Welcome back! This post is a continuation of my Ring Road Self-Drive planning series. Part 3 will take you up the east and through northeast Iceland. There is so much to see and so many options for hiking and sightseeing that this itinerary will hopefully be more of an outline that you can use to fill in the gaps.
Day 3 (optional+1): Höfn to Egilsstaðir
|Drive to Djúpivogur|
|Take a break in Djúpivogur/visit egg sculpture|
|Drive to Breiðdalsvík|
|Rest in Breiðdalsvík|
|Drive to Fáskrúðsfjörður|
|Rest in Fáskrúðsfjörður|
|Drive to Reyðarfjörður|
|Rest in Reyðarfjörður|
|Drive to Egilsstaðir|
|Rest in Egilsstaðir -or- continue to next step|
|If daylight hours permit, drive to Seyðisfjörður|
|Have dinner in Seyðisfjörður|
|Stay in Seyðisfjörður or drive back to Egilsstaðir|
|[option] If staying an additional day, explore Seyðisfjörður and Egilsstaðir region|
Driving the East Fjords is a pretty straightforward task. There aren’t many “attractions” to stop for per se, but you’ll probably end up looking for turnouts so you can capture photos of the majestic scenery. This section of the road is in a more remote part of Iceland, with small fishing towns dotting your route.
Before leaving Höfn, be sure to fill up on gas if you’re running low. The stretches of road are long and I wouldn’t risk getting an empty tank on these roads. Restock on groceries if you have to, then leave Höfn and continue on your way northeast. The glacier outlets crawling down the mountains slowly fade from view as you turn north, route 1 starting to hug the coast, a path that avoids cutting straight through the rugged wildness and endangering it from human contact. Instead of lava fields, hot springs, and glaciers, you’ll be bestowed with a superb, if not a little scary, coastal drive. I sincerely wish you the best of luck that weather is in your favor.
Cliffs on both sides of you, you’ll drive through a couple of relatively shallow fjords with 180 degree views of steep mountains, carved by mighty Vatnajökull. I hope you have a wide angle lens here – otherwise, a panorama will do. I certainly have not mastered fjord photography.
Djúpivogur: The first town on your way to Egilsstaðir. There is a museum here and a strange egg sculpture called Eggin í Gleðivík. If you’re on an exceptionally relaxed pace with money and time to burn, consider a side trip to Papey Island – 4 hour tours leave from here. I think the Westman Islands would be a more worthwhile side trip, but not having been to either, I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Otherwise, outside of maybe scouting out a WC and a hot dog, continue on your way.
Breiðdalsvík: After getting a taste of fjord driving, you’ll make it to the next town. Here, you have a choice of either continuing on Route 1 to Egilsstaðir or continuing through the fjords on Route 96 and optionally, Route 92. Either one you choose, there will be a part of the route that is unpaved. I originally planned to continue on Route 96, and my host at Höfn confirmed that it was the correct choice. Route 1 goes up a steep mountain pass that is rumored to be quite scary, being a gravel road with occasional lack of guard railings.
Not much to do in this town, though there is a hotel and a summer-only cafe, so continue on your way.
Fáskrúðsfjörður: If you have 5 hours to kill, consider hiking up the magnificent 743m high rhyolite mountain Sandfell before you get to this town. I haven’t done this hike personally, but judging from internet photos, it looks like a splendid hike. On that note – don’t be afraid of considering more hikes in the region – there are plenty of choices. I wish I could write about them here, but that brochure I linked should help you customize your trip to include some outdoor activities.
Reyðarfjörður: King of the fjords, this town sits in the longest and widest fjord of the east. There is a war museum here and some options for accommodation. Not a bad place to stay for a night, but if you’re staying further north, continue on your way.
Unless you’re driving up through more fjords on Route 92, you’ll depart the coast and drive up through a mountain pass and eventually be rewarded with a splendid view of the valley Egilsstaðir sits in.
Egilsstaðir: You made it! I booked accommodation at Kaldá Lyngholt Holiday Homes which rents out mini cabin guesthouses. Kaldá is a wonderfully hospitable host and the cabins are clean and super cute. If your trip includes more east fjord exploration, consider staying more than a night to cover as much of the region as you can, as there is much to explore.
If you have more daylight hours, I suggest making an extra trip to Seyðisfjörður to have dinner, nestled just over a mountain.
Seyðisfjörður: Seyðisfjörður has become something of a tourist-town, so there is plenty to explore, including shops, restaurants, and indoor hot tubs. I had the most scrumptious gluten-free chocolate cake of my life in this town at the restaurant Skaftfell Bistro. The drive itself is super scenic and you’ll get a fabulous view of the fjord as you descend down the mountain. If you’re staying in Egilsstaðir, you do have to go in and out the same way. Alas, I don’t have much to say about this area, but I’m certain other blogs have more information.
I do wish I had more time in Seyðisfjörður, because we arrived quite late and didn’t have a chance to walk around much. There are quite a few hiking trails, some of which lead to waterfalls. If you are visiting in the summertime, I would recommend spending another day in this region if the weather is good just to partake in some of the hiking and having some more time to explore the region.
Day 4 (optional+1): Egilsstaðir to Mývatn
|From Egilsstaðir: Drive to Dettifoss|
|Visit Dettifoss (depends on weather)|
|Drive to Krafla/Víti Crater|
|Drive to Hverir|
|Drive to Grjótagjá (turn left onto 860)|
|Drive to Hverfjall (cont. on 860 to Rt. 1)|
|Drive to Dimmuborgir|
|Drive to Skútustaðagígar|
|Stay in Mývatn area|
Before you read this section – there are a lot of ways to tackle this section, and because I traveled only in the shoulder season, a lot of the roads were blocked or partially covered in an impassable mixture of snow and mud – I can only talk about what I’ve experienced, but as I’ve researched, I’ve found other places I didn’t consider, so I’ve included options below that I have not personally gone to just so that you can be aware of them. I also did not put them in my suggested itinerary, so how you decide to fit them in is up to you. I’ve indicated those attractions with an “option” tag. More information and photos can be found here – an excellent site for your planning.
Today you will drive to Mývatn (vatn means “lake”), a geothermal region that is home to a Blue Lagoon lookalike, Mývatn Nature Baths, among a lot of other geothermal phenomena. The earth’s crust is thin here, which makes for a gold mine of natural attractions. There are quite a few attractions in this area, so I’d recommend staying somewhere in the vicinity. Enjoy the scenery as you drive through the mountains – there is a lot of beauty here.
When I visited, the elevation definitely changed a bunch. Due to the recent snowstorm, I felt like I was really in the arctic.
Check your map, but after about 100 km or so, start to watch out on your right side for the road that will lead to Dettifoss. There are actually two – 864, which is unpaved, and 862, which is paved. 864 will have a better view, but it is gravelly and more dangerous. Google automatically makes you take 862, but if you are blessed with great weather and clear roads, you may prefer 864 for its view.
Dettifoss: Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is fed by – you guessed it -the mighty Vatnajökull which colors the water gray due to the volcanic silt that it carries with it. During shoulder seasons, you may find yourself unable to walk much of the paths here. When I visited in mid/late April, the entire area was covered in snow and most of the trail was too muddy and slippery, so the authorities fenced it off so visitors couldn’t get too close. It was also super foggy due to the mist and there was not much to see.
From Route 1, there are two ways to get to Dettifoss: Route 862 and Route 864. 864 is the closer one if you’re going counterclockwise around the ring road. Which side is better is a debate that has been addressed. 864 is an unquestionably better view – you can see the entirety of the horseshoe part of the falls, where 862 will only get you a partially obstructed view. I was only able to take 862 at the time I visited due to snow obstructing the other road. On the other hand, 862 is also a paved road where 864 is gravel and a bit more dangerous to drive.
Dettifoss is reminiscent of Niagara Falls. It has an “American Falls” and basically its own Horseshoe Falls. No, seriously.
Definitely a better visit in the summertime, in my opinion, especially because driving so far off the road (and back) is not worth it if you can’t see much of the falls.
[option] Ásbyrgi: If you plan to drive all the way around 862 and 864, you can’t really miss a visit to this gorgeous horseshoe canyon. I personally have not gone (probably something you can only access easily in the summer if you’re driving Route 1), but from what I can see in the photos, it’s worth a visit. Also worth noting is that this area (862/864) is all part of Jökulsárgljúfur. More information about things to do in this area – WAY more than I can provide you at this moment in time – can be found here. If you are traveling in the summertime, you might want to spend one day exploring this entire region and spending the next day in Mývatn, because the distance around 862 and 864 (and 85 at the northernmost part) is about 80 miles (127+ km). Considering the amount of stopping to sightsee and hiking you’ll be doing, there’s not a ton of time to get to Mývatn and do it justice. Also…if you are planning to go whale watching in Húsavík, then you will definitely need another day if you want to thoroughly visit Mývatn.
If so, continue driving north onto route 85, circling the coast, until you get to Húsavík.
[option] Húsavík: This town is popular for its popular whale-watching tours, though I personally did not do one. You would probably need to stay an additional day to be able to fit this in your itinerary, because the tours are about 3-4 hours long, and you’ll definitely want to be there earlier to find a place to park and settle in. You can also stay here overnight and then drive down Routes 85 and Route 87 to Mývatn.
[not optional, though I did not visit] Krafla & Víti (Hell): Regrettably I was not able to visit Krafla and its jewel blue crater lake as there was too much snow on the road and I would’ve had to walk a considerable distance to the trailhead. From all the sources I’ve read, people have recommended not to skip over Krafla, and some say that Víti is more stunning than Mývatn itself.
The road to the next attraction, the geothermal field Hverir, is only mere few km down the road.
Hverir: Right off the ring road are these walking paths surrounded by bubbly mud pots and boiling hot springs. Hverir is the hot spring region at the base of Námafjall. This highly active area is reminiscent of Yellowstone. It’s not too far off Route 1, so it’s worth a visit if you’ve never been to Yellowstone before. It’s pretty cool to look at the steaming mountain nearby. Don’t worry too much if you don’t end up visiting it – there are plenty of geothermal attractions in Reykjanes that are pretty similar – though I got a kick out of seeing these:
The pile of rocks is funneling the steam and making a loud hissing sound. You can walk right up to it – at the time I visited, it was not fenced off.
Not far from here is a place where you soak in a less crowded version of the Blue Lagoon.
[option] Mývatn Nature Baths: This is North Iceland’s version of the Blue Lagoon – it’s essentially a smaller version of the same attraction in a different place. I did not personally visit it, but I’ve heard that it is cheaper than the Blue Lagoon and less crowded (given how difficult it is to get entrance to the Blue Lagoon nowadays, this is a viable alternative).
There is a nondescript road to the next attraction that loops into route 848 that goes around the lake (I tried to outline it using the dotted line on my map), but if you want, stop by Reykjahlíð to stock up on groceries and gas first.
Grjótagjá: Google has trouble navigating here, so you’ll need to look for the sign closely. – it is easy to miss. The famous Game of Thrones season 3 sex scene was filmed in this little cave with a completely natural, absolutely stunning geothermal pool. When I visited, there were some other people taking a dip inside the pool. It is a bit tricky to climb into the cave – you’ll definitely need to be careful not to slip and crack your head open on rocks. This cave was formed by a lava fissure and the water is still being heated to a bathing-friendly temperature by the lava deep underground. Definitely stop by this cave if you can and bring your swimwear!
Sorry…I don’t have good pictures…but look!
Continue driving south until you reach the entrance to the impossible-to-miss tuff volcano, Hverfjall.
Hverfjall: The road to Hverfjall is full of potholes, so be gentle with your 2-wheel-drive if you rented one. This was difficult to walk up in mid-April – the trail was difficult to find underneath all the slushy snow and mud (another situation in which appropriate footwear will earn its worth). But this adorable tuff ring volcano is a sight to behold – it’s not terribly tall, so you can still hike up the slope without too much trouble if you’re in decent shape. It’s quite gravelly though, so be prepared to get some rocks in your shoes if you’re not wearing proper boots. It’ll take you about 15-20 minutes to hike up, and over an hour to get all the way around it.
Dimmuborgir Lava Fields (“Dark Fortress”): All sorts of shapes and sizes of jagged lava rock. It was hard to get to at the time I went, and roads were mostly muddy and gravelly. I skipped this one when I visited, but I would definitely check it out next time. Don’t worry too much if you miss it – there are other areas with lava rock formations, especially just off the road!
Skútustaðagígar: There is a walking path around these funny looking pseudocraters. These are created when steam bursts through the ground during a volcanic event. Try to resist the temptation to walk over the fenced off areas.
If you did everything up to this point, congratulations, that’s a lot of stuff in one day. If the weather is good and the roads are clear, I actually recommend that you only do some of them and then go back the next day to finish them off so you don’t feel rushed.
Continue around to Vindbelgjarfjall if you want to take a 2-3 hour hike to a splendid 360 degree view of the lake.
[option] Vindbelgjarfjall: Labeled as Vindbelgur on the sign, this is a 2.4 km hike to a fine bird’s eye view of Mývatn from the summit of an extinct volcano. I added this in for the active people out there. I didn’t hike this, but it’s another activity you can add to your itinerary if you’re out of things to do (which is unlikely).
A note about dinner: the Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe is AWESOME. It’s a farm-to-table restaurant here you can eat super fresh dairy and check out the cows you get it from.
Stay in the Mývatn area – there should be plenty of options for accommodation if you book early enough. If you’re visiting in the winter, I hope you get to see the northern lights, as they are quite stunning with the reflection of the lake.
Stay tuned for part 4, where we cover more of north Iceland, including an epic drive around the monstrous Tröllaskagi peninsula.