Rachel and I spent four days in Iceland and I wanted to share our experiences and photos.
March 19, 2014
We flew out from Boston at 7:30 PM Eastern and arrived in Keflavik around 7 AM GMT. The funniest thing we learned upon arrival was you then simply go and buy duty-free alcohol with (literally) everyone from your flight, attendants included. Everything in Iceland is amazingly expensive so you buy things as cheaply as you can.
After picking up our rental car and GPS we drove the 50 KM or so along the coast to Reykjavik. Over 2/3 of the country’s population lives in the city and even at rush hour, there’s really not much traffic.
Once we arrived at our hotel, Hótel ÓÐINSVÉ, we parked on the street and checked in. Since our room wasn’t ready at 8 in the morning we headed over to Reykjavík Roasters for a quick “pick me up” and a light morning snack. At this point Rachel suggested we grab our swim suits and find a nearby pool to do as the locals do. We walked a few blocks (everything is only a few blocks away) to Sundhöll Reykjavíkur and took a shower, changed out of our “airplane” clothes and enjoyed the hot, geothermal water.
We then grabbed lunch at one of the most famous restaurants in Iceland, Bæjarins beztu — it’s a hot dog stand with delicious lamb-based links, a sweet mustard, and crunchy fried onions. From there we spent time walking around town and visited the capital’s park and lake, Tjörnin, which includes some of the few trees in the country.
Around 2 or 3 PM we were getting really tired and napped. After a few hours of rest we walked a few blocks (again) to likely the country’s best Indian restaurant, Austur India Fjelagid. We had a great meal to end the day, all thanks to the recommendation from Andrew’s inside.co travel guide.
March 20, 2014
The next morning we woke up refreshed and without much jet lag. We gathered all our materials, maps, and guides, and planned our route around the Golden Circle. After enjoying a European-style breakfast buffet (with fresh salmon) at the restaurant connected to the hotel we hit the road.
We drove about an hour or so and arrived at þingvellir National Park. We didn’t spend a lot of time wandering here as it was quite cold and windy, but the landscape and lake was quite dramatic.
Our route then led us to Geysir, one of the first documented geysers. This is actually the site where Europeans have traveled for hundreds of years to witness the natural phenomenon. We saw the Strokkur geyser erupt a few times while we were there and is the most commonly photographed (and mis-attributed) geyser in the area. The Great Geysir only erupts a few times each day.
From there we continued on to Gullfoss, a huge waterfall and one of the most popular attractions in Iceland.
The cliffs drop down in two stages creating a dramatic view. We were able to hike up along side it and also down into the canyon a bit. It was so icy that the trails were actually quite dangerous.
By now it was a little past lunch time and we took advantage of one of the best tips we received: in the morning fill up a thermos with hot water (its free and plentiful), stop at a gas station along the highway, buy instant noodles, and have a meal on-the-go as you sightsee. It worked out perfectly. Thanks, Sonya!
We circled down south to continue the circle and arrived at Kerið, a large volcanic crater.
It was formed after lava emptied from the chamber and the earth fall in on itself. It was an interesting sight to see and think about how it was formed.
On our way back up north towards Reykjavik we noticed a lot of steam near the ocean. As we drove up and over a pass we also saw a marker for the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Plant which had an an exhibition. We decided to take an afternoon detour and go learn about Iceland’s primary source of energy.
This is the newest and largest plants on the island and the facilities are awesome. The literature and exhibition itself was very informative, as well. I’d highly recommend this stop.
We arrived back in town and had some dinner at The Laundromat Café. We learned that, yes, even the simplest meal is going to cost us about $20 per person. On the bright side, there’s no additional tip so its worked into the cost.
That evening, around 7 PM we met up with a large tour group to head out on a northern lights trip. All said, we had about 8 large tour busses driving out into the country (actually, right back past Hellisheiði where we were just a few hours ago). The evening started out cloudy so we stayed inside at a large event hall and went outside to check every so often. The clouds started to clear and we could start to see some green cloud-like whisps over the mountains. To the naked eye the lights looked like hazy green streaks slowly moving along the sky. The weather and clouds dampened the effect but we saw them! Some folks with time-lapse cameras and tripods snagged some awesome photos. After piling back on the busses and driving back, we made it to the hotel by 1:30 AM.
March 21, 2014
Our second “full day” had a pretty fun agenda: head south, hike a glacier, visit a waterfall, then visit another waterfall and go behind it. So, we packed our warm clothes, full ski jackets and pants, long underwear, hiking boots, YakTrax, and headed out.
We drove further south along the coast where it was warmer, but a bit windy. The drive towards the mountain range was a bit ominous but the landscape was dramatic. From the ocean the cliffs shot straight up and the wind brought snow all the way down from the peaks and volcanic range high above.
On our way to the glacier, we stopped to take a picture of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2012.
We arrived at Solheimajokull and it was extremely windy. It was coming down hard and fast from the high peaks and nearly blew us over. As we got onto the glacier we hiked with YakTrax and stayed on the paths the local tour guides use to bring groups on.
Hiking on the glacier was a fun experience. It’s such a big area of ice, it was awesome to look down and realize the canyon carved out below us, all the way to the ocean, was formed by what we were standing on.
Since Solheimajokull was the furthest destination for the day, we turned back around to head back towards Reykjavik and snacked on some candy to tide us over until after our next adventures.
With just a few minutes of driving we arrived at the Skógafoss waterfall.
We hiked up the stairs (seen in the background) and stood high above the waterfall and ocean below.
On our way back down, we ducked off onto a dirt path that threw us right in front of the waterfall. It was a dramatic sight. We were so close to the front of the fall the mist formed icicles all around us.
We then stood down beneath the fall. The rocks were a sheet of ice which made walking a challenge. We, and a number of other photographers, were able to snag some excellent photos, though.
Next we drove back towards the Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Plural because the dramatic cliffs receive water from the peaks high above and the water falls off them all over the place. This specific waterfall is unique because the cave behind it has hallowed out so far back and wide you can hike up next to it and walk behind it.
We decided to take the path less traveled and hike up beside the waterfall. The wind was so strong it literally blew the water on top of us. Instead of turning back and coming around the other side, we scurried down the rocks (again, YakTrax and waterproof jackets and pants were used here) and spent some time, quite literally, under the waterfall itself.
After laughing about the whole experience and being quite pleased with our adventure, we took a few photos, went back to the car, stripped down and drove off with our instant noodles in-hand.
As we headed back and neared Hellisheiði again, we found ourselves in instant whiteout conditions. The dramatic passes and landscape mean you can be down on a dry road with grassy landscape and then climb a few hundred feet to be socked into a windy, snowy, cloud. Having driven over Vail Pass in Colorado, it was not unfamiliar territory. Fortunately this is quite literally one of two ways back to Reykjavik and the plows were out in full force, as well.
After putting all our clothes on all the radiators, we decided to try what seemed like a kitschy restaurant called “Lebowski Bar” for dinner. This was, as you might imagine, a bar dedicated to The Big Lebowski and specialized in hamburgers and “white russians” (in milkshake form). We actually really enjoyed it (who doesn’t love The Dude?!) and thank Sonya again for the recommendation.
March 22, 2014
Our last day in Iceland was also a day of dramatic extremes: in-water massages at Blue Lagoon and trying to buy gas at a gas station. These two were the least stressful to most stressful things I think we encountered in the whole trip.
As we left our hotel and drove back towards the airport in the morning we stopped at Blue Lagoon as we had a 1 PM in-water massage.
The Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið) is truly blue because of bacteria in the water that reflect the color blue. It was fairly surreal. The land also produces silica mud which, when applied to your face, has some sort of benefit?
After our amazing in-water massages, where we laid on a foam mattress and had a warm blanket draped over us, we showered and changed into our travel clothes. We filled up the rental car with gas (kinda, what a struggle) and dropped it off at the airport. We saw that a direct flight back to Denver was leaving around the same time so we saw what it would cost to change our flight. The answer was $2,000.
We flew back to Boston and landed around 6:30 PM. Nothing says “screw you” like going through US Border Patrol. While I understand the need for security, I wish returning to my own country was not the least welcoming and unfriendly experience when traveling.
We checked into our hotel, ordered room service, fell asleep, then woke up a few hours later and flew home to Denver the next morning at 7 AM. After throwing bags and bags of clothes in the laundry we looked back over our photos and remembered one of the best trips we’ve had together in a while.