This is the story of two Canadians and our 8 day road trip through Iceland when the sun never set. I’m still day dreaming of Icelandic sheep ?. We decided to do our trip in a counter-clockwise direction, knowing that there were lots of popular sites in the South that we didn’t want to miss out on. We were super lucky and had nice weather our entire trip. Of course, it was windy (thankfully we packed Gortex jackets), but it was mostly sunny and there was very little rain.
DAY 1 – Reykjavík & Blue Lagoon
Camper and found our way immediately to the Blue Lagoon. What better way to start a vacation?! Once we were all relaxed from the warm silica and algae hot spring amid lava fields, we headed to Reykjavík, for a tour through the city. We walked along the Old Harbour, Laugavegur Road & Bankastræti Main Street. We went to the top of Hallgrímskirkja church and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. We stocked up on food at the Bonus supermarket and Frú Lauga farmers’ market. It was fun to take in the culture – the food, the fashion and the architecture. We drove out of the city and saw our first glimpse of the purple Lupine flowers, not realizing that there would be millions of opportunities to take photos of them later on. Still jet-lagged, we set up our first night of camp just outside of Þingvellir National Park, so we would be ready to tour the Golden Circle in the morning.
DAY 2 – The Golden Circle
We woke up rested after snuggling in our sleeping bags and had our first breakfast on the road. We walked through the park and got to see where the first Viking parliament took place – the Alþingi, or “all-thing”. We watched brave souls snorkel in the Silfra fissure – swimming between tectonic plates! We then stopped at Laugarvatn lake and dipped our toe in near some hot springs. Geysir was a cool experience – we got too close waiting for the water to spew and got sprayed by it! Gullfoss was our next stop with beautiful Golden Falls. We then walked around the circumference of Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. Near Hvollsvöllur, we stopped in at Eldstó Art Café to look at ceramics. My favorite waterfall was Seljalandsfoss – it was whimsical site and you get to walk behind it. This was a great site for us to have our dinner. We walked further to the right and found Gljúfrafoss, a waterfall hidden within a canyon. That night, we stayed in Seljavellir and had a great view of the mountains before bed.
DAY 3 – Driving in South Iceland
Our day started by walking between mountains to an exceptional bath in the secluded pool, Seljalandslaug, which is filled by a natural hot spring. Then, on to Skógafoss waterfall and we hiked along Fimmvörðuháls trail, past a smaller waterfall behind the first. We sat in the meadow overlooking that waterfall and it was such a peaceful and tranquil moment, sitting amongst the sheep in their pasture. Later, we went to Sólheimajökull and snapped some photos of the tip of the glacier. If we had had more time, we would have liked to walk to the plane wreckage at Sólheimasandur. We stopped the camper van to allow some sheep to cross on our way to Dyrhólaey. It is a neat place to get views of the black sand beaches. We continued on to Skaftafell (Vatnajökull) National Park and hiked up to see the unique basalt columns of Svartifoss (Black falls). Every photographer’s dream is Jökulsárlón lagoon with icebergs melting and heading out to sea. We pulled over to watch these strangely shaped blue ice sculptures. That evening, we stayed in the harbor town of Höfn and treated ourselves to langoustine pizza and pasta at Kaffi Hornið. By that point, it seemed completely normal for us to eat our dinner at 10pm and then find a scenic place to park and call it a night.
DAY 4 – On the road in East Iceland
We restocked on gas at Olís – a wonderful gas station that gives you free coffee (!) and then went for a leisurely soak and few times down the waterslide at the Höfn public pool, which is by far one of the most fastidious aquatic facilities I have ever been to. We then drove along the Lækjavík coast to Djúpivogur. This was a quirky little fishing village where we spoke with locals that were selling natural items, such as rocks that they collected and polished, as well as whale bones that washed up on shore. On the road, we got to see some seals sunning themselves on some rocks. We then drove to Lagarfljót lake, but didn’t see the Lagarfljótsormur, which is their Loch Ness monster equivalent there ;). There, we hiked a steep incline that was well worth the effort. We got to view Litanesfoss, followed by Hengifoss, which had layers of red clay between dark basalt layers. Driving in the Eastern fjords was an experience in itself. In Egilsstaðir, we picked up some chocolate licorice candy. From there, we drove up into the clouds on a curvy mountain road, past a ski resort sign, that led us to Seyðisfjörður. This picturesque town is an artsy fjord basin, with lots of do, although we arrived after a long day, so we ate dinner there, then drove back over to mountain to find a spot to sleep on the outskirts of Egilsstaðir beside a bridge, by which point the sun had dipped down a little and given everything a photogenic pink hue.
We started our day with multiple short impromptu stops, one of which was to look at the restored centuries’ old turf houses of Hjarðarhagi. Then, we made our way North over the mountain plateau. We made a much-needed pit stop at a guesthouse near Grímsstaðir for coffee and homemade rhubarb cake. We continued on to Dettifoss and walked along the edge of the waterfall while it had a rainbow. We then drove to the Krafla geothermal power station and walked through active volcanic lava fields, just like one might expect in Mordor (for Lord of the Rings fans). We viewed the eerie blue water of Víti Volcanic Crater. We ate lunch beside a random outdoor plumbed shower with constantly running warm water. In the Námafjall geothermal area, we were blown with warm sulfurous gusts from the steaming vents and mud pots of Hverir. We popped our heads into the Grjótagjá cave (where Game of Thrones filmed). Then we restocked in Reykjahlíð, the town on Mývatn lake, and made sure to include Skyr yoghurt and dried fish jerky in our supplies. Mývatn was very pretty with lots of birdlife. The highlight was hiking through the Dimmuborgir “Dark Castles” area – these unique lava fields look like faces and man made structures. We were alone on the path and when we reached the “Kirkjan” lava tube structure and felt a warm breeze, I had a strange sensation of being brought back in time, as centuries before me have gazed on that same bizarre natural monument. We finished off the day with an evening soak in the Mývatn Nature Baths. We drove north away from town to find a place to eat and sleep and we were rewarded with a rainbow coming out of a mountain as our backdrop. You can never have too many rainbows.
DAY 6 – Whale watching
We had a whale-themed morning. We pulled into the harbour of Húsavík and walked through the Whale museum. We boarded a RIB-boat whale-watching tour and were lucky enough to see cute little puffins, dolphins, humpback whales breaching, an unusual fin whale blue whale hybrid, as well as a quick peek at the elusive blue whale – the largest mammal in the world. Let’s ignore my sea-sickness. We then travelled to Goðafoss (Gods falls). You can never have too many waterfalls. We stopped in Akureyri for Icelandic hot dogs and kept driving west. We had dinner just short of Hvammstangi, the site of a Seal Center. We sped along to Borgarnes and camped near a horse farm just outside of town.
DAY 7 – Driving around Snæfellsnes
We started our last full day with a plan to drive around the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We stopped in Stykkishólmur and walked up to the lighthouse for a great lookout point. Just past Grundarfjörður, we gazed upon Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) right before fog went over its top from our vantage point of Kirkjufellsfoss. We drove through the Snæfellsjökull National Park. There, we walked up the 382 steps to the Saxhöll crater (yes, we counted). We walked along beach pebbles. We walked through a small cave in the Hellnar Arch rock formation – the home of many seagulls, and continued along the boardwalk to Arnarstapi. We relaxed at Lýsuhólslaug geothermal pool among the locals. We arrived back in Borgarnes just in time to take in the Settlement Centre exhibits. We learned about the history of Iceland’s Viking settlers and we learned that all of the areas we just visited have a lot of farm names that originated from these first people. By the lake in the dazzling sun, we dined on Icelandic lamb that we grilled on the stove and shared a little of it with a local cat. We packed up and continued around the fjord Hvalfjörður for some fantastic scenery. It was midnight when we arrived at the Glymur waterfall. Today was June 21, the Summer Solstice – what a way to end our trip. We slept in a camping area beside a small waterfall and some settlement-era ruins.
DAY 8 – Goodbye Iceland
We packed up for the last time and drove back to Reykjavík. We treated ourselves to a meal that included sandwiches with freshly baked bread from Sandholt bakery. Then back on the plane to our home, but not before we saw everyone go crazy in the airport when Iceland scored against Austria in the 2016 Euro cup. We had such a positive experience from beginning to end. The Icelanders were very chatty and friendly and willing to share their beautiful country with us. Next time, we would love to come at a different time of year, to see what the winter offers – such as a glacier hike, ice caves and the aurora borealis – who knows?