It has been a year since I travelled to the land of fire and ice in June of 2017 and yet the place stays in my mind. I have heard stories of tourists moving to Iceland after spending only a few days in her picturesque landscapes (although I’ve heard the locals aren’t too happy with this practice), and it is easy to see why once you’ve made the trip yourself. Tickets to Iceland are relatively cheap during the off-season (summer) because people often come here to see the Northern Lights in the winter when nights are long (about 20 hours without sun) and dark.
In mid-summer, however, I had the pleasure of having daylight roughly 85% of the day, which was really a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I felt as though I had more time to experience the things I wanted, but a curse because I hardly slept. When the sun’s up, I’m up, and because I am this way, I was nearly always tired.
I arrived at Keflavik International Airport early Saturday morning, maybe at seven or eight, and waited for the rental car company to pick me up. I was driven to the Hertz office about five minutes away and picked up the Ford Focus I would be sleeping in for the next week with no hassle at all. A word of advice: purchase the extra insurance. Luckily, nothing happened to the car during my week here, but if I had known the conditions of some of the roads I would be driving on, I certainly would have added it to my plan. I got lucky. Hertz also provided a hotspot that I used on the road for maps and for contacting my family through Whatsapp, but I would still recommend a physical roadmap.
After driving off from the Hertz office, I stopped in Reykjavik, only to purchase groceries and fill up on gas. Gas stations can be few and far between in Iceland, so fill up anytime you see one. Bonus: You can also refill on water at the gas stations. From Reykjavik, I took highway 1 to 47 around the Hvalfjörður harbor. It is not necessary to go all the way around Hvalfjörður, but it is more beautiful and I did not want to pay the toll required to cross the harbor via highway 1. Immediately after leaving Reykjavik, I was surrounded by immense beauty. It is difficult not to stop every 5 minutes for pictures. The drive from Reykjavik to Kirkjufell (my destination) is only three hours, but with how much you will be stopping for photo opportunities, I’d round it up to four. In fact, I was so jet-lagged and tired from the first two hours of driving and picture taking, I stopped on the side of the road for a good two-hour nap. So who knows; it may take a little longer than you anticipated! The drive is of course worth it (see below) and I would recommend (time did not permit me, unfortunately) a visit to the glacier, Snæfellsjökull, just west of Kirkjufell, the supposed “center of the earth” according to Jules Verne.
Next up was a small fishing town I was extremely excited to see because of my love for the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” In the film, Mitty visits Nuuk, Greenland, but in reality, the scene takes place in Stykkishólmur, Iceland. In the scene, he is hesitant to board a helicopter but begins to imagine his lady serenade “Space Oddity” to him and he is eventually filled with enough courage to board. It is dramatic and beautiful and I was stoked to see where one of my favorite movie scenes was shot. The place is not on any tourist bucket lists, but it is a lovely coastal town with which you will immediately feel at home. There are great eateries if you enjoy seafood, otherwise, you can hike to the bright red lighthouse across from the harbor that overlooks Stykkishólmur.
From here I retraced highway 54 all the way back down to 1 to 47 and finally cut across 48, a narrow gravel road, to get to Þingvellir National Park. This journey took me two and a half hours. Of course, this was because I was still avoiding the toll, and it would have been faster on a different route. The national park is the birthplace of the Icelandic parliament which was founded in 930 a.d. Here, you can walk through a rift valley, with jagged walls on either side, due to the shifting of two tectonic plates. Although I did not find the place super interesting (besides a few waterfalls), I believe history or geology buffs might say otherwise.
Finally, I made my way down to Seljalandsfoss, a straight shot south from highway 36 to 35 to 1, about an hour and a half away. This waterfall is unique because you can walk behind it, just be sure you are wearing your rain jacket! If you get really lucky, on a clear day during sunset, the waterfall and the walls from the inside, turn a rosy gold color. I did not have such luck, but regardless, it is a beautiful waterfall, with not too many people around. I slept at the Hamragardar campground right next to the falls, where the powerful roar of Seljalandsfoss lulled me to sleep.