Does anything ever go exactly as planned? Of course not! And rightly so. What's an adventure without a few hiccups?
I read of a saga about the Berserkers of Iceland. These were warriors who fought in a nearly uncontrollable trance like fury and underdressed for battle. They were known for wearing only bear skin pelts. Hardly enough protection in my opinion. They gave rise to the word berserk (erupt in a furious rage). I'm pretty sure we experienced this once or twice during our trip due to situations out of our control. Best laid plans and such.
It's now something that also made this trip even more memorable.
I want to share our 9 night, 10 day itinerary through Iceland, traveling along the Ring Road as a sample of what your trip can be like.
I searched for the perfect itinerary to follow and found that there isn't one. You have to make it yourself.
Here is what our route looked like.
Nights spent in:
1. Reykjavik, West
2. Vik, South Iceland
3. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, South East Iceland
4. Seydisfjordur, East Iceland
5. Myvatn, North East Iceland
6. Akureyri, North Iceland
7 & 8. Snafellsnes, West Iceland
9. Reyjkavik, West
If you plan on drinking at all in Iceland, make sure you stock up on everything you may need here because the price for booze in stores and restaurants will make your head spin. I noticed we weren't the only ones stocking up on beer, wine and vodka. Everyone else seemed to be rolling their carts, piled high with libations and snacks, from the duty free out to their rental cars.
You will be able to purchase alcohol in bars and restaurants but not in supermarkets. Not to worry. If you miss the duty free store just head to the many Vinbudin around the country. They are the state owned alcohol shops. You can find everything you might want there but they do have limited hours.
There is also no need to continually purchase bottled water for your road trip. We each bought a liter bottle of water and just refilled it straight from the tap. Iceland's tap water is completely safe and I can honestly say that it tastes significantly better than any bottled water I've had at home. You may smell a slight sulphur smell sometimes, but trust me, you won't taste it.
We rented a Chevrolet Captiva from Sixt. I wanted a big comfortable 4x4 because I knew this is where we would be spending the majority of our time over the next week.
I'd also advise you to get the maximum insurance while in Iceland. I don't normally get additional insurance but getting the gravel, ash and sand insurance seemed like a good idea. We experienced some amazing weather while driving and we're glad we had it.
The Lagoon is an obvious stop regardless of it's touristy stigma. It's a 20 minute drive from the airport on your way into (or out of) Reykjavik. It's a great way to start your adventures after a long flight and it's on many lists of places to see before you die. My goal was to have a cocktail at one of the worlds most unique bars. There's a swim up bar here that you swipe a bracelet you're required to wear that's linked to your credit card. Brilliant!
You can pre order your tickets on line so you don't have to queue up with the group that just got off the tour bus 30 seconds before you pulled into the parking lot.
Reykjavik is an easy walking town and many of the popular attractions can be seen within a couple of hours.
It was snowing outside and the wind was blowing so hard that you could hardly walk without being blown over and we had no warm clothes.
Our day was supposed to be driving the Golden Circle and down south into Vik for the night.
We couldn't sit in the hotel and mope so off to buy new clothes we went.
66 Degrees North is Iceland's answer to North Face.
These are now the nicest warm weather clothes we own.
After this expensive unexpected purchase we packed up the car later than anticipated and headed out on our first days adventures.
Fuel was around 211 ISK per liter, $1.52 (about 4 liters per gallon makes $6 a gallon!) So set some $$ aside for fuel costs.
We decided to drive the Ring Road counter clockwise because after diving over 950 miles I knew we'd want to be able to spend 2 nights in a very beautiful remote spot and relax at the end of the trip.
The ring road itself is 820 miles long and you can plan on adding many more miles with all the side trips.
When we got to the parking area, we experienced the most incredible wind. It felt like our clothes would be ripped from our bodies. We had to shield our eyes from the stinging rain and lean into the wind and concentrate on not being pushed over. It was remarkable!!!
Not nearly enough clothes! Really needing our luggage to show up!!!!!
This waterfall makes is presence known from quite a distance. You can watch it growing in size from the road. It's also the one waterfall you can walk behind. Which I did and almost killed myself by slipping on the ice. My husband got completely soaked when the wind shifted and wave of water saturated him head to foot.
That didn't go over so well. Talk of hypothermia and the lack of any clothes to change into turned ugly real quick.
I had been dreaming of floating in this pool for months and was cursing Iceland Air for destroying my little dream.
The next stop not far from Seljalandsfoss is Skogafoss.
After pouting over seeing one more waterfall to my husband, he conceded and hoped that the wind would possibly dry him out. So we quickly jumped out to take a peek.
This is a magnificent powerful show of force that needs to also be appreciated from the top.
There is a very steep quite strenuous climb to the top where you can view the source of the falls. I lost track after 320 steps. The view was spectacular and worth the burning lungs it takes to get there. We didn't spend much time at the top because after just a few minutes my husbands shirt was literally frozen. Literally!
Time to call it a day.
This is a place we wish we had more time at. Its a place far too beautiful for one night.
Good news... we were finally getting out of the clothes we wore on the plane.
Bad news... missing things I planned and looked forward to for months.
I had also planed on back tracking a few miles west to find the US Navy DC plane that crashed on the beach in 1973 and is now a photographers dream.
Click HERE to find out how to get to it.
Seat heaters are a must in the colder months. Make sure you get a car with these ladies!
I even brought my favorite blanket I bought in Africa with me.
If you have internet where you're staying make sure to check the road conditions before you get going. Especially in the colder months. Check www.vegagerdin.is for weather and road closures. We had to reroute several times on the Ring Road (route 1) due to roads that were impassable due to weather.
There are no rest stops along the way. So get ready to have the best open air views while you pee.
Hofn is a fishing village and apparently if you go to a restaurant and don't order the town's speciality, langoustine, you get arrested..... or something.
We were more than happy to get the house recommendations. A bowl of the soup of the day, wild mushroom soup and a lobster pizza put us in a happy mood.
Now everything could get back on track and we would finally be warm.
Stop at Fjaðrárgljúfur which is 42 miles down the road from Vik. Its a spectacular canyon formed from glacial waters thousands of years ago where you can do a short hike up along the rim. We missed it so I have no pictures.
Another 48 miles further along you will come to another place we missed, The Black Waterfall (Svartifoss) at Skaftafell National Park. There are plenty of hiking trails and things to see here but if you're short on time at least check out the waterfall.
This drive along the south coast is remarkable. Even you you never got out of the car it will be one of the most memorable drives of your life. You'll have difficulty wrapping your mind around how the topography was formed thousands of years ago.
In another 35 miles you will reach Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon. The highlight of the south coast. Truly. You will know you've reached it when to a one lane suspension bridge.
We found, by accident, a view point of the lagoon that I never found in the guide books. There are 3 different turnouts on the west side of the bridge that don't have signs. The first one you come to, probably 1 1/2 miles before the bridge, coming from the west, has a better view of the entire lagoon than the main entrance.
You know you're at the right place when you drive past the giant bookshelf of orange books.
This hotel is beautifully situated between the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. There is museum/restaurant that uses only locally sourced ingredients like lamb and arctic char.
We were told at dinner that we probably heard the lamb we ordered earlier that afternoon out on their working farm. This is very common at most guesthouses.
Not something you want to really think about but dinner was delicious at this simple restaurant.
We ordered both the arctic char and the lamb.
We would have driven further but some of our plans were canceled due to a heavy down pour and strong winds.
We had planned on hiking to see Hengifoss Waterfall but it just wasn't in the cards.
Instead we decided just to drive to our evenings accommodations and just enjoy the evening walking around the town of Seydisfjordur.
A lovely building with beautiful antique furniture and the feel of staying in someones home as opposed to a sterile hotel. The other building (the old post office) was under construction, including the restaurant for the hotel, while we were there. The restaurant is supposed to be the best and most beautiful in town.
Check it out for me and let me know.
Many of the restaurants and a few of the hotels may not be open until June.
We were fortunate that the Skaftfell Bistro was open. It's perfectly cozy bistro/bar that serves up local fare and has an art museum upstairs where you can take your beer and soak up some local culture.
Leaving the east to drive to Northern Iceland where its Christmas all year long weather wise.
Our destination is the Volcanic Lake Myvatn area.
If driving here during the summer, a must stop is to see Europe's most powerful waterfall Dettifoss.
Yet again, another site we were unable to see due to road closures. Send me pictures if you get to see it!
Stop at the Krafla Lava Fields and check out the Viti Crater. It's a short drive off the Ring Road and it will lead you past a power station. You get to drive under piping that's harnessing steam to generate power. Here you can walk through lava fields and up to Viti Crater where you can look down into the aquamarine waters. This is better viewed in the summer months when the snow isn't covering the lava fields and the water in the crater isn't frozen over.
We ended up hiking quite a ways to The Viti Crater because there was a ton of ice on the road. Even though we had a 4x4 vehicle, we were advised the road still wasn't safe.
The lake in the crater was frozen over and not it's famous blue but the views and the hike were well worth it.
This is where you will get the most spectacular views of boiling mud pots and steam vents.
Stong smells of sulphur and warm steam surround you as you walk the short loop at the base of the mountain.
(Jardbodin Vid Myvatn). Hardly touristy and much more intimate, it's much easier to relax here. Sit a while in the sauna, grab a cup of wine from the cafe, choose either the hot or cool pool and settle in for a soak of a lifetime.
We loved this place!!!!
These are log cabins with heated floors set amongst lava fields!
Within walking distance is the family run farm and restaurant. At 8 am and 6 pm you can waltz into the cow shed which is where the restaurant is and watch them milk their cows through the full length glass walls.
I had the best lamb shank of my life in this tiny restaurant!
Be sure to try their traditional icelandic geysir rye bread too.
They make their own ice-cream, of course, so why wouldn't you try the gersir bread ice-cream? Tiny bits of bread mixed in a vanilla ice cream served with home made chocolate sauce.
Meats, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon,
Skyr and the best muesli you've ever had.
An absolute must see is Hverfjal Crater.
A 2500 year old tephra ring that's one of the largest in the world.
There is a road that leads literally to the base of the crater where you will find a fairly steep trail that will lead you up to the rim. The hike up will take you 15-20 minutes. The reward at the top is a fantastic view and the crater presents itself 10 times larger than what you assume from the bottom. If you plan on walking the perimeter of the rim, I would allow for an additional hour once up there. It's big!
The road to the base of the crater wasn't drivable when we were there so we ended up hiking about a mile to the crater. This is a common problem during the winter months but if your willing to put in a little extra time, It's well worth the effort.
Dimmuborgir Lava Fields is an area of massive collapsed lava tubes. Vapor rising through the lava caused giant lava pillars to rise from the earth creating a landscape like nothing you've seen before.
Here you'll find panoramic views of Lake Myvatn, giant lava pillars jutting out from the lake and one of a few places in Iceland where you will find trees.
It's only about an hours drive from Myvatn.
Watch out for Godafoss Waterfall. It's on the way and something you could literally drive into if you're not paying attention. It's right off the Ring Road and impossible to miss.
Icelands conversion to Christianity was symbolically started on these cliffs above the falls.
The cafe I wanted to eat at was Blaa Kannan. We walked in just as they finished serving lunch and I was way to hungry for a piece of quiche. I would have loved to sit in this gorgeous timber lined cafe with miss-matched chandeliers, drinking coffee and soaking in the atmosphere of this charming town. Once you feed the hungry diva in you, spend some time strolling through downtown and hopping into the traditional stores like Geysier. If you're like me, you probably won't be able to afford anything but it's interesting to see the garments that Iceland is so famous for. The Lopi sweater is seen on every Icelander and is made of Icelandic sheep. I just couldn't bring myself to splurge on one because I know it would never be worn in my San Diego weather.
We can't say enough good things about this cottage. The location is like nothing we have ever seen before and the pictures on the website do it little justice. Had I known before how memorable this place was going to be, I would have extended the trip solely to stay here another day.
I would have soaked in the jacuzzi, grilled up pylsur hot dogs and sat down at the cliffs edge marveling about how fortunate we were to be here. My husband and I have spent many years traveling the world and we both agree that this was in our top 5 "Best views from a hotel" category.
Day 7 was going to be our longest day in the car. We had a 250 mile, 5 hour drive ahead of us.
We were leaving the Akureyri area and heading to the western part of Iceland, The Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
This is a day you want to make sure you've packed your "car picnic". Towns, gas stations and restaurants are few and far between.
Our end goal was to get to one of the top rated hotels in Iceland. It was by far our splurge of the trip, Hotel Budir.
I saw this hotel in Conde Nast Magazine years ago and its been on my list of places to stay ever since. I scheduled 2 nights here because I knew it would be a trek to get here and I wanted to slow things down before heading back to Reykjavik.
It's a massive imposing natural fissure cut into the side of a mountain.
Again, our access was a challenge because the path leading to the entrance was iced over and quite steep. We really should have rented crampons for this trip. I didn't come this far to let a little sheer cliff leading down into an icy stream where I would for sure break a hip and become hypothermic and die thwart me!
I spent the next 15 minutes kicking foot holds into the ice to gain access to the opening. Once I made it inside, the snow was so deep that I sunk down to my thighs so I only got about 10 feet in.
It was worth it though. It makes your heart skip a beat with its huge claustrophobic walls closing in on you.
Start to the left of this troll and walk down towards the waters edge and be awed by the weather worn caves and sea arches. We had no idea how beautiful this hike was going to be. The guide books just don't describe its beauty sufficiently.
Head south or back to the right when facing the ocean, towards Hellnar, along the obvious path that will lead you along the basalt cliffs and through jagged lava fields.
In summer, hike to the cafe Fjoruhusid located at the trail head (or end of the hike) in Hellnar.
This is supposed "The Place" to get fish soup. I only wish they were open when we were here.
Otherwise known as church mountain. Spend some time climbing up the path along the waterfall and walk over a little bridge for one of the most famous views in Iceland.
We by no means got to check off everything on my ridiculously long list of things to do and places to see. We didn't do a single "adventure activity" and there are many of them to do. Snorkeling in a glacial fissure, snowmobiling on a glacier caps, cave exploring and day long hikes in the Highlands. There just wasn't enough time in the day.
This isn't a complaint just a reason for me to come back and visit again.
You can make your own itinerary to include the must see and do things that are important to you.
Let me know what I should put on my next priority list in Iceland.