Bring me the Winter – 10 days on Iceland’s Ring Road

Roadtripping around Iceland, a country notorious for its fierce storms and constant weatherchanges, in late fall? I really wasn’t sure whether this was one of my better ideas. Yet I have wanted to visit Iceland for years and was able to take some days off work in late October, so I decided to give it a go. Turns out, the idea wasn’t so bad after all – here is to ten days of spectacular nature, tiny horses and a bunch of mad sheep.

Day 1: Coffee and Cozyness – Reykjavik

I arrived in Reykjavik, or rather at Kevlavik airport, at eight in the morning, slightly sleep deprived (after having spent a night on a bench at Basel airport) and only to discover that my credit card unfortunately hasn’t made the plane. Knowing that getting the rental car withouth that card might be tricky, I treated myself to a big cup of coffee first and then headed over to the counter doing my best to persuade the person in charge of handing out car keys that I will return the car in the best condition, that I in fact do own a credit card, and that I am usually not that big a mess and actually quite organised. The sweet-talking worked and half an hour later I dropped my giant backpack into the trunk of my tiny rental car and was ready to go.

Driving into Reykjavik was already an experience: A steady and cold rain set in just as I drove out of the airport carpark and the drive into the city through a vast lava field was a spectacularly gloomy one. I checked in at superhip KEX hostel and then set out to explore the city and its shops (think Ilse Jacobsen, and 66 North, and Geysir) and coffeeplaces (loved Laundromat Cafe).

 

Day 2: Get a taste of the wildness to come on the Golden Circle

For those who only have a few days in Iceland driving the golden circle is a must: Yet because it can easily be done in a day it is also packed with tourists. Even in late October. Even if it is really windy and rainy. The drive takes you to Thingvellir Nationalpark first, where you walk along huge magma walls. It then goes on to the geysir named Geysir and the one right next to it called Stokkur, which erupts every ten minutes. Bring your camera and make sure to check out in which direction the wind blows, otherwise you will be in for an unplanned shower… Round the day off at Gulfoss and be amazed by its sheer masses of water. Also, and this applies not just on the Golden Circle, bring your rain jacket with you. Everywhere. Even when you literally just cross the street. Because if you don’t, that is when it will start pouring down icy cold rain-snow-mush.

 

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Picture time at Öxarafoss in Thingvellir Nationalpark. Nevermind that icy rain.

 

Day 3: Hike the rugged Coastline on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Snaefellsnes Peninsula was one of my favourite places on Iceland. The landscape is so stunningly beautiful and strange. I was superlucky weather-wise and got to hike the rugged coastline between Arnarstapi and Hellnar in bright sunshine and under a blue sky. (The hike is approx. 4 kilometres one way, there and back will take you about two hours, longer if you stop for pictures. And you will.)

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Hiking the coastline between Arnastapi and Hellnar.

Continuing my drive towards the north-side of the peninsula took me past iconic Kirkjufell mountain and into the cute little harbour town Stykkisholmur, where I stayed a the most beautiful little Hotel Egilson. I wish I could have explored Snaefellsnes more, and will definitely be back to hike in Snaefellsjökull Nationalpark. Yet I was also curious what I would find further up north, so I drove on the next morning.

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Mount Kirkjufell on Snaefellsnes peninsula.
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Dark rivers and dark mountains on Snaefellsnes peninsula.
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That ridge! Mount Kirkufell again, different angle. Also note the blue sky. In late October.

 

Day 4: Ride tiny horses in Varmalid – and also see northern lights

Some go to Iceland for the nature, some go for the horses – for me it was a bit of both. So scheduling a horseback ride was a must in my travel itinerary. I loved my two hours riding tour in the valley of Varmalid that took me along a river to the secret waterfall Reykjafoss. A lot of farms offer one or two hours tours even for beginners, just make sure you bring some comfortable and especially warm clothes. And if you are a more experienced rider there are heaps of several-day-rides available that will take you up into the highlands and into the wild.

Since the weather on said horseback-riding-day seemed to hold up for the night, I decided to give the whole camping idea a go and set up my little tent on the village campground – a good idea: I got to witness northern lights lazily peeking out of my tent and all cuddled up in my sleeping bag. Quite the bedroom with a view.

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Off northwards on this beautiful black dirt road. Little did I know what a bumpy ride it was going to be. But the stunning landscape was well worth it.
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A taste of winter…
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Snowy mountains, hidden waterfalls and cuddly horses – suppose it can’t get much better than this.

 

Day 5: Climb volcanoes around lake Myvatn

That moment when you literally just finish packing up camp and the snowstorm hits. After a relatively warm night in the tent I woke up to some really cold wind and really dark skies. I quickly packed up camp and had a quick brekkie and then put the last of my gear into the car when the first snowflakes started to fall. Ten minutes into my drive I was finding myself in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a full-blown blizzard and to discover that my windscreen wipers didn’t do much else apart from evenly spreading the snow all over my front window. I kept on driving at a snails pace getting out of the car every ten minutes to wipe the snow from my front window and hoping I would make it to the town of Akureyri in one piece. There I contacted the rental car office and had them immediatly replace said windscreen wipers. The storm was still going on, but now being able to actually see where I was driving, I decided to go on for a little while (it was after all only eleven in the morning and there wasn’t really much to do in Akureyri in these weather conditions). This turned out to be a good idea since another hour of driving through the storm took me to a rather christmassy looking Godafoss, and another two hours of driving to the region of lake Myvatn, which was, to my big surprise completely snow-free and I was greeted with a clear skie and a spectacular sun set while I took a walk through the lava fields of Dimmu Borgir.

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Goodbye, evil blizzard!
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Godafoss in a rather christmassy look.
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Nearly getting lost within the valley of lava sculptures called Dimmu Borgir.

The next morning I hiked up to the rim of Hverfell volcanoe imagining myself sitting up there at the rim, enjoying a hot cup of coffee from my canteen and witnessing a beautiful surnise. Turns out there was an superfierce gale blowing up there that was nearly sent me into the crater. Seriously the strongest wind I ever experienced. Coffeebreak had to wait until I made it safely back down. And the gale contiued to blow all day long while I wandered the weird mud fields of Hverir and walk around crater-rim of Stora-Viti, a tiny crater with a lake in it.

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View from the crater-rim of Hverfjall.
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Hverir hot springs area, near lake Myvatn.
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Nature being all weird around Hverir hot springs area.

 

6. Drive on specatularly lonely cliff roads on the East Fjords

On I drove all across the plains of Northern Iceland, stopped to be awed by the sheer masses of Dettifoss and then started to make my way down south along the eastern fjords. It was one of the most spectacular parts of the drive, the ring road taking me right along the coastline and past beautiful black beaches and around stunningly strange mountain ranges. It was also one of the most lonley parts of my drive. I didn’t encounter many cars, but yet had to drive extra carefully since Icelandic sheep apparently do as sheep do, i.e. find it sensible to madly run onto and on the street as I approached. So silly, so cute.

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Sheep doing as sheep do.
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Catching rainbows at Dettifoss.
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The endless roads of Iceland’s north.
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Iceland being spectacularly strange once more: some random mountain ridge in the east of the island in dusky morning light.
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Roadtrippin…

 

7. Wander around blocks of glittery ice on the black beach near Jökulsarlon

Jökusarlon is one of the most photographed places in iceland, packed with tourists even in late fall, but still very much worth the visit. There is nothing that compares to the sight of these giant blocks of ice breaking off the glacier and floating the few hunderd meters into the sea and then getting washed up on the black beach. Such a precious and serene sight.

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Jökulsarlon glacier lagoon.
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Blocks of ice just lying around waiting to be swept back into the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Hike on a glacier in Skaftafell Nationalpark

Iceland is the land of glaciers and walking on one of them was one of the highlights of my trip. I joined a guided day-tour, was instructed on how to use and walk with crampons and had the best of times marching up and down the slope and see the icefall up close and getting to peek into some of the less deep crevasses.

Skaftafell Nationalpark was also super convenient to camp: Even though the campground right next to the visitor center was officially closed for the season, the (heated) restrooms were open all night, there was running hot water, and quite a few other campers around, which always makes me feel a little safer, when camping by myself.

And if the glacier hike and the prospect of a chilly night in the tent don’t fully take it out of you yet, you can always squeeze in a little hike up to Bartifoss, a beautiful waterfall just some 30 minutes of walking away from the visitor center.

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Me and the Fälljökull icefall just hanging out and enjoying a bit of autumn sun.

 

9. Walk on the endless black beaches around Vik

The beaches of the south coast make you want to stop for pictures at every corner and just stay and wander for hours. Between the large strips of black sands there are spectacular cliffs, most notably the spikes just out of Vik called Reynisdrangar. Make sure to check out Reynisfjara beach too. And Dyrholay, a huge arch in the sea.

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Iceland all gloomy and beautiful near Vik.

And if you drive on a little further, make sure to stop at Skogafoss, another beautiful waterfall.

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Skogafoss living up to the season.

 

10. Drive through barren lava country on your way back to Keflavik

You could follow the ring road straight to Keflavik airport – or you could take some time to explore the southwestern peninsula and take the longer but way more spectacular route along the coast. On the way, make sure to stop at Hveragerdi for a short hike to Reykjadalur, a valley with hot springs and a creek that is warm enough to bath in even in winter. Don’t forget to bring your swimmers.

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Ready to swim in a creek in October.

Then enjoy your last drive through this amazing wasteland of black lava until you reach Kevlavik airport. Just so that you are reminded to the very last moment what a unique place you have just visited. And so that you will want to go back. As soon as possible.

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Black beaches. Mountains. Sunsets. Iceland, I will be back!

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