Sunshine and Glaciers
If you want to explore Iceland, our advice is that you do it in a camper van.
Honestly, it is the perfect way to travel the legendary Route 1 (also known as the ring road). Firstly, you have the flexibility to go wherever you want to in the whole country. And then to change your mind and go somewhere else (as long as it’s close to one of the campsites along this route, but there are so many that this isn’t much of a limiting factor).
This freedom will leave you feeling smugly superior every time you pass a tour bus doing a rushed day trip from Reykjavik.
Secondly, you have your temporary home with you at all times, which is great for anytime naps, especially after late nights sightseeing under the midnight sun have left you a little tired.
And, finally, nothing quite beats cooking your evening meal on a gas stove in a green field, while in the next field over Icelandic horses frolic through rays of the lowering sun, all against a stupendously beautiful mountain backdrop. #Awesome!
So beautiful, your eyes will feel assaulted
If you are planning a trip to Iceland, you will have seen the photos and will already know this: it is beautiful. And excuse me for being cheesy for a second, but I mean beaut-i-FULL, as in overflowing with awe-inspiring sights wherever you look. Your senses will become overloaded, your eyes will twitch as you struggle to decide where to look, your camera finger will ache, and you will feel utterly incapable of catching what you are seeing in a simple, 2D photograph… It will be wonderful. Obviously!
Of the over 1 000 kilometers we drove, none of it was disappointing, ever. However there were some extra special moments, and these are the ones we want to share with you.
Read more: All year campsites in Iceland
Our highlights included:
• Soaking up the steamy waters of the Secret Lagoon, which come directly from a hot spring. It’s the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, and pretty much explains the Icelandic obsession with pools and soaking in them. The Blue Lagoon is the far more famous hot spring, and is incredibly fancy and fun, too. But we quite liked the more homely feel of the Secret Lagoon. Bonus: you can buy an icy cold beer to sip on while you drift around. It’s a satisfying way to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing. (www.secretlagoon.is)
• Visiting Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused worldwide air traffic chaos. While the volcano is impressive to look at, seeing footage of the eruption and its aftermath is really incredible. We watched this short film in a farm stall just off Route 1, and opposite the volcano. It documents a family on one of the farms directly hit by the devastation, and how they dealt with it. It also gives you a good inside glimpse into the down-to-earth and hardy nature of Icelandic people. (www.icelanderupts.is)
• Wielding ice picks and using crampons to crunch our way across the Sólheimajökull Glacier. While we normally like exploring places independently (hence the campervan idea), having a knowledgeable guide to tell us about the glacier and answer all our questions was pretty special. We discovered that the glaciers in Iceland are all melting (so make sure you visit soon!) and that the shoreline is extending. We also got to climb into a crevice and drink freshly melted glacier water, which tastes so good.
• Our very favourite thing of all was our visit to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lake where you lose track of time watching chunks of white or blue or even lava-blackened ice break off and drift across the lake and out into the sea, while some pieces wash up on the black beach sand. It is an incredibly peaceful scene, with only a soft fizzing soundtrack made by the ice in the water. You can get boat rides to go right up to the glacier, but we were happy to just wander along the shoreline and take it all in.
• A snowmobile ride on Vatnajökull, or the Vatna Glacier, the biggest glacier in Iceland. We were the only two people on what therefore become a private tour, so we were able to go quite far out. (Plus my hooligan husband wasn’t scared to go heavy on the gas pedal – or whatever it is that snowmobiles have to accelerate.) We were greeted with sweeping vistas of white as far as the eye could see, broken only by the black tips of mountains and grey smudges of clouds. At one point we set off on foot to get to a lookout point, which gave spectacular views over the edge of the mountain. There was a strong wind blowing, so we were basically crawling on our hands and knees, clinging to the side of the mountain, while our guide looked on bemused.
• The Free Walking Tour we went on in Reykjavik. As the name implies this was a free tour, but you should take money so you can tip the guides afterwards. Our tour was led by two locals who were both knowledgeable and hilarious, and they brought the history and culture of Iceland to life with their anecdotes and stories, while showing us important or interesting places around Iceland’s capital city. They shared fun stats with us like: Iceland has 3 Björk’s per million people. (The population of Iceland is only 330,000.)
You’ll have to take a tour to hear the rest, but we promise you won’t be disappointed. We were really exhausted at this point in our trip, but they were able to make us forget that and have a really fun time. (www.freewalkingtour.is)
• The midnight sun. It meant we could pack a lot into in each and every day.
• Icelandic people – they are super friendly!
Read more: Popular destinations in Iceland
Our top tips
• Stock up on groceries at the start of your trip, as you won’t always find stores once you set out into the countryside. Your camper van comes with a fridge and gas cooker, as well as plates, cups, cutlery, pots and pans and a cutting board, so you have everything you need to whip up tasty meals. We liked shopping at the Bonus store as it’s one of the more cost-effective Icelandic chains – so look out for its logo of a pink pig on a yellow background.
• We didn’t do this, but we really wish we had… If you are able to, make your trip long enough so that you can do the complete ring road. We only managed to travel around the south-east and south of Iceland, and really wished we could have gone on, because the landscape is constantly changing which meant we had a really intense bout of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when we had to turn back for Reykjavik.
• Give yourself more time than you think you will need to get to your destination. The speed limit on the Route 1 is 90 km/hour, and you probably won’t want to go any faster because you will be drinking in the scenery and stopping often to take photos. And besides, you don’t want to go all the way to Iceland and be rushing around. Iceland is best done in a leisurely manner.
• Make sure you have a camera with lots of space for the trillions of photos you will be taking. This is probably the most important thing you will pack for your trip.
Read more: Packlist for camping in Iceland
• I always think a nice way to get a flavor for a place you are travelling in is to read a novel written by a local. It gives you an insight into the people and the place. I really enjoyed the darkly humorous writing of Hallgrimur Helgason in his latest novel, ‘The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning’, but there are loads of options to choose from. Especially if you like crime novels.
We enjoyed Iceland so much that we want to come back one day. Next time we will take our camper van north, in the hopes that we will get to see the northern lights.
Read more: Camper experience in Iceland
Happy Camping! #CamperStories
Read more: Camper experience in Iceland
Happy Camping! #CamperStories
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