Iceland – September 2016
A hopefully useful guide in narrative and list format to help you plan a trip to the ever-popular Iceland! It may be a small place, but it is SO beautiful and diverse. It is definitely on my list of places to return to!
The time of year: good and bad. September is too early for some things like some of the glacier cave walks (I think the one in Snaefellsjokull was open), dog sledding, and really good consistent Aurora (that being said though, about 2 days after we left, they turned off the street lights in Reykjavik because the Aurora was so good that night….), and it does seem to rain quite a bit in late summer/fall.
However, there are fewer tourists, especially as you get off the beaten track, all the roads are still open, and it’s not yet so cold and snowy that you need to bundle up.
Car Rental Company: Blue Car Rentals (bluecarrental.is). We found them professional, friendly, and helpful (although the bathroom at their office could use a good clean!). I think their price is pretty comparable to any other rental company and they are a locally owned and operated company. They often seem to have a ‘rent for 7 nights, get the 8th free’, kind of a deal on.
Driving in Iceland is SUPER easy.
-Lefthand drive (right side of the road like N. America)
-Max speed limit is 90km/hr on the highway
-One main highway looping around the whole island.
-Gas stations – occasionally few and far between as you get further off the ring road, but mostly plentiful.
Between three people, we rented a small, four-door Kia, which was not allowed to go on the ‘F-roads’ (mountain roads) but was quite well suited for the paved and gravel roads we travelled on. For a 10 day trip that circuited the entire island, this was not a problem really to be limited as to the roads we could take, but for anyone staying longer or wanting to do any kind of off- or mountain-roading, such as going to Landmannalaugar, an SUV/4WD capable vehicle would be mandatory. We saw tons of people in the mini camper vans, as well, there is heaps of free camping to be had, so I think next time I would choose to rent an SUV and camp (possibly cheaper) or rent a camper van (these run about $200/day, so not necessarily cheaper at all).
Highlights: Skaftafell National Park, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Myvatn Nature Baths, the West Fjords, watching the Northern Lights from a hot tub, the town of Seydisfjordur.
Most Memorable Moment: Riding Icelandic Horses with Lukka and Laki of Langhus Farms (icelandichorse.is) in the late afternoon sun on a beach, with sheep all around….even on the beach, eating seaweed! Heaven.
Must Try: Blue Lagoon including all the different masques, Skyr Yogurt. We did not do it, because it is about $200 Canadian, but on the list for next time is the glacier ice cave experience on Snaefellsness Peninsula.
Cool (literally!) and expensive but once in a lifetime experience: Snorkelling between the tectonic plates at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park. It’s a cool 4 degrees celcius and the drysuit you get is not for the very claustrophobic, but the water is extremely clear and it’s an otherworldly experience. I would recommend if you are a diver to dive over snorkelling as I think you get a better experience and way more interesting photos!
Most Unique: The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Holmavik, West Fjords. Ever heard of Necropants? Neither had I…..
We fit A LOT into 10 days, but there was quite a lot of driving. Here’s the basic breakdown.
Day 1: We flew over on a red-eye Icelandair flight from Edmonton to Reykjavik and went directly for a soak in the Blue Lagoon, which was perfect. From there we drove to Reykjavik, dropped our stuff and our car and walked around the city centre, which is very walkable, including the famous Hallgrimskirkja, and the architecturally beautiful conference centre. There is lots of shopping to be had, but I would recommend looking around first to see what kind of prices you can get. Surprisingly, museum gift shops often have the best prices in Iceland.
Day 2: An early morning drive to Thingvellir National Park where we snorkelled in Silfra Fissure with dive.is (GREAT crew, very knowledgeable and safe). From there we carried on to Laugarvatn for lunch at Lindin (http://www.laugarvatn.is/), where we had a really tasty chowder and bun. There is also a hot spring at Fontana there, but it is quite pricey.
Next up was Geysir and Gullfoss. Geysir was interesting, but if you have been to Yellowstone NP, you may, as I was, be less than impressed in comparison. Gullfoss is beautiful, but it was POURING rain by this point, so we did not stay long.
Accommodation: Super cute cabin in Hella, at Cafe Arhus Hella, right on Hwy 1 heading East. Well worth it.
Tally-ho along Hwy 1 to the famous falls at Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. There is an amazing fish and chips food truck at Skogafoss. I don’t know if it’s always there but it’s on your right just after you turn left and cross the cattle guard heading into Skogafoss.
Dyrholaey and Reynisfjara, an area of beautiful black sand beach and rock formations near Vik came next. This was one of my favourite stops for sure. This was a LONG drive from Hella to Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon (about 30mins past Skaftafell). Not like, Canadian long, but like, long in the sense that there is a lot to see and do along the way so it’s a pretty packed day.
FYI: the Solheimsandur ‘plane crash site on the beach’ site along the south coast here is featured in many travellers’ photos and blogs/guidebooks. However, due to the farmer who owns the land between the road and the beach placing restrictions on access (due to annoying tourists -__- ), it is no longer easily accessible by car to the public. It’s a flat, boring 4km walk in…and back…. to see some ruined metal on the beach. Granted it’s rather striking looking, but we couldn’t be bothered to
waste take the time away from way cooler things. We saw lots of cars parked just off the ring road, so clearly some people still think it’s a worthwhile expedition.
Accommodation: Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. Brand new, eco-friendly, delish buffet breakfast!
The girls went on a glacier hike at Skaftafell NP, but as I’d been before, I opted to do some hiking around Skaftafell NP instead. I was rewarded with a beautiful vista at Svartifoss, a waterfall surrounded by basalt columns. DEFINITELY recommend. It takes approx 1 hour if you move your butt, but maybe 2 hours at a more leisurely pace. It is well-marked and easy to find, good walking shoes are recommended, and it is free.
Our next stop was the incredible glacier lagoon region, where huge hunks of glacier are breaking off into gorgeous lagoons and slowly making their way into the sea, where they often end up washed up onto the nearby black sand beach. WOW.
We ended the day with the long but incredibly beautiful drive along the undulous, fjorded coastline up to Seydisfjordur. Here, you can catch the ferry to the Faroes (sadly did not have time for), and enjoy the ridiculously picturesque village and the hiking and waterfalls it has to offer.
Accommodation: Nord Marina Guesthouse. Serviceable but smelled of cat litter box…
Onwards! To Dettifoss, another spectacular waterfall, that often has a rainbow in the mist above it. Recommendation: unless you have a 4WD vehicle, and even then, take the 862 to reach Dettifoss, rather than the far bumpier 864. It will save you lots of time and bumps!
Next to Krafla power station and volanic area. You can walk around the volcanic area, which is really interesting, and see the geothermal power station which looks like it’s on Mars.
After a couple long driving days, we next headed to the Myvatn Nature Baths, a welcome place to soak and replenish, overlooking the gorgeous Lake Myvatn and surrounding countryside. The fee is much less than the Blue Lagoon, although I would say the temperature is much more variable throughout and overall a little less warm.
We took a really excellent supper at the Cowshed, just down the road from the nature baths, and had a quick peek at the nearby cave where some Game of Thrones was filmed. Apparently you used to be able to swim in it, but a volcanic eruption resulting in the shift of plates rendered it too hot for human use now.
Accommodation x 2 nights: Guesthouse Storu-Laugar. Great hot tub, nice buffet breakfast, warm and clean rooms, and Icelandic ponies to socialize with!
We were meant to go whale watching but the weather was atrocious and it was cancelled. 😦
Instead, we meandered around Husavik and visited Asbyrgi Canyon, which was a really beautiful little nature preserve.
We explored Akureyri after a quick stop at Godafoss and at a traditional turf house dwelling site. It was quite interesting and we marveled at how small people were back then. We were all ducking under doorways, and feeling like giants.
NOTE! In Akureyri, be careful of parking. We got a ticket, even though we had done nothing wrong EXCEPT we didn’t know to set the clock in our car’s front window to the time we had arrived! 😦 Sad face. So be sure if your car has that little clock with moveable hands, to set it to your arrival time. If you don’t have a clock…I don’t know what you would do!
Akureyri is the second biggest city in Iceland and has an interesting church, cute shops, a few delicious cafes, and a yummy ice cream shop called Brynja. Other than that, I don’t think there would be much reason to go there for more than a half day.
Horseback Riding!! We drove north up the peninsula from Akureyri and after several one way tunnels (ah, yes, I forgot to mention there are not only one lane bridges but also one lane tunnels!), we arrived to the picturesque Langhus Farms. Immediately we were welcomed in for tea and cookies and getting to know each other before our ride. Both Lukka and Laki, warm and welcoming people, went to horse university, which is basically my dream, and really do have a wonderful way with their horses. The ride was lovely, the tolt is a truly unique and very comfortable gait, and I definitely wished we could stay there much longer.
We tried to go to an amazing oceanside hotspring at Hofsos after riding, but unfortunately, it was closing for cleaning and then opening again….in an hour! 😦 Will certainly have to try again another time! For future reference it is called Hofsos Sundlaug, and you can’t miss it on the main drag. It has adult only hours at night, for amazing Northern Lights viewing under the stars in the hot tub!
Accommodation: Over a bumpy gravel road and in the middle of what feels like nowhere, lies a wonderful guesthouse, Keldudalur. Situated on a working farm, and featuring two friendly Icelandic Sheepdogs and a hot tub, we enjoyed a super Northern Lights show. There was also a washing machine which was very welcome!
Day 8: A relaxation day exploring the area between our guesthouse from the night before and the one for tonight, Giljaland. Just enjoying the scenery and seeing what we could find! We very much enjoyed our host and stay at Giljaland, down at the end of a valley. A man with a great sense of humour and perfect poker face, he recommended things to do in the West Fjords, and we bought Loppi sweaters that his mother in law had knitted. He also made a mean breakfast, including pancakes!
Day 9: West Fjords exploration day, including the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, and a trip over to one of the most stunning and off the beaten track waterfalls, Djandifoss. The West Fjords are beautiful and deserve at least 3 days in their own right, since they are so remote, with extremely windy and often unpaved roads, some of which are only passable in summer. Yet another location to return to on the next trip!
Accommodation: Stora-Vatsnhorn, a tiny wee holiday cottage, which was just perfect for us!
Day 10: Snaefellsness Peninsula. Just go there. No further direction required! 😉
Watch for Dritvik, Djúpalónssandur beach, the coastal walk between Hellnar and Arnarstapi, the zipline at the lighthouse, the mountain you climb in silence to get your wish, and the ever famous . We had only one day there, but I would recommend two.
Accommodation: Fossatun Pods – delightful small pod houses. Although we found the reception man to be very unfriendly, the hot tub closes at 10 (what?!), and the pod houses could use a few design tweaks, overall it was a cute and enjoyable stay. There is a kitchen house for those wishing to do self-serve.
Day 11: Made our way from Fossatun to the airport via a beautiful scenic coastal drive, and a delicious coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, where, I came to find out later, we were served by a member of the new group Krakk and Spaghetti (https://soundcloud.com/krakkogspaghetti). He’s pretty unique, with an awesome fringe and tiny wire framed glasses and was wearing a sweet cat sweater. An awesome end to an awesome trip, either way.