An Icelandic road trip is something that I recommend everyone does at least once in their life. Who wouldn’t welcome a drive along one of the most scenic highways in the world? The majority of Iceland’s residents call Reykjavik their home. Although it is the country’s largest city, I never once felt that I was being swallowed up by some kind of urban hell. It was a wonderfully managed area and everyone was very nice. There was no shortage of things to do and places to visit, and if I had more time in country I would have loved to spend another day or two just exploring the city itself. Lots of restaurants with almost any kind of food you can imagine and plenty of places to grab a beer as well!
Reynisfjara is a black sand beach that is famous for “sneaker waves” and the large, haunting stone pillars several hundred yards out to sea. There is also a beach cave carved into the beautiful basalt columns that line the cliffs of the beach but you will have to get there early or during bad weather to avoid crowds. Unfortunately, social media has given this place a lot of attention and because of that, it is usually full before the sun even rises. As I had mentioned before, “sneaker waves” or rogue waves that quickly rush up the shoreline tend to catch people off guard and soak their belongings, sometimes even washing them out into the ocean.
Another social media spot, the US Navy transport airplane made a crash landing here in the 70’s and the fuselage is still there to this day. The crew made it home alive, but the plane was left there to its fate. Over time, people have vandalized the wreckage but its beauty remains. The hike itself is about 2 miles each way over relatively even terrain, but if you get caught in a storm it would be easy to get disorientated and lose your way. Make sure to have a compass with you so that you can find your way back to the highway.
Seljandfoss/The Cave Waterfall
Before arriving at Skogafoss, you can make a left turn to see its smaller cousin, Seljandafoss as well as Gljúfrabúi, a beautiful waterfall located in a cavern that you have to walk in the flowing and freezing water to see. One of the shortest but most rewarding hikes I had done while in country! Inside the cavern sits a large boulder and just beyond it is a beautiful waterfall flowing in from about 100 feet above. Make sure you cover your camera in a rain sleeve if you are going to take a photo! You will be soaked in just a few seconds from all the water vapor.
Skogafoss/Overcrowding & LNT
One of the most popular spots in the country, this waterfall is not only insanely beautiful but also insanely crowded. Unfortunately, some countries produce higher quality citizens than others and because of that, people choose to litter and act in a destructive manner even in the presence of such natural beauty. Do your best to not fall into that crowd and please leave no trace.
The Glacier/The Drive Out
As you head east on Route 1, you’ll drive through a barren frozen desert before you make it to Vatnajokull glacier and it is a site to behold! I had been on the road for about 5 hours at that point and most of the drive was greyed out from snowstorms. As I approached the area, there was a break in the clouds and I found myself surrounded by nothing but flat, white ground and tall mountains in the distance. It was breathtaking. The road itself was still lightly dusted from the falling snow and it felt like I was driving in a cloud. There are many amazing views along the highway, but this one stuck with me the hardest.
A gorgeous, mossy green canyon that has been filmed in many movies such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Its way prettier in person! Please be sure to stay on the marked path and not wander near the canyon itself. The grass is fragile here and years of tourists stomping it down has created lots of social paths that the locals are doing their best to restore. Not only is walking onto the grass against the rules but it is also dangerous! Many a tourist have fallen to their untimely death here trying to take a selfie on the edge of the canyon. Don’t be that idiot.
Hunting for the Northern Lights/Resources
During my planning process, I utilized several publicly available websites that forecast the aurora’s activity. If you familiarize yourself with these resources, you can predict several months in advance if there will be any activity when you make your journey to the island. I was able to predict— within a day or two—a period of high activity and I was able to make some great photographs because of it. I had no experience with this kind of thing beforehand, so if I can do it, so can you! Check out this site to get started.
In my opinion, this is one of the most photogenic places on the planet. Not only is the location perfect for various sunrise and sunset angles, it is also a great place to view the northern lights which happen to generally light up perfectly with the mountains south east facing orientation. The weather constantly changes so you may see rain, sun, snow, fog and aurora all in the same day. Worth camping out at! You’ll pay a 20 dollar fee at the entrance to the dirt road and then you can camp overnight. This is a must see on your Icelandic Road Trip. Don’t forget to check out the viking village as well, a lot of ancient history resides there!
A bit out of the way if you consider all of my other spots are in the southern portion of the island– Kirkjufell is set along the northwestern coast near a fishing village called Grundarfjordur. The distinct wizard hat shape of the mountain has made it world-famous and has earned it appearances in many scenes on screen. The waterfall in the foreground makes it an ideal place to take landscape photos, but beware of the large crowds as with most of the other well-known places on the island.