From Road Tripping in Iceland to biking in Copenhagen
Land untouched by man.
These are a few of the wonderful things that Iceland has to offer. It was amazing to drive around the entire island and for the most part, the weather treated us well considering it was the beginning of winter there.
For those of you who are considering or planning a trip to Iceland, I’d recommend reading Carson’s blog here. Definitely worth doing some research before you start your journey.
We arrived in Iceland after an overnight flight. Having already rented a SUV from SAD Cars before arriving, we felt pretty set since we couldn’t really think much at 7:00am in the morning. The staff set us up with our Toyota Rav4 and got us on our way to Reykjavik.
TIP #1: If you plan to rent a vehicle to drive around Iceland, I highly recommend renting an SUV. You could survive in a sedan or compact car (tons of Yaris around) if you stick to Highway 1 (aka Ring Road) but otherwise, it makes life so much better for you.
Our itinerary was altered slightly due to weather. We ended up doing this instead of what I previously posted. Click on each day to read more and see more pictures (more to come as I blog about the details of our trip).
Day 1 – Reykjavik
Our first stop was Kringlan, one of the shopping malls in Reykjavik. It soon became apparent that the mall did not open until 10am and Bonus (the No Frills/Lidl supermarket equivalent) was not open until 11! We ended up napping in our car until close to 11 and boy was it chilly that first day (thermal wear totally helps! That, and layering up!). We had lunch in the town centre and then checked into Rey Apartments. I would definitely recommend staying here. The location is great and although the room is small, it has everything (including a small kitchenette) you need, is clean and looks quite modern.
We walked to Hallgrimskirja (400m from our hotel), the largest church in Iceland and 6th tallest structure in Iceland. From there, we made our way along Laugavegur/Bankastræti (the main street in Reykjavik) to the Phallological Museum where we saw plenty of specimen and interesting facts about penises. We strolled back along the coast and made our way back to Laugavegur/Bankastraeti. We found dinner at Sjavargrillid (Seafood Grill) which was probably one of our best meals in Iceland.
TIP #2: It’s best to book your hotel/accommodations in the summer (especially when traveling with a group/family) because some of the towns are very small. In the winter time, it’s easier to just stop in town and ask if there are any vacancies.
Day 2 – Golden Circle (Þingvellir, Geysir/Strokkur, Gullfoss), Seljelandsfoss, Skogafoss, Dyrholaey, Vik
Day 2 was very much stop and go. After picking up some yummy danishes and pastries from Sandholt Bakery, we started our personal Golden Circle tour of Þingvellir (pronounced Thingviller) to see the rift valley, Geysir/Strokker (geysers) and Gullfoss (‘foss’ means waterfall in Icelandic). We missed Kerið (Kerid) crater but stopped to see some Icelandic horses (they are so much shorter than the normal horses I am used to seeing). We continued onto see 2 more waterfalls: Seljelandsfoss (legend has it that this is the only place in Iceland where females can propose. If this happens, the couple will be blessed with a happy marriage) and Skogafoss). After these waterfalls, we visited our first sand beach in Iceland, Dyrholaey. We had dinner in Vik before returning to Hotel Katla which was 5 minutes drive away. Hotel Katla was pretty standard for hotels in small towns/villages along the route.
Day 3 – Landmannalaugar (only part way there), Skaftafell (hike to Svartifoss), Jökulsárlón
Because of the weather and lack of other humans on our route, we decided not to go all the way to Landmannalaugar but the distance we went was still pretty breathtaking (you’ll find this to be a theme across all of Iceland). We shifted our itinerary and headed to Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón a day earlier. We did the short hike to Svartifoss to see the basalt columns and there was light rain on and off, but we made it. It hailed on us while we visited Jökulsárlón, the iceberg lagoon, but definitely well worth the trip. I think Carson and I can agree this was our favourite spot to see. We stayed at Hali Country Hotel and met a young couple from Switzerland. The hotel is split into 3 small houses with shared bathrooms and several rooms. The main building houses the small museum and the restaurant where breakfast is provided for all guests.
TIP #3: If you want to avoid someone, Iceland is both the easiest and the hardest. Most tourists will be hitting up the same spots as you are. We saw our Swiss friends 3 more times on our journey after meeting them at the hotel.
Day 4 – Jökulsárlón, Höfn, Egilsstaðir
We loved Jökulsárlón so much that we decided to go back in the morning before driving to Höfn. Instead of going to the lagoon, we went to the oceanside where we strolled along the beach full of washed up icebergs. Imagine icebergs being washed up and morphed every day. It’s a different view each day, as one of the staff at the boat tour centre told us. Höfn is very much a harbour town and are known for their langoustine. Unfortunately, there are a few places closed for winter (Oct 1) but we managed to find Carson a langoustine sandwich.
After cancelling our hotel there, we booked ourselves into the Icelandair Hotel in Egilsstaðir and drove the 2.5 hours to the hotel. Part of this drive was particularly beautiful. You ascended the mountain on gravel road which is bumpy but totally worth it (this is where renting the SUV pays off). The most breathtaking drive of our trip was right here between Breiðdalsvík and Egilsstaðir on Ring Road. This part of the mountain road is referred to as Oxi. In the winter when the roads get worse, this part of the road is closed and travelers can take the coastal route (route 96, 92) instead I imagine is also very beautiful. Egilsstaðir is a town off the Lagarfljót, the body of water where the Lagarfljót wyrm monster resides. There have been viewings of the lake monster here for hundreds of years. We had dinner at Guesthouse Egilsstaðir, the oldest house in the town. Service was excellent and they are known to try to source their ingredients locally.
TIP #4: Goretex jackets really helped us out in the first few days to keep us dry. The layering up of clothes along with thermal wear kept us warm. I also recommend Goretex hiking boots if you plan on hiking or going by the beaches. If you are anything like the adventurous Carson and myself, they will come in handy.
Day 5 – Dettifoss, Dimmuborgir, Hverfjall, Mývatn Nature Baths, Hverir, Akureyri
After a good rest at the Icelandair Hotel, we were on our way to the great Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe. Having grown up in Toronto and visiting one of the 7 wonders of the world so many times, I must say that I did not find the Dettifoss impressive. The canyon that it flows into, however, was absolutely beautiful. The cool thing about the Dettifoss though, was that we could walk right up to the water’s edge (please be especially careful if you have children with you)! There are no railings here at all.
Lake Mývatn area was next. We visited the Dimmuborgir area with all the lava rock formation (rather eerie looking) and hiked up the Hverfjall, a volcano crater that erupted a couple thousand years ago. We stopped by the Mývatn Nature Baths (smelled extremely strongly of what Carson and I called geyser water but really was the combination of air and sulphur from the steam). Carson said that after a while, the smell sort of grows on you. Thankfully though, the Blue Lagoon we visited on our second last day in Iceland did not have this smell. We stopped by the Hverir (boiling mud pots) which smelled even stronger and we could see steam everywhere here and hear the bubbling of the mud.
We drove another 1.5 hours to get to our hotel, Sæluhús Apartments and Houses, which was located in Akureyri. We made it to the northern capital of Iceland in time to grab groceries from Netto for a home cooked meal (spent roughly $40 on dinner and breakfast ingredients) which we considered cheap after so many meals out in Iceland. Akureyri is very pretty and had we had more time, it would have been nice to spend a few hours exploring. As it was, this was just our stop for the night. Sæluhús Apartments and Houses is a ski chalet and is a little on the pricier side, but is very nice. There are laundry machines available to guests on site which is a big plus.
Day 6 – Snæfellsnes peninsula
After making scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, Carson and I headed on the 4.5 hour drive to Snæfellsnes peninsula. This was mostly going to be a driving day with several stops along the way. We made our first stop at a little cafe with a gas station to fill up. Here are the stops we made along the way to Stykkishólmur:
- Búðir – lava fields, yellow/grey sand “beach”
- Arnastapi – small town at foot of mt Stapafell, lava fields, giant rock statue of Saga character named Bardar
- Hellnar – more lava fields; there is a short 2km hike between Arnastapi and Hellnar, but we did not make time to do this as there were several more stops to make before dark.
- Lóndrangar – volcanic plugs that haven’t been eroded yet
- Malarrif Lighthouse
- Saxholl – volcanic crater
- corner of the peninsula
- Hellissandur – small town along the way
- Rif – small harbour town
- Ólafsvík – originally a fishing town
- Grundarfjörður – another small town along the way
- Kirkjufellsfall – the waterfall in the feature photo of this post
TIP #5: Always keep an eye out for gas stations. It can be a long way until the next one. Credit cards are generally accepted (especially because there are no attendants at some stations).
Once in Stykkishólmur, we checked into Hotel Stykkishólmur and then went out to find dinner. Narfeyrarstofa was unfortunately closed, so we ate at Plassid which was still very good. They had their mussel special, and an awesome cream of asparagus soup.
TIP #6: If you decided to visit Iceland in the winter (after October 1), it is highly possible that the restaurants you want to eat at may be closed. Activities and restaurants are very seasonal and weather dependent. Activities are easier to deal with. You can often contact the tour group and see if they still offer the activity outside of the regular season or even arrange something with a private guide.
Day 7 – Akranes, Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik
From Stykkishólmur, we went to Akranes, which used to be a harbour town to see the lighthouse (noted as fifth most iconic and 3rd most beautiful). We crossed the only toll road (a tunnel – it cost roughly $10CAD) that was about 6km long to get back onto the Highway 1 toward Reykjavik after. From there, we headed to Blue Lagoon (best way to end off our Iceland trip). We spent 2-3 hours there and it is amazing. I would say that the water massage is passable, but definitely pay for entrance into the lagoon and try out the silicon mud (yes you can apply it all over your body). You can even buy a drink from the Blue Lagoon Bar and enjoy it while you have a mud mask on your face and you’re soaking up the minerals in the geothermal spa.
Day 8 – travel to Copenhagen, Lindsey Stirling concert
We loved the pastries from Sandholt Bakery so much that we went back for more the day we left Reykjavik. The 3-hour flight to Copenhagen was uneventful and after being in Iceland, Copenhagen did not feel cold at all (temperature was anywhere between 10-18C). After driving 2300km around Iceland, we found ourselves in the city with the most cyclists in the world. Cycling lanes are as wide as the car lanes. We caught a cab (mostly European made cabs here — most are Benz but we saw some Volkswagen and Audi taxis too) made our way to the Lindsey Stirling concert before she came out (we missed the opener) due to our delayed flight but she was much better live than I had originally expected her to be. Unfortunately, it was a standing concert. Being 4’11 definitely has its disadvantages, especially when you’re in a city of extremely tall Europeans. The Danish are tall and a pretty good-looking bunch, I’ll say.
TIP #7: Cycling signals are taken very seriously here. There is a traffic light for 1) pedestrians, 2) cyclists, 3) vehicles. Hand signals give everyone around you indication of what you plan to do (e.g. halt, turn).
Day 9 – Strøget, Carlsberg brewery, Tivoli (Halloween)
We walked a short distance along Strøget, the pedestrian only shopping street of Copenhagen, before catching a train to the Carlsberg Brewery was great. It was a self-guided tour, but everything you need to know or want to know is already laid out for you. They even have an intense Carlsberg Group beer bottle collection containing more than 22,000 bottles. After the tour, we went to Tivoli where I felt like a kid again. Definitely glad we made it during the Halloween season. Tivoli is an amusement park (much smaller than Canada’s Wonderland) but with much more charm. Tivoli is only open for the summer and then again for Halloween and Christmas.
Day 10 – bike renting, Noma, Strøget, Nyhavn, Amelienborg, Little Mermaid
It was perfect weather for biking. We picked up 2 basic bikes at and made our way to Noma, where we had lunch reservations at this world-renowned restaurant on Christianshavn, the man-made island in Copenhagen. More on this meal later, but it was definitely an amazing experience. Totally worth trying to get reservations. After getting stuffed from our 20-course lunch, we took a short break before riding to Strøget and parking our bikes. We walked to Nyhavn to see the pretty harbour. It was super busy even in the middle of the afternoon (then again, it was a Saturday). We continued on towards Amelienborg Palace where we saw the palace guards, meaning the queen was in residence. From there, we made our way to see the famous Little Mermaid statue inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale.
Day 11 – Fisketorvet, returning home
And it was over. The day we returned home to Toronto had finally come. We visited Fisketorvet (the mall) quickly after returning our bikes and relaxed until we had to leave for the airport, which is only 15 minutes from the centre.
More photos from our trip are available in this album.