I finally got a chance to visit one of the most interesting, exotic and somewhat chilly countries in the world: Iceland! One of my colleagues said to me the other day that Iceland was “the best kept secret in Europe” and I think she was right! This is a country with landscapes that need to be seen to be believed… especially on the road!
We had spent a few days in Reykjavik trying the lobster soup at Sægreifinn (or The Sea Baron in English) and shopping to death (Icelandic wool mittens and sweaters are super cozy). We also did the incredible Golden Circle tour with a stop at the Fontana Steam Bath, but wanted to get out of the city and explore the countryside a bit, so we rented a car.
Renting a car is extremely easy in Iceland and they drive on the right side of the road like we Canadians do. Route 1, the main highway connecting the country together and also known as the Ring Road, is mostly paved which makes for easy driving. However, some parts of the northern roads are still gravel and driving in winter can still be treacherous. The Hertz agent did have an ominous warning for me however: Beware the sheep – sometimes they like to wander across the road!
We headed south without any particular plan of action and it was the best plan we’ve ever had – just to drive and watch the mountains rise from the distance. We saw the volcanic landscape around Reykjavic give way to the verdant farmlands where we could see Icelandic horses grazing behind wooden fences. I was in actual awe and wonder at the beauty of it all (a feeling that doesn’t happen often when strapped in a small car). The land changes so quickly – before you know it you’ve passed farms and geothermal energy plants to find small towns and cities; mountains become volcanoes, and volcanoes give way to glaciers. It’s unbelieveable!
The drive was full of hidden gems like the impressive waterfalls just off the side of the road (where you could walk right behind the cascading water) or the visitor centre for Eyjafjallajökull; the volcano that erupted in 2010 and interrupted air traffic all over Europe. There were signs for glacier walks and jeep tours tempting us to stop. If only we had a few more hours of daylight!
After a few hours of driving we eventually made it to the sleepy seaside town of Vik. We found a great goose down jacket and ate delicious fish and chips. We wandered along the amazing black volcanic sand beaches and watched the waves crash onto the shore. In the distance were the Reynisdragnar Seastacks – said to be giants who were caught by the dawn and turned to stone.
Eventually night fell and we drove back contentedly to Reykjavik. We kept a sharp eye out for the Northern Lights in the pitch black sky and maybe if it hadn’t been so cloudy we might have gotten the chance to see them but such is the fickle nature of weather I guess.
So this is my best tip for you in Iceland: Get out of the city and drive the Ring Road. Spend a week just soaking up the landscape. Car rentals aren’t necessarily cheap, especially if you need a car capable of driving on some of the unpaved roads (a requirement for the serious driver). We rented an economy vehicle which are not allowed to go off-road or leave the main highway (off-roading is against the law in Iceland). Make sure you always keep a full tank and I definitely recommend getting full insurance coverage for your vehicle – those pesky sheep come out of nowhere!
Looking for more information on travelling to Iceland or flying with IcelandAir? Bryan Wilson is an International Travel Consultant and Assistant Manager at our Leslieville location in Toronto and can be reached by e-mail or calling 1-855-867-4974