, one will some of the most famous attractions of Iceland. We also combined that with a few attractions considered on the extended Golden Circle. We started on what is considered the extend part by seeing the Gjain valley and nearby Haifoss. Both are places I highly recommend, but you will need a vehicle that can do the F Roads. From there we went to see some of the more popular sites such as Geyser, Gullfoss, and Thingvellir. Some of these places we had seen the first time, so we didn’t spend as much time there this time around. If your a first time visitor, you may want to allow more time there. We did stop again at my favorite spot from the first trip, Bruarfoss. An amazingly blue and beautiful waterfall that was tucked away of the beaten path; but the place is no longer a secret. There is much more foot traffic now to this spot and several tourists. That night we drove back to Reykjavik and spent the night at the Hilton again.
*Note you will see the word foss a lot in our stops; like Gullfoss or Bruarfoss. that is simply the Iceland word for waterfall.
Gjain Valley on the extended Golden Cirle. Photo from Wanderer Steve.
Below is a snapshot of our Google Map from that day.
We headed out of Reykjavik going north west. Our first stop was to be the big, beautiful waterfall of Glymur. Sadly about halfway through the trail we saw a sign it was closed. It had been raining a lot there (a common theme this summer) and river looked unsafe to cross. We missed seeing this giant waterfall but headed on to see the beautiful waterfall of Hraunfossar. A few minor stops along the way after this, but our final goal was the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We found this beautiful property on Airbnb with amazing views of Kirkjufell Mountain. You can find it here and I highly recommend it!
Sadly that night there was extremely severe hurricane like weather; with rain and strong wind. A rare occurrence there, even for a coastal area. It limited us from exploring nearby attractions that evening. Luckily 2 weeks before our trip, I made us dinner reservations. I found a nearby restaurant with stellar reviews and booked us a table. It is called Bjargarsteinn. It was my favorite meal the entire trip! We splurged for the 5 course tasting menu and it was worth every penny. Bad weather ended up giving us a cozy romantic evening in a nice restaurant with some wonderful locals. On vacation, never let what you can't control spoil the adventure.
Photo above taken on my phone of the place we stayed in and conveys the dreary weather. However, Game of Thrones fans make recognize that mountain!
This day was dedicated to driving around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Not being a super big peninsula, we used our cottage as a base and pretty much drove a circle around the peninsula, with numerous stops. Highlights include Svortuloft Lighthouse, Londrangar, Djupalonssandur Beach, Landranger, and Raudfeldsgja Gorge. Skarðsvík Beach was one of my favorites. Peaceful and dramatic with bright yellow sand, dark black lava rocks, and blue water. The small town of Arnarstapi worth a top to see its Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss Statue, as well as walk along the coast to see the arch rock, and a natural stone bridge. I also love the idyllic small Icelandic churches that dot the countryside. We saw a beautiful black one named Budakirkja that day.
This peninsula is stunning (like most of Iceland) with natural eye candy everywhere. There were ancient lava fields with moss covered rocks, against lush green mountains. Plus my favorite; waterfalls! When we returned to our cottage (the same one as previous night), we were finally able to see some of the sites we missed the night before. Kirkjufellsfoss and Grundarfoss were both within a mile of our locations. I also want to note that this was the last night we stayed 2 nights in a row in the same location. From here on out, it was one night.
Photo of Londrangar Stone Pinnacles taken by Wanderer Steve.
We got up early this day to catch a ferry to the Westfjords. We left from the town of Stykkisholmur. We did make a quick stop at for some delicious pastries at Nesbraud Bakery before heading to the ferry dock. It didn’t take long once landed in the Westfjords and to start driving to realize we were in a pretty remote part of the country. Tall fjords and valleys that we drove up and around. Many were narrow dirt roads with no guardrails. I kept thinking at least if we fall off, the valley we die in would be beautiful. Are only major stop this day was Dynjandi waterfall. It seems silly to go this far north to see one thing, but it was worth it. Dynjandi is this tall and powerful veil like waterfall. What adds to it is the hike up to see it. There are several smaller waterfalls that are nice to see along the way. The smaller ones would be nice on their own but Dynjandi is truly a mother overlooking her children, as she is that big and impressive.
There are not a lot of places to stay in the Westfjords as its so remote and not a lot of roads. We had a long drive to our place to stay that night, Hotel Laugarholl. It was worth the drive though. The hotel was simple but with comfortable beds and clean rooms. The dinner buffet was delicious (second best meal of trip). The highlight though was the geothermal pool and hot springs. It was the perfect place to relax after a long day of travel. We also got to meet a wonderful local woman who shared with us legends, stories, and some of the history of the area.
Dynjandi waterfall, taken by me.
Our longest day of driving was ahead of us and we started it by heading out of the West Fjords. We were now driving east but along the northern part of the island. We stopped by Kolugljufur waterfall, then headed to see the famous Hvítserkur rock. It's a pretty cool rock that looks like rhinoceros that you can view from a black sand beach. Then it was on to explore the city known as the capital of the north, Akureyri. I recommend a stop by Brynja for some ice cream.
Then it was off to see the waterfalls of Godafoss and Aldeyjarfoss.Finally we ended our night by staying in the Lake Myvatn area. The Fosshotel Myvatn was our accommodations for the night. This hotel had amazing rooms, stellar service, beautiful views, and delicious food, I highly recommend spending a night or two in this place.
Hvitserkur rock taken by Wanderer Steve.
Lake Myvatn is a beautiful area with lots of places to see and trails to hike. We had said if our travels take us back to Iceland this is one area we plan to dedicate more time. We really only had this day to check out some sites a we continued heading southeast. Some places were a quick 5-10 minute stop, and some places we stayed longer to hike. The highlights included Grjótagjá Cave, Dimmuborgir, Hverir, then Leirhnjukur.
Leaving the lake area we drive 2 hours east to check out the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, Dettifoss. We spent a big chunk of time here as we explored the west side first, then drove an hour to explore the east side of the waterfall. We also made sure to check out nearby Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss.
That night we headed southeast and stayed in a cute summer cottage we found on Air BNB here. After a delicious dinner at Salt Cafe & Bistro, we took quite a hike up a mountain to see the waterfall of Hengifoss.
Grjotagja Cave, made famous by Jon and Ygritte in Game of Thrones. Photo by by Wanderer Steve.
We spent the day in Eastern Iceland heading south. A few hour drive ahead of us, we stopped at a couple of waterfalls but eventually made it to Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón lagoon. My favorite stop this entire trip, where you can see chunks of ice wash up on a black sand beach.
After we headed to Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National park, where we hiked to see Svartifoss waterfall. We then headed south, stopped to view a glacier much closer. Our ending place that night and were we stayed was in the town of Klaustur at an Iceland Air Hotel (not a bad hotel but way overpriced for what you get). After a yummy meal and the only good coffee I had the entire trip at Systrakaffi; we drove to nearby Fjaðrárgljúfur. A beautiful gorge with an easy hike, one place you don’t want to miss.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon; photo taken by Wanderer Steve.
After breakfast we headed south towards Vik, and explored southern Iceland. There are lots of wonderful gems in this area, but we had explored this region before on our brief 3 day stopover. We added a few stops, skipped a couple places we did before, and revisited some of our favorites. Stops included Dyrholaey Cliffs (where we saw puffins), Skogafoss, Kvernufoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Urridafoss.
Behind Seljalandsfoss; photo taken by Wanderer Steve
When done in that region we headed towards Keflavik with a stop at the Krysuvik Geothermal area. The evening was spent relaxing with a nice restaurant near the water of Keflavik and then in the cutest basement apartment we found on Airbnb. It was our last night in Iceland. As the next day we headed home.
That was our itinerary. I guess it was more 9 days than 10. We did enjoy a little more around the airport on our 10th day before our flight left. I admit it was a lot of driving and not much sleep. However, Iceland is filled with such wonderful eye candy, the whole experience was worth it. Yes there were places I wish we had spent more time, but overall we were thrilled with all we got to see and do. Iceland is and will probably always remain one of my favorite countries on the planet. Below is the entire map we drove.
Come back over the next few months as I discuss a few more of these places in more detail.