It may not rival the stories of Grettir the Strong or Erik the Red, but our own Icelandic saga continues in the geologic wilds of North Iceland. This is the realm of charred lava fields, desolate peaks, and waterfalls named for the gods—not to mention a memorable stretch of the Ring Road that traverses remnants of ice and fire.
(If you need a refresher on Days 1-5 of the itinerary, take a look at my last post, The Best of Iceland’s Ring Road, Part 1)
Day 6: Stokksnes and the East Fjords
I first saw an image of Stokksnes on the Instagram page of Chris Burkard, a photographer and director who never ceases to inspire my wanderlust. But nothing quite prepared me for seeing the craggy peaks of Vestrahorn in person. It’s a sight you’ll want to take in at sunrise while wandering Stokksnes’ black sand beach—just be sure to pay the small entry fee to the friendly landowner inside the Viking Café.
For the rest of the day, you’ll trace the dramatic coast of the East Fjords—pausing to explore the artsy village of Seyðisfjörður, search for summer puffins in Borgarfjörður Eystri, and spend a quiet night in the rolling hills outside Egilsstaðir.
Where to Eat: On your porch at Skarðás Country Cabins outside Egilsstaðir, or with an enthusiastic crowd of locals at Norð Austur Sushi & Bar in Seyðisfjörður
Where to Sleep: A warm, welcoming home at Skarðás Country Cabins, or the impossibly cute Hótel Aldan
Day 7: Lake Mývatn
Today is a day to witness the power of nature as you drive across the strange, Martian landscapes of North Iceland. Follow Route 862 to Dettifoss, where more than 14,000 cubic feet of water plunge over the edge each second, and marvel at the volcanic spoils in the lava fields of Krafla and the steaming mud pots of Hverir. You’ll soon come to the shores of Mývatn, a shallow volcanic lake and bird sanctuary best enjoyed by hiking to the Hverfjall crater and soaking in the Mývatn Nature Baths.
Where to Eat: Vogafjós Cowshed Café for lunch, dinner, and the best lamb shank in Iceland
Where to Sleep: A stylish lake view room at the brand new Fosshotel Mývatn
Day 8: Húsavík and Akureyri
As many as 11 species of whale spend the summer off the shores of Húsavík, a picturesque fishing village that overlooks the Greenland Sea. Thus, it’s an ideal place to join North Sailing on its traditional oak boat in search of humpback, minke, pilot, and killer whales in the depths of Skjálfandi Bay. Back on land, make a pit-stop at the aptly named Goðafoss on your way to Akureyri—Iceland’s second-largest city (with only 18,000 residents) and the small dose of urban activity you hardly knew you needed.
Where to Eat: Kaffi Ilmur for lunch and cake, Strikið for dinner in a sleek and modern space, Akureyri Backpackers for after-dinner drinks, and Brynja for the best soft serve in Iceland
Where to Sleep: A beautifully decorated, perfectly charming Airbnb home in Akureyri
Day 9: Tröllaskagi
The name of the peninsula northwest of Akureyri offers a hint of what’s in store on today’s drive—jagged peaks, secluded hamlets, and deep fjords that seem fit for fairy tale trolls. You’ll test your nerves in one-lane mountain tunnels, stop to make friends with Icelandic ponies out to pasture, and pull into the tiny town of Hvammstangi just in time for a sunset walk along the water.
Where to Eat: Berlin for the coziest breakfast in Akureyri; Sjávarborg for dinner overlooking the fjord in Hvammstangi
Where to Sleep: A well-appointed, affordable suite at Solgardur Apartments
Day 10: Snæfellsness
If you’re one of the millions who tune into Game of Thrones each week, you’ll know this place as the “mountain like an arrowhead” from the foreboding dreams of Sandor Clegane. To everyone else, it’s merely Kirkjufell, the most photographed peak in Iceland and one of the countless beauties of the Snæfellsness Peninsula. If you’re not in a rush to return to Reykjavík, it’s well worth the detour to visit Snæfellsjökull National Park, the seaside town of Hellnar, and the iconic lonely church of Búðakirkja.
Where to Eat: Grillmarkaðurinn or Dill Restaurant, to celebrate making it back to Reykjavík in one piece
Where to Sleep: Back at REY Apartments, where this great adventure all began
5. Are There Sights Worth Seeing Away from the Ring Road? Goodness, yes. The Ring Road is indeed a crown jewel of Iceland, but it is also just a taste of the adventures that lie in store. With additional time at your disposal, consider spending a few days off the grid in the Westfjords, hiking the 15-mile trail from Skógar to the hidden valley of Þórsmörk, or booking a Jeep tour of Landmannalaugar’s multicolored mountains. Backpackers will also find otherworldly delights on the 34-mile Laugavegurinn Hike between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk, which is accessible between July and September.
6. Any Tips About the Gas Situation? Once you recover from the sticker shock of your first meal out in Iceland, the high price of gas won’t be quite so unexpected. Thankfully, there’s N1—Iceland’s favorite chain of service stations—to distract you with scrumptious breakfast pastries and cheap, delicious hot dogs. Just remember that once you leave Reykjavík in your rear view mirror, it’s a good idea to fill up (on gas, and on snacks) whenever you can.
TITLE: The peaks of Vestrahorn in Stokksnes | INTRODUCTION: The rugged mountains of Stokksnes | DAY 6: Scenes from Stokksnes; scenes from Stokksnes; a cabin at Skarðás Country Cabins | DAY 7: The shores of Lake Mývatn; Dettifoss; the mud pots of Hverir; the crater of Hverfjall; Lake Mývatn; the shores of Lake Mývatn | DAY 8: Húsavík harbor; ships in port in Húsavík; a humpback whale in Skjálfandi Bay; scenes from Goðafoss; Goðafoss | DAY 9: Scenes from Tröllaskagi; Icelandic ponies; the village of Hvammstangi; the shoreline of Hvammstangi; the shoreline of Hvammstangi | DAY 10: A church on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula; Kirkjufell.
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