Having previously visited Iceland during the closing stages of their World Cup qualification and seeing the excitement and celebration that ensued when the team qualified, we vowed to return to Iceland during the actual World Cup competition. After years of disappointment and despair following England, it would be fun to support another team.
We duly arrived back in Iceland 4 days after the 1-1 draw with Argentina and just walking through the airport and chatting to the Icelandic people, you could see what participation in the World Cup meant to them. We couldn’t wait for the next match.
But firstly, prior to watching the football, our first stop after picking up the camper van was joining in the annual Midnight Sun Run. Held in the Laugardalur valley, we congregated at 09:20PM with 2,500 other mad runners and raced around the streets of Reykjavik. After picking up our medals, we were given free entry to the Laugardalslaug geothermal swimming pool for post-race relaxation in the hot tub. Unbeknownst to us, the Secret Solstice Festival was also taking place next door so we spent a surreal evening, bathing in the hot tub, 11:00PM at night, in broad daylight, listening to Bonnie Tyler belt out Total Eclipse of the Heart – only in Iceland!
The next day we set off, kitted in our Iceland t-shirts and hats, to the Hljómskálagarður Park to join all the other supporters watching Iceland vs Nigeria on the big screen. The park was packed, not just natives but tourists too, all keen to see Iceland accomplish their first victory in the World Cup. Businesses in town even closed early so that they could watch the game. There was a band on stage to kick off proceedings and a plane flying over, ready to land at nearby Reykjavik airport, had “Áfram Ísland!” painted on its fuselage. The crowd quickly got in to the spirit of things joining in the Viking clap. Huh! Sadly the score didn’t reflect the enthusiasm of the team or the crowd and Iceland lost 2-0.
Our travels started the following day, we set off early on Route 1 heading along the south coast. Our first stop was the newly built Lava Center.
The interactive center told us all we needed to know about volcanoes, earthquakes and the creation of Iceland. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours learning about the country’s inner forces. Next stop was the obligatory waterfalls – Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrábúi. We’d been to Seljalandsfoss before but still couldn’t resist walking behind the thundering water. Gljúfrabúi however was a new discovery – about 700m from Seljalandsfoss, you have to balance on rocks to get in to the canyon for a close up look at the falls. Be prepared to get wet.
We continued our drive all the way to Jökulsárlón for a wander along the black sands of Diamond Beach, waving goodbye to the icebergs on their journey off to the Atlantic Ocean.
After an overnight stay in the picturesque town of Höfn we journeyed onto Reyðarfjörður passing some stunning scenery along the way as we stuck to the coast road. For any Fortitude fans (British TV thriller), this is where the series was filmed, you’ll easily recognize some of the landmarks. We visited the Icelandic Wartime Museum which is a very well presented museum detailing the lives of soldiers and residents of Reyðarfjörður during the 2nd World War.
After lunch we headed along Lake Lagarfljót and onto Hengifoss, the third highest waterfall in Iceland. After a fairly steep hike to the base of the falls, we were rewarded with an amazing rock face, showing different colorful layers from previous volcanic eruptions. We stopped the night at Atlavik on the shore of the lake in a very quiet campsite. Well…. It was very quiet until the wind picked up to almost 75km/h, Strong Gale on the Beaufort scale, which made the van shake a bit!!
Once the wind has subsided the next day, we set off along the lake heading for Route 917, a beautiful scenic drive along the fjord. At the end of the bay we came across Hellisheiði. We drove the hair-raising switchback road up to the top for spectacular views all around. If we thought it was windy by the lake, it was VERY windy at the top of Hellisheiði. Then back in the van for the same scary trip down the other side. Luckily we didn’t encounter anyone coming in the opposite direction.
We continued on the more sedate road to Dettifoss and Selfoss, two amazing but different waterfalls. Dettifoss being the most powerful fall in Europe with water rushing from nearby Vatnajökull glacier. Onward to Echo Rocks, or Hljóðaklettar as it is known in Iceland for a wander round the columnar rocks and caves. These remains of ancient volcanoes have been eroded over time by the glacial river. The Echo Rock name comes from the acoustic echoes in the caves and it was a nice stroll to finish the day. We drove on to Laugar for the night, an excellent campsite in a school sports field with full access to the sports facilities, showers and kitchen/lounge. It was a welcome rest after a long day of driving.
Just outside of Laugar is the Goðafoss waterfall which is probably one of the prettiest around Iceland. We were lucky to visit while a rainbow stretched across the river making for an excellent photo opportunity. We headed off after taking hundreds of photos from numerous angles, up the 82 on our way to Bjórböðin beer spa. We’d booked a double bath, filled with hops and warm spring water to relax. What can be more relaxing than sitting in a tub of warm beer with cold beer on tap right next to you? After chilling in the tub with our skin all refreshed, we were led upstairs to the relaxation room, wrapped in a sheet, given a foot massage and were left to relax (or snore) listening to the soothing music. What a great way to spend an afternoon.
After the spa, it was back in the van for the short drive back down to Akureyri. Iceland hats back on and we were supporting the team again, this time against Croatia, watching on the big screen in the square outside Akureyrarkirkja. All the locals had come out with their deck chairs and the hill outside the church filled up with spectators. Despite a valiant effort, Iceland lost and were out of the World Cup. It had been fun while it lasted and let’s hope Iceland get to the next World Cup too!
After a stay at Dalvík campsite, we hopped on the ferry to Grímsey, the only part of Iceland that is above the Arctic Circle. The weather was perfect and the three hour crossing was spent up on deck keenly looking out for whales and dolphins. First stop once we were on the island was to find a puffin and we weren’t disappointed – there were hundreds of them. We took a leisurely walk around the island, taking photo after photo of the puffins. I’m not quite sure whether we have more photos of waterfalls of puffins from our trip. Beware the Arctic Terns who think nothing of swooping down and squawking in your ear. Just be careful where you trek as they are only protecting their young. We felt like we’d walked into a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, luckily we escaped unscathed but they were very scary! The trip back to Dalvík was as pleasant as the outward crossing with great views of the snow-capped mountains of Northern Iceland as we approached the harbor.
After spending the night at Siglufjörður camp site, our first port of call next day was the Herring Era Museum. This is a fantastic museum that brings to life the ‘glory days’ of Iceland’s herring industry. Lucky for us, we arrived just as the herring girls were giving a demonstration of packing the fish into giant barrels. Dressed in period costume, they packed and iced the fish and then got the crowd up and dancing accompanied by a herring boy on the accordion. Definitely worth the visit.
Our journey down to Húsafell took us via Kolugljúfur Canyon. Just a few miles off the Ring road and we were met with another beautiful waterfall. We parked the car so that we could wander along the canyon and take more photos! After a night at Húsafell, we were very close to Barnafoss and Hraunafoss so off we went for a last day of waterfall spotting. These two didn’t disappoint and were right next door to each other so no walking required.
Next stop was Brúárfoss and following a couple of days of torrential rain we hiked to the falls via a very wet and slippy path. The waterfall was definitely worth the trek but we were soaked and muddy when we returned. Thank goodness we had decent waterproofs! As it was our last night, we decided to treat ourselves to an evening at Fontana Spa, well deserved after the 2 hour trek to Brúárfoss. The spa was a lovely treat, hot pools, steam room and sauna all looking over Lake Laugarvatn. For those brave enough, the idea is to run out of the hot pools and jump into the lake. We didn’t get as far as jumping in, more an apprehensive shuffle into the freezing lake. And it was freezing, we didn’t stay in there long! It was straight back into the hot pools for a very relaxing end to the holiday.
Sadly, this was our last night and we drove down to Sandgerði for our last stop ready to drop the camper back in the morning. Thanks Iceland, it’s been a blast – we will be back again soon!!
Read more: Our Iceland honeymoon adventure
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