DAY 1 - SKÓGAFOSS
We spent the first part of our initial day in Iceland driving back to the airport to collect our luggage that had been lost by the airline on our layover. Not the greatest start to a trip but hey, what can you do. After many hours of driving we then reached our first stop, the popular Skógafoss on the south coast. As expected, it was quite busy (and I'm not too fond of seeing busloads of tourist on my trips) but we didn't care; we were finally in Iceland and in some typical moody Icelandic weather, we went exploring. It didn't take long before the rain came and we decided to keep going on our way towards our AirBnb, which was still quite far up the road. Along the way, we quickly drove up to Dyrhólæy but you could barely see a few meters because of the fog. No big deal, we were always going to come back here when we made our way back west later on in the week. For now, we were looking forward to a good night's sleep.
DAY 2 - JÖKULSÁRLON
On this second day, we continued driving eastward from our AirBnb, which itself was about an hour east of Vik. The advantage of being from Europe when travelling to Iceland is that you wake up nice and early because of the two hour time difference. The weather wasn’t looking very promising, but we still made our way out to the easternmost point of our trip, Stokksnes. This was quite a long drive, but there are plenty of road-side attractions along the way and the road itself leads through some incredible landscapes.
The first stop on our way east was at Svínafellsjökull, a glacier you can access with a short F-road (which had an insane amount of potholes at the time we were there). Shortly upon arriving there, we got very lucky in that there was a break in the very low hanging clouds and we even got a little sun. This was a very welcome change as we had been driving through the fog for a few days, hardly seeing any of the surrounding landscape. As we had gotten up early, we basically had the place to ourselves and were just leaving as the masses started to pour in.
After walking around the glacier, we kept driving east with our eyes set on Stokksnes. This was one of the stops I had been looking forward to the most, but unfortunately the low hanging fog made it impossible to see the Vestrahorn that made this place famous. Instead, we just took a stroll on the black sand beach in the very wet and freezing conditions.
Slightly disappointed but still excited about what the rest of the day had to offer, we jumped back in the car and headed back the way we came, since we were staying in the same place as the night before. On the way back, we stopped at Jökulsárlon, where the sun came out a little just as we were arriving, blessing us with some beautiful light. The glacier lagoon itself is of course a stunning place and if you walk a few minutes over the hills away from the parking lot, you can even avoid the masses of tourist that will inevitably be here. It wasn’t long, however, until it started raining again and we headed back towards our AirBnb for some much needed rest after a day full of exploring.
DAY 3 - DYRHÓLÆY
Day 3 involved a lot less long distance driving and definitely a couple of the highlights of the trip. As I mentioned above, getting up early was super easy for us and we made good use of this by arriving at the Fjaðrárglúfur canyon in beautiful morning light with hardly any other tourists around. This is definitely one of the cooler spots on the south coast and we were lucky we got to see it like this. We were also elated to actually get to see some of Iceland’s landscape instead of having to imagine it behind a wall of fog.
From there, we drove up to Dyrhólæy, where we had (unsuccessfully) been on day 1. However, the light was very harsh and anything but good for taking photos. So, after we had enjoyed the view for a bit, we made the short drive over to Sólheimajökull to go on a little hike around the large glacier lake there. It was great to just walk around there, take in the views and relax a bit by the glacier, all while the weather was holding up. This relaxation then continued a little further west, where there’s a nice hot spring hidden in a valley, which can only reached by foot. After a nice swim in the semi-natural pool, we ironically got drenched by a rain shower on our way back to the car.
In the evening, we then made our return to Dyrhólæy after having eaten dinner in Vik. What followed was one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. After a clear golden beginning, it seemed like the sun would just disappear behind a layer of clouds that was on the horizon. This luckily wasn’t the case and it created an incredible sunset with the red and orange light being reflected by the clouds as well. But only the light, but the location was perfect as well of course, with a 360° view of the ocean, beach, cliffs and mountains. While this description and the images might suggest a very quiet and calming atmosphere, the reality was quite different as wicked winds were constantly blasting up the side of the massive cliff we were standing on. It was a challenge to stand upright in the wind and whenever I lifted my camera to take a photo, the big lens got caught in the airflow and it smashed my camera into my face. This however did not take away from the experience at all and in the contrary actually enhanced it. It felt so much more real, much more like you’re actually part of the landscape you’re looking at. It was truly an unforgettable evening.
DAY 4 - ÞÓRSMÖRK
The third day was always going to be hard to top, but we were about to embark on a very different part of our trip that would come with its own unique and amazing experiences. This fourth day lead us into the highlands and away from the touristy south coast. Starting the day in our cozy Airbnb surrounded by its own little forest (a rarity in Iceland), we set out to Þórsmörk, the Valley of Thor. Our goal was to hike to the top of Valahnukur, a mountain which sits in the middle of this amazing landscape. We would, however, have to overcome quite a few challenges on our way there.
As the F-road into this valley leads through what is essentially a glacial riverbed, it is neither paved nor very smooth. It is pothole galore with the added pleasure of a lot of big exposed rocks, making for a very rough ride. The highland busses running through here daily are apparently a major contributor to this issue. Our little Dacia Duster rental was dwarfed by the 4x4s with balloon tires that made up the major share of the traffic here. It certainly felt like we were out of place, but we we’re the only ambitious tourists and soon joined a little queue of cars like ours that slowly made their way into Thor’s Valley.
Being situated between the glaciers of Eyjafjallajökull and Tindfjallajökull, there is an increased amount of runoff being transported down into the valley during late summer and especially in September, meaning that each and every creek crossing was a little adventure in its own right. Eventually, we parked up by the side of one river which definitely exceeded the capabilities of our car as even some of the bigger 4x4s struggled with the crossing and it left us with no choice but to turn around and head back. And this is when we got incredibly lucky. As we were pessimisticly staring into the river that seemed to have ruined our plans, the highland bus that only goes through here once or twice a day pulled up beside us and after a short conversation with the driver it became clear that he was headed to the same place! Together with the rest of the people that had all been driving in our little convoy, we quickly grabbed everything we needed from the car and got on the bus, which ended up carrying us safely across multiple raging rivers to the Volcano Huts that mark the beginning of the Valahnukur trail.
We couldn’t believe our luck and made the best of the 4 hours we had been given here until the last bus would be taking off in the other direction. The hike itself is rather short and easy and so we had plenty of time on the summit to enjoy the stunning 360°-view. I was a little disappointed as we had to leave long before the light was going to turn softer on this very bright and sunny day, but in the end, you really can’t complain when you’re in a place like this. The adventure itself had become much more important than the photos.
After we were safely deposited back at our car, it was time to head back out of Þórsmörk. As we were now familiar with the crossings and the road, it was much easier, and time flew by as we quickly made progress towards the paved roads near the coast. On the very bottom end of the valley, you pass by Seljalandsfoss, a very popular waterfall along the ring road. The mass tourism we encountered here stood in crass contrast to the openness and freedom we had experienced during that day and after just a few minutes and a quick few photos, we couldn’t wait to get out of there again. We returned to our cute little cabin in the woods and I started making plans for the next day, which would bring us to place that resembles the moon more than anything.
DAY 5 - LANDMANNALAUGAR
After our first highland exploration the day before, we decided to test our luck again and take the 30km long F-road leading into the heart of Landmannalaugar deep within the highlands. According to my research, this route would mean no river crossings until the very end, where you could just park up and take a foot bridge however. This would turn out to be true, making this drive much more relaxing than the previous day’s one despite its longer distance.
Along the way, we stopped to hike up what seemed nothing more than a hill on the northern end of Bláhylur, which you might recognize from places like Instagram. It’s a beautiful turquoise lake in the midst of the moon-like landscape. Now, as it turns out, it is quite difficult to judge height correctly when it comes to these hills covered in black volcanic rock and sliding half a step backwards every time you made one forwards certainly didn’t help either and it became quite a mission to reach the little ridgeline awaiting us at the top. In one of the photos below, you can see some cars parked near the lake to get an idea of the massive scale of this place. The steep scramble was worth it though and I took some of my favorite photos of the whole trip from up there.
We then proceeded to follow the road deeper into Landmannalaugar and eventually reached our destination, where we hiked up to Bláhnjúkur, the blue mountain. The rock it’s made of does indeed have certain shades of blue to it, which stick out like a sore thumb in comparison to the yellows, oranges and reds that dominate the color palette of this landscape. This time, the hike was a little less intense and the views all around were as much breathtaking as they were unusual. It felt like we had hopped from the Moon to Mars and were exploring yet another place which just doesn’t seem to belong on earth. The weather was always threatening with a little rain, but apart from a few drops, it held up pretty well and we were able to wander around the lava field after descending from the summit and experience the awful smell of the steam exiting the ground all around us.
It had been an amazing and diverse day and we had very much enjoyed our time in the highlands. I knew now that if (or rather when) I would return to Iceland, I would definitely focus on this area and steer clear of the beautiful, but horrendously overrun south coast.
DAY 6 - HAGAVATN
The last few days had all been pretty non-stop and so we decided to let things calm down a little as we got closer to the end of our trip. After a short visit to the geysers in the morning, we parked up by a river in the middle of nowhere and just sat in the sun for a few hours to relax. In the afternoon, we went on yet another adventure including a F-road. This time, however, it wasn’t leading into a major valley but rather to an unknown combination of glaciers, lakes and waterfalls. I had only ever seen a couple photos of this place, but I liked what I saw and thus we were now on our way to see something we really didn’t know much about.
The road wasn’t very smooth and made quite the journey out of the theoretically short distance through the rocky desert. As soon as we were somewhat close to our goal, we parked the car on the side of the road and walked the last few kilometers on foot. It was once again a very unique landscape that was different from anything we had seen previously on this trip and combined with the setting sun, it made for a really quite peaceful atmosphere. This was also helped by the fact that we only had to share this place with a couple other people, which was a welcome change. The sunset lasted well into our drive back through what had now become a sea of red rocks and ended just before we made it to the Gullfoss waterfall. It was still a beautiful sight though and the moody conditions added to it if anything.
Fast forward a few hours and we’re sitting in our Airbnb out in the countryside getting ready to go to bed for our final night in Iceland when, finally, the aurora erupts in the sky and on our last chance, we had gotten lucky enough to see the northern light. They definitely weren’t the biggest and didn’t last very long but it was still a magical moment I’ll never forget.
DAY 7 - GULLFOSS
On the morning of our last day, we returned to Gullfoss to experience the waterfall during daylight since it was rather close to our Airbnb. Our host had very kindly told us about the location of some small hot springs in the local area and we very gratefully set out to go and look for them. Their location between the grassy hills isn’t too easy to find, but the water has the perfect temperature and we could’ve spent all day there.
We eventually had to leave and start making our way towards the airport. Along the way, we stopped at Kerid, which has a cool backstory but is honestly visually a little underwhelming after the kind of week we had. We didn’t complain though and just enjoyed a stroll around the crater. We made it to Reykjavik in time for dinner and had some extra time to walk around the city a little and soak up a very different kind of Iceland.
In the end, we left happy and full of new impressions and memories we’d keep close to our hearts for a long time. Travelling around Iceland had been a dream of ours for a while and doing it was everything we’d hoped for and more.
If you really want to get a feel for what travelling around Iceland is like, you can watch this short cinematic film I made about our trip. It captures the unique and diverse atmosphere many of these places have to offer and is my attempt to bring Iceland a little closer to you, wherever that might be.
If you like this kind of thing, you can check out more travel and cinematic films on my videography page.