Today is January 1, the first day of the new year. With the flip of the calendar, the indiscretions of 2015 are forgotten, new promises are made, and gyms are flooded! I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but this being the year that I turn forty, my mood is different, and suddenly I have my own big bang list for 2016. All the standard things come to mind; be a better mother, a better wife, a better daughter, and a better friend. But most important, I want to force myself to SLOW DOWN, make room for pause, and be more purposeful. Which means no running yellow lights or yelling at slow drivers, allowing myself to be late - once in awhile, and living by my mantra “you only go around once." I will travel as much as I can this year; with my friends, my family, and my husband. 2016 will take me to new and familiar places; Baja, the American Southwest, southern Mexico, Sicily, and a few places in between. I hope you will continue to read along with me as I develop my purpose as a writer and a photographer. And as I make new discoveries through my wanderlust, perhaps a little bit of my fairy dust will get sprinkled on you. So, instead of Hawaii, consider Hanoi; forego Palm Beach, discover Patagonia; skip Sun Valley, shred up Hokkaido. The dollar is at a ten year high; the world is on sale - go see it! Don’t return to your comfort zone. Do something different. Go someplace out of the ordinary. Create an unforgettable experience. And always remember, you only go around once. Bring it on 2016!
As a landscape photographer, I have always wanted to travel to Iceland. I knew that the wind swept tundra, volcanos, and ice would provide endless photographic opportunities. But I had no idea how much I would fall for this place. The people, the food, the ease of travel, and the weather (yes, the weather!) all have me wanting to go back. Before our trip, when I would tell people we were headed to Iceland, I got a lot of "Iceland, really?" YES, REALLY!! After you read this article, I hope you will hop on the Icelandair website and find a way to get there.
So here is a play-by-play of our seven day, six night, adventure road trip in Iceland. Researched and planned by me, this itinerary may be a little aggressive (from a driving perspective), but I don't regret any of the long days or stops along the way. It was 100% awesome. (Beware, this is a long one...)
DAY 1 ★ Aerial Iceland
We landed at Keflavik Airport at 7:00 am, hopped into our rental car and headed to the nearby Blue Lagoon. Driving into the deserted parking lot, we wondered if we were in the right place, as I had read that the Blue Lagoon is Iceland's number one tourist attraction (think Disneyland). Ever prompt and leery of crowds, we were the third and fourth people inside the door. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and headed outside to the ice blue thermal pools. It was an unbelievable morning. The chill stung our bare bodies, but Iceland welcomed us with bright sun, cobalt sky and steaming water.
After a forty minute soak, the Lagoon was starting to get busy so we showered up, grabbed a quick breakfast, and hit the road (the line for the Lagoon was now out the door).
Our intended destination that morning was the Icelandic highlands of Landmannalaugar. I have been obsessed with this otherworldly place characterized by rainbow hued mountains and thermal streams; it was number one on my list of places to see on our trip. Sadly, three days before our departure, our guides from Iceland Luxury Tours reached out to let us know that the highland roads were still closed due to late snow fall and our overland trip into the interior was not to be. I stewed about it for a couple of hours and then decided to bite the bullet and hire a helicopter to take us there (did I mention I am obsessed with this place??) While this measure may seem extreme (and expensive), it was the best and most memorable way to start out trip to Iceland.
Reykjavik Helicopters is a small outfit near the local airport. Their pilots are local fliers with excellent knowledge of their home country and the terrain they fly over. I emailed them two days before we departed for Iceland and they were able to accommodate us for a five hour flight around south Iceland. In a word - AWESOME. We took off, flying northeast towards the Golden Circle, which isn’t far from Reykjavik, and is the home of some of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions. We touched down at Geysir and walked up the path towards the swarm of tourists waiting for the geyser of water to blast out of the ground. The clicking of cameras was a dead giveaway that the water was bubbling towards the service; I had to elbow my way in to get a shot. Needless to say, crowds are not my thing - in Iceland, or anywhere else - so we got out of there as quickly as we had arrived. A note on the Golden Circle. If you only have a short time in Iceland, and perhaps are taking advantage of the Icelandair stopover, a visit to the Golden Circle is tempting. It has a lot of natural attractions and is about an hour from the capitol city, which makes it a desirable destination for a quick side trip. BUT, if you don’t like tour buses, crowds, and annoying selfie sticks, there is a lot more to Iceland than the Golden Circle, and most of it is not far out of reach. All I am saying is, choose your own adventure, but be an informed traveler.
We skidded out of Geysir and headed towards the interior highlands. Along the way we swooped over Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls. While I am sure it is a site to see from the edge of the river, it was truly amazing to see it from above. I look back at the images I took over Gullfoss, and what I love the most is the contrasting colors of the bright rain jackets worn by the tourists lining the edge of the path to the waterfall. Those tiny dots of color give great perspective to the size of Gullfoss and the amount of water gushing over its edge.
From Gullfoss, we headed east towards Landmannalaugar. Along the way the snow pack increased, and as we dipped between mountains it was very clear why we had not been able to drive, let alone hike, through Landmannalaugar. Flying into the range, the colors of the mountains peaked out from beneath the snow. Unfortunately (and understandably) our pilot decided not to land - there were a few hearty mountaineers bathing in the thermal river below, and he didn’t want to disturb them. So we flew low and took in the amazing scenery.
Flying out of Landmannalaugar we headed south towards the coast, but before we hit the sea, we landed on top of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010, disrupting air traffic in Europe for a week. While not the highest peak around, it still felt like being on top of the world. With blue sky above, we stood on top of the volcano, blinded by the white glacier and captivated by the view of the ocean below us; it was an indescribable way to begin our Icelandic adventure. As the wind started to whip up, we hopped back into the chopper and swooped down towards the ocean. The landscape changed from white to black, blue, and green. The blinding white glaciers gave way to bright blue water, chartreuse green pastures and jet black volcanic tundra; the color was on steroids.
We landed for lunch at the Hotel Ranga, considered to be one of the best hotels in Iceland. While we didn’t stay there, I can vouch for their fantastic burger and our first taste of Viking Beer, but the stuffed Polar Bear in the lobby was a little off-putting. In addition to the Atlantic Puffin, Iceland considers the polar bear to be one of its spirit animals. While stuffed polar bears and puffins are on display and sold EVERYWHERE, I have to point out that the polar bears that end up in Iceland do so because they got disoriented and swam or floated there from Greenland. So, since polar bears are not exactly indigenous to Iceland, the Hotel Ranga might want to rethink its lobby decor; a giant taxidermy polar bear snarling on its hind legs isn’t exactly welcoming. But their burger it amazing!
After landing back in Reykjavik, stunned by our most amazing aerial adventure, we began the drive towards our rental house in south Iceland. By the way, I don’t think we will ever stop talking about our helicopter trip or this house. Just east of Hvolsvöllur, near the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, sits South Eyjafjallajökull Modern House (say that three times fast). In a pastoral setting with vistas of the Westman Islands beyond, the South House feels completely isolated and is perfectly appointed. Simply built and furnished, but well stocked, this home is the best airbnb in Iceland and is the perfect base for exploring the south and east of the country. We dream about going back to this spot, or recreating it somewhere closer to home. If you are planning a trip to Iceland, book this house now - it’s reserved most of the year, well in advance.
DAY 2 ★ South Iceland
The next day we awoke to a bright sky and the most unbelievable silence. Outside, the electric green pastures that surround the house were dotted with Icelandic horses, newborn lambs (black sheep aren’t as rare as you’d think) and white swans - it felt like we were in Narnia. We had planned on having an easy first day, intent on mastering Icelandic driving, hitting a few tourist destinations, and getting acquainted with Icelandic beer. Check. Check. Check. A short distance from our house was the majestic Skogafoss waterfall. We arrived before the tour buses, so were able to enjoy the morning mist with just a few hearty campers (camping is big in Iceland). We spent a few minutes and hit the road, driving southeast towards Dyrhólaey and the village of Vík.
This being our first coherent taste of driving in Iceland, we were surprised by the good roads, pleasant drivers, easy signage, and lack of traffic. Self driving is the best way to see Iceland. The Ring Road, also known as Highway 1, travels around the perimeter of Iceland. For visitors with a little more time, a trip around the Ring Road is a great way to see the country, without having to double back several times, as we had to. After about an hour, we turned off the Ring Road and headed up to the promontory that is Dyrhólaey. High above the black sand beach, the vistas up and down the coast are stunning.
Heading further east, we stopped in Vík, where we strolled on the black sand beach, checked out the tiny church and ducked into Halldórskaffi for lunch. Most food in Iceland is sourced locally. The meat is mostly organic and grass fed and the fish and shellfish are straight out of the icy water. Surprisingly, the produce is all incredibly fresh; it isn’t flown in from abroad, but is grown locally in geothermal green houses. Talk about a sustainable country; we never had a bad meal (but stick to Icelandic beer and spirits, Icelanders don’t make their own wine). So yes, the burger and fish that we had for lunch at Halldórskaffi were exceptional.
After lunch we kept driving East. Outside of Vík the landscape changes quickly. Green pastures give way to a stark volcanic landscape bisected by the highway. There are few cars in this area, as most day trippers from Reykjavik turn back towards the city at Vík, making for a lonely drive. For many miles, as far as the eye could see on both sides of the road lay volcanic rocks that flow from the headlands on the left into the sea on the right. The landscape is bleak, colorless, and lacking in any sort of vegetation, with the occasional swath of rocks covered in thick, vibrant green, spongy moss. Sounds weird. It is. But it is also oddly beautiful.
Eventually we arrived at the turn off for Fagrifoss waterfall. Heading inland on the F206, we were greeted by signs indicating that our intended route - a highland road - was still closed for the season. Iceland - 2, Cantlins - 0. Fortunately, a quick consultation with the map sent us a bit farther to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a narrow, 2 kilometer long canyon with steep sides carved by glaciers and erosion some 9,000 years ago. It wasn’t Fagrifoss, but it turned out to be a beautiful alternative. It is an easy hike along the steep gorge. My only regret is that we didn’t also walk into the canyon from the river bed.
Before calling it a night, we made one last stop near our house. Pulling off the highway, we headed towards the mountains, following the signs to Seljavallalaug swimming pool. At the end of a gravel road, we parked at the base of a trail that signaled our short hike up to the pool. For about half a mile we hiked along a riverbed into the base of the mountains. After a precarious crossing of the river, we came upon the swimming pool nestled into the side of the slope. Swimming pools in Iceland are a going concern; every town has one, and most are actually giant hot tubs fed by natural warms springs. Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland, built in 1923. It is fed by the warm springs flowing from beneath the mountain it is built into. While it is maintained by volunteers, its appearance can seem slimy, but nonetheless, the appearance of a swimming pool in the wilderness is a pretty astonishing sight (no, we did not go in, but had the pleasure of observing the locals get their swim on).
That second night we ate dinner at home, drank our duty free wine, and tried to fall asleep despite the jet lag and lack of darkness. No easy feat, especially knowing that the next day we had planned to drive some 800 kilometers. Mildly ambitious, even for us.
DAY 3 ★ East Iceland
Rising early, we once again drove south and then farther east toward Höfn. Our first stop of the day was at Ingólfshöfði Nature Reserve in the middle of nowhere in east Iceland. Ingólfshöfði is privately owned by Einar and his family. In the summer months they take visitors out to their bird sanctuary, home to atlantic puffins, great skuas, guillemot, and other magnificent sea birds. In the winter, Einar and his team take visitors ice climbing and caving. Einar is the best example of a rough and hewn Icelander who has smartly taken advantage of his country’s sudden surge in tourism.
Since it was June, we were visiting Ingólfshöfði hoping to glimpse Iceland’s famous bird - the atlantic puffin. It was a typical Icelandic morning, raining slightly with occasional sunshine and gusts of wind, so we layered up in everything that we had packed. The eight of us visitors piled into a flatbed trailer attached to a large tractor and we headed out through the grasses and across the sand. On either side of the trailer the black sand stretched for miles, dotted with patterns made by the wind and the retreating tide. After about half an hour, and many dubious looks from my husband, the tractor stopped at the base of the cliff. We jumped out and began the hike to the top, wading through fine black sand that had been swept up against the side of the giant land mass; it was like climbing a sand dune. At the top, we were surround by tall grasses that were swept into mounds by the wind. Einar warned us to keep our heads down, and move in a group, as the nesting Skuas were prone to dive bomb anything threatening their exposed nests (if you don’t like birds, I would not recommend this adventure).
As the skuas circled overhead, we headed out to the end of the promontory where we were greeted by thousands of nesting puffins. Black and white, with a bright orange bill, the atlantic puffin stands about 10 inches tall and makes its home in cliffs such as these that are scattered throughout west and south Iceland. Unafraid of us, we were able to observe the puffins up close in their environment, either nestled in the grass growing on the edge of the cliff or diving into the sea for food. It was really windy, and really cold, but the puffins made it all worth while.
After leaving Ingólfshöfði, we continued east toward the town of Höfn, where we were gunning for a late lobster lunch. The landscape of east Iceland was increasingly more rugged and dominated by massive glaciers and stunning mountains. We pulled into the town of Höfn and headed straight for its most popular restaurant, Humarhöfnin. It was late in the afternoon, and since Höfn isn’t exactly on the tourist route, we were not surprised to find that we were the only diners that afternoon. Iceland is known for its spectacular lobster. Smaller and sweeter than the lobster we are accustomed to in the United States, Icelandic lobster, or langoustine, is unbelievably delicious! Because of its east coast location, the lobster prepared at Humarhöfnin is pulled fresh from the icy water of the North Athlantic every day, and is arguably the best lobster in Iceland. Eating our lunch, we couldn’t wipe the grins - or the butter - from our faces.
Fully satiated, we once again turned the car around and drove back the way we had come, this time stopping at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Jökulsárlón is a large glacial lake at the head of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. As the environment warms, the glacier calves icebergs into the lagoon that are eventually carried out to sea by the currents of the small river connected to the sea beyond. At 248 meters, Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in Iceland, and has grown fourfold since the 1970’s as the rate of glacial melting has increased. Jökulsárlón is incredibly beautiful and unusual, and is worth a visit, even if it is one of Iceland’s top tourist attractions (beware of crowds and tour buses). I had made reservations for the last zodiac tour of the day, thinking that there might be fewer people trolling around the icebergs in the evening. Not so much. We climbed into giant neoprene suits and clambered aboard. Weaving around the icebergs, we slowly made our way out into the lagoon. In a word, the icebergs were magnificent. Enormous, old, vibrant, and buoyant, the icebergs quietly float after violently breaking off from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Some will take years to be absorbed into the waters of the lagoon, while others slowly find their way out into the crushing waves of the North Atlantic. (On a side note, if you want to avoid the tour buses and zodiac tours, and hope to enjoy the glacier and icebergs with a little piece and quiet, adjacent to Jökulsárlón lies its little sister, Fjallsárlón.)
Around 7:00 pm, we got back into the car and began the three hour drive home (yes, it was a very long day). After what seemed like the longest day ever - eight hours in the car, jet lag, driving rain, gusting wind, and many many puffins - we very happily returned to Halldórskaffi in Vík for dinner. If you are ever worried about showing up for dinner in rural Iceland at 9:30 pm and not getting served, don’t worry. Not only was the restaurant open, it was a going concern. All the tables were full, several parties were waiting, and the beer was flowing. We sat down to a meal of fresh fish and toasted our successful day.
Pulling into our house that night around 11:30 pm, we were treated to an unbelievable almost-sunset that perfectly exemplified the midnight sun that the arctic is known for. The neighboring horses and sheep huddled together, it started to sprinkle, and the clouds shifted. The almost sunset spread across the horizon in yellows, oranges, blues, purples and black. I sat with my camera and watched, waiting to see how the sky would change and how low the sun would dip. As the sun lingered above the horizon, I got cold and tired and headed inside. Before I pulled the blinds and turned off the lights, I took one more look outside to see if the sun had disappeared, but was reminded that at this time of year, Iceland never turns off its lights.
DAY 4 ★ Reykjavik
We only had 24 hours to explore Iceland’s capitol city, so we decided to visit Reykjavik on a Saturday when we knew the town would be alive and vibrant. That morning, we reluctantly said goodbye to our house in the South, packed up the car and headed into the city just in time for brunch. Prior to our trip, I had done lots of research, trying to decide where we should eat during our short stay in Reykjavik. When we travel, I try to figure out where the locals eat, and avoid spots that have menus in four languages and sandwich boards with photos of food out front. I had read that Snaps Bistro had been named Reykjavik restaurant of the year in the Grapevine, one of Reykjavik’s local publications. And since it didn’t register on Trip Advisor, I decided to take a gamble on the Grapevine. Snaps is on a side street, up near Reykjavik’s iconic Hallgrímskirkja Church. From the outside, Snaps doesn’t appear to be much, but once inside you instantly can tell that it is a gathering spot for locals seeking a cozy atmosphere and good food. While the Bloody Mary was perfectly spiced and garnished with pickles, the mussels were some of the best I have ever had. Classically prepared in a white wine and garlic broth, the mussels were fresh from the sea, enormous and full of flavor.
We could have sat at Snaps all day, but given our short stay in the city and the blue sky outside, we rolled off our bar stools and headed towards Harpa, stoping in at Reykjavik Roasters for a coffee along the way. Harpa is Reykjavik’s stunning contemporary concert hall constructed of steel and different colored, geometric shaped glass panels. The construction of Harpa, which was interrupted by Iceland’s economic collapse, was completed in 2011, and now houses the symphony.
After exploring Harpa, we strolled along the water past booming real estate development, a pointed reflection of Iceland’s economic reversal of fortune. We decided to duck into the Kex Hostel to check out Iceland’s answer to hip, chic, and inexpensive accommodations. Kex sits on the side of a hill with its windows facing the sea. A restored warehouse, the rooms are small and reminiscent of the Ace Hotel brand in the United States. The common areas are warm, but industrial; rough, but smartly designed. We were surrounded by locals, foreigners, families, couples, hipsters, models, and cyclists; Kex was clearly for everyone. We sat down for a beer and watched the clientele float from the lobby, to the bar, to the restaurant, and out onto the deck, which that day was morphing into a sunny beer garden. If it was hard to leave Snaps, it was even harder to leave the sunny seats at Kex.
Before checking into the Kvosin Downtown Hotel, we strolled down to the harbor. Part boatyard, part tourist center, the Harbor is where you go to catch a whale watching tour or grab a bowl of fish chowder or a famous Icelandic hotdog. Reminded me of the Seattle waterfront.
A brief comment about accommodations in Reykjavik - they are expensive, so unless you intend to spend your entire stay in your room, I wouldn’t consider your hotel room to be a good investment. Initially, I considered staying at the Hotel 101, Reykjavik’s premier hotel. When we walked by it during our visit, I was so glad that I had not dropped the extra coin, as it was clear to me without walking in, that their website did a great job over-marketing the real thing. So when we checked into the Kvosin, I was very pleased to find that the hotel delivered as advertised, and while it was still not cheap ($350 per night), we were comfortable and well located. The best part about the Kvosin was the bar downstairs, and the complementary breakfast served next-door at Bergsson Mathús. The photo speaks for itself.
That night we headed out for dinner at Dill. Considered to be the finest gastronomic experience in Reykjavik, Dill is a small, dimly lit restaurant with perhaps a dozen tables. Its menu is prix fix and highlights the best food that Icelandic cuisine has to offer. We have eaten in many fine restaurants around the world, so I feel pretty confident in my assessment that while the food at Dill was good, and well presented, it was not deserving of its price tag. I came away from the experience feeling like the tourist that had been fooled into paying an exorbitant amount for a meal just to say I had eaten at the best restaurant in Reykjavik. We left wishing we had gone back to Snaps for dinner. Oh snap. As we walked back to our hotel, in the wee hours of 12:45 am, we marveled at the lack of darkness and the drunk vikings spilling out of the bars into the street. Maybe next time.
DAY 5 ★ Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We left Reykjavik that next morning in pelting rain and gusting wind - the Icelandic weather was finally delivering on its promise. We drove out of the city and headed northwest towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Following the coastline, we passed over mountains and through volcanic tundra until we almost tumbled into the sea at the village of Stykkishólmur. Ferries disembark from Stykkishólmur for the Westfjords, otherwise this little town with its tiny port is the largest settlement in west Iceland. We pulled in at lunchtime and went straight for Sjavarpakkhusio, a tiny restaurant down by the ferry dock. Sjavarpakkhusio is about the size of my living room, but was packed with locals and travelers and serving up the best fresh seafood imaginable. We sat for awhile, enjoying fresh mussels, white fish and a few Viking beers, until we mustered the energy to head out exploring.
The rain had temporarily stopped, but the afternoon skies were dark and threatening. We left Stykkishólmur and drove west along the northern route of the peninsula. The landscape of West Iceland is bleak, in a beautiful way. Steep mountains with very few trees lead to a craggy coastline marked by crashing surf and intermittent black sand beaches. Following the road through Grundarfjörður and Ólafsvík, we passed threw small fishing villages, and farms dotted with majestic Icelandic horses bracing in the wind. I got out of the car more than a few times to photograph these beautiful animals. Icelandic horses are smaller than the horses in the American West, have shaggier coats, and are incredibly friendly. Horseback riding is very big in Iceland, and a popular way to explore more remote areas of the country.
West Iceland is much less touristy than the south, so while we encountered a few other travelers on this part of the trip, there wasn’t a tour bus in sight. Late that afternoon we returned to town and checked into our hotel. Hotel Egilsen is quaint and small with about ten rooms. It sits in the center of town and is housed in an old, red, weather beaten building that resembles a barn. Our corner room was bright and comfortable; the interiors reflecting mid-century Scandinavian design with a nautical bent. That night we headed across the street to the other restaurant in town, Narfeyrarstofa, where our meal was fine, but nothing memorable like our lunch earlier that day.
DAY 6 ★ Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Finally over jet lag, we woke up at a normal hour and headed downstairs for breakfast. The hotel must have been full, as breakfast was a lively, nordic affair. Complete with smoked salmon, cheese, eggs, and waffles, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast before heading out into the weather. It was pouring down rain that morning, but we were filled with optimism that perhaps the skies would break as they often had that week. We made a valiant effort to explore the southern coast of the peninsula. At Arnstapi we attempted to hike the coastline and stop at the tiny Fjöruhúsið Cafe in Hellnar (the cafe is the size of a garage, and was packed with hikers), but were turned back by the wind that was forcing us sideways. Instead we bounded towards the Hotel Budir for lunch.
The Hotel Budir is centrally located on the peninsula and is considered one of Iceland’s premier hotels. Isolated on a bluff overlooking the sea, the Hotel Budir is dark, brooding, and could have been a stand in for the Timberline Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s movie, The Shining. We had reservations for dinner there that evening, but given the weather, decided to stay for lunch and pass the time while it rained sideways outside. The bar is cozy, with great views of the sea whipping against the craggy rocks. Sea birds congregated just beyond with windows, huddling together to stay warm. Save for another couple, doing the same thing we were, the place was very quiet. We finally got up the courage to leave and headed outside to check out the iconic, tiny, black church that sat a few hundred yards up the hill from the hotel. It is this beautiful little church that makes the Hotel Budir a destination for weddings in Iceland.
Seeing as we had not had much downtime on this trip, we did not feel guilty about returning that afternoon to our room at the Hotel Egilsen to relax. We opened our last bottle of duty free wine, cozied up in wool and down, and binge watched Breaking Bad. All the while, the wind shook the building, and the rain pelted the windows; the weather had won. Around 9:00 pm, we dragged ourselves out from under the covers and headed down to Sjavarpakkhusio for dinner. Inside it was warm, the windows were steamy, and the tiny room was packed with people. As we devoured another round of fresh seafood, we marveled at what a great little restaurant Sjavarpakkhusio is. As I write this, my mouth waters thinking about the size and flavor of the mussels plucked from the icy bay at Stykkishólmur. There was no better way to spend our last night in Iceland than by enjoying local food, in a tiny town, in an even tinier restaurant, surrounded by boisterous Icelanders and hearty travelers. When are we going back?
DAY 7 ★ Reykjavik
The next morning we woke to calm, blue skies, as if the storm we had experienced the day before never had happened. After packing our bags, we departed the Hotel Egilsen and headed back towards Reykjavik, eager to have lunch at Snaps before we headed to the airport. It was a Tuesday, so the restaurant was full of locals taking a break from work to enjoy a good meal. As we ate lunch, and chatted with the locals next to us, the discussion quickly turned to ideas about what we would do when we returned to Iceland. The missed trip to Landmannalaugar was high on my list, as was traveling to the wilds of the West Fjords and the northern reaches of Hornstrandir. It was not a question of would we return, but when we would return. There is no doubt that Iceland has us in its grips.
Flights: Icelandair now services most major U.S. cities making air travel to the nordic easy and relatively inexpensive. If you want to spend just a couple of days, the airline also allows you to stop over in Iceland on your way to mainland Europe.
Car Rental: When I was choosing a rental car company, I came across two things: rental cars in Iceland are expensive, and rental car agencies are notorious for hitting you with expensive supplemental insurance or charging you for minor damage. Because of the high winds in Iceland, it is not uncommon to be caught in a sandstorm that can damage the paint on a car. Similarly, because most highland roads are gravel roads, rental agencies are concerned about the undercarriage of their vehicles getting damaged by gravel. Buying damage waivers for both of these possibilities is available and recommended if you are planning to travel off the Ring Road. Otherwise, you should be fine with the standard insurance. We rented our car through Lagoon Car Rental, a new agency located near the airport. The cost was less than the national companies, the car was new, and at pick up and drop off we were their only customers, which meant it was quick and easy to get in and out. I would highly recommend them.
Blue Lagoon: Visit at opening time. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.
When to Visit: Iceland receives approximately one million tourists per year. Considering the population of the country is 323,000, that is a lot of tourists, most of whom visit between June and August. In order to avoid the tour bus traffic and invasion of Reykjavik, I would suggest visiting in early June or September. While you likely won’t have access to the highland roads, there is still plenty to see and do during this time.
Currency: Icelanders don’t use cash, and rely almost exclusively on credit cards. Before you leave the U.S. make sure your credit card has a chip, and that you have a PIN for use at gas stations.
Gas: It’s expensive. No way around it.
For all goings on in Reykjavik, be sure to check out what is happening in the Grapevine.
Photographers should check out: International Photographer's Guide to Iceland and Forever Light, The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Iceland.
Films: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Game of Thrones are both filmed in Iceland.
Where we would have gone and stayed if we had more time: If you are planning on spending the night in or near the Golden Circle, be sure to book a night at the ION Hotel. Next time we will; travel to Landmannalaugar, around the West Fjords and Hornstradir, deep in Iceland's northern reaches. We would love to go back in the winter at heli-ski. The mountains in the north have unbelievable uncharted terrain, and awesome snow into June. Into the Glacier, a man made ice cave north of Reykjavik had just opened the week before our trip. We didn't have time to stop, but next time we will! The drive up the glacier is worth the trip alone! Go horseback riding! If you can't book the SOUTH EYJAFJALLAJOKULL MODERN HOUSE, I would suggest the Grand Guesthouse Gardakot. Located on the promontory that leads to Dyrhólaey, its location near Vík with private access to the headlands couldn't be more perfect
Whats to Come:
Seattle Restaurants ★ 02.16
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