Iceland's Ring Road, also known as Route 1, is a circular highway that stretches over 800 miles around the whole country, climbing through fjords and touching down on beaches. If driving the entirety of The Ring Road isn't on your bucket list, get it on there quick. It's a road that despite its ease to navigate, is hard to predict. Landscapes shift as quickly as the music genres on Icelandic radio. One minute you're speeding through farmland, jamming out to Led Zeppelin and the next you're crawling up a rocky mountain road while Sonny and Cher pledge their love to each other. Along the way you'll see napping lambs, large-eyed ponies, and if you're lucky, maybe some wild reindeer. However, what you've really got to look forward to are the stops you make along the way.
Full disclosure: Because of arrangements with friends and cars, my ring road trip went a little differently. I kind of went North, then West, then backtracked south, and then back North, and then we did the whole circle. So for the sake of clarity, I'll be ordering everything geographically and not chronologically. I'll be starting my Ring Road review in the south, taking you stop by stop from the East to the West.
This stunning waterfall can be seen from the road and is a big attraction, so there will be tourists. However, that's no reason to pass it by. Once you've got your shots, you can walk up to the top of the waterfall and even along the further hiking paths beyond.
Skogafoss actually marks the beginning of The Fimmvörðuháls trail, one of the more well known trails in Iceland. At 26 kilometers long and reaching heights of 1100 meters, it passes many more waterfalls and even the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which is the unpronounceable one that erupted in 2010. While we were neither equipped or in shape enough to even attempt this hike, we got to explore the beginning of it, following the river that leads into the waterfall for a little while. But my interest was piqued and if I return to Iceland, some more serious hiking might be involved.
The Abandoned Plane
This dramatic sight was a must-see on my list before I got to Iceland. If you're interested in a treasure hunt and some off-road driving, you've got to try it. And, it's only a short drive along Route 1 from Skogafoss on Sólheimasandur beach.
In 1973, this DC Naval Plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach. There were no casualties, but the fuselage was never retrieved. When you get up close to the plane you can see the forty years worth of wear along the sides. The plane has been gutted, weathered, and covered in graffiti from visitors over the years. It's an incredible spot.
For me, I think what makes this place most bizarre is the landscape the plane has settled in. Black sand and rock for miles in every direction with only a few distant mountains that can be seen on the horizon line. My photographs truly feel suspended. The plane is suspended in its monotone landscape and suspended in time.
Black Sand Beach
The next stop along Route 1 is Dyrhólaey, also known as the black sand beach. One of my favorite stops during the whole trip, this place is a visual wonderland. From the towering basalt columns to the nightmarish rock formations in the distance, there is so much to explore here. In the sunlight, the sand becomes warm and perfect for sitting and watching the milky white waves dissolve against the black canvas.
Be sure to check out the other side of the beach. You'll have to drive a little bit further down the road, but the basalt columns are even more impressive and there's an adorable little restaurant. Perfect for enjoying a cup of tea after your bout of adventure.
The next stop along the road is the adorable little harbor town of Vik. It's a great place to grab a bit to eat and take in a little bit of small town life. Try the cured lamb at Halldorfskaffi for a positively out-of-body experience.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
This is one of the top places to see in Iceland. The Jökulsárlón glacier is breaking off slowly into the Atlantic in large chunks. Take a walk along this large lagoon and behold floating chunks of ice of different sizes, shapes, and colors. You'll even get a good look at the enormous glacier itself.
Boat tours through the lagoon are available, however they were a little pricey. We were able to walk along the coast of the lagoon on our own, until eventually we found ourselves distanced from all the other tourists. The lagoon is massive. and boasts incredible views. Watch out for chunks of ice breaking apart right in front of you. Though, you'll probably hear it before you see it.
A short walk or drive down to the beach and you'll find the spot where glacial ice washes up along the shore. It's a very dramatic sight to see ice sitting against black sand, being beaten by crashing waves, and slowly dissolving into the ocean.
Next up on my coverage of Iceland's Ring Road: The North, because we haven't gone north enough already.