Iceland: The Ring Road

Posted February 1, 2016 by Stephanie
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Last November Mike and I took a trip to Iceland. It’s a place that we’ve both been wanting to go to for a while and even though we’d been flirting with the idea for ages, we never made the plunge. The end 2015 was when we finally decided to go all in. We spent 12 days driving around the edge of Iceland on the Ring Road: the one highway that runs around the entire island. It’s also known as Route 1, and literally, it’s the only (mostly) paved highway that connects all of the tiny costal towns. Almost all of it is only two lanes and it is incredibly, beautifully photogenic.

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We landed at night and after a quick pause to pick up our trusty rental car, we drove to our first stop, not too far from the airport in Reykjavik. It was dark, as it’s wont to be in Iceland in the late fall, so we didn’t get to see much, aside from the orange glow of the street lamps on the highway.

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Come morning though, when I looked out the window, my jaw dropped. We were just on the side of the highway, at a little hotel but the scene before me was incredible. The sky was immense, the horizon was flat, and there was a light dusting of icing powder snow gently covering the houses in the distance. I’m sure Icelanders would laugh at me if they saw my reaction because it’s equivalent to me staring in awe at the side of I5. Really though, the landscape in Iceland is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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I must have said to Mike a million times, “It’s like we’re on the moon!” The endless sky, the ribbon of road, and the barren landscape were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Truly, Iceland was a feast for the eyes and the soul. It was one of the first trips in which we didn’t focus on food, but I felt nourished in a way that I’ve never felt in a city.

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We spent our days driving during the few hours of daylight that were available. We never made it very far – inevitably, every two minutes or so, either Mike or I would want to stop to take a photo (or 30) of the mountains, the sea, the beach, the ice. It would take us four hours to drive what should have only taken one because we kept stopping to pull over by the side of the road and stare in amazement.

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I’m trigger happy in the worst of times and this was decidedly the opposite which meant even more photos than usual, which meant that by the end of it we had 2400 plus photos to sort through. We would pull over on the side of the road, put on our winter coats, hop out of the car and take photos until our hands were too cold to press the shutter. After a couple of days, we started to roll the windows down and take photos while we were inside the car. Not the most adventurous, but when the temperatures are -4, your body does not want to leave the comfort of heated seats.

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Sometimes warm butts have to be sacrificed and to be honest, I’m happy to say we froze our butts off to see the aurora. It’s been a dream of mine forever to see the Northern Lights and even though being in Iceland doesn’t guarantee a sighting, my fingers and toes were crossed in anticipation. We ended up being lucky after several nights of cloudy skies.

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With the aurora forecast checked (we lucked out on a KP index of 5, which is kind of like winning the aurora lottery – it doesn’t happen very often), we bundled up in our winter gear, stepped outside of our little Airbnb, and immediately saw a streak of green in the sky. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen and all the photos and videos could not have prepared me. As satisfying as the little bit of green was, Mike and I decided to head out to a completely lightless area of town.

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The aurora comes in waves: they start out as a single green streak in a dark sky full of stars. The wave builds and shimmers, picking up more emerald greens, teals, blues, purples, and even pink. They surround and curtain around you, making you feel physically tiny and enormously emotional all at once. I cried; it was so incredibly beautiful. It felt like a once in a lifetime show and I felt so grateful that I was there with Mike. Standing under a blanket of stars with the sky on fire, my best friend’s hand in mine, I’ve never felt more present.

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The beauty of Iceland left me breathless: the black sand beaches, the glacial blues, the pale yellow of the winter sun. I fell completely and utterly in love. It stole my heart in the best way possible: intensely and immediately. I know we’ll be back.

PS – There were a couple of must sees: the black sand beaches of Vík, Jökulsárlón for the glaciers, and the Goðafoss waterfall. But for the most part, all you need to do is drive around and you’ll be met with gorgeousness at every turn.
PPS – Icelandic butter is out of this world.
PPPS – I’m in love with my Incase DSLR Pro Backpack: it was the perfect bag for our photo focused trip.
PPPPS – These photos were taken with two lenses: my super-wide 20mm and a borrowed 70-200mm, both on my trusty D810. Thanks Nikon for the lens loan!

Dreamy and desolate, bleak and beautiful


  1. i’ve been on i5 (between the bay area and la/oc) a lot these past few years, and this is 10000x more photogenic / stare-worthy no matter how you spin it (even if iceland is -4! you only freeze your butts off once).

  2. allesistgut says:

    Wow! Wow! Wow! Your photos are absolutely stunning. They took my breathe away. The light in the wintertime is even better than in summer. And in summer it’s already excellent, I guess. I drove the Ring Road within 21 days in summer of 2012. And I really loved the clear sky and the fresh air. Like you I absolutely fell in love with Iceland. So I went back in 2013 and drove round in the northern parts more intensely. I reported both trips detailed on my blog. And one thing is for sure: I’ll be back. :) Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hannah says:

    I cannot get over how breathtaking each and every photo is!
    Me and my SO have been wanting to organize a trip similar to this and seeing the beauty that you witnessed whilst doing it has spurred us on to book our flights and dive right in.
    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Alexandra says:

    These photos are absolutely stunning! Thank you for sharing. Iceland is officially my next vacation destination.

  5. Synnøve says:

    So beautiful! sounds like an incredible experience.

  6. Mandisa says:

    Gorgeous photos Stephanie!! I can’t lie, after seeing these photos on your instagram, I was anxious to see the blog post. Even more beautiful that you and your husband got to experience it together :)

    P.S Those boots <3

  7. Kelsey says:

    I visited Iceland in August last year and what an amazing difference three months makes! (I would love to do the Ring Road next time! We did a long hike through the Fimmvörðuháls Pass!) Your photos are absolutely stunning – reading through your post and seeing your photos really brought to light just how perfect and natural Iceland is. Thanks for posting!

  8. Alexandra says:

    I’m a native to Iceland, so I’m thrilled that you enjoyed our little island! Your photos are stunning, by the way… Oh, and icelandic butter is the best, especially when spread on harðfiskur, or ‘dried fish’. Highly recommended !

  9. Meaghan says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the beautiful pictures and some details from your trip!

  10. Megan says:

    Beautiful photos!

  11. Jen says:

    I went to Iceland in April 2014 and completely agree with your sentiments! It is truly a stunning country and I cannot wait to go back. I’ve been around the world and there is no other place like it.

    And how beautiful was Vik? I loved loved loved the black stone beach, we stayed about 30 minutes west of Vik in a pretty isolated area but unfortunately missed out on the Northern Lights. Your captures are beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Alana says:

    I’m dying over these right now and also feeling like I need to head to Iceland immediately. That aurora gif is so dreamy–I almost feel like I was there. Need some Icelandic butter immediately!!!

  13. These photos are incredible – like scenes from another world! I can’t even express how jealous I am that you got to see the Northern Lights. I’ve been debating booking a trip to Iceland for a weekend sometime soon for a while now… I think I’ve got to do it!

  14. Stephanie. I have no words. I actually started crying with the beauty of it all *before* your pics and story of the aurora borealis. and then REALLY started crying once I saw those. I was feeling a little embarrassed about it until I saw that you said you cried, too. Your awe and love and wonder for it all translated so gorgeously into these photos. I just feel lucky to catch a glimpse through your eyes. Beyond. Stunning. Thank you.

  15. steph. holy SHITE. this is beyond amazing. you captured some bonkers photos. i love how cute and stylish you are even in the freezing ass cold. your blue hair matches perfectly, i must point this out!!! that aurora borealis photo – can i blow that up and use it as wallpaper? i would’ve cried too. i love that bjork song too – trip of a lifetime, i’m so happy you and mike got to experience this magic together!!!

  16. Tiffany Trinh says:


  17. I feel like I’m reading the Nat Geo. just amazement.

  18. Obviously your food pictures are always mostttt lovely but your Iceland pictures are OUT OF THIS WORLD. I must have seen at least a dozen Iceland travel posts that I saved but this is the one I’m mass emailing to the bf and the fam with the subject line: WE MUST GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Kelly says:

    Seriously SO stunning! Love the photos!

  20. Jenna says:

    Wow, it looks like you went at a great time…not too late so that everything would be completely covered in snow. I totally relate with your comment: “It was one of the first trips in which we didn’t focus on food, but I felt nourished in a way that I’ve never felt in a city.” Before my trip last August, my husband and I resigned ourselves to “not eating anything good” in Iceland. I felt like that expectation set us up to be totally surprised. We had so many good meals! And a couple really odd ones (burritos in Akureyri…don’t do it). To the point about being nourished…I agree with you…Iceland opened my eyes to nature in a way that I didn’t expect. I feel transformed and all I can think about now is how to get back there and back into nature, in general. There’s something really special about that country. It has all the grandeur and beauty that you’d expect, but is also so small and comforting so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it (only in a good way). Ending note: your hair looks awesome next to the glaciers. :)

  21. Maggie says:

    These are gorgeous!! Wow! Thank you so much for sharing! I love your new blog layout!! It is beautiful :)


  22. How amazing! Those landscapes are breathtaking — I am in complete awe. I’ve never seen the aurora either, and can only imagine how grand it must have felt in person. It isn’t easy to do nature justice with a camera, but you sure did a fantastic job trying!

  23. Amanda says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have been thinking about booking a trip there, but there are so many places to go and things to see. I think this has finally convinced me that 2016 is for Iceland. And I think we’ll plan to go in the winter too. I love these photos. Truly magical.

  24. Heather says:

    Absolutely stunning photos, Stephanie! I went to Iceland in the summer almost 8 years ago (hard to believe!) and it was absolutely magical. When I was there the days were never ending, so going in the winter would be cool in a totally different way! I thought the exact same thing about the landscape when I was there – it really made me think of the moon. I dream of seeing the aurora too, and your pictures of it are so beautiful. So glad you got to see it!

  25. Libby says:

    This is my idea of heaven.

  26. Wendy says:

    I felt the same way when my husband and I went to Iceland last summer. Your photos are stunning! I want to go back once in the winter/spring to see the Northern Lights and the landscape in a whole different light. We are also hoping to make it to Westfjords and the Central Highlands.

  27. holy moly. I’m crying and these photos are insanely breathtaking. Iceland just went from hovering somewhere in my top 5 destinations straight to number 1. thanks for these photos!

  28. Sandra says:

    Wow Amazing Pictures! We are just planning to visit Iceland this or next year so your post is a great Inspiration :-)

  29. OMG, you’re Images are amazing and now I’m even more excited about my trip in summer. Just booked the flights yesterday, so I am currently sorting out what to see and do. Really, love love love your impressions!

  30. Jemma says:

    Thank you for this spectacular post, you have inspired me to go there and drive the ring road! What beautiful photos.

  31. Helen says:

    I applied to complete my last fieldwork practicum in Iceland this September and I am crossing my fingers and toes that I’ll get the opportunity!!! (Especially so after seeing these beautiful pictures).
    I am wondering if you could link me the AirBnb you stayed at? I am curious :)

  32. WOW. Just wow. I am at a loss for words. Your trip looked incredible–thank you so much for sharing the photos with us! I’m in awe. And the Bjork quote at the end just sealed the deal for me. I wanna go!

  33. Carlotta says:

    These photographs are absolutely astonishing.. They actually communicated sucha sense of peace to me that i suddenly want to go and visit these places!

    Such an amazing blog, thank you for sharing your talent!


  34. Sean says:

    Unbelievably amazing photos. Wow.

  35. Odessa says:

    Just wow. These photos are jaw droppingly stunning. Iceland is on my list of places and this just confirms how much I want to go. Your writing is just as beautiful as the photography, thank you so much for sharing your trip with us.

  36. Holly Deffenbaugh says:

    Incredible photos. I feel like I am there with you.

  37. tanja says:

    WOW! Iceland is my dream destination…. fantastic pics!!

  38. Deborah Hickman says:

    Great blog…I too went in November with 6 other folks and your right renting a vehicle and driving the loop is the best way to go…thanks for the stupendous photography…I too will return as falling in love with Iceland is exactly what happened to me…TY Deborah Shelton WA..

  39. Marina @ A Dancer's Live-It says:

    These photos are GORGEOUS!!! My boyfriend and I have iceland on our travel list, and now I want to go even more after seeing these!

  40. Trudy says:

    Absolutely stunning.

  41. katrina says:

    this is the most beautiful blog post i have ever seen omg

  42. Velva says:

    Iceland has been on my bucket list for several years. Your blog post may have just moved it up! This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.


  43. Sonja says:

    These photos are completely stunning. SO inspired by you, friend!

  44. Girl,

    These photos are stunning, especially when they cover the entire page. I wanted to ask which camera + lens you used but then noticed the pppps haha! I adore your blog. It is so different from all the other ones (which I also adore), but yours is fresh, it’s unique. I love it. Thanks. x

  45. Leonardo Betancourt says:

    Wow. This is incredible! You are so talented!! I really like every single photo you took of your journey! Your post processing gives a moody look to every picture which makes it very unique. The combination between writing and pictures gives your blog a nice look. I also like how you don’t only post things about food, but also about where you travel. The way you formatted this whole page is very organized and I can tell you spent some good time on this post. I’ve looked at some of your food recipes and they literally make my mouth drool! Some food blogs have great food but they don’t take very good photos of their food. It’s great how you have great food recipes and that you can take stunning pictures as well.

    I was browsing through your blog one day, trying to find a way to subscribe. I think I found a way to do it, but it requires another website where I have o create an account. Is there a way I can follow your blog through email?

    There is one picture in particular that I really like. It’s the one with the waterfall. There is something about it that captures my attention.

  46. Judith says:

    I was in Iceland many, many years ago. Oh, when I look at your stunning photos I just want to pack my bags and take the next flight to Iceland. Last time I visited it in summer but now I definitively will go there again in another season. It looks so much different to summer. Sure summer is nice with it’s never ending days but snow gives the landscape a totally serene look. Less dramatic than in summer. More timeless.

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