The Ring Road is pretty spectacular the entire way. However, when driving counterclockwise from Reykjavik to Akureyri, the scenery is slightly better than Akureyri to Reykjavik through Iceland’s northwest and along the west coast. While the road is continuously gasp-worthy, there are countless individual attractions from Reykjavik to Akureyri with 4 stand out must-sees.
The town of Höfn has a busy harbor and 2,000 residents. It’s often called the langoustine capital of Iceland and the gateway to the Vatnajökull glacier. By the time Ruth and I drove the ring to this point, we were ready for a town. While those who stop for a meal wait to be served locally caught langoustines, a form of saltwater lobster that looks like a crayfish, they should ask a local to pronounce the name of this town, which means harbor in English. Lonely Planet says it sounds like “an unexpected hiccup”, getting it exactly right. I tried but never mastered it.
Not too far past Höfn is the Eldhraun lava field. I didn’t know what it was until I saw an article about it later. I just instinctively knew it was important. Imagine the 3rd largest lava flow on Earth covered with vivid green moss for 232 square miles. That’s Eldhraun.
Vatnajökull is the world’s largest ice cap not near a pole. Buried under it are mountain peaks, volcanos, one-time lakes. Travelers on the Ring Road get brief, dramatic glimpses of it. The Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, Iceland’s 2nd largest, flows north from this glacier to the Arctic Ocean. Vatnajökull National Park merged with Jökulsárgljúfur to create one massive national park. Iceland has 3 national parks. We saw part of Jók….. The Jöku…. flowing north drops into some canyons along the way creating thunderous waterfalls. Dettifoss, which we hiked to, is the best one. Dettifoss, seen above, is not especially high, but it has the greatest volume of any waterfall in Europe. My biggest regret of the trip is that Ruth & I took the advice not to follow the road from the Dettifoss turnoff to Asbyrgi. Scheduled to be paved over the next couple of years, it’s said to be really rough going for now as it follows the river north into what is said to be an awesome canyon best seen, for now, on a 2 day hike.
Ring Road travelers see quite a bit of Mývatn, popular geothermal hot springs full of bathers. They’re reportedly free of sulphur and completely pure. Before we got to this tourist lake, we stopped at Námafjall, a smelly, high-temp geothermal area of mud pots that’s kind of the anti-Mývatn. The intense hydrogen sulfide odor sent us quickly back to our rental car and on our way to Akureyri.