Hey! Friends traveling to Iceland for the first time have asked me again and again, what do I need to see and experience when I am in Iceland? And recently the topic of Iceland came up, a friend’s sister will be traveling there soon and did I have any recommendations. So, I thought I would put together some ‘lists’ if you will, of places I have visited, stayed, slept, etc. In other words- these pages will grow.
First of all I personally feel every where in Iceland is amazing, gorgeous and most often otherworldly.
If you are visiting for a week you could potentially drive around the entire Island and see almost all of the amazingness 🙂 no problem. Or you could spend more time in certain areas.
First of all the weather changes rapidly from sunny to rain/wind and back to sunny. Raincoats or wind breakers with wool sweaters/layers – do not bring umbrellas (not that you would) but it gets far too windy. Icelanders don’t bother. Just warm layers. Even in summer months merino leggings, jeans, wool sweater (thick or thin) with a wind breaker works. Icelandic wool sweaters are amazing. The Icelandic wool association in downtown Reykjavik sell them and have a massive selection- all hand knit locally. Also, there is a Red Cross store downtown (near the Phallological museum) that sell used Icelandic sweaters. Sometimes you get lucky and find an amazing sweater for under $80! Bring a toque/beanie, mitts or gloves, wool socks and good walking/hiking boots or hard-core Wellies. Often when inside hostels/hotels/guest houses it will be warm as pretty much everything is geothermally heated. So it can be quite toasty. Staying in guest houses and hostels- if you bring your own blankets or sleeping bags, price is a bit reduced. Bring bathing wear/suits if you plan to check out any of the hot springs or ‘pools’ (every town has a pool) they are, generally speaking geothermal water/heated and sometimes out doors or with an open roof. Don’t be shy- everyone has to take a shower sans bathing suit before getting into the actual pools. Pretty much every tourist goes to the Blue Lagoon. There is also the Fontana in Laugarvatn (less $$ and often less crowded).
My recommendations (if you’ve never been to Iceland): Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon (glacial lagoon) technically a 4.5 hour drive southwest on R1 but who’s in a hurry?!There are many sights along the way.
Renting a vehicle from Route 1 online, in advance is less expensive then when you arrive. Buy the gravel/rock dirt (can’t remember exactly what it is called) insurance. A small vehicle will do fine unless you want to travel on the F roads (gravel). I’ve driven on the F roads with a Yaris, but I think the rules may have changed.
Some basic words, pronunciation:
Foss= falls. As in waterfalls.
Laugar= (LOYgar) wash, to wash or bath
Laugarvegur= Saturday/wash day 😉
Já= (yOW- like ou in ouch. Usually said while inhaling.) means= yep, yes
Ei- pronounced Eh. Rather than the German Eye.
J is pronounced like j in Jah (German) or like a y in yes.
Ll oddly enough sounds more like T. For instance the name Halla is said Hatla
Hv is generally sounding like Kv like in Kvetch
Æ- pronounced like saying- Eye
Ís – ice pronounced -ees
R’s are rolled. Like spanish.
Ég heiti ____ (my name is___) Pronounced: Yeah hEYtea ____
En ∂u? And you?
Ég er frá ______ (I am from ____) En ∂u?
Go∂an Dag or Go∂an Daginn (the inn is added when said to men) Good day and
people greet each other this way.
Pronounced: Go-than-Die or Go-than-Die-in
Komdu sæl or if saying hello to a man- Komdu sæll (remember the weird double L t like
sound? Well this one is a bit different. More like placing your tongue on the roof of your
mouth while exhaling.
Takk = thanks
Takk fyrir matin = thanks for the meal.
Bless or Bless bless = goodbye
Sjáumst= see you later.
Here’s an informative video on how to fool people into thinking you are Icelandic with only 3 words. Já!
Car rented now you need to grab some food/snacks for the road!
Hands-down it is way less expensive to travel Iceland picnic style! Unless you want to pay close to $40 for a crappy hamburger from a gas station? There are grocery stores in downtown Reykjavik. One is called Bónus with a pink piggy bank in their logo. Convenience stores or Krónan, Nettó. Now you can find organic, vegan and veggie easier than 5 years ago!
Recommended food Icelandic items for traveling:
Flatkókur– similar in appearance to tortillas. Not tortillas. These are smoky and really
great. Some are even made with moss.
Rúgbrau∂– rye brown bread usually baked in the earth for 24hrs. So good. I’ve found it
differs depending on where it is made/cooked and who’s grandmother’s recipe was
Smjór– butter in iceland, pretty much any dairy is nothing like in the States or Eu. In fact
some people with dairy allergies elsewhere have been able to consume the Icelandic
dairy without any issues.
Skyr– NOT yogurt. Almost entirely fat free, lots of protein.
Viking cheese (the package has a Viking and runes on it) I don’t remember the actual
Stóri Dímon also a great cheese.
AB mjolk – try it if you dare. Some people (Icelanders) LOVE it. Comes in fruit flavours
and reminds me of thick kefir, maybe better.
Blueberries grow wild in Iceland so.. yeah.
Icelandic lakris (liquorice) Icelanders claim that their’s is the best. And if you are into
liquorice then OMG! Go for it. There are so many varieties to choose from. Even cafes
offer Lakris lattes.
If you want to see it ‘all’ then I have 2 suggestions. Forego the touristy (ha! It is now all touristy) places until the end of your trip.
Out of Reykjavik head ‘west’ making your 1st destination the Bifrost. Or your first shopping destination on the way might be Mosfellsbær and Álafoss wool central- primary wool supplier around the island! There will be signs and a roundabout as you approach. This is a cute little area to grab a coffee or tea and buy wool. They are the wool peeps. Plus there are other artisan studios in this little, old style shopping area/factory.
Heading out on route 1 (ring road): The Bifrost (north of Borgarnes) is an amazing area – 3000 year old lava fields covered in moss and lichens! On the way there is Glannifoss or hop on 54 and head towards Gerduberg cliffs..? Heading towards Blönduós- textile museum is here. Check out the cascades, check out road 711 and Hvitserkur, Vatnsnesvegur.
Akureyri – the visitors centre is worth a stop. The view out the back is gorgeous. The drive to Akureyri through Öxnadalur is beautiful.
Mývatn- craters (astronauts trained here for the moon landing!), an amazing lake and on the other side of the hill: Krafla orange sulphurous blue bubbling mud pools. You can head up to the caldera and (I think you still can) walk around the volcano. The landscape around here is nuts!
Seyðisfjörður- sweet Christmas postcard-like town. Ferries to the Eu. But if you reach Akureyri towards the early evening maybe keep heading north east to Ytra Lon (off 85) and stay there? You would then be up in the northeast corner of Iceland. It is beautiful here! Puffin in the summer. Just off the Greenland sea and if the temp drops below -5/-7c and the sky is clear you will see the northern lights!! In fact, you might see them anyways as you are just so far north, but if the sun is no longer setting then, who knows? 😉 I drove from there heading east along 85 which meets up with 1 again (the next day after walking along the beach for a couple hours) to Egilsstaðir and I took 94 to the Elven City: Álfatrö∂ aka Álfaborg- there are traditional hobbit-like homes and a large basalt rock formation. Climb to the top! Then perhaps head back to Egilsstaðir and take 93 to Seyðisfjörður›. Or head south along the eastern coast and pull over a lot! Check out the beaches and all the sights! They are generally well worth it.
Jökulsárlón- the gorgeous glacial lagoon!
On the ocean side you have glowing crystal-like icebergs washing up on the black sand beach. I recommend arriving near 9-9:30pm or super early morning. Before the bus loads arrive.
Head to Skaftafell
Walk along Fjaðrárgljúfur
Vik- black sand beaches, and trolls rising up out of the sea. If you’re LOTR fans- you might think it looks more like Sauron’s helm, or something 😉
Dyrhólaey – puffin, amazing basalt cliffs and arches and a cave. Just stunning! The drive itself is amazing – pay attention to the warning signs. They’re serious. It can be very deadly here if the weather is nuts and the waves are crashing. I almost almost learned this from experience, luckily I wasn’t on Cthulhu’s menu that day 😉
Seljalandsfoss. Walk behind it. Then head (if facing this waterfall) to your left all the way past the little house and walk into the ‘cave’. Do it! 🙂
From this point you can now make your way through the Golden Circle. When you reach Selfoss you could potentially head north from there on 35 and then take 37 heading towards Laugarvatn. Gullkistan is here, you might be able to book a stay or visit the Fontana. Geysir is outside of Laugarvatn (take 37) and then head back to Laugarvatn and take 365 to Þingvellir.
There is just SO much to experience in Iceland beyond what I have shared here. I love Reykjavik and because it is fairly small, you can easily walk the entire downtown area in a day, but taking two days to explore all of the museums, rocket ship/Gattaca church, galleries, street art, harbour, etc., is nice. Fish and chips? I would suggest trying the Wolf Fish. There’s street food, lobster sandwiches and the ever famous, Icelandic hotdog!