Southeast Iceland

Skeiðarársandur, the largest sandur in the world, covers a 1300-sq-km area and was formed by the mighty Skeiðarárjökull. Since the Settlement Era, Skeiðarársandur has swallowed a considerable amount of farmland and it continues to grow. The area was relatively well populated (for Iceland, anyway), but in 1362 the volcano beneath Öræfajökull (then known as Knappafellsjökull) erupted and the subsequent jökulhlaup (flooding caused by volcanic eruption beneath ice) laid waste the entire district. After the 1362 eruption the district became known as Öræfi (Wasteland).

The section of Ring Road that passes across Skeiðarársandur was the last bit of the national highway to be constructed – as recently as 1974 (until then, Höfnites had to drive to Reykjavík via Akureyri). Long gravel dykes have been strategically positioned to channel floodwaters away from this highly susceptible artery. They did little good, however, when in late 1996 three Ring Road bridges were washed away like matchsticks by the massive jökulhlaup released by the Grímsvötn (or Gjálp) eruption. There’s a memorial of twisted bridge girders and an information board along the Ring Road just west of Skaftafell.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Southeast Iceland attractions

1. Lómagnúpur

8.74 MILES

Adding more eye candy to an impressive road trip, a precipitous 767m-tall palisade of cliffs known as Lómagnúpur towers over the landscapes, begging to be…

2. Núpsstaðarskógar

9.11 MILES

Inland from Lómagnúpur peak is Núpsstaðarskógar, a beautiful low-growing woodland area on the slopes of the mountain Eystrafjall. Due to the perils of…

3. Núpsstaður

10.87 MILES

Lómagnúpur towers over the impossibly photogenic old turf-roofed farm at Núpsstaður. The farm buildings date back to the early 19th century, and the…

4. Svínafellsjökull

11.72 MILES

Heading east on the Ring Road from Skaftafell, a sign points the way to the glacier Svínafellsjökull. A rough, potholed dirt road leads 2km to a car park,…

5. Dverghamrar

16.67 MILES

Just east of Foss á Siðu waterfall (about 11km from Kirkjubæjarklaustur on the Ring Road) is the outcrop Dverghamrar (‘Dwarf Rocks’) – two rock formations…

6. Foss á Siðu

16.94 MILES

This waterfall, 11km east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur on the Ring Road, is a head-turning cascade that normally tumbles down from the cliffs. During especially…

7. Kvíárjökull

22.55 MILES

Kvíárjökull glacier snakes down to the Kvíá river and is easily accessible from the Ring Road; look for the sign for Kvíármýrarkambur just west of the…

8. Fjallsárlón

26.16 MILES

A sign off the Ring Road indicates Fjallsárlón – this is an easily accessible glacier lagoon, where icebergs calve from Fjallsjökull. There are Zodiac…