I never thought I would end up spending my main summer holidays in Iceland, but it just so happened at the end. I did not know much of the country, since I would in general always prefer to go some place warm and sunny, but I must admit, the more I read about it the more I was intrigued. This land of countless waterfalls, mighty volcanoes and glaciers, geothermal springs, geysers, strange language with names of towns nobody can pronounce, expensive food and moody weather made me totally forget that I traded the pleasant 30 C back home for 9-15C for the next 10 days. Once we were there there was no doubt anymore – this was one of the best trips ever! I was more than positively surprised by these amazing landscapes. There were many firsts on this trip and we could easily spend much more time there without getting bored.
When: August 2007
Visited: Reykyavik, Blue Lagoon, Snaefellsjökull, Bifröst, Hvammstangi, Glaumbaer, Akureyri, Godafoss, Husavik, Tjörnes peninsula, Dettifoss, Krafla, Lake Myvatn, Hverfjall, Höfn, Jokulsarlon, Vik, Dyrholaey, Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Hekla, Sellfoss, Hveragerdi, Geysir, Gullfoss, Thingvellir NP
How: with a rented car
Stayed in: small hotels, mobile homes, rooms in student homes
We RENTED A CAR AT THE AIRPORT and returned it to the same location 10 days later. There were no problems on the way, the roads were good and we were using just a road map and most of the times found all the places we wanted to. If you stick to the main roads that connect all the sights and attractions you don´t need a 4WD – in case you want to spend some more time in the wilderness than you should definitely reconsider this option. We saw a couple of tour bus tourists from different countries but the buses are not able to reach all the sights. The public transport system is poorly developed so renting a car seems like the best thing to do here!
We booked everything before we left and we mostly stayed at SMALLER HOTELS, sometimes also in CONTAINERS turned into SUMMER HOUSES and in STUDENT HOMES which were not occupied in the summer, because there was a break in the University. If you don´t have anything booked in advance take care that you don´t come into towns too late, or have a tent with you – so far as I know, WILD CAMPING IS ALLOWED and sometimes there are even facilities on some parking places along the roads.
If I remember what we mostly ate I can cut it down to: FISH, LAMB, COOKED POTATO, BERRIES and SKYR, which is some kind of delicious yoghurt cheese and bread. Food in restaurants was extremely EXPENSIVE so we also often just bought snacks in a supermarket and made a little picnic in one of the areas by the road. Fruits were also difficult to get in bigger amounts and the prices were really high. Alcohol was even more expensive so we were more on less on water during the day. Icelandic cuisine has also some interesting specialities, which include HAKARL – rotten, fermented and dried shark meat, PUFFINS and other seabirds, MOSS and WIND-DRIED FISH.
WHAT WE SAW AND DID
Our first day in Reykjavik – after a very short night we were still quite tired, but managed to get up for breakfast and start exploring the city. The exploration ended up excluding all MUSEUMS, SHOPS and GALLERIES, because exactly on that day there was some kind of merchants holiday and everything was closed. Nonetheless, we got to see much of the city and took more time in the harbour area. But first to the interesting largest church on Iceland which name nobody can speak out – the HALLGRIMSKIRKJA. The church took almost 40 years to build, it is named after the Icelandic poet and it is supposed to resemble lava flows of Iceland´s landscape. The church can be seen from almost every part of the city and makes a great orientation point. It is pretty impressive and visiting it is probably high up on every visitor´s “Reykjavik to see list”.
Since the weather was nice we decided to catch some fresh air on the beaches of SELTJARNARNES PENINSULA, which is also a NATURE RESERVE with lots of coastal walking/jogging paths. Rich birdlife and natural landscape will make it a great couple of hours if you want to get away from the city for a while. There is also a lighthouse on an island near by, which you can visit if the tide is low.
We decided to have lunch in the harbour and took a “Puffin Express” BOAT TOUR afterwards. The boat took us to nearby islands where we could spot lots of PUFFINS (pelagic seabirds) catching fish.
In the late afternoon we decided to drive to the famous geothermal spa, BLUE LAGOON which is one of the most visited attractions in the whole country – and soon we could see why. From Reykjavik it will take you around 45 minutes to get there, in case you are heading there directly from the airport it will be just 20 minutes. The lagoon is man-made and is connected to the geothermal power plant nearby.
The warm water (from 37°-39°C) is amazingly milky blue and rich with minerals like sulfur and silica, so swimming in it and rubbing your face with silica mud is supposed to be extremely good for your skin. We stayed in the pools for about an hour and it really was a one of a kind experience! The whole thing was quite expensive though, we ended up paying around 100€ for 4 persons, excluding a few products we bought at the beautiful shop on our way out.
SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA & NATIONAL PARK
The next day it was time to leave the city and drive off towards the north-west. We booked a smaller hotel in BORGARNES which is only 80 kilometres from Rejkyavik, but we used all the extra time that day to drive to and around Snaefellsnes peninsula, before returning to Borgarnes at dinner time.
We made our first stop at GERDUBERG BASALT COLUMNS, forming geometrical patterns in the cliffs. We took our time and walked up hill to get a closer view and picked some delicious blueberries on the way – we were completely alone on the site and even though the weather was a bit foggy and rainy we didn´t mind.
We thought about stopping in YTRA TUNGA – a beach known for seal colonies, but we somehow missed the sign and drove further to BUDIR – a place known mostly for its old black church.
Next stop – LONDRANGAR BASALT CLIFFS. By the time we got there it was raining more heavily and it also got pretty windy so we just took a quickly look at the place. The pair of rock pinaccles are around 70 metres tall and are remnants from a bigger volcanic crater which has mostly eroded away. The cliffs and rocks are impressive and you can see many birds nesting if you look down.
We knew this day will be pretty long, because we had to drive around 300 kilometres to get to Akureyri where we booked our next accommodation. Still, we took our time and climbed up GABROK CRATER crater close to BIFROST. It was the first volcano on Iceland we got to see and we were pretty excited. The views were nice, but we did see a few more interesting ones later along the way.
Next stop was at HVAMMSTANGI – ICELANDIC SEAL CENTRE, where we learned all about these animals in a museum. Besides this we also got the chance to see one of the constructions for drying fish – some of them looked pretty scary!
At BLÖNDUS we shortly stopped at an interesting modern church and drove further to VIDIMYRI and took a look at a completely different church – which is considered to be the most beautiful example of Icelandic architecture. You can also enter the church, it´s worth it. After this we also visited the famous GLAUMBAER VILLAGE OF OLD ICELANDIC TURF HOUSES. The foundation is usually made of stones, upon which a wooden frame was set. The frame holds the turf above and all the houses have grass on their roofs. One can enter the houses and see the rooms inside – it is pretty interesting, you just need to watch your head ;).
We could have taken a shorter road from Glaumbaer to Akureyri, but we chose the longer, more scenic one. We stopped at coastal towns of SAUDARJROKUR, HOSFOS and OLAFSFJORDUR. On the way we saw some amazing landscapes and lots of animals.
The road to OLAFSFJORDUR and onto DALVIK along EYAFJORDUD was SPECTACULAR . It felt like we were the only ones on the road and got the views all to ourselves. Lots of lakes, snowy peaks, mountains and colourful plants! We reached Akureyri around 8PM.
Iceland´s SECOND LARGEST CITY greeted us with great food for dinner and nice weather. We stayed here for two nights, but spend the next day driving around visiting interesting sights in the area, rather than spending a day in the town. The morning before we left the city we also took a walk around the BOTANICAL GARDENS which were beautiful and we were surprised that all those plants are able to survive in this climate!
We started the next day with visiting the Godafoss waterfall. This was just one of the many waterfalls we have visited in the next days. The water of the river SKJALFANDAFLJOT falls from 12 metres height and spreads around 30 METRES IN WIDTH.
In Husavik we visited a really nice WHALE MUSEUM, but skipped the WHALE WATCHING TOUR, allthough this is often the main reason why people visit Husavik in the first place. We have already seen the whales before and the tour was also not inexpensive so we decided to give it a pass. Otherwise the town was quite charming, surrounded with great landscapes and views on the mountains and the fjords.
Instead of whale watching, we ran into something, how to put it, “interesting”. The ICELANDIC PHALLOLOGICAL MUSEUM. I have read the museum was moved to Reykjavik in 2011, so If you wish to visit it you need to do so in Reykjavik. This is most probably the only museum in the world to contain so many different phallic specimens of various types of mammals. Let´s simplify the explanation: there are more than 200 penises and penile parts from different land and sea mammals.
Soon after we left Husavik behind we stopped on a beach where we found interesting fossils and later on stopped also at a wonderful viewpoint by the main road. We passed ASBYRGI (where we stopped at a JÖKULSARGLJUFÜR NP VISITORS CENTRE – the NP is under Vatnajökull NP today) and later on drove to the waterfalls HAFRAGILSFOSS and DETIFOSS.
This waterfall HAS A REPUTATION OF BEING THE MOST POWERFUL ONE IN EUROPE. It most certainly is impressive and the once you get to it it will get very loud also. The falls are 100 metres wide and the water drops 45 metres into the deep. There are a few viewpoints along the way.
After Dettifoss we visited KRAFLA CALDERA, which is still very much active. It reaches 10 kilometres in diameter and the highest peak is 2 kilometres deep. There is a nice WOODEN WALKWAY for visitors to walk on while they observe the volcanic activity just centimetres away. There is a strong smell also and you will see smoke here and there.
The colours are just amazing, from orange to yellow and green and black. And in between patches of turquoise green water, just amazing! We returned to our student home turned into a hotel in the sumer months in Akureyri and were rather tired from the whole day, so the evening was shorter than usual.
After a late breakfast we left Akureyri and drove a part of the same road we took a day before. Our first goal was the beautiful lake Myvatn. We stopped quite a few times along the way and admired the landscape. Myvatn is not far from KRAFLA where we already were and the area has an exceptionally rich flora and fauna, with lots of bird species living here. Close by there is the HVERFJALL VOLCANO, which was our second planned stop of the day.
We were determined to CLIMB TO THE TOP so we did, it was not a big deal and once we were up we also walked all he way around the crater for about 1 kilometre to see the views from all sides. Lake Myvatn is best seen from above, so if you have enough time, it´s really worth going up this one – there are two official routes going up and you should stick to them.
After all that walking we got hungry and found very neat place by the lake where we had some traditional soup and yoghurt. Later on we also visited the KRAFLA POWER STATION in the near, which was very interesting, at least for me because I´ve never been inside such station before. There were guided tours and a visitors centre.
We continued our way to EGILSTADIR and SEYDISFJÖRDUR – but went a bit unlucky with the weather there. At the end of the day we have finally reached the small town of Breiddalsvik where we spent the night in one of the container summer cottages.
HÖFN GLACIER MUSEUM
The next morning we first visited the GLACIER MUSEUM which is really informative and I think a great introduction to the VATNAJÖKULL NATIONAL PARK. You can find out more about geology, ecology and history of the park and see how the glacier´s surface is changing due to climate changes.
VATNAJÖKULL NATIONAL PARK
The National Park includes the famous Vatnajökull glacier and a large area around it with some of the area which used to be national parks on its own. This PROTECTED AREA represents a GREAT VARIETY OF LANDSCAPES which were created by RIVERS, GLACIAL ICE and GEOTHERMAL & VOLCANIC ACTIVITY. At the time of our visit the visibility was not the best but despite this we got to see most of its treasures.
Definitely one of my personal highlights of this trip! This famous glacier lake or lagoon was created because the GLACIER STARTED MELTING and the lake has been rapidly increasing ever since. The lagoon is situated only a good kilometre from the ocean and is considered as one of Iceland´s natural wonders. The site has also been used as a set in many HOLLYWOOD MOVIES and is a major tourist attraction.
We took a 35 MINUTES LONG TOUR where we first drove with an AMPHIBIOUS VEHICLE on land and later on continued the cruise in the lagoon with the same vehicle. We were given the chance to feel the cold ice water and admire the amazing icebergs and all the colours they were creating with contact with the water.
When the tour was finished we stopped the car at the coast where the GLACIER WATER AND ICE ARE MIXING THE SEA WATERS – the site is pretty spectacular, you can see many large ice parts lying around the black sandy beach which makes the ice look like glass. We finished the day in Vik where we spend the night.
With its full name, VIK I MYRDAL, is the southernmost village in the country and even though it has just a little under 300 inhabitants it is still the largest settlement in about 70 kilometres. The village is located just at the famous RING ROAD and it´s definitely a must stop.
It has beautiful BLACK VOLCANIC BEACHES and the bays are surrounded by steep basalt cliffs which are home to many seabirds, also puffins. In case you are spending the night in the area like we did, the beach makes it a perfect place for a morning walk!
This small peninsula not far away from the village Vik is a great place to spot PUFFINS NESTING on the cliffs and you can even get quite close to them, they seem okay with that. There are also amazing views on the coastline down under. This day we had nice sunshine from morning on so visiting this peninsula was even nicer!
After about a half an hour drive we parked the car at the foot of SKOGAFOSS WATERFALL which is ONE OF THE BIGGEST IN THE COUNTRY with a width of 25 metres and a drop of 60 metres. We walked all the way up on a narrow path and the views from up there were again amazing. Once you are up you can walk much more as there are some HIKING TRAILS.
This is one of the best known waterfalls in the country. This one also DROPS AROUND 60 METRES OVER THE CLIFFS of the former coastline and the best thing here is – one can walk behind the waterfall, you just have to take care because it is very slippery.
On the way we also stopped at a Visitors centre at an active HEKLA VOLCANO. It takes around 8 hrs to get to the top of this one but they do say it is rather dangerous because of its lively activity. Spending some time in the Visitors centre was fine with us!
SELFOSS & HVERAGERDI
It was still early enough by the time we drove into Selfoss where our hotel was, so we were searching for a nice walk we could take. We decided to drive to EYRARBAKKI on the coast and had lunch there. Afterwards we drove to HVERAGERDI, a smaller town, surrounded by lots of HIKING TRAILS, passing some VOLCANIC HOT SPRINGS. We had no specific plan, we just followed the signs on one of those trails and did about 3 kilometres of walking and even swam in a river. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon!
GEYSIR & STOKKUR
This was the LAST DAY OF DRIVING for us, the last day before we returned to Reykjavik. We started the day by visiting one of Iceland´s biggest attractions, the Geysir. This was actually THE FIRST GEYSER WHICH WAS DESCRIBED IN A PRINTED SOURCE, this is why it is simply called “Geysir”. It´s water eruptions are up to 70 METRES HIGH and are pretty infrequent, they can also rest for a couple of years at a time.
For the visitors, STROKKUR GEYSER is more attractive as this one ERRUPTS EVERY 8-10 MINUTES so it is pretty sure you will see it. The water is usually pressed 15-20 metres high up in the air, but it can also go up to 40 metres.
On the way to Reykjavik we made a stop at yet another waterfall, which is a 15 minutes drive away from the geysers. By now we have seen really many many waterfalls and yet we were still amazed by every new one we saw, this one was no exception. Besides, this was really was different from all the others. The water falls down a wide curved 3-STEP STAIRCASE and it looks impressive. You can visit the falls from above and for a moment it looks like the water would be vanishing simply into the earth, only when you get closer you see there is a huge crack and the water drops down into it. The waterfall was also used in some movies and videos for commercial purposes.
THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
We were getting close to Reykjavik but still had enough time to walk around this national park which was on our way anyway. This is a HISTORICAL SITE with cultural and geological importance, it also represents the largest natural lake in Iceland. Althing, the ICELANDIC PARLIAMENT was established here already in 930 and remained there until 1798, the whole site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
BACK TO REYKJAVIK & HOME
After coming in to Reykjavik we decided to use all the time we had left and walk around the city again, since it was still enough light outside. We had nice weather than on our first day here and all the shops & museums were opened. Aimlessly STROLLING AROUND THE TOWN before going to sleep and flying back home the next morning, was a great way to end this trip! Even though it was only 10 days long, we have seen and experienced so much that we had the feeling we were there a month. It must also be magical in the winter time, so who knows, maybe we return some day!
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