Reykjavík is not to be missed when you go to Iceland. It's the largest city but it feels like a town. There are dozens of adorable coffee shops (Iceland has some great coffee) and scenic views all over. You can even walk up to the President’s house, take a stroll to the Lighthouse or go pick some wild blueberries.
I arrived in Reykjavík in late August and was greeted with some very cold weather. The first thing to know about the city is that if there is sun, regardless of the weather, Icelanders will be out in a t-shirt trying to soak up the rays. So join them!
Within my first few days in Reykjavík, I realized it was a walking city. My go-to spot to start the day was the waterfront path. One direction will take you to the Grotta Island and Lighthouse and the other direction will lead you to a city park.
On day two, I heard from a friend who lived in Reykjavík that there were wild blueberries all around the city. I hopped on a bike and headed to Rauðhólar. The same waterfront path is also a biking trail with many kilometers of isolated routes. You can legally bike on the highways in Iceland. I wouldn’t recommend this but it is always a good alternative if you get lost and end up in a field of wildflowers and horses with no paths in sight (this is coming from personal experience).
On day three, I was having delicious baked goods at Brikk brauð og eldhús when I met an Icelander who told me that the President’s house was within walking distance. So I booked the next day to be my adventure day to the President’s house (also known as Bessastadir House). The house is on a peninsula and you can walk (essentially) right up to the house. It’s about 20 kilometers from Reykjavík so, while I enjoyed the adventure, I was a bit misled in terms of the walking distance.
The final few days in Reykjavík consisted of bath houses (the Sundhollin Public Bath is not to be missed) and coffee shop hunting. I visited the city in the midst of the COVID pandemic which limited what I could do. But the beautiful thing about Reykjavík is the “choose your own adventure” that the city allows for. It feels like a playground, with so many places left unexplored!
Before heading out on The Ring Road trek, we stopped for a delicious ice cream in Mosfellsbær at Ísbúðin Erlu-ís Mosfellsbæ. Trust me, it’s worth it. Think infinite toppings on a creamy goodness of vanilla ice cream. The southern part of The Ring Road consists of many waterfalls. We spent some time visiting Öxarárfoss because there are many nooks and crannies that you can explore (I crossed a small bridge and stumbled upon a very old cemetery). The waterfall is part of Þingvellir National Park.
The next stop was Strokkur which is a geyser in a geothermal area near the Hvítá River. It erupts every 10 minutes or so. Keep in mind that Iceland is cold so our visits usually lasted an hour or so, but no more! We stopped for lunch in Reykholt at Friðheimar which is famous for its tomato soups and tomato drinks (the only one to concern yourself with is the Bloody Mary). We were seated inside the greenhouse where we were free to explore the area (and purchase some of the best raspberries I’ve ever had).
We were camping every night either off road (it’s legal to freely camp in Iceland, as long as you’re not on someone’s property) or at campsites with limited shower usage (especially during COVID). Because of this, we decided a stop at the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir was necessary. The Secret Lagoon is actually the oldest swimming pool in Iceland and it’s heated by the warm water coming from hot springs. You can spend many hours in this place and enjoy some drinks and changing temperatures. Some areas of the pool are very hot while others will have you shivering.
My favorite stop on the southern tour of The Ring Road was Seljalandsfoss in Þórsmerkurvegur. We arrived at the waterfall in rainy and cold weather and were the only ones there for 20 minutes. The waterfall is especially incredible because it can be fully encircled and falls 60 meters. The nature surrounding the waterfall is lush and alive.
The final two stops on the journey of the south were Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and the Fjarðarárgljúfur Viewpoint. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is a world-famous black-sand beach. While the beach may look calm and peaceful, there are signs surrounding the entrance warning of flash waves which will take unsuspecting visitors to sea within seconds so it’s important to be aware. There are many folklores about the beach. All of the ones I heard included trolls in some fashion. In addition to the mesmerizing beauty of the waves, the beach is home to thousands of nesting seabirds as well.
Fjarðarárgljúfur is a canyon that is 2 km long and is divided by the river Fjaðrá that runs through it. The canyon is supposedly 9000 years old! We did a small hike to get from the parking lot to the viewpoint and were greeted by friendly sheep. It was a particularly special adventure for us because we lost a drone and spent the next three hours trying to find it (we found it but failed at retrieving it). But as a result, we did a camper van cookout in the parking lot and were able to see the beautiful sunset.
The northern part of The Ring Road is much more widespread with longer car rides between each destination. It was still an incredible journey, just a different way to travel. We started off with a glacier tour of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The lagoon was a highlight of my entire trip. We were suited up in weather and waterproof outfits (meanwhile our captain was in a t-shirt) and took our places in a small tug boat. He zoomed us around the lagoon, showing us pieces that had broken off earlier that day or weeks ago. There were a dozen or so seals lounging on the icebergs. The water was crystal clear. It was tempting to spend the whole boat ride just looking down and seeing if you could spot other seals.
We then continued on the coast to Dettifoss (West Side) which is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The water isn’t pretty (at least it wasn’t when we were there) but what was most impressive was the sheer amount of water falling. You can actually feel the rocks vibrate if you put your hand on a rock close to the waterfall.
From there, we found secret hot springs. We had to verify that there were no earthquakes that had happened or were potentially going to happen because the hot springs require you to scale down the sides of a few large rocks onto two wooden planks. It’s quiet and peaceful. Almost too quiet and peaceful.
We ended the trip by driving 3 hours out of the way to hunt down the Northern Lights. We parked the van near Rjukandi Wasserfall and stared up in the sky for hours. It wasn’t the most vibrant showing of the Northern Lights but for a first-timer, it was pretty incredible to see the night sky dance.
A few stops here and there and a few more waterfalls led to the conclusion of the adventures around The Ring Road!