Globetrotter and adventurer Tobias Woggon, accompanied by Greta Weithaler, traveled to Iceland in order to discover the fantastic landscapes of this country by bicycle. Where they ended up though, was not in the natural paradise they had hoped for, but in Instagram tourist paradise instead. Does the pristine country between fire and ice even exist? Here is a travel diary from way up North.

One summer in Iceland



Iceland and the Midsommar. Since Iceland is very close to the Arctic Circle, the sun never really sets in summer. Only very briefly the sun disappears behind the horizon and conjures up a great sky. The human body is a bit "confused" during this time and sometimes it is difficult to sleep. Surprisingly, however, you have a lot more energy.






The country between fire and ice!

A wild slogan and yet a very suitable description of Iceland as of five years ago.

If you were looking to come up with a different slogan to describe the current state of affairs, it would probably go something like “Iceland – Welcome to Instagram”. That’s pretty much how it feels when you travel along the South coast of Iceland. There is hardly a waterfall without a hobby adventurer, clad in either a red or yellow jacket, trying to increase his number of followers in front of it. Even the tiniest lake or mountain is presented as if you hiked for days to the backcountry, even though the rental car is parked just 50 meters from the photographer.

The first impression

We leave Germany with our SUV and roof tent and drive to Northern Denmark, where a ferry takes us via the Faroe Islands, through the Norwegian Sea, to Iceland. There are many outdoor enthusiasts with a wide variety of interests, ranging from fishing to photography to skiing. All of them are bringing their vehicles, which would probably cause quite a commotion parked in front of German icecream shops. This fleet of vehicles made my ride seem pretty puny.

Island nation in Europe’s Northwest




Capital: Reykjavik

Area: 103.125 km2

Population: 356.991 (as per January 2019)

The least populated country of Europe

Currency: Icelandic krona (ISK)

Known for: volcanoes, geysers, thermal springs and lava fields

The Iceland everyone is talking about?

Since the days on the ferry are pretty long and boring, but the Happy Hour at the bar is hopping, we got to meet many of the other travelers who have been to Iceland multiple times. This is where we first hear the “warnings”- The Iceland of today is just not like it was five years ago. “Over-tourism” is mentioned again and again; so we have mixed feelings before we even arrive there. Our saving grace is the insider tips: “When you are here at X, you got to go to Y, because nobody knows about it.”

Our first few days there are exactly as predicted on the ferry. Driving West on the lower ring road, we get pushed aside by bus tourists at every scenic spot. Every side road has a sign “no entry” and every parking lot has one saying “No camping”.

Is this really the Iceland everyone is talking about? Freedom and breathtaking nature? Let’s hope not. But if the South is swarming with so many tourists hunting for the next selfie, where are we going to find the Iceland the guys on the ferry were talking about?

Iceland tips from an insider

Upon our arrival in Reykjavik, we meet up with Magne from Icebike Adventure, a guiding company which we contacted before we even left Germany. Magne was a graphic designer in his other life and has worked on important projects for international clients before realizing that he was wasting his life away staring at a computer screen and not looking out of the window anymore. He quit his job and started his own guiding company which guides cyclists through Iceland showing them the most beautiful trails and the most stunning landscapes.

As we had dinner with him in Reykjavik, we asked him where exactly the Iceland we were looking for was. His simple answer: What you are looking for starts in the Highlands, right after the first river crossing. Where tourists can’t get with their rental cars, and the big busses don’t stand a chance either. That’s where it still exists – the rough and solitary Iceland.

Welcome to the Highlands – biking on Iceland

On the following day, we head out towards Landmannalaugur, a plateau surrounded by the craziest and most colorful rock and ground formations imaginable. Magne was right: Where the paved roads end and gravel roads take you to the heart of Iceland, there are no more road signs telling you what not to do. No more selfie sticks and no more hordes of tourists. Yes, this sort of Iceland I can get used to.

After a long drive on gravel roads, through rivers and over mini mountain passes, where the landscape changes from gray to green, then to black and back, we finally arrive in Landmannalaugur. At the end of a gigantic valley of rivers, fed by melted snow, sits the camp ground where many small colorful tents are set up.

Mountain passes, glaciers, hot springs

This is the trail head of the well-known Laugavegur, the long-distance hiking trail, taking the hikers three days over high altitude mountain passes and deep glacier crevasses to Skorarfoss on Iceland’s South Coast. Since this country is practically brimming with geothermal activity on every corner, and steam seems to be streaming out of the ground everywhere, there are also many hot springs where warm water from the earth’s interior comes to the surface and heats a natural swimming pool. After a long day in the car, and many hours of being shaken and rocked on the trails, we take advantage of the chance to loosen our muscles a little in the warm water. On the next day, our first bike ride is scheduled to take us into the surrounding mountains.

The perfect mountain bike tour

When we wake up and crawl out of our roof tent, the sun is already shining brightly. Summer on Iceland also means that it never gets totally dark and that you can’t really tell what time it is. After a long breakfast, we grab our bikes and ride to the first trail.

The trail takes us on a steady but easy climb through rough volcanic landscapes with gigantic lava blocks everywhere, and we are headed toward a massive cloud of steam. The staff at the camp ground told us in the morning that there are hardly any mountain bikers around here and that the loop to the bubbling and steaming springs in the highlands would surely be ideal for the bike.

Finally: on the trails in Iceland

Only a few kilometers in on the trail, we realize that biking in Iceland hardly compares to anything we have ever done on a bike. The mix of soft sand and sharp lava rocks on the edge is always good for surprises. After several hours with us pedaling, and sometimes carrying, our bikes through the breathtakingly colorful landscape of the Icelandic Highlands, all that’s left is one last downhill back to the campground.

The trail on a ridge twists and turns in endless switchbacks through lava gravel further and further down to the valley. In parts very flowy, in other parts very tight and blocked. One thing is for sure: it is not easy to ride here. Even though there are no jumps or other obstacles, the trail’s flowing character in combination with the terrain is truly treacherous.

Tourism – Iceland’s saving grace?

Even though over-tourism on the island is a real problem, it is also the country’s and its natural beauty’s saving grace. When you put a little bit of effort into it, you will find the Iceland of your dreams. You just have to look for it and go with the country’s flow.

((Photos by Philipp Ruopp.))


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