5 ½ Days in Iceland

My travels have been underway for just over two weeks now, and I’ve been pretty busy with touring, visiting, spectating, and well . . . working.

But, I wanted to share a little bit about my visit to Iceland.

Its official . . . everyone loves Iceland. I haven’t heard from a single person who says Iceland is a bad place to go, or isn’t worth the time, or the money (which is noteworthy as it is wicked expensive). And I concur—Iceland is absolutely fantastic.

I can’t say my photos do justice to the experience; it was overcast for much of my time, and I’m still learning about my camera, so the general theme of my photos is grey. But I’ve posted a little photo essay below to share a taste.

The day I arrived at Keflavik (pronounced Keblavik) I picked up a rental car and hit the road. I have to say, I’m impressed by my simultaneous driving and navigating skills in the land of many consonants—an Amazing Race–worthy performance.

Car on Ring Road in Iceland

Driving the Ring Road in Iceland

After a quick stop in Reykjavik for supplies, I jumped on the Ring Road, Route 1, and headed north, through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel (6 km under the fjord) and continuing on to Borgarnes. Having arrived on a sleepless red-eye, I had to stop for a roadside nap along the way, but after picking up more supplies (packaged sandwich!), I continued north through the lava fields of Bifröst and the hilly pastures beyond to my destination: Saeberg, a farm on the shores of the Hrútafjörður fjord.

View of fjord from Saeberg Farm

The view of the fjord from Saeberg farm and HI hostel. I took a dip in this fjord! Burrrr!

Once you hit the north coast of Iceland, your choices are left to the Westfjords or right, onward to Akureyri, Húsavik, and beyond to complete the Ring Road back to the south. But I didn’t have time for either option, and spent the night on the farm (after a very long soak in the hotpot and dip in the fjord), only to drive myself back south to the Golden Circle the next day. The drive back included stops in Reykholt to visit the museum dedicated to Snorri Sturluson, the great Saga writer, and lunch at the Settlement Centre in Borgarnes, then on past Reykjavik to Skálholt to see the site of the early bishopric.

This second day was met with rain, rain, more rain, and roundabouts on the highway. Again, I was rather impressed with my driving skills. The guidebook said the north is drier than the south, and the landscape confirms that—the Golden Circle is positively lush compared to the barren quality of the hills around Saeberg, where it seems that the only trees and bushes are planted by farmers as wind breaks.

My trip around the Golden Circle was as expected. I went around backwards and started in the thick of it, thereby avoiding the bulk of the tour buses up from Reykjavik.

Gullfoss—the Golden Waterfall—is impressive even for someone who shrugs at the sight of Niagara Falls.

Gullfoss in Iceland

The powerful Gullfoss; one of the stops on the Golden Circle tour.

The original Geysir doesn’t erupt anymore, but Strokkur does every 10 minutes or so.

Strokkur geyser

Geysir doesn’t erupt, but Strokkur does!

Thingvellir National Park, home to the historical Icelandic parliament, is the most dramatic example of the fault between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park

Eurasia/North American fault line in lava field.

On the way to Thrihnúkagigur, there’s a more subtle example of the fault that runs the length of Iceland.

While these three days were truly amazing, the highlight of the trip happened after I returned my car in Reykjavik. On day four, after a visit to Hallgrímskirkja, I boarded the tour bus for the much-anticipated Inside the Volcano tour. That experience is worthy of its own post, so I won’t go into too much detail yet. Suffice it to say it was incredible, and overwhelming. It started with a long hike across a lava field outside Reykjavik, for which I was NOT physically prepared. We crossed the tectonic fault, travelling from Eurasia to North America in about 10 steps.

After suiting up at base camp, we climbed the summit and were lowered down in an open carriage from a building crane stretched across the crater. We all had the chance to spend some time exploring the bottom of the chamber, taking lots and lots of pictures. The colours were fantastic, especially using the nifty settings on my camera.

Cavern inside volcano with coloured walls.

Gorgeous colours inside the volcano.

I thought I was mentally prepared for the walk back, knowing exactly what to expect. But then our guide suggested taking the route on the steep side of the peak—for the views of the city. The views were lovely, but the walk back to the bus was hard in its own special way—down an incline, often quite steep, on mixed terrain of lava rocks and spongy moss that felt like a bouncy castle.

View from Thrihnúkagigur

View of Reykjavik from Thrihnúkagigur

Let’s just say that my hiking boots were a godsend and hiking poles are the great equalizer. Without those, Ice SAR would have been called in—I’m sure of it.

That night I enjoyed a decent and not-too-expensive dinner at Tabasco’s, a Mexican restaurant on the old town square, housed in a restored timber building where the King of Denmark once kept his falcons. Two of my favourite things—Mexican food and historical buildings!

I spent my last full day in Reykjavik. I wandered the old town, including the archeological dig near the parliament, and visited the excellent National Museum next to the university campus.

Of course, a trip to Reykjavik is incomplete without sampling the fare at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (also known as the hot dog stand).

Lining up for a famous pylsur (hot dog)

Lining up for a famous pylsur (hot dog)

And I topped off the day by checking out the puffin colonies in the Reykjavik harbour.

Puffins in Reykjavik

Puffins in Reykjavik

On my final day, I took a bus to the airport by way of the famous Blue Lagoon: both expensive and underwhelming, but still relaxing and pleasant. Worth the visit, but certainly not the must-see so many claim it to be. The average public pool in Iceland offers many of the same services—not quite so fancy, but much less money!

All in all, it was a great five and a half days, and it was topped off with a personal best LHR arrival.