“A Song of Ice and Fire” is the title of the first book in the “Game of Thrones” series, which has now become world-famous thanks to the eponymous TV show. As any first-time visitor to Iceland will quickly notice, ice and fire (or, at least, fluid matter at extremely high temperatures) are prominent features of this island and her wonderful, largely unspoiled landscapes. Therefore, it is only fitting that the “Game of Thrones” producers have chosen it as one of the show’s main shooting locations.
Indeed, if you drive for even a half day in Iceland you will see volcanos, glaciers, geothermal springs, lava fields and waterfalls.
These geological landmarks are constant reminders of Iceland’s unique position right on top of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the 16,000-km mountain chain separating the North American and Eurasian continental plates. As a result, one volcano erupts in Iceland every 4 years, and geothermal activity is one of the country’s main sources of energy. Add a bunch of glaciers into this piping hot mix, and the Icelandic landscape becomes one of the most dramatic, awe-inspiring ones you’ll ever experience.
I traveled to Iceland a few years ago and, as most visitors tend to do, went on a 10-day road trip on the island’s main road. Route 1 or, as is commonly called, the “Ring Road” runs all the way around the island and is perfect to explore some of the main sights in the shortest amount of time. Why the shortest? Well, because unless you come from a select group of countries, chances are you will find Iceland a very expensive place. Which is a shame because Iceland will have you hooked. You will want to stay longer, and you will want to come back. In fact, I hope I will come back some day, if only to explore some of the back-roads and to see the Northern lights.
The photos below show a selection of the amazing places you can find on the southern stretch of the Ring Road between Reykjavik (on the east) and Höfn (on the west), including places like Thingvellir, Detifoss, Vatnajökull and the Glacier Lagoon.
Despite the cloudy weather we faced for most of the trip (even though it was July), the stunning beauty of Iceland shined through at every turn of the road. If you haven’t been there yet, I hope this gallery will inspire you to visit this wonderful island.
(All photos are © 2015 Fernando Cortés-Cabanillas. Please contact me if you wish to use them.)
Thingvellir (Þingvellir in Icelandic) is not only the site of the world’s oldest national parliament on record (930 AD), but also the place where you can visualize the effects of continental drift. The canyon in the picture spans the distance between the North American (left) and the Eurasian plates (right). / © 2015 All rights reserved.
Like Thingvellir, Haukadalur is part of the so called “Golden Circle”, a 300-km loop popular with tourists as a day trip from Reykjavik. In this geothermal area you can watch geysers in action. In fact, the term “geyser” was coined after the one called “Geysir”, which was found in this area but is no longer active. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
“Foss” is Icelandic for “falls”, and you can certainly find plenty of waterfalls of all sizes in Iceland. You can get a clearer idea of the scale of Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) by looking at the silhouettes of the people standing on the second ridge to the left. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
Icelandic horses are seriously “handsome”. Driving around Iceland you will come across plenty of them, as well as sheep, but very few people and hardly any trees./ © 2015 All rights reserved.
The weather was not kind to us in this trip, with clouds often obscuring important landmarks. In this case, behind the clouds on the far left we should see Mt. Hekla, one of the most active volcanos in Iceland (which is saying something), and thus believed by locals in old times to be the entrance to hell itself. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
By the time we got to Seljalandsfoss, a 60-metre high waterfall, the weather had turned from bad to awful. One of those occasions where I wished I had one or more of the following: better photography skills (always needed, but even more so 5 years ago!), nicer weather, and a tripod, which I rarely get myself to bring on my trips, and I really should. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
If we liked Seljalandsfoss, our next stop, Skogafoss left us in awe. This is Iceland at its best. I wonder what it would look like shot from above with a drone… / © 2015 All rights reserved.
The area around the village of Vik, on the southernmost tip of Iceland, harbours some impressive coastal cliff scenery, punctuated by wide beaches of dark volcanic sand. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
Another beautiful, desolate beach in the Vik area, southern Iceland. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
In many parts of Iceland the rugged lava fields are softened by a bouncy cushion of moss. It is not advisable to walk or jump on it, as you might hurt yourself and moss is delicate and takes years to regenerate. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
This trailer looked both quaint and forlorn in the middle of Skeidararsandur, at 1,300 km2 one of the largest, if not the largest, alluvial plains in the world. This dark sand, barren desert impresses by its sheer size and desolation. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
The Ring Road reaches here the east face of massive Vatnajökull, an ice cap with seven volcanos underneath and several subsidiary glacier tongues, one of which can be seen on the left. It is hard to overstate the beauty of this part of Iceland. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
Standing a little closer to Vatnajökull. Near the center of the picture, clouds are again concealing an important landmark: Hvannadalshnjúkur, at 2110 metres the highest peak in Iceland. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
This whole area was covered in abundant volcanic ash from the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, which a few months earlier had caused havoc in air traffic across Europe. As a result, the end of the glacier shown here is stained in what looks like 50 shades of grey (pun totally intended, sorry). Notice the lone human figure at bottom right for a sense of scale. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
We are now on the southwest side of Vatnajökull, next to the stunning Jökullsárlón glacier lagoon. See if you can spot the two tiny human figures by the lake shore on the right in this vast, imposing landscape. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
Is there anything more gorgeous than the blue hues of glacier ice? Maybe, but this has to be right up there. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
Grey, brown, green, blue and white. And a nice reflection on the water to boot. What’s not like? / © 2015 All rights reserved.
If Jökullsárlón looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you recognize it from scenes in two James Bond (“A View to a Kill” and “Die Another Day”) and one Lara Croft (“Tomb Raider”) movies. Seeing this it’s not hard to understand why they picked this location. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
The morning was so cloudy that we had some doubts about taking a snowmobile tour on top of one of the glaciers stemming from Vatnajökull. The local tour guide almost assured us that it would be clear up top, and he was right. The experience was well worth it. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
Another view of the crisp, gorgeous mountain landscape that welcomed us on top of the glacier. / © 2015 All rights reserved.
So what do you think? If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for part 2; and don’t forget to leave me a comment or share it around!