Ever since we spent our winter honeymoon in Iceland, we have wanted to return in the summer to see the “greener” version of the country. Iceland was a beautiful, romantic, snowy, destination for us with the beautiful Christmas decor. BUT, the weather made it a challenge, so we were excited to go back for a summertime visit and to drive Ring Road. If you’re not familiar with Ring Road, or Route 1, it circles the entire country, stretching 850 miles. Most of the population (95%) of Iceland lives in close proximity to the coastline, and Route 1. The popular tourist destinations are along the southern coast.
We chose Iceland for a few reasons. Mostly because we had been wanting to get back! Plus, Covid regulations were making it difficult to go anyone else. Living in the UK, we are under travel restrictions. Iceland is on the “green list”, meaning we would only need to take a Covid test before entering the UK, and one test upon arrival. We would not need to quarantine for 10 days as we would with the “amber list countries” (which include the United States, and everywhere else in Europe. Traveling to an “amber list country” would have cost us over $1,000 in covid tests, which is absolutely insane for two vaccinated travelers who have always worn masks and complied with social distancing. To have to sit in our home and not even leave for a walk, for TEN full days, seems a bit ridiculous. Learning Iceland was on the green list was the motivation we needed to plan our trip! Additionally, Iceland is allowing fully vaccinated tourists to enter Iceland without a lengthy quarantine. We only needed to take a free test at the airport upon arrival, and quarantine in our hotel until we got the results. We received our results in about 5 hours. My Mother In Law, was also able to join us, as she is fully vaccinated. She was unable to visit us in the UK (coming from the US) without a lengthy quarantine, so it made the most sense to explore Iceland together.
Day 1: Arrival and Quarantine
We flew from Heathrow to Keflavik Airport (about 45 minutes from Downtown Reykjavik) on IcelandAir. It was our first time on that airline, and it was enjoyable. The customs process was easy, and after getting our luggage and buying Icelandic chocolate in the duty free store, we got our covid test. You have to show the passenger entry form (must be filled out online prior to entering Iceland) and your vaccination card. Then you are given a covid test for free, and your results are texted to you later. Once you receive your results, you can leave quarantine. Most people get their results in 5-6 hours, but sometimes it takes 24 hours. The three of us all received our results in 5 hours. We picked up our rental car (taxis in Iceland are VERY expensive. It’s probably because fuel costs almost $10 a gallon) and headed to Nupan Deluxe in Keflavik, to quarantine. The hotel was perfect for our needs, clean, and had decent blackout curtains. Since we went in mid June, we had an average of 21 hours of daylight! We went for a walk around Keflavik (allowed during quarantine) and got a food truck dinner. It was an easy evening, given the travel that day and required quarantine. We hadn’t seen my MIL in almost 2 years, so we didn’t mind a chill evening of wine and card games in the hotel.
Day 2: Keflavik to Vik
We hit the ground running a little after 8am and went for 12 hours! Since we had done the Golden Circle tour on our honeymoon, we planned to skip it. However, we made good time (AKA didn’t stay as long at other attractions because it was raining) so we were able to add a few stops in that we hadn’t planned on. Our first stop was close to Keflavik, the Bridge Between Continents. The Bridge Between Continents is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, near Sandavik (about an hour from Reykjavik). It is a footbridge that goes over a rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. You can walk “between” the continents, or at least the tectonic plates. The area around it is lava fields and sand; it’s nothing spectacular, but it does make for a fun photo stop.
Our next stop along the coast was the Brimketill Lava Pools. As you most likely know, Iceland is nicknamed the land of “Fire and Ice”, and is known for it’s volcanoes. So much of the land is covered in old, hardened lava, at times with moss growing on it. The island has been shaped by the volcanic eruptions. The lava pool is a natural pool that is carved from erosion on the shoreline. The cliffs and coastline are dramatic and beautiful at this spot as well. It was raining sideways, and super windy, so we didn’t stay long. I bet it’s incredible on a sunny day!
Our third stop for the day brought us closer to the Golden Circle. After about 1.5 hours of driving, we arrived at Kerid Crater. It is a volcanic crater lake, along the Golden Circle. The colors, even on a rainy and cloudy day, were insanely gorgeous. The site has a parking lot with information boards about how the crater formed. There is an entrance fee of 400 ISK, which is not much. Once there, you can walk along the top of the crater to a point. You can also take stairs down to walk around the lake at the bottom. This was another stop where weather shortened our time.
One of the highlight’s of the day, was our stop for lunch! We visited this spot on our Golden Circle Tour on our last trip to Iceland and loved it, so we were thrilled to get a booking again. Fridheimar is a greenhouse and restaurant, that specializes in tomato soup. It is the BEST tomato soup you will eat in your life, and you’re surrounded by the view of tomatoes growing on the vine. You get to eat right inside the greenhouse, amongst the crops. Put simply, it’s a heavenly experience, and I’m still dreaming of that tomato soup daily! This is a MUST DO on your Golden Circle or Ring Road trip. It is a treat for the senses, and it’s always nice to warm up indoors after being in the cold.
After we warmed up from lunch, we set out in the rain again. The problem with traveling on Ring Road is you must visit the attractions when you’re there – no chickening out because of weather, or going back the next day. You could be 100 miles away the next day, heading in the opposite direction. I wish we had more time to spend; I knew 6 days would be cutting it close, but I also talked to a friend who lived in Iceland previously and she said we’d be fine. Our first stop after lunch was the Geysir. The word “geysir” actually comes from this location in Iceland. If you wait around 10 minutes, you are treated to a spectacular display in this geothermal area. The geysir goes off regularly. We would’ve stayed longer if it weren’t freezing and raining so hard. There is a large parking area with restrooms as well.
A short drive down the road from the geysir, is the famous Gullfoss Waterfall. This area also has a large parking area, complete with restrooms and a gift shop. It’s actually quite a large shop, and if you can’t find a souvenir there, you probably won’t find one anywhere. Parking is free, and you can access the falls 24 hours a day. The falls are quite impressive, with enough water to fill a 50 meter Olympic pool every second! The name Gullfoss translates to Gold Falls; it was named this because of the golden hue of the falls. Gull = gold and foss = waterfall. You’ll see the word “foss” a lot in Iceland! Interestingly enough, despite the name, I saw a green hue to the falls. It was pouring rain, hailing, and windy when we went, so we didn’t stay long. I would’ve liked to explore more around the area, maybe next time.
After warming in up to the gift shop, we head to the car to dry out before our next stop. (Did I mention bring real waterproof clothes? I left my frogtogs in the closet, did me no good on this trip, The top half of my body was dry at least). While our lunch stop, geysir, and Gullfoss were all close, our next stop (Seljlandsfoss) was 90 minutes down the road. The drive in Iceland is never boring. The constant change of scenery from lava fields to greenery to mountains is incredible. Views out the window kept us entertained the entire trip. Seljalandsfoss is easy to find, right off Route 1. There is a large parking lot, and you pay at the machine. The sight also has toilets and a small shop. You can see the beauty of the waterfall from the parking lot, but of course you should walk closer. One of the best things about Seljalandsfoss is you can walk BEHIND the falls for a unique perspective; you’ll get a little wet from the mist so bring your waterproof jacket! We were able to do the easy walk behind the falls, something that we couldn’t do when we visited in the winter because it was too icy. The falls are incredibly beautiful, and we loved seeing it during a “greener” season.
After numerous photos at Seljalandsfoss, we followed the signs to Gljufrabui, less than a mile walk from the Seljalandsfoss area. This was one of our favorite attractions and it was completely mesmerizing! Gljufrabui (no clue how to say that, not even gonna try) is a waterfall inside a cave. The cave is easy to get in, though you will be walking through very shallow water so waterproof boots are a plus. If your shoes aren’t waterproof, there are many rocks and stones you can hop to. Once inside the cave, there is dirt stand on. You a greeted to a gorgeous view of water rushing through the cave. This is something you MUST see when visiting Southern Iceland, and it’s not as advertised as the other waterfalls. Definitely plan on a visit here. Pictures do not do it justice!
Our last waterfall of the day was a bit further down the road. Skogafoss is a well known waterfall in Southern Iceland. Skogafoss is one of the larger waterfalls in Iceland and it used to be the cliffs at the coast, before the coastline receded. Skogafoss is easy to find and there is a large parking lot. There are stairs that go to the top, and lead to hiking trails. We were tired from a long day in the rain, so we just viewed the waterfall from below. If we had an extra day in Southern Iceland, I would’ve liked to hike above the waterfalls. If your schedule permits, spend more than 2 days in Southern Iceland.
Our last stop for the night was an attempt to see puffins at Dyrholaey Cliffs. However, when we arrived, the road was gated off. They close the cliffs at 7pm in June so the puffins can nest safely. I was disappointed we didn’t get to this area earlier because not only did I want to see the puffins, but the cliffs and shoreline are gorgeous! Definitely keep this in mind if you visit during breeding season. We made a quick stop at Reynisfjara Beach to see the basalt cliffs before heading back to our hotel for the night. The beach and surrounding cliffs are beautiful, but it was poor timing again – we were there at high tide, and unable to walk along the beach to see all the cliffs. The parts we saw were beautiful. Our hotel for the night was the Farmhouse Lodge outside of Vik. It had a beautiful view, and modern room and bathroom. Our room was private with our own bathroom, but in Iceland and parts of Europe, it can be common for hotels to have “shared bathrooms” in the hallways, so you have to pay close attention to the room you are booking. The area upstairs has a lounge and kitchen where we were able to microwave some food and eat at the tables. Having access to a kitchen is a huge benefit; Iceland is very expensive, possible the MOST expensive country we’ve visited when it comes to food, so we didn’t plan to eat out every night. We ended the evening with a bottle of wine, and a card game.
Day 3: Vik to Hofn
We opened our blackout curtains to a view of rain that morning. We later learned Southern Iceland gets an average of 300 days of rain a year. Dressed in our waterproof/water resistant clothes, we made some hot tea and oatmeal in the kitchen (huge plus!) before setting out for our day. Bringing a box of Quaker Oats packets (along with peanut butter, beef jerky, chicken packets, and other snacks) ended up being worth it as many grocery stores outside of Reykjavik had limited hours, often closing before we made it to town for the night. If space in your luggage allows, bring some food.
Our first stop of the day, was a one hour horseback riding tour on the beach in Vik. We booked our tour through Vik Horse Adventures, and they were great! They had no control over the fact that it rained the entire time, but we still had a blast, and the horses are so cute! Icelandic horses are smaller than most horses, and they have an extra “gait” that most horses do not have. The horses were friendly (and hungry – mine tried to eat the entire time) and you get to take them on a run. The tour takes you down to the beach, which is scenic with the cliffs. I highly recommend this tour, and hope you get better weather than we did!
I would’ve like to walk around Vik an explore, but the rain was coming down pretty hard and it was freezing. Instead, I opted for a warm car with seat warmers and a towel to dry off. Our next stop was about an hour drive from Vik. Fjadragljfur Canyon was supposedly made famous by Justin Beiber. Honestly, I saw it on instagram, thought it was stunning, and realized it was right off of Ring Road. To get to the canyon you drive down a gravel road with a steep hill to the parking lot. It looks a little sketchy, but we managed just fine with our VW Polo. There is a path that takes you to multiple canyon overlooks, and each one is more amazing than the last. We spent about an hour here, because we could not stop taking pictures. I wish I could’ve flown the drone here, but it was raining so I didn’t want to chance it.
You can’t visit Iceland without seeing a glacier! In fact, 11% of the country is covered in glacial ice. The largest of these is Vatnajokull (jokull meaning glacier) in southern Iceland. It covers 8% of Iceland, and is the 2nd largest glacier in Europe. We visited Svinafellsjokull Glacier Tongue, which is part of Vatnajokull. Getting there is fairly easy as it’s off Ring Road. There is a parking lot right at the glacier tongue, but the gravel road that leads to the lot was closed due to falling rock. We walked from smaller lot by the main road, and it was about a 40 minute walk each way. If you’re crunched for time, you could skip this. However, it is pretty incredible to see the massive glacier and climb around on the rocks to explore.
The next is probably the best stop in Southern Iceland – Jokullsarlon, or the Glacier Lagoon. We went on a long day trip for our honeymoon (it’s 5 hours from Reykjavik) and knew we had to come back in summer. The lagoon is free, and there is a large parking lot as well. You are greeted with beautiful, blue water, with icebergs of varying sizes dotting the lagoon. The icebergs break off from the Vatnajokull Glacier (specifically from the Briedamerkurjokull Glacier finger) and eventually make their way to the sea after they melt to a smaller size. Experts predict the glacier will continue recede and in 20 years there will not be a glacier lagoon because the glacier will be too far back in mountains. While you’re there, it is worth taking the boat tour of the lagoon if you have time. We did the Amphibian Boat Tour which was 45 minutes and cost 5,900 ISK (about $47) and it was amazing. You get really close to some of the larger icebergs, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see an iceberg break apart and split in two. You also get to try some of the ice! The lagoon is magical, and needs to be on your list of things to do in Iceland.
Across the street from the glacier lagoon is Diamond Beach. After the icebergs break apart and melt down, they flow under the bridge and end up on the beach. The icebergs end up in the ocean, but then get washed back ashore, so they are scattered on the beach like diamonds. I just about to take the drone out to fly over all of them (it’s permitted on the beach but not in the lagoon) and it started to rain. I’m hesitant to fly it in the rain because water isn’t great for electronic things, and I’m still brand new to this whole drone thing. (Turns out, when you live right next to an Air Force Base, you can’t even fly it in your house for practice because it’s “restricted”. I tried anyhow, figuring a drone in my living room will not impact the flight path of an Osprey, but it’s set to autoland if you try and take off in a restricted zone). Anyhow, there are two “sides” to Diamond Beach, the shores on each side of the bridge, check them both out if you have time! After Diamond Beach we continued on to our hotel outside of Hofn. We covered a lot of ground this day, and as I said earlier, I wish we had an extra day in Southern Iceland.
We planned to stay near Hofn because I read there are good restaurants in the area, and I wanted to try local langoustine. Given that Iceland is expensive, and also remote, I planned ahead of time what nights we’d be going out to dinner and what nights we’d cook in the hotel. It worked out perfectly, because our hotel didn’t have a kitchen or microwave. We stayed at the Seljavellir Guesthouse, and I would recomend it. The rooms were new and modern, and had beautiful mountain views. It’s also about a 5 minute drive into Hofn where there are some restaurants, shops, and gas stations. After checking in, we headed to Hofn for dinner at Pakkhus. I highly recommend this restaurant; our meal was outstanding and the service was great. I had the grilled langoustine, my husband had the langoustines in cream sauce, and my mother-in-law had the lamb. All three dishes were delicious! This restaurant is a nice splurge if you’re driving Ring Road.
Day 4: Driving the Eastern Fjords to Lake Myvatn
This was probably our longest day, and most people break this trip into 2 days or stay in Eglistaddir instead of Myvatn. We were tired after this day, but the long day was worth it fit in everything we wanted to see. First of all, driving the fjords is simply incredible! You are treated to so many mountain views along the water; the pictures do not do it justice. If you’re prone to car sickness, you’ll want a motion sickness pill for this day. I take Bonine, and it works perfectly and doesn’t make me drowsy. In addition to mountains and fjords, we saw tons of sheep, Icelandic horses, and several groups of reindeer! This was the only part of Iceland where we saw reindeer. At one point, your GPS will tell you to leave the fjords and go straight on Rte 1. You do not want to do this; it’s a gravel hill with steep uphills, and the road quality is poor. Instead, do as we did, and continue driving along the fjords. It’s about 40 minutes longer, but the views are incredible and the roads are better.
After a couple hours of driving, we stopped for an hour in the town of Seydisfjordur. Seydisfjordur is not on the Ring Road and it is a little out of your way (27 km off Ring Road), but it’s worth it. The views going over the mountain to get to the village are stunning, and it was completely snow covered at the top. The way down the mountain into town is beautiful, with waterfalls to stop at. The town is charming and quaint, with artistic flair, but the drive into town is just as worth your time, The population of the town is around 700, but it’s known as one of Iceland’s most picturesque towns. The iconic shot of the rainbow path leading to a blue church has been circulating around social media in the last few years. Interesting fact – Seydisfjordur was a base for American and British forces during WWII with a landing strip still nearby. Now it is known for fishing and tourism. A ferry from mainland Europe also pulls in each week. We grabbed some coffee and hot chocolate and wandered the town, marveling at the bright colored homes. It was definitely the most photogenic town we visited!
After leaving Seydisfjordur, we set out for a relatively new tourist site, Studlagil Canyon. This is another “iconic Instagram” shot that has been on social media recently. The canyon has basalt rock columns with blue green water rushing through. The canyon was filled with water until they re-routed water from the hydro plant; once the water level decreased, people noticed the beautiful canyon. To get to the canyon, you have to hike in. There is a parking lot and you cross over the bridge and follow the trail. It’s about a 2.5-3 mile walk each way, and there’s a waterfall at the halfway point. There is also parking at the waterfall, but the gravel road to get there says private property, so who knows. It was worth the views! We spent about 3 hours at the canyon, including the hike in and out. There is a viewpoint with parking on the other side of the river, however, you are just looking down from a platform and the view isn’t as good. If you hike in to the canyon, you can actually climb down into the canyon for a closer look and different perspective. After the canyon, we drove to our hotel in Lake Myvatn. We stayed at Elda Apartments; it came with a continental breakfast, and we had a kitchen to make meals. The only complaint was the rooms were super hot, and there wasn’t a way to turn the radiator down. This hotel had us perfectly situated to explore the Myvatn geothermal area the next day.
Day 5: Lake Myvatn to Akureyri
The area around Lake Myvatn has a ton of great places to explore. This is another spot that I wish we had two days. Our day started with a nice continental breakfast in the hotel of fruit, toast, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, and coffee. It was a nice break from oatmeal packets. Our first stop of the day was driving up to Krafla Crater. I didn’t realize how high in altitude it was, and the weather quickly changed to snow and hail. The winding road up to the crater was getting slick in the snow, so we took a quick photo and decided to leave in case it got worse. Luckily it was no big deal, and as we descended we saw the lava fields from the car. We headed for a quick stop to “Blue Lake” next, which is not something you can swim in. Being a geothermal area, it smelled like rotten eggs.
Our next stop was a place I wish we had allotted more time for, the Hverfjall Volcano Crater. The site has parking, and it looks like they are in the process of building a small visitor’s center. It’s free to tour the crater, and you can access the rim from a path. The volcano is extinct, and hasn’t erupted in 4,500 years, so it’s completely safe to visit.The crater is 1km in diameter, and there is a path that goes around the entire crater, which we did not have enough time to do. We spend some time walking around parts of the path. It gets really windy on top of the crater rim! From the rim, there are beautiful views of the surrounding area. The path has loose rocks and gravel, so boots are best.
Our next stop was a few minutes down the road – the Dimmuborgir lava fields. I know I’ve said the landscape in Iceland is unique, but it’s truly crazy seeing these formations from hardened lava! There is a large parking lot at the lava fields, and they are free to visit, although the toilets do cost money to use. There are paved paths you can wander along through the lava fields. We had a booking at the thermal baths, so we didn’t spend as much time as we liked, but we did see some interesting formations. You could easily spend 90-120 minutes here if you had time.
The highlight of our day was the Myvatn Thermal Baths. We chose not to go to the Blue Lagoon because it’s extremely overpriced and always so crowde. The Myvatn Thermal Baths is a very similar set up as the Blue Lagoon, except less expensive, and less crowded. We spent over 2 hours relaxing in the water warm and talking with other travelers. Move around throughout the pools, because some spots are much warmer than others. If you decided to visit the baths, its about $45, We had room for towels in our luggage, but they do rent them as well. Honestly, if it hadn’t started snowing and getting windy, I could’ve stayed here all day!
It was hard getting out of the baths and heading back in the cold, but eventually we did. Our last stop in the Myvatn area was Namafjall Geothermal area. You’ll also see this area referred to as Hverir. It is truly one of a kind, and looks like somewhere on Mars or another world. The geothermal area has boiling mud pits and natural smokers. (I think the correct word is fumaroles). The minerals from the earth change the color of the landscape, and there’s something mystic and beautiful about blue-grey boiling mud. It’s a treat for all senses, as the geothermal smells pave the way for endless fart jokes. It was fun to walk around and explore, we just wished it wasn’t so cold and windy (sensing a theme here with this trip). The area is free to explore, and there is plenty of parking. I’d suggest about an hour here to walk around.
This was one of our shortest driving days, which was needed. All of the places we visited in the Lake Myvatn area were 5-10 minutes apart. About 40 minutes from Hverir, we stopped a the Godafoss. This was right on Ring Road and there was plenty of parking. The falls are beautiful, but we didn’t stay long because it was cold and this about the 100th waterfall we’d seen (you pass so many on your drive). It is definitely worth a quick stop though. Our stop for the night was in Akureyri, about 90 minutes away. Akureyri does have several grocery stores to choose from, so we made some fajitas in our place before walking around and getting ice cream.
Day 6 Akureyri to Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Akureyri is considered the “capital of the North” and a charming Icelandic city. There are many stops in this area that we skipped for the sake of time (I don’t regret our shortened trip, but there is much more you can do with a longer itinerary). The Akureyri/Husavik area is known for whale watching. This was something that all 3 of us really wanted to experience, and we made it a priority for this trip. After reading reviews, we decided to just book the whale watch out of Akureyri instead of adding 90 minutes to the day by driving to Husavik. We booked a 3 hour tour through Whale Watch Akureyri and it was amazing! They have a two hour version, where you go out on faster RIB boats, but that sounded much colder. Our boat had an inside area to warm up in while cruising Eyjafjord. The trip takes you down almost the entire length of the fjord where it meets the North Atlantic. The fjord is known for the humpback and minke whale. We were able to see and watch a humpback whale for about 45 minutes! It surfaced many times, showing off it’s beautiful tale. We also saw some dolphins and seabirds. It was truly amazing and highly recommend this company. In the event you don’t see a whale, they give you complimentary passes to another tour. Their tours also operate in the morning and the afternoon.
After whale watching, we wandered around the city center for an hour or so. Akureyri has plenty of shops, cafes, bakeries, lunch spots, and places to buy souvenirs. We bought some Icelandic pastries to enjoy on our drive, and also hit up a hot dog stand for lunch. For some reason, Iceland has a plethora of hot dog stands, with a wide range of toppings. It’ll be the most expensive hot dog you buy, but you can’t go to Iceland without getting one. We fueled up before leaving, and hit the road for the long drive to Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Some people head back to Reykjavik from Akureryi, but we wanted to explore the peninsula and it did not disappoint! Once on the peninsula, we made a quick stop to the town of Stykkisholmur to get groceries at Bonus, and explore the town. We stayed at The Old Post Office Guesthouse in Grundarfjordar. We have private rooms and bathroom, but there is a shared kitchen for all the guests to cook meals, as well as a fridge to store your (labeled) items. We took advantage of this and cooked dinner and breakfast.
Day 7: Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Reykjavik
Our hotel in Grundarfjordur was the perfect starting point for everything we had planned. It made sense to stay on the northern part of the peninsula since we were coming from Akureyri, but the roads in the north were all gravel until we got to Stykkisholmur. The southern part of the peninsula (where most of the attractions are) are much better. We started our day at Kirkjufell, one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. There is a parking lot by the waterfall that is free, but another place to get a unique perspective of this beautiful mountain is the end of a residential street in Grundarfjordur.
Our next stop was Snaefellsjokull National Park to view Longdrangar Cliffs on the ocean. There are other stops deeper into the park, but we had a packed schedule and wanted the freedom to spend more time at our other stops. Longdrangar Cliffs were one of our favorite stops of the day, and it was a chance for me to fly the drone since it was raining, snowing, or super windy! There is a car park, and viewing platform for the cliffs, and it is free to enter the park. However, there were no toilets at this spot (in fact they were quite limited on the peninsula).
From the cliffs, we headed to the small town of Arnastapi. You’ll pass a “turf house” restaurant, thought I’m not sure it’s the original structure. If you head towards the water, you’ll find parking and trails that take you to the edge to see more beautiful cliffs and a natural bridge in the ocean. This was a spectacular photo spot, and another chance to play with the drone. Unfortunately, I can’t post any drone videos unless I upgrade my wordpress account.
A few minutes down the road from Arnastapi, is Raudsfeldsja Gorge. This is another one of those places where the Jurassic Park theme song will be playing in your head, and you have expect some pre-historic bird to fly out. The gorge is able to be seen from the parking lot, but there’s a short gravel trail to get to it, and it’s worth checking out on the inside. We went inside, but didn’t venture too far as another group said they weren’t able to get far. It’s still a unique experience and a good stop if you’re in the area.
After the gorge, our next stop was about 20 minutes down the road. Budakirkja, or Black Church, is a small, wooden church standing amidst the mountains and sea, and there’s something about the simplicity of it that makes it beautiful. We also ventured down to the beach, which is surprisingly white sand – something you don’t always see on volcanic islands. The water was a gorgeous shade of blue, and for a second I thought I was in France or Italy, until I remembered I was wearing 4 layers in June. If you stop at the church, definitely walk down to the water.
Speaking of beaches, our next stop is MUST SEE if you visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Ytri Tunga was about 20 minutes down the road from Budakirkja. It’s a golden sand beach known for it’s seals in the summer months. There are two species of seals that you will find in Iceland, grey seals and harbour seals. Ytri Tunga is one of the best places in the country to see the harbour seals. After you park, face the ocean and walk along the shore to the right. You will have to climb over and around some large rocks, some consider proper footwear. The seals seem very used to humans, and are very playful. Some of the seals swimming in the water appeared to love the attention, as they splashed around. You are not supposed to get close to the seals, so bring a zoom lens or binoculars if you have them.
Our last stop of the day was our hotel in Reykjavik. We booked Stay Apartments Einholt through AirBnB but when we arrived our key was not in the lock box as promised. It was a frustrating ordeal because we had such limited time in Reykjavik and wanted to get to some shops before they closed. After trying to put us in a room that wasn’t cleaned and had no bedding or toilet paper, we finally got two rooms about 3.5 hours after we initially tried to check in. We did our “fit to fly” to the UK covid tests via video call (booked through Collinson testing and highly recommend them) while we waited, which was super easy and convenient. Our certificate with negative results was emailed to us within ten minutes of us submitting our results. After getting settled in our rooms, we walked around Reykjavik. We were disappointed to learn our favorite restaurant from our previous trip, Nudalskalin is no longer in business. It appears that Covid closures hit this community hard, as there were many empty builidngs. We had a delicious dinner at Primo, which is right on Laugavegur, and the service was excellent.
Day 8: Reykjavik
One of our hopes for this trip was to see puffins! We didn’t see any on the whale watch, and we missed our window of opportunity in Southern Iceland. To remedy that, we booked a last minute puffin tour in Reykjavik. It was a one hour tour, leaving from the harbour in Reykjavik. The tour goes to some smaller islands off the coast of Reykjavik known for puffins. It was absolutely incredible! We saw hundreds of puffins up close and they are so majestic, and awkward, and beautiful all at the same time. The tour operator even had binoculars to use. I highly recommend doing this if you’re going to Reykjavik in the summer. It exceeded our expectations, and on our last day in Iceland, we finally saw puffins!
Something I never expected to see in my lifetime is an active volcano! We were really thinking the volcano would fizzle out before our trip, but she was still going. The Fagradalsfjall volcano is currently erupting about an hour from Reykjavik, on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The parks service is doing a fantastic job keeping people safe and allowing them to view this marvel of nature. There is a bumpy, gravel road leading to a large parking area. You do have to pay for parking on an app, so be prepared for that. The volcano and path is ever changing, so what we experienced might be different. When we went, the original path that took you a couple hundred meters from the volcano, has now been closed as it was overtaken with lava. There was a B trail, but this was also closed. When we went, we took the C trail. Unfortunately, this takes you to a viewpoint that is across the valley from the volcano and you’re seeing it from over a mile a way. However it’s still incredible and a once in a life time opportunity. The trail is rocky, and mostly flat until your reach the edge of the cooled lava. At that point, it’s a steep and windy climb up a hill, the first part is the steepest. The wind subsides a bit on some of the later climbs. It took us about 90 miles from the time we left our car until we reached the viewpoint at the top. I stop a lot for pictures. This was not a hiking path prior to the volcano, and there is a lot of loose stone and rocks so wear proper footwear. If you’re not up for a climb or limited on time, consider just hiking to the lava fields. This was a perfect ending to our trip!
Tips for Driving Ring Road
- Get fuel when you see it; never let the tank get anywhere near empty because Iceland is remote and the next gas station is not around the corner.
- Same goes for getting water and hitting the toilet – use them when you see them
- Bring snacks and plan ahead. Iceland is expensive
- Waterproof boots are a must, so is a good rain jacket and waterproof pants if you have them.
- Wear layers, the weather changes dramatically and quickly
Things we didn’t have time for this trip, that you might like !
- Hallgrimskirkja Tower Climb in Reykjavik (did this in 2016 and loved the view)
- Perlan Observation Deck view of Reykjavik
- Thingvellar Park (Golden Circle)
- Thorsmork (went here in 2016 and it’s beautiful)
- Diving tour is Silfra
- Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
- Skaftatell and Black Waterfall
- Ice Cave tour (not always available in summer)
- Guided Glacier hike
- Gerduberg Cliffs (Snaefellsnes Peninsula)
- Hafells Goat Farm
- Glymur Waterfall hike
- Reykjadular Valley thermal river