There are single days that are unforgettable; full of new adventures, free spiritedness and unexpectant wonderment. Traveling offers those types of ‘in the moment’ experiences and they are even better when back to back, one right after another, in a single day.
There are many places on this planet that can offer days like that and Iceland is one of those places- rent a car, drive with friends who you went to high school with 30 years prior, while singing 80s songs. I told one of my friends on the trip, “If someone told me 27 years after high school that I would be on an Icelandic road trip with you, I would of told them to put down the crack pipe.” I am always in amazement with life and where it brings you to.
It was an October day and we were riding down Route 1 or the Ring Road, a popular road trip for adventures. Ring Road does just what the name says, it encircles Iceland just like a ring. The route offers explorers various experiences such as waterfalls, hiking, glacier lagoons, lakes and the Golden Circle. The road runs through almost every area of the country (apart from Westfjords), which makes it an exciting and popular route for locals and visitors.
My friends and I had positioned ourselves in the capital, Reykjavík, and rented a car for several days during the last days of our trip. On this specific day that I am writing about was our last day in Iceland, and the most memorable. We had chased the northern lights for a week, going out almost every night with local experts, who lead our group to find the magical lights. The correct atmosphere and environment needs to happen for the lights appear, and it took a week for it all to line up. I am not saying that it will take you a week to see them, just know that the prime months are from September to April and they are best seen on a clear night, away from populated areas.
We saw the aurora borealis at the end of our adventurous day, but the day leading up to it was filled with free spiritedness and pure fun. We were in and out of our car, stopping off at extraordinary locations that were noted on a map or as a simple sign along the road.
Exploring new places without any expectations and just being in the moment, has always been the best way for me to go about my travels. It keeps those moments of adventure pure and unexpected. They become the unique memories that you take with you in life, no matter how old you get and how many places you move to.
If you are looking to find adventure that may lead up to the northern lights in Iceland, please read on. The locations listed were the sites we saw along Route 1, along with my Icelandic food blog towards the end. Hoping this inspires you to road trip in Iceland with people you know, or even on you own. Happy travels my friends!
This waterfall in one word, “powerful!” We could hear the roar of the raging water pounding and feel its energy way before we got as close the waterfall as possible. Skógafoss is a tremendous location in Iceland and is one of the most treasured.
The Skógafoss, which is located on Route 1, is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls. It is enormous with a width of 82 feet and a 200 foot drop. The amount of waterfall spray consistently creates a single or a double rainbow on visible sunny days. Skógafoss is glorious!
If something looks interesting along the side of the road, use your instincts and pull over. That adventurous instinct lead us to Steinahellir Cave and to something that we did not expect, once we stepped inside.
Steinahellir’s location is at the foot of a slope and the entrance to the cave is closed off with a wooden plank façade, and a welcoming door. The cave was used as a regional assembly site from the years of 1818-1905. It has also served as a hay barn, sheep shed and a machine shed. It was not until the late 20th century that Steinahellir was made accessible to visitors.
When I walked through with my friends, I was not expecting to see a cave flourishing with greenery. I have been through numerous caves and caverns, but not one that was crawling with beautiful plant life. Ferns, various plants and mosses hung from the cave ceilings and walls, it was both surprising and fascinating.
Have you ever walked behind a waterfall before? Seljalandsfoss happens to be one that you can find yourself on the backside of a waterfall. The path that leads you from the side to the back, and into a small cave can be slippery so make sure you are wearing appropriate shoes. It is quite the experience for the senses- hearing the echoing of the water raging along the rock walls and feeling the mist upon your face. I thought it exhilarating and loved every second of it!
Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions and is easily accessible off of Route 1. This magnificent waterfall drops almost 200 feet and is part of the Seljalands River, which originates from a volcanic glacier.
Turf House Remains
Walking distance from Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, there are small craters in the ground that at one time were semi-underground houses. These small homes were called turf houses.
The construction of these traditional homes were done by stacking flat stones for the foundation and creating the frames with birch or driftwood. The covering would be layers of turf and a grassy roof, which kept the insides warm on those colder days.
More Turf Houses
As we were driving, another sight caught our eyes- more turf houses. This style of home is traditional for Iceland, as far back as the late 9th century until the mid 20th century. Locals of all socio-economic levels lived in these types of homes, since the heavy turf walls and roofs kept the cold out.
Today, not many turf houses remain in Iceland due to the amount of maintenance. So if you see some of these special structures along Route 1, be sure to stop off and take a look. Mind your step around these delicate structures because they are indeed a significant part of this country’s history, and need to be preserved.
“Oh, a glacier. Let’s go!” Just another unexpected site along our road trip along Route 1. Sólheimajökull, an outlet glacier off of Route 1, is located between the two volcanos Katla and Eyjafallajokull. It is part of a larger glacier and Sólheimajökull is the portion that has a relatively easy access.
Sólheimajökull is rapidly melting and it is possible that many of Iceland’s glaciers will become extinct within the next century. There are many natural places in this world that are must go and see before they are gone completely, and visiting a glacier is one of them.
Dinner at Hotel Ranga and the Northern Lights
This is where we saw the Northern Lights and it was purely in a serendipitous way. In truth, we all had given up hope on seeing the aurora borealis because this was our last day in Iceland. During the day, we had stopped at Hotel Ranga to use their restrooms and we got into conversation with the owner, who was very welcoming. He told us to come back for dinner because the weather was perfect to see the lights from the hotel that night.
So, after our long day of glaciers, turf houses, caves and waterfalls, we came back to Hotel Ranga for a phenominal feast!
Dinner at Hotel Ranga is a very special experience, especially on those nights when the northern lights are clear. Within this luxury resort, is an award winning gourmet restaurant serving regional dishes with a modern Nordic twist. It was here that I first tasted reindeer and goose, which I really enjoyed. They also serve international wine, beer and a good selection of specialty cocktails.
For hotel information, please visit – Hotel Ranga Iceland
For my Icelandic Food BLog – What I ate in ICELAND – A Food Journal
Then it happened, we finally saw them! It took us a week of chasing the Northern Lights due to the cloudy skies and unfavorable weather. We had even chased them with guides unsuccessfully until 2AM the previous night.
While dining at Hotel Ranga, and during the dessert course, it was announced that the northern lights had appeared and to come outside. We threw on our winter gear and left our plates, then headed to the opened back door. I could see it just slightly and it was magical, the emerald green glow was breathtaking.
There are no human words that can exactly describe the feeling and what you are seeing when you stand under the northern lights. You are bitterly cold, it is completely still and silent, all the while being entranced by the moving colors that fill the sky. It is an experience that you take with you and are lucky if you see this spectacular show in the sky, just once in your life.
As for photographing the lights, a regular cell phone will not cut it. We all tried and our phones were not capturing what our eyes were seeing. Luckily, a professional photographer was in the midst, who was taking photos of the light display. My friend exchanged information and he sent us photos of the lights that night.
Thank you Kristjan Vilhelmsson for the brilliant photos!
It’s not the destination, it’s the journey…– Ralph Waldo Emerson
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📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre