This continues a series of travel blogs. I have shared this with others who have said this made it seem like we hated Iceland, but I really loved it! It was among the most peaceful places I have ever been, and likely will ever go.
April 12-April 19, 2017
Getting There and General Tips
- We flew WOW Air overnight from BWI on April 12–direct. WOW has a handful of hubs in the US and for whatever lucky reason, one of them is BWI! Woot! We arrived into the Reykjavik Airport around 5 a.m. The flight was easy but you will want to bring your own water as everything including water costs money on WOW. I would also pack snacks because the food in the Reykjavik airport is basically a $23 pizza or dried, packaged cod–this is also true for much of the country, unfortunately.
- If you rent a car (which I HIGHLY recommend), don’t buy into any of their American-targeted bull about sand and wind insurance. Say no to all of it. We never felt like we were in jeopardy and we took that little car to literal mountaintops–and it was a stick. Sure, we challenged that little transmission, but we weren’t being bombarded by any sand or wind. Also, the car had heated seats and a heated steering wheel–sound superfluous but it was indispensable.
- Pack everything you think you will need. Do not go to Iceland with the attitude of “We will get one when we get there,” it is way too expensive for that. Bring what you need. I shudder to think of the cost of a toothbrush.
- I would just pack all layers. Layers all day and good hiking socks. If you fly WOW on which you pay for bags, here’s a sneaky little tip. Chas and I each took a “handbag” which is just a backpack. We paid for one carry on and crammed everything into that. We also dressed like Joey from Friends on the plane.
- Stop at a grocery store to save money on breakfast and lunch. Icelandic food is not very good so why spend so much on it? Bonus with the picture of the pig seems to be the cheapest.
- On your way to your first stop, find a Vinbuden. There are a limited number and they are the state-owned liquor stores. They have very weird and very limited hours. You’ll want to do this as beer and wine, like everything else, is obscenely expensive.
- Our first host (American) told us not even to bother with Icelandic. It’s absurd and everyone speaks English. Usually I’m not about that life but Icelandic is no joke. I did use this page when necessary.
We picked up our rental car from Budget and headed for Snori’s Pool. Please skip this completely. It’s stupid and not worth a single second. Skip anything involving Snori other than reading his story somewhere, and it’s everywhere. They really love Snori.
We stopped at a gas station in Akranes and got free coffee and a sandwich. Some gas stations have free coffee. Cute little town–not a ton going on. But, it seems like people wake up much later there. We were in the center of the town and maybe saw two people, aside from the gas station worker.
We hit the road for Borganes. We putzed around the town, stopped in the museum shop, we did not pay for the museum. We are happy we skipped it as it was expensive and other things seem more worth your money. Borgarnes has some historical significance and a really neat little coastline. There’s a legend that allegedly took place right here…something about an eagle and man…I don’t know…read the plaque…I was too jet-lagged.
We went to our bed and breakfast called Borganes B&B. The owners were adorable and I instantly loved the house and felt snuggled. They had robes for us to take to the hot springs and a great guide to hot springs in the area. The owner (husband, American) told us that if we were looking how to spend the afternoon, we should go to the Sportlaug which is their term for a sports and community center. It was $8, indoor pools and outdoor pools, hot tubs, water slides. This is how Icelanders spend their free time! It was neat to see. They had three different temperatures of hot tubs. The water slide water was cold AF but it was a “When in Iceland…” situation so we took several rides, then found respite in the hot tubs of varying temperatures. There was a steam room in the bathroom for the end of the workout.
We ate at the Thai Restaurant–good food, best deal in town. Back at the place we met a Swedish couple we sat and talked to for maybe two hours. The B&B had a huge bay window in the living room through which we could see every star that ever existed while we chatted about education and politics in Sweden vs. the US. Then we bid them goodnight and slept the best sleep ever.
We woke up, ate our breakfast from the grocery store and hit the road for the Snaefellnes Peninsula. Amazing. There are so many places to stop along this drive. There’s also basically only this one road so it’s easy to navigate–honestly, you don’t really even need to navigate. The stops are otherworldly, but so is the drive itself.
Along this drive we:
- stopped at a mountain and did a little climbing and viewing. We could see the water from the vantage point. Although it was freezing, it was gorgeous.
- went to the Vatnshelllier Cave. Totally worth it. Maybe around $20? Cool tour, 45 minutes. We learned a lot about the volcanic nature of the island. Vatnshellier is a lava tube created by a volcanic eruption. When the lava receded or dried or does whatever lava does, an empty space was left. We had headlamps and were able to walk along the inside of the tube.
- climbed to the top of a crater along the road–can’t remember the name. There were actual steps on the crater to get to the top. From the top, just desolation…but in a good way, I think.
- walked into a canyon, also just along the road. The canyon contained rushing water and some were climbing inside of it (and coming out with soaked/frozen feet). The climbing was a little challenging because of how slippery it was but we saw some incredibly epic falls (not waterfalls, people falls).
- took a long soak in Landbrotalaug Hot Spring in the middle of an abandoned farm. For sure do this one or one similar. Here’s the obscure book where we found it. Another great thing about this natural spring is that you could choose your temperature. Closer to the flow was hotter and farther away cooled off. Our B&B allowed us to borrow the robes from the room which was really helpful. You’re basically changing into your bathing suit in the middle of a field at 30 degrees Fahrenheit so a robe is useful. Most Icelanders just do this openly and in the buff so don’t be shocked to see some butt cheeks.
- 6. stopped at other random things along the way–just let our hearts guide us. All cool.
The next day we drove to Hof. It is a town, population 20.
We stayed at the Hof Hotel. It was good enough for us! Barebones. I do not recommend eating here though. The breakfast was free but get dinner at the gas station about 15 minutes west on THE ROAD. We stayed in our little cabin for two nights. It was basically just a box among a few other boxes, next to a cliff, in the middle of a field. The Hof Hotel did have a jacuzzi and men’s and women’s saunas. BUT the first night we bought dinner which was cream of asparagus soup and bread…$21. It was more or less a bowl of butter and cream with a lone asparagus stalk…for $21. The next night, we ate this…
The drive to Hof was gorgeous and various and it was an adventure in its own right. We just stopped whenever we felt like it. So isolated and beautiful and strange. The landscape changed every few miles from rock to moss to rock to ice to snow to water to mountains and back again. We also listened to S Town on this drive which kept us super occupied.
Just before checking into the hotel, we went to the Skaftafell National Park and did a few hikes. Very cool. Go to the little abandon mountainside town and hike to the edge of the glacier (only a 2 mile round trip). We also hiked (easy) to the Svartifoss Waterfall.
From Hof, we visited the Jokulsarlon Glacier and its glacier lagoon. This was incredible. We saw maybe 60 seals here.
We started hiking around the perimeter but it is deceitfully large and it would have taken all day to go around the entire glacier so we did about a 3 hour round trip walk. Definitely go here and watched the seals. They’re basically just fat + faces. We ate at the gas station beyond Hof. Better than food at Hof Hotel for sure. Again, we stayed at Hof Hotel. We explored the little churchyard and graveyard a little bit, I think it was Easter. Chas woke up four-five times in the night to try to see the Northern lights but we never did.
The next day we ate the breakfast and left Hof to head back west. We drove to Vik, a tiny little town. We stayed just east of Vik in a fine hotel. It had a huge outdoor hot tub where we got wrinkly with some Americans for a good hour of chat. In Vik we explored the beach but the weather SUCKED. We went to the top of many things while driving west of Vik. I have never experienced wind like this. By the end of the day we were soaked and freezing. We stopped at the Black Sand Beach and did each climb and drive in this area. We spent a lot of energy looking for puffins–no dice. If it’s late April and beyond you can see puffins along this coast. Vik is cute and an interesting look at Icelandic life. We ate at the gas station in Vik. It has a cafe in the back. Don’t get the Icelandic stew–not worth it.
First stop the next day was Skogafoss. It’s an incredible waterfall that doesn’t look that impressive from the road. Go here. Go to the top of the waterfall and then hike back at least for 30 minutes. It’s amazing up there–more views, waterfalls, and unusual beauty. It looks like Lord of the Rings scenery–maybe it is?
We stopped to see some horses!
From Vik the next morning, we drove to Geysir National Park. This is a must do. It’s why a geysir is called a geysir. Like a Kleenex, they called this Geysir and then the word became a common noun. The eruptions are frequent and surprising.
There’s a bourgeois food hall there and fancy shopping thing. Also a bathroom. Driving here was a little confusing for us–make sure to figure out ahead of time.
We made car sandwiches and then went to Pingvellir National Park. Another must do. Lots of history here. You can read all about it in the guidebooks. Also, it’s pronounced TINGvellir. This was one of my absolute favorite sites to explore. Here you can see a spot where the earth’s crest is literally splitting–kind of a bummer but the park is gorgeous. I would have LOVED to have camped here for a night or two.
We then drove to Reykjavik. We stayed at the Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel. I liked it there. They had a guest kitchen which was a good way for us to eat our hikers’ breakfast the next morning.
We explored Reykjavik that night. It’s meh. Not my favorite city.
We did eat an incredible seafood meal and just shelled out the money for it. We stopped at a few neat off-the-beaten-path bars. There actually are a couple of really cool ones. I would say a lot of Reykjavik felt tourist-targeted but look a little closer, walk a little longer. You won’t necessarily pay less but you can avoid the kitchiness. We also went to the Lebowski Bar because Chas loves Lebowski–it was kind of stupid though and I have no idea why it’s in Iceland.
The next day we walked around Reykjavik, ate hot dogs, and visited one more Bonus Pig, until it was time to head to the airport. Again, pack food.
I think one thing that is a tiny bit frustrating (aside from the cost when you arrive) about Iceland is that there’s no perfect time to go. All times of year have their benefits and you just have to choose what’s important to you.
Things we wish we could have done:
- Seen puffins. (late spring/summer only)
- More seals. Infinite amounts of seals.
- A ice cave tour (winter only)
- A glacier lagoon boat ride (late spring/summer only)
- Driven to the West Fjords
- More hot springs–not Blue Lagoon
- Seen the Northern Lights, trust me, we tried!