We made it!
We took 10 days to drive around the island of Iceland, mostly following the Ring Road — Highway 1– which circles around the the island for 828 miles (or 1332 km, for the folks in Iceland). We both felt that this trip was the best either of had taken, partly for the incredibly agreeable companionship (this was our honeymoon!), but much of it for the amazing country we got to take in over the course of our journey. My hope with this post and ones to follow is to give both a personal account of our journey as well as giving motivation for more people to do this amazing trip. It is hard to put into words just how amazing each day was along the way, but perhaps a combination of my words and our photos can start to give an idea.
My plan is to do different posts about aspects of our journey, discussing the wildlife, the geography, the people, the language, and other features of this amazing place (and our enchanting encounter with it). To start, I’ll give an overview of our agenda and what we decided to do with our time there. You can find lots of advice about how to do this trip. I won’t say ours is the best, but it is the best we took…and it was fabulous. I hope you find this helpful.
From the top, I would emphasize that if you plan to get a good Icelandic experience you need at least 10 days to get the full picture. Even with 10 days we have some stuff we didn’t do, and perhaps 2 weeks would have given us a few more experiences, but our cups really felt full at the end of our journey. And she still loved me at the end of the trip.
The Country of Iceland
Let me start out by dispelling a couple of myths about Iceland:
1. Greenland is Icy and Iceland is green – This is only true in degree. Iceland has lots of ice (it was named after a Viking sailor came upon the island and noted lots of icebergs in a fjord), but it is not totally covered in ice like Greenland. The big white areas on the map are glaciers, which are permanently icy areas, and winters are obviously cold, as it is just south of the arctic circle. Iceland is an appropriate name for the country. Greenland? Not so much.
2. There are no mosquitos in Iceland – There aren’t a lot of them, but there are plenty of bugs. There certainly are a whole lot of bugs in one part of the country (to be covered in a future post).
3. There are no trees in Iceland – The country was largely deforested in its earlier history, as there was much need of wood for houses and warmth during the long winters, and much of the country is classified as tundra, where trees are small and scarce. But we did see plenty of trees, and there is now an effort to reforest the island.
Iceland is just about 40,000 square miles (103,000 square km), which is roughly the size of Kentucky, and about half the size of Great Britain. It has a population of 376,000 (by comparison, Kentucky has a population of 4.5 million, and Great Britain has 67 million people). 65% of Icelanders live in the capital region of Reykjavik, leaving the rest of the country sparsely populated (see below). In each of the areas, the population keeps fairly close to the coast. There are no cities (or small towns) in the central part of the country, called The Highlands.
The people (not surprisingly) speak Icelandic. It is spoken only in Iceland, and so it’s one of the smaller unique languages in civilized world. Icelandic derives from old north germanic tongues which went on to spawn the other Scandinavian languages. The gist is that Icelanders are are not all that intelligible to folks from other Scandinavian countries. Fortunately, nearly everyone there speaks English, and most of them do so in a way you can understand. Most.
There are also a number of different letters that we had to get used to. I’ll talk about those in a different post.
The Ring Road
This is the map of our travels (mostly) on the ring road around the island. I made a personal Google map with the road routes, places we were staying, and things we wanted to see/do. Our itinerary was as follows (I’ll go into more details – with pictures) in future posts):
- Day 1: Arrive in Iceland (around 9 AM) and go to our hotel in Reykjavik. Plane left from Chicago at 10 PM – about a 6 hour flight.
- Day 2: Take a tour around the “Golden Circle,” which is a loop near the capital which has some unique things to see. We stayed that night in Reykjavik as well.
- Day 3: Drive to see the Snæfellsnes peninsula, just north of Reykjavik. This is a beautiful part of the country that has a little bit of most everything you’d see in the rest of the country. We stayed at an AirBNB just east of the peninsula.
- Day 4: Drive through northwest Iceland to Húsavik in the north to watch whales, then drive to our place just south of Akureyri, the largest city in the north and the second largest city in the country.
- Day 5: Visit Lake Myvatn, an area of high volcanic and geothermal activity. And lots of bugs. Slept in the same place south of Akureyri (which is good because it was a real nice place).
- Day 6: Drive up through Húsavik and along the north coast (very sparsely populated), see sights along the way (including the huge Dettifoss waterfall) and then travel down to Egilsstaðir, a town in the East where our AirBNB was. Ate goose pizza there.
- Day 7: Drove to the coastal fjord hamlet of Seydisfjordur (very scenic) and then drove along the dramatic east coast of the country and south to Höfn, a town in southeast part of the country, where we stayed in a hotel.
- Day 8: Did a zodiac tour in “glacier lagoon” to the edge of the Vatnajökull glacier (one of the largest glaciers in the world). Visited “diamond beach” and then went to our little AirBNB cabin in Vik. There’s a good soup restaurant there.
- Day 9: Got up and went to the famous (and dangerous) saw local sights and then did a hike on a glacier. Stayed again in the cabin outside of Vik.
- Day 10: Drove back to Reykjavik, seeing some great waterfalls along the way.
- Day 11: Flew home.
We chose to go clockwise around the island because the Rick Steves guidebook we got suggested this route. I suppose either way was fine (you end up seeing the same stuff either direction) but the way each day built on the previous ones and the way new things unfolded before us was quite inspiring.
That’s enough writing for now. Will go into more details about planning the trip, and then start to take you on the tour. It truly will be a hard trip to beat, partly because of the joy of our honeymoon, but also because of the many, many times our jaws dropped when we turned the corner and saw another amazing Icelandic sight.
Your bucket list needs this trip on it.
** maps and graphics were taken from this Wikipedia article.