Welcome to part 2 of my series exploring Iceland’s Ring Road.
Driving Iceland’s Ring Road in one week can be done, but expect long days (and nights, thanks to the midnight sun) and very little sleep. I recommend 10 days for the ideal trip around Iceland’s Ring Road, but if you can only manage seven, here is how you can pull it off.
This series explores a trip around Iceland’s Ring Road in three parts:
Part 1: Days one and two, Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and the south coast.
Part 2: Days three and four, the south coast continued, Skaftafell National Park, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, the east coast.
Part 3: Days five, six, and seven, Krafla volcano, Hverir Geothermal area, Akureryi, and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
If you missed part 1, you can check it out here. Now let’s continue on our journey!
Day 3: Skaftafell National Park & Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Today you will experience some of the spectacular ice that the land of fire and ice, as Iceland is affectionately known, has to offer. So let’s dive right in!
When you wake up in Vik, drive about an hour and a half to Skaftafell National Park.
Skaftafell National Park was originally established in 1967, but in 2008 it became a part of the newly established Vatnajökull National Park, Europe’s largest national park and home to Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Vatnajökull is 8,100 square kilometers (3,100 square miles), and the ice cap is around 400 meters (1,300 feet) thick on average and 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) at its thickest point.
If you’re looking to explore a glacier, you should definitely hire a guide, as they can be quite dangerous. I chose Icelandic Mountain Guides for my glacier adventure, and I had a great time with them. You will meet you guide at the information center in the park. Depending on your tour various ice exploring gear will be distributed (ice picks, crampons, and so on). Then you will hop into a van and make the short drive to the tip of the glacier.
After your glacier experience, continue your journey 45 minutes along the south coast to Jökulsárlón. Jökulsárlón is one of the most amazing and unique experiences in Iceland and the world. There are actually two locations to experience here. Coming up the road from Skaftafell, on the right you will find a beautiful black sand beach known as Diamond Beach due to the fact that it is lined with glittering chunks of ice that have floated out to sea from the lagoon. The views here are stunning. Take some time to walk along the beach admiring the contrast of the deep black sand, the turquoise blue water, and the glittering crystal ice. Listening to the waves crash against the sand while watching the icebergs floating by is a truly serene experience.
After taking in the beauty of Diamond Beach, head across the street to the lagoon itself. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is one of the most jaw-dropping locations in Iceland. You cannot help but stare in wonder at the massive and stunning icebergs as they float on the serene water. While the ice in the lagoon is thousands of years old, the lagoon itself was only formed recently, the result of a warming climate. The lagoon is up to 250 meters (820 feet) deep making it the deepest lake in Iceland. Huge blocks of ice constantly break off the glacier and large icebergs float into the lagoon and then make their way out to sea. The ice actually appears in three colors: white, blue, and black. The white color appears because of the snow cover and air bubbles on top of the ice which reflect all wavelengths of light. When these air bubbles are underwater they become compressed and much more dense, allowing more light and longer wavelengths to be absorbed, meaning that only the shorter wavelengths are reflected back, revealing the blue color. When an iceberg becomes top heavy in the water it flips and we get to see the beautiful blue hues. Any black stripes you may see in the ice is ash from recent volcanic eruptions. A local company runs boat tours of the lagoon daily during the summer. More information can be found on their website.
You can also expect to catch a few glimpses of wildlife here, including seals and arctic terns.
After a day full of amazing ice experiences, drive an additional hour to Höfn for your overnight accommodation.
Day 3: Puffins at Bakkagerði and Lake Mývatn
This day includes longer stretches of driving, but equally amazing sights that are worth the longer time in the car. Start out early and drive almost four hours to Bakkagerði. While the drive is long, you will see many amazing sights along the way, including some of the vast wildlife that thrives in Iceland.
Located on the eastern cliffs of Iceland, Bakkagerði is a little hill set out a bit into the ocean. The set-up allows visitors to get quite close to many of the nests, and the out of the way location almost guarantees some alone time with the adorable little birds. The drive to the cliffs can be a bit precarious so proceed with caution. The road is dirt and the cliffs are often shrouded in fog, but once you make it to the other side you will have clear and close-up views of the puffins. As a reminder, puffins are sea birds, so are usually out at sea hunting during the day. The best time to see them is on the fringe hours of dawn and dusk when they are at their nests.
When you’re ready to move on, drive the final three hours to Lake Mývatn. Depending on your energy level, either explore the lake or head straight to your accommodation and get some sleep to prepare for the amazing day touring the geothermal area around Lake Mývatn.
Details about many of the sights in this post can be found in my previous post: Top Things to Do in Iceland: Explore Glacier Lagoons, Hot Springs, Boiling Mud Pits, and more!
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