iceland’s ring road

12 days / iceland / ring road / reykjavik

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In May 2015, Joe and I spent 12 days exploring Iceland’s Ring Road.

Iceland has gotten some serious hype these last few years, thanks to a big push by Iceland’s tourism industry and the free Icelandair stopover. But based on the images of Icelandic landscapes and waterfalls flooding my Instagram feed, the effort appears to be paying off. And we — like the many, many other tourists who have visited this strange land — think Iceland is just magical.

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We had a red-eye flight that arrived in Reykjavik at six in the morning on May 21. There are a handful of must-see natural wonders within a short drive from Reykjavik, but these sites tend to be more touristy than the rest of Iceland. Knowing we were tackling the entire Ring Road — the 830 mile loop that encircles Iceland — we wanted to hit this area pretty quickly. After picking up our rental car, we swung through the Golden Circle, visiting the geyser of all geysers and the iconic Gulfoss waterfall.

Our first two night were spent at the Hrifunes Guesthouse, an adorable inn in Southern Iceland. We shared home cooked meals at the guesthouse with a slew of other tourists — mostly American — also staying there.

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Hrifunes was a great jumping off spot to some incredible places in Southern Iceland. We visited the airplane wreckage on Sólheimasandur. We wandered through the cemetery overlooking the town of Vik, and took photos of the basalt columns and caves on Vik’s black sand beaches. We swam in the murky green, hot spring-fed waters of the Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool, supposedly the oldest pool still standing in Iceland.

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We hiked behind Skogafoss and found some of the most incredible landscapes — not a soul in sight. We visited the Skogar Folk Museum and met a friendly Icelander, who emailed us a curated list of his favorite hidden spots for our time spent on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula at the end of the trip. Southern Iceland didn’t disappoint.

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After exploring the south for a few days, we headed northeast.

You quickly learn when driving on Route 1 that waterfalls are truly everywhere. Joe and I had a game where we would shout ‘FOSS!’ – the Icelandic word for waterfall — every time we spotted one appearing in the distance.

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We visited Jokulsarlon, a beautiful blue glacial lagoon right off Route 1. Then traveled the steep, cliffside roads winding through the East Fjords for hours, and at one point drove over a pure-white mountaintop that I swear was plucked out of the North Pole.

We landed in Seydisfjordur, quite possibly my favorite town in Iceland, and checked into Hotel Aldan for the night. We had a delicious and romantic dinner at the hotel restaurant.

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After breakfast, we took a walk through Seydisfjordur and departed for Akuryeri. Somewhere between Seydisfjordur and the fuming geothermal fields of Hverir, Joe gave me the biggest surprise of my life when he asked me to marry him in the middle of the Ring Road (just a minute or so after the photo above was taken).

In the post-proposal blur, we hopped back in the car and headed to Hverir, where we were surrounded by bubbling and smoking geothermal mud pools. The site was a bit much for me to handle at that moment, and I opted to sit in the car to look at the new addition to my finger and try to comprehend what just happened.

After driving some more, I convinced Joe to break the rules (law?) and swim in the almost-too-hot hot spring caves of Grjotagja (do it if you get the chance). And we picked up a souvenir at the Goðafoss waterfall before heading up to in Akuryeri, the second largest ‘city’ in Iceland.

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Our next three nights were spent at a lovely Airbnb home, where we had a hot tub overlooking the town. Joe still talks about the takeout we got from the Indian Curry Hut in Akuryeri.

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Akuryeri was the perfect homebase for a whale-watching tour in Húsavik. We got up close and personal with two humpback whales and saw swarms of quirky puffins diving in and out of the ocean.

We spent another afternoon soaking in the geothermal pools at the Myvatn Nature Baths, the less-crowded, little sister of the Blue Lagoon.

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After our time in Akuryeri, we headed toward the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, where we stayed at a cozy Airbnb in the town of Stykkishólmur for two nights. We had drinks at a lively little restaurant called Sjávarpakkhúsið. Afterwards, we walked up to the lighthouse overlooking town, and sat admiring the colorful houses and breathtaking views of the Western Fjords. Since the sun doesn’t set in the summertime, we had hours of what photographers call the ‘golden hour’ late into the night.

We spent one day driving the full loop around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The peninsula hosts a huge glacier called Snæfellsjökull, which you can see from many parts of the road and apparently can even drive on — though we didn’t attempt any shenanigans like this due to our questionable rental insurance coverage.

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There is so much to see while exploring this peninsula. We watched seals splash around near Ytri Tunga. We filled our water bottles with magical water from a fountain on a farm called Ölkelda, (word on the street is that this water healed Vikings for hundreds of years). We visited the pebble-stone beach of Djúpalón, and filled our pockets with pebbles that hold glacier-fueled positive energy. We bird-watched on the cliffs of a cute fishing village called Grundarfjörður.

We stopped by Hotel Budir — the one place in Iceland I have insisted we visit again at some point in our lives. This is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen, next to the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen (side note: we seriously considered eloping here). If you visit, make sure to pop into the witch’s workshop next to the hotel.

Joe and I agreed our very favorite part of our trip to Iceland was visiting a natural hot spring in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Reykjavik. Our friend at the Skogar Museum gave us step-by-step directions (e.g. Go through a pasture, down 3 kilometres of dirt roads, through a gate, another few kilometres of dirt roads, turn at the wooden post…) to this secret pool — we had it all to ourselves, so we cracked open some beers and took it all in.

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In Reykjavik, we checked into a flat for our last two nights in Iceland. We had some excellent meals — particularly enjoying Glo, which had some of the freshest food we found in Iceland, Ramen Momo, and C is for Cookie. We watched a school performance in the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall, took an elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja for views of the colorful roofs covering the city, and browsed the many handmade sweaters in the Reykjavik flea market.

Our final morning in Iceland was spent pretending to be locals at a public swimming pool. Iceland is known for its incredibly clean and beautiful geothermally-heated public pools, and you really can’t go to Iceland without visiting at least one of them.

Oh, Iceland. You’ll have a little piece of my heart forever.

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