Iceland, Ideally

As I spent months researching a family trip to Iceland, I almost felt like I had been there and back before I’d even arrived. I was overwhelmed by the pressure to satisfy everyone’s interests (including my own high expectations), confounded by the consonant-rich spellings and pronunciations of everything, and plagued by the decision to drive around the entire island or concentrate on the South Coast. Oh, how far I’ve come.

Given the response to the countless pictures I posted after each breathtaking day of our trip, I have put Iceland at the top of many a bucket list.

My family and I at the ice lagoon Jokulsarlon after a Zodiac boat tour on glacial waters.

So please enjoy our itinerary as a guide for your adventures. It is a compilation of many others’ private and professional travelogs, online research, travel books, blogs, conversations, and especially Lonely Planet Iceland 2017, my favorite planning resource.

Make reservations ahead whenever possible for lodging, meals and tours. Plan to wear lots of layers (including waterproof pants) and hiking boots, bring a bathing suit, quick-dry towel and large Ziploc bags (for wet stuff). We took our trip during the summer; others visit when the Northern Lights are visible and have more wintry experiences. I truly hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did.

Cheers!

Ilysse

I’m happy to answer any additional questions at ilysse@thrivewell.com.

Day 1

Fly into Reykjavik (KEF) Keflovic Int’l Airport. If taking the red-eye, get a quick breakfast from Joe and the Juice at the airport as not much else will be opened at that hour. Be prepared as food in general is very expensive.

Rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle. The terrain can be rough and you will feel more confident with rugged tires. Make sure the wipers work well and check in advance for windshield dings.

If you plan to visit the Blue Lagoon at some point, do so first thing in the morning while it’s misty and before the crowds arrive. It’s close to the airport and a lovely way to ease into vacation mode. Pack a bathing suit and flip flops. It’s touristy and overpriced but fun. The café there is meh and there is a sit-down restaurant as well.

Early morning at the Blue Lagoon bar.

Drive to Reykjavik, about 45 minutes.

We stayed at both the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica (which is at the far end of town, clean and full-service from which you need to drive to town center) and the Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre which was brand new, super cool and right in town, with an excellent breakfast buffet. We would have loved to stay there the whole time, but it must be booked well in advance.

It’s a long day, but explore the city on foot, enjoy the many delicious restaurants. We went to Messin (www.messinn.com) for dinner which we loved.

A fish pan presentation from Messin Restaurant, fresh and inventive.

Should Reykjavik be your base the whole trip?

It depends on how adventurous you want to be. Some people drive around the whole island on the Ring Road, stopping at small towns and sights along the way. You need about 10 days to do that.

I chose to focus on the southern half of the island where most of the well-known geologic wonders are found. For our first few adventures (day trips), we stayed based in the city, then we took several days to travel southeast, staying in a variety of lodging along the way. On our last day, we travelled five hours from our furthest point east back towards the airport vicinity. We were in Iceland for eight full days.

Many tour companies use Reykjavik as their pickup and drop off point.

Day 2

Drive the Golden Circle. You can go with a tour company but it is easy to drive yourself at your own pace, 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik. Having good weather is key. There are many sights to visit, including Pingvellir National Park, Geysir, Gulfoss Waterfall (unbelievable rainbows if you’re lucky; bring waterproof gear), Kerid Crater and more. Plan to spend the day touring, pack a picnic or eat along the way.

Gulfoss Waterfall along the Golden Circle drive.

For dinner we stopped in the small fishing village of Stokkseyri for langostine bisque at Vid Fjorubordid.

Day 3

We used this leisure day to explore the city sights, shop and eat. There are many museums, galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. We did not go on the free walking tour but there is one, nor did we see the Volcano Movie, nor did we go to the Penis Museum (www.phallus.is) but we went to the gift store. We walked around Lake Tjornin, the harbor, visited the church Hallgrimskirkja, the 66° North Store, ate French onion soup at Snaps, cinnamon rolls from Braud & Co., and had tapas for dinner from Tapasbarinn.

Hallgrimskirkja Church houses an organ that resembles rock formations found in Reynisfjara.

Day 4

Go Into the Glacier! Our most other-worldy adventure, we drove to Husafell to the Klaki Base Camp of the Langjokull Glacier which looks like Mars on one side, an ocean of ice on the other, where we met our group, suited up and snowmobiled to the entrance of a manmade ice tunnel which we then toured. The snowmobiling is challenging and fun and optional. The whole experience is surreal and sobering as you learn about glacier behavior and its precarious future. (www.intotheglacier.is)

Back in Reykjavik, have dinner at the pub at the super cool Kex Hostel (www.kexhostel.is) which often has live music.

Day 5

We retraced our steps along the Golden Circle to hike Mount Hengil in Hveragerdi which 2.5 miles in has an aweseome geothermal river for bathing. Bring a bathing suit and quick-dry towel, leave your modesty at home.

Hike Mount Hengil and come prepared to soak in the steaming river.

We switched our lodging to the charming family-owned Farmhotel Efstidalur II (www.efstidalur.is) in Blaskogabyggd, an historic working dairy farm, which also offers horsebackriding on uniquely bred Iclandic horses. We loved it, but the experience isn’t for everybody. You can stop here instead for a meal or ice-cream while exploring the area; it’s closest to Geysir. Visit the secret geothermal lagoon Fluidir. Another lodging option for the even more adventurous is the newer Buubble Hotel (www.buubble.com) which you have to see to understand. Another option is to shorten your time in Reyjavik and stay here while exploring the Golden Circle.

Day 6

We hired a guide from Southcoast Adventure (southadventure.is) to take us for a challenging hike through the Porsmork Valley, a beautiful mountain ridge located between three glaciers. An amphibious vehicle or Superjeep is necessary to forge multiple rivers to get to the trailhead. Our guide Geirmundur Klein (geirmundurklein@gmail.com) was a naturalist who taught us all about the foliage. This area is not accessible throughout the year. We had lunch together at the Volcano Huts.

What often happens when you try to drive through the Porsmork Valley yourself.

If we had another day, I also wanted to tour/hike the nearby area called Landmannalaugar which runs through the center of the island, known for its multicolored rhyolite peaks and geothermal fields. Serious hikers tackle the Fimmvorduhals, a famous multi-day hike between Porsmork and Landmannalaugar. Next time.

We met at Gljufrabui Base Camp, conveniently located by the Seljalandfoss Waterfall which you can walk behind.

Seljalandfoss Waterfall is beautiful as it is powerful. Be prepared to get wet.

Later, as we made or way to our next lodging in Vik, we stopped at Skogarfoss, another powerful waterfall and campsite.

We spent the night at the Like Vik Guesthouse (www.likevik.is) where we engaged in lively conversation with the proprietors and other guests, drank Brennivin (the caraway-infused local liquor) and reluctantly tasted fermented shark (a Viking delicacy) and later dined at the delicious Sudur Vik.

You have to smell it to believe it.

Day 7

After breakfast, we toured the Vik area attractions which included seeing puffins nesting in Dyrholeay, incredible rock formations and a black sand beach at Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar, had a quick but yummy lunch at The Soup Company stand outside, then made our way east to the Skaftafell region of Vatnajokull National Park, the largest glacier in Europe.

At Reynisfjara beach, we were grateful for this family photo opp.

At the visitors center lodge, we met the Icelandic Mountain Guides team (www.mountainguides.is) for a short 2-hour ice hike on the glacier. They equipped us with crampons and ice axes and drove our group to the glacier’s edge where we searched for blue ice and other geological features. It was an easy hike, suitable for young kids as well.

We ate dinner outside at the Glacier Goodies food truck by the campsite, surprisingly tasty. Food options are scarce in the area.

We checked into the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, an austere but super cool eco hotel seemingly in the middle of nowhere where we spent a peaceful night and had a great breakfast.

A window seat in our room at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon.

Day 8

Perhaps the best activity saved for last was a Zodiac boat tour in the Jokulsarlon ice lagoon. Even though you can see the icebergs from the Ring Road, the boat ride is worth it. There are several tour companies operating in the area, but only one Zodiac tour (www.icelagoon.com).

Afterwards, we drove a bit further east for lunch and it was surprisingly one of our favorite meals of the trip. Unmarked but thanks to Lonely Planet, Jon Riki revealed itself (www.jonriki.is), a family-owned brewery and restaurant and farmstay and petting zoo and live music venue housed in a former tractor barn with the best smoked tomato soup we’ve ever tasted. Excellent sandwiches too. We were truly sad to leave.

Then we drove almost five hours back east to prepare for our wee-hour flight the next morning. (We actually went on to Copenhagen for a few days before returning back to Iceland for our final departure back to the states.) We stayed at the Northern Light Inn in the shadow of the Blue Lagoon and had dinner at its restaurant, Max’s. If you need to return your rental car ahead of time, they will arrange to drive you to the airport. There are several other places to stay in the Keflavik area, especially as development continues at a feverish pace.*

  • * A new resort is in development surrounding the Blue Lagoon, the 62-room Moss Hotel and luxury spa Lava Cove.
  • See if the Krauma hot springs (www.krauma.is) is now opened. It was scheduled for an October 2017 debut.
  • Luxury properties in Iceland that we did not stay at include Tower Suites (www.towersuites.is) in Reykjavik and its secret sister The Trophy Lodge located somewhere in the countryside town of Úthlíð.

Take me with you, please.

by Ilysse Rimalovski

copyright © iar 2017