If there was one moment that defined driving across Iceland, it would be driving up over a mountain pass alongside a glacier. As the valley floor and waterfall steadily disappeared behind us, we leaned out of the car windows to grab snow from the top of the glacier to have a mini-snowball fight within the car and with our companion car behind us.
But beyond that, no moments define Iceland. Ultimately Iceland was timeless, and instead of a series of moments it is best encapsulated as a series of images: towering basalt columns rearing out of the sea, imposing waterfalls that can be seen from miles off as you steadily approach, black sand beaches, glacial bays, and luminescent blue hot springs.
Iceland wasn’t a trip of moments, but of stark and searing natural monuments that - thank God - can never be unseen. Like almost all Iceland trips, we started off in Reykjavik.
But, unlike most people — especially those who are sane — we decided to escape from Reykjavik and explore our entire way around Iceland, in two cars, with ten people, in seven days. A quick rundown of our itinerary is below.
Day 1 — Reykjavik
Reykjavik is an interestingly beautiful city in Iceland that we unfortunately did not have much time to explore. With a population of 130,000 people, over a third of all Icelanders live there. Definitely worth seeing is Hallgrímskirkja, a massive Lutheran church that, as one of the tallest buildings in the country, towers over the rest of Reykjavik from its position on top a hill.
Day 2 — Golden Circle
Right outside of Reykjavik is the fabled Golden Circle. A top destination for most Icelandic tourists, the Golden Circle is so named since ... it basically contains everything you would want to see in Iceland, without having to go around the whole country.
Thingvellir National Park is a rift valley, meaning that you can walk between the North American and European continental shelves (and you better bet we hopped back and forth from one to the other).
The circle also contains the mighty Gullfoss waterfall, along with the (great) Strokkur Geysir which erupts like clockwork (Jen would also like me to point out that beside Strokkur are a series of smaller baby geysers that try to erupt as hard as they can but essentially just bubble from the ground).
While in the area, there is also Efsti Dalur, which makes its own homemade ice cream and burgers that are seriously nommerific. There is also the self-sustaining, and incredibly welcoming, Solheimar Ecovillage where you can pick up fresh groceries.
Day 3 — The southwestern coast and Vik
Venturing out beyond the Golden Circle is where Iceland starts to get fully wild. Traveling east, you fairly quickly hit the towering Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. With Iceland's flat plains and immense mountains, these waterfalls are visible for miles before you actually reach them, giving your depth perception a wild ride.
Right after the waterfalls, (at these coordinates, 63.459523,-19.364618, for the cartographically inclined), is a crashed US Navy plane lying alone on a black sand beach. A two and a half mile hike out from the road brings you to the wreckage, which the more morbidly inclined can climb in and around.
And continuing east is the cute town of Vik, which is adjacent to some of the most famous completely stark black sand beaches in all of Iceland. Out in the roaring surf are basalt columns, the Reynisdrangar, which legend has it are trolls who, while trying to pull a ship onto land, were frozen into rock by the rising sun.
On the land are also scalable basalt cliffs and, apparently, prime puffin spotting territory.
Day 4 — The southeastern and eastern coasts
Day 4 is when it became apparent that maybe an extra day would have made the trip around Iceland a little less insane. Traveling east and then north from Vik, always along the ring road, Route 1, we passed through the opalescent blue Jökulsárlón glacial bay, where chunks of ice escape from Iceland's glaciers before making their way to the Atlantic.
Also visited were the Vatnajökull National Park, an incredible coastline that had its own share of towering basalt troll columns, and the waterfall valley and mountain pass that induced such screaming exaltations of pure beautiful joy in the introduction.
That screaming quickly turned into disgusted gagging, though, as we made it to the bubbling mud pots, giant sulfurous muddy fields that would slowly eat away at the ground while spewing a near vomit inducing miasma of fog — a Jeremy favorite, and a Jen don't-go-anywhere-near-them.
Day 5 — Akureyi and backtracking
The city of Akureyi, the second largest in Iceland, is located squarely in the middle of the Iceland coast. A college town, Akureyi has an excellent selection of bars, restaurants, and backpacking options.
Backtracking back east, we made our way to Lake Myvatn, some of the most under appreciated hot springs in the country rivaling the Blue Lagoon. Then backtracking again west, we passed by the Waterfall of the Gods, Godafoss, Jen's absolute favorite.
Day 6 — Northwestern Iceland
Northwestern Iceland was full of its own stunning beauty as we wound our way through seemingly endless glaciated valleys. As the weather constantly changed, shafts of golden light would fall across the otherwise barren landscape illuminating it in unbelievable splendor.
If you have the right cars and weather, you can also go out to the truly wild northwestern peninsula, but unfortunately we didn't have the time to do it.
Day 7 — Back to Reykjavik and homeward bound
A rushed day, we still made time to stop by the Blue Lagoon. Touristy and substantially more crowded than Lake Myvatn, this was the only location in Iceland where we had to wait for anything.
Still, the water was fiiiine.
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