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.
For a rewarding day trip out of Reykjavík, it's hard to do better than Iceland's highest waterfall, Glymur. Found at the end of Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord), Glymur is hidden within a canyon, and an hour's hike is required before it comes into view. But the walk is gorgeous, and the waterfall itself completely worth the effort.
Found right downtown, across from the Tjörnin Lagoon and next to the Free Lutheran Church, the Listasafn Íslands is stationed in a former freezing plant. Why not? What could make a better center for Icelandic art than an ice house?
Just outside the hot spring haven of Hveragerði is the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station. If you want to visit, don't worry about accidentally driving past without spotting it. This is the world's largest geothermal plant, spouting giant columns of steam high into the atmosphere, and it's unmistakable.
Precariously situated in the middle of an active geothermal area southeast of Reykjavík, Hveragerði makes for an easy excursion from the capital. During our visit, we explored hot springs, ate an geothermally-cooked egg and treated our feet to a therapeutic mud bath.
Here's a little known fact: anyone who can correctly pronounce the name of Iceland's National Museum automatically wins Icelandic citizenship. Absolutely true. The immense Þjóðminjasafn (that's THYOTH-min-ya-safin, if you feel like practicing) takes visitors on an exhausting chronological tour through Icelandic history. If you want to learn about the country and can only visit a single museum, this is the clear choice.
An asymmetrical glass building on Reykjavík's harbor, Harpa resembles a shimmering iceberg that crashed onto the shore. Since opening in 2010, the city's opera and concert hall has won prominent architectural awards, welcomed over two million visitors and become one of the city's most recognizable landmarks.