A trip to Iceland. The mysterious island of fire and ice. It’s been on our bucket list for as long as we can remember and so six months ago we finally decided it was time. We explored loads of different options but as soon as we saw Rent.is we were sold! Having the flexibility to drive wherever we wanted (except of course the highlands) so that no matter where we ended up, we would have our own little space with us – what more could you want? WiFi, you say? Look no further! There is WiFi in the van and it was ten times better than ours back home in Scotland.
Arriving at Keflavik airport, we were frantically looking out of the window, waiting to see the land we had been waiting years to see! Unfortunately, we only saw the runway and landed in weather much like the weather we were used to back home but fortunately, picking up our little home for the week was effortless and we were off on our little adventure before you could say “Eyjafjallajökull”. We grew up hearing of the sagas, being close to and regular visitors to Orkney, and they had turned us into adventurers ourselves so finally venturing to Iceland was a huge deal for us.
Top Tip:Buy the Premium Insurance Package when booking your camper. The weather can change very suddenly in Iceland and you want to make sure you’re covered for most things. It also lowers your self risk so you don’t have to worry about credit card limits (Thanks to Eleanor for the help with that one!)
We kicked off our road trip by heading north towards Borgarnes – home of The Settlement Center and a definite must see! It’s a great place to start off where you can learn all about the first settlers of Iceland and the famous Egil’s Saga, written by Iceland’s greatest viking chieftain and poet. Here we learned about the ‘Locatify SmartGuide’ which took us to a number of cairns dotted around the town marking important locations mentioned in the saga. This is also where we did our first food shopping in Iceland. We thoroughly recommend Bónus over all the other stores as it seemed to be the cheapest!
A perfect follow up to Borgarnes would have to be the Golden Circle, especially now accompanied by the Smart Guide app and lots of snacks! It guided us round the road (thanks again, on board WiFi) passing some amazing places like þingvellir national park.
We had previously read that it was home to the oldest existing parliament in the world – named Alþingi – going right back to the good old vikings, and so of course it was on our list of things to do! Then on to Geysir, home of the geyser…no seriously! This place is the reason for the other worldly natural phenomenon’s name across the globe and we probably could have stayed here all night, just watching. It’s awe-inspiring and just pretty darn cool!
The Secret Lagoon
We started our next day with our first dip in a geothermal pool. The ‘Secret Lagoon’ or ‘Gamla Laugin’ – meaning ‘old basin’ – is no longer a secret but has not lost it’s charm. It was an amazing experience and one which we would one hundred percent recommend! Swimming around with volcanic sand between your toes while a local geyser erupts every few minutes sending streams of more hot water into the pool – What more could you want? Word of warning though – it’s hotter than you would usually run your bath! They let us camp out in their carpark so we were first in in the morning too! It’s the oldest swimming pool in Iceland and by far the best!
After we were washed and cleaned, it was time to make our way along the southern edge of the ring road. First stop: Vík, where we stretched our legs and had a quick lunch before carrying on our journey. Vik is said to be the rainiest place in Iceland and it sure lived up to it’s reputation as it was cold and raining both times we passed through it. (It could give the west coast of Scotland a run for it’s money!)
We have to say, the best part about the camper was waking up to absolutely stunning views – no matter what the weather and no matter the location. Best of all was probably waking up and seeing the massively beautiful Skaftafellsjökull – a huge glacier visible, like most, from the Ring road. We rose early that morning and made our way towards it, mesmerised by the sheer size of this great barrier of ice. I don’t think there could be anything better to do in the morning and we had the whole place to ourselves. A spectacular sight to behold, especially with a cup of tea in hand! On our way back to the Skaftafell Centre we made sure to make use of the facilities, including using the sink in the washing and drying room to wash our pots and pans and grabbed ourselves some coffees for the road.
Next up was Jökulsárlón. Probably the most popular glacier lagoon which you actually pass on the Ring road. You can take a walk from the visitor centre here down to the coast line and watch icebergs battle their way towards the sea after breaking off from the glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull. This is also one of your best chances to spot seals on your trip as they’re often seen chilling out on the ice.
The icebergs here are incredible and just standing, watching, you can hear them creaking as they move about and smash into each other. The lagoon itself is not that old and actually a result of the warming climate but at 250 meters deep, it’s the deepest lagoon in Iceland and a place we recommend you save lots of time for.
A very brief stop over in Höfn was next (probably the funnest place name to pronounce by the way!) and after realising we were too late and everything was already closed we decided to head back along the road, finally spotting a few reindeer by the road side, before setting up camp for the night.
The next morning there was sun. We could actually see the sky! Deciding to make the most of this weather, we went for a walk along Fjaðrárgljúfur, a great canyon in the Katla geopark, and took in the crazy heights and views of this ancient gorge. Of course the wind had picked up by this point, as had our appetites, so we headed back to our little home on wheels for lunch. Driving east we had spotted a few huge waterfalls (including Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss) which we were desperate to visit on our way back and so we kept our eyes peeled until eventually we spotted the familiar ‘foss’ (meaning waterfall) on the road signs and made our way towards them.
Top Tip:If you’re looking for a nice dry visit, maybe don’t get too close to the waterfalls. On the other hand, if, like us, you don’t care about getting wet and muddy, do a circuit of those bad boys and get behind them if possible. It’s totally worth it and a bit weird, like looking at a painting from inside the frame…
As we approached Reykjavik we were desperate for a nice hot shower…or maybe we could find a geothermal pool? Look no further than Laugardalslaug Swimming Pool. We wandered in like lost little lambs and out pop some very friendly locals to show us the way. A nice relaxing hour or so spent in their 40 degree baths and steam rooms and we were good to go….and get lost in the city centre.
Honestly, we’re usually very good with map reading but could not make sense of where we were…
Finally we found what we were looking for – The Settlement Exhibition. An original tenth century long house still stands here, although now beneath the street level, and is now surrounded and protected by an underground exhibition detailing life during Viking times.
Continuing with our viking adventure, we headed towards the Saga Museum and dressed up like the locals once would have. I like to think we would have fitted in quite well…
The models in this museum have all been life-casted from local people which initially can be quite scary when you turn around thinking someones standing behind you but actually, it’s just a life-casted man in his late 30’s holding an axe. The models were so real that we thought there was a man sitting watching a short film for the whole duration of our visit, obviously so enthralled by the show that he hadn’t managed to move for the past hour…
We’d been invited round for Sunday dinner at a local’s house tonight so we whipped out the Sat Nav and made our way towards her family home. Upon arrival we were gifted with lovely Icelandic woollen hats which had been knitted especially for us – perfect for the cold weather we’d expect when we returned home! A Sunday Roast in Iceland is slow cooked lamb with a delightfully creamy sauce, potatoes and an assortment of vegetables. Foodie tip: ALWAYS try the lamb!
It was late by the time we left their home and so we decided to look for the campsite we’d heard about. Right next to the swimming pool we visited this morning? SCORE! Upon arrival the campsite seemed to be closed so we popped in to the neighbouring hostel to ask about it and were directed into a field full of other campers and motorhomes. I spy with my little eye, something beginning with R….RENT.is!!
(By the way, it is customary that when passing another explorer in a rent.is camper van, you give a little toot and a wave – you’re family now)
In the morning we were guided (thankfully) around Reykjavik with our wonderful host from the night before and her daughter who was “starving”. This meant we got a wonderful locals tour of the city AND a stop at the famous Icelandic hot dog stand. We were told to get one with ‘the lot’ on it and quite frankly, I could have eaten the whole hut they were that good! Anybody care to share the recipe?
Whales of Iceland was up next. A museum filled with life size models of these gentle giants who grace our coastlines. We would have loved to see whales for real but were told before we arrived that February wasn’t a great time for spotting them in Iceland and so instead of heading off in a boat, we headed off to the world famous Blue Lagoon for our last chance at bathing in our new favourite geothermal pools.
Iceland is a mysterious and beautiful wonder of the world and one which, for us, could only be captured with the freedom we had on the road. Our camper van was the perfect accompaniment to our journey and made our whole trip easy and stress free. We wanted to stay longer so we can’t wait to one day return to this wonderful island and explore some more!