Iceland on your own
Day 1: LAX to Keflavik, Iceland.
Our upcoming months of travels have commenced! We had a smooth flight with Wow air, exit rows were a huge plus for our 9 hour flight, especially when the seats don’t recline.. When we landed we picked up our camper van @ Rent Is, and set out on our Ring Road adventure! We had a couple of hours to kill before heading to our 4pm bookings at the Blue Lagoon, which is conveniently near the airport, so we cruised around the peninsula and started to get a feel for what Iceland is like! We popped on over to the Blue Lagoon, and took a much needed 30 minute siesta in our home-on-wheels (one of Rob’s favorite camper van pastime). Still in a haze we shuffled on over to the majestic lagoon, and spent the next several hours soaking, silica masque-ing, and floating about the milky blue waters of the thermal hot spring. It wasn’t cheap (about $92 per person, which includes a mask and drink of choice), but it was truly a worthwhile experience! We made a friend, solo traveler Arijana, who later invited us to the set she was doing at an open mic night at a comedy club in Reykjavik.
After the Blue Lagoon experience, we were fully relaxed (and pruny) and ready to take on the majestic beauty of Iceland! We hopped into our camper and tried to find a place to stay for the night. We tried a little town called Grindavik, but no restaurants were open, and it seemed like there wasn’t a soul in sight so we decided to make the 45 minute trek up to Reykjavik.
We ate Ramen and settled down for the night. With warm and full bellies, we continued to snooze until noon the next day (oops). We needed the extra sleep, especially since Rob parked on a bit of a slope, and one of us kept rolling into the other all night, so it was not the most restful of sleeps. This was a good learning experience, from then on we always found even ground to park our camper on before tucking in for the night.
Day 2: Golden Circle
Here’s what our day looked like: Reykjavik –> Þingvellir National Park –> Öxarárfoss waterfall –> Laugarvatn Lake (Fontana Thermal Baths) –> Geysir (Strokkur) –> Gullfoss waterfall –> Reykjavik
Thank goodness it’s light until 10:30 – 11 pm at night, otherwise our noon wake up would have made it an issue to drive out to the well known, Golden Circle, a popular day trip from Reykjavik. Next to the Laugardalslaug public pool, is a really great campsite for showers and bathroom, that we found to be our staple place to clean up.
Back to the Golden Circle… we grabbed some sandwich staples at the local Bónus grocery store in town, packed our cooler and set out on the road. First, we stopped at Þingvellir National Park, which is the great fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It was a quick 1 mile walk through the gorge and to Öxarárfoss waterfall. You can dive and snorkel in the Silfra lake there, but as you’ll see, we passed on most of the paid tourist trips/tours/adventures. From here we moved along the road to Laugarvatn Lake. Here we stopped at the Fontana Thermal Baths, which wasn’t as fancy as the Blue Lagoon, but we found to be a much more functional spa/thermal baths experience. They have a variety of hot pools at different temperatures, one being the mineral baths from the thermal spring below. We loved the sauna which had a wall of glass facing the serene lake, and the steam baths which you could choose varying levels of heat. The real reason we decided to hop in another hot spring was because these thermal baths are right next to a freezing cold lake, which both makes for a beautiful view and also the perfect natural hydrotherapy setting! We did multiple dips from the hottest baths to the lake, jumping in and getting low enough so the water covers our shoulders, then walking (or sort of underwater running) to the stairs to get back to the showers, or the fun bucket of lake water you can pull a cord and it dumps overhead, and finally back into the hot thermal baths, which burn so good.
Another draw to this place, was the Geothermal bakery that they have. They make the most delicious old world recipe rye bread, that is baked for 24 hours underground, heated by the thermal energy from the hot spring. We opted for the bottom-less soup and bread (which we of course tested with multiple servings), and it was so warming and tasty. They had luscious sweet potato soup and a veggie soup, and both were piping hot and totally hit the spot. It was about $15 and ate about 3 bowls each, taking some to go, for a snacking later (sweet rye bread included).
Next, we went to Geysir, something I was so excited to see, as I haven’t been to Yellowstone to see Old Faithful (yet). The original Geysir isn’t as active these days, but Strokkur geysir goes off every 12 minutes or so. We lucked out, and after walking up to it, it went off about 4 times consecutively. We waited to watch it the next couple of cycles, but none were as spectacular as that 4-peat!
We headed out to Gullfoss waterfall, one of the major sites on the Golden Circle and one of the most impressive falls that we saw. It was the evening (which felt like the afternoon), and getting a little gloomy, so we donned our puffy jackets and windbreakers over top, and walked up to the lower viewing point of the falls. We generally scoped out the best parking spots to skip majority of the crowds, and also tended to go later in the afternoon/evening so most of the tour buses were already gone. This waterfall was a sight to see! The closer you get the more soaked you get, so we kept a good distance, grabbed some good photos and moved on shortly after. You can walk from the lower to the higher section, but you’ll probably get wet and windblown.
Remember our friend Arijana from the Blue Lagoon? We were partially in a hurry to get back so we could make it in time for the comedy show back in Reykjavik, at 9pm at the Secret Cellar. We made it just in time, I grabbed an Icelandic IPA and we laughed for the next few hours. What a great way to be entertained, but also get a better gauge for the Icelandic social and political environment. We ended up leaving a bit early (around 11:30PM), and grabbing dinner at this DELISH middle eastern hole in the wall, Mandi (also a great rec from our new friend). I went for Falafel and Rob went for the chicken Shawarma plate. I think it was his first time eating this type of food (he always is caution with ethnic food due to his nut allergy), and it was a hit all around. We’ll probably try to go back one more time before we leave. We found our spot near the public swimming pool to sleep in our camper, clean up in the morning and head out on our Ring Road adventure!
Day 3: West Iceland to North Iceland
Here’s what our day looked like: Reykjavik –> Borgarnes –> Grábrók Crater –> Blönduós –> Skagafjörður Area–> Glaumbær (sod huts) –> Hofsós (infinity pool) –> Siglufjörður–> Akureyri (rad public swimming pool).
Pretty excited to get moving on our Ring Road trip, we decided on moving clockwise, starting with West Iceland. We drove through Borgarnes, and made our way to Grábrók Crater. Slapped together a quick ham and cheese sandwich in back of the camper, packed a little bag and did the 45 minute round trip hike to the top and around the crater. Seeing so much of the land covered with lava rock and geothermal activity, makes climbing to the top of a crater that much more spectacular. This thing was active and wild at one point, and we get to take a jaunt to the top to eat a ham and cheese sandwich. Rad. We moved along to Blönduós and up to the Skagafjörður Area – which marks the beginning of the North Iceland. A lot of beautiful and empty roads, sweeping views, steep cliffs dropping off alongside the sides of the one-lane road. We stopped at Glaumbær, which is a classic turf farm, showing how Icelanders lived for centuries, in sod huts.
There was also an old 1950’s house converted into a cute tea house, with the upstairs left as if it was still the 1950’s. I was in awe at how small the kitchen was… a little bigger than the size of my bathroom at home, and I have a small bathroom.
We moved onto Hofsós, which was a stunning cliff side small town. They had a unique infinitely thermal pool right on the cliff side, and a trail down to the geometric rock formations, making up the cliff with sweeping views. Rob hiked down the cliff side to get a better shot (of course), and normally I wouldn’t have thought much of it, except for he only had one free hand (bulky camera taking up the other), and wearing Birkenstocks and wool socks…not exactly what I call appropriate climbing gear. He didn’t slip so all was well. After Hofsós, we continues up to the tip top of Northern Iceland, Siglufjörður, where we grabbed a quick meal of $32 fish n’ chips (to share) at Torgið. We kept traveling through this sleepy town, trying to wrap our heads around being just miles from the Arctic Circle, and also trying not to freak out when driving alongside steep (non-guard-railed) fjord cliff roads. At one point when I was driving, we approached an old tunnel, which was only wide enough for one car. Lucky for me I didn’t see another car coming my way, since there was only a few small turn offs inside the tunnel. We ended up going through one more of these types of tunnels later on our travels, and we saw a sign indicating that there was a YouTube video on how to drive through it…could have used that earlier!
We finally made our way down to Akureyri, the biggest town in the North, and found a campsite to sleep at.
Day 4: North Iceland to Eastfjords
Here’s what our day looked like: Akureyri –> Goðafoss waterfall –> Mývatn Area ( Skútustaðir psudeocraters) , Dimmuborgir lava formations “dark castles”, Hverfjall crater, Námafjall geothermal area) –> Egilsstaðir –> Öxi pass (camped by the river).
Today we really packed it in. We started off hitting up the Akureyri public swimming pool, which ended up being the most LEGIT pool ever. For $9 a person, you can enjoy a spa-like experience, mixed with childish water park fun, in a mostly locals only setting. So many things that don’t make sense in one but it was amazing. We hopped in the pool, which have indoor entrances and then you swim through a curtain to go outdoors (probably something necessary in the winter), we did a circuit of swimming laps, dipping back and forth in varying levels of hot thermal spas and the cold plunge (probably around 54º F), then did a few laps of the towering full size tube water slides, along with the kids. It was magic. MAGIC. Finally, we decided it was time to shower up and get ready for the day ahead.
We scoped out the town, which was charming and delightful in every way. For a couple hours, we grabbed breakfast/lunch at Berlin Cafe, and hopped on WiFi for some time working, catching up on emails, and uploading photos. I ordered a beautiful Vegetable Quiche, loaded – and I mean loaded – with sweet potatoes, broccoli, red peppers, zucchini, & onion. This thing was thick and hearty, served with a side salad with couscous and a yummy yogurt based garlic herb sauce. I’ll definitely be making a rendition of this when I get home. Rob got a ham and cheese sandy – this one was toasted though, and served with a side salad with actual dressing, so I think it was worth it. After a couple hours we packed up and headed back out on the road.
We stopped at Goðafoss, a beautiful horse-shoe shaped waterfall, before continuing onto the Mývatn lake area. a place I was excited to see! Skútustaðir was a great spot for ham & cheese sandwiches and walking around “Pseudo-craters”, which are crater-like holes, made from magma that had steam trapped below and eventually surfaced with an exploding bubble of steam. The area between the craters, was covered with thick, vibrant green grass, that was so inviting to lay down in, until the lake “midges” –little annoying gnats — harassed us right back to our car. Moving on, the Dimmuborgir Lava formations, were pretty wild to see. We only did a short loop through the area, but got to see the unique lava formations, made long ago when the region was underwater, with the magma leaking upward and solidifying in column formations.
As we continued down the main road, we stopped off at the Hverfjall crater. We hiked up this steep trail on the side of the crater, and at the top found a breathtaking view of the region, and of the vast crater. Námafjall Geothermal Area was just a short drive, along side the road, and as we passed we saw beautiful colors from the minerals and steam coming up from the ground, all around the region. From a full day of swimming, sightseeing, and traveling, we continued on to Egilsstaðir (Eastfjords), and kept driving for as long as we could towards the Southeast region, until we found the perfect desolate spot for camping. A dirt road “shortcut” off the main highway, which proved to be just as slow as the highway route but unique in its own right, led us to Öxi pass. We found a great spot by a trickling river to post up for the night. I whipped us up some mean Ramen with sliced cucumbers as an appetizer, and salad (aka just baby lettuce, no dressing). SO FANCY.
Day 5: Eastfjords to Southeast & Southcoast
Here’s what our day looked like: Djúpivogur –> Hvalnes Point –> Lónsvik Bay –>Höfn –> Vatnajökull (glacier) –> Hali –> Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon –> Diamond Beach –> Vik –> Dýrhólaey Promontory Point (puffins!) –> Skógafoss
Waking up to the most serene views, and not in an town setting, we finally had some hot breakfast: oatmeal with banana and coconut cream, and coffee (four signmatic mushroom coffee + coconut milk powder), and tea. The majority of our mornings have been fueled by tea and Skýr (Icelandic yogurt, which is insanely delicious), so it was nice to have a hot brekkie.
We got packed up and moved on out to Djúpivogur, then straight onto Hvalnes Point, which is the beginning of the Southeast region. We got out at Lónsvik bay to scope the black pebble/sand beach that covers the South of Iceland. We skipped rocks — Rob is better. Then moved on to Höfn. We grabbed some more ham & cheese sandwich makings, Skýr yogurt and some veggies to munch on in the car, and kept going until we hit the massive glaciers that consume most of the land in the South. We cruised off the beaten path to Heinabergsjökull glacier (part of the huge Vatnajökull glacier), and marveled at an uninhabited glacier lagoon. As we passed through Hali, next was the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which is the main glacial lagoon off the road, one of the most breathtaking sights in Iceland.
Vibrant blue glaciers, with their jagged edges and massive bobbing bodies are strewn throughout the icy lagoon. Playful seals and birds take turns on and off the glaciers, diving in water and making the whole scene completely majestic. From here we walked down to Diamond Beach, which is where the glacial lagoon and North Atlantic Ocean meet. Glaciers that start floating out to sea, get caught up in the break and smaller pieces of glass-like ice chunks are littered throughout the black sand beach, making it look like glittering diamonds upon the shore. This jaw-dropping beauty captured our attention for a while, before moving onto Svartifoss waterfall.
Like madmen, we continued onto Vik, the point that marks the beginning of the South coast. This was one of the last points for Puffin searching, and I’ve been dying to see them, so we went for it, hard. The weather started to turn at this point. Apparently, we scored the BEST weather this entire time. The clouds and fog finally drifted in, and the wind ramped up. We drove out to Dýrhólaey Promontory Point, a nature preserve, with bluffs overlooking black sand coastline, basalt column formations scattered along the beach, and intense rugged waves, smashing the cliffs. We ran around looking trying to find them as quickly as we could so we could get out of the approaching storm, and rather quickly we found hundreds of puffins scattered along the cliff edges, playing with the wind for take-offs and landings. They were cute, white-bellied, playful birds, with colorful orange beaks and small wings that flap more than a bird should have to flap to say airborne. Despite the cold, rain and wind, we stayed for a while to take in the scenery and the Puffins.
Our last venture of the day was to Skógafoss, to set up for the night to camp below the thundering waterfall. I boiled water in rain, made some Ramen to keep us warm, and we tucked ourselves in for the night.
Day 6: South coast to Reykjavik
Here’s what our day looked like: Skógafoss –> Seljalandsfoss –> Reykjavik
Today was just what we needed to cap off our Ring Road & Iceland trip. A few (more) waterfalls, and trip back into town for some down time.
The weather was gloomy, rainy and windy, which ended our sunny streak. But it was perfect for the chill day ahead. We camped right below this thundering waterfall, Skógafoss, and then we drove a little ways down the road to walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall. When we made it back to Reykjavik we cleaned up at the campsite near the Laugardalslaug public pool (our spot from earlier), and posted up for several hours at Kex Hostel Cafe to compose thoughts, photos, and the crazy past few days of Ring Road travels. We each had delicious food, from their brunch menu. I had the Creamy Shelfish Soup with Baked Fish and Herb oil, and Rob had the Fish and Chips with Salad and herbed Yogurt dressings. Both were incredible and the ambiance was just what we needed. If we weren’t doing camper van travels, we would have stayed here.
While Rob was working and writing, I took a jaunt around the city to stop at a few foodie spots I’d been eyeing. I popped into Brauð & Co and Reykjavik Roasters for Cinnamon rolls and amazing coffee, respectively. After spending several more hours at the Hex Hostel Cafe, we finally felt a bit more organized, composed and ready for our next adventure.
Iceland, you’ve been amazing!
Feed your sense of Wonder,
Read more: Postcards from Iceland
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