Our Icelandic Adventure
October 18–26, 2016
Icelandic Adventure probably began, in some way, in May of 2011 when I spent a month volunteering on a dairy farm near Akureyri. While on that trip I discovered that—without a doubt—dairy farming was not for me, I also discovered how beautiful, welcoming, and bewitching Iceland is. Ever since that visit, which was with a friend, I’ve been telling my then-boyfriend, now-husband Toryn about Iceland and how we have to go back to visit. He’s an avid hiker and loves the outdoors, photography, and poking around cute new towns. Iceland struck me as the perfect country for us to visit.
Being from the West Coast of Canada, we are neither especially close nor especially far from Iceland, so we’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to visit for more than a couple of days. In the end, this came by way of a larger trip to Europe in September/October 2016 and the Icelandair stopover program which must—along with Instagram—be singularly responsible for a huge portion of the increase in tourism to Iceland in recent years. Toryn and I were lucky enough to spend three weeks with my Grandfather exploring from Barcelona to Venice, after which time Grampa headed to England to see some friends from art school sixty years ago and Toryn and I flew from Heathrow to Reykjavik late on October 18, landing just after midnight on October 19. We had been offered an exit row on our flight, as the lovely check in agent noted my husband was rather tall (he’s 6’4”) and suggested he might like the extra leg room. I had my eyes glued out the window for the entire flight, both because I was desperately hoping to see the Northern Lights and because it was a bit of a bumpy flight the whole way over. As a nervous flyer I wasn’t impressed, but chalked it up to the Jet Stream. That was optimistic of me, and the real reason for the bumps would become apparent about 4 hours after landing!
Once we arrived, it was a very quick process to clear through customs and get our bags before heading to the info desk to find out about getting to our Rent.is camper van. We didn’t fully realize that Go Iceland Rental Cars was the same company, and neither did the person working at the airport info desk, so it took a few minutes for us to work out where we should be going. As long as you know that you can ask for Go Iceland and get to the correct place, it’s a very easy matter of jumping on the frequent free shuttle to be taken to the camper rental area. Arriving so late at night it was unsurprising that we were the only ones there, so had no wait as we were quickly united with our adorable Renault Kangoo Camper for 2. We were given an overview of her amenities (comfy memory foam bed, luggage storage, stove and dishes, mini cooler, bed-side heater, free WiFi, etc.) provided with a map and some brief information about driving in Iceland, and sent on our way.
We had asked for a place to sleep that night and were directed towards a pull off from the highway about a kilometre from the airport. It was neither private nor protected, but we weren’t bothered through the night and got a good night’s sleep until about 7am when we woke up to the van shaking back and forth, rocking from side to side quite violently. The bushes near us were whipping around like crazy, and after looking at the weather forecast we realized that the bumpy flight was mostly likely due to the weather system which had fully moved in above our heads. The remnants of Hurricane Nicole, which had battered Bermuda the week before, was now a tropical depression of sorts and promised to bring sustained 80km/hr winds to the first few days our trip. With only 6 nights to complete our circumnavigation of the island, and one already used in a highway-side pull off, we had no time to waste continued with our plan as drafted.
Read more: The weather in Iceland
I’m both a graphic designer and obsessive trip planner, and so before we left I drafted this visual guide to our trip, noting each day’s activities, ideal town to sleep in, and the KM between each pit stop and nightly spot. While we didn’t stick to it exactly, it was really useful to be able to pull out and see where we were supposed to go to next, especially since the location names aren’t always the easiest to pronounce, never mind remember.
First on our list was a mini modified Golden Circle tour, beginning with Þingvellir, though not before a quick trip back to the airport to use the washroom and then into the town of Reykjanesbær to find breakfast. Though it was mid-week we couldn’t find anything open so ended up at a gas station to have, of course, a hot dog with crispy onions. By this time the wind was really blowing and it was pouring; the waves were crashing up to shore and it was all quite dramatic as we drove our way through Reykjavik. Our camper came with GPS and between that and Google maps which we could access via the WiFi, we never got significantly lost (having one major road to travel on probably helped as well!).
Fortified, we headed through the innumerable roundabouts of Reykjavik before jumping on the highway up to Þingvellir, which is both where the North American and European plates converge, and the location of Alþing, the parliament which sat in the region beginning in 930. We took a quick walk away from the visitor’s centre to look across at the picturesque church in the valley but unanimously elected to skip walking over to investigate further and beat a hasty retreat to the camper. We had thought we might spend some time hiking and then see what the visitor’s centre had to offer, but between the icy rain and 90km/hr winds we weren’t up for much time outside.
Next on our list was Geysir, and we were thrilled to have a momentary gap in the weather. We spent about half an hour wandering around the exploding hot pots and fighting the temptation to get too close. While it seemed lovely and warm, I’m sure a scalding shower would have been more than we were looking for! Again worried about weather, we skipped longer-term hikes and just walked around the main area before getting back in our trusty camper. I also saw some Icelandic horses near Geysir and stopped to take a few photos. The horses were one of the best parts of my last trip to Iceland and I was so happy to see them again!
The weather had put us a bit out of sorts and since we didn’t spend as much time on any of our stops as we had expected to, we were a bit ahead of schedule. We drove south east until Selfoss and hunkered down in Subway, where we ate a footlong ‘brunch’ and I did a few hours of work while we warily eyed the weather swirling around outside.
After Selfoss it was off to Bónus, the Icelandic ‘discount’ grocery store. Being from the West Coast of Canada, where Vancouver is regularly named one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, we aren’t often shocked by the prices of living in other countries. Food in Iceland, however, managed to do it. The cooking facilities in our camper van (cooler, stove, plates/cups, etc) would have been a fabulous way to save some money had we thought we would be able to keep anything either lit or where we wanted it to be without blowing away. We ended up getting snacks for the road, including ‘pimento’ Pringles, some delicious ginger thins, Haribo gummy bears, and the delicious double-thick yogurt Skýr, of course. Its not a road trip without some snacks, and now we were prepared.
And a little unsure of what to do next, what with the hurricane raging around us. We decided to drive towards our second stop, the waterfall Seljalandsfoss, and stop for dinner where we saw something open. This ended up being the Restaurant Kanslarinn, a diner on the highway in Hella. The proprietor looked a little surprised to see us rock up, but quickly sat us by a radiator, which he turned up higher for us, and quickly filled us up with burgers and fries and coffee. While we ate, we did some research using the hotspot from the camper, and discovered that there was a campground right beside the waterfall which might still be open for the season. Imagining hot showers and warm buildings, we gave up our original idea of camping in a field and headed off to see what we could find.
The Hamragarðar campsite was indeed open, and was one of the only campgrounds that we came across which was still open. We paid our 1300Kr + 300 for the shower each and did a little bit of work in the main lounge before turning in. As it turns out, they have a nice kitchen, so we could have cooked dinner there, but we had no way of knowing until it was too late.
During the night, the storm raged and while we were snug in our comfy bed, especially any time we turned the incredibly-hot heater on, the camper itself was shifting from wheel to wheel like a swaying elephant. I’ve never been so glad to be far away from trees; I’m sure some branches would have gone flinging through the air had there been any to fly off!
The next morning, we woke up in one piece, surrounded by the other 4-5 camper vans which had also spent the night in the parking lot with us, and went for a very quick hike to the waterfall directly behind the camp hut. That explored, we drove back along the road towards highway 1 and parked in the main parking lot for Seljalandsfoss. A few campers had spent the night there, and we might have as well had the weather been a bit less intimidating. Certainly with no chance of either northern lights or a sunrise, we were content to show up a little bit later and just hike behind the falls for a beautiful, if soggy, view over the fields through the water.
By the time we were leaving, at about 10am, it was already filling up with tour buses on day trips from Reykjavik and camper vans as well. Compared to in 2011, there were many, many, many times more tourists than I remember from the first time around. For us, it was interesting more than anything, but I know there is some controversy amongst Icelanders themselves about how to handle the increase in tourism. We met only incredibly-friendly, helpful, and English-speaking residents, so whatever animosity there may be towards all of the tourists, in our experience anyway, it wasn’t directed towards us on an individual level.
Seljalandsfoss dispatched with, it was back on the ring road, and off to Skógafoss. Not originally on our itinerary, I’m so glad we followed the multitude of cars off the highway and into the parking lot. This is an incredible waterfall with a very pretty hike up several flights of stairs to the top. It’s pretty cool how you can go up to see the river rushing through the valley, the place where it violently crests, and then the descent into the river valley below. At this point, it was cool and dreary, but the wind was starting to break, so our hike up to the top wasn’t nearly so violent as our walk around Þingvellir had been the day prior!
One thing Toryn loves is hotsprings, but we weren’t convinced about paying the 40E ++ to go into the Blue Lagoon, and I had visited Mývatn on my previous trip, so we decided to look for the lesser-known hotpots on this trip. Of course, Googling ‘hidden hot springs in Iceland’ does bring up a lot of results, but a lot of people also search the same things. We never made it to a perfectly empty spot, but we shared with a couple versus a couple of hundred.
Our first such spot was the pool at Seljavallalaug, which is—I believe—the oldest public swimming pool in Iceland. While it’s been official replaced by another, you can fairly easily reach the pool by finding easily-available directions and then hiking in to a valley for about 15 minutes. We forded one small river, but managed to stay fairly dry on the way, and loved the dramatic scenery, black sand banks, and low cloud as we walked. As promised, just as we were starting to think we had missed something, we spotted the pool and change room, and popped in to our bathing suits. There was one other person there, a photographer, and we had a quick chat before getting in.
Read more: Travel apps for Iceland
Well, I’m not sure if we thought it was a hot pool and it was just meant to be a regular pool, or if something was wrong with the spout of hot water, because that was not a hotspring. It was possibly colder than the air temperature, and in the 15m pool there was just about 1 cubic foot of vaguely warm water where the inflow pipe of hot ground water was entering. We both got in to our shoulders and beat a hasty retreat to teeth-chatteringly change again. Not the idyllic soak we had been hoping for, but private, beautiful, and lots of fun nonetheless.
Our next stop had originally been the plane crash by Sólheimasandur, but since the landowner has closed road access to the plane and you have to hike in relatively far round trip to see it, we realized we better skip this stop. The weather was still iffy and the days, even in mid-October, were getting pretty short, so we were a bit worried about making the trek in the time and weather window we didn’t have. Next time! On our way to lunch, we once again followed a crowd of cars off the highway and to an unexpected stop, the Sólheimajökull Glacier. While you could take ice climbing and glacier hiking tours, we opted to just wander in as far as the path took us, and were still surprised as to just how close that allowed us to get to the glacier! In Canada I think we would have had to stay much further back, but here it seemed to be more of a case of using common sense to be careful, not disturbing nature, and from there going wherever you wanted to, with no signs, ropes, fences, or otherwise to direct you. We stayed on a well-used path but noted the numerous smaller trails which could be explored, and the small lake which would be exquisite in a kayak.
Following that very satisfactory stop we got lunch—hotdogs, of course—in Vik, and also looked around the Icewear wool store and factory there, before settling in for the drive to Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon. This was one of the things I was most excited to see in Iceland, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. After a few hours of driving through barren black sands, almost always with the enormous Vatnajökull Glacier on our left, we suddenly crossed a bridge to see a beautiful lake with floating Icebergs everywhere.
This is an incredible place and one I had really hoped to see Northern Lights at. With cloud cover on high and the light forecast on low, it wasn’t to be, but the daylight exploration we did was still beautiful. Again, we could traipse around wherever we wanted, and we walked right down to the edge of the water to examine the incredible blue glaciers and totally clear bits of ice washed up on the black shore. We were careful to stay well away from the water, since there was quite the current and the temperatures were obviously frigid, but we could easily get as close as we were comfortable with for photos. Next time I would love to take on of their boat trips around the lagoon. We had thought we would be too late in the season to go so didn’t book anything, but I guess the weather, or continued tourists, or both, kept them open for longer in the year. After looking at the lagoon side we had a coffee in the little cafe/gift shop, then braved the wind to walk across the highway to the ocean side. This was also really interesting! The sand was the most amazing BLACK lava sand which somehow didn’t stick to us at all, much different (and superior, as far as we were concerned) to regular sand. Some of the glacier bits which had been floating out to sea got churned back around to the beach, so along with the regular bits of driftwood, there were also glittering pieces of white-clear ice against the black sand. So. Cool.
Following Jökulsárlón, we continued our Eastward push and headed towards our original stopping point for the night, Höfn. This seemed like a pretty cute little fishing village, but by the time we rolled into town most things seemed to be relatively closed. Luckily we had used the hotspot in the camper to look up the restaurants in Höfn and chose Hafnarbúðin, a little cafe near the harbour which served American-style classics like fish and chips and chicken fingers. We bundled in with an Icelandic family and had a filling meal before deciding to push on a little bit further, cutting down the distance to our day 3 destination, Lake Mývatn. We ended up driving for another hour or two and ended up at a little pull out near Djúpivogur.
I was excited that night as the sky was finally clear, but the northern lights forecast was low that night, so unfortunately we didn’t get to see the lights. The stars, however, were beautiful, and we spent a few minutes lying on a picnic table and star gazing before we retreated to the warmth of the van. By this point the weather had improved dramatically, but it was still chilly, so we enjoyed reading and chatting in the van before bed.
The next morning we were up early and headed off to the next town which appeared to be fairly large on the map, Eskifjörður. I’m not sure if it was the time of day, time of year, or if we just went to the wrong place, but not much was open. We managed to find somewhere to get gas and a very nice public washroom by the harbour (which we shared with a large tour bus of people off to some adventure!) and then picked up sticks and started driving. We quickly came to a fork in the highway and followed what we thought was the more direct route. It probably was, but the fog quickly rolled in and was thick and heavy. Combined with a one-lane gravel road and construction, it was a bit of a tense drive. At one stage we were stopped to wait for an excavator, which quickly finished making the road in time for us to pass.
Over the course of the drive we started listening to This American Life podcasts (streamed thanks to our handy hot spot!) and were just listening to the climax of ‘Abdi and the Golden Ticket’ when we dropped into the valley, the fog cleared, and the sun came out for the first time in Iceland, perfectly mirroring the tone of the show.
We quickly arrived in Egilsstaðir, which I remembered from my 2011 trip—we had boarded a ferry to Denmark from Seydisfjörður, just east of Egilsstaðir, making this the Eastern-most point of my last trip, and the first familiar site since Geysir a few days ago. Again we had Subway for lunch, noted the vast number of similar camper vans to us in the parking lot (this has clearly become THE way to visit Iceland) and made a quick Bónus pitstop before continuing on.
This was a day with a lot of driving, but the main attractions towards the end of the distance we were doing, but we were doing well for time, and so when we saw an impressive waterfall to the side of the highway we pulled over and hiked in. Clearly we were far from the first to do so, as a well-trod path was marked and we followed that in to the waterfall, which was beautiful and so very separated from the highway just a few hundred meters away. We both remarked on how incredible the nature is everywhere in Iceland, and how it is up for grabs in a way we don’t experience in Canada, even with the abundance of nature we are lucky enough to have.
After stretching our legs at the waterfall, it was time to head to the first ‘official’ stop of the day, Viti Krafla.
In order to get to this huge volcanic crater, you have to drive through another world, otherwise known as the Krafla power plant. A rather large example of Iceland’s use of geothermal for power, it’s a pretty amazing, otherworldly site to drive through, with steam rising from everything, red alien-like domes, and pipes and tubes everywhere. I am relatively certain you would not be able to drive unrestricted through a site like that back in North America!
Anyway, passing through that we continued on to the main crater, which was WINDY. I actually thought I might get blown off the ridge we were walking up to take pictures, and it took some convincing on Toryn’s part to get me to go up there. In the end, I’m glad we went up there for the photos, but I put my foot down and we opted out of walking around the whole rim. Next time!
It was just a short drive back the way we came to our next stop, the most out of place outdoor shower I have ever seen. With no signage or explanation whatsoever, this was just a pipe in the ground with a shower head and a constant stream of relatively warm geothermally-heated water spraying on to the volcanic ground below. We debating jumping into a swim suit for a photo op, but the wind was still whipping through my thoughts, if not clothes, so we passed. What a curious site, though!
Next up was just across the highway; the most fascinating field of burbling goop I have ever seen. There was a little path marked out with a string to keep you from falling in to the geothermal pots, but other than that it was just up to you to keep yourself from over stepping into the sludge, which looked like it could quite happily suck you up. I’m not exactly sure what we were looking at, but there were all sorts of colours from a wet-concrete grey to brick red, with a violent assortment of greens in the middle. It certainly felt like we had gone to another country!
Next up was Grjótagjá. Another hidden hotspring, this is an amazing spot in a cave, which seemed to be a perfect temperature. However, signs everywhere warned against swimming in this body of water on public property and we respected the signs, contenting ourselves with taking some pictures and dipping our fingers in. Again, it wasn’t exactly isolated and several other cars were there at the same time; no one was swimming when we were there, but some people were taking photos with a rather impressive set up. We just took some snaps and moved on to Mývatn.
Lake Mývatn is big and beautiful (like the rest of the country!) and features one of the other large hot spring ‘resort’ areas after the Blue Lagoon. Last time I was here, we ate in the cow cafe, where you share a window with a bunch of dairy cows, but this time we thought we would go to the town of Mývatn and explore. Except I don’t think there is a town of Mývatn. Or we missed it entirely. We kept driving past little hotels or cafes but ‘kept going to the town’ until we were back on the main highway heading towards Akuyeri. Oops. Originally our plan had been to stay in Mývatn for the evening, but as it was only about 4pm and I wanted to have maximum time in Akuyeri, we pushed on and arrived in the northern capital just before dark and following a quick stop at the beautiful Goðafoss waterfall.
We found a campground just past the airport, but since no one was there to check in with at the time, we just headed in to Akuyeri and I commenced a trip right down memory lane. From what I can remember, nothing has changed since I spent three weeks there before, and I loved walking through the adorable main street pointing out memories to Toryn. We went into the Penninn Eymundsson book and gift shop, which had loved before, with this trip being no exception. I didn’t realize it was a chain until we saw them again in Reykjavik, but this is just my kind of shop, with a great mix of beautiful books in both English and Icelandic, a well-curated gift area, stationery store, and Té og Kaffi, one of the large coffee chains in Iceland. We settled in with some tasty drinks and I did some work while Toryn read a sailing magazine. It’s one of my favourite things to do, and I had a lovely few hours imagining I lived in Europe before we headed off for dinner at the pub run by the youth hostel, Akuyeri Backpackers. I definitely can’t remember what we ate, but it was a comfortable place, with super friendly employees and funky furniture pieces like seats taken out of old greyhound buses. We ended up chatting with the girl working behind the bar who told us that we might be able to park at the Icelandair Hotel, just a couple of blocks away.
After dinner, we walked up to investigate and were told it would be just fine to park in the corner of the parking lot. There were some other camper vans there as well, and once we were settled we went in for a drink at the bar as a small token of thanks. There was a bus tour’s worth of people in the lobby having a nightcap, notable only for the fact that the driver had a guitar and they were playing and singing in an adult-singalong including John Denver, Leonard Cohen, and others. Luckily they were fairly good, and it was really nice seeing such a big group of recent-strangers getting along so well on their tour. Overall we had a great—if brief—interaction with the hotel.
The next morning we walked along the mainstreet, but nothing was open yet. Usually, because Toryn works until midnight we are late risers and don’t start our day before 10am. In Iceland, though, we were living much more by the sun and were often up and ready to go by 7:30. It was ironic that the schedule of many shops would have been perfect during our regular lives but was a little bit inconvenient on vacation.
We wandered past the visitor centre and checked out the few sailboats there, then drove down to the main mall, Glerártorg, which was just opening. We just wandered around a little bit, poked around in Tiger (they really need to bring that brand to Canada!) then headed west to the the farm where I had stayed in 2011. We just drove by and had a look—it didn’t look like anyone was there, but it was interesting to see where I had been and show Toryn the valley we had stayed in.
After that, it was a day of driving, and the first time we managed to find a private, hot, and open to swimming hot spring. We turned right at Varmahlið and headed north through a fishing town—Sauðárkrókur—before arriving at the end of the road. Literally. There was a gate, a cow crossing, and about 50 sheep staring us down. After travelling over an hour from the main highway, we weren’t sure about turning around and giving up, nor were we sure if we were allowed to continue. After debating about knocking on the door of a nearby house and doing some research online we decided that it was OK to proceed assuming we carefully closed the gate behind us and didn’t let any sheet out. In the end three cars went through at the same time as us, so I guess it was OK! Another 10 minutes down the road we ended up at Grettislaug, two adorable hot pots with heated change rooms right beside the water. It was beautiful! In the summer there’s a cafe and gift shop (both closed for the season when we were there) as well as a camping ground. Online, the write up we had seen said that it was 300kr each, but when we got there a sign said it was 1500kr each. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much money with us and there was no one around to pay via visa, so we left all the cash we had an a few rolls of toilet paper (they were totally out and we had so many left from our stash!) as penance. This was the only time in the entire 6 nights we needed to use cash.
One other family came while we were there and looked around but didn’t go in, so we enjoyed our private dip and then retraced our route back through the sheep fields and along the highway to Varmahlið, where we stopped at an N1 gas station for lunch. While we were expecting hot dogs we ended up getting a surprisingly delicious buffet lunch, which included various meats, roast veggies, a salad bar, soup, and drink. We looked around the community store there, which was notable for the variety of products crammed into such a small space; if you were looking for horse shoes and chocolate and didn’t want to walk more than 10 feet, this as the store for you!
We also stopped at a small outdoor museum near Varmahlið, which featured several of the traditional sod-roofed and sided buildings from traditional Icelandic farms. While we couldn’t go in to any of the buildings and didn’t have the heart to call the number listed under a note saying ‘for entrance, call us’, we enjoyed seeing the traditional style of building with the fantastic bright colours and natural insulation.
As we continued south-west around the country we started to realize we could get into Reykjavik that night instead of stopping in Borganes, which was the original plan. (We just didn’t have time to get into the Western fjords on this trip. Next time!). I started looking around at what we could do for sleeping, and came across a blog post saying that IKEA had a campground. Sounded good to us, and we assumed it was similar to here in North America where most Walmarts, casinos, Sam’s Club etc will let you park in the parking lot. Some cheap meatballs also sounded good, so we punched IKEA into the car’s handy GPS and let us guide us towards the capital. We didn’t quite realize we were going to, but we ended up going through a huge tunnel on our way in to town.
The Hvalfjörður Tunnel takes about 40 minutes off the trip in to Reykjavik by letting you drive under a huge bay, transversing a distance of some 6 kilometres while 160-odd metres below sea level. It’s a toll road (luckily they take Visa, we were still out of cash after our hot pot experience) and we were a little confused to find it (“the GPS says we are going to drive under the water, that’s must not be…oh, no it is correct, there’s a tunnel,”) but it got us there quickly and safely. That said, as we were half way underneath I started looking up the tunnel and learned it got a ‘bad’ safety rating from a European agency in 2015, so…
However, water thus passed, we continued on our way through the many many roundabouts of Reykjavik before arriving at IKEA. We headed up to the cafe for a familiar meatballs meal and were pretty surprised to see how many people were there on a Friday night. Perhaps because it’s one of the cheapest places to eat a meal outside the house, it was absolutely heaving with people! Interestingly, it was also the only place in Iceland where we didn’t see a single English sign, anywhere in the whole store. Even the gas station where we had our buffet earlier in the day had had a hand written sign explaining the options, so I thought it was interesting that the big multinational had stuck to straight localization.
After dinner and a quick spin through the upstairs (we don’t have IKEA on the island where we live, so it’s always a novelty) we headed down to ask a manager about camping, and were given a polite but firm no, and told that they had never heard of such a thing as a campsite on the grounds. The woman did help us find a campground nearby, so we headed off to the Scout hostel a few km away, which was…entirely closed for the season. We were a little torn between parking in a deserted parking lot or pressing on for somewhere with service, and eventually drove into the centre of town and the Reykjavik Campsite, located right beside a major swimming pool and hockey rink complex. Though the 1900 Kr each seemed a little steep for a parking lot for our self-contained camper, we ended up booking in for two nights and took advantage of the common room with power and WiFi for computers, and the luxuriously-indoor washrooms. Other facilities included laundry, a shared kitchen, foosball, BBQs, and showers, as well as the option to purchase meals from the connected hostel.
The next morning was our final full day in Iceland and we spent it in Reykjavik, parking downtown and wandering around. It was cold and rainy, but the streets and cafes were bustling and and we enjoyed checking out all of the stores and beautiful Icelandic goods. There was a lovely Christmas store where we purchased an Icelandic horse ornament felted from Icelandic wool (we collect ornaments everywhere we go) and we also thoroughly enjoyed a walk through the Maritime museum, which was extremely interesting. Neither of us had heard of the cod wars before, and the exhibit on that was fascinating, as were all the artifacts assembled about life as a fisher person in Iceland. I also really enjoyed the fisher women temporary exhibit. Last time I was there I went to the Viking Museum and remember that being very very good as well, so it seems the quality of museum is high in Iceland.
Following the museum we warmed up with a quick Dunkin Donuts stop (it’s not a brand we have where we live, so we thought it was funny that we went so many thousands of km away to try it) and then continued on to what is (or at least probably should be) the most famous museum in Iceland, The Icelandic Phallological Museum, dedicated to penises from all species around the world. The passion (ha) project of a man and now his son, this museum welcomes over 12,000 people per year to examine its 200+ exhibits. While it doesn’t take too long to see, and the whole thing is vaguely disturbing, it’s also both fascinating and an impressive act of dedication to a passion. Worth the visit!
After our mini tour of Reykjavik it was…back to IKEA for dinner. Being at the end of a busy but amazing trip we were just looking for something known, cheap, and quick, and that fit the bill! Heading back to the campsite we were thinking about showers, but then decided to partake in a most Icelandic of activities and visit the swimming pool next door. What a cool experience! We have a nice swimming pool near our house as a result of hosting a previous Commonwealth Games, but this was pretty amazing. As we entered to pay, we were briefed by the man at the front about how to shower (naked, with soap, and thoroughly), how to avoid getting water in the change room, where to leave our shoes, and how the nifty RFID wrist bands worked. Not only did they scan you in to the pool complex itself, but when you were ready for a locker you could just touch the bracelet on to the locker to engage the door lock. Later on, if you forgot where you were there was a machine in the room which could scan your bracelet and display your locker number, and finally, to unlock your stuff you just re-scanned the bracelet.
Once showered, we met up outside (yes, outside) and surveyed the multitude of watery options available to us. From two huge main pools heated to a pleasant bath temperature (and complete with floating chess boards and other entertainments) to 6 or 8 hot pots of varying, well-posted temperatures, to a cooler lap pool, there were so many options. There was even a salt pool drawn from local therapeutic waters, and 5 degree celsius plunge pool (which I tried extremely briefly!). We had such a great time with what seemed like half of Reykjavik and a few hundred tourists (including some British school groups) all enjoying the amazing facility. Highly recommended!
Our final morning began with some repacking and organizing in the parking lot of Smáralind, the big mall between Reykjavik and the airport. We walked around, picked up three containers of gingerbread cookies from Bónus to remind us of our time in Iceland when we got home, ate some breakfast, chatted with a lovely lady who worked in a home and kitchen store, and were on the road around 11am, off to explore the Reykjanes peninsula. Our main goal was a lighthouse at the end of the peninsula, and while we did make it there, we didn’t have too much time to spare, so it was a very flying visit. There were some interesting volcanic landscapes which we drove past, but we didn’t have time to stop before heading back to the airport.
After a quick stop for fuel and to clean the car out, we returned to where we had begun a whirlwind 6 nights previously, the Rent.is/Go Iceland building. Even though it was mid-day and much busier than when we picked up, we were still able to return the car in just a few minutes and then, instead of waiting for a shuttle bus, just walked the few hundred metres to the airport, where we checked in and began the trip back to Canada.
Overall we had an amazing experience in Iceland, and found renting a camper was totally the way to go! We will definitely be back, and next time hope to spend closer to a month to allow for some longer hikes and deeper exploration. If you only have a brief amount of time, though, we found we were able to get around the Ring Road just fine in the time we had and probably could have done it in a day or two less if we REALLY had to. There are so many different types of landscape in Iceland that I would totally recommend the flying trip around the circle vs a more in-depth Golden Circle or similar route if you have 4-5+ days. Even if you don’t get to see EVERYTHING you would like to, you will get a great idea of what is in Iceland, and be able to build a list of what to see next time.
Takk fyrir for having us, Iceland!
Read more: An Iceland essay
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