After posting about my overland adventure in Iceland, I thought I would return to the same trip to share a few of my top highlights from that amazing couple of weeks motorcycling in Iceland. You know, the biggest views, most powerful waterfalls, best riding roads, and happiest moments.
In case you missed that post, here’s the really short version:
I took my trusty BMW F650GS motorbike to Iceland with Globebusters for a two-week adventure tour around the land of fire and ice. Iceland was nothing short of epic – the trip met all my expectations, and then some, successfully stealing a little bit of my soul, and leaving me with motorcycle travel memories that will certainly last a lifetime.
This second post will be something of a listicle. Well, this is a blog, after all. In traditional Splodz Blogz terms, that means you’ll get a handful of highlights from that trip, along with a couple of the not-so-highlights.
Ten Motorcycling in Iceland Highlights
01 ALL the Waterfalls
Every day is a waterfall day in Iceland. There are just so many – a massive variety and diversity in size, shape, height, and power. Iceland really is full of waterfalls. There are the big hitters for sure – Skógafoss, Gullfoss, Seljalandsfos, Dettifoss – but honestly, if you drive or ride anywhere in Iceland, you will see waterfalls every few metres and it’s wonderful.
I did wonder if there might be such a thing as waterfall lethargy, but they are all so impressive, it’s difficult not to be impressed with every one of them. Cue all the “wow look at that” comments on the intercoms!
I think my favourite was Dynjandi, a tiered waterfall we reached after riding over the gravel mountain pass road from Þingeyri (which was after we’d eaten amazing waffles with jam for lunch!).
Also known as Fjallfoss, this is the largest waterfall in the Westfjords, with a total height of 100-metres. It really isn’t just your average roadside waterfall! Below it are five other waterfalls: Háifoss, Úðafoss, Göngufoss, Hundafoss and Bæjarfoss (some pictured). The name “Dynjandi” translates as “thunderous”, and it was that – well worth riding over the mountains to get here.
Waterfalls are also beautiful from the top… We went for a short walk to see a couple of the smaller falls under Dynjandi from above as they roared towards the sea. A real motorcycling in Iceland highlight in every sense.
02 Moonscape at Möðrudalur
It wasn’t the most technical bit of off roading we did in Iceland, but the 901 from Skjoldolfsstair to Möðrudalur was probably my favourite bit of dirt on the trip. There was just something so otherworldly about it; it felt like I was riding across the moon – and I loved that. It was categorically baron; brown, dusty, gravelly, hilly, devoid of any vegetation, and basically just really weird.
As we rode along the 25-mile-long wide gravel road, the dust kicked up so far behind that our little group of three – me, my husband and our friend – spread out over such a great distance it was as though we were each alone in the landscape. I’ve mentioned many times before how one of my favourite places to be is in the middle of nowhere, and that’s what I got here.
Möðrudalur is the highest inhabited farm in Iceland, standing at 469m above sea level. Arriving at Fjallakaffi – the café – with its tin walls and grass roof, was like finding an oasis in the dessert. It’s a great place to stop when motorcycling in Iceland; there’s a café, toilets, campsite, lodgings, a church, and more. I was reliably informed by Globebusters in our briefing the night before that this was where to get an Icelandic doughnut, and so you know I did exactly that.
03 Surviving the F35
One of the main reasons we chose go motorcycling in Iceland with a group rather than by ourselves, was to provide back up when riding on the famous dirt roads. One such road is the iconic F35, a 100-mile unmade road that winds through the middle of the country, over hills and with views of glaciers.
The first couple of miles lulled me into a false sense of security, as they were smooth and wide. But it soon turned into the offroad track my research had told me it would be. It was every bit as gnarly, rocky, gravelly, muddy, corrugated, and fun I had built it up to be. It was certainly within my riding abilities, and most would find it so, but a decent challenge.
The hardest part was how relentless it was; 100-miles stood on the pegs making our way along a gravelly and rocky trail takes its toll. My bike and bones were shaken to the core – but thankfully not quite to pieces.
We stopped a couple of times, first for lunch at the boiling mud pools of Hveravellir Nature Reserve, which is about halfway along the F35. I nearly took a dip in the (less muddy!) hot pools, but it was chucking it down, so I was too chicken! Our second shorter stop was at Arbudir café, which is apparently famous for its carrot cake (there wasn’t any left when we got there). I amit I still regret not spending the 100EURO on the hand knitted green wool jumper the lady running the café had recently finished.
Other than those stops, there was pretty much nothing but a vast barren landscape for 100-miles. Amazing. Riding the F35 – on my own GS – is ‘achievement unlocked’ in every way. A motorcycling ride I will remember forever.
04 Single Track Tunnel
Okay, let me preface this entry with my “I don’t like tunnels” comment. They’re fine when you can see the exit before the entrance disappears, but any longer, and I am quite unhappy. Especially when there are bends. I have never understood why any tunnel should have a bend in it – surely a straight line is much more sensible?
And so, adding a tunnel as a motorcycling in Iceland highlight is a bit of a curveball for me. It wasn’t something that I looked at on the route and thought I’d particularly enjoy. But the reason it has made it into this list, is because this is a rather unusual tunnel.
Tunnel von Isafjödur nach Önundarfjörður, on the 60 between Isafjödur and Holt, is a two-way single-lane tunnel with passing places. That’s right, like driving along a narrow country lane here in Great Britain, where you must pull in to let oncoming traffic pass, but inside a tunnel. Oh, and there is a T-junction inside it, too.
What a strange and fun experience. I won’t be seeking out other single-lane tunnels on other trips, or any tunnels for that matter, but this one made for a cool riding memory.
05 The Tectonic Plates
My friends know I love some cool rock formations, and so the fact that Þingvellirwas one of our first stops on our Iceland motorcycle trip was most excellent in my book. A National Park, this protected area has dramatic rocky scenery, lakes and ridges – plus it’s where you can clearly see the Atlantic Ocean Ridge which runs through Iceland, and it’s where the first parliament (general assembly) in the world is said to have sat. How’s that for a place to visit?
The National Shrine was super interesting, but it was the meeting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates that really caught my attention. The gap – called the rift valley – isn’t a narrow gorge but rather a large extensive plain, and it is moving all the time. If you want to read more about the geology, there’s a good article here.
It’s possible to snorkel or scuba dive in one of the (icy) lakes between the tectonic plates. I didn’t have time to do that on this trip, but that is absolutely on the list for if I ever get an opportunity to return to Iceland another time, it will be the first thing I book.
06 Mountain Riding
There were plenty of mountain passes on our Iceland road trip, some paved and some unpaved. Some were wide and sweeping, some were narrow and winding. I would like to say that all of them had amazing views, but it’s fair to say that low cloud and rain had other ideas on some days – but we did get enough big views to make the mountain passes more than just an exercise in motorcycle riding.
This memory is specifically about the 626, an unpaved mountain pass in northwest Iceland running between Þingeyri and Hrafnseyri. It’s almost certainly the gnarliest road I’ve ever ridden, even including the F35 from further up this list of highlights. It was steep, narrow, rocky, rutty in places, and had several hairpin bends.
And while this was a technical bit of riding, for me at least, and the views across the fjords were nothing short of stunning thanks to a break in the weather, it isn’t just the road that makes this a highlight. On this occasion there was an alternative option – a tunnel which goes right through the mountain. It would have been very easy to give in to the anxiety (and weather) and meet the others at the promised amazing waterfall on the other side.
Julia – one half of Globebusters – noticed my moment of doubt and encouraged me to just go for it. She then celebrated with me when I overcame my wobble and successfully navigated my way over the mountain. It was, of course, nowhere near as difficult as I’d built it up to be! The views and sense of accomplishment were worth the weather (and the steep hairpin bends), and this has therefore become a lasting motorcycling memory for me.
07 Rainbows in the Westfjords
The higgledy-piggledy finger-like land mass of Icelands northwest – the Westfjords – is simply stunning. Apparently, only about 10% of Iceland’s visitors ever see this area of the island, and they are really missing out. Although don’t all go, it’s charm in somewhat found in how empty it is!
This whole area, which we spent two or three days exploring, with overnight stops in Heydalur (more on that in a minute) and Patreksfjörður, was a real highlight of the whole trip. This is what motorcycling in Iceland was all about for me.
The landscape is nothing short of incredible. Dramatic high cliffs, deep water, ALL the birds (complete with “low flying bird” signs) and plenty of other wildlife, tiny fishing villages with colourful houses, and hundreds and hundreds of miles to ride. Some of this area is only accessible in summer, and this is one reason we travelled to Iceland in August.
The winding mountain passes, predominantly still gravel here, were slippery and slimy in the wet (which is why the villages here have free jet washes on the outskirts!) – but the rain-soaked vista gave us “Iceland green” views all around, and rainbow after rainbow.
08 Húsavík Harbour
Not a motorcycling in Iceland memory exactly, but half the fun of road tripping is ending up places that you can wander around and explore. Húsavík is one such place – a really beautiful town.
Sat on the north coast, the town is Iceland’s oldest settlement, and is known as the ‘whale capital of Iceland’ – up to 23 species of whale, including the Blue Whale, as well as large colonies of puffins can be found in or around the bay.
Húsavík is the site of the first house in Iceland, built in 860. The photo you’ve all seen is that of the harbour with the famous Húsavíkurkirkja – a wooden church dating back to 1907.
We had beautiful weather that evening, went for a lovely wander around the fishing harbour, and sat overlooking the calm water to eat our fish and chip takeaway. While sitting outside eating fish and chips in the warm evening sunshine is perhaps a little worrying, it was bordering on Iceland’s hottest day on record, it did make for a pretty nice highlight of the trip.
This is the sort of town I’d happily spent a full day off, just wandering around and taking it all in.
09 Natural Hot Spring
I had a little list of things I felt were must-dos on our motorcycling in Iceland road trip, and this highlight was one of them – taking a dip in a natural hot spring. I got my chance at Heydular, which is a farm-based hotel in amongst a nature reserve in the Westfjords area of Iceland. We were truly staying in the middle of nowhere here, surrounded by fast flowing water and imposing mountains.
There was a natural hot pool a ten-minute walk from our little hotel room. I did attempt to get to it, but thanks to the hot weather leading to additional snowmelt, and the relentless heavy rain we’d had, the river was very high and very fast flowing. The stepping-stones were completely submerged and there was no way I was going to successfully make it across. Instead, I was content with a dip in the slightly less natural version which was part of the hotel compound. Still outside in the elements, fed from the local hot spring, but with a bit of concrete landscaping.
It was a very fitting way to relax after a very tough 300-mile day, which included feeling the full force of angry Icelandic weather; more on that in my not-so-highlights session. The hot water and the amazing rural view was my medicine after the ridiculous conditions.
10 Licking Icebergs
Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice. I’ve mentioned hot springs already, but we also got to see lots of ice, too. On day two of our trip, we were able to get really close to glaciers and icebergs, which was very special.
We parked up near to Svínafellsjökull and walked the 15-minutes along the trail to get to the foot of the glacier. And a little later, we visited the famous and well photographed iceberg beach and lagoon of Jökulsárlón in the southern part of Vatnajökull National Park.
At Jökulsárlón, we watched ice break off a glacier and float into a lagoon, and then followed icebergs as they floated down the river, under the road bridge, and into the sea. Stunningly beautiful yet incredibly worrying at the same time; so much ice melt.
The icebergs on the black sand beach were crystal clear and melting fast. And yes, I did lick an iceberg. I’m sure you would have too… You would, right?!
The Not-So Highlights
It wouldn’t be a Splodz Blogz highlights post (have you read my coast to coast one?) without also mentioning some of the harder moments that came from motorcycling in Iceland. You know, because memories are really made when things get tough – or at least that’s what the adventurers tell us.
While getting out into the vast and wild landscapes of Iceland was the very reason I had taken my motorbike to this island, and this was – by far – the best thing about this trip, it also tested our resilience. Icelandic weather is famously wet and windy, and we experienced that from the very first day, having to lean into the cross winds as we made our way from Dyrhólaey to Vík.
We experienced gale force winds, persistent heavy rain, and thick fog. I was very glad indeed for my waterproof clothing and warm layers, especially my boots! And while I don’t want to use my blog to moan about the weather that was to be expected when motorcycling in Iceland, one particular weather-related experience does need some space here.
Getting Blown Over
It was on day seven that we really felt the force of angry Icelandic weather.
As we rode along the 550 to pass the Langjökull glacier, the second largest ice cap in Iceland where the ice is up to 580m thick, we learnt first-hand that motorbikes get blown over in 80mph-ish gusts wafting across exposed landscapes.
The dirt road was winding, undulating, and completely unprotected in places. It was absolutely stunning – wild and desolate. It could have – should have – been a real highlight. But as we came around one corner and over the brow of a hill, I heard the unmistakable mutter of a big wobble from my husband, who was riding a little out of sight. He’d been blown over; his bike – a BMW R1200GS – was laying on its side in the dirt.
After checking he was fine, because we’re nice like that, we (our friend and I) took to getting his bike back upright so we could continue. As we were pulling away again, another ridiculously strong gust came along and blew my husband over again, and also me this time. Oof!
I landed on the floor and rolled over, a little stunned because it happened so quickly. It was comical really, but also a little scary, I mean, that wind was brutal. The adrenaline was pumping, and we all just wanted off the hilltop.
The damage? A broken hand guard on the 1200, and a bit of cracked plastic on mine (I did much more damage on that Adventure Bike Training course!), along with a bit of surface bruising from landing in the (thankfully quite soft) dirt. Those GSs are built well, no doubt about that.
We got back in motion and rode the next 30 or 40 miles of dirt doing our best to enjoy the scenery as we went, whilst concentrating hard on trying to predict the gusts. Writing about it now, I find myself struggling to convey the drama and fear, but it’s all gone for me now – it’s simply a weird memory that no-one else will ever understand. A bit like riding through a sandstorm in Death Valley, which is another strange on-the-edge memory of mine.
We met up with others in the group at some services a bit further along and exchanged our stories. We weren’t the only two to get blown over, and every single rider had a shared “that was scary” experience of the conditions that morning.
This is one of the reasons why overlanding with others is so good – only those who were on the side of that hill on that morning can really appreciate what this one was like. I should perhaps have recorded a little piece to camera in the immediate aftermath to try and convey a sense of what it felt like in the moment, but you’ll just have to take my word for it – an experience I will never forget.
Getting blown over aside, we had lots of wet and windy days motorcycling in Iceland – as well as a mini heatwave – and we just dealt with it. If you are going to Iceland, to ride a bike or anything else, you do need to go prepared for whatever the weather might decide to throw at you.
Unfortunately, the rain and fog meant our planned ride on the F570 to and around Snæfellsjökull – the glacier-peaked “stratovolcano” in the far west – was off the cards. It was meant to be Iceland’s last hurrah for us, our final riding day before heading back into Reykjavik. But with very low cloud and heavy rain there seemed little sense (and point) heading up a twisty and rocky mountain pass to see nothing. I was disappointed, certainly, but it will still be there if and when we return to Iceland.
Our two-weeks motorcycling in Iceland really did only give us a flavour of what the country has to offer, and we spent longer and went further than many people do when they visit this amazing island. There are so many things on my return-to-Iceland list, including diving between the tectonic plates, visiting Snæfellsjökull, and taking the waters in even more hot pools.
But as I hope you have felt when reading this post, the beauty of this northern land exceeded every expectation I placed on it. If you’ve never been, or if you have but didn’t leave the city or main road, put it on your list. You will not be disappointed.