Seek an authentic wilderness experience, but don’t want to cross the world to find it? Then pack your driving license and head for Iceland. A self-drive tour on its winding, empty roads is ideal for exploring this magical realm of ice and fire, Europe’s most sparsely populated country. Starting from the capital Reykjavík, here are some of the most rewarding routes to take.
Golden Circle & South Coast
Allow four days for this sensational drive taking in Þingvellir national park, where you can walk a rift valley between Europe and America’s shifting continental plates. And also Gulfoss – a breath-taking, two-tiered waterfall that dives 32 metres into an obscured crevice, so from the road a mighty river seems to simply vanish. Then it’s south to Dyrhólaey peninsula. Here you’ll ogle at basalt columns rising sheer from the ocean, and at distant Mýrdalsjökull glacier – overlaying a volcano whose spasmodic eruptions trigger cataclysmic floods.
One of the best places to camp in Iceland and truly enojoy the beautiful nature it offers.
West Fjords & Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Go north on Route 1, then branch off to witness the steaming majesty of Deildartunguhver, Europe’s superlative hot spring; and the 900 metre-long Hraunfossar waterfall, formed by rivulets streaming over a lava field. Journey over and around narrow fjords gouged into jagged mountains till you reach 441 metre-high Látrabjarg – one of the world’s most populous bird cliffs and Europe’s most westerly point. Then return to Reykjavík via Snæfellsnes and its tranquil fishing villages fringed with 1,000s of tiny islands.
Just 24 miles out of Reykjavík you reach Iceland’s world-famous Blue Lagoon. Carved from a natural lava field, this warm, therapeutic pool is rich in minerals and light-refracting micro-organisms that dye its waters. Further south-west lies the primeval Haukadalur valley and Geysir – the earliest-recorded geyser; its water-and-steam salvos triggered by seismic shifts. At the 2,900 square-mile Skaftafell national park, you’ll marvel at lush vegetation, icebergs, canyons, hanging valleys, ice tunnels and arches, and glacial rivers.
A 7-10 day run on Iceland’s scenic ring road takes in most of the shorter tours’ natural wonders, plus others. Such as the easterly Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, a setting for blockbuster movies like Die Another Day, where you’ll see seals swimming between the icebergs. And shallow Mývatn Lake, ringed by volcanic pillars and vents, and swarming with water-birds. Not forgetting Húsavík fishing village, Europe’s whale-watching capital.
Or go your own way
Small family cars can take most of these miles most of the year. But if you’re visiting Iceland in winter, or heading for its more remote, off-road locations, a 4×4 SUV is essential. On your adventure, you’ll find a great range of hotels, guest houses and cottages, usually with availability at minimal notice. So you’re always free to take the more driven path or chart your own course.