I recently road-tripped around Iceland for about a week, and it was unlike anything else I’ve ever done. It’s hard to believe until you see it for yourself, but as you drive down the highway in Iceland, literally everywhere you look there is a new fascinating, breath-taking sight. Another mountain, a 100-ft waterfall, lava fields, moss-covered gorges. Nevermind the impossible-to-pronounce names or ever-present sulfur smell in geothermal areas… Iceland is 100% worth the visit.
**It’s worth noting that my road trip was limited to the western and southern coast – as far north as Snæfellsjökull National Park, and as far southeast as Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. I stuck to the coast because as you drive inland, you hit what are called “F-roads,” and F-roads require 4-wheel-drive. As expensive as Iceland already is, I didn’t splurge on 4-wheel-drive for my rental vehicle. There is already so much to pack into a trip just along the coast! Next time I make it to Iceland I will be sure to head inland!!
1. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
This incredible sight is about an hour’s drive east past the entrance to Skaftafell National Park, in southern Iceland. The enormous glacier that you drive alongside will tip you off that you are on the right track! The lagoon itself is filled with enormous icebergs that drift around, then slowly make their way out to sea through a canal. A phenomenal sight.
2. Kirkjufell Mountain
This might be the most famous mountain in Iceland. You can find it on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, near Snæfellsjökull National Park, about a 2.5 hr drive from the island’s capital, Reykjavík. It’s free-standing and beautifully shaped, with its best angle being from Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall.
3. Bruarfoss Waterfall
Before visiting, I had read that Bruarfoss Waterfall could be tricky to find, but I knew it was worth a try. You can add it as a stop along the Golden Circle — the most popular tourist loop that can be completed within a day; you’ll find it between Thingvellir National Park and the Geysir Geothermal Area. You kind of have to park illegally along the road, then wander back through some secluded residential streets. But the water is known as possibly the bluest in Iceland.
4. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
The black sands of this beach in Southern Iceland, near Vík, are definitely beautiful, but it is the hexagonal basalt columns that steal the show. Giant’s Causeway in Ireland is another famous example of this. Basaltic lava cools slowly, and through a process called columnar jointing, the geometric columns form.
5. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
This towering, famous waterfall is known for causing rainbows. You can walk under it too… just definitely wear a raincoat because the spray really soaks you! This waterfall is also in Southern Iceland, along the drive down to Vík from Reykjavík.
6. Kerið Crater
At this stop along the Golden Circle you’ll find the bright waters of a circular crater lake, surrounded by red volcanic rocks. You can walk all around the upper edge of the crater, then descend in to check out the water up-close.
7. Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge
This was a massive gorge we happened upon, on our way to Snæfellsjökull National Park. The landscape was way too stunning not to stop… endless lava fields covered in moss, with mountains rising up along the coast. You can hike partway into the gorge, until rushing waters block your path.
8. Gullfoss Waterfall
Another famous Golden Circle stop, this is a multi-tiered waterfall that is truly dramatic. It surges through Hvítá River Canyon. You can hike right up to the water, and all around the beautiful area. It is also worth saying again that pretty much every waterfall in Iceland reveals beautiful rainbows. (And if you haven’t yet caught on, “foss” means waterfall in Icelandic.)
It should be made clear that this is by no means an exhaustive list. Iceland is absolutely filled to the brim with natural wonders. These just happened to be my favorite photography spots in my unforgettable week-long itinerary.
Sidenote: it can be very overwhelming deciding where to start when planning for Iceland… the perfect time to consult a travel agent!!