Our holiday to Iceland didn’t really start as you’d expect. Me and my best friend Callum originally wanted to go to Mongolia but in the end decided we were not ready for the amount of planning it required just yet. At the same time we were both seeing pictures of Iceland appearing over social media and thought “WOW! How about we go there instead?” So we set off and got flights and then looked online at all different camper van rental sites. Rent.is seemed to offer the best deal so we went for that. We were unsure whether to go for the smaller 2 person van or the 3 person one but at the end of the holiday we were very glad to have chosen the 3 person van, so I’d recommend that if you’re staying for 10 days or more!
Day 1 – Around Reykjavik
Once we got our keys, we were extremely excited to start our adventure, so we set off to our first destination: Viking World. It was really interesting to get a bit of background historical knowledge before seeing the island and I definitely had too much fun trying to mask my Mediterranean origins behind a Viking outfit! Seeing a life-size longboat and standing in it was also an amazing experience for both of us, having also watched the Vikings TV series! Once we left Viking world we went to see the bridge between continents.
At this point it had started snowing and the wind was also so strong we were really struggling to walk against it down underneath the bridge, so we decided to take some quick pictures and move on before our faces froze! We then headed towards the Blue Lagoon just to see it. We thought it was a bit of a tourist trap so we decided not to bathe in it and I personally think that was a very good decision! I guess it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to bathe in the Blue Lagoon because “IT’S THE BLUE LAGOON!!!” then go for it, but if you’re just looking for a hot spring bathing experience, check out other free/less expensive bathing spots or swimming pools around the country…more on that later in the blog!!!
Anyway, after seeing a snowy Blue Lagoon we headed back up towards Reykjavik alongside the Kleifarvatn lake. We decided to stop here for a bit since the view was fantastic, the weather had somehow become sunny, and there was lots of snow! We then realised we hadn’t seen this much snow in the UK for a few years, so we just HAD to make a snowman! After embracing the cold it was time for some warmth, so we headed to the Seltún geothermal area and after that went up to Rekjavik.
We recommend parking in the Hallgrímskirkja car park, since it’s free and you have a nice view of the church! We decided to stay there for the night and this was where we first tested how it was sleeping in the van. First off the sleeping bags were incredibly warm and did an excellent job, so we felt like we could comfortably sleep with the heating off. The bed itself was very comfortable too and we both had a very good sleep!
We woke up extremely excited, as this was the day we would snorkel in Silfra! But I’m getting ahead of myself…the day actually started with us seeing the inside of Hallgrímskirkja. We then went to Café Loki just opposite for a hot chocolate and to try out the famous dried fish with butter, which was delicious! We then headed straight for Silfra, stopping to take the occasional photo of the fantastic scenery. We had some time to spare, so we made the small hike to Öxarárfoss. It is definitely worth seeing as the picture below shows! Time to now go and see what the water is hiding underneath! (no pun intended)
As we were getting our dry-suits on we were warned about how cold it would be in the water and I was terrified of losing my GoPro, but I was offered some excellent advice on how not to lose it! (There’s apparently 3 GoPros down there…) On submerging my head in the water I was in a different world. The visibility was amazing and I was able to see all the way down through the crack in the rock! It feels as if you’re magically floating on the top of a cliff face. I wanted to go under the water so I asked the guide and he was kind enough to empty some air out of the dry-suit so that I could dive a bit more easily, but it was still very difficult. If you want to do some free-diving, maybe ask if you can use some scuba diving weights before going into the water.
Once we got out we decided we wanted to try out a hot spring, so we headed towards the Hveragerði Hot Spring River trail. On the way there we stopped to see the Kerið crater, which offered wonderful sights. After almost losing one of my boots in a wet sloppy muddy area we finished the hike and arrived at the thermal area. The wind was strong and by the time we were ready to go in the water we couldn’t feel our toes! It really was worth it though.
Bathing in some warm water with freezing cold surroundings and the amazing view of sunset in the mountains made this an unforgettable experience! We also decided to then do some Finnish style rolling in the snow…not a pleasant experience but returning to the warmth after was!!! Getting out and changed again was a very painful process and it took all the way until we reached our next location: the Raufarhólshellir lava tube, for my feet to warm up properly again.
We had seen online that the lava tube was open to anyone if you had your own torch, so we decided to check the area out. On arrival we saw a notice saying that there was now access only via tour guides. Disappointed, we had a look from the outside and went to see the entrance. It was barred by a large wooden barrier with a padlock. On closer inspection, we noticed that the hinge had been removed by someone, making the cave accessible.
The temptation was too great so we decided to take a peek inside. The footing was very icy and treacherous but what we saw was amazing. Ice had formed beautiful small statues on the rocks and on the sides of the wall the remnants of old lava can clearly be seen! Happy with what we saw, we went back out, cooked a nice fish soup and went to bed ready for day 3!
Day 3 – The Golden Circle
This was a very explosive day, as we started by going to see some geysers! We first saw Geysir, and we would advise you to read signs properly! We though this one was meant to erupt every 10 minutes but it actually only erupts after earthquakes! Did we stand around for a good 30 minutes staring at it? Yes of course we did! We then moved on to the one that does erupt every 8-10 minutes! Now that was an amazing spectacle! We decided to wait until it erupted a second time but the first one was the tallest. Speaking of tall, up next is Gullfoss!!!
Nature never ceases to amaze in this country, and seeing this waterfall was no different. I was told I would get bored of waterfalls by the end of the trip, but honestly they were all unique in their own way and the noise they make always makes me feel small and in awe of nature. Wanting to see yet more waterfalls, we headed to Stöng farm to then hike up to Gjáin.
Unfortunately we could not find any path. We were not sure if it was because of all the snow but there were no markers or sign. The farm was also closed outside of the summer months so we could not see that either. We sadly left and headed towards Hella to stay there for the night. We have one word of advice for future travelers. If you are doing the same route as us, maps will tell you to keep going round and back down via route 26. It is actually faster going back the way you came, as route 26 is a very badly kept gravel road, so it takes much longer going back towards the coast on this road!
Day 4 – Waterfalls
Having camped next to Keldur farm, that was the first thing we went to see. Unfortunately, this was also closed at this time of year so we could only walk around the outside. After this we went to see…can you guess? Another waterfall! This one was called Seljalandsfoss. This was one of the coolest waterfalls to see, since there was a path taking you behind it too! However, make sure you wear waterproofs, as the walk gets you completely soaked. We decided that we weren’t wet enough, so we decided to go to another hot spring.
We went for the scenic pool at Seljavellir. This hot spring was in the form of a 25m pool, so there was plenty of room to swim around in. It was especially nice sitting right next to the pipe where the hot water came from and enjoying the surrounding view. There was still a lot we had planned for this day and so we reluctantly got out and continued our journey to Skógafoss. This was another big one, but not as impressive as Gullfoss or Seljalandsfoss in my opinion. To change scenery, we moved closer to the coast to the flat, black and desert landscape to go and see a plane wreck we had seen in the guidebook we had. It said that the only way to find it was via a local guide or knowing the exact GPS coordinates, so we weren’t expecting the big car park with a very well-marked path leading all the way to the wreck! It was nice to see, but we were a bit disappointed at how crowded it was, since we were expecting to be one of the few people to know about it.
The walk back was also very long, but we were excited to see the arch and black sand beach at Dýrhólaey!!! This place was absolutely stunning! The lava looked like it was sculpted by someone, and the massive black beach was jaw dropping. We took a lot of great pictures, and I couldn’t resist climbing the basalt columns! We liked that place so much we decided to camp nearby next to a cave said to have been used by Vikings in local gatherings.
Day 5 – Jökulsárlón
This is another day we were mega excited about! We would both be seeing icebergs and glaciers for the very first time in our lives. Not before Callum dropped his camera lens in the van! We rummaged around the van for a long time but it was as if an invisible vacuum cleaner had sucked it up! Not to worry, it will appear again on a later date, but for now at least he had a spare. On the way to the glacier lagoon we briefly stopped to see Systrafoss and Foss á Siðu, along with the basalt “church floor”.
After all the basalt columns we had seen, this was still very beautiful and surprising! On reaching the Glacier lagoons (there is a smaller one before the big, famous one), there were very low clouds but since we were planning to camp there we waited for the clouds to clear and the amazing view behind the lagoon opened up to reveal the true beauty of the place! The scenery is so jaw-dropping that the background looked like it must be CGI!!! We walked around and admired the view for a long time before retiring to the van for the night to await the next day.
Day 6 – Glacier hiking
GLACIER HIKING!!! Another super exciting day. After seeing the glaciers from a distance, today we would actually be setting foot on these giant rivers of ice! We also learned that the particular glacier we walked on was also a filmset for both Interstellar and Game of Thrones. And so we set off with the tour guides, ice axes and crampons in had, ready to explore! One does not realise the size of these things until you are actually standing on it! It’s huge!!! The cracks that seemed so small from a distance are in fact the size of a small cliff side. Hidden traps lie everywhere, from cracks in the ice to deep holes carved by meltwater, ready to catch the un-prepared walker.
The two hours went by very quickly, but we were left incredibly satisfied with our experience. We originally wanted to do the ice climbing tour, but it was fully booked 3 days before, so make sure to book far in advance! After the Glacier, it was time to continue heading East.
We drove past the lagoons again and headed towards Höfn. Before stopping there we checked out the Hoffell hot tubs. This is pretty much the only place you’ll need cash in Iceland, as it costs 500 krónur and there’s only a small box to put the cash in. Here there are 5 tubs to choose from. 4 of the tubs are in the low 20s (Celcius) so they are warm but not hot. The tub we stayed in the entire time we were there was the only hot one at just over 40 degrees. This was the first thermal area we had stayed in Iceland that had a temperature this hot, and it felt amazing!!! We would definitly recommend coming here. We then read that Höfn was famous for its langoustines, so we went to a Drive thru place on the harbour recommended by the guidebook to get some langoustine sandwiches. We envied locals there as they were delicious!!! We drove a bit further east and stopped in between Höfn and Djúpivogur for the night.
Day 7 – East Iceland
The first thing we did on setting off was stopping at Djúpavogskörin. This is a hot tub that is not sign posted at all. Once you type in the place on google maps, we found it by turning into a dirt road roughly next to the GPS coordinate. We then walked around to find it. The GoPro video has a quick clip of how to find it. This was the best hot tub so far. It was well sized, the view was amazing, and it was at a hot 44 degrees.
We relaxed there for the first part of the morning before driving up the Eastern fjords towards Egilsstaðir. We then drove around Lagarfljót and stopped on the South western side to see Hengifoss. This waterfall stood out as it flowed over more of the hexagonal basalt columns! We then decided we wanted to drive over a fjord and so drove over the mountain pass from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður.
The town was very pretty and it felt quite claustrophobic to be surrounded by high mountains on 3 sides and the sea on the fourth! Now I know why all the locals have 4x4s! We then drove back across and headed West across snowy landscapes towards lake Mývatn. The arctic surroundings were so beautiful we decided to camp here for the night, at junction between route 1 and 85. There was even a stream from which we topped up all our water from. This water stayed cold for the rest of the trip!
Day 8 – Mývatn
We woke up with some very sunny weather today (finally) and were hoping to get some good views of Dettifoss. On the drive there we drove through what seemed to be an open desert of diamonds. The sun was reflecting it’s light on thousands of snow crystals on the ground that twinkled as we drove past them. The pictures and videos we took of the scenery really don’t do it justice so you have to experience this beauty for yourself in person!
By lunchtime we had crossed the snowy landscapes and reached the lake Mývatn area. We started of by seeing the Hverir geothermal zone and climbed the ridge to have an amazing 360 degree view of the surroundings. It really felt like we were on top of the world, even though the ridge wasn’t actually that high! We were also interested in visiting the geothermal powerplant across the road but it’s only open to visitors in the summer months, so we decided to hike up to see some craters around there.
Our next stop was another Game of Thrones filming location: Grjótagjá thermal pools. You can’t bathe in them but they would be a bit too hot anyway I think. Luckily there’s a cooler, legal option Stóragjá. The water here is warm, deep and spacious, allowing for comfortable swimming. However, the entry point is narrow and via rope (not a ladder as it says online). It’s on the GoPro video so you can see what it’s like!
Warmed up from the bath we headed south to see the Dimmuborgir lava fields, and once this was done decided to bathe in the beautiful Mývatn thermal baths. These are pretty much exactly the same as the Blue lagoon, except it’s a bit smaller, less crowded, cheaper and you don’t need to book in advance. This was a very relaxing experience, especially since there were showers here too and we could get changed in a warm environment rather than outside in the biting wind! Feeling recharged and refreshed, we drove up North to camp in Húsavík in preparation for some whale watching the next day!
Day 9 – Whale Watching
We were on the boat, and we were super excited at the chance of seeing a whale! 10 minutes went by. Nothing. 20 minutes went by. Nothing. 30 minutes went by. Nothing. Then we saw it. What looked like a small geyser far off in the distance. The captain was very excited and told the boat to chase after it. Once we got to the location another spray appeared, this time back towards Húsavík. Again the boat gave chase.
Finally it appeared. Gracefully, it emerged out of the water to blow out its hair. It was still far off but I finally saw one. I saw a whale!!! We then got told we were a lucky 1% of people, since this was no ordinary whale. This was a blue whale! It later emerged much closer to the boat, and decided to show off its tail. Again we were told this was a rare event for a blue whale, so we were then incredibly surprised to see the whale do it again, this time even closer to the boat!!!
What an amazing experience. It still feels like yesterday every time I think about it! Satisfied with our experience, we devoured a delicious lobster burger in the restaurant to the left of the ticket office as you come out. This restaurant is known for these burgers, so make sure to try them! We then drove back South and West and went to see the famous Goðafoss waterfall. This waterfall was described as being one of the most spectacular in Iceland. Yes it is impressive, but waterfalls like Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss were more impressive to me personally. We camped near Goðafoss that night, since camping at the waterfall itself is not permitted. We still had a distant view of it, which was nice!
Day 10 – Akureyri
Online, we had found that south of Akureyri was a café that served fresh produce from its cattle called Kaffi Kú. We were originally going to have a small pastry and a hot chocolate but we couldn’t resist trying the Goulash. The beef was delicious and the cream on the hot chocolate was also particularly tasty!
For an extra 300 kronar we could also go down to see the cows, and so we did! They seemed to be obsessed with trying to lick us, and an internet search done later informed us that it was because the cows believe we are calves. We also couldn’t resist the temptation to buy some burgers from there to have for dinner that night!
On we drove towards the Westfjords, and on the way took a small detour to see the sea stack at Hvítserkur. Be careful driving here, as the gravel road on 711 is quite treacherous. The drive was very scenic and we ended up camping just south of Hólmavík.
Days 11-12 – The Westfjords
These next couple of days were mainly driving around the Westfjords so I’ll just point out the main highlights. We saw a group of seals very closeup. There’s even a sign in the area and a box with binoculars! These are on route 61 going west from Hotel Reykjanes. We also got to play around with some baby arctic foxes in Súðavík, which were adorable. Unfortunately, they have a very sad story as they were orphans found in the wild but it’s great that they are now being looked after! A word of warning about the road around the Westfjords. It is mostly kept very well and the driving is smooth but the road over the mountains south of Þingeyri can be quite treacherous, so find out in advance the conditions of this road before driving the Westfjords.
We got stuck in the snow there and a helpful local in a 4×4 towed us out, and we then had to drive all the way back where we came from to rejoin Route 1, as there are no other roads there! Another exciting thing we did was to try and lift some lifting stones. We saw that the 23kg stone was called the Weakling!!! The stones weren’t labelled so all I can say is I managed to lift the second lightest one, which felt like the 57kg? I will never know if I qualify to go out fishing with Vikings!!!
We managed to drive all the way back down and camped next to a scenic stream roughly 20 miles south of Reykjavík. The adventurous part of the holiday was now over as the next day would be spent seeing sights in the capital and relaxing.
Day 13: The last day
The morning was spent going to the National Museum. While it was a nice museum, we were disappointed at how much it costs. For 2000 krónur there are just basic exhibitions in about the history of Iceland. By contrast the British museum in London has a huge collection from all over the world and it has free entry! If you want to save money, you’d get the same information by googling the history of Iceland but if you’d still like to see it, nothing is stopping you!
We then had a quick lunch before heading to a swimming pool to have a last relaxing experience in Iceland. We went to the Laugardalslaug pool and we would highly recommend it. There is a selection of hot tubs all at different temperatures, a sea water thermal pool at 40 degrees, an Olympic sized heated pool, a steam room and an ice bath at 4-8 degrees! All for just under 1000 krónur! I wish they had pools like that back in the UK!!! We then decided to have a big dinner and ate out at the all you can eat seafood buffet called Sjávarbarinn. Again we would highly recommend this place. The seafood was all of excellent quality and the dips were amazing too. Normally buffet quality food is not as great as a la carte but this place is an exception! We ended the day by camping at the Rent.is car park before saying goodbye to our trusty camper van the next day! Thank you for giving us an unforgettable experience here in Iceland!!!
P.S. I will be back as glacier cave exploring is only in winter and we didn’t get a chance to see auroras!