Travelogue: My self-drive tour of Iceland
A&K’s Lou Maggs discovers the delights of Iceland during a self-drive adventure, from the Golden Circle to the Blue Lagoon.
Ever since I discovered it’s a prime spot for admiring the northern lights, I’ve wanted to travel to Iceland. This land of fire and ice is much more than a pretty vantage point, however. The sheer scale and natural beauty on offer are beyond anything I could have imagined.
Iceland deserves to be on your bucket list, as the highlights of my 4x4 tour reveal.
Although Iceland thaws in the summer, I chose to travel in December for the full winter wonderland experience. My self-drive itinerary focused on the southern sights, including the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle – all accessible by road from Reykjavík. As you venture out of the city into icy territory, you feel like you’re lost in the wilderness, yet you’re never too far from civilisation.
The bright lights of Reykjavík
After touching down in Keflavik Airport, Reykjavík is usually the first port of call for visitors to Iceland. On approach, the country’s capital looks small and quaint, but as you reach its centre, it opens up to reveal the bright lights and busy hot spots of this cosmopolitan hub. I loved the compact charms, well-kept streets and quirky architecture. Boutique shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels, museums and the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church are all within comfortable walking distance. Everyone is friendly and polite, and it’s a wonderful place to spend time.
Black sands and waterfalls
In winter, there are only around four hours of daylight each day. Whilst that isn’t ideal for long hikes, it’s perfect for driving excursions to Iceland’s best sights. I chose a 4x4 self-drive itinerary for precisely that reason.
Travelling outside of Reykjavík, you quickly realise the scale of Iceland. During my road trips, I had many a ‘wow’ moment as the immensity of the landscapes engulfed me. From sunshine to snow, rain to wind, and occasionally a bout of hail stones, it’s not only the weather that changes every five minutes – the landscape is constantly changing with it. In a two-hour driving tour you can go from the town of Selfoss to the southern-most village in Iceland, Vik. In doing so, you pass the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls – worthy pitstops – to reach Vik’s Black Sands beach where you can admire the Reynisdrangar sea stacks. The contrast between the black sand (made up of volcanic ash) and the roaring waves is like nothing I’ve ever seen.
The Golden Circle
My next destination was the famous Golden Circle, a 300-kilometre scenic loop from the capital to the uplands and back. Traversing roads covered in ice and snow in my Land Rover Discovery, I visited the three must-see sights along the way: the Haukadalur geysers, the Gullfoss waterfall and the Thingvellir National Park. Whilst you’re hit by the smell of sulphur in the air, it isn’t off-putting. Rather, it feels perfectly natural in this volcanic landscape.
Watching a geyser suddenly erupt from the silent ground blew me away, and I thought nothing could top it. Gullfoss proved me wrong; this stunning, distinctive waterfall cascades over steps in the canyon of the Ölfusá river and should be on your itinerary. Thingvellir National Park is where Iceland’s parliament was based from the 10th to the 18th century, and its awe-inspiring views are worth the detour before the return to Reykjavík.
The Blue Lagoon
I spent my final day navigating Iceland’s roads by visiting the world-famous Blue Lagoon. I decided to take the Route 42, which carries you past Kleifarvatn Lake. There are plenty of scenic spots to admire surrounding this, the largest lake in the Reykjanes Peninsula, and the landscape between it and Grindavík is wonderfully other-worldly.
Finally, I arrived at the stunning Blue Lagoon for a well-earned rest. Staying at this geothermal spa for a couple of hours and contemplating my experiences was the perfect end to my Icelandic winter adventure. Now I want to return in summer time, as I know it’ll be a completely different world again.
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