We decided to dedicate this blog to Iceland.
Iceland is a land of ice and fire.
Iceland is where you experience midnight sun or 4 hours of daylight (depends on when you visit Iceland).
Iceland is a place of the unexpected, every turn on the highway brings you to a new world.
Iceland was a result of our spontaneity. We were so glad that we went with our gut feeling, yet regretting not doing enough research beforehand. Hence, we would like to share our experiences with you.
You live, you learn – the boy said.
We were going to religiously follow Alex Cornell’s suggested itinerary, however due to our lack of time to book things we had to make a few adjustments. Who thought Iceland was this popular? All the recommended stays/hotels were either fully booked or ridiculously expensive. We were forced to scramble for alternative accommodations.
Lesson #1: A “double bed” in Icelandic hotels is actually TWO twin bed put together side-by-side!!! What? So what’s the difference of booking two twins and one double? Nothing, apparently. I was shocked and probably acted very bitchy to the hotel receptionist the first time we found out the hard way… The boy slept on the crevices between the two beds most of the nights, because Iceland was cold and one of the boy’s functions is blanket warmer.
This was our first time coming to Iceland, we were ambitious. We must drive around the ring road, aka highway 1, to experience all of Iceland in one week. We started our taste of Iceland on the flight with some Iceland liqueur – Bjork, distilled grain spirit, flavoured with Icelandic Birch and Birch syrup. Attempt to get some rest on the flight since we had to drive and start to explore Iceland as soon as we land (at 5am Icelandic time).
Day 1: Keflavik International Airport to Vik
Get your booze at the airport duty free before picking up your luggage. (priorities!) You can only get alcohol in the liquor stores, Vinbudin (my first Icelandic word), in Iceland. They have terrible hours, poor selection and they are heavily taxed!! Also, you can get a sim card with Icelandic number and data at the airport duty free store. However we picked up our Nova sim card for slightly cheaper price at gas station along Ring road. Nova has decent coverage throughout the whole island, with some dead spots when we drove through the middle of nowhere. Finally, keep in mind that lots of the car rental centers are not in the main airport and many times you have to take a shuttle from the car rental company to an area close to the airport with all the cars. Led to a few confusing phone calls, that’s for sure.
The first 20km or so of driving out of Keflavik International Airport felt like we were on Mars.
Complete bareness… there weren’t many cars on the road, no houses/buildings along the highway… The road was surrounded by volcanic rocks covered by green-greyish moss. Occasionally bushes of blooming lupines (purple flower which looks similar to lavender) popped out of middle of nowhere.
It was an unearthly feeling.
The drive from Keflavik airport to Vik was short, but we took so many stops (Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Eyjafjallajokull Erupts Visitor Centre, Skogafoss Waterfall) along the way that we didn’t get to our guesthouse until 3pm. We stayed at a lovely guesthouse (Onundarhorn) close to Eyjafjallajokull Erupts Visitor Centre – “The eruption that put the world’s flights on hold.” After taking a power nap, we took advantage of the perpetual sunset and went to see the Soldeimasandur Plane Wreck. It was a very long and windy 4km walk from parking to the crash site, but well worth it (especially with the sunset surrounding us)!
We were so exhausted from a full day of exploring/hiking/walking, the midnight sun didn’t interrupt our sleep at all, however we were both waken up early by the 4am sunrise.
Day 2: Vik to Hofn
Right before getting to Vik, there are two unique sights you can only experience in Iceland – Dyrholaey Arch and Reynisfjara (Blacksand beach). When we told our host at Onundarhorn guesthouse that we were going to visit the blacksand beach the day after, he laughed and told us that when he was a kid, he thought all beaches were black. You see, only in Iceland are the beaches black. You can see the Reynisfjara from the Dyrholaey and vice versa, however the landscape at each place is extremely different. It was breathtaking, standing by the rocky cliffside, watching the waves crash into the shore and birds flying low over water.
Today was packed with some of the best and most iconic Iceland scenery.
After slowly warming up from the breeze on the beach, we arrived at Fjaðrárgljúfur Masjid, which is a 100m deep canyon. We didn’t spend too much time here because it was a fairly short walk from start to finish. The highlight of our day, or the whole trip, was the Svartifoss Waterfall and Skaftafell National Park, where we hiked up the S6 trail to the tongue of glacier (Vatnajokull glacier). We spent almost the whole afternoon here, including hiking and being lost (literally) in the nature.
Totally loving the perpetual sunset. We got to continue our drive at dusk hours where we passed by the Jokulsarlon (Glacier lagoon). There were two view sites for the lagoon; the Glacier Lagoon Boat Tour and Café has better views of the lagoon. After a full day of mesmerizing adventures, we stayed at a secluded hotel with a beautiful view of glacier from our hotel room.
Day 3: Hofn to Akureyi/Myvatn
Today was relatively uneventful. Mostly on the road, driving across the East Fjords to Myvatn area, which is about 6 hours on the road. The most striking part of the drive was the elevation, it felt like a never-ending journey upwards! The scenery was littered with snow-capped mountains and waterfalls from the molten glaciers and snow.
We stopped by a small town (Seydisfjordur) on a peninsula in eastern Iceland for a simple Icelandic meal. The highlight had to be this goat cheese salad, although we were a little disappointed to learn that the cheese was actually imported from France.
En route to Myvatn, Dettifoss was on our agenda, which is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. We took the old gravel route 864 to Dettifoss, which was a hell of a drive. Luckily, if you’re reading our blog, I would recommend you to go via the new route 862 which reaches to the other side of Dettifoss which has not only a better view but better road conditions as well!
Day 4: Myvatn
We decided to stay two nights around the Myvatn area. There was a lot to see!
We started at Hverarönd/Manafjall Geothermal. This is a place you cannot miss, even without any navigation. The steam coming from the solfatara (dormant volcanoes that still emit jets of steam) and the distinct sulphur smell will guide you to here. The different types of geothermal activity emits sulphur which creates gradients of orange and yellow in the surrounding ground.
Around the geothermal area is Viti Crater and Krafla Power Station. Viti is a unique crater filled with aqua blue water due to the geothermal activity in the area. Viti Crater was formed during a 5-year long volcano eruption. Across from the crater, you can see steam coming out of less active vents and glimpses of life starting to re-form after the apocalyptic volcano eruptions.
This geothermal activity led to the construction of the largest power station in Iceland, Krafla Power Station. The neat thing about this power station was the fact they provided a free guided tour to see the steam turbines and free coffee to warm you up in the cold Icelandic summer!
If the coffee wasn’t enough to warm you up, the Myvatn Nature Baths will provide the heat. Iceland is famous for the Blue Lagoon thermal baths, which has become more and more commercialized and overcrowded with tourists like us. Myvatn Nature Baths is a lesser known geothermal pool, less commercialized, and we thought it was a better environment to relax. Nothing beats an ice cold local beer in the hot bath without worrying about crowded by strangers.
After soaking until our fingers got wrinkled, we went to the Hverfjall Cone, a very different crater since it didn’t have a lake. It was harder to muster up the strength for the climb up to the rim of the crater after such a relaxing bath, but the views at the top were totally worth it. Then we enjoyed dinner at a great little farm-to-table restaurant. We even got to try milk straight from the cows on the farm.
Day 5: Myvatin to Fjords
One thing that Iceland isn’t lacking in…is waterfalls! We already had seen more than a handful of waterfalls already but Godafoss and Aldeyjarfoss were totally worth adding to the never-ending list. Godafoss is known as the waterfall of the gods where Christianity was made the official religion of Iceland. Aldeyjarfoss is just off the road to Godafoss. This was where we made full use of the 4×4 rental SUV, it was a bumpy ride on the F-road. We found the rush of water between the unique basalt columns incredible and this was the boy’s favorite waterfall (and there are many to choose from as we said before)!
The drive to the West Fjords was too long of a drive for our taste. If we had more time in Iceland, we would have stopped by there and spent a night there. We got a small taste of the epic coastline when we visited the Holmavik Museum of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We took a few detours on this route along the Snaefellsnes peninsula, including the famous Hvitserkur in Vatsnes (the most photographed rock in all of Iceland) and attempted to catch some seals sun-bathing. We had lunch at Geitafell restaurant, one of the highly rated restaurants on the peninsula. However, in our opinion, it was a bit overrated (there wasn’t much choice anyways). The seafood soup was delicious but definitely pricey even for a touristy spot.
It was a relatively uneventful day, but we rested early to prepare for the Golden Circle.
Day 6: The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in southern Iceland close to Reykjavik. The three main stops are Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and the Geysir geothermal area. The Thingvellir National Park is very well developed with dramatic rock formations, fissures, a church, and the Oxarafoss waterfall. The highlight was Stekkjargja fissure, which was unfortunately the site of hangings and drownings from judgments passed from Icelandic law in the past.
It was a short drive from Thingveillar to Geysir. Some travel itineraries recommend to see the Golden Circle via helicopter to avoid the hordes of tourists, but nothing beats seeing the Geysir erupt right in front of you (and getting showered by Geysir water)! It was amazing to see how active this geysir was, where it would erupt every 5-10 minutes without warning. There were a few smaller non-active geysirs in this area as well.
The last stop was Gullfoss. Even though we had seen our fair share of waterfalls by this point, Gullfoss was well worth it. All of the waterfalls are so unique, making it hard to compare them and to skip them.
To close off the Golden Circle, we dined at an excellent restaurant called Tryggvaskáli Restaurant in Selfoss. The chocolate mousse was to die for! I didn’t even share it with the boy (editor’s note from the boy – it *looked* really good though!).
Days 7 and 8: Selfoss to Reykjavik
We ended our Iceland trip at Reykjavik where we reconnected with civilization. Compared to the rest of Iceland, Reykjavik was filled with colorful buildings, quirky graffiti, and gourmet food.
The first stop was the Hallgrimskirkja Church, which is a contemporary church inspired by Icelandic nature. Its towering figure can be seen from nearly all of Reykjavik. You can pay a small fee to go up the bell tower, where you can get a great view of the whole city. We were lucky enough to catch a free performance by a world renowned organist.
Another iconic building in Iceland is the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. It was inspired by the basalt columns seen throughout Iceland. We saw this building both at night and during the day. The three dimensional glass facade lit up in many colors at night was particularly phenomenal. The next day we came back for a guided tour of Harpa. The modern contemporary design was striking and we loved that so much thought was put into the acoustics. Each of the concert halls could be adjusted to accommodate different acoustic profiles, such as a classical concert which works with natural reverb compared to an amplified rock concert where reverb would muddy up the sound.
It felt great to be back in the city: where coffee, pastries, and restaurants were plentiful and open late. Here are a few stops that we would recommend you to try when you visit:
- Reykjavik Roasters (the best coffee shop in Iceland or maybe the world)
- Sandholt (elegant artisan sandwiches, pastries, and dessert)
- Kolaportid (the only flea market in Iceland)
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (it literally means the best hot dog in town and they’re cheap)
- Fish Company (bar none, our favorite meal here – make reservations!)
- Bergsson Mathus (excellent breakfast or brunch place – the bread was amazing)
- Resto (another amazing restaurant that makes local cuisine)
- Braud & Co (where you can smell the baking from a block away)
- Laugavegur (where we experienced the nightlife of Iceland)
- Perlan (which is a landmark with a revolving restaurant and a great viewing deck)
- Valdis (the best gelato in town! They have an ice cream stand in Harpa as well if you don’t have time to visit the shop on the old harbour)
As a final note, many people complete Iceland with a trip to the Blue Lagoon en route to the airport. We decided to skip it and went to the Myvatn Nature Baths instead. From various reviews, the Blue Lagoon is overcrowded with tourists and way too expensive compared to other lagoons.
Day 9: Keflavik Airport
The main international airport in Iceland we found was very small compared to other international airports we’ve been to. The infrastructure could not keep up with the dramatic increase of tourists seen lately. Be warned, there are few areas to sit(and none by our gate) and communication was poor(we were not told about our gate being changed). Our flight also got delayed due to a local worker strike that was happening.
On the bright side, to make the wait and delay more enjoyable, we made multiple trips to the duty free shop for small sized Icelandic liquor (and definitely more Bjork). Brennivín is considered to be Iceland’s signature distilled beverage, which reminded us of vodka. Not our taste, but we would recommend getting a little bottle to try (or a full sized bottle if you’re a vodka fan).
And that’s it for our trip! Hope you find this helpful in planning your journey to Iceland!