I arrived bright and early at the Keflavík International Airport in Iceland. I picked up my rental from City Car Rental Iceland (which was great and really affordable) and was on the road by 5:30 a.m. I definitely recommend getting a vehicle with four-wheel drive, especially if you are going to be in Iceland during the winter months or need to do some off-roading. Iceland’s main road, Route 1 is really easy to navigate. It follows the outermost edge of the country all the way around, forming a ring, hence its nickname, the Ring Road. I had about six days in the country, not enough time to do the entire ring but enough time to go to the southeast coast and back and still have some time leftover to spend in Reykjavík. The following is a list (in order) of the stops I made on days one and two of my road trip:
Seljalandsfoss is about two hours from Keflavík and was my first stop off the Ring Road. It’s pretty hard to miss as it’s visible from the road. It was still quite early when I arrived and I was able to experience the sunrise here. The waterfall is about 60 meters high and its flowing waters come from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. I found this waterfall to be really special because you can actually walk behind it. You’ll definitely get drenched, but I thought it was great to to get a completely different perspective from the small cave behind it. Do be careful though, it’s very slippery and the waters are powerful.
Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest pools in Iceland. It was built into the natural landscape and has been in use since 1923. It was originally used for mandatory swim lessons, since many Icelanders didn’t know how to swim back then.
The pool is about 25 meters long and ten meters wide. It is free to use. There are dressing rooms to change, but no showers. It’s about a twenty minute walk from the parking lot but well worth it. The terrain is a bit rocky and at certain points you may need to jump over parts of the stream. You will also probably question whether or not you are going the right way. You most likely are. It’s a really peaceful and secluded area and a great place for a little refresher on your way to Vík.
Skógafoss sits on the Skógá River and its waters come from two different glaciers- Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. The waterfall is 60 meters tall and there are 370 steps leading up to the top. It’s quite steep and not an easy walk up. I was definitely out of breath and needed a few breaks. It’s also impossible to avoid getting wet from the spray, but the view at the top can’t be beat. You can see the beautiful coastline for miles.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
In 1973, a US Navy DC plane crashed on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur in Southern Iceland. It is said that the plane either encountered severe weather or it ran out of fuel. All the crew members survived but the fuselage was abandoned. It remains there today, slowly deteriorating and rusting away.
The plane can be found on the southern coast about half way between the Skógafoss waterfall and Vík. It can easily be passed by if one isn’t paying attention to the markings on the road. Going east on the Ring Road, and shortly after Skógafoss, you will come across a bridge with blinking yellow lights and an access road to Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left. From here, continue driving east for another two kilometers, until you come across another dirt road on the right. Here you will see a gate and a dirt parking lot. If you go over a second bridge, then you have gone too far.
Vehicles are no longer allowed to drive to the plane wreckage and you must now walk the four kilometers from the parking to the plane. From this point just follow everyone else and walk toward the ocean. It is a long road and you won’t see much besides rocks. Keep walking. It will take about 30-40 minutes, which isn’t too bad depending on what time of year you are visiting. I was there in early October and this ended up being one of what seemed like the longest walks of my life. I quickly found out the wind and rain in Iceland are no joke. It was pouring when I arrived but I decided to go for it anyway. By the time I reached the plane I had collected about an inch of water, in my boots, which I later had to throw away because they just wouldn’t dry. My gloves (I also didn’t have gloves for the rest of the trip) and pants were also soaked completely through. Thank goodness for the high quality parka I was wearing. I have never been so cold and literally ran as much of the four kilometers as I could back to the car. The plane being on such a desolate stretch of beach was an amazing sight and is an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
Dyrhólaey, is a small peninsula located near the village of Vík and can be found right off the Ring Road. The peninsula was once a volcanic island and can be accessed by an upper and lower road. Take the upper road and at the top of the hill and you will find a lighthouse, as well as an amazing lookout point. The castle-like lighthouse has actually been converted to a luxury and quite expensive hotel. Directly in front of the peninsula is a giant volcanic arch, for which the Peninsula is named after. Dyrhólaey literally means “the hill island with the door hole.” If you look to the north, you’ll see the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, to the east are the lava stacks of Reynisdrangar and to the west is the gorgeous coastline made up of black sand beaches.
I wish had been able to spend more time taking in the view here, but it was storming and the combination of strong winds and heavy rain left me absolutely freezing. I moved onward to the lower part of Dyrhólaey and the storm let up, giving me just enough time to step out of the car and enjoy a few minutes on the beach. There are some really amazing rock formations along the coast, including Arnardrangur or “Eagle rock”.
Reynisfjara & Reynisdrangar
Reynisfjara is one of Iceland’s most stunning black sand beaches and was actually voted the worlds most beautiful non-tropical beach in 1991 by National Geographic. Once on the beach, the large basalt sea stacks of Reynisdrangar can be easily spotted in the water. According to Icelandic legend, these sea stacks were once trolls, who in the process of dragging a ship from the sea, became frozen when the sun rose.
If you look back along the beach and you’ll find the mountain of Reynisfjall. At its base is a cave, as well as a pyramid of tall basalt columns. The hexagonal like columns are commonly formed near water when lava is slowly cooled over an extended period of time. The lava expands and contracts giving the rocks their interesting shape. It’s actually hard to believe that it’s 100% natural. It’s truly unique.
Vík í Mýrdal Church
Vík í Mýrdal Church is a traditional Icelandic church built in 1934. It’s in the village of Vík í Mýrdal and is easy to find. It was built during a time of depression in Iceland and was placed upon the highest hill, so when the people looked up they would see the church and have hope. The interior was closed for viewing when I arrived but the views alone are worth the stop.
It offers breathtaking views of Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar, as well as the village below. It is also a popular spot late in the night for viewing the Northern Lights, since it sits high above the village lights. We made an attempt at seeing them but unfortunately, no such luck due to the heavy cloud cover.
I spent the evening in Vík at the Icelandair Hotel, a modern, little boutique-type hotel. It was great to finally get out of the rain, warm up and get some rest before continuing onward the following morning. Stay tuned for part two of this post as I continue driving the Ring Road from Vík to Höfn!