Iceland: Our Gravel Filled Itinerary

Our thirteen night itinerary in the land of fire and ice was full of breathtaking natural wonders around every corner.  From lava fields to glaciers, mountains to sea, we experienced all that Iceland has to offer.  This incredible island has a wide variety of landscapes and should be on every travelers list.
Make sure you read our Iceland: Lava, Glaciers, Waterfalls, and … $25 Hamburgers post which is an overview and sets up the information below.

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Night 1 and 2 – Reykjavík
We left from Charlotte, NC and flew through Boston, MA to Keflavik Airport (KEF) outside of Reykjavík.  Our flight landed in KEF late at 11:50 PM which gave us a perfect view of the midnight sunset from our seat.  On our drive to our Airbnb in Reykjavík, we were treated to the start of the sunrise not long after.

11:49 PM, June 12th in the land of the midnight sun

On the day following, we started by eating at Cafe Haiti, where we had our first food price shock.  We ordered a simple patter of toast, an egg, jam and some fruit with coffee which ran the aforementioned 2,000 ISK each.  We then came across a free walking tour of the city with CityWalk.  The tour was about 2 hours and gave us history of Iceland, an overview of the culture, and other helpful information.  We also learned that Iceland has no army and was willingly given independence from European rule during WWII.  Our tour guide then treated us to a demonstration of the number one invention in Iceland, the beer mitten.IMG_6483
Afterwards, we hiked up to Hallgrímskirkja church which has a bell tower with the highest viewpoint in the city, definitely worth the 700 ISK.  Before heading home for the night we stopped at the Bonus to pick up some groceries including fresh arctic char and a salad for dinner at our Airbnb.

View of Reykjavík from the bell tower

We opted not to visit the Blue Lagoon when we realized that entry was between 6,000 and 8,000 ISK per person, plus an additional 4,500 ISK if you needed bus transport to and from.  We did some research on free access geothermal pools around the country and came across an article showing several along our route.

Night 3 – Efstidalur
The next morning, we set off on the Ring Road heading counterclockwise.  We veered off to tour through the Golden Circle with the first stop at Þingvallavatn lake for some views and hiking.  We also realized that our MAPS.ME app also has hiking trail maps — what can’t this app do?!  This app was a consistently reliable GPS without cell phone/data coverage.

Þingvallavatn Lake

IMG_6516We then stopped at the continental fault line at Silfra, Þingvellir National Park between the American and Eurasian faults.  We then headed up to the Gullfoss, a very large and picturesque waterfall.  Nearby is a powerful Geysir which erupts every 10-15 minutes.  Further up the road we happened upon a hike which led to Brúarfoss falls which has glacial blue water.  We brought along a bottle of wine and sat beside the falls and sipped to our success at finding hidden non-touristy spots.  We stayed in Laugervatn at the Bláskógabyggð farmstead.  Many of these farmsteads had very friendly dogs which was great since we were missing our animals back home.  They had a good spread for breakfast, but the burgers for dinner were overcooked and plain, served on the same sesame bun you may find at Hardees, and cost 2,500 ISK.

Glacial blue water and wine in coffee cups

Night 4 – Vik
We drove from Laugervatn and headed to Kerið Crater which had a 400 ISK entry fee, but a nice hike around the top and at the crater’s base.  We would advise that numerous free volcano cones are in other parts of the island so we would not have done this in hindsight.  We also stopped by Urriðafoss and then Seljalandsfoss which you can cautiously walk behind.  We would recommend rain gear or a poncho and gripping hiking boots, it was a very slippery and drenching falls.  Skógafoss was an amazingly high waterfall that you can explore from the banks or take a hike up the 370 metal steps steps to get an amazing view above the falls.  There are extensive hiking trails further inland which connect with the Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

Seljalandsfoss.  Can you see the stairs to the right?
Skógafoss and some random girl

We had plenty of time after we left to romp around in the Lupine fields, and explore the remains of the grass topped houses which are scattered across the country.IMG_6691IMG_6775
Hey Iceland had run out of farm stay rooms this night so we were put up in a newly renovated hotel called Hotel Dyrhólaey (outside of Vik) with an awesome view of the coast and glaciers in both directions.  We ate dinner at The Soup Company in Vik which was delicious!  They had been open only 3 weeks when we stopped in for dinner.  We sat on the patio and drank wine we had brought and then explored the black sands beach at twilight.  We also drove up to the picturesque Vik church which is on a hill overlooking the town and coast line.img_6857.jpgIMG_6915IMG_7012

Night 5 and 6 – Hof
We passed countless waterfalls en route, but in one in particular, Grant spotted a nice tripod sitting in the stream bed below a falls we had decided to explore.  He had to long jump over the creek, and he was able to fish it out with his dad’s cane which he was using as a TSA approved hiking pole.  We then traveled onward to build cairns (stacks of rocks) in Laufskalavarda which are supposed to bring travels good luck.  We walked through the moss covered lava fields in Eldhraun where the moss can be 4-6 inches deep by our estimation.IMG_7073

Building cairns in Laufskalavarda
Lava fields in Eldhraun

Since Iceland is a volcanic island there are lots of remnants of volcanic activity even as recently in 2014-2015 in Bárðarbunga.  Interestingly, lava can form hexagonal basalt columns depending on how it cools which look like man made ruins, it’s just amazing.  We did another random steep hike to thick moss bed over river and a beautiful waterfall.  The moss was so cushy that it felt like a pillow-top mattress.  We hiked for glacier view on Skaftafellsheiði and rewarded ourselves with wine at the top overlooking Skaftafellsjökull and a lake with black sand covered icebergs.

Basalt lava colums


Skaftafellsjökull view

We stayed at 2 nights in Hof at Litla Hof farm stay which was a private cottage in a farm field with its very own waterfall.  We ate up the road at Hof 1 restaurant and had unlimited chicken taco soup with homemade bread for 2,500 ISK (the best deal yet).  The dinner was so good we decided to eat there the next night as well.

The second day, we drove to Falljökull and hiked onto the edge of the glacier.  We had considered doing one of the many guided glacier walks, but had done research and found a place where we could approach the ice solo.  Glacier hiking is dangerous, so we are not recommending that anyone tackle one alone.  We stayed on the lower edge, and saved around 60,000 ISK for our group by not using a guide or going higher.  Afterwards, we headed up to Kviárjökull for another glacier view hike in the strong winds.

Church in Hof
Falljökull glacier hiking

The last stops of the day included Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón (ice lagoon).  One of the tails of Skaftafell glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, pools into a large glacial lake with a short river to the ocean.  Ice breaks from the glacier and fills the lagoon with icebergs which eventually float to the coast and cover the black sand beach.  It’s a pretty remarkable area.

Diamond Beach
Jökulsárlón ice lagoon

We also took the opportunity to wash some clothes during our first two night stay.  We did not encounter a washing machine anywhere along our route (other than one farm stay which charged 5,000 ISK for a wash!!), so we made do with a good hand washing in the sink.  We did bring a handy clothes line (mentioned in our packing list) which was a great help!

Night 7 and 8 – Egilsstadir
The next day, we left Hof and hiked around Breiðárlón glacial lake, fed by Mavabyggdarjokull glacier.  We went onward on a coastal fiord road to a scenic spot next to the ocean with a historic black house.  We hiked around the paths next to the house and found a lot of geode rocks by the water.  We continued around the ring road until we got to the dirt road 939 which took us over the mountain to our next stay in Einarsstadir (next to Egilsstaðir).  We stopped by Bonus for groceries and ultimately stopped at Netto and found 50% off rotisserie chickens which we added to salads for Fathers Day!

We continued north up Highway 94 towards the northeast coast.  We stopped for another fiord hike out to the Heradhsfloi coast.  We came across black sand beaches full of washed up fishing equipment including steel boat bobbers and old boat boards/timbers.  Grant was considering a creative Cross Fit workouts while Megan hid.  We stopped at Borgarfjörður Eystri to see the puffin and seagull colony.  There were thousands of puffins, ducks and other birds.  The area is covered with puffin holes where they prepare their nest for a single baby puffin each year.  Interestingly, puffins mate for life and always return to the same exact location.  Before dinner, we hiked up the mountain to get a view of the fiord before eating unlimited fish soup at a restaurant called Alfacafe in Bakkagerði.IMG_7887IMG_7825IMG_7857

Night 9 and 10 – Mývatn
We continued on the ring road towards the north part of the island.  There is a lot of marine life in the waters to the north so we booked a whale watching trip out of Husavik ahead of time.  For this we took a detour off of Highway 1 which can be seen on our map at the top.  Along the way we stopped at two more waterfalls, Skógafoss (a different one, since the 32 letters in the Icelandic alphabet are too restrictive to make a new name) and the larger Dettifoss.  This area is covered with lava fields and cones, so we spent some time hiking around the formations before moving on.

Skógafoss #2

Afterwards, we drove a significant distance on dirt roads to reach the coast and where we wrapped around to Husavik for the whale watching through North Sailing.  We were lucky to see 3 different hump back whales, many sea birds including puffins, and harbor porpoises.  Although it was a successful excursion, we were lukewarm about the professionalism of the tour and would recommend other people try a different company.  Afterwards, we had Iceland’s famous fish soup for dinner at Naustid before continuing on to Guesthouse Stöng near Mývatn.img_8019.jpg

Humpback whale in Skjálfandi bay

The next morning, we drove around Mývatn lake and soon after the smell of sulfur began to waft in the air.  This area has a lot of geothermal activity near Reykjahlíð including the geothermal milky blue pool in Bjarnarflag, which looks just like the Blue Lagoon near Reykivik but with no entrance fee.  However, swimming was not permitted as the water was 100*C.  We also stopped by the steam jets and spurting mud pits in Namafjall.IMG_8748IMG_8872IMG_8810We came across a large volcanic crater named Viti, but the wind was so intense we were afraid we’d get blown off the top so we turned back.  We also saw some fresh lava fields from the most recent volcanic eruption in 2015 for Leirhnjúkur.  Then we drove through Grenivík along the coast north.  Halfway up the peninsula the road stopped so we hiked to the end of the peninsula.  We went to Bautinn in Akureyri for dinner which had a wonderful soup/salad/bread buffet before heading home for the night.  This was a very large city and had a lot to choose from.  The meal cost about 2,500 ISK/person but we did not leave hungry.IMG_8885

Night 11 – Blönduós
We drove through Akureyri and Dalvik and passed three long mountain tunnels measuring 3k, 7k, and 4k respectively.  A couple of them were one lane tunnels with awful including the one through to Siglufjörður.  We hiked up to a peak with 270 degree view 630m from sea level.  IMG_8991We ended up eating in Blönduós at a restaurant named Retro Bistro.  This restaurant had been open only a short time but came highly recommended on Trip Advisor, so we gave it a shot.  It’s one of the only times we had actual local dishes including freshly caught cod and lamb.  The meal was significantly less expensive as most restaurants at 28.60 ISK and 38.90 ISK, respectively.  I might have mentioned that we were going to write a review so they gave us the five star treatment complete with free fruit sorbet.  The entire experience was amazing and we were so glad we happened upon this place.  We stayed at Hof near Blönduós which had cheap bike rentals and horseback riding.  There was also a wonderful waterfall about 7km on the left from the entrance to the guesthouse with stunning hexagonal column rock formations draping the waterfall.

Night 12 –
This was the last leg of our Icelandic voyage.  We were about a 3:15 hour drive back to Reykjavík, but still had one more area to explore off route.  Snæfellsnes peninsula is a skinny stretch of land sticking straight out to the west with some cool landscape.  The drive was full of potholed gravel roads, sheep hurdles and gale force winds pushing the car all over the road.  We opted to skip our normal hiking routine based on the weather, but still took the opportunity to wrap the coast on Highway 54 for the views.  We stopped by Kirkjufell mountain, which is said to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland.  The name translates to “Church Mountain”, derived from the special shape.  The mountain acquired its present form in the latter part of the Ice Age and is one of the best examples of glacial erosion in Iceland.

Doing our part to keep Kirkjufell famous

We then headed around the south of the peninsula to visit a seal colony on Ytri-Tunga Beach before heading back to Reykjavík for our last night before an early morning flight to Switzerland.

That pretty well wraps up our Iceland adventure.  Make sure you take a look at our world trip packing listplanning process, and 4 continent itinerary. And as mentioned, please share this information with anyone who would benefit!

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