The Ring Road Part I

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Iceland - 2019

The Ring Road is by far the best way to see Iceland. It takes you around the circumference of the island and passes by most of the attractions Iceland has to offer! While beautiful, this land is also filled to the brim with mythological tales and Norse legends starring vikings, trolls, elves and gods.

Starting off with a traditional "Map & Cap" session (technically this time it was a Map & Icelandic Latte), we began our 6-day journey!

First up was Þingvellir National Park! This national park is located directly over the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Unsurprisingly this area is home to some pretty big and pretty frequent earthquakes. One of the coolest parts of this park is the divide between the tectonic plates, called the Almannagjá gorge. This walkable gorge is technically a no-mans land that falls between two continents. Because of the continued separation of these plates the Þingvellir valley is filled with ravines, many of which are filled with crystal clear water. It's even possible to snorkel in some of these. The most popular site is called Silfra--we didn't get the opportunity to do this, but the literature I've seen around this recommends it highly!

Another interesting fact about Þingvellir is that it was home to Iceland's first parliament. Supposedly it was a "middle ground" that several local ruling chiefs could reach in just a few days time in order to discuss the running of the government, settle disputes, and pass on important information. The only permanent building that was erected on this site was a church, Þingvallakirkja, which can still be seen and used today.

We departed from Þingvellir and made our way to our next stop, the massive Gullfoss Waterfall. This enormous waterfall churns out the largest volume of water in all of Europe. You can even walk down a steep path and walk around a large rock that juts into the river. Heads up, there are no real safety barriers that stand between you and this mighty river so be careful!

Unsurprisingly Gullfoss comes with it's own unique Norse legend:

*Clears throat*

This river supposedly separated two families. It is said that a man and woman lived on either side, and throughout the course of their youth they fell in love from a distance. They were desperate to be united and marry. However, because of the strong current of the Hvítá River and Gullfoss looming in the distance the lovers were prevented from reaching each other. One day the man had had enough, he braved the freezing, rushing currents and swam desperately across the river to be united with his love. After an arduous journey he made it across and they lived happily together from then on, on her side of the river.

Check out "Please Go Chasing Waterfalls" for my full list and recommendations of the best waterfalls in Iceland.

A quick 15 minute ride from Gullfoss is one of the most unique features in this small country, the geysir of Geysir. Iceland produces mass amounts of geothermal energy, and this geysir is just one of the ways this energy presents itself.

This geysir blows up approximately every 15 minutes. The height of the water varies each time it explodes but is known to reach 200-250 feet in the air! We were lucky enough to catch a big one while we were there!

Surrounding the geysir are small ponds of water that continuously bubble and churn. They are quite fun to watch as the pressure of the bubbling will change from minute to minute. To add to the allure, the ground within which they sit also ominously emits steam from nowhere... While the water in these particular geysir's isn't hot enough to burn, there are hot springs in Iceland that can kill humans. So be wary and be mindful of the signage. If it says it’s too hot, it is TOO HOT!

Our next destination was two famous waterfalls easily accessible if you are staying in Reykjavik and want to see some of Iceland’s natural beauties. They are called Seljalandsfoss & Gljúfrafoss.

Seljalandsfoss is the more famous of the two and quite beautiful. The water runs off of the famous volcanic glacier, Eyjafjallajökull, one of the largest glaciers in Iceland. The cool thing about Seljalandsfoss is that you can actually walk around the entire waterfall. You can park yourself directly behind the falls and watch the water rush from overhead. You will get sprayed if you do this, but it’s certainly worth it and will give you an entirely unique perspective on this massive waterfall.

Gljúfrafoss was actually my favorite waterfall on this entire trip! Hidden behind a wall of rock you have to navigate to this waterfall by walking through a small river running off of it. While it’s quite cold, once you make it into the open-topped cave you can marvel at the great waterfall that seemingly falls from nowhere. You will definitely get wet while visiting this waterfall but it is so so so worth it!

A quick car ride and we arrived at our last waterfall of the day, Skógafoss. This waterfall is quite spectacular and demonstrates the power of the waterfalls in Iceland. In true Icelandic form, there are also quite a few legends surrounding the giant falls!

Legend 1: The most common is that one of the first vikings in the area hid a treasure chest of gold behind the falls. It was rumored that a young boy found the chest but that it was too heavy for him to bring back so he removed one of the rings from the side, to prove that he had found it and that the myth was true. He reportedly gave the ring to a local church for safe keeping, and to this day it remains on the front door.

Legend 2: Iceland is famous for its mythological legends alongside it’s tales of vikings and treasure. This particular legend states that there were two trolls wandering through the countryside. The larger of the two was holding the smaller troll on his shoulders. Once they happened upon Skógafoss they were stunned by the waterfall's beauty. They remained there watching the waterfall for so long that they turned to stone. They can be seen on the east side of the waterfall, as stone, watching the waterfall for ever more.

Our first day in Iceland was full of some of the most spectacular water features Iceland has to offer! All of which are accessible if you’re staying in Reyjavik. We headed to our hostel near Vik to rest and prepare for Part II of our trip around the Ring Road!

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