The wonderful untamed nature of Iceland. Discover the amazing landscape of the highlands of Iceland. Here you have the opportunity to discover many natural wonders of Iceland, such as craters, geothermal activity, waterfalls, national parks, glaciers, lakes and more.
Duration: 9 days
Indulge yourself in Iceland’s rich natural treasures, including national parks, beautiful waterfalls, striking glaciers, magnificent volcanoes and hot springs.
You will experience all of the well-known attractions in south Iceland. These include Reykjavik City, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir and some other hot springs, the National Park at Thingvellir, Landmannalaugar the pearl of the highlands, the gorgeous preservation area of Skaftafell, the glacier lagoon Jokulsarlon and many more.
The schedule for this day will depend on the time of your arrival in Iceland. Collect the car at the International Airport in Keflavik and go to the Blue Lagoon (if your flight schedule allows time), where you can enjoy the unique nature and relax. The Blue Lagoon is a natural pool of sea water in the middle of a lava field filled with moss. If you opt for car collection at the airport (for a small extra fee), you must book that. Try out the thermal swimming pools in Iceland's pristine capital, or go to the mall for some shopping or do some sightseeing in the city - there is so much to see. You will also have some time to settle into Iceland ready for your big trip to begin tomorrow.
Optional: Dining out in Reykjavik - Restaurants
If you did not collect your car at the airport you will receive your rental car. Your route will take you East out of Reykjavik and over the Hellisheidi mountain pass, through the town Selfoss and then further east where you will need to take road 30 to drive towards Fludir before you take road 32 to the Thjorsardalur valley. Thjorsardalur boasts the most beautiful nature. It is good to take stops at the wooded area at Skridufell and the Viking farm house at Stong where early settlers of Iceland chose the fertile valley of Thjorsardalur as the site for their farmsteads, unaware of the fact that the tranquil-looking, snow-capped mountain towering in the south was an active volcano. In 1104, there was a massive eruption in Mount Hekla, and the settlement in Thjorsardalur was buried under tons of volcanic debris and ash. In the last century the available data from the remains of the farm was pieced together and a replica of the farm constructed.
You must stop at the second highest waterfall in Iceland, Haifoss, but be careful with your steps at the edge of the canyon. Also see the Hjalparfoss Waterfall (meaning the Helping Falls), a pretty unique double waterfall that joins at its base. The name came about because people who travelled through the desolate Sprengisandur route through the Interior knew this relatively lush area would be a great help to their horses who needed to graze and recover.
Next your route will take you north on the mountain road F26 to Hrauneyjar, over sands and barren desert, with a view to manmade lagoons near hydro power plants, the volcano Hekla and more mountains and glaciers. If you watch carefully you can at some places see light sand layers made by Hekla's eruption in the year 1104 which ruined the pasture in a big part of the country.
A short distance beyond Hrauneyjar Highland Center you will need to turn onto road F208, Fjallabaksleid nyrdri (the Northern Route behind the Mountains) that takes you to Landmannalaugar, situated in a colourful and beautiful area of rhyolite mountains. We suggest you take stops at Lake Frostastadavatn and Ljotipollur or Ugly pool, however, be reassured that despite its name this crater is uniquely impressive and the surroundings stand no comparison to other such natural phenomena in the country.
You arrive at Landmannalaugar, an oasis in the highland, with a natural hot pool nearby. You can arrange your accommodation here either in a hut or a tent.
Today your tour begins when you take the mountain road F208, Fjallabaksleid, through a beautiful area with mountains, lakes, bogs and moors and there are a few rivers to cross. When you reach the road F235 you enjoy driving along the banks of the river Nordariofaera all the way to the Lake Langisjor. You will notice a high mountain near the lake, it's 1090 metres high, named Sveinstindur. It is considered by many that hiking to the top will give you the most fabulous mountain view in Iceland - giving you the opportunity to see over a great area with volcano Hekla, Lakagigar craters, Skaftareldahraun lava field and Oraefajokull glacier -. and last but not least, the magnificent Lake Langisjor, situated between mountains and glaciers, 20 km long with its water level at 670 metres above sea level. This water is crystal clear and the environment is extremely beautiful.
Your route back will take you along the road south, with a turn to left near the Sveinstindur mountain taking you to the Sveinstindur Mountain Hut. Your accommodation can be arranged at Sveinstindur Mountain Hut or in a tent nearby.
Today your route will take you along the road back before you need to turn east on road F208 which will take you over hills and rivers all the way to road F223 where you head into Eldgja volcanic canyon. Eldgja and the nearby Laki craters are part of the same volcanic system as the renowned volcano Katla. Eldgja means "fire canyon" in Icelandic, its greatest depth is 270 metres and it is 600 metres wide at its widest part. The first documented eruption in 934 produced the largest basalt flood in historic times flowing from a 70 km long crater row. An estimated 18 km³ of lava poured out of the earth. The cloud of aerosols from the eruption were carried on the prevailing westerly winds and traversed northern Europe, creating a dimmed and reddened sky. This eruption continued for months. The eruption was followed by a very cold winter and poor harvests the next summer causing severe famine and a widespread disease epidemic. The Eldgja eruption injected a great quantity of aerosols into the middle stratosphere and this persisted for a long time.
Ofaerufoss, a nice waterfall, is within walking distance in the canyon. Take a hike, either inside the canyon or follow the edge, take time to imagine how the earth opened up and sent flowing lava up into the air from this extremely long row of craters. From here your route will take you south on the road F208 over green heaths towards the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
You should stay overnight in the area surrounding Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
Today your route will take you from the Kirkjubaejarklaustur area in a westerly direction before you turn onto road F206 to the Lakagigar craters. This unique crater row was formed in one of the world's largest mixed eruptions in recorded history. Now referred to as the Fires of the River Skafta, this continuous series of eruptions emitted a vast quantity of lava and substantial amounts of volcanic ash from a fissure stretching 25 km across the area west of the ice cap.
The first eruption began on 8 June 1783 at the south-west end of the fissure. Lava flowed across the flat land destroying a large number of farms, stopping just outside the small town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur on 20 July. The north eastern part of the fissure then erupted from 29 July until well into October, lava flowed along the course of the River Hverfisfljot and across the countryside on both banks. Although volcanic activity then began to subside, the eruption was not finally over until February 1784.
The largest crater in the row is a small tuff mountain called Laki, which stands in the middle of the fissure. The total area of the resulting lava field is 565 km² and the estimated volume of volcanic material is over 12 km³.
Ash from the eruption reached all the way to Europe and beyond. Its poisonous nature caused famine across Iceland. Up to 53% of cattle, 82% of sheep and 77% of horses were killed due to poisoning or lack of pasture. The population of Iceland fell by 20% (10,000) as a result of the famine between the years 1783 and 1786. Crop failure, disease and disasters in Europe following the eruption have been traced to this airborne haze, for the most part tiny droplets of acid and ash dust, which led to a drop in overall temperatures. It is sometimes argued that the eruption in Iceland was one of the causes of the French Revolution in 1789.
After the Lakagigar eruption, the Danish colonial authorities considered transporting the remaining 40,000 Icelanders to the Jutland heaths in Denmark. Thankfully, their plans were never followed through. The majority of the craters are now covered in racomitrium moss, and the area has some of the most stunningly attractive landscapes in Iceland. It is good to enjoy a hike in Lakagigar before you drive east along the track south of the mountain Blaengur towards Laufbalavatn Lake, where it is possible to visit caves if you are equipped for a caving tour. From here you will need to drive the south track along the river Odulbruara to the Ring Road.
Accommodation for the night should be arranged in the area surrounding Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
On the outskirts of the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur it is easy to walk to Kirkjugolf, a rock formation that looks like a church's floor but is a natural formation. We recommend this walk before you begin your tour by driving in an easterly direction from village Kirkjubaejarklaustur, it is good to stop at Foss a sidu (a nice waterfall) and at Dverghamrar, a peculiar and beautiful formations of columnar basalt. On top of the columns there is cube-jointed basalt. This landscape is thought to have been molded at the end of the Ice Age. The sea level was higher at that time and it is believed that the waves caused the peculiar look of the rocks. Dverghamrar is a protected natural monument. Columnar basalt is formed when lava flow gets cooled and contraction forces build up. Cracks then form horizontally and the extensive fracture network that develops results in the six sided formation of the columns. A little further to east you will come to the old farm houses at Nupsstadur, these houses were typical farmhouses in Iceland in past centuries. The most noteworthy of these buildings is the chapel, one of few remaining turf churches in the country. It is believed that the chapel is mostly part of a church which was built around 1650.
Your journey east along the Ring Road will bring you to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, one of Iceland's best known and most popular natural wonders. A magnificent view welcomes you as you arrive here and it is almost like stepping into a fairy tale landscape. On a big glacial lagoon that Vatnajökull touches, enormous icebergs float around, but the landscape is otherwise dominated by black sands and rocks. The lagoon is effected by the ebb and flow of the tide, making the lagoon a mix of sea and freshwater lake. This leads to food from the sea being carried into the lagoon, which seals and common eider both eat, and this adds colour to the area.
The lagoon started to form in 1934-1935. The river Jokulsa ran straight down from underneath Vatnajokull, about 1½ km to the ocean. Since 1950 the glacier has pulled back steadily and a growing lagoon has formed. In 1975 it was 7.9 km² but has grown to be 18 km² today because the glacier is melting quickly. The medium flow rate of the river is 250-300 m³/sec. where big and small icebergs regularly break from the edge of the glacier. Icebergs of all shapes and sizes float on the lagoon, which is very deep, or around 190 m. As onlz 1/10 of the icebergs is above the water surface, it can be difficult to imagine how big the icebergs really are!
The Jokulsa River which runs from the glacier and to the sea keeps getting shorter because of marine erosion, and in 1998 it was not much longer than 500 metres. The lagoon's surface has steadily lowered, which means it is now effected by the ebb and flow of the tide. This simply means that warmer salt water flows into the lagoon when the tide flows in and the ice melts a lot faster than it did before. Both capelin and herring swim into the lagoon, and seals follow this to feed in the lagoon. Common eider also eat the fish and can be seen swimming between the icebergs. It is an unforgettable experience to take a boat and sail on the lagoon and observe the colour changes in the ice, the amazing sculptures of nature and the animal life which thrives there.
You can take a boat tour on the lagoon and a hike down to the shore where icebergs float out to the sea. When you have enjoyed Jokullsarlon you will need to drive back in westerly direction, Fjallsarlon glacier Lake is well worth driving to for the beautiful scenery. Finally, your route will take you towards Skaftafell, if you are in the mood for hiking do not miss out the Svartifoss Waterfall.
Your accommodation for the night should be arranged in the area surrounding Skaftafell.
From Skaftafell your route today will take you west along the Ring Road before you need to turn onto road 208. Near the farm Grof you will need to take road 210 which connects you to the mountain road F210, Fjallabaksleid Sydri (the Southern Route behind the Mountains). If you are lucky enough to have a clear day you will see a wonderful view to the glacier Myrdalsjokull and the outlet glaciers of Kotlujokull (a name gifted from the volcano Katla), Sandfellsjokull and Oldufellsjokull. Myrdalsjokull glacier is the fourth biggest glacier in Iceland, covering 590 km², hiding Katla under its ice shield, one of the most active volcanoes in the country. Katla last erupted in 1918, on average it has erupted with at intervals of 40-80 years - so an eruption is imminent. The Katla caldera is oval in shape about 30 km in diameter and covers an area of 110 km² . The ice within the caldera is hundreds of metres thick.
Katla erupted very powerfully in 1918 but there is evidence of smaller eruptions after that. Icelandic volcanologists are expecting another eruption in next few years so the Myrdalsjokull glacier and the Katla caldera are monitored quite closely. Because the volcano is sub glacial it has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Iceland. Its peak reaches 1493 m in height and the extension of the glacier Myrdalsjokull reaches 595 km². Since 930, 16 eruptions have been documented. The Laki craters and the Eldgja canyon are part of the same volcanic system, so it can be regarded as one of the most powerful in the world. Before the Ring Road was constructed, people feared traversing the plains in front of the volcano because of the glacier runs which often occured and the deep rivers to cross. The glacier run after the eruption of 1918 was especially fatal. Through the ages many farms have been swept away by the eruptions of Katla with the eruption of 1311 being recorded as particularly damaging. A farmer is said to have survived with his young son by clinging to an iceberg which later drifted back to shore. An eighteenth century eruption killed several people, whilst others were stranded for days on mountains that turned to islands as floods engulfed the plains. In Katla´s last eruption in 1918 icebergs the size of houses were seen floating out to sea. More recently in 1955 and 1979 there have been floods but with no eruption being seen. In year 2011 there was a big flood from the glacier which swept away the bridge over the river Mulakvisl on the Ring Road east of village of Vik. People had to use a ferry to cross the river for 10 days until a temporary bridge was constructed.
A glacier run (literal translation of Icelandic "jökulhlaup") is due to the eruption of a volcano under a glacier. The ice over the volcano melts because of the heat, causing water to form a lake under the remaining ice cap. The icecap then collapses, or the water breaks through the barrier in front of it, and a more or less disastrous flooding of the land below the mountain follows.
Your route follows the road taking you north of Myrdalsjokull where you will get a view of Mount Maelifell (Measure-hill) which rises to 800 metres over sea level, a picturesque scene within the black desert. Next you will need to drive west over the Maelifellssandur plains - which should be easily passable but beware that the rivers can change their channels leaving the sand wet. From here you will need to continue before turning onto F233, the road to Alftavatn Lake.
Your accommodation should be arranged in the Alftavatn Lake.
Today your route will follow the road from Alftavatn Lake up to the Kaldaklofsfjoll Mountains. This track is steep and you are advised to drive with caution, but offers an amazing view all the way up to Hrafntinnusker, a 1128 m high mountain which could have the name The Obsidian Skerry in English. The hiking route between Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork, the so-called "Laugavegur", crosses it and some hikers decide to spend a night in the Tourist Association's hut, which houses 20 people, and was built in 1977. The mountain surroundings are in a very colourful rhyolite area with many hot springs, steam vents and boiling mud pits, which are well worth hiking to.
Hrafntinnuhraun (The Obsidian Lava Field) is situated to the north of the Obsidian Skerry. It is actually an area with lavas of different ages, the youngest of which has a round crater in the middle, where the viscous lava stacked up and created a mound. During the first half of the 20th century obsidian was sometimes quarried there for the decoration of houses in the capital, such as the National Theatre.
From Hrafntinnusker your route will take you along the mountain road F210 to Keldur, a farm and a church site. The present church was built in 1875, where the old farm still stands in the shelter of the edge of the lava field, big cold springs, called Keldur, feed into a stream.
The areas north of Keldur are almost totally barren, sanded lava areas, where there were fertile areas and prosperous farms in the past. The Keldur property is about 20 km long and 8 km wide and consists of the former properties of four farms and several outlying farms. This area consisted of large, well vegetated patches of land until 1880 and to date the ruins of 18 farmsteads have been discovered in the area.
According to the Njal's Saga, the farmer Ingjaldur Holskuldsson occupied Keldur around the year 1000. Later the most powerful dynasty in the country, the so-called Oddaverjar, had one of their manors there. The father of this dynasty, Jon Loftsson, spent the last years of his life there, and founded a monastery, which did not last for very long. The hall of the old farm is ancient and is the oldest hall of the country. The old farm is open for visitors. A few years before the turn of the last century the houses of the old farm were repaired and renovated. The archaeologist who carried out excavations also discovered new facts about a sub terrain walk from the farm down to the stream.
In the early 19th century, written sources mention two burial grounds about 2½ km east of Keldur. Since then they have been researched and studied by scientists. They are on both sides of the present Middle Route road. One of the spots contained the earthly remains of many men, among the artifacts found with them were three spears, a horseshoe, a hoof nail, a snaffle-bit and a bronze decoration. The other grave area revealed much less, only a carved piece of bone depicting two animals of the dear family nibbling on the leaves of a tree. Those graves might support the authenticity of the so-called Njal's Saga. Gunnar of Hlidarendi and his brother Kolskeggur were attacked on the river and killed many of their attackers before Kolskeggur paid with his life. If you are interested in getting more information about Njal's Saga you should visit the Njala Museum at the village Hvolsvollur nearby. From this area you will need to drive back to Reykjavik.
Accommodation for the night should be based in the Reykjavik area.
After breakfast you have the option of heading to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa near the airport on the Reykjanes peninsula (if you didn't do that in day 1). It is good to relax there for some time before you drive to Keflavik International Airport in time for your flight out after your many good days in Iceland. You can drop your car off at the Airport.
Optional: Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.