“Not another waterfall!” Sophie moaned when I announced our sightseeing plans for the day. A mere three days into our Iceland vacation, we had already marveled at more waterfalls than one could reasonably expect to marvel at in a lifetime. They were all so beautiful and so different – it was impossible to become immune to them. Unless your name is Sophie. While the waterfalls didn’t melt her heart, she often found the landscapes surrounding them full of surprises and hard to resist.
There was the exquisite Hraunfossar (the featured image at the top of this post), my favorite waterfall by far, and its smaller, but no-less stunning sister, Barnafoss, whose turquoise blue waters had me gasping in awe.
The humble Gluggafoss holds a special place in my heart. It was our first unplanned waterfall encounter and we had it all to ourselves. Did I mention that there are waterfalls everywhere in Iceland?
There was the incredibly tall and tourist-traveled Skogafoss, which tempts the intrepid with a steep climb to the top. The reward for those who persevere: a fabulous view of the countryside.
I loved Öxarárfoss in Þingvellir National Park. An intimate waterfall at one of the most important historical sites in Iceland – where Iceland’s democratic parliament – founded by the Vikings in the 10th century – regularly met until the late 18th century. It’s also here that you can stand in the rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
How about the majestic Godafoss in the north? It was easy to see why it’s known as the waterfall of the gods. Sophie engaged in one of her favorite activities here – hunting among the rocks in search of treasure.
Or Dettifoss? It might not win prizes for its beauty, but the waterfall is considered by many to be the most powerful in all of Europe. We visited the site on a blustery and rainy day, fitting weather that perfectly correlated to the angry pounding of the water. Dettifoss was our last official waterfall visit. Despite its imposing stature, Sophie was far more impressed with the lava field surrounding it. She happily ran across the rocks, oblivious to the force of nature that drew in every other mere mortal like a magnet.
It’s hard to overstate how spectacularly beautiful Iceland is – we found ourselves pulling over to the highway median on many occasions to admire and photograph the stunning scenery. Although summer is the country’s main tourist season, we often enjoyed long stretches of road with nary a car on the horizon, especially as we headed west and north. Our daily drives were not short – we covered an average of 250 kilometers a day – but the breathtaking landscapes more than compensated for our time spent in the car. It was a road trip like no other and even Sophie had to admit that, despite her protestations to the contrary, the waterfalls were not so bad after all.
For Part II of our Iceland adventures, click here. There’s so much more to the magnificent country than waterfalls, I promise!
While I’m usually comfortable booking all of our travel arrangements myself, I had trouble identifying the most strategic places to stay as I started to map out our trip, which covered about 2/3 of the Ring Road, the main highway that encircles the entire country. I turned to the terrific Icelandic Farm Holidays to assist with the planning. We chose a modified version of their North & South Cottage Holiday, which included a rental car, three nights in a self-catering cottage near the town of Hveragerdi in the south of the country, one night in the charming Hraunsnef Country Hotel (which has a very good restaurant) in the west and three nights in another self-catering cottage near Akureyri in the north. We added an additional night on Snaefellsnes Peninsula on the way to Reykjavik at the end of our trip and I booked two nights in Reykjavik myself.
A Note on Car Rentals
No matter the season, I highly recommend spending the extra money to rent a 4WD car. I thought a 2WD would be sufficient given our visit during the summer and regretted the decision. Although a 4WD is not necessary if you remain on or near the Ring Road, having a 4WD would have allowed us to explore the country’s highlands more freely and taken roads that would have significantly shortened the distances between some sites. In addition, Iceland has a lot of secondary unpaved gravel roads that, while not off-limits to 2WD cars, greatly increased our stress level when we drove on them.
A Note on Food
Food in Iceland is incredibly expensive, since much of it is imported. We were happy to have stayed in self-catering lodging for most of the trip, which greatly reduced our costs. We bought food at local supermarkets that we used for breakfasts, picnic lunches on most days and several dinners.
Lodging: Hotel Hellnar. Beautiful setting at the foot of the Snaefellsjokull glacier and volcano. The beach, just a short walk away, is magnificent.
Dining: With its prime real estate on the beach, the charming little restaurant Fjöruhúsið is not to be missed (it’s also a lot more affordable than the hotel restaurant).
Horseback Riding: If ever there was a place to take your first ride on a horse, Iceland is it. Accompanied by her papa, Sophie went riding for the first time with Stori Kambur horse rentals. They offer a scenic one-hour excursion along the beautiful beach .
Lodging: Grettisborg Apartments. Full-service apartments in the heart of Reykjavik, close to supermarkets and the main shopping avenue. No car needed here.
Dining: We had a particularly good meal at Vegamot, a bistro with a large, eclectic menu. We also enjoyed pizza at Elsmidjan and crepes at Eldur and Is, a particularly great find for Chloe because of its vegan options.