Welcome to part 3 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.
Day 5: Krafla Volcano, Viti Crater, Leirhnjúkur lava fields, and Hverir Geothermal area
While the previous two days were spent along the south coast experiencing much of the ice that Iceland has on display, today you will experience the heat buried within the earth. The area around Lake Mývatn is brimming with geothermal activity. First, head to nearby Hverir, also know as Námafjall, geothermal area. The barren landscape and eerie steam rising from the ground gives you the feeling that you may have been transported to another planet. So many of Iceland’s landscapes are otherworldly, but Hverir presents its own unique experience. Peering through steam while wandering around this desert-like expanse listening to the sound of boiling mud adds to the mystery of this landscape. Stay on the designated walkways to ensure you don’t slip off into a volcanic abyss. Key sights include boiling mud pits, steaming fumaroles, and colorful sulfur crystals. The smell of sulfur also lingers in the steam hovering over the area.
Just a five to ten minute drive from Hverir are two other amazing locations: Leirhnjúkur lava fields and Krafla volcano. Both will add to your otherworldly experience. First, head to the base of Krafla volcano where you will find Víti Crater. Víti is a huge explosion crater, about 300 meters in diameter. The crater was formed during a massive volcanic eruption at the start of the famous Mývatn Fires in 1724. The eruption continued more or less non-stop for five years and Víti’s bubbling cauldron of mud boiled for more than a century after that. Now its tranquil blue waters provide a striking contrast to the reddish hue of the surrounding dirt.
From there, drive over to the Leirhnjúkur lava fields located just back down the road. Here, you can wander through the vast lava field and see the incredible color that this landscape has to offer: rich blacks and deep reds of the once burning lava, cool blues of the near boiling water in the craters, bright greens, purples, and other colors of the tiny vegetation and flowers sprouting through the broken earth, bringing life to even this most desolate locale.
After a full day exploring this geothermal wonderland, drive 1.5 hours to the city of Akureyri for a totally different Icelandic experience.
Day 6: Akureyri and Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Just a 45 minute drive from Lake Mývatn is one of Iceland’s most beautiful and legendary waterfalls, Goðafoss. The waterfall is the symbolic site of Christianity’s beginnings in Iceland. As legend has it, in the year 999 a man made Christianity the official religion of Iceland, throwing some pagan statutes into the water here, thereby giving Goðafoss its name: the Waterfall of the Gods. It certainly lives up to its name, providing visitors with a heavenly vista.
Another 45 minutes along the road from Goðafoss lies Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city. Given that two-thirds of Iceland’s small population of 300,000 live in or around Reykjavik, that designation is not saying much in terms of size. However, Akureyri is an amazing little town that has a lot to offer. Park your car and spend the morning walking around the town and taking in the sights. Then grab lunch at one of the fabulous cafes in the town.
That afternoon continue on for the final long stretch of your trip. A four-hour drive will get you to the start of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. If you’re lucky (and driving late at night), you may catch a glimpse of the elusive Arctic Fox. We were lucky enough to see one when driving along the road, and even lucky enough to stop and snap a quick photo from quite a distance, but then the shy fox disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. And no, your eyes are not deceiving you, arctic foxes shed their thick white fur in the summer to reveal a dark brownish coat that blends in with the summer landscape.
You can easily do a loop of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in half a day. The peninsula is sometimes referred to as “Iceland in miniature,” and for good reason. Many of the amazing and unique features of Iceland can be seen here: glaciers, black sand, impressive rock formations, and lava fields.
Driving along the coast from Stykkishólmur you will come to an incredible location that you may recognize. If you have flashes of Ben Stiller on a skateboard flying down the middle of the road in front of an impressive mountain you will know you have arrived at Kirkjufell. This is one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. Make sure you follow the path across the street and walk behind the waterfalls to get the classic shot.
Continue along the coast and you will enter Snæfellsjökull National Park. This area of the peninsula contains long stretches of beautiful beaches, and is one of the few places in Iceland where you can find golden sand.
Making your way to the southern coast of the peninsula you will find more beaches, this time full of smooth black pebbles, formerly jagged lava rocks that have been smoothed by the sea. Follow the incredible path through the large rock formations down to the beach.
Continue on to the extremely small towns of Hellnar and Arnarstapi for more amazing views and fabulous rock formations. For lunch, stop by Fosshotel Hellnar for great views and absolutely amazing food.
Day 7: Reykjavik
Spend your final day doing some last minute exploring of Reykjavik, or maybe relax your muscles with another stop at the Blue Lagoon.
And congratulate yourself because you have now completed one of the most amazing driving trips in the world! If you think you’d like to come back and explore even more you definitely should; I did. Check back soon for a post about my second visit to Iceland in which I explored the beautiful and untouched Westfjords.
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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