Over the course of the 91 days we spent in Iceland, we saw more otherworldly nature than in the rest of our lives combined. This tiny country on the northern edge of the Atlantic Ocean is one of the most special places on Earth, filled not just with unforgettable outdoor adventures, but with wonderful little towns and some of the friendliest people we’ve ever encountered.
On the second-to-last day of our loop around Iceland, we drove along the southeastern coast from the Eastfjords to Hali near Jökulsárlón. Along the way, we saw some amazing mountain scenery and encountered a couple interesting sights near the town of Höfn.
One of the larger towns in the Eastfjords, Seyðisfjörður is best known as the port for ferries arriving once a week from Denmark. We didn’t know much else about it when we decided to spend the night here, but were pleasantly surprised. Seyðisfjörður was one of the more charming villages we visited during our entire journey around the country.
When we pulled into Akureyri, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This cute little village was supposed to be the second-biggest city in the country? Come on, Iceland, stop kidding. Where’s the real Akureyri? Where is this “Capital of the North” we’d read so much about? Where are you hiding it?
A village of just 800 inhabitants built around a natural bay of the same name, Ólafsfjörður was our base during the three days we spent exploring the eastern half of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula. The town itself doesn’t have a lot to distract tourists, but the surrounding landscape picks up the slack.
Although the great majority of it is completely inaccessible to all but the most adventurous hikers, the peninsula of Tröllaskagi is one of Iceland’s more heavily-populated regions. It’s book-ended by Sauðárkrókúr to the west and Akureyri to the east, with the towns of Hofsós, Sigluförður, Dalvík and Ólafsfjörður strung out along the coast. We drove along the coastal road just after the year’s first snowfall.
Stretching into the arctic waters of the Atlantic on Iceland’s northeastern coast, the Vatnsnes Peninsula is usually over-looked, but has a couple worthwhile places at which to stop. At Ósar, there’s a seal colony which lives on a sandbank just across a narrow stretch of water. And the Viking-era fort at Borgarvirki offers interesting history and a fantastic view of the region.
At the midway point of our journey along the Klöjur Road, we stayed overnight at Hveravellir. After hours of desolate lava fields and no signs of life (apart from the occasional shrub), we greeted this lonesome outpost like Bedouins stumbling upon an oasis in the desert.
After our successful completion of the Introduction to Highland Driving course provided by the Kaldidalur Road between Húsafell and Þingvellir, we felt confident enough on the very next day to tackle level two: Kjölur. The 200-kilometer route F35 cuts through the interior, connecting Gullfoss to the northern town of Blönduós.
For 60 kilometers between the Hvitá valley resort of Húsafell and the Þingvellir National Park, the bumpy Kaldidalur (Cold Road) cuts between glaciers and across lava fields. It takes about two hours to traverse and acts as a kind of beginner’s course to the country’s highlands.