We fell in love with Iceland the first time we visited the country. In the short time that we stayed, there wasn’t a day that I am not blown away by stunning landscapes. It looks like a place that isn’t from this world, but how blessed are we that it is. :)
It didn’t take a lot of convincing, we started planning our next trip in Iceland before we even get back home.
For this reason, it is no surprise that I made a point to include the Land of Fire and Ice again in our itinerary the next time we’re in Europe. Plus, we’ve been wanting to try a road trip and Iceland seems like the perfect place (and excuse to spend more) to do it.
We spent 10 days on the Ring Road – starting off from Keflavik where we picked up our rental car, making our way to Reykjavik, then driving counter-clockwise. We covered a lot of ground and I couldn’t be happier seeing all the breathtaking natural wonders I didn’t even know existed. It still feels surreal every time I remember it.
Iceland’s Route 1 or The Ring Road is a major highway that runs around the country and connects all its major cities. It’s all paved, well-maintained and generally has one lane in both directions making it an easy drive even for foreign travelers. The whole length of the Ring Road only covers 1,332 km (828 mi) and technically, you can finish the round in less than a day if you drive continuously. But I’m sure that it won’t happen because you’d probably want to pull over every few minutes to admire the island’s beauty. :)
If you plan to do something offbeat and decide to drive around Iceland, I’ve listed down my favorite places just off the Ring Road. It’s difficult to narrow down the places as there are a plethora of waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, mud flaps and other natural wonders to see. But hopefully, this will help you get started.
For this post, I’ve focused on the highlights of South and East Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon
There a lot of private and public thermal pools around the country but the most popular is the Blue Lagoon. It’s located near the airport so it’s accessible to a lot of travelers (even those who are just in long layover) who come by for a relaxing bath.
The water from the lagoon is not natural, but a waste from a nearby power plant called Svartsengi. Nothing to worry though, a new batch of the blue liquid flows into the lagoon regularly so it’s safe and filled with minerals like sulphur and silica that are good for the skin.
Bathing in thermal tubs is one of the perks of living in Iceland, so don’t come home without trying one.
Next up is the country’s capital. Reykjavik is unlike any other, it’s quiet and serene but still full of life. There are many interesting places to keep you wandering and most of them are within walking distance from each other. There are street arts, museums, churches, restaurants, cafes and beautiful sea views. Throw in some rainbows here and there and it is perfectly Reykjavik.
My favorites are the Harpa Concert Hall, Lake Tjörnin and the above view from Hallgrímskirkja church.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a popular day trip that loops from Reykjavik and back. It gives travelers a glimpse of what Iceland could offer and presents three of the country’s natural wonders: Þingvellir National Park (a beautiful park that changes color every season), Geysir Geothermal Area (a stunning all-natural geothermal show) and the massive Gullfoss Waterfall. This tour is what sold us the first time we were in Iceland. We were totally in awe, and clearly, we came back to see more!
Don’t miss out Strokkur and watch the geysir eject heated water every 5 to 8 minutes!
Kerið Crater Lake
No, it’s not enough to have a pretty lake. It must be inside a volcanic caldera surrounded by red volcanic rocks. Iceland is showing off, I know.
This crater lake is so huge, we had a hard time fitting the entire place in a camera frame (without people walking here and there). So this thing is actually so much better in real life (or if you have a drone). You can walk around the crater for different viewing perspectives. Or like us, you can opt to climb down and get near the water to observe its stunning aquamarine colour.
Driving further south, you’ll pass by this 60-meter drop waterfall that’s also a hot tourist spot. The fun part is that you can access or walk directly to the rear of the waterfall and get a magical landscape view from behind.
Not too far away from Seljalandfoss is another stunning falls. It is also 60 meters high but it’s wider and the water flows like a dancing curtain. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a hike trail on the side for an even impressive view from above. This soaring waterfall can literally make you feel like you’re just a tiny speck in this world.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
The abandoned DC plane wreckage that crashed in Iceland in November 1973 is now a perfect photo spot for visitors. The exact landing area used to be just a short drive off the ring road. But to protect the site and restrict access, a fence and a parking lot was built along the main road.
There’s something sensational in unearthing a wrecked plane all to yourself (at least in the photo, in real life, there’s a lot of other people circling around the plane), hence, travelers still walk the 4 kilometers difference between the parking lot and the actual crash site. Then another 4 kilometers of a walk back to the parking lot. Anything for the photos, right? :)
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This is a long coastline famous for its pitch-black sand, and the basalt columns and sea stacks called Reynisdrangar. The waters are not recommended for swimming or any water sports though because the waves are crazy, unpredictable and freezing. Moreover, it’s very windy so it is advisable to not get too close to the waves.
On summer season, the gorgeous views from the seaside cliffs are visible and there’s a lush bird population including the puffins.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
This wide glacier lagoon is a beautiful sight and a must when visiting the Southeast Iceland. It’s located next to Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe and have been featured in different Hollywood movies like Lara Croft, James Bond and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
The pale blue icebergs are unlike anything I’ve seen and it’s awesome to see a lot of them floating and scattered around the lagoon. I’ve heard that the ices are slowly melting due to climate change and sadly, it’s not something that can easily be prevented.
The Viking Village
Also from the Southeast, the Viking Village is something for curious travelers. It was initially built as a film set for an Icelandic movie but for reasons I’m not aware, the film shoot did not happen. However, the entire settlement was kept and remained unscathed. For a small donation, visitors can wander around the scenic location that’s as good as a real Viking’s abode.
Expect a long journey as you drive along the East to Northern Iceland. This part is scarcely populated but there are a lot of beautiful sceneries and lovely fjords along the drive.
Check out Part 2 of this post where I’d shared places from North and West Iceland.
Have you been on a road trip? Share your experience in the comments below!