There are several ways to experience the unique and diverse landscape of Iceland but for us, it was always going to be a Route 1 road trip. We love Road Trips and these are always the way we explore any new location if at all possible. There is something so authentic about getting around at ground level and using the same roads, routes, and transit options as the locals do. A Circular Road encompassing the entire island also feels very tidy and complete. The perfect way to get as much of the country in as possible and staying near to the coastline for the best vistas and scenic views.
There are two important factors to consider when planning a ring road trip, how long and in which direction? along with of course where you will stop and what to see along the way. The Route is a whopping 1000 miles around the outer edges of Iceland taking in huge swathes of breathtaking scenery and sweeping volcanic vistas. This makes it a multi-day trip at the very least. A 4-day trip is technically doable covering 250miles a day, but you are not likely to see much and it would be pretty tiring and unfulfilling. 7-days is probably the minimum to actually get the best out of it but 10+ is more logical. We had set aside 11-full days along with a spare 12th day just encase we need extra time. This we hoped would allow us to see and do as much as possible.
We also planned a counterclockwise plan. A lot of guides and Experts suggest doing a Clockwise route. In some respects, they have a point, especially in late September, early October when the chances of bad weather increase as the days roll on and the least accessible areas of the north are most prone to these storms. As is happened, and this is purely by the luck of the draw, if we had done the loop clockwise, large parts of the north would have been closed to us, simply as the storm that hit yesterday has brought large accumulations of snow to the West Fjords and northern districts of the country. Down in the south where we were headed was still clear and we hoed the roads and passes would largely be clear by the time we got round to the north.
This is not an example of superior planning on our part. We have not defied the sports and been proven right, we just took a spin in the wheel and came up trumps! This is the truth about planning for Iceland’s weather, no one really knows what the near arctic maritime weather systems will throw at the island, so we are all just gambling and praying to the weather gods to give us some luck. The honest truth is, I have just always envisaged doing the road in this direction and was not ready to abandon my expectations. When you have dreamed of doing a trip for so long it just felt right doing it the same way I had always envisioned. It might not have been 100% sensible but it felt right.
NOTE – As it happened and now the trip is over we feel even more so that, despite the concerns over worsening weather, this is the better way round. Scenery fatigue is a real issue on a Route-1 Trip, sights and vistas that would blow your mind at the beginning barely even register by the end, almost every turn, every headland rounded, every horizon overtaken reveals new and jaw-dropping sights, to the point you stop quite reveling in them quite as much by the end. This is why we did the golden circle first as we had heard most people are disappointed in it when they tag it onto the end of the trip as what has gone before is just so staggering.
South Iceland proved to be the most beautiful part of the island for us, and we were glad we got to visit it with fresh eyes still full of wonder and fresh legs and bodies not worn down by several days of exploring. We are under no illusion large parts of the south may have just been skipped as we were just too fatigued to put the effort in.
The first part of the trip was to backtrack over the same pass we negotiated in the snow last night. The cloud had partially lifted and the snowy peaks were now visible after what was a pretty bleak white-out yesterday. The side of the road was littered with cars that had not made it over last night, the occupants hopefully rescued by recovery teams and emergency services, whether they had succumbed to the conditions or mechanical difficulties we were not sure but they all had the telltale signs of being rental cars. They were also all cars and not 4×4’s a point that may well be a reason for their abandonment!
As we approached the town of Selfoss the weather was not being too kind to us. Gone had the snow but instead, large rainstorms swept across the landscape bring driving rain and hail. It was very dramatic but did not bode well for the sightseeing we had planned further along the road.
The first stop was to be the unpronounceable Seljalandsfoss along with equally unpronounceable Gljufrabui. As we arrived, a pretty severe hail storm pounded the car! Rather disheartened we decide this was the perfect spot for lunch as we hoped and prayed Icelands Fickle and unpredictable weather would catch us a break…
The plan for the entire trip was to ensure we took on a hearty breakfast, then just a snacky lunch, and then see what we could find for dinner, we were under no illusion this was to be a gastronomic trip and food was to be primarily seen as fuel. So we tucked into our Cheeto’s, Cookies, and doughnuts we had picked up from a Bonus store in Reykjavik.
Mercifully by the time we had finished our lunch, the sky had cleared and while still cool and overcast and a bit windy it was a large improvement. The sun even threatened to peek out and a few blue cracks were appearing. Iceland does have a sun after all!
The falls are one of the most visited sites in Iceland and a highly photographed location, the topography and layout of the falls just make them so utterly photogenic. So while we are just adding to the billions of snaps of Seljalandsfoss online we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bag our own shot.
The light was terrible, the place crowded as a tour bus arrived just as we did, but we still bagged some nice shots as we headed around the back of the falls to see the Back Side of Water for ourselves.
We then took a short stroll up to Gljufrabui for some shots of the waterfall inside a cavern, pretty impressive but crowded and very wet!
From here on the scenery go mightily impressive. This is simply one of the most beautiful parts of Iceland and no amount of photos will really show the sheer size and scale of the place. Every corner you are faced with a new stunning vista with the towering cliffs to one side and the endless lava plains to the other. We were driving past stunning waterfalls and towering lava cliffs that would be national monuments in many countries and here they barely had names.
Forward progress is hard here as the temptation is to stop at every new vista, every plunging waterfall, every staggering geological marvel that reveals itself. You want to stop around every corner to grab a photo or take in the view but it’s important to keep plugging on to some extent as otherwise, you would just not get anywhere. We were in no rush but the truth is just everywhere you turn along this part of route one is staggering, and it only gets better!
After a short drive, we came across the stunning Skogafoss Waterfall. The plan had been to hit this tomorrow but it looked quite quiet and the weather was reasonable so we headed up the short approach road and parked to take a look. As we had planned on returning we just took a short walk up to the base of the falls and grabbed a few shots. Amazingly the falls we really quiet and we were able to bag some shots without any people in at all.
We then pushed on along the Ring Road taking in the amazing landscapes. The weather kept improving with every mile and as we arrived near our hotel we had full sun and stunning blue skies. We were booked into the Hotel Dyrholaey but as the weather was so perfect we decided to take a trip up to Dyrholaey for some stunning coastal scenery
The short access road to Dyrholaey Lighthouse and lookout point is quite a ride! As you head along the coastal flat it is not immediately obvious how you are going to scale the huge Lava outcrop. However, as you follow along the road takes an obvious turn…straight up!
The tight, but well-paved road goes straight up the steep sides of the promontory and right up to the lighthouse and various lookouts. There is not much to do up here but take in the wonderous views and check out the Sea Arch, the breeze was very stiff but the sun quite warming as we explored. The Rocky feature is home to a large number of puffins and seabirds during the summer but we were well outside Bird nesting season so there are just Iceland’s stunning vistas to enjoy.
As we start back to the car a huge rainstorm was approaching offering a really moody outlook and a proper incentive to get back to the car. The view up the coastline really highlighting Iceland’s changeable weather.
Back at the car, avoiding the deluge, we decided to head to the Hotel Dyrhólaey to check in before heading to the town of Vik, this would be our home for the next 3 nights as we continue to explore the South of Iceland.
The Hotel is a large complex set on high ground and overlooking the Dyrholaey Promontory and coastal flats with the Mountains separating the bay from Vik. We expected a good view from here but the views from the hotel grounds were staggering. As we checked in we were disappointed to have been given a room facing north. We expected a dull carpark view at the back of the hotel rather than the stunning coastal views at the front.
However the view to the north was almost as good, the striking mt Valentin sitting neatly in front of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier that was glistening in the evening sun. And as we found later on these rear rooms offered the PERFECT place for northern lights viewing!
We had decided to check out the hotel’s in-house restaurant for dinner so head into Vik to get to know the town. The drive-in was seriously spectacular with giant mountain peaks rising up above the town with the pretty little church perched up on the hill.
It’s a funny little town, signposted for miles around there really isn’t much here, there is just more than anywhere else! A small supermarket, a few bars and restaurants, a Vinbuden, a church, a few hotels, some residential homes, and a couple of petrol stations, is all the quaint little town posses. Maybe they are afraid to build too much ere as it lies in the direct path of any glacial meltwaters should the sleeping but incredibly dangerous Katla Volcano Erupt.
This town is the southernmost outpost of Iceland, with Dyrholaey being the southernmost point. And the weather was pretty mild certainly compared to the previous few days. We headed down to Vik beach to check out the black sands and the Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks. A pony trekking tor was plodding down the beach and the whole setting was really peaceful and serene as the sun dipped and we had the beach to ourselves.
As we snapped away some photo’s we were suddenly joined by a lone seal hunting in the waves. We don’t think he was expecting our presence and did not hang around to chat. But it was a lovely and unexpected sight.
Back to the hotel and we headed to the Hotels restaurant. A large tour bus had descended on the hotel and the restaurant was rammed and very noisy. Despite this, we were given a wonderful window table, although as the light faded there was little to see outside. The menu was pretty basic and the prices were pretty hard to stomach.
The food was good but portions were pretty mean for eh high prices. We had the Lamb a Trout, which both tasted fantastic but were pretty seriously overpriced even for Iceland. We decided we would check out what was on offer in Vik for the next couple of dinners.
We then simply retired to our room, exhausted but satisfied with a successful and fulfilling day of incredible sights. The Skies to the north were dark and clear but the KPI’s were low 1-2’s so there were no discernable lights, a slight green glow on the horizon but nothing too spectacular. Tomorrow was forecast as 4-5 KPI so fingers crossed!
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