Finally retirement has come and the first adventure is Iceland! My husband and I are circumnavigating the island via Rent.is camper van.
While getting up early in the morning is not my thing, the 12:40 a.m. WOW flight gets us into Iceland at 10:30 a.m. Plenty of time to hit the ground running on our first day. Getting to the rental station takes a little waiting time but we ultimately get there and manage to dodge most of the queue, because hey we are renting a camper van and they called us first. 🙂 That van gave us a lot of flexibility to see what we wanted when we wanted to. There always seemed to be a campground not too far off after we were done sightseeing for the day. It was nice having our home with us as we journeyed around the island.
We decided to drive west because rainy weather in the beginning in the south would put a damper on some things my husband really wanted to see. We journey into Reykjavik to see about purchasing food and a camping pass which we decided to not do. As we were about to leave city center, hubby asks for the Rick Steves Iceland book I borrowed on the plane. He thoroughly went through that book in the weeks before we left and highlighted all the things he thought would be nice to see. Extreme panic when I realize I left the book on the floor of the plane. We head straight to Mál og Menning and purchase the Lonely Planet’s book on Iceland since they were sold out of Rick Steves.
Our first stop was the Settlement Center in Borgarnes to learn a little about the history of the country and a great overview of how the land was discovered. It was getting late so we decided to look for a place to park our van. Google maps directed us to a spot that had a restaurant as part of the camping area. Rainy night but clear in the morning to start out first full day. After a nice shower we stopped in the restaurant for some guidance on activities in the area since the locals know best. As we were sitting in the van getting a fix on our next stop, a woman comes up and knocks on the window. In her hand was my see through wallet. Second day, second lost item. At least that was found and returned. See there are nice people around. 🙂
After a quick stop at Reykholt Old Church the first of many churches on our journey we went to Viðgelmir lava tube to tour Iceland’s largest cave. We donned our jackets to take the 1.5 hour tour deep underground to learn about the geology of the volcanic island. The guide, a geologist, was well-informed and answered every question thrown at her.
Sadly after that we by-passed the Snæfellsnes Peninsula as we didn’t think we would have time to see most of what we wanted. After the lava tube it was back on the ring Road to the north. We stopped briefly at the Selasetur Islands to see if we could spot some seals. We saw only one way off in the distance. Later traveling through the Vatnsnes Peninsula a stop at Hvitserkur, the petrified troll, produced a photo op.
This day brought us into Akureyri where we saw the Lutheran church, Akureyrarkirkja, and tasted the traditional Plokkfiskur, fish stew. After eating our fill we went on to Húsavik to see our first grand waterfall, Goðafoss. This truly magnificent falls spans 30 meters and is nicknamed Waterfall of the Gods. It is supposedly the site of Iceland’s religious conversion to Christianity.
Goðafoss was a great introduction to the list of falls we wanted to see. Later that day we drove to Mývatn (It took me a long time to realize I was pronouncing this wrong) and hiked up to the top of Hverfjall to see the crater. The views from the top are worth the short hike up.
This was a day of sulfur and spray. We stopped to see the simmering volcanic activity at Leirhnjúkur. The mudpots, steam vents and sulfuric smell are something to behold. Sticking to the well-marked path allowed us to safely experience this geothermal area. After underground simmering, we went to Jökulsárgljúfur to see Dettifoss, Ásbyrgi Canyon, and Selfoss. We loved the hike in and managed to have enough sun for a rainbow picture at Dettifoss. We found a great place to camp with exceptional views and an area that thankfully didn’t have too many of the famous Mývatn midges.
I was sure I didn’t want to do the Blue Lagoon, so I chose the Mývatn hot springs, Jarðböðin. Our early morning dip was refreshing and a great way to start the day. Hot springs are just something travelers should do in Iceland and I’m glad we chose Jarðböðin. As you can see we had the place to ourselves for the most part.
From the hot springs, we drove east. I realized that experiencing the Icelandic trot upon an Icelandic horse was something I definitely wanted to do. As we were driving, I saw a sign for horseback riding. We turned off our intended route and drove up to a small house. It didn’t look like much but I knocked on the door and the young woman that answered said she did indeed give riding tours. I didn’t want to go on her 2-hour tour, so she promptly said she could give me a 40-minute ride. I was very lucky and very pleased to have felt the smoothest trot of my life. Just goes to show it pays to ask.
Later that day we arrived at Hoffellsjökull located on Höfn. The road in wasn’t great but with care we made it. The day was one of the warmest we experienced on the trip. It was an hour hike up some rock hills to get some great views from above of the glacier. We ate our lunch and hiked back down the van. We drove and saw a few minor things and camped. This was the pint I lost my shower sandals. I think I put them on top of the van and drove off forgetting they were there. Strike 3 for loss of items. The rule of 3 said no more lost items and there weren’t for me.
We made it to the Golden Circle which was my husband’s prime destination. Remember what I said about saving this because of rain forecasted in this region at the beginning of the trip? Well we were lucky enough to have it rain on this day for only half the day.This day was jammed packed with glaciers and black sand beaches, waterfalls (Svartifoss with its basalt columns and Seljalandsfoss where you can walk behind the falls) and puffin sightings.
The two things from this day that stands out as awesome were a side fall just a short hike from Seljalandsfoss which takes you to Gljúfurárfoss. You’ll get your feet wet getting to this inner sanctuary. A guide we met while watching puffins said one of the people on his tour said he met God there.
This is a truly magical place. Go early so you can be somewhat alone. The next awesome thing was Þingvellir National Park. We got there first thing and got a free tour of the world’s first democratic parliament. During the tour we came across a group of teens singing at the amphitheater. Turns out they were from CA and would be performing later at the famous concert hall in Reykjavik. Below is our venture to Svartifoss.
Lo and behold we had an extra day to kill before taking the camper van back so we drove back to the west to see the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. I believe this day was my favorite of the trip because there were so many things that were different here than in other parts of the country. Stykkisholmur was amazing with jagged rocks, Library of Water, scenic lighthouse, and famous futuristic church. I found the Library of Water quite interesting with its glass columns filled with water that you look through to get a totally different view of the world.
There are 3 churches worth seeing if you are in this part of Iceland. The aforementioned one in Stýkkishólmur; Ólafsvikurkirka, in Ólafsvik and the Church at Ingjaldshóll. They are each lovely in their own special way. My favorite was the Church at Ingjaldshóll simply because is was so photogenic on the outside. It’s a lovely little church between Rif and Hellissandur. If you can get inside, look at the painting depicting Christopher Columbus. The Stýkkishólmur Church has tiny light hanging from the ceiling with a picture of the Virgin Mother as the altar focal point. Ólafsvikurkirka is made mostly of triangles.
We returned our camper van and spent the remaining time in Reykjavik. We found Iceland as a whole expensive but scored an awesome inexpensive Airbnb room 2 minutes from Reykjavik’s official visitor information center. We were within walking distance of almost everything. A purchase of a 48-hour city card gave us access to most of the museums we wanted to see and city buses. In addition to museums we did some free things. One was see a concert at Harpa the main concert hall. The children’s choir I mentioned on day 6 was performing there. The other free thing was see Iceland play in the soccer world cup in the Ingólfstorg Square. We were there with hundreds of our closest friends.
There are 2 museums I want to mention, one is the penis museum, officially the Iceland Phallological Museum, and the other Tales from Iceland. We went into Tales as it came highly recommended. It had multiple short 2 to 3-minute films made by professionals and tourists. If you start your journey in Reykjavik this is a good museum to go to to get an overview of the island. All in all Iceland is a phenomenal place. With extraordinary waterfalls, extremely nice people and stupendous scenery.
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