Camping in Iceland in a Camper
We arrived with 10 days planned to drive the classic ring road around the country. When we set out from Keflavik in our camper van, we just could not get over the beauty of Iceland. It is such a cliche but it is indeed one of the most beautiful countries either of us has ever visited.
Just driving…the average road side view
We skipped Reykjavik ; as we are both city girls (London and Milan), we decided we want to get into the country itself and therefore went straight up to Borgarnes to visit the Settlement Centre and learn more about this country’s history. Glad we did this as it informed a lot of how we engaged with Iceland’s history throughout our 10 days, including learning about some of the key sagas, such as Egil’s saga and Edda, but also the most famous writer (besides other achievements): Snorri.
Driving across the Snæfellsnes peninsula was a beautiful drive and we ended up at Stykkishólmur. We visited the key sights such as Kirkjufell, but also places we hadn’t read about and we just spotted alongside the road, such as Saxhóll. It is pretty amazing to stand on top of a volcano, whilst being terrified of being blown off it as it was so windy! From the top of Saxhóll, there are lava fields as far as the eye can see, a reminder why Iceland is called the country of Ice and Fire.
Looking down into the crater at Saxhóll
This was one of our first lessons: just keep your eyes open as there is an amazing discovery just around every bend in the road. We had not (yet) read about Kerið, Brúarfoss (a very lucky find!) or Hraunfossar but noticing a load of cars parked or the ‘landmark’ sign, we just drove up to check out what there was to see and usually we ended up being another experience richer.
The blue waterfall at Brúarfoss
Walking around the top edge of Kerið
We also learned to be wary of the sheep, clearly fiercely independent and the real owners of Iceland. Fences are there to be broken down and how about grazing at the top of a cliff…
A tricky location for grazing…
We then went into the lava tube at Vatnshellir, with free directions to Stromboli included at the bottom of the cave, its usefulness is of course debatable… Spending the night at the campsite at Arnarstapi was uneventful but a turning point for both of us. At that point we had spent the first few days going to sleep with rain and waking up to more rain. Add to this the lack of showers and we decided not to go further up north, be more careful with the selection of campsites and go back down south. You all of sudden really appreciate the freedom you have with a camper van to change your itinerary at a whim.
Our itinerary had fallen to pieces anyway already as we discovered the food! All the guides talk about fish and Skýr, but no one tells you how good the food is pretty much everywhere and that Icelanders are addicted to chocolate cake. For someone without a sweet tooth, I found myself wanting to have chocolate cake for dessert every evening to the astonishment of my friend! More importantly, you don’t have to search for these places, even typical touristy locations such as Borgarnes have excellent restaurants, such as the Settlement Centre and Englendingavik. Add to that, that the portions are huge and even a salad will set you up straight until dinner. I wish I had pictures but we were too busy enjoying the food…
Anyways, back to our journey of discovery. Travelling back down south, culminated in going east instead of to Reykholt. Another discovery, there are multiple Reykholt’s, which is a bit confusing! We stopped again in Borgarnes, to pay a quick visit to Ljómalind. On our travels, we are always keen to support the local economy and this was a great stop, although an expensive one as the shop makes you really greedy. Obviously, we ended up with multiple sweaters and cardigans to keep us warm, and loads of other bits and pieces for family and friends at home. And goodness me, these cardigans were warm. I skipped wearing my coat and had my chunky, hand-knitted cardigan instead.
Reykholt (Rt 518) is an interesting town and due to our visit to the Settlement Centre, we understood better the importance of Snorri to Iceland’s history. Visiting Snorrastofa, Snorralaug, and the old church was definitely a nice little detour. We stayed at the Hverinn campsite (highly recommended, the best one we stayed at) ahead of our early start the next day to go up to Húsafell and join the bus for the travel up to the Langjökull glacier.
This was definitely the most expensive bit of our trip, but it was so worth it. Driving up the glacier to the entrance is an experience in itself and at times a bit unnerving as the glacier moves and holes could open up anywhere. Notwithstanding this, once up high and going in and deep underground is an amazing experience and one that will stay with us forever. What I found impressive was to learn that the Icelanders have so much respect for nature that they have dug the tunnel and set it up but could easily remove the lighting etc in the glacier and within no time, all trace of human beings ever having been there would disappear. They are proud of, and careful with, their country.
Totally excited to be inside the glacier!
Travelling further down we spent the day at Þingvellir, traipsing up and down, chilling out at one of the waterfalls, feeling disturbed by the pool where they used to drown convicted women and at the higher up site where the convicted men were hanged. Still, more civil than what was done in early medieval Western Europe to convicts…
Enjoying the sunshine at Þingvellir
As we had some time left, we decided to drive up to Gullfoss and Geysir, which were both impressive at sunset, although Gullfoss was very cold and windy. Seeing Strokkur ‘explode’ every few minutes is definitely a sight to behold and we ended up sitting on a bench and just watching it for some time. We finished the day at Laugarvatn for some fresh char from the Þingvellir lake at Lindin.
Geysir park at sunset
We kept on making our way down towards Seljalandsfoss (and got soaking wet going behind the waterfall but pretty awesome nonetheless!) and our ultimate destination Vestmannaeyjar (Heimaey). An early boat ride got us over and the island is gorgeous. It is a strange experience to stand on top of a hill, whilst being aware that tiny villages are buried underneath. We downloaded the app that was advertised in the hall when coming off the ferry and used that as our tour guide whilst walking around the island. This was a great way to learn about its quite violent and chaotic history; shipwrecks, slavery and deliberate horse drowning to name a few. When we came back to the main town, we visited the Sæheimar Aquarium, which doubles up as a Puffin rescue centre. At least 10 school children came in with cardboard boxes containing baby puffins, all to be released back after measurement, weighing and the obligatory photo. The children were clearly proud of their rescue efforts, which was a nice thing to see. This was definitely one of our best days, helped by loads of sunshine, which proved to be a rarity in early September.
After a stop at Hvolsvöllur to visit the Una centre (more shopping!), we spent the night at Stokkseyri, a tiny place but the skies were clear and there was, according to the weather forecast, a maximum chance of seeing the aurora. Cue spending the night pretty much awake, but no aurora! Again, we had the most amazing food, this time at Fjöruborðið, absolutely the best langoustines we have ever had. I was hesitant as the Lonely Planet guide talks about ‘lobster bisque’, which is clearly different from langoustines and I’m not a fan of lobster…All in all, very happy that we went, and that evening we reached the conclusion that, after Italy, Iceland was the best country we have ever eaten in!
We were going to go up to the Blue Lagoon before the final drive up to Reykjavik but had forgotten to book tickets…we were not going to leave without going to a proper geothermal pool. We ended up going back up north (!) to Gamla Laugin, which was amazing and (maybe because it was September) not crowded at all. There are worse ways to spend a lazy afternoon in a natural geothermal pool.
Reykjavik looks like Nassau in the Bahamas, a nice, chilled out vibe…just colder! We had a lovely brunch at Bergsson Mathús, and discovered some old fashioned record shops. Beware though, we came past a restaurant that enthusiastically promoted a taster menu, including whale and puffin, these are tourist traps and they do not serve this in any normal restaurant.
On our penultimate day we went whale watching, well at least that was the idea… Who knew that whales do not like a windy morning? In other words, we belonged to the lucky 2% who did not get to see any whales; a lone porpoise fin was the best we got. However, a nice surprise was the issue of tickets to come on another tour for free!
Thus, our journey through Iceland ended up a bit of a crisscross journey through the South (we had gone through Selfoss so many times, we felt like locals) and from what we’ve seen so far, I cannot wait to go back to discover the North and East of the country, and hopefully get lucky and see some whales…
Read more: Micaea & Michael’s Icelandic Adventure
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