The things we loved and tolerated while traveling in Iceland
Hike to the Volcano
Horse Back Riding
Husavik Whale Watching
Top 5 things I HOPE you know before you go:
1. Rent a Car – This is the best and easiest way to get around (in summer). Don’t be surprised when your paved road ends and gravel begins, this is still the highway you are supposed to be on.
2. Cost of Living - Everything here is expensive, prepare yourself before you go. Thankfully most things you will want to do are free (waterfalls, natural wonders, etc.).
3. Off the Beaten Path – Don’t feel bad about booking places ‘out of the way’ or that require a ferry ride. The views and scenery will be worth it. And many of the islands are filled with Puffins so you won’t be disappointed. People don't come here for the cities but for the scenery.
4. Time of Year - I went in the summer time, so it never got dark and there were no Northern Lights. I would suggest trying to hit Autumn or Spring when you can see both. But if you go in the summer, then the most beautiful skies were between 6 PM – Midnight. Don’t feel in a rush if you have late starts to your day. Most things you want to see are always open (natural wonders) and the morning seems to be fairly cloudy so many of your pictures in the evenings will be your favorites.
5. A Week – We spent a week and it just wasn’t enough, we were always moving to the next place with no downtime. The last few days were a rush. It was rough also to jam pack driving the whole island in that time, things are not far but there are lots of stops and scenic outlooks to stop at. Finally we had to say no more stopping, which saddened us all but actually got us back in time to fly out.
Details on Things to Do
Blue Lagoon – I think this is a ‘must do’ because it seems that everyone on Earth knows the pictures from this place, but I think there are tons of other hot springs that are less expensive and less trendy/busy so I would choose those before this one. There was a dessert here that was delicious though ‘Astarpungar & caramel’. It is out of the way of the city but near the airport, so it is a good stop before you leave or after you land (they have transportation and luggage storage). Make sure to book at least 2-3 days in advance. http://www.bluelagoon.com/
SushiSamba – Food in Iceland is expensive but SO delicious, accept this as a fact before you go. They have a ‘Iceland Feast,’ if you are keen, you will try whale, puffin, lobster, reindeer, lamb, and Skye for about $70. This was a great stop for us, but if you are not going to get the sampler or another dish with several courses (like me) expect to pay $50 and only get one of the items (with same smallish portion size). http://sushisamba.is/en/stadurinn/
Hike to the Volcano – I did the hiking tour offered on Viator. It is a 20K hike and, I believe, listed as ‘moderate.’ It definitely was challenging to me. It was a hike through Thorsmork valley to the Fimmvorouhals volcano (that was the one to cause all the trouble to the airlines in 2010). Now it is just a few steaming holes, so don’t expect lava. But it is a beautiful hike and I had a great time, keep in mind they do not provide lunch or any hiking gear and you will be gone for about 12 hrs. http://www.viator.com/tours/Reykjavik/Icelandic-Volcano-Hike-in-Thorsmork-Valley-with-4x4-Jeep-Transport-from-Reykjavik/d905-5590TVH
Hike inside the Volcano – This is another option on Viator to get inside or close to a volcano. My Dad and friends did this the first day and enjoyed it a lot, it only takes about ½ a day so you can plan other things as well. You will not see lava but get to go inside a lava tube via an open elevator. You will end up walking about 7K on this tour. http://www.viator.com/tours/Reykjavik/Small-Group-Volcano-Tour-from-Reykjavik-Descent-Into-Thrihnukagigur-Volcano-and-Hike/d905-2970AH131
Silfra – Worth a stop, it is neat to see the gap between the tectonic plates and the water is very clear. There is an option to snorkel or dive, as I think even with a dry suit I would have been freezing I am glad we did no. It is in the National Park Area as well so it is beautiful even if you just walk around a bit.
Geysir Area – The active geyser, Strokkur, erupts every few minutes so you can get some fun cool pics of the water erupting. However, it is very touristy. Lots of cars and people.
Seljalandsfoss – Go to any waterfalls you see, they are fun stops and all quite different. This one is great because you can go behind the falls. Great if you get a bit of sun but miserable in the wind and rain. It is quite busy as well so if you can hit it at an off-peak time you will enjoy it more.
Skalholt Church – The churches in Iceland are quite unusual. Take any chance to see them (and the inside). This one is cool in that there are two churches there (one covered in moss). Beautiful architecture and design.
Snaefellsnes – This is a beautiful peninsula you can drive across just West of Reykjavik. Like the rest of Iceland it is filled with waterfalls, mountains, and cliffs over the ocean. If you don't have time you will see similar scenery along the way. If you have time get it into your travel plan.
Stykkisholmur – This is a super cool little town in Iceland, and it requires that you watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty while you are there. You will recognize it as the setting for the Greenland scenes. Though they filmed even the Afghanistan scenes in Iceland too, so you will recognize tons of the backdrops. Stop in to see another beautiful Icelandic Church and climb the hill in the harbor for the beautiful view with a mini lighthouse. As in many of the towns there is a public pool (~$7 each) where you can jump in the pool via a waterslide or take the warm option and chill in the hot tub.
Horse Back Riding – We stopped at a random place between Stykkisholmur and Akureyri to horseback ride. You should do it at some point in Iceland, but I don’t have any recommendations on where or when. There will be an option just off the road all over the country.
Akureyri – Honestly I am sure there is a lot to do here, but we didn’t book anything and didn’t really do anything of note here. To me, all the things it offered had better places to do them and there wasn’t anything special the city offered. It is nice to stop and walk around, but nothing that stands out to me.
Husavik Whale Watching – Fantastic little town with some of the best Whale Watching in the world. We did the most interactive experience we could and got very close to the whales (remember if you ate whale earlier this is your chance to feel guilty about it). The guide said our sightings were ‘a typical day.’ We saw two humpbacks within 25-30 feet of us. They also take you on a cruise by an island filled with Puffins. There is a cute whale museum next to the dock that gives you some history on the whaling in Iceland. http://www.gentlegiants.is/tours-and-bookings/gg2-big-whale-safari/
Myvatn – This is the place I would choose to take a break. If I had time I would have spent 2-3 nights here, I would choose this as the jumping off point over Akureyri. It is not far from Husavik so you could stay here after whale watching (like we did) or before you go. There are just a lot of natural wonders here: hot springs, calderas, waterfalls, etc. It is a good jumping off point and if you need a break there are some really nice hotels (and some hot springs) here where you could take a day to relax. Cool landscape and a lot to do (if you enjoy the outdoors), the hotel can direct you to all the places of interest and where Game of Thrones films, but sadly no Kit Harrington this time of year as it is used for the White Walker scenes.
Neskaupstadur – We stayed a night here because it was the only hotel we could find. The scenery around these peninsulas and bays is gorgeous!! Even though this wasn’t an intended stop we were so happy we did. The drive was practically vertical up, then through a long tunnel, and then sharply back down to this bay. It doesn’t have to be this town but get off the beaten path and check out a village, the scenery is going to blow you away.
Glacier Lagoon – You must stop and take a walk around this beautiful lake of icebergs. It is right off the highway and easy to access. If you haven’t been overloaded with glaciers in the past I suggest you take the zodiac cruise around the bay and potentially the hike onto the glacier. There are many glaciers nearby and I am sure lots of options to get closer to them.