Hveragerði & Around
The grid of boxy buildings that is Hveragerði (www.hveragerdi.is) emerge from other-worldly lava fields and hills pierced, surreally, by natural steaming vents. You're not here for the architecture, you're here for Hveragerði's highly active geothermal field, which heats hundreds of greenhouses.
Bypassed by the tourist hordes who whiz around the Ring Road, this wild, sparsely populated coastal route around Iceland’s remote northeast peninsula is an interesting alternative to the direct road from Mývatn to Egilsstaðir. It’s an area of desolate moors and beautiful scenery, stretching to within a few kilometres of the Arctic Circle.
Hvítá River Valley
If you’re completing the Golden Circle in the traditional direction, then the route from Gullfoss back to the Ring Road at Selfoss will be the final stage of your trip. Along the way you’ll find plenty to lure you to stop. Most people follow surfaced Rte 35, which passes through Reykholt, with its river rafting.
Sparsely populated, magnificently peaceful and all but deserted by travellers, the Westfjords’ eastern spine is one of the most dramatic places in all of Iceland. Indented by a series of bristle-like fjords and lined with towering crags, the drive north of Hólmavík, the region’s only sizeable settlement, is rough, wild and incredibly rewarding.
Vík & Around
The welcoming little community of Vík (aka Vík í Mýrdal) has become a booming hub for a very beautiful portion of the south coast. Iceland’s southernmost town, it's also the rainiest, but that doesn't stop the madhouse atmosphere in summer, when every room within 100km is booked solid.
The neat historic buildings and small harbour are worth a look, but the main reason to visit this friendly fishing village at the mouth of Berufjörður is to catch the boat to Papey. Djúpivogur (dyoo-pi-vor) is actually one of the oldest ports in the country – it’s been around since the 16th century, when German merchants brought goods to trade.
You may have travelled the Ring Road thinking that Iceland is light on towns; that sheep seem to outnumber people; that you haven’t encountered an N1 service station for many a mile. Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In the interior highlands, there are practically no services, accommodation, bridges over rivers – or guarantees if something goes wrong.
Hvalfjörður and the surrounding area feels suddenly pastoral despite being a mere 30-minute drive from the capital. Although lacking the majesty of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula further on, the sparkling fjord offers excellent day-trip fodder. Those in a hurry to get to Borgarnes and beyond should instead head straight through the 5.7km-long tunnel (kr1000) beneath the fjord.
Jökulsárlón to Höfn
The heavenly 80km stretch of Ring Road between Jökulsárlón and Höfn is lined with around 20 rural properties (many with glaciers in their backyards) offering accommodation, activities and occasionally food. Gentle, family-friendly lures include a petting zoo, an ice-cream producer, a quality museum, bird-filled wetlands and outdoor hot-pots.
As the winding Jókulsá river collides with the marshy delta of upper Skagafjörður, you’ll find scenic Sauðárkrókur sitting quietly at the edge of the waterway. Economically, Sauðárkrókur is doing quite nicely, thank you, with fishing, tanning and trading keeping the community afloat and the population vibrant.