Around Iceland with Dani & Emily
Hold the Door!:
Dani & Emily’s Icelandic Adventure
Hi y’all! We are Dani and Emily, two graduate students from the US. Dani is from Texas and Emily is from Boston. We met while traveling a year and a half ago and have been planning our road trip around Iceland while we were still on that trip! When we met, we were in the desert, so Iceland seemed like the perfect way to cool down. And here we are a year and a half later, and we absolutely loved our 9 days in Iceland!
Check out the map we made while planning for our trip! It came in super handy while driving and also Dani loves to color code everything!
Day 1: Reykjavik
Knowing our red-eye flight from Boston was only four hours long (which is fantastic, but not conducive to actually sleeping), we stayed in Reykjavik for our first night. After crashing for 2 hours in our hotel, we toured the city and saw the sites: the Hallgrimskirkja, the old harbor, the Icelandic History Museum, the wool shopping! In true Icelandic fashion, we got ice cream and even ate it outside in the sunshine. We wanted a full night’s rest before setting out on our Ring Road tour in the camper van, and that was a great choice!
Hallgrímskirka on a gorgeous Reykjavik afternoon!
Day 2: Picking up the camper van & heading north!
On our first day, we picked up the camper van in the morning, got ourselves situated, and decided to go clockwise around the Ring Road based on the weather forecast. Our first stop was the Wool Center in Hvanneyri, because Emily LOVES to knit—check out the sweater she’s working on! After parking right in front of the yarn store and then walking past it twice, we (although really just Emily) finally found ourselves in wool heaven!
But we decided this was not enough wool for one day! Our next stop was a the Háafell Goat Farm, where we got to see where (goat) wool comes from. We cuddled baby goats and lambs, and were sufficiently gnawed on by the curious teenage goats who were particularly fascinated with shoelaces!
Teenage goats trying to eat Dani’s rain jacket
After the farm we checked out some local waterfalls, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, and then drove through Borgarnes before making camp for our first night. And on our scenic drive (which we were quick to learn was EVERY drive in Iceland) to camp, we were even treated to the most gorgeous rainbow, the first of many! We also learned today to HOLD THE DOOR! Our first day was pretty windy, and we were not about to lose a door to the camper van, which we had now named Iggy. So the motto of our trip: HOLD THE DOOR (and yes, we are Game of Thrones fans… more reasons why we are in Iceland… also RIP Hodor.)
Day 3: Grábrók Crater, the North Coast, & Akureyri
After a rough night of organizing the van in wind and rain and the news that our first planning excursion into the lava cave would be cancelled due to rapid thawing, we awoke to gorgeous blue skies, cooked ourselves a solid breakfast, and changed our plans to make the most of our day–the first of many times the flexibility of a camper van would save the day!
First stop: Grábrók Crater, where it was sleeting when we arrived. Luckily in Iceland, if you don’t like the weather, you can just wait 10 minutes, which is precisely what we did. The clouds parted, and the blues skies came back and stuck with us for the rest of the day. We then continued on Route 1.
Action shot of Dani being amazed by the Icelandic landscape at Grábrók Crater
Our destination was Akureyri for the evening, but that was a long drive, especially with our scenic detours. The first was to Hvammstangi, where 25km past the town, we pulled over for a view of the Westfjords and some seal watching. While it was early in the season, we did see one pup, one adult basking on the beach, and another one swimming around in the bay!
Emily at Hvammstagi–you can’t see the seals, but they’re there! We promise!
The next detour was Hofsós, which has the most luxurious local swimming pool—the best $9 we ever spent! The infinity pool overlooks the fjord with breathtaking views. We continued up around the peninsula, stopping for a picture and a primal scream into the arctic void at the northernmost point of our drive: Tröllaskagi.
Panoramic view into the arctic at Tröllaskagi
After some long tunnels (one 8km long), some of them one-lane, which felt treacherous at first but Dani got the hang of it pretty quickly (there are pull offs for people to pass each other), we finally arrived in Akureyri for the night.
The Infinity pool at Hofsós and view over the fjords
Day 4: Akureyri to Mývatn to Husavík
We decided to start off the next day with a proper hot chocolate from Cafe Berlin in town and then headed out towards Lake Mývatn.
Hot Chocolate at Cafe Berlin… nom nom nom
Before arriving at the lake, we stopped at Goðafoss, threw our idols in, got some great photos, and continued onward through the winds to Mývatn, still reminding ourselves to HOLD THE DOOR. At Mývatn, we started at the Skútustaðagígar Psuedo Craters, then stopped for some more photos along the southern shore, marveling at the rapidly changing and otherworldly landscapes, and enjoyed hiking around the Dimmuborgir Lava Formations.
Goðafoss Waterfall (left) & Emily in front of a lava formation around Mývatn (right)
Then the landscape changed again in the Hverir Geothermal Area, where we could have spent hours marveling at the fumaroles and enjoying the beautiful colors if only it didn’t smell like rotten eggs and wasn’t absolutely freezing and windy outside! We also stopped at the outdoor shower installation–truly just a shower installed on the side of the road. While we weren’t brave enough to go out in the cold for the shower, one poor soul was doing just that while we arrived (…sadly no pictures of this guy).
Dani standing in the steam at Hverir
But we were able to warm ourselves up at the Mývatn Nature Baths (which were some of our favorite baths), where once again we were treated to stunning views over the Icelandic landscape all from the comfort of the blue geothermal waters. And we even got a discount because the wind was so strong! Seriously the wind was SO strong that day, but it didn’t stop us from our adventuring!
The Blue blue waters and the blue blue skies at the Mývatn Nature Baths
Our drive up to Húsavík was breathtaking, with panoramic views and clear blue skies. After dinner, we even dared to eat some ice cream while walking around the precious little town.
Day 5: Change of Plans!
That night, the camper van was a-rockin’… from the very strong winds. They were so strong, that our whale watching tour was even cancelled that morning! Our second excursions and our second cancellation! And although we had the camper van and could easily rearrange our schedule, we decided to wait out the strongest of the winds in Húsavík and spend the morning planning the next stages of our trip and taking a peak at the whale museum in town. At the museum Dani made a friend… a fellow traveler who decided this was the precise time and place to share her whole life story… while Emily escaped to actually see all of the whale bones. (And don’t worry, no whales were harmed in the creation of this museum. Every whale displayed here was beached and unable to be saved and found already deceased.) The blue whale skeleton was truly enormous.
After the winds died down around noon, we continued south and east with our sights set on Seyðisfjörður. We detoured to the Selfoss and Dettifoss waterfalls and tried to hike out to see them, but the winds were so strong that it was like walking through a sandstorm! We were treated to another rainbow, but could barely see the waterfalls in the sandstorm. Needless to say, we had never been so excited to see Iggy when we got back to the parking lot! Although this was definitely a time to HOLD THE DOOR!
As we arrived in the east and began passing waterfall after waterfall, the winds died down, and we were treated to even more beautiful blue skies– #BLESSED! Then we climbed the mountain pass and descended into the most idyllic, gorgeous fjord where Seyðisfjörður sat.
Iggy on the mountain pass down to Seyðisfjörður
The town was one of the cutest, and we explored as much as we could (although it was a bank holiday so most everything was closed) before settling in for the night!
Emily walking the rainbow-brick road through Seyðisfjörður
Day 6: Seyðisfjörður through the Southeast Coast to Skaftafell
Today was going to be a long one! We had a 4:50 pm glacier tour in Skaftafell, and about 6 hours of driving in order to get there on time, all through more stunning fjords and by black sand beaches and glaciers! We also knew we were #BLESSED with another day of clear blue skies and didn’t want to waste a single moment of the sunshine (especially because the next few days were supposed to be very rainy and gross). So we set out early from Seyðisfjörður on our drive to Skaftafell (for those of you at home wondering how long a drive: about 410 km or 255 miles).
Iggy taking a break at the beach on the east coast
It was long, but every moment of it was beautiful– thank you, Iceland! And we even stopped for some delicious berry crumble with homemade whipped cream!
Mid-morning break at the Havari Farm
We were constantly amazed by the gorgeous views and kept getting in and out of the car to take more pictures, which of course made our trip longer, but was totally worth it! By early afternoon, we made it to the glaciers, or rather to the many tongues of the Vatnajökull ice cap. We explored Jökusárlón glacier lagoon and diamond beach as well as the lesser known but no less beautiful Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon, and then arrived to Skaftafell just in time for our glacier walk!
Emily holding part of a glacier at Jökusárlón & Dani sitting on a glacier at diamond beach
For the glacier hike with wonderful guide Joe, we put on waterproof pants and jackets, laced up our hiking boots, and set out with crampons and axes. On our hike to the glacier, we learned about how the Vatnajökull glacier has formed the landscape and about how the glaciers are receding. Just two years ago when Joe started leading this tour, they put on their crampons almost 20 feet away from where we put ours on! Then we started our hike up the glacier, which was one of the coolest (no pun intended) things we did on our entire Icelandic adventure! We were treated to more stunning views of not only the glacier, but also the area surrounding it. We even drank the clearest glacial water right off the glacier! And coolest of all, we get to say that we climbed a glacier!!
Dani & Emily on the glacier
Day 7: Skaftafell & a whole lot of rain
The weather for this day was just atrocious no matter where we were going to be, so even though this was our planned day for the south coast, with its many beautiful beaches and waterfalls, we were going to lose it to the rain. But we had been #BLESSED with the weather so far, so it was ok with us. And we were still going to make the absolute most of it, which we did!
The torrential downpour of rain held off while we were still at Skaftafell National Park, so we managed to get in two hikes that morning– the first was up to the Svartifoss waterfall and the second out to another glacial lagoon!
Svartifoss Waterfall at Skaftafell National Park
From Skaftafell, we tried to see the sights on the south coast, but the rain and winds bested us, so we decided to continue on towards our campsite in Selfoss for a movie night in the camper van! Although not even the Icelandic wind and rain could stop us from getting some ice cream first!
Chocolate dipped vanilla soft serve in a waffle cone… nom nom nom
Day 8: Golden Circle
The rain had passed over night, and we woke up to some more sunshine just in time for our day in the Golden Circle! We packed up the van and set off towards some of the highlights of Iceland. Our first stop was the Kerið Crater, the “Tub,” with bright red walls and a gorgeous blue lake at the bottom. Then we went to Þingvellir National Park to walk between the continents and get some Icelandic history, learning about the Alþingi. We also hiked out to the Öxarárfoss waterfall at Þingvellir!
The “Tub” (left) & between the American and European Continents at Þingvellir (Right)
After Þingvellir, we started to make our way towards the Geysirs, but we stopped off for some ice cream and to meet some dairy cows at Efstidalur farm, and then we met some Icelandic horses who were more than excited to pose for the tourists!
Once again, an Icelandic animal is trying to eat Dani’s jacket!
When we got to the geysirs, we was the Strokkur go off three times, one of which was really high into the air, which was very excited! And we waited for the great Geysir to go off… but in vain of course!
Strokkur geysir (left) & the original Geysir (right)
Our next stop was at the powerful Gullfoss waterfall where we walked down to the lower viewing platform and got completely soaked by the spray off from the waterfall! Although we were cold and wet, the view was totally worth it, and we got to see another rainbow! Thankfully, we had Iggy right in the parking lot and were able to change into some dry clothes before heading out again!
Gullfoss waterfall with its gorgeous rainbow
We finished off the day by warming up at the Secret Lagoon, which is a beautiful and very warm geothermal bath surrounded by little fumaroles and gorgeous landscape! We warmed up and soaked in the bath for almost two hours, before deciding that pizza, beer, and more ice cream were exactly what we needed to make this a perfect day in Iceland!
Day 9: Surprise trip back to the South Coast!
What we thought was going to be another day of rain turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of our entire trip! With what was promising to be a wonderful day ahead of us, we decided to turn back to the south coast and see all of the sights that we missed on our one day of bad weather! We couldn’t believe how lucky we had gotten with the weather, and thank goodness for Iggy the Camper Van, without whom we would not have had the flexibility to turn back for what turned out to be one of our favorite days in Iceland! We decided to drive all the way back to Vík first (about an hour and a half) and then stop at all the sites on our way back towards Keflavik.
The drive to Vík was beautiful & we couldn’t believe how much we had missed in the rain
Our first stop was the Reynisfjara black sand beach. The rock formations were definitely a sight to see! The basalt columns in the ocean were like nothing we had ever seen before, and the rock formations in the caves on land were equally as beautiful! Not to mention the black sand beach itself, with gorgeous views out into the water and over to the Dýrhólaey Promontory (our next stop).
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach (also, we’re pretty sure this was also in Game of Thrones)
At the Dýrhólaey promontory, we were treated to even more gorgeous views of the rock formations as well as loads of birds! Puffins nest here, but we aren’t sure we saw many because they were in the cliffs far away, and it was such a nice day they were probably out fishing in the ocean too! After the two black sand beaches, we visited another glacier: Sólheimajökull, where we hiked out for one last view of the Icelandic glaciers!
Then we visited two waterfalls. At Skógafoss we climbed 500 steps for a view from the top, and at Seljalandsfoss, we got to walk behind the waterfall, which was one of the most amazing and beautiful things we had done! We got absolutely soaking wet from the spray, but it was more than worth it!! And the sunshine dried us off pretty quickly!
Emily & Dani in front of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Two views from behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall
After Seljalandsfoss, we drove to Keflavik for the night, but of course stopping on our way for some more soft-serve ice cream!
Day 10: Goodbye Iggy!
Our last day together in Iceland started off by saying goodbye to the third member of our group, our dearest camper van Iggy who served us faithfully and kept us warm and dry through our 8 nights on Ring Road! Then we went to the Blue Lagoon (because it’s Iceland and so we had to) for a little luxury before heading our separate ways– Emily back to Boston and Dani off to Germany and France for another 6 weeks of travel.
Dani in a mud mask (left) & Emily relaxing (right) at the Blue Lagoon
Our Icelandic adventure was a once in a lifetime experience (although we both hope to repeat it and come back to Iceland for another visit)! And we could not have seen all of the amazing sights and done all of the incredible things without our trusty camper van! Thank you, Rent.is for making our adventure the best it could possibly be!
Until next time,
Dani & Emily
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