Iceland: Land of Waterfalls, Glaciers, Elves, and Vikings

Last July we took a weeklong trip to Iceland. (wasn’t long enough!) I loved everything about this country. The warm and friendly Icelandic people, the amazingly fresh seafood, the ancient Viking mythology and history of the country, and last but not least, the awe-inspiring natural landscape and features. I mean, how many waterfalls can one country host?

Iceland views

We only had a week to enjoy the spectacular country, and this post highlights some of our experiences and my recommendations for visiting the Western/Southwestern regions.

Kirkjufellfoss, Snaefellsnes Peninsula (with Kirkjufell Mountain in the background)

 

The Blue Lagoon

You must hit the Blue Lagoon! It’s extremely touristy but nonetheless I enjoyed it. The Blue Lagoon is the world-famous geothermal spa set amongst the lava rock landscapes, roughly south of the Keflavik airport.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

I recommend hitting it on the way in, or on the way out, since it is nearer to the airport than it is to Reykjavik. Plan to spend a few hours there, if you can, and get there in the early part of the morning. We arrived at 9am, and found it started getting pretty busier as noon approached. For your convenience, they have full locker rooms and showers and you can even stay there in their hotel if you want. Spring for the “Premium” level admission, you’ll get a robe to use and slippers you can keep, as well as a couple of free drinks with your ticket.

 

Glacier Hiking & Horseback Riding

 

Icelandic Horseback Riding

I fell in love with pictures of the cute “miniature” Icelandic horses, so we booked a tour where you ride horses for 2 hours then you get lunch at the horse ranch.

Icelandic Glacier

After, the guide takes you in a van to the Solheimajokull glacier where you hike for 2 hours to, and on, the glacier. You have to use crampons! The glacier hike was my favorite part of the whole trip. It’s massive as you walk on it, and I loved viewing all the natural and ever-changing features of the glacier as the ice morphs every day.

Iceland glacier hiking

Our guide was very knowledgeable and taught us about the different ice comprising the glacier. We even drank from the glacier’s pure melted water!

Iceland glacier hike

Layers of blue ice, white ice, and ash from the 2010 volcanic eruption

 

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I could have done without the horses though. They’re so cute, but I was sore for days after riding them, just not used to it. They LOVE to trot, in their Icelandic gait called the Tolt! If you book the glacier tour only thru this co. please ask for Henrik (not sure of spelling) he was a great guide!

Henrik the iceland glacier hike guide

Henrik, our glacier hike guide, showing us how deep the glacier pool holes go, with his ice axe

 

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a tour that encompasses many famous Icelandic sights in a single day. On our tour through ExtremeIceland.is, we were picked up by a huge Super Jeep.

 

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Our friend Rob, with the Super Jeep for scale!

 

On our Super Jeep tour, we visited the famous Golden Circle landmarks Gulfoss Waterfall, Geysir, and Thingvellir.

Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland

Gulfoss Waterfall

 

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir, site of the first Parliament of Iceland

 

We then finished our outing with a snowmobile tour of another glacier.

Snowmobiling an Icelandic Glacier

 

After the snowmobile tour, we stopped for lunch at our guide’s friend’s restaurant, which, intriguingly had a trampoline type bouncer built into the ground outside. Being the big kids we are, everyone had a blast jumping on it!

Icelandic Trampoline

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Matt and I rented a car and for 2 days we drove up to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula from Reykjavik. On our drive we were lucky to meet these sweet horses – driving around in Iceland you pass many farms and settlements where the animals are curious to meet passers-by.

Icelandic horses

 

First we visited the little fishing town of Stykkisholmur and took a boat tour for the afternoon where we took in bird life along the cliffs of the islands dotting the sea, and ate “Viking Sushi” from a net that the boat caught as we were cruising. The boat deckhands shucked the scallops from the sea for us, right there! Minutes old!

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After a quick dinner back on land in Stykkisholmur (because Viking sushi is not filling), we continued driving west from Stykkisholmur and stayed 1 night in a guesthouse called Sudur-Bar because there were no hotels with vacancy in the area. It was beautiful, situated overlooking the scenic fjord.

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View of the fjord from Sudur-Bar Guesthouse

 

The next day, we continued driving west from Grundafjordur on Rte 54 and checked out the sights like lava fields, a golden sand beach where a viking grave was discovered, and a whale watching site with 2 lighthouses where we stopped and ate a picnic lunch.

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The beach where the viking grave had been discovered in 1961

lava fields

Lava fields

 

We continued south into the Snaefellsjokull national park, and I wish we had time to do a tour and glacier hike in this park. The glacier can be seen from almost the entire Snaefellsnes peninsula! It is so beautiful.

Snaefellsjokull

Snaefellsjokull Glacier

 

We did a great hike from Hellnar to Anarstapi along the coast and checked out amazing basalt formations with birds screeching in and out of the nooks.

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Reykjavik

Walking around downtown Reykjavik is cool for architectural sights,

Reykjavik Church

people-watching, and Icelandic “oddities.”

Reykjavik Trolls

 

The bar-filled street, Laugavegur, is fun but very touristy obvs. We didn’t do a lot of bar hopping. Check out the Public House bar, the food is really good! It’s gastropub-like but with a Japanese bent. Skip the Lebowski bar – ugh! Even the namesake white russians were awful.

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Fresh fish appetizer garnished with seaweed, at Resto

Resto is fantastic for dinner – you have to try their raw fish appetizer. Insanely fresh – salmon, scallops, and whitefish! Delicious wine too. I also really liked the Scandinavian even though it is just a hotel restaurant. I had a delicious lobster pasta (very generous with the lobster, aka langoustine) and Matt had a stunning lamb tenderloin there. Finally, Laundromat Cafe had good burgers and sandwiches and everything came with a salad 🙂

 

I feel like we went at the best time of the year. Yeah, there were a lot of other tourists, but the weather was awesome, especially on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It rained a bit in Reykjavik for us. But we still had great conditions, especially for driving.

In summary…

  • GET THERE:  We found it was not inexpensive to fly to Iceland, over $1100 round trip from LAX. Use sites like CheapAir.com to do your research, and consider alternate ways to string together a trip – flying first from your city to, say, NYC or Boston, and then finding flights from NYC or Boston to Reykjavik.
  • WHAT TO WEAR: Depending on what time of year you visit, and what activities you plan to pursue, you may need the following items. It’s advisable to be prepared for anything when it comes to Icelandic weather – we got lucky. Layer, layer, layer!
    • bathing suit (required! for the public geothermal pools.)
    • Hiking Boots
    • Long underwear + fleece vests for layering
    • Waterproof outer shell jacket and rain pants (good stuff on MountainHardwear.com)
    • Scarves, a warm hat
  • HOW TO PREPARE:  I did a lot of research online before our trip, reading personal accounts and blogs by other travelers. We also found the Lonely Planet Iceland Guide very useful.
  • LOCAL FLAIR: The Icelandic people we met were wonderful – warm and gracious.What I also loved about Iceland was the sense of natural wonder and the ancient mythology of the island, dating back to the time of the Vikings. Every rock, every waterfall, every natural feature had a story associated with it. Research these in advance and be sure to ask any tour guide to tell you stories about what you’re viewing.
Elf Rock, Reyjkavik Iceland

There is an elf’s house under this rock.

  • FAIR AND SQUARE: Iceland is expensive, I’ll leave it at that! But the things you will see there are almost impossible to set a price for.

 

PS – I wish to offer a special thanks to ChildfreeLifeAdventures.com, whose Iceland post offered us many great tips on what to bring and how to prepare for our trip.

 

PPS – This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the external links, I’ll receive payment for the click or a small percentage of any sales generated from these clicks.

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