This page presets some background information information on trip planning followed by a day-by-day travelogue and closing comments.
Pictures from the 2011 trip: link.
I’ve been wanting to visit Iceland since following the Adobe Iceland Lightroom Adventure in 2006 and seeing photos of the fantastic landscape. We decided to go for ourselves in spring 2011. The only things that I initially knew that I wanted to do were visit the place where the North American and European plates were spreading apart (which I now know is in Þingvellir National Park) and see the northern lights. The latter hinted at a non-summer trip to get adequate darkness.
For trip planning, I began by ordering guides from Brandt, DK, and Lonely Planet, borrowing one by Insight, and ordering a Rough Guides map (1:425,000). The DK guide, titled Top 10 Iceland, gives an excellent full-color orientation of the island. It provides top-10 lists of everything from waterfalls and hikes to museums and restaurants along with enough full-color photos to capture the reader’s attention. It also includes a variety of fold-out maps that give a sense of distance and provide enough detail for getting around Reykjavik, but I wouldn’t rely on them as my primary map. The Rough Guides map was more than adequate for this task, the weatherized paper held up well, and it included icons for gas stations, museums, etc. We ended up using this map extensively for planning our trip, and spreading it out quickly disabused me of the idea of driving the entire ring road. Iceland is bigger than I thought, and going all the way around in two weeks would entail a couple of hours of driving each day. That’s not how I wanted to spend my vacation.
I started with highlights from the DK guide, dug into the other guides, and came up with the following list of places to see that wouldn’t involve driving every day:
The Insight guide is printed in full color and provides an extensive background on Icelandic history, culture, roads, weather, etc. along with many eye-catching photos. But it gives very light coverage to points outside Reykjavik. The Brandt and Lonely Planet guides are both black-and-white publications with a color insert and give full coverage to the island but quite as much background. The Brandt guide is a bigger book, with much of that extra space going toward background.
The next step was get some help turning this list into an itinerary and booking a car and accommodations. Several companies offer self-drive tours, and I emailed Bjorn Hroarsson at Extreme Iceland to see if he could give us a hand. Bjorn suggested modeling an itinerary off Colorful Iceland (9 days). He proved extremely helpful in explaining the pros and cons of visiting in the summer vs. September, assured us that Jennifer’s gluten/dairy intolerance wouldn’t be a problem, and stated that we’d have a good chance of seeing the northern lights in September. Prices on rental cars and some accommodations also drop considerably in September when the high tourist season ends. One item of note is that portions of our itinerary (visiting Þórsmörk, driving north of Mýrdalsjökull) would require driving F roads, which are unpaved and require renting a good 4x4, not a 2WD or baby 4x4 like a Susuki Vitara. Bjorn assured me that we wouldn’t need a friend with a winch on these roads, but that we would be fording streams and dodging big holes in the road along with rocks. Some further thinking led to our itinerary. Bjorn suggested a list of accommodations were we’d be able to cook for ourselves or the restaurants could handle dietary restrictions.
Photography wise, I brought my D700 with a Nikkor 28–300 VR (Nikon’s most useful lens), Panasonic LX-5, B+W 10-stop neutral-density and circular polarizing filters for the Nikkor, tripod, and Really Right Stuff panorama elements package. Everything performed beautifully. Perhaps the only mistake was not renting a Nikkor 24 f/1.4 or Sigma 15 f/2.8 fisheye for aurora photography.
Turns out that central Iceland often experiences high winds and windblown volcanic ash. I was glad to leave a single weather-sealed lens on the camera the entire time, which was no handicap in the case of the Nikkor 28–300 VR. It does everything!
Iceland stays within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures thanks to the Gulf Stream. Bjorn said to expect temperatures between 0–18 C (32–64 F) during our visit and noted that they were seeing less rain than usual. We packed Gore-Tex hiking boots; waterproof/breathable shells, pants, and gloves; capilene underwear (shirt and pants); synthetic socks and sock liners; and a fleece to wear under the shell along with t-shirts and swimming trunks.
Fly Atlanta to Toronto (Air Canada) then Toronto to Keflavik (Icelandair overnight).
Our Air Canada flight was delayed due to mechanical problems and arrived late in Toronto. We had less than an hour to go through Canadian customs, take the train to another terminal, and board our plane. We made it with a few minutes to spare but feared that our luggage wouldn’t make it.
Our flight landed around 0630 without our luggage. We gave the Icelandair baggage rep a copy of our itinerary along with my email address, and they promised to get the bags to us as soon as they could. This left us rather thin on clothing, equipment, and dehydrated food.
Our next step should have been to lay in a supply of booze for the next two weeks. Iceland allows visitors to purchase duty-free merchandise upon arrival as well as departure. At the time, we did not know that the Iceland taxes alcoholic beverages proportionally to their alcohol content and only sells them through state-run stores with limited hours. Other stores can only sell watery beer with ~3% alcohol content.
We then got on our way to our rental apartment for the evening. The default Flybus ticket drops you off at the Reykjavik bus station, and you can buy a round-trip ticket for a small discount. For a small additional charge, you can hop on a smaller bus that will take you right to your hotel. The trip to our rental apartment on Laugavegur (Reykjavik’s main shopping and party street) took a little over an hour. We arrived well before the check-in time, and the property manager let us drop off the few items before sending us a few blocks down the street to Gata for breakfast. It was around 0900 at that time, and all of the restaurants we passed during our walk were surprisingly closed.
Gata set the stage for a surprising aspect of this trip—fantastic food, coffee, and service. The owner assured Jennifer that her celiac and dairy intolerance wouldn’t be a problem as he himself had several food issues. We ordered scrambled eggs with bacon, which were among the best I’ve ever eaten and delivered as a substantial portion. The coffee carafe wasn’t that big, but any more of the strong, flavorful coffee would have left me glued to the ceiling. We quickly learned that Icelanders take their coffee very seriously and that Jennifer’s dietary restrictions wouldn’t be an issue. After our breakfast, we continued our stroll down Laugavegur, checked out Harpa concert hall, Hallgrímskirkja church, and Bókabúð Máls og Menningar book store before stopping by Bonus to pick up groceries for dinner.
Grocery prices were similar to in the US with the exception of imported items, which cost noticeably more. Iceland doesn’t import as much as you’d think as they grow numerous fruits and vegetables in geothermally heated greenhouses near Flúðir and Hveragerði. Crazy as it sounds, the fruits and vegetables we ate in Iceland tasted better and spent far less time traveling to market than most of the ones we eat in the US.
We struck out trying to find a hiking guide for Iceland. Every bookstore carried detailed topographic maps, but none offered a guide that listed trails and provided descriptions of hikes. We had to rely on getting maps at park visitor centers and learning about trails from the rangers.
We loved the styling of the rooms at 37 Apartments and had no trouble cooking our dinner. Each room has pots, pans, silverware, French presses for making coffee, and other kitchen utensils. The manager keeps salt, pepper, olive oil, coffee, and other essentials in a hall closet. Check the closet before buying your own.
Any concerns about running into trouble due to not knowing Icelandic were put to rest the first day. Everyone we met in Iceland spoke English. We later learned that Icelanders begin studying studying English at age six and get a steady diet of English-language cartoons while growing up. We often heard English being spoken between two non-native speakers, such as an Icelandic guide and a German tourist. It seems like English is everyone’s second language. It’s not considered insulting to walk up to a Icelander and start talking in English.
That morning, we learned that Icelandair found one of our bags, but they couldn’t tell us which one. Bjorn and his wife Guðrún brought us our Mitsubishi Pajero Sport that morning, which came with a copy of the Iceland Road Guide. This guide become our most valuable book once we understood how to orient and use it. Lonely Planet can’t compete. Get this book if you’re going to Iceland!
Bjorn called up Icelandair and learned that our bag should arrive at the Reykjavik bus station at 1000. He spoke with them at length and confirmed that they understood our itinerary and would send the second bag to the bus station in whatever town we were staying as soon as they found it. Bjorn and Guðrún said that they’d go to the bus station with us, see which bag arrived, and then loan us whatever we needed from their supply of gear.
The bag that arrived contained our hiking boots, my camera tripod, Jennifer’s trekking poles, and all of our dehydrated food. This left us missing the bag containing our clothes. We followed Bjorn and Guðrún to their house where they loaned us a second backpack, jackets, sweaters, long underwear, gloves, and hats at no charge. What a lifesaver! We were now underway and stopped by a Hagkaup (similar to a Super Target) to pick up a second pair of underwear and hiking shirts on our way out of town. Clothes definitely cost more in Iceland than in the US. Don’t let the airline loose yours!
Iceland posts a national speed limit of 90 km/h on paved roads and 80 km/h on gravel. The speed limit drops as low as 30 km/h in urban areas. Bjorn warned us that the police and camera systems strictly enforce these limits with enormous fines. And don’t even think about getting behind the wheel after alcohol crosses your lips. Iceland uses numerous roundabouts and yield signs to keep traffic moving. You’ll rarely see a stop sign outside urban areas: One road will have the right-of-way and the other a yield sign.
The time it takes to drive a given distance will prove deceptive long due to the temptation to continually pull over and explore sites visible from the road. There’s another beautiful waterfall, mountain, or geological feature every few kilometers, and people have the right to cross private land while hiking or exploring. Just don’t rile up the animals and leave gates as you found them.
Iceland only has one single-digit road: highway 1, also known as the ring road. Two-digit numbers designate main roads, where the staring digit gives the region of the country where the road is located. Three-digit numbers designate secondary roads, many of which are gravel. Roads beginning with an F require a 4x4 truck. A four-wheel-drive car won’t cut it. The rental car company will feed you to trolls if they catch you on an F-road with a passenger car.
We took the ring road north through the tunnel under Hvalfjörður, then hopped on 54 after driving through Borgarnes. We sadly didn’t have time to visit the Settlement Center due to our late start. But we did make numerous stops while driving out onto Snæfellsnes peninsula including getting out and scrambling around the Gerðuberg basalt columns. An exit onto 574 took us to Hellnar and the Snæfellsjökull Visitor Center, which had just closed when we arrived. We continued on and stopped at Lóndrangar for some more scrambling and photography. Snæfellsjökull was continually visible, and I frequently pulled over to photograph the dramatic clouds formed by the volcano. Mountains create their own weather.
We saw the Longwave radio mast Hellissandur on the horizon after some more driving and soon arrived in Hellissandur. We then checked in at Hotel Hellissandur for the night. Dinner here proved another treat. The owner also had celiac, so dinner again wasn’t an issue for Jennifer. We both got salads, I ordered the soup, and we split the lamb. This proved more than enough food, and we split the main course nearly every time we ate dinner. This dinner, like all that followed it, made for a delicious end to a long day. Dinner typically ran ~$70 with a beer for me and a glass of wine for Jennifer.
I can’t say enough good things about the lamb and soups in Iceland. You see sheep grazing everywhere while driving and hiking, and these happy, free-range sheep make for delicious eating once they land on your plate. The farmers don’t inject the sheep with hormones, and the sheep eat grass, moss, and berries that haven’t been contaminated with pesticides and drink water that’s some of the purest in the world. Combine this with Icelandic cooks that skillfully prepare the meat and don’t overcook it, and you end up with a world-class dinner. I ordered a soup or stew most nights and was never disappointed. They ranged from cream of mushroom to lamb goulash and were always packed with fresh, flavorful ingredients.
Our room at Hotel Hellissandur proved typical in having a Scandinavian Modern design with light wood floors and furniture, white bedding, and clean, simple lines. The beds were always fitted with individual comforters instead of the ridiculous sheets that Americans insist on using. The rooms always had a corner shower instead of a bathtub, and the towels never included a washcloth. I could see plus-sized Americans having trouble fitting themselves into the corner shower.
Stay at Hotel Hellissandur.
Hotel Hellisandur and every other hotel on our trip included a cold breakfast in the room rate. The offerings included coffee, tea, milk, juices, a variety of yogurts, muesli, breads, jams, cold meats and cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, pickled herring, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and fruit. No problems getting a good start on the day with this spread!
Our truck had less than half a tank of fuel, and we pulled into the gas station on the way out of town to tank it up. The attendant had not yet arrived, and we had zero luck getting the pump to accept our credit or ATM cards. It asked for a PIN with every card. We didn’t know the PIN for our credit cards, and the pump consequently rejected the card. It also rejected our ATM cards even though we knew the pin. We had enough fuel for the day and began by driving 574 back to the Snæfellsjökull visitor’s center in Hellnar. Along the way, we poked our heads into Vatnshellir Cave (couldn’t go too far without the headlamps in our missing gab) and stopped by the memorial for Guðríðr Þorbjarnardóttir (an Icelandic woman that lived around 1000 AD, gave birth in North America, and traveled to Rome). The ranger gave us a map of the park and recommended a couple of hikes on the north slope. Interestingly, the English-language brochure did not include a list of hikes. We grabbed the German version, which I could read well enough to use. The ranger also explained that the glacial ice became rather soft this time of year and that even experienced guides refrained from venturing it onto it in late summer and early fall due to the potential for the ice to collapse underfoot. Getting to the hikes involved driving north on F570 and turning west onto an un-numbered road northeast of Snæfellsjökull.
We got back in our truck and drove up the mountain on F570. We noticed a few jeep trails that turned off the road and lead toward the glacier. These trails provided a fine opportunity to drop our truck into 4WD low and test its approach/departure angles. We noticed a Suziki Vitara following us one time, and the driver caught up when we stopped to scout crossing a dry creek bed. We made it across with little problem, but the Vitara driver didn’t attempt the crossing and opted to hike the rest of the way. This was one of many times that we patted ourselves on the back for getting a real 4x4 truck. Driving these trails took us to within an easy walk of the glacier’s edge. The first one ended at the base of an abandoned ski lift, and the second continued higher and let us check out some blue ice. The glacier did indeed feel soft, and it was easy to see how the melting was creating hollow areas under the surface that could unexpectedly collapse.
We initially missed the turn-off from F570 onto the un-numbered road and had to backtrack to recover our route. We stopped the truck a few times on our way down the mountain and explored a few trails and waterfalls, but it was getting late enough that decided to return the next morning before driving to Stykkisholmur.
The attendant was in the gas station when we got back to Hellisandur, so I purchased a pre-paid gas card and filled up the truck (perhaps 90% of Icelandic stores take AmEx). We ended up either paying inside or using pre-paid cards outside to buy $8/gallon gas for the remainder of the trip. After that, we filled ourselves up with another delicious dinner at Hotel Hellissandur.
We walked to the top of Hreggnasi for our first hike of the day. It’s a sub-peak of Snæfellsjökull that provides a stunning 360-degree panorama. We also hiked to Klukkufoss, a beautiful waterfall that plunges down basalt columns, and Snekkjufoss, the hike for which crosses a rolling lava field carpeted by thick, iridescent, green moss punctured by jagged boulders. We explored some side trails on the walk back to the car to take a closer look at the amazing landscape. After that, we finished some more short hikes before driving to Stykkisholmur, were we checked in at Bænir & brauð and met Greta, the owner. We talked about restaurant options before walking to Narfeyrarstofa. The restaurant was packed with people, so we walked around the waterfront and town for about twenty minutes before coming back and sitting down for dinner. Dinner once again didn’t disappoint. Jennifer got a big plate of slides lamb with mixed vegetables, and I had the lamb stew. Afterward, we kicked back in Bænir & brauð to chat with Greta and enjoy the beautiful furniture and design of her living room, which included a number of stylish pieces such as an Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen.
Greta prepared the best breakfast we’d eat during our trip by adding home-made bread, jams, and muesli to the standard Icelandic breakfast. She even made a gluten- and dairy-free muesli by toasting a mix of nuts and seeds and serving it with rice milk. We would love to have stayed longer Stykkisholmur to check out the two notable churches and ocean tours, but we already had a lot on our plate for the day.
We first drove to Þingvellir, the site of the Viking parliament and site where the North American and Eurasian plates are coming up out of the earth and pushing the continents apart. We stopped in at the visitors center to pick up a few maps and chat with the knowledgable guide before exploring the park. We visited the site of the Alþingi and explored the geological features while getting a taste of Iceland’s occasional high winds, which proved a good warm-up for Skaftafell. It’s a must-see if you visit Iceland.
We next stopped at Geysir. We didn’t see the eponymous geyser erupt, but the nearby Strokkur launched superheated water into the air every few minutes. Folks who have visited Yellowstone likely won’t fine it that impressive, but it’s worth a stop.
We arrived at Gullfoss fairly late in the day but still had plenty of sunlight for exploring the roaring waterfall that drops 32 m in two stages. Several viewing platforms exist for getting a look from different perspectives. Highly recommended!
The chef at Guesthouse Geysir made us yet another delicious dinner of soup, salad, and lamb. The waitress informed us that the owners had mixed success with chefs due to the rather remote location, but the guy in the kitchen during our visit knocked it out of the park. After dinner, we received good news from the front-dest attendant that our lost luggage would be waiting for us at the Vík bus station the next day.
We loaded up on another tasty breakfast at Gesthouse Geysir before starting the drive to Þórsmörkfr. We new that the F249 leading into the park would make for interesting driving due to the promised glacial rivers that we’d need to ford. The saga museum at Hvolsvöllur serves as an unofficial park office, and the attendant on duty informed us that the depth of the rivers depends on the time of year and recent rainfall. It hadn’t been raining, and he took a look at our truck and stated that we wouldn’t have a problem so long as we didn’t do anything stupid like drive to fast through the water and drown the engine. The museum looked fascinating, but we simply didn’t have time to go through the exhibits. The events in Njál's saga take place near Hvolsvöllur.
We took the ring road to F249 and saw Seljalandsfoss right after the turn but kept going. We got out of the truck and scouted the three fords before crossing them. The center appeared much deeper due to tour trucks driving straight through. Driving slightly off-center seemed like it would give a shallower ford in every case. None turned out to be much over 30 cm deep. I put the truck in first gear, low range, prior to each ford and drove through slowly without incident.
A little over an hour of driving brought us to the parking lot and hiking hut complex. The parking lot was full of both personal trucks and high-clearance tour busses. We found the warden, talked about hiking options, and punched a map. She recommended hiking up the Fimmvörðuháls pass to Eyjafjallajökull as a good day hike, so we grabbed our gear and got started. This hike may be the most amazing one I’ve done, with the hike to Neon Canyon’s Golden Cathedral in Escalante being the only contender for sheer awesomeness. The hike to starts in a birch forest and quickly gains elevation to reveal ever more impressive views of dormant volcanos, glaciers, and vast slopes covered in iridescent green moss. The trail crosses several exposed sections, a kilometer-wide mesa, and eventually reaches the site of the eruption, which comprises an area the size of several soccer fields where the ground has been thoroughly overturned and is still steaming. Amazing!
We stopped by Seljalandsfoss on the way out, which cascades off a 60-meter, undercut cliff. The trail goes behind the waterfall, and spotlights illuminate the falls at night. Another hour of driving took us to the Vík bus station, where we picked up our lost luggage, and Hotel Hofdabrekka, where we collapsed into bed without eating dinner.
We headed to the beach after a hearty breakfast and walked across the black sand to see the sea arches at Dyrhólaey. The white caps on incoming waves make for a striking contrast with the jet-black sand. It’s a must see, even if it isn’t the best beach for lying out and soaking up the sun. A short drive then took us to the Dverghamrar basalt columns. They’re right by the road and fun to explore, but not quite as impressive as the ones at Gerðuberg.
The next segment of driving took us across a desolate section of countryside and last segment of the ring road to be completed. We stopped in at the Skaftafell visitor center to get maps for the next drive before continuing to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where Romania’s Next Top Model happened to be filming. Those women must have been awfully cold! I’d highly recommend the tour, which involves getting in an amphibious truck and driving around the lagoon for close-up views of the icebergs and seals.
Dinner at Fosshotel Skaftafell with potato-leek soup and arctic char continued the tradition of excellent eating.
Stay at Fosshotel Skaftafell.
Our hike of the Kristínartindar loop began with a photography stop at Svartifoss, a beautiful waterfall that plunges down in the midst of black basalt column. We continued clockwise up the loop trail and began to pick up elevation and exposure to the wind coming off Vatnajökull. The spur to Kristínartindar travelled up a pass between it and a lower peak that looked straight out on the glacier. I started the hike in shorts and a t-shirt but was now wearing long underwear, long pants, a long-sleeve polypro top, a jacket, a rain shell, and a cap due to the ever-increasing wind, which was now occasionally gusting strong enough to knock us over. We made it a fair way toward the top of Kristínartindar but turned back at one particularly exposed section of the trail due to concerns about getting blown off and tumbling several hundred meters down to the glacier. The return hike offered several breathtaking views of the glaciers and mountains. We got back to the hotel for a late dinner of soup and lamb. I walked out into the parking lot after dinner, looked up, and saw what first looked like an iridescent clout stretched across much of the sky. It took a bit to realize that it wasn’t a cloud but the northern lights. Washing out our clothes yielded a bit surprise in that they were packed full of volcanic dust. Even our underwear turned the water in the sink a dark grey.
Lots of sleep, a big breakfast, and using the fee-based WiFi at the hotel (our only run-in with that) got us a late start to our next destination. We backtracked along the ring road and then hopped on F208 for about two hours of driving to Landmannalaugar. This included several fords, with the one right in front of the parking proving the deepest yet.
Although called a hut, the building offers a kitchen with enough burners and cookware that six or eight people could cook simultaneously and multiple rooms with mats for laying out sleeping mats. I’d guess that fifty or sixty people could sleep there simultaneously. Another building contains toilets, sinks, pay showers, and lines for hanging up laundry. There’s also a large campsite and facilities for outdoor cooking and eating. A small generator powers the ranger station, but the hut doesn’t offer electricity to guests. We brought in our sleeping bags and went out for a short hike before coming back and making dinner. Signs at the hot springs warned of a flesh-eating parasite from duck feces in the water. We decided to forego that option, but plenty of other people jumped in to enjoy the warm water.
The ranger station sells snacks, maps, and guidebooks, and some other industrious folks sell a wider range of food and hiking supplies out of the back of a parked buss. As in Þórsmörk, people arrived in both personal trucks and tour busses.
We had great fun chatting with the other guests that evening. Most were from Europe (Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, and Germany) with a few from the US. Ages ranged from early 20s to 50s. Everyone spoke English, and I got in some good German practice. The majority of the guests were starting the four-day hike to Þórsmörk, which offers a similar hut for people to stay in each night. When night fell, we all walked outside to watch the northern lights, which stretched from horizon to horizon. Folks were there to hike, and nobody kept the rest up with rowdiness.
Explore Fjallaback and Landmannalauger
Stay at Landmannalaugar Hut.
High winds were kicking up a lot of volcanic ash that limited visibility, and the ranger recommended a hike that stayed at lower elevations and passed by a number of lakes and volcanic craters, as the views offered by the trails leading up into the mountains simply wouldn’t be available. We had a fun time on the hike despite the windblown ash and limited visibility and enjoyed crossing the moss-covered lava fields and checking out the lakes. Chatting with the other guests over dinner once again proved enjoyable, and the northern lights came out on cue.
Head to Reykjavik
Stay at 37 Apartments.
We set off to Reykjavik after breakfast, and our first stop was Háifoss, the second-highest waterfall in Iceland. It made for a pleasant change to photograph something only a few meters from the car. Our next stop was Gjáin, a beautiful valley packed with waterfalls, pools, caves, and vegetation. It’s a photographer’s paradise! No wonder legend has it that a Viking chieftain took his paramour here. Our last stop was the volcanic crater lake of Kerið, which was fun to see.
Stay at 37 Apartments.
The next day took us to Glymur, where we hiked up to the top of the tallest waterfall in Iceland. The trail gets awfully steep at times, and route finding occasionally proved interesting, but we were rewarded with fantastic views of the waterfall. Once at the top, one can cross the river and see the falls from the other side. Going all the way to the top makes for an all-day trip from Reykjavik, but it’s well worth it. Glymur has cut itself into a narrow canyon, and we only found one spot near the top where one can see the entire drop.
One can buy whale meat at Bonus. It’s a very flavorful, lean meat that cooks very quickly. Thirty seconds on each side is plenty of cook time. Definitely give it a try!
Stay at 37 Apartments.
We started our last day in Iceland by returning our truck to Bjorn at his office on the outskirts of Reykjavik. His son dropped us off at the National Museum of Iceland, which gets a very high recommendation. The museum includes numerous artifacts and interactive, multimedia presentations on the colonization and history of Iceland. Afterward, we browsed the Icelandic clothing stores of 66° North, Cintamini, ZO ON, and Ice Wear. Great clothes, but largely too warm for Atlanta. The real find came later in the evening with Icelandic Bar. They serve all kinds of delicious beers including several particularly tasty ones from Ölvisholt Brugghús. Their Lava Stout leaves nothing to be desired.
Fly to Toronto.
Stay at Holiday Inn.
We made a morning trip to the Settlement Museum, which showcases a Viking longhouse discovered by excavating a basement. Scientists preserved the longhouse and turned it into a museum under the office building that was constructed. After that, kicked back with an afternoon cup at Kaffismidja before boarding the FlyBus to Keflavik, where we checked our bags through to Atlanta, boarded the plane, and found ourselves in Toronto a couple of hours later.
Fly to Atlanta.
Things got interesting when we returned to the airport in the morning. The attendant in Keflavik said that our bags would travel all the way through to Atlanta, so we hadn’t looked for them upon our arrival in Toronto. Turns out that customs won’t allow that! We had to pick up our bags and carry them through customs. Even better, we’d be clearing US customs in the Toronto airport, not upon arrival in Atlanta.
We learned from Air Canada that our bags were somewhere in the airport but not due for loading on our flight to Atlanta. Icelandair didn’t have any flights that day, so nobody from the airline was around to help us find them. We eventually spoke with Canadian customs, and an officer escorted me to the baggage claim area to pick up our bags. We had missed our original flight at this point, but Air Canada booked us on a later one at no charge. Finally, we cleared customs with our bags, boarded our flight, and headed home. A fitting end given the baggage trouble on our outbound flight.
We had a blast in Iceland, enjoyed the company of everyone we met, and wouldn’t have changed anything about our itinerary other than having more time at Gjáin, which we didn’t even know about until well underway, and spending a few hours at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport. The delicious food proved a pleasant surprise. September seemed a perfect time to visit with fine weather, enough darkness to see the aurora, and a moderate number of tourists. Places like Landmannalaugar Hut sound like a zoo from May through August.
I’d highly recommend an Icelandic vacation to adventurous travelers. If you’re limited on time, I’d suggest a trip to Snæfellsnes Peninsula, even if it means skipping the popular Golden Circle (Þingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir). Those sites are fine, but they pale in comparison to Snæfellsnes, which offers a bit of everything. Þórsmörk also gets a top recommendation and could be done as an ambitious day trip.
Vehicle wise, a passenger car would prove too limiting, as the F roads require a 4x4 truck. Our Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is the minimum I’d want to drive.
I’m gland that we booked our trip through Bjorn. Not only did he provide wise guidance in trip planning and hotel selection, but he saved our butts when our luggage didn’t arrive. Visiting Iceland isn’t like visiting Disney Land. A lot can go wrong, and you want someone like Bjorn to have your back.
We’re kicking around the idea of a six-day hike from Landmannalauger through Þórsmörk to Skogar in the future. Logistically, we could catch a shuttle from Reykjavik to Landmannalauger upon arrival, hike through to Skogar, and then catch a shuttle back to Reykjavik to continue our vacation.
Last edit: 3 November 2011