Our Icelandic Journey
We arrived at Keflavik airport ahead of schedule by 30 mins, which actually ended up being good because we had a chance to wander the airport and find some food. We took WOW air and got a great deal during a flash sale, so keep an eye out! We were starving because it was 5:00 in the morning in Iceland and 24:00 in New York City and we hadn’t eaten dinner before we left. The airport does not have a lot of food or snack options for people arriving, some stores won’t even sell you food unless you are on a departing flight, so be prepared. We went to eat dinner/breakfast at the only option: a 10/11 (exactly like 7/11 if you are from America) and Dunkin Donuts (obviously this is very well known everywhere!). At the 10/11 we got our international Siminn card to be able to use our phones (TIP: make SURE whatever international SIM card you choose works; ours did not).
Fresh-faced off the plane and ready to begin the adventure!
We called Rent.is before our pick up time of 9:00 and, thankfully, we got to pick up our camper van ahead of schedule, giving us more time to travel and explore. The staff at Rent.is was extremely courteous, friendly, and clear in describing the insurance options and car features. The camper came fully loaded with GPS, a mini-stove, water, chairs, a table, dishes, sleeping bags, pillows and Wi-Fi! Needless to say, we were very happy with our campervan rental. (TIP: Get full coverage on insurance if you plan on traveling the Ring Road and definitely if you plan on visiting the interior – lots of gravel roads. The extra price for full coverage is worth the peace of mind).
Our super-duper campervan from Rent.is! And some trusty travel tips in case you miss them.
We got started on the road to our first destination, Kerið Volcanic Crater. On our way to the crater we noticed how vastly different the landscape in Iceland is. It’s really like driving on another planet! Rolling green hills, lava fields, mountains, and more. In retrospect, we wondered, we didn’t see any trees. Are there trees in Iceland? Kerið was one of the top destinations for us to see because the photos of it were just so breathtaking due to the lake that has formed in it and the beautiful colors alongside of the crater. We even got to walk down to the lake that formed in it. It was truly a spectacular first site to see!
Kerið Volcanic Crater
Next, we went to the Bónus Market located in the Selfoss region of Iceland. Shopping here was much different than we expected. There are very few familiar brands and LOTS of meat/fish. We are vegetarian and had heard ahead of time that most of the country’s specialties revolved around meat and fish, so we weren’t too confident we would find vegetarian options. However, we were quickly proved wrong when we discovered a frozen veggie substitute meat section with all kinds of options including Linda McCartney’s line of vegan products (which we never knew existed). We even found Tofu! Since Bónus is known as the bargain shopping center we figured this is where we would stock up (and you should too!). Also, bring your own bags if you can, they charge in Iceland for bags (only 20 kr though)!
There are some Bónus markets in Reykjavik and a couple along Route 1. The best things to buy would be canned goods, pasta, soups, peanut butter and jelly, bread, cereal and some milk. TIP: We did not have a can opener so we could not get canned items that could not be popped open (bring a small one if you can). Since the campervan comes with a pretty sizable cooler, we got two things of soy milk, frozen veggies, frozen veggie burgers, and even two things of tofu! All fit comfortably in the cooler. If you eat meat, we imagine you’d be able to fit that as well.
Next, we headed to Selfoss to see the stunning Seljalandsfoss waterfall. As we approached this rather large plateau-style mountain, we could see this magnificent white stream hurdling over the top of it in the distance. We were pretty sure this was the waterfall we came to see. When we got closer, this was confirmed, but it was even more beautiful than we had imagined or from what we had seen in photos. We approached the waterfall area with no idea what we were in store for. This stunning waterfall falls 65 m over the ledge of the mountain creating quite a splash giving us a very wet experience. TIP: High winds misted tourist so bring a raincoat or poncho because there is an adventure to be had here; you are able to go behind the waterfall and hike about it. We somehow saw people on top of the mountain where it originated too, which we are still unsure how it was achieved. Due to our cameras and phones, and desire to stay somewhat dry, we didn’t do that, but we left with some incredible photos and memories!
Seljaladsfoss and us.
Travelling east from Seljalandsfoss, Iceland has many old houses buried among the hills.
Pictured are the old houses of Drangshlíð 2.
After our Seljalandsfoss adventure we trekked over to Skógafoss, which happened to be even more spectacular than Seljalandsfoss (in our opinion). While the weather was a bit gloomy and cold at the previous waterfall, the sun blessed this space and warmed the atmosphere. This stunning, expansive waterfall had a more powerful and foreboding feel to it. The sun hit the water streams in such a way that two rainbows formed at the bottom where the water hit the river, giving it an absolutely magical feel. We were able to get very close (and wet) to take pictures (but it was totally worth it! See pictures below). There is also a very steep staircase to the top of the waterfall where you can look down the mountain and out over an expansive landscape. There is even a ledge you can walk right out over the waterfall (Chris has a fear of heights and almost fainted but we got him onto the ledge for some pictures). The sight was magnificent from up top overlooking the valley. The breeze and the sun were just perfect. After spending time here, we headed back down to the mountain and made our way to the van.
Left: Jesse striking a pose (I mean there was a rainbow! I couldn’t resist!) Right: Skógafoss
Left: Ledge over Skógafoss, don’t look down!
Right: View from atop the mountain, Chris looking pensive.
At this point we were very hungry so we decided to pull off on the road some ways from Skógafoss and cook our first meal in the back of the camper. Cooking was quite interesting as we had never used a mini stove out of the back of a van before. Nevertheless, we were able to make some pretty mean veggie burgers and baked beans with ease and filled up before our next adventure!
Left: Beach by Dýrhólaey. Right: Hálsanefshellir basalt columns
Next, we headed towards Dýrhólaey, a huge rock formation with an arch that formed in the ocean. The views of the rock formations were stunning but the wind was very high at this point making it hard to really view them. So, we made our way over to the Reynisfjara black sand beach. Like the name says, it is truly black sand. The beach itself was not all that interesting, although beautiful, but the mountainous rock formations behind it were other-worldly with their staggering, tile-like composition and basalt columns.
Vík Black Sand Beach
By this time it was nearing 22:00, but it was still light out so we decided to make one more long journey to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Despite the long drive, the chance to see this at sunset was INCREDIBLE! The glaciers formed in this lagoon were out of this world and set against the backdrop of a setting so stunning it was a unique experience different than any we had seen. It was like being able to dabble with some angelic spirit that one only imagines but never sees. The experience was absolutely the perfect way to end day one before we moved our Rent.is camper van across the road to the glacial beach, where we prepared and parked it overnight to sleep; sweet dreams were next.
Jökulsárlón, glacial lagoon and a kiss good night, time for bed.
On day 2 we woke up, made ourselves some breakfast and coffee in our camper van on the lagoon side of the street (across from the beach). Despite being a little groggy, we went down to take a closer look at the glaciers (don’t you feel like the first night traveling anywhere it’s tough to sleep?). The glaciers were so intricate and peaceful; we even witnessed a large piece break off of one and then float down the small opening to the ocean. We then walked over to the ocean side, better known as diamond beach. Scattered about were both small and large pieces of glacier, like diamonds of mother earth upon a black sand background. They were truly magnificent and wondrous, slowly disintegrating, drip by drip, over decades; their beauty and poise melting into their habitat.
After admiring Diamond Beach for a bit, we got started on our next driving adventure towards Höfn City, an Icelandic fishing town, located in the southeast of Iceland. We arrived to the city in our Rent.is camper van about an hour after leaving the Glacier Lagoon and stopped to fill up on gas and use the Wi-Fi to upload some of our amazing pictures. There are N1 gas stations almost everywhere but Rent.is gave us a special key card to get a discount at any OB gas station, and even get a free cup of coffee there! How awesome is that? We drove around the town for a bit and were surprised by how charming and quaint it was. Shortly after arriving in Höfn, we started on our way towards Djúpivogur, which was another small city on the east of Iceland. We got to see eggin í Gleðivík, which was an artistic exhibit of stone eggs dedicated to each of the birds that inhabit Iceland—pretty neat! Due to it being rainy and overcast we didn’t spend much time walking around the city and started to make our way up the east coast towards Dettifoss and Selfoss.
Landscape in the East of Iceland
Driving to North Iceland on the Ring road
Always time for a fun pit stop and a picture
We arrived around 21:00 and quickly started our short hike upon an alien landscape to Dettifoss waterfall. While it was overcast and misting a bit, the thunderous roar, and magnificent beauty of the falls made up for the lackluster weather. The area near the edge of the cliff surround the falls was muddy and slippery and some areas had no rope or guard rails to keep people from falling; this was a little scary, but obviously we kept a safe distance.
After admiring Dettifoss for a bit, we headed over to Selfoss, which was about a 7-minute walk from Dettifoss. These falls were equally magnificent, but a bit further out of range as you’ll see in our pictures. After spending about 30 minutes at these falls we started to make our way towards Lake Mývatn.
Panoramic: Selfoss in the distance on the right.
We arrived in Mývatn around 23:00 and began to look for a space to park our camper van, but we noticed that several spaces said no overnight camping. Prior to coming on this trip, we had read that you could park and camp overnight in any space off the side of the road, but later read that this was not the case anymore; it is in fact illegal to camp anywhere except a camping site with a camper van. That being said, we began to drive around looking for a campsite. While driving, we came upon some geysers and hot springs just outside of Mývatn. It was truly a sight to be seen as we had not expected to see the geysers until later in our trip. The air was thick with the smell of sulfur as water bubbled up from the deep.
We stopped and took a few pictures and then headed further into Mývatn where we found a campsite, Vogar. The reception was closed unfortunately, but we had no choice but to camp here without parking illegally. We decided to write a note and explain that we got there late but would pay in the morning. We were slightly nervous but we made sure to be quiet and get our camper ready for sleep after another very long day!
Mývatn Natural Geothermal Springs
We woke super early because we were worried about staying in the campsite without having spoken with the attending staff. However, they were very kind about it and we were able to pay for our stay with no issues. They probably would have let us just stay another night, but we were eager to continue on our adventure.
TIP: Check when campsites close so as to arrive early, from the reviews it seemed they had a kitchen and some other facilities that could be used.
They also have a pizzeria on site and it was so nice to finally take a hot shower and wash up. As we left we found Björk! Just kidding. Björk was a road name that is pretty common in Iceland. Sadly we did not find Björk the singer. Next, we made our way towards Goðafoss waterfall. This was one of the more magnificent, sprawling, and breathtaking waterfalls that we saw. This waterfall you could get right up close to and walk right along the water. The wind and cold spray from the water cut our visit a bit short.
We continued heading along the north toward Akyeuri. The long distance driving we were driving was starting to kick-in and we started to get sleepy. Additionally, it was too windy out to stop anywhere to boil water for coffee.
TIP: Wherever you camp or can find a good place to cook, do it! Conditions change fast and rough winds sometimes make it hard to keep the flame on while standing outside.
We had to pull off the road and take a brief nap to refresh ourselves. We continued on with more energy and boom! All of a sudden, a snowstorm hit and we were driving through white out conditions. We could barely see the road in front of us!
Luckily, a lone car ahead guided our way onward. And then again, just like that, the conditions cleared and we were back to wide open spaces, rolling hills, huge mountains, and desolate lava landscapes that reached as far as the eye could see. On we went until we reached Akyeuri. Now, we are New York City people, and after two days of “roughing it” getting to a city was a relief. We filled up our water at an N1. All gas stations have water hoses for campervans and bathrooms if need be. Be nice and try to buy something especially if using bathroom. Or get gas there.
We attempted to cook, but again it was too windy. We gave in and found a restaurant Hamborgarafabrikkan to sit down and have a meal. This city was great and had Thai food and a lot of food options. Our restaurant even had vegan options, which we greatly appreciated. Don’t expect to get any meal for under $25 per dish. We left in a good mood after a full meal and hit the road again.
There were a bunch of sites in the far northwest we wanted to see such as Kirkjufell, but we had limited time and it was a couple hours or more off of Route 1. So instead, we started for the Golden Circle and on the way decided to go to Hraunfossar. I know, another waterfall! But it was one of the nicer waterfalls we observed on our journey. From our learning experience the previous night, we decided to find a campsite early and found a great one with a good review in Húsafell.
The campsite had many different roads leading off of this main road, almost like a small cultish village. There was no place to stop in the front to pay or get info. We did see some vans, but no people walking around. We pulled up to a hotel that was connected to the camper site and went in to inquire. A lovely woman inside said that the campsite was closed, but no fear, we were in luck! The camper site opens at the end of May, but she said we were welcome to stay and use hotel bathrooms, pool, and shower in the morning. It was a beautiful hotel.
We graciously retired to our own little nook in the campsite and had a wonderful rested night, not worried about anyone bothering us for being there without permission! Additionally, we were finally able to cook without too much wind. We fell asleep in good spirits.
The Expert Chef.
We woke up the next day refreshed bright and early at 8:00! Unfortunately, we misunderstood the concierge and the pool didn’t open until 13:00 so we cleaned up a bit in the bathroom, made some breakfast, and headed out to the Golden Circle. First stop was Þingvellir national park (The “Þ” is pronounced “TH” for your information). There are a bunch of parking lots here and different excursions to go on. We were just grateful to get out of the car and stretch our legs and do some walking/hiking about. After all, we DID buy hiking shoes for a reason! We hiked about and went to see Öxaráfoss, another waterfall, snapped a pic and moved on. We were
most interested in seeing Silfra which was said to be the tectonic plates shift. They actually have scuba diving and snorkeling for only 1000 isk, I believe, here as well. It was rather cold and we hadn’t planned this but the water was crystal clear and looked like a lot of fun for those interested in this!
Top left: Chris with Silfa in the background;
Top right: mountains on the way to Þingvellir; Bottom: Öxaráfoss
Next up along the Golden Circle was Geyser. We arrived to a packed attraction site! The site was a great stopover as it had a restaurant, ice cream shop, souvenir shop, and bathrooms. We made our way over to the place where all the hot springs were and saw many people gathered, poised around one particular Geyser, Strokkur Geyser. We didn’t understand why at first and made our way around to all the other smaller ones which looked just like bubbling water baths, then, all of a sudden, a giant spout shot out behind us and we realized everyone was waiting for Strokkur to erupt. We quickly made our way back to the geyser and stood there with our cameras out and ready for almost 15 minutes, fingers freezing in the 30mph wind until finally it erupted and we snapped a shot. It was worth it even though our hands were numb. Apparently they can take 30 minutes to an hour between eruptions! Wear warm gloves that in colder weather.
Left: Strokkur Geyser; Right: Smaller Geyser
We were glad to get back into our campervan, blasted the heat, and we headed towards Gullfoss waterfall. The wind was simply not settling down and when we got to this waterfall people were literally being blown backwards. We fought against the wind so hard to take a pic, we felt like we could have performed the Michael Jackson lean, almost better than him, the wind was so strong. We got a picture, holding onto our phone and camera for dear life and quickly left, laughing at how strong the wind was, and all the tourists being blown about like paper bags in a rough wind.
After that we head to the city of Reykjavik to stop and see the incredible Hallgrímskirkja Church located very close to where our AirBnB was. The church’s architecture was absolutely magnificent and modeled after the natural basalt columns that line Vik Beach. The inside of the church was even more stellar with it’s unique stained glass and various art fixtures.
Finally, we headed to Mosskógar camping site located 28.9km outside of Reykjavik to crash for the night!
Final night in our Go Iceland camper van
We got up early, as usual, on our Icelandic adventure in the Mosskógar camping site we crashed in for $15 USD each. The site had outdoor showers which, in summer, we imagine would have been quite lovely, but with the nippy morning air, were definitely an experience. Woke us right up! It was a bright and sunny day (at least for an hour) but as they say in Iceland–“If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” We had a lot on the schedule for today as it was our last day in the camper van. However, before we turned in the camper van we had one last stop–The Blue Lagoon!! We were more than excited to finally get to relax after a long 1369-mile journey in and around Iceland. We made our last meal from the camper van then headed out and towards the Blue Lagoon!
After driving for 45 mins through mountains and lava fields on the main road we arrived at the destination. It became a windy, overcast day but that’s the norm in Iceland so we didn’t fret much. The Blue Lagoon is located to the far south west of the island and perfectly situated in between lava fields and a magnificent volcanic landscape.
We swiftly made our way to the entrance and lined up to get in. We were given a wristband to use while in the pool for purchases and directed to the locker where we needed to shower before getting into the lagoon. We purchased a standard ticket which simply allowed us entry and a silica mud mask. For more money you can get a glass a champagne, or robe, but we felt this standard package was more than sufficient. We changed into our bathing suits, after first showering in public naked! It is tradition in Iceland for any public pool or space such a Blue Lagoon to shower naked and they even have guards that police. They pride their waters on being extremely clean, so you better be too! Shortly after and headed down to the lagoon. Stepping outside was quite uncomfortable as all we had was our bathing suit and we were pitted against strong, cold winds that pierced our skin. Thankfully the door and the lagoon were only about 30 feet apart.
The first time we submerged was truly spine-tingling! The cloudy, blue water had some very warm spots and some lukewarm spots. We hunted for those really hot spots and thankfully found more than a few. After relaxing and taking photos for a bit we headed over to the Silica Mud Mask bar where we applied the mud to our faces (and Jesse to his entire body). After reveling in the silica mud mask for about 10 minutes we wiped it off and revealed a completely new layer of skin (ha, okay so that’s a lie)!
After spending about 2 and a half hours in the lagoon we were nicely pruned up and ready to head out to get into our AirBnB in Reykjavik. But first we made a stop to buy more items from the market and our $50 bottle of Smirnoff Vodka (no, not the big one).
TIP: Drinking in Iceland at the bars is expensive so most people pregame at home until almost 24:00 before going out so stock up at one the liquor stores!
After that we headed over to the AirBnB to unload the van before bringing the van back to the car rental place. When we arrived, we took a quick look at the cute little apt we got right in the center of the city next to everything we wanted to see and experience. The studio apartment was very different for us after having spent 5 days and 4 nights in our cozy little campervan! Oddly, we really missed our Rent.is camper van, it was just such an incredible experience!
We headed out to return our car at the rental place thinking this would be pretty easy; wrong! The place we were directed to go was shut down and google had not updated this. We had to ask several people before finding the actual place. It was nerve wracking because we had a short window of time to return the car. Thank god, we got it there on time despite being frantic for about 20 minutes. They were nice enough to let us to return it at a different location than the original pick up, but make sure you know exactly where the drop off is!
Read more: Camper van pickup & dropoff
After returning the car we decided to just walk back to our AirBnB even though it was a good 50-minute walk. We stopped to get Mexican food for dinner at a place called Culiacan. The food was pretty decent but expensive like many restaurants on the island but they had vegan options again!
We made our way back to the apt to rest up a bit before our first night out in Reykjavik but, due to the excitement not much rest was achieved just like the rest of our trip! We had our first pre-game in Reykjavik and then headed out to the local bars including a gay one called Kiki Queer Bar and one called Lebowski Bar (dedicated to the movie). Both were very cute and. We were surprised to learn that most people do not go out until 24:00-1:00. The nightlife was surprisingly very good and lively. Everyone was so nice too and we got approached by several new people and even made some new friends! Despite the drinks being $15 USD a piece we managed to have a good time and even ran back to our apartment to drink a little more in between bar runs. We definitely enjoyed the bar scene and highly recommend Kiki Queer Bar and Lebowski Bar.
Try as we might to stay out as late as the Iceland party goers, we had to retire and get some sleep. Today we woke around 10:00 eager to wander the city and see what cultural things it had to offer. Our first stop was the Phallological Museum of Iceland. We think the idea behind it made us interested and it was nearly all tour books as a must see. So, we did. We saw, and we think we definitely saw enough. We kept thinking, maybe we shouldn’t have eaten just before doing this. Severed genitalia of all kinds of mammals sitting in formaldehyde; kind of unpleasant, yet interesting in its own way. The museum did not feature human male’s member and we learned that even compared with a dog, male genitalia are considered the smallest, which was surprising.
The day was gorgeous outside and was frankly the best weather we had seen our whole trip! The sun was out, tourists and natives were walking the streets, people were sitting out and having a beer or glass of wine and there was much people watching to be done. We roamed down the main street and made our way to the most non-touristy and completely American outpost Dunkin’ Donuts, celebrate! We were slightly disappointed as they do not have any artificial sweeteners in Iceland it seems. Apparently, Americans are addicted to them. What a black-market item when in Iceland!
We sipped our mocha latte on our way over to Harpa positioned near the water. It was open to the public to come in, lounge, sleep (yes, some people were sleeping), have a drink (daytime happy hour), talk, and ponder life. We took a tour of the architecture and snapped some photos and then headed out to the city again.
Next, we went to the Art Museum which was a having a senior student presentation of all their art pieces. This again was very interesting and a social space, the rooms were filled with people, laughing, discussing, admiring. It was a great energy and the art felt alive because of it. When you think of museums typically, you often think of a quiet, enclosed space to view masterpieces. The building itself mixed inside and outside exhibits, even in its courtyard and promoted an open sense of free expression among the modern art pieces on display.
After exploring a bit more we decided we wanted to get a drink outside somewhere and enjoy the lovely weather. We ended up going to a place called Vegamot. We ordered two margaritas and they almost fell off their chair. We could tell immediately they did not know what they were doing and we even saw the bartender look up how to make one on his phone! We were expecting catastrophe, but the margaritas were actually very good! After having our Icelandic margaritas, we went to have a vegan dinner at Glo. The food was good here, nothing spectacular and portions were kind of small but don’t skip the sauces! They are delicious and the hummus as well.
After that, we went back to our cozy little studio and started to prepare for EUROVISION at Kiki Queer Bar. Prior to going to the bar, we researched some of the contestants and then listened to a few. Okay, so we’re definitely Americanized because we were not too keen on any of the singers in particular. Despite that, we went over to Kiki to join the crowd. We grabbed seats and watched the competition but we got there too late so it wasn’t a singing competition just judges talking about the contestants and numbers pouring in from each European country. We had quite enough of that and decided to hit up the rest of the bar circuit and meet new people, of which we met many!
Back to the US for us! We got up early and walked to the bus to take us to the airport. It was sad to leave Iceland but our trip was truly one of the most magical and memorable trips we’ve ever had and we will certainly return!
Read more: Icelandic adventure on wheels
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