Welcome back. I thought I would include information (on visiting Iceland) given to me by others, as well as experienced first hand, by yours truly. Here it is!
You can do so much in Iceland in a very short period of time. Driving along the south coast from Reykjavik to Höfn, “way” on the other side, takes only 5.5 hours.
The following places are all within a short driving distance from Reykjavík:
The Golden Circle
Includes Þingvellir National Park (my favorite!), Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. If you drive a bit farther south you can also see Kerið (a huge crater and you can walk all the way around the top edge). The Golden Circle makes a great day trip. These are some of the most touristy places, but there is a reason why… they are awesome!)
On Reykjanes Peninsula:
Gorgeous hot pool. I think it’s about $65 for an all-day pass. Again, touristy, but so worth it!
Kleifarvatn Lake and Krýsuvík, a geothermal area
The lake is a “dead” lake and has an eerie feeling. Love it there! On the way you will drive by fish drying racks. You can drive in for a closer look and walk around under all the drying fish. Really interesting to see.
Valahnúkur – cliff and rocks and the lighthouse nearby
Gunnuhver – geothermal area (very close to Valahnúkur)
Heiðmörk – nature preserve
To the South:
A colleague of mine did an art project with a friend called Fieldwork where they made a Google map that includes all the places they visited in the south with descriptions and some pictures.
Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)
A small archipelago off the south coast accessible by ferry. Heimaey is the main island and where the ferry will take you. Wonderful place. Tiny and walkable. The volcano museum is new and awesome… Also had two of the best meals I’ve ever had there at:
http://eldheimar.is/en/ (volcano museum)
To the West:
Snæfellsnes Peninsula (the peninsula above the one that Reykjavík is on.)
Visit the glacier at the end of the peninsula in Snæfellsjökull National Park.
Stykkishólmur is a cute little town with a harbor on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Walk to the harbor and up on the cliffs. You can see Roni Horn’s Library of Water there, too. Incredible meals there and the best mussels (rumour has it), fresh that day from the fjord right there. The public pool is also incredible. The water is rich with minerals and you can tell. It feels amazing. Plus, it has a waterslide!
The Library of Water is a sculptural installation of large clear columns filled with water from each of Iceland’s glaciers. Housed in an old library with a wonderful view from picture windows, it is quiet and powerful. Check on the opening hours and call to be sure someone will be there/make an appointment:
Which I hear is stunning and not to be missed! I am traveling back to Iceland this September and will be volunteering in Su∂avík (approx 18k drive from Ísafjör∂ur) at the Arctic Fox reserve: Melrakkasetur.
Djúpavík – where part of the Sigur Rós movie ´Heima´ was filmed… tiny fishing town… big, rusty shipwreck on the beach. Amazing.
Hólmavík (again, tiny town…) You can visit the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft and see the necropants!
I can’t speak too specifically (yet!) about everything you need to visit in the West fjords, but check out this website: http://www.westfjords.is/ – for ideas. So many beautiful places there!
To the Northwest and North:
I will be living in Skagaströnd from October into January 2017, which is just north of Blönduos, both tiny towns… Blönduós is an easy stop because it is on the Ring Road. I hear the pool there is fantastic and Blönduos is also home to the wonderful Textiles Museum. Where you can touch everything! Next door is the textiles residency. A wonderful place. Jóhanna Erla Pálmadóttir is the director and a pretty incredible woman. You are welcome to visit the residency, just walk in the entrance and up the stairs. There will be offices at the top, just say hi… also, consider participating in the public art project of Jóhanna’s, it’s a huge embroidered tapestry and anyone can stitch on it. It costs 1000ISK for an hour and Jóhanna will teach you the stitches:
Vatndaela Tapestry: http://textilsetur.com/about/vatndaela-tapestry/
Textílsetur Íslands (residency) http://textilsetur.com/about/
Textiles Museum – http://www.simnet.is/textile/index_e.htm
The town is built next to the Blanda River and in the middle of the river is a tiny island called Hrútey. There is a bridge to the island and a path around it. Love it there… worth a little trek. The Textile Center building is next to the estuary of the Blanda and the Greenland Sea, a special place in my opinion. You can walk around the estuary and follow a path along the river. The public pool is wonderful.
Nes Artist Residency
Borgin – great restaurant in Skagaströnd
If you drive a bit farther north on the fjord you can visit a lighthouse and basalt cliffs. Cool spot. It is called Kálfshamarsvík.
Next is Hofsós where they have the dreamiest infinity pool situated pretty much on the edge of a cliff:
Look for this iconic pink and yellow house, too. The town is so tiny, you can’t miss it. The Bær artist residency is close by and worth a visit:
A bit further north is Sauðárkrókur. There is a family-owned tannery there with a great inexpensive tour (about 500ISK) and you can buy all kinds of leather and pelts, including fish leather in tons of colors which they specialize in. If you are interested in getting things like this as souvenirs or projects, this is a great place to get them. Huge selection and cheaper, and harder to find around the island.
Make a pit stop at Iceland’s oldest store – Verzlun H. Júlíusson.
Go for a coffee and some pastries at Sauðárkróksbakarís at Aðalgata 5.
General Travel Tips:
For road conditions: http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/
Rental cars – book in advance as best you can. It can be difficult to find a car on short notice. There are lots of places to book like Avis, Hertz, etc… and there a few discount places. If you are unsure of going with one of the discount places, stick with a place like Avis or Hertz, or Route 1.) The cheap ones are:
I have rented several times from Route 1 Car rental www.route1.is without any issue.
Look for these signs when you are traveling:
This one means place of interest or beauty spot. Pretty much anytime you see one, something gorgeous is close by. Some spots are well-marked with the name of whatever it is that’s down the road along with the kilometers, while some are only identified by the sign/symbol. Anytime I took a detour, it was worth it!
This is the sign for the public pool or a natural hot pool or “hot pots.” You absolutely have to try the pools. When you arrive in a town, you will almost always see the pool signs right away and can just follow them to the pools. You have to shower first. The showers are in locker rooms. One for women, one for men. They are not private and soap is provided. Bring your own towel and suit, or rent them. The lockers have locks you just borrow (usually on a wrist band – take it with you into the pool and wear it) Pools are 500-900ISK.
The weather changes frequently and quickly. Be prepared with layers, bring warms clothes in the hire car, etc.
For current weather: http://en.vedur.is/
Iceland can be pretty expensive, especially food… but be sure to try all the traditional and often strange stuff.
pickled and sour meats – sheep testicles, liver, blood sausage (slátur), stomach, breast meat, head cheese
fermented shark (you have to try it and chase it with Brennivín)
horse (cheval here in Canada), puffin, whale… blauwe (blue- I will not eat whale, thanks) ling and arctic char fish
rúgbrauð – rye bread slow-baked in the earth – sweet, dense (my absolute favorite!)
licorice anything! ice cream, candy, lattes…
kleinur – Icelandic donut – plain
Brennivín – aquavít – white liquor with cumin and caraway (love this stuff!)
Every Saturday all “bulk” candy in grocery stores and gas stations around Iceland is half-off. It’s called Nammidagur. Great way to try all the strange licorice and gummies.
Shops and public places can have unusual hours. Always check first and then be prepared for places to not actually be open sometimes.
Pretty much everyone speaks English, especially in Reykjavík. Less so in the small towns, but still widely spoken.