Iceland is one of those places with an endless allure. After you get your first taste of the unique and inspiring country, you start finding reasons to venture back. For our second visit to Iceland, we partnered up with Happy Campers and our friends from Wander The Map to tour the Western fjords and make another trip around the ring road to catch some of the fantastic sights we missed the first time. To catch the highlights from our trip, you can take a look at the video we put together below from our campervan adventures:
While this list could go on and on, here are my top 10 reasons why Iceland is an incredible country for a road trip:
From the sturdy Icelandic horse to puffins and arctic foxes, Iceland is the home to numerous critters that thrive in the country’s unique landscapes. Seabirds have long visited Iceland as part of their migratory paths, and Iceland is one of the best places to get to know the Atlantic puffin - an adorable little bird with a big personality. Chances are, when you visit Iceland, you’ll end up encountering wildlife you have never seen.
Dramatic coastlines, icefields, volcanoes, and waterfalls galore! Each geographic region in Iceland is composed of some very different landscapes, making the scenery on a road trip something that is constantly changing. From moss covered volcanic fields to impressive glaciers tumbling over cliffs, Iceland has landscapes that will please any adventurer.
Because of its unique volcanic history, Iceland has some of the coolest geologic features of any of the countries that we have traveled. Columnar basalt lines black sand beaches, massive sea cliffs mark the border between the coastal lowlands and the highlands, and stunning rock formations seemingly rise out of the ocean. Both the Dyrholaey Arch and Hvitserkur, the Thirsty Dragon, are prime examples of this, with arches formed from erosion by the salty waters of the sea. In Þingvellir visitors can clearly see the continental rift between the North American and Eurasian plates, and even walk between two continental tectonic plates!
From near 24-hr sunlight in the summer to dancing lights in the darkness of winter, Iceland’s ever-shifting days are likely to be the experience of a lifetime. While we have yet to encounter the incredible Northern Lights that dance in the skies of Iceland during the darker months, our visits in June were the perfect opportunity to make the most of extended daylight hours. Watching the midnight sun glide along the horizon over the Greenland Sea from the comfy bed of our Happy Camper was amazing.
Icelanders are incredibly friendly hosts to travelers. Every person we interacted with throughout or time in Iceland was warm, generous, and always willing to help out - from dinner recommendations to secret spots to explore, advice was never hard to find! Our friend Inga, who runs Tiny Iceland, toured us around Reykjavik and made sure we hit all of the hot spots - including Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (the hot dog stand), Hallgrimskirkja, the Lebowski Bar, Kol Restaurant, and a fantastic artisanal bakery called Brauð & Co.
Gas stations, believe it or not, are quite the popular spots in Iceland! While at the most basic level, they are still places that sell fuel, gas stations in Iceland are often also coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, and community meeting places. From knitting supplies to hot dogs, you can find pretty much anything you need for a road trip at the larger gas stations (except advil or ibuprofen - you have to get those at a pharmacy, which we found out the hard way!). Another great feature of the gas stations in Iceland is the free car washes! They’re the perfect way to clean up a camper that has seen some activity.
Because of Iceland’s unique geology and volcanic activity, there are hot pots all over the country! From secluded natural hot streams to man-made pools fed by geothermally heated water and overlooking a fjord, there is no shortage of hot water in Iceland. During this trip, we played in the most hot pots in the Westfjords - there were a ton of them in that region! Each larger town generally always has a local swimming pool in the town center that is also fed by geothermal water - great places to mingle with the locals. With such an abundance of geothermal activity, it should come as no surprise that a good portion of Iceland’s power is geothermal. With their other main source of power being hydropower, Iceland is one of the few places with almost entirely renewable energy.
Being the closest living relative to the traditional language of the vikings, Icelandic is a challenge for sure. Pronouncing Icelandic words is quite the adventure in linguistics and the locals certainly take pleasure in watching travelers attempt to say things like Eyjafjallajökull and Fjaðrárgljúfur. When listening to an actual Icelander speaking though, the language is quite beautiful!
Since we were camping and making our own meals for most of the trip in the Happy Camper, we didn’t experience Icelandic food to the fullest potential, but we definitely did get to try quite a bit! From traditional harkarl (yes, the Greenland shark meat that is definitely as unappealing as you hear) to the fantastic lobster bisque in Höfn, seafood is very prevalent in Icelandic culinary culture.
Let us not forget that Iceland is chock full of sheep and thus, their fantastic wool. Icelanders certainly know how to make the most of that wool, creating beautiful and warm sweaters with traditional rustic patterns. My favorite souvenir from our trip is a wool blanket that is simply patterned and so so warm. Conveniently enough, you can find handmade wool products in the gas stations! If you’re driving through Vik, there is a massive wool shop that is worth a stop.
To see more posts related to our adventures in Iceland, check out the blog entries below:
Thanks again to Happy Campers for providing us with a complimentary rental. All opinions are our own.