This is my story of my solo adventure around Iceland’s ring road. I hopped on a plane, rented a four wheel drive SUV, stayed with locals and explored, explored, explored. I came home exhausted and beaten, rejuvenated and fulfilled. It was a journey like no other and I’d like to share it with you.
It began with a delayed red eye flight. My intention was to sleep my whole trip there and land feeling awake and ready for adventure. Yeah right. I dozed on and off and landed a weary traveler with a big day ahead of her. No worries though, I was in Iceland! By myself!
I grabbed a sim card for my iPhone at a store right in the airport. I highly recommend this. I bought 1 GB of data and that lasted me my whole trip. Having google maps was extremely helpful, as well as information about the places I was visiting. Reception was great through out the island. Do this.
My rental was a Suzuki Vitara 4×4 with GPS. My first stop was a grocery store. I had read so much about how expensive eating out was so I chose to grocery shop and prepare my own meals. This means eating like a traveler and letting some usual eating habits slide.
A few things I bought to eat were: eggs (to hard boil), a loaf of bread, rice cakes, peanut butter, bananas, apples, granola bars, cup o soup, trail mix, potato salad, cucumbers and tomatoes. It is actually surprising how far that will take you. I kept it all in a coolerized bag with an ice pack that I would freeze at my accommodations each night. I also splurged on some pre-made sandwiches as well. The water in Iceland is some of the cleanest in the world. Bring a stainless water container and drink the tap water. It’s almost offensive to buy bottled.
Then I was on the road, by passing Reykjavik to my first point of interest: Waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafossar. I pulled into the parking lot and tucked my little suv amongst the tour buses. I have to be honest, I didn’t really expect this. My daydream of Iceland was this raw, natural beauty. Not tour buses and fenced off viewing platforms. At the same time it’s understandable. People don’t think, and the raw, natural beauty wouldn’t last long if everyone was allowed to tromp on it.
This was when I came to realize how beautiful British Columbia is. I know! It wasn’t a thought I had expected to have on my first day in Iceland. But it was. I kept looking around thinking “I’m at home”. Now it was early and Iceland had just begun to show me herself. But I was surprised at how not surprised I was.
So on I went. I chose to take a gravel road back instead of the paved one I had driven in on. I’m in Iceland in a 4×4! Why would I want to be on the pavement? So I’m cruising along and then suddenly a sheep darts onto the road in front of me. I slam on the brakes and avoid hitting the little beast. Hitting a sheep is a real thing. I had read about it and it certainly didn’t take long for me to learn that it’s true. It wasn’t the last one to run out in front of me either. Watch out for them.
I began making my way north along the ring road. The scenery was beautiful and still quite reminiscent of home. I felt quite at ease which surprised me. I thought I would feel more anxiety being so far from home alone.
With little sleep and driving alone, exhaustion became a real issue to me. I had to consider pulling over somewhere for a nap as driving off the road asleep didn’t sound like a great way to kick off my adventure. I stopped for coffee and leg stretches along the way and finally made it to Glaumbaer, the historic turf farm.
It was my first exposure to turf homes. The museum wasn’t open while I visited but I was able to wander around. There are also two timber buildings at the site. Together they give a good idea of what homes would have been like in 18th – 19th century Iceland. What a way to live!
Down the road was my accommodation for the next two nights. It was a sheep farm that I booked through Airbnb. Upon arriving I was asked if I would like to visit the sheep barn and was given a pair of rubber boots. Off to the barn I went and met my host, Eydis. It was lambing season and I couldn’t turn around without bumping into a ewe and her lambs. While I was observing farm life on an Icelandic sheep farm, Eydis’ child came running in, bubbling away in their beautiful language to his mother. “I may have to pull one out” she tells me. So I followed her into the field and she points to the distressed ewe. Together we corralled the sheep into the barn and Eydis dives in (literally) to help the ewe out. Out came the little one and mom got busy cleaning it up. It was a pretty magical moment and quite the introduction on my first night.
Day two was all about the Icelandic horse. These beautiful little horses have fascinated me for so long. I must admit that riding one played a major part in my decision to go to Iceland. Icelandic horses have very little disease and the law prohibits any horses from being imported into the country. Any exported horses are not allowed to return as well. The breed has been pure for more than 1000 years.
I had pre booked an all day riding tour with Hestasport riding. The facility was right down the road from me. I chose this area, Skagafjordur, to go riding in as it is famous for horse breeding. There are two horses for every person in this area and I believe it! Horses were everywhere!
I would be riding two horses through out the day. My first ride would be with Moldi. He was calm and sturdy. There were two others in the group plus our guide. We rode through the country side and I tried to experience the tolt, one of the two extra gaits of an Icelandic horse. Moldi wasn’t too keen on tolting so we spent a lot of time trotting. It was still amazing and I still wanted to ride off with him to spend the rest of my days.
After lunch I was given a fresh horse. This one was called Huerva (I have no idea how to spell it but that’s what it sounded like). I was told he was the fastest horse they had. My only question was “but does he stop?” I was told he was a good boy and that I would have fun with him. And boy did I! He was very sensitive. Responding to the slightest pressure from the leg and gave me a great experience with the tolt. And they weren’t lying about his speed! He was fast and we were almost always ahead of the group. Because of the pace we were keeping we had time to explore more then the average day tours would do. The people were great and the horses even better. When we returned to the stable and had to say goodbye I felt strong tugs at my heart. It was difficult to say good bye to Huerva. He had been such a good boy to me. The Icelandic horse is the most sturdy, sure footed horse I have ever sat on and the tolt has to be the most comfortable gait. I can’t recall either horse even tripping and crossing strong current rivers didn’t even seem to phase them either. I spent 6 hours that day on horseback and felt more fulfilled then I thought possible. It was only day 2. Had I already peaked at greatness for this trip?
I spent some more time with Eydis back at the sheep farm. She was so kind and informative. She allowed me to bottle feed an orphan and give him a great snuggle. She also walked out with me to show me her rams and some of her horses. She told me I need to return in the fall for the sheep round up on horseback. I truly feel like I may have to do that! Eydis also explained that it is ok to open gates and walk through fields, so long as every gate gets closed. This was a strange concept to me but made for a much more interesting trip.
A couple from the US was staying in the bnb that night and they had heard of a natural hot spring in the area. Eydis gave them the low down on where it was and they invited me to join them. I agreed and took off with them for a soak. I think I earned it after so many hours of riding! It was a little pool right next to a river with a lovely waterfall close by. The water was hot but amazing. It was nice to sit and visit with strangers and turn them into friends.
We didn’t leave the hot spring until about 1 am. This was my first time realizing that it doesn’t actually get dark. The sun sets and dusk begins which seeps into dawn and then the sun rises. It is hard to wrap your head around and can make for deceiving evenings. I really had to watch to make sure I wasn’t going on too late. Losing time is easily done in Iceland.
I slept a lot later on day three then I had initially wanted. My plan for the day was to continue north and east. I made a stop at the waterfall Godafoss before making my way through Akureyri, Iceland’s largest city in the north, then over to the Myvatn Lake area. Again the scenery was beautiful, still quite reminiscent of home, and the sun was shining.
I traveled along the south shore of Myvatn Lake and headed to the Krafla area. Here I drove through the Krafla Geothermal Power Station and hiked my way up in the snow to the crater Viti. Being snow covered I feel like I didn’t get the full effect of the crater but the view was breath taking. I took a moment to take it in and be grateful.
Across the street from the power station is Hverir. An area of bubbling mud pools and steaming fumaroles. The colors and textures were beautiful.
Back in the car I had to come to the realization that a relaxing soak at the Myvatn Nature Baths was not going to happen that day. My drive by the lake was so pretty and I wanted to explore it a little. I decided to try to get the baths the next day and spend some time at the lake before heading north to Husavik. The water in the lake was the clearest I have ever seen. At that moment all I wanted was my canoe and a few days to float around in it. But I didn’t have that. I had a couple hours and a decent drive ahead of me. It was difficult to fight off the frustration. I forced myself to sit and breathe, appreciate where I was and what I was doing before carrying on.
The road north to Husavik was gravel for a portion of it but my little suv took it on like nothing. The sky was turning a dark grey and I anticipated some ugly weather for my night in the north. I drove into Husavik and used the gps to find my hostel. My heart sunk when I arrived. The house was empty, clearly undergoing some kind of renovation. I got onto google and found out that a hotel in the town also owned the hostel. I drove over. I was informed that the hostel was closed for renos and I would be upgraded to a hotel room. A hotel room! That meant my own bathroom and free breakfast! This was an unexpected win!
I wandered down into the town to find dinner. I decided to splurge and celebrate my good fortune at a restaurant. Husavik is an adorable little fishing town. It strongly reminded me of the small town Gibsons here in BC. I had the fish of the day and a viking beer. The sky was dark but no rain fell on me.
That night I had the longest, hottest, smelliest shower. The water is geothermal so it never gets cold and smells like a fart because of the sulfur. Don’t let this turn you off. It’s still crystal clean and very good for drinking.
I woke up to blue skies and sunshine. “How can this keep happening?” I thought. But no complaint crossed my mind. I enjoyed the complimentary breakfast and set out for my busy day.
First on the list was Tjornes peninsula. I had read that puffins nest in this area and other sea birds could be observed. When I pulled over at the stop the drive was chained off and a sign hung stating it was closed. Well I hadn’t come all this way to let a hand written sign stop me. I packed up my things and began walking out on a foot path towards the sea. I could see puffin holes everywhere and took care to make sure I wasn’t affecting anything as I went. There was a bright orange lighthouse situated near the point. I was as far north as my trip was going to take me. As far north as I had ever been on this planet. I looked around using my binoculars and tried to absorb everything around me.
I continued east and stopped at Asbyrgi canyon. It is a horse shoe shaped gorge with a rock formation in the middle called Eyjan. I spent some time at the base of the gorge, admiring it’s size, then headed back towards Eyjan. I had read there was a hike up there with a spectacular view. I had the time, if I hurried, to do it. The view did not disappoint.
The gorge is nicknamed Sleipnir’s footprint and it is said that the canyon was formed when Odin’s eight legged horse, Sleipnir, touched the ground with his hoof as they rode by. I love this story. And as corny as this may sound I truly felt close to something. The gods, mother nature, something. It’s impossible for me to explain but that was my first moment of truly feeling the power of Iceland. Literally breathtaking. It was an amazing feeling and an incredible experience.
I regrettably had to leave and continue on with my day. If I could’ve had my way I would’ve spent days there, camping and hiking. Maybe next time…
The road I had originally planned to go down would’ve taken me towards waterfall Dettifoss. Unfortunately it was closed until the end of May so I had to back track. This worked out as I wanted to stop at the Myvatn Nature Baths. I had no intention of going to The Blue Lagoon (the popular one near Reykjavik) so it was important for me to have this experience.
They were lovely. Milky blue warm water. Clear blue skies and the sun beating down on me. I pre paid for a beer when I arrived so when I felt the urge I waved over a staff member and ordered my beer. Which was then brought out to me. It was pretty great. I think I may have been the only solo person in the pool and while I did have some conversation, I found it to be a rather lonely experience. It would have been lovely to share that with someone.
Some things to know about baths in Iceland.
- You will have to shower naked with soap before putting on your swim suit and entering the pool. I didn’t find this that bothersome. Kind of comforting actually. I’d rather hang out in a bath with clean people. At Myvatn there were a couple stalls with curtains if the idea of showering in front of others is something you can not handle. But really who cares? We’re all human and no one is in that shower to look at you naked. Take it off, wash it off and put on your suit. You will not likely see any of these people again anyways. It’s not a big deal.
- When you pay your entrance fee you are given a token for a locker. Don’t panic if you lock it and have forgotten to grab/put something in it. Just unlock it and grab the token from the slot inside and use it again to lock it up. I brought my towel out with me but there is the chance of it being taken. That’s the risk you run. Also bring flip flops. And then enjoy! The view is beautiful and the warm, healing waters are lovely. I spent some time in the steam baths and recommend them as well.
Feeling like I was made of jello, I made my way to the waterfalls Dettifoss and Selfoss. Dettifoss is said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. I spotted the rainbow and followed it, hiking through the snow to the fall. It was quite impressive but being so wintery still there was no way of getting any closer then the viewing platform would allow. I found the trail leading over to Selfoss. With all the melt there was multiple falls to the side and a lot of water around.
I made my way back to the truck and began my journey to my next bnb. The road cut through snowy landscapes with mountains cutting up into the blue sky. There were moments where I thought I had left earth and arrived on another planet. It was beautiful and peaceful. I rarely saw other cars. This was the Iceland I had been dreaming of.
My next home for the night was an Airbnb just south of Egilsstadir. It was quite late when I arrived. I met another American couple who told me about a puffin sanctuary they had visited. I had to see this. It would be about an hour, each direction, out of my way on mostly gravel road but something was nudging me to go.
So I got up early and set off for Borgarfjordur. It was a cold, grey morning with a threat of snow. As I was making my way along gravel roads up, over and around mountains, through snow, I drove down into a cute little town. I followed the signs to the puffin sanctuary. There were many moments where I had questioned my decision to go out there but getting close to those little guys and being there in that moment made it all worth it. I didn’t stick around too long as it was freezing but on my way out of town I spotted the coolest house I have ever seen. A little red turf house with a matching garage and a set of antlers over the door. Alright, I thought, I’m just going to move in. Instead I took some photos and ran back to the truck to get out of there.
Back on track after my little detour, I refueled and got on the highway 92 to take me into the eastern fjords. It was beautiful driving and nice to relax a little after all my hiking the day before. I wound my way around, through little quant villages and long tunnels through mountains. I stopped in Stodarfjordur to check out Petra’s stone museum. There were so many stones!
I continued winding along the coastal road and met back up with the ring road in Breiddalsvik. This is when, visually, Iceland really started to wow me. The east is amazing and I feel like it is under rated. The ocean, the snowy mountains, the cutest little coastal villages and waterfalls galore. I made the most stops along this stretch of the island. It almost felt like the land here really had a story to tell. Like it was shamelessly baring itself. Exposing how it came to be and warning that it will not stay this way.
I made my way to Hofn, which I learned is pronounced Hup, like hiccup. I was staying in a guesthouse just outside of the town. This night I kind of shut down. I had planned to go out for a nice meal but I was mentally overloaded and physically drained so I settled in early and rested for the evening. Around 10:30 that night I went up to the kitchen for water and mindlessly shut my room door behind me. As I reached to open my door I realized I hadn’t brought the key with me! I had no way of getting in! How could I be so dumb? Thankfully the owners lived in the same house. I gave them a ring and they came to my rescue, unlocking the door. I felt so terrible bugging them so late but they took it well and told me it was ok. I suspect I am not the first to do such a thing. Lesson learned! Embarrassed, I crawled into bed and slept like the dead.
Day six. I got up early, ate a quick breakfast and headed south. I had a lot planned for this day. I began to catch glimpses of Vatnajokull glacier, one of Europe’s largest ice caps. I came to Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon where icebergs from the glacier make their way out to the ocean. I felt like breaking away from the crowd so I wandered down the beach. I started to notice splashing out in the water and then a bunch of little black heads. There were seals! Lots of them! And I think they were as curious about me as I was them. They followed me with their little eyes and swam in a little close to check me out. The bright blue icebergs and the frisky company made this stop very enjoyable. It was cold but satisfying. Again the hiking possibilities seemed endless and given more time I would have loved to go out on a glacier tour. Things to remember for next time…
I crossed the bridge to continue my way towards Skaftafell National Park. There are many water crossings in Iceland and one lane bridges are pretty much the norm. Basically the rule is who ever gets there first goes first. There are warning signs to give you a chance to scan ahead and most bridges are short enough to see to the end. The longer ones have pull outs in case you should happen upon another car. It’s something to keep in mind so there are no surprises as the road narrows and a car is coming at you down the bridge.
Skaftafell park is a pretty popular place. And for good reason. The camping and facilities looked fantastic. I started my hike up to Svartifoss, “black fall”. Surrounded by dark lava columns, it was definitely the most stunning waterfall I have ever seen. This fall was the inspiration for the famous church in Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja. Moving on I found other falls and trails to do hiking. I know I keep repeating myself but man if I had more time to explore…
I had lunch off a food truck there, lobster soup with bread, (Delicious!), and continued on my way towards Vik. I drove through the moss covered Eldhraun lava fields, where I felt certain I would spot a troll, and black sand plains. The scenery kept changing as though I was travelling through different countries or even planets. The flat topped mountains, majestic waterfalls and the cutest little farms tucked into them stole my heart. Every moment I was in Iceland I fell more and more in love. Every kilometer I drove kept surprising me with its beauty.
I arrived in Vik at a reasonable time so I checked into my hostel and headed back out again to check out waterfall Skogafoss. It is one of the tallest in Iceland and will produce a single or even a double rainbow on a sunny day. The sun had been chasing me around all week and this day was no different. I got my rainbow and hiked to the top of the fall. There appeared to be some great trails at the top but it was getting late so I headed back into Vik.
I met a couple of Canadian girls staying in the hostel and a couple of Americans as well. I joined them for a walk down to the black sand beach and a bit of a wander around the little town. It was nice to be social and they’re stories were great to hear. I was looking forward to a morning swim in Seljavallalaug pool and hoped to hit it early before anyone else so I took off to bed.
I got up, got fed and took off to the pool. I parked the truck and hiked in. It was empty! There were a couple of backpackers getting ready to leave but as far as the pool goes I had it all to myself. Seljavallalaug was built in 1923 as a place to teach Icelanders how to swim. Iceland’s first swimming pool! The common career was and is fishing and knowing how to swim is good knowledge to possess. Potentially life saving. I swam for a bit, enjoyed the solitude and acknowledged my gratitude for this magical experience.
I had one last waterfall to see before I made my way onto the popular golden circle. It was Seljalandsfoss. This fall is interesting because there is access to walk behind it. It was busy and soggy. A fun experience for sure.
A short walk nearby is Gljufrabui waterfall. I don’t think everyone knows about this gem. It is mostly hidden by a large cliff. To get up close and personal I entered through a crevice in the rock and hopped from rock to rock up the gentle river into an opening. It was nothing short of breathtaking. I managed to get the whole place to myself, again feeling aware of the power of the earth. A hike can be made to the top of the cliff to observe the fall from above but I passed. I’d seen enough. On to the next!
On my very first night in Iceland I had questioned another guest about buying a Lopapeysa, an Icelandic traditional sweater. Buying one was a must and I wasn’t leaving without one. It had to be made by an Icelander though. I didn’t want to buy something seeming traditional but really made in China. She told me of a place she stopped. It was a wool shop in a house, right next to a church in an area called Mosfell. I had made a note of this so when my journey took me there I could stop. So I did.
I spoke with the woman running the shop and she told me that everything in the store was either made by her, her sister or her mother. I was sold. I found a color I liked and am now the proud owner of my very own Lopapeysa.
Then it was onto the golden circle. I made my way to the famous geyser Strokkur, “churn”. The surrounding area was quite similar to Hverir but I must admit, watching Strokkur erupt was entertaining. I hung around for a few blasts. One particularly large one that sent people running and screaming. Then I moved on to Gulfoss, Iceland’s most popular waterfall. The multi stage plunges and the sharp turns of the river were beautiful and impressive. I’m not going to lie. I was a little waterfalled out. I snapped some photos and got out of there.
On my way to Reykjavik I toured through Thingvellir National Park. This is where the effects of the tectonic plate movements opening various cracks and fissures in the earth’s crust can be seen. It is here that Icelandic Parliament was founded. The Vikings, in AD930, held the first general assembly. The worlds first democratically elected government body. They continued to convene there until 1798.
Something to know about this park. It is pay parking. It surprised me as it was the first and only time I came across this. The washrooms also require payment to be used. This has always bothered me any time I have come across this. I understand things need to be funded but that should never cost money. Anyways, be prepared to hold it or pay.
The tops of my hiking boots had started to rub my ankles. I am not a stranger to a good mountainous hike but I am not used to doing it every day. I attempted to explore the park but was just too uncomfortable. If Reykjavik is the only place you are staying in Iceland then do this park. But I had seen a lot in my whirlwind trip around the country so I felt ok with passing up the adventure. I got in touch with my Reykjavik host and headed to the “big” city.
My apartment was great. Clean and comfortable and close to everything I needed to see. I googled where to eat and settled on Cafe Loki, across the street from the church. I ordered the “Icelandic Plate II”. Mashed fish, smoked fish, dried fish, smoked lamb and the famous fermented shark. All that with a Viking beer. It was all great. The shark not nearly as terrible as I expected. Not something I would choose to eat but not gag gross either.
I met a man from Sweden and joined him for a pint at another pub. It was fun going out in the city but expensive. Everything I’d read about the prices was true. I was splurging but I couldn’t imagine spending like that on a regular basis.
The next morning I waited outside for the tour bus to pick me up and take me the volcanic veins. I had booked a cave tour with Extreme Iceland to go explore volcanic caves. I was given a helmet and a flashlight and followed my guide down into the cave. There were definitely moments of anxiety down there. Hunching over, following a stranger into what? The belly of the beast. I got to see lava candles, and could even notice how the lava river would’ve ran down the tube. We got to a point where the ceiling really started to get low. The guide explained that rolling was easier than trying to crawl. I took a breath, laid down and rolled along under the volcanic rock. There was definitely a desire to say no, but I ignored it. Now I can say I’ve gone rolling in lava caves! On the way back to town we stopped off at a fish drying facility. It was smelly but interesting.
Before we left, our guide singled me out to tell a story. It was his grandmas story and he said he needed to tell it because I was there. I was really confused. But I grinned and stayed quiet to hear him out.
A long time ago his grandmother was in the kitchen doing dishes. His grandpa, asleep in another room. His grandma caught something out of the corner of her eye and turned to see a little elf, mischievously dancing around her sleeping husband. She yelled, to alert him of the presence of the elf but once aware she’d been spotted, the elf disappeared. His grandma told him she was a girl of about 10 years of age with red curly hair.
He looked at me and said “you are that elf, all grown up”. I was speechless. I’d love to be an Icelandic elf! Who wouldn’t want to be?! His grandma swears it is a true story and he believes her. I told him I believe him and that I liked that story very much.
Back in the city I did some wandering. A city is a city. Reykjavik is hip and fun. Street art is well done and everywhere.
I did try a hot dog. I’m not sure why Icelanders love their hot dogs so but they do, so I had one.
I drank at a pub and watched while the sky never darkened.
It’s funny how a busy city can really make you feel alone. I was ready to go home. I’d have to say the highlight would have to be the horseback riding. I absolutely loved my drive through the east and staying with Eydis on her farm was far too short. There are parts of my trip I feel content to never see again but others that I feel a need to revisit and explore further. I hope that I find myself in Iceland again. Riding horses to round up sheep, relaxing in geothermal pools, and climbing mountains. It is a beautiful, powerful, kind country that will make you feel like you’re right where you belong. The people are friendly and tough for it is not a forgiving place. I think I may have got a false sense of what Iceland truly is. I got the best of weather and really had no hiccups along the way. I can’t imagine a summer day where the sun never leaves the sky, or a winter night that will never turn light. I am impressed and intrigued with the life of an Icelander and would love to return to learn more.
Thank you Iceland for taking me in, showing me your power and spitting me out again. There were moments of magic that I have never experienced. Until next time…
If you made it through all that I am proud of you. It was the most jam packed 9 days of my life! I hope you enjoyed the story and if you have any questions feel free to get in touch! x