Travelling Iceland’s ring road; A week’s itinerary with tips
At the ripe age of 25, with a full background of family holidays and independent travel experiences I like to think of myself as well travelled. Previously many places in our world has left me awe-struck but Iceland has trumped them all and quite literally took my breath away on more than one occasion. After much debate and research on this bucket list destination it was clear that the best way to tackle it would be on a road trip.
Conveniently Iceland has a ring road (route 1) running for 830 miles around the perimeter of the country, making it accessible for road trippers to cover a lot of ground with many stops along the way. There is nothing better than a road trip – especially when passing surreal landscapes hosted by active volcanoes, powerful waterfalls, bubbling craters and dramatic icebergs.
Traveling around Iceland in October was perfect. After the summer tourists have passed through and just before the harsh winter conditions set in. Travelling in this shoulder season luckily allowed us good road conditions and long enough daylight hours to explore although short enough for us to potentially witness the northern lights.
I will try my best to describe the trip in words (and photos) although nothing can really prepare you for what Iceland has in store for you.
Day 1; After picking up the camper van (later named ‘Sandra’) we took to the roads for the first time and quite frankly thought it would be the last… out of the airport into (what felt like) gale force winds which could topple poor Sandra over at any moment. Luckily the wind subsided and after we shopped for our week supplies we headed towards Gindavik where we set up camp for the night ready for the Blue Lagoon in the morning.
Tip: Take lots of layers, the weather in Iceland is as changeable as the scenery
Day 2; Easing ourselves slowly into our road trip we decided to start at the number one tourist spot, the Eiffel tower is to Paris as the Blue Lagoon is to Iceland – you can’t really visit the country without going there. After our warm and slightly odd soak in the silica and sulphur rich waters we moved onto start exploring the Golden Circle. Make sure you don’t confuse the Golden Circle with the ring road. The Golden Circle is a short one-day excursion popular for tourists visiting Iceland and quite frankly a tiny taste of what Iceland has to offer. Starting out in Thingvellier national park, where Iceland’s first parliament met we explored the historical significance, moving onto its geological significance as this is where the Eurasian and North American plates meet (and are slowly parting…) The next stop on the whistle stop tour of the circle is the geothermal area of Haukadalur, where the impressive geysers explode. Stand here and wait for Strokkur, which explodes about once every ten minutes. Our final stop was the Gulfoss waterfall, getting here in the early evening meant perfect light conditions, we witnessed the dramatic scenery and one of the many spectacular foss’s to come.
Tip: Get to the Blue Lagoon early to avoid busy coach trip slots
Day 3; After the Golden Circle was when the real fun began. Day 3 started with the impressive Seljandafoss waterfall, which you can walk behind and we did. Today, was the day of the ‘foss’, next up was Skogafoss, approaching just at the right time to witness a stunning rainbow. It is worth walking up the viewing platform, but don’t stop at the top it is great to walk further along and get away from any crowds. From waterfalls to crashing waves we drove through the small town of Vik to walk along the black beaches. Camp for the night was Skafatell national park, after a walk to explore our new temporary home we watched yet another stunning night sky.
Tip: Always wear comfortable shoes, you will want to explore everywhere
Day 4; This morning started with breakfast fit for your average camper – smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. The gourmet fuel made sure we were well equipped for our morning glacier walk. We took a half-day tour with Arctic Adventures onto Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajokull. The walk was an introduction to glacier walking, it was good fun (if a little touristy) but using the crampons and ice picks left us wanting more. This afternoon was spent at Jokulasarlon glacier lagoon, one of Iceland’s most visited landmarks and rightly so. Watching the floating iceburgs in this huge lagoon was one of the most surreal experiences, transfixed by the movement and noise of the iceburgs breaking away from each other. After we managed to finally pull ourselves away, we started to make way up east coast admiring the fjords and more amazing scenery along the way.
Tip: Do not go to Iceland without a good camera
Day 5; To cover the whole distance of the ring road in 7 days, today had to be a full driving day, up the east coast weaving in and out of the fjords. Although a driving day may sound mundane on any normal ‘ring road’ – think m25 – it was anything but. Officially in the middle of nowhere, the eastern coastline is pure untamed wilderness. The “journey itself is better than the destination” definitely rings true here for Iceland. After spending 5 days in Iceland with beautiful panoramas everywhere we looked you would think you become numb the country’s beauty, but it continued to impress due the landscape changing so frequently and dramatically. The combination of black sandy coasts with rugged mountain peaks made for some fantastic viewing the whole way up. With some varied tunes and even more varied scenery it was the perfect road trip day. Add to this the discovery of Icelandic petrol station hot dogs and it was complete perfection. The only downside to exploring Iceland is you will want to stop every 5 minutes to get out and explore but doing that means you won’t get around the ring road in a week – already planning to return one day!
Tip: Safety tip, if driving and eating, use one hand for the hot dog and one for the wheel…
Day 6; Continuing the trip north, today we headed towards the Krafla Volcanic area. Without passing a person or car for miles we reached the Viti Crater, a vivid blue crater lake on the slopes of the Krafla volcano. Walking to the top of the slope, past bubbling thermal pools the views are otherworldly. After already witnessing powerful waterfalls, dramatic seas and geysers (to name a few) it was here where it rang true about what people say about Iceland, that “the earth is alive in Iceland”. Just simply stepping out of the van you realise how powerful nature can be, making you feel extremely insignificant in comparison. Nearby to Krafla is Hverir, another geothermal area with bubbling sulpher springs to explore. From dramatic scenery to lush green, we drove around Lake Myvatn taking in the sunshine and softer views compared to the morning’s martian like feels. We then drove to check out Dettifoss and also found its twin, Selfoss. These waterfalls have been compared to the scale of Niagara. Although minus the tourist offices, souvenir stalls and fences. We spent hours here marvelling at the sheer scale, the fact that there was only two other people here and getting as close as a few metres away from the fall itself. Sellfoss was our favourite, as you could literally (carefully) walk within the waterfall.
Tip: Make use of the ‘Law of survival’ – camp anywhere for one night – acceptable and legal to sleep in your car whether its private property, national park or designated rest stop
Day 7; Coming to the end of the week, we drove through Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest town, serving the north of the country. A relaxed town, backed with snow-capped mountains, complete with traffic light hearts! After our brief town stop we were back to powerful nature and stumbled upon Godafoss – just off the ring road, it was the most accessible waterfall to get and extremely impressive. After a last hot dog stop and some more photography, it was time to slowly make our way to Reykjavik, with a stop at Mount Esjan. We stopped here for a mountain hike before we explored the capital; a hike which included everything from sunshine and waterfalls to a misty and snowy haze – summing up Iceland’s scenery and weather once more. Back in the van we headed for our last stop, Rejkavik where we camped in our first campsite for the night.
Tip: Northern lights; keep committed, use a tracker, take a tripod, be patient!
All week we have tracked the aurora borealis activity. After finding a good spot and the tripod ready to go, we waited… After being promised – by the trusty tracker – good activity for the last 2 nights and seeing nothing we were over the moon tonight to see the most amazing northern lights – check out my capture album – because in this case the photos definitely do the talking. Our lucky sighting was located down a dirt track road up from Blonduos on the north west coast.
Day 8; After exploring Reykjavik’s bars and restaurants, we woke up to see the city in the daylight buzz. After treating ourselves to a breakfast out, we explored the town, compact and quaint. You can easily explore here in a day, giving you plenty of time for the rest of what Iceland has in store.
Tip: You don’t need cash in Iceland, everything can be purchased with a card
November, 2015 (Iceland)