Living Out Dreams on Iceland's Ring Road

A road trip on one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
My dream of going to Iceland began a few year ago when I first started seeing it pop up on the internet as a traveling hot spot. The photos made it look like a surreal country full of mystique, adventure and wonder. It was a place I just had to get to and see with my owns eyes. Was the hype real? Were these pictures floating around on the internets truly telling the truth? Well, the answer to these questions is a resounding 'yes'.

I began researching a future trip to the land of Vikings, knowing that one day I'd get there. I had a huge list of potential sights to see and places to stay and just put it on the back burner waiting for the right moment. The time finally came this past summer as Iceland was the first stop on my honeymoon. It took a little bit of convincing to get my soon to be wife to agree to spending six days in Iceland. I told her she will have to trust me and that it will be worth every second. She did, and fell in love with with country just as fast as i did. We landed there just about 24 hours after tying the knot.

Around every corner of this amazing land lies a surprise waiting to take your breath away. There are some places in the world so mesmerizingly gorgeous that a camera simply can't capture it in it's fullest glory. You just have to be there and see it, and smell it and touch it for yourself. Iceland is one of those places. Everything in Iceland is like an untamed adventure. One of the most beautiful things is that it's so unguarded and wild. The national parks are seemingly without barriers and rules - especially by American standards. This lets Iceland become nature's huge playground. People are trusted to act like adults and simply enjoy the sights and experiences. Hopefully no one screws this amazing freedom to explore - walking within inches of pounding waterfalls and exploding geysers is surreal. In this post, we'll take a look at some of the highlights and a few recommendations to help plan your perfect trip to the land of the midnight sun.

Just minutes from the Keflavik airport and the village where of Monsters and Men came from
This trip took place in June, right before the summer solstice. This means it never got fully dark from the moment we landed in Reykjavik until we left. It was pretty cool driving around at midnight under the sun's light! It didn't really impact sleeping, most places had decent blackout curtains that made it feel like night time at least - that and we were usually flat out exhausted after a day of epic hiking and driving around the country.

First off, the basics - you absolutely need to rent a car in Iceland. Yes, you can get around with buses or expensive tour groups, but the best way is to go at your own pace. With so many (more like endless) things to see, being restricted to a tour's timeline means you're going to miss out on a lot. I researched for quite a while on the best car rental companies and what insurances to accept or decline and ended up going with Budget/Avis right from the KEF airport. We paid less than 40 USD a day for a Suzuki Swift. It got decent gas mileage but was not 4WD. We didn't really need 4 wheel, being that it was June and we didn't plan on going far into the interior of the country. Had we went in March, it would have been a different story. You'll also need 4WD if you plan on heading further into the interior of the country on rough and potentially dangerous F roads. (F roads basically mean you shouldn't attempt to drive on them without a 4WD, they're easily labeled and identified on maps or while out driving around.)

The First Day
After getting situated in our vehicle and stopping at a grocery store for some much needed snacks and beverages we were off. Day one involved the Golden Circle - a relatively quick drive from the capital to some of the country's most popular destinations. At Thingvellir National Park we were able to stand where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating. You can literally stand with one foot on either continent. There's also some cool Viking history and other beautiful views in the park.
Strokkur at the moment it is starting its eruption

A short drive later and we were at Geysir - the geyser for which all geysers were named. (Geysir doesn't erupt too much anymore, but Strokkur does and it's only a couple hundred feet away.) Hike up on the hill above the geysers for some beautiful vistas and a great perspective of the exploding geysers. A half hour or so later, we were at Gulfoss - a massive waterfall sending mist hundreds of feet up into the air. I just about ruined my camera running around next to the falls, but I don't regret one single second of it. The last stop of the day before checking into our guesthouse in Selfoss was to visit the Kerid Crater. It's a picturesque volcanic crater lake where you can either walk around the rim or down to the lake itself. It's a nice quick stop, but one of the only natural attractions in all of Iceland that we had to pay to get in to. We had a fantastic dinner in Selfoss before cashing in for the night. Speaking of cash, this meal for two cost us about 80 bucks!

The Lowdown on Food

While we're on the topic of eating, let's talk about how expensive it was. If you've read anything about Iceland, you've probably heard this already, but food was priced at almost ludicrous levels across the country. Everything we ate was good and seemed to be of very high quality, but you'll quickly spend (or overspend) your budget if you eat out every day. Icelandic cuisine makes eating out in London seem like a real bargain.

If you want to save money - eat at gas stations. It doesn't sound luxurious, but we survived off of some pretty good Icelandic hot dogs in gas stations all over the country. That and a bag of chips with a bottle of Orka made for a solid meal and wasn't too expensive. There are also some cheaper (by Icelandic standards) supermarkets like Bonus where you can load up on some snack food or even meals if you plan on cooking at your guesthouse or hotel.

Day 2
Day two was loaded. Our itinerary had us making stops all over south Iceland. We hiked in front, behind and above Seljalandsfoss and then got up close to the beautiful Skogafoss. Both of which are waterfalls you just can't miss.  Just down the road we stopped to make the surprisingly long trek out to the mysterious Sólheimasandur plane crash. The hike seemed like it took forever, and it passes through some of the most flat and least pretty parts of the country, but the crash itself is very cool and definitely worth exploring if you have the time. Be prepared to take 90 minutes or more for this. The plane is in a major state of disrepair and with the amount of tourists climbing through it, I can't imagine it being safe to play around in after a couple more years goes by.

After getting back to our car, about a mile away we noticed a road leading up to a glacier, so naturally that was where we went. It was a short hike but the scenery seemed like another planet. Also, because it's Iceland and they are awesome, you can hike right up to and on the glacier - exploring to your heart's content. About this point we were getting very hungry, but still had a lot to see! We headed towards Vik and took a side road up to Dyrholaey which is an incredible rock arch in the sea. From the viewpoint, you are far above the massive expanse of Iceland's black sand beach and have some truly jaw dropping views. The drive up was intense. The road was narrow, full of ruts and on the side of a cliff. Meeting another car going the opposite direction was just another thrill to add to an already awesome day.

Reynisdrangar beach
After stopping for a quick hot dog in Vik, we headed to Reynisdrangar, a black sand beach famous for its basalt columns stacked up on top of each other right along the ocean. I've wanted to see these columns for years, and getting up close to them - even climbing up them was a moment I'll never forget. After the beach, it was about 10pm and we were still enjoying bright daylight, however, we had a guesthouse to get to near Hofn (about two hours away) and had to hit the road. The views along the way were mesmerizing, even with our time pinch we had to stop numerous times for pictures of roadside waterfalls, glaciers or mountains.

Day 3
After resting up, it was time to hit the road once more and explore the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Words don't really do this lagoon justice, nor pictures for that matter. The lagoon itself was beautiful, but following the huge icebergs down to the ocean where many crash-land on the beach was a sight to behold. There's not many places in the world where you can take in a view quite like that.

Trekking around the glacial lagoon
Next on the agenda, and we had to backtrack down the ring road a little for this, was to hike through Skaftafell National Park. Even in June, some of the trails were still closed. However, we took a great hike to see Svartifoss and then into the highlands for a mesmerizing lookout over the glacier. We then drove through the east fjords, came a little closer than we would have liked to running out of gas and finally stayed at a little farmhouse in what truly felt like the middle of nowhere.

Part of Selfoss
Day 4
The following morning, after breakfast, we headed back to the Ring Road and visited Dettifoss, Selfoss and Asbyrgi Canyon. We had to go off roading to get to some of these places - 30 miles of blasting through gravel roads in Iceland is intense! Our little Suzuki was more than up for the challenge though. Also, somehow or another - no matter how far away from civilization that we got in Iceland, I still had cell phone service. Having access to my phone's GPS on this trip was such a huge blessing and made everything infinitely easier. I highly recommend either picking up a sim card there, or bringing a phone on Google's Project Fi like I did (no extra charge for international data). We spent the latter part of the day exploring the Krefla Lava Fields and the geothermal area of Namafjall near Lake Myvatn - both of which were like being on another planet and not to be missed. We ended the day at our AirBnB, got to tour their farm and rested up for day five's adventures.
Near the Krefla Lava Fields. Like another beautiful planet.
The area around Lake Myvatn is overloaded with things to see and do. There's something worth stopping for every few tenths of a mile which makes for a fantastic day of exploring. I don't have the time or space to explain everything in detail in this post - but I'd absolutely recommend seeing these four sights:

  • Hike the extinct volcano Vindbelgjarfjall for unreal views over the lake and surrounding area
  • Take a stroll through Dimmuborgir National Park, famous for its strange lava formations
  • Hike up to the rim of the Hverfell Volcano Crater
  • Visit Godafoss

We were able to accomplish all of these and then some, all the while still having time to get to Akureyri, check in to our AirBnB, get dinner and hop on our whale watching tour. We followed a humpback whale around the fjord for 90 minutes, it was pretty amazing.

One of the majestic Icelandic horses

Sixth and Final Day
Before either of us knew it, our sixth and last day in Iceland had arrived. We had only a few things left on the itinerary and I still had to cross off eating Hakarl from my Icelandic bucket list. We loaded up with some some snacks and hit the road, heading south down the ring road back towards the capital. We decided on making the day's main activity hiking at Glymur (I would have liked to also spend time on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, but time did not allow for it). The hike meandered through caves, across a river and up steep slopes before arriving at a picturesque 600 foot waterfall dropping into a canyon so gorgeous you'd think it wasn't even real. This was one of the best hikes I've ever done anywhere, rivaling Angel's Landing in Utah as a personal favorite.

A word of advice for all soon to be Iceland travelers - don't stop in the middle of the road to take pictures. I saw a handful of tourists put their flashers on and leave their vehicle smack in the middle of the lane to run off and take a picture somewhere. It's just foolish. People are distracted enough looking for herds of reindeer or checking out huge glaciers in the distance that needing to avoid stopped cars on a small road is just unnecessary. It's dangerous for everyone and I can only imagine that the locals hate it! The road engineers of the ring road planned ahead and put in more than ample spots to safely pull off for pictures or a quick break from the road.

Worth every single penny
We packed 7 or 8 days (or more) worth of stuff into our six day adventure around Iceland. It was fantastic and every type of superlative I could think of. As much as we were able to see, there is still so much more that I'd love to go back for like the Ice Caves or the famous Laugavegur Trek. Visiting Iceland was a dream come true, and living that dream for 6 straight days in the midnight sun is a trip I strongly encourage everyone to take. Now, after everything has settled in, I might dare to say that Iceland was my favorite country visited to date.

If you have any questions about planning a trip to Iceland, please let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to help out!

To see more photos from Iceland or my other adventures around the world, check out my photography page at

View from the summit of  Vindbelgjarfjall
Skaftafell National Park

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