Leaving the city and heading south along the ring road (by ring road, I mean the only big road that literally goes around the whole of Iceland), takes you out into the wild and with that, the sheer mind blowing beauty that Iceland has to offer.
The friendliness and warmth of the Icelanders plays a huge part in why so many people return time after time to this small, remote and still ever changing growing (literally) country. But it is the landscapes and nature that hit the headlines and wow travellers which is the real heart of Iceland. It features in so many Hollywood smash hits based in outer space or in another world and you can easily see why.
This glacier lagoon is a long drive from Reykjavik (372km or about 4.5 hours each way), but totally worth it. Even the drive is spectacular with its ever changing scenery and landscapes from mountains, to black lava beaches, to alien looking lava fields to huge mountain glaciers. Metal bridges run across vast river beds which are largely dry until flash flooding happenings from glacier melt run off. We elected to self drive to give ourselves more freedom than the coaches could offer and whilst more expensive, I still believe this is the best way.
The road is simple to follow and impossible to get lost on. We rarely saw other cars and in general it’s a nice easy drive although long and at times the cross wind was strong. Just remember this is Iceland so depending on the time of year, be prepared for very short days, icy road conditions and snow. Pack the right gear and make sure the car has suitable tyres for the condition.
When you get close to the glacier lagoon, you’ll pass another on the left hand side. Ignore the temptation to stop and carry on a bit further until you cross a metal suspension bridge after which turn sharply left into the car park next to the cafe. You can’t miss it.
When we arrived, the car park was full but the shore of the lake was quiet and mainly empty. Lots of nesting birds were flying around and their cries were pretty much the only sound other than the crashing waves in the distance. We were lucky to sea seals swimming amongst the ice burgs as well which was totally unexpected. They were equally as curious to see us and came close to the shore to look at us.
After strolling along the shore (and ignoring the signs about not climbing onto the floating ice), we got back in the car, re-crossed the bridge and immediately turned off onto a dirt track to the sea shore. The sand was totally black and at the waters edge, piercing blue ice burgs had landed with white freezing water smashing against them. It’s a sight I’ll never forget.
Seljavallalaug – secret swimming pool
Seljavallalaug is a “secret” geo thermal man-made 25 metre outdoor pool in southern Iceland. The pool is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland and was built in 1923. Seljavallalaug is located not far from Seljavellir (one of the big waterfalls you’ll definitely be planning on visiting).
There’s no entry fee, you’ll be unlucky to share it with someone else and it’s heated by the volcano in whose shadow it sits. Just remember that when you are sat in the warm water surrounded by the awesome landscape.
Finding it is a bit tricky but when you are driving from Reykjavík you turn left off the ring road (No.1) into road 242 marked Raufarfell. It’s a small sign and even smaller road. Drive until you see a sign that says Seljavellir and bear right down the bumpy track until you get to a new pool that was built later where you can park. From the car park walk for 15-20 minutes up the valley and in the end you will see the pool peeking behind a corner. When you think you’ve gone the wrong way, keep going, you haven’t. It’s an easy walk and everyone should be able to do it but you might have to cross a stream. Some older guide books talk about a smooth path – this was destroyed in the latest eruption so again don’t worry if you think you’ve gone wrong.
It’s worlds away from the Blue Lagoon and a nice way to break up the driving if you have half an hour or so to spare.
Gljúfurárfoss – secret waterfall
Gljúfurárfoss is situated at Hamragarðar right next to to it’s better known neighbour Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It’s 40 metres high but mostly hidden by a large cliff meaning that barely anyone goes there and the coach tours certainly don’t. When you’ve taken the left turn from No. 1 i(f coming from Reykjavík) to Seljalandsfoss and you see the majestic waterfall on your right side, drive on. Gljúfrabúi is the next waterfall on the right. Park outside the little farm which is also a campsite, climb the little grass mound and the waterfall is right behind that cliff.
You’ll have to wade through the river to get to it, or jump from (wet) stone to (wet) stone if the river is low. Even if you survive that without getting your feet wet, you’ll soon be drenched by the spray that this huge waterfall creates.
Once inside the cave, it’s easy to understand why Icelanders believe that Iceland is a magical place and why they believe in elves living beneath rocks.
After making your way outside again, head back to Seljalandsfoss and take in it’s own magical dramatic splendor with the other tourists and warm yourself up with a coffee from the mobile cafe. Which also happens to take card payment. In the middle of nowhere.
Tips and Tricks:
- There are two speed cameras on the road from the city to the glacier lake.
- Petrol stations aren’t very common so keep an eye on your fuel.
- Some sat navs are work here but the totally free offline maps.me app works a treat including saving offline all of these secret places so you can find them without any signal.
- ATMs and card payments are common in Iceland but having cash isn’t a bad idea when going on a long day trip. As always, our Revolut cards worked impeccably and saved us a lot of money.