The secret is out, Iceland has quickly become one of the top destinations for many seasoned as well as first-time travelers. Rated high for safety, its rough landscape entices many to explore its Mars-like scenery. Whether you decide to stick to the Ring Road or venture off the beaten path and onto the dirt roads of the Westfjords, you’re sure to find yourself slamming the brakes on more than one occasion to take photos (just make sure to find a safe spot to pull over.)
Here are 20 photos depicting what I found to be the best of Iceland on our two-week road trip that you can save for inspiration the next time you think of spending any of your future travel savings on a big, unnecessary purchase. From hairpin turns in the road, to abandoned ships, to an overwhelming amount of natural beauty in the span of an hour’s drive from the capital, there is certainly something for everyone.
1. Along The Ring Road
Though we did not have enough time to take on the entire Ring Road, we stuck to Rt 1 on our way down to southern Iceland and encountered some of the more iconic beauty of the island. I found it incredible how many of the homes/farms were nestled in close to the base of the mountains, the sheer height of them must be a dizzying view during morning coffee for whoever lives in them.
2. Making friends along the way
Cows, sheep, and horses are among the top three most-spotted animals in Iceland, (outside of puffins we apparently missed the season for them by a few weeks, so I can’t say much on that..) For the most part, they seem to roam freely, especially the sheep. It was always hilarious to see tiny specks of fluff on the side of a mountain, making you wonder how (or why) they got all the way up there.
3. Seljalandsfoss waterfall
The notorious waterfall one can easily walk behind, was absolutely stunning to stand in close proximity to. Just watching the sheets of water fall endlessly and feeling the amount of power it created by blowing rain back into your face, was a pretty humbling moment. As with any of the main attractions in Iceland, you’ll want to get to this one early in order to beat the rush of people.
4. Lava Fields
Nature can sometimes have a pretty interesting way of reclaiming the earth, and these lava fields are no exception. Iceland’s landscape has been largely shaped by volcanic as well as glacial activity, but that doesn’t stop moss from growing in the most unexpected of places. Driving along Route 1, the lush greenery stretches on in certain places for as far as you can see in southern Iceland.
I had a hard time (at the time of writing this) finding any set rules for exploring the lava fields, but do keep in mind certain types of moss can take hundreds of years to form. And heavy hiking boots leave massive scars in the landscape. Tread lightly (if at all.)
5. Fjadrargljufur Canyon
As the sun was fading in the sky, we arrived at Fjadrargljufur Canyon in time to see some pretty aggressive erosion of the land from glaciers created over thousands of years. A lot of the more narrow formations (including this one with the winding pathway,) were closed to foot traffic as a lot of these slivers of rock are becoming more popular with brave travelers to walk out on. It still didn’t stop us from admiring from afar.
6. Room with a view
Many of hostels we chose to stay at in Iceland had quite the view right from the lobby. Vik hostel in southern Iceland was no exception. Reasonably priced and staffed with knowledgable Icelanders.
7. Vik Beach
I found the town of Vik to be pretty unimpressive, but the black sand beach definitely made my list for the best of Iceland. Definitely a spot to visit early in the morning; we found a handful of people already here with their tripods around 8 am.
8. Basalt colums
Check these bad boys out; the hexagonal columns on Vik beach formed from cooling lava and create a stair-like formations that are a hot-spot for quintessential Icelandic photoshoots. Smaller versions as well as caves sporting the same bizarre columns can be found all down the beach.
9. Let’s talk about these roads..
Ever wonder why one of the first things people warn about is to not stop randomly on the roads in Iceland? Here is your answer. Many of the roads in the north-western part of Iceland are unlit, dirt roads so be ready to be jostled around a bit when driving through.
10. The best view in Iceland?
We found that in the Westfjords there’s plenty of abandoned little places like this. With views like these, it makes you wonder why this would have ever been left behind.
11. Dynjandi waterfall
Can you find me in the image? If you haven’t been able to tell, Iceland is the land of some pretty impressive waterfalls. This one, also known as Fjallfoss, can be a bit of a hike to get up to. Every step of the way (yes, even from the parking lot) offers amazing views.
12. Látrabjarg Cliffs
Named the highest bird cliffs in Europe, these are definitely worth a stop along the way if you plan on visiting the Westfjords of Iceland. Hoping seeing some puffins? Make sure to visit in the summer.
13. Hunting for puffins
Although we missed the puffin season by a few weeks, we found the views to be worth it. Would you dare to go this close?
14. Abandoned Ship
Looking for abandoned homes, planes, and even boats outside of the infamous plane on Sólheimasandur? Head to the Westfjords. Because the road is now closed to the 1973 US Navy DC plane crash it’s about a 2 mile trek to reach. Pressed for time that day, we unfortunately did not get to check that off on our list. Instead, found this ship as amazing and this big guy is easily accessible by car. We only encountered one other person quickly drive up and away while we were here.
15. Land of rainbows
Sorry Hawaii, Iceland is most certainly the land of rainbows. On our drive back to Reykjavík, I had never seen so many rainbows in such a short span of time. Within two hours, we spotted a couple dozen along the way. So whether it was just one very persistent rainbow, or a multitude, the drive became one of my favorites.
16. Harpa Music Hall
Heading back to Reykjavík, we wandered around town and into the Harpa Music Hall. Free to explore, it’s a great place to take a break and read a book. The double-layered panels of glass (inspired by the basalt columns) reflected all sorts of patterns into the walls. The mirrored ceilings also make for an interesting view when looking up.
17. Reykjavik’s Street art
Iceland’s capital definitely has some pretty stunning street art. Typically the artists are commissioned by the building owners or organizations, and have certainly created some beautiful pieces in the process.
18. A hostel/restaurant/bar/music venue?
You read that right. The KEX Hostel boasts some amazing cuisine, live music every night, and is a great place to meet locals as well as other travelers. A slightly more expensive stay than some hostels, and has some bizarre charges (two words: sheet rentals) but it was so very worth it.
19. Waterfront views
Another upside of the KEX hostel was its proximity to the water, making it a pretty easy walk down to the harbor to watch the boats go by. Paired with some beautiful Icelandic scenery in the background, it’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.
20. Northern Lights in the capital?
How could I go to Iceland without seeing some Northern Lights? After spending nearly two weeks trekking around in the rain in some of the more remote locations hoping to get some nightscapes, we ended up with nothing. Ironically, we finally saw a glimpse of this phenomenon on one of our last days in Reykjavík. Go figure.
So that’s the best of Iceland (in my opinion at least!) all in one place. Out of all those photos, which one did you find yourself wanting to pack up and explore the beauty of Iceland?
Do you have any questions about the island itself? I’ll be putting together a guide and would love to answer any questions you may have. Let me know in the comments below!
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