We did something we’ve never done before – we went on a spontaneous trip with only a day worth of planning. On Wednesday night we had a crazy idea, why not fly to Iceland? After some vigorous research, making a few reservations, and booking our lodging, we were on the way there on Thursday night. Thankfully we got some reasonably priced air tickets with WOW – an Icelandic low cost.

Top places to see and activities to do in south and west Iceland (IMHO):

1. Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon – it’s an impressive site when you approach and get the first glimpse of the lagoon with floating icebergs of various shapes and sizes. We took a boat tour that takes you closer to the icebergs and even lets you touch and taste 800 yrs old ice.

Although this picture makes it look like we were the only ones there, in reality, there were hundreds of people and it was hard to get on a boat tour if you didn't have a reservation.
Although this picture makes it look like we were the only ones there, in reality, there were hundreds of people and it was hard to get on a boat tour if you didn’t have a reservation.
This guy fished a small piece of ice from the lagoon and brought it to our boat
This guy fished a small piece of ice from the lagoon and brought it to our boat

2. Walk into the Langjokull glacier – you board a huge bus which drives to the top of the glacier where they dug a 400m long heart-shaped tunnel. Because the glacier is constantly moving down the mountain, so is the tunnel, very slowly obviously. Eventually it will melt away. They think the entire glacier will be gone by 2165, so we were there just in time.

Entrance to the tunnel, away from the wind
Entrance to the tunnel, away from the wind
Walking into Langjokull glacier
Walking into Langjokull glacier

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The lights made the ice  look colorful
The lights made the ice look colorful
Back to the surface
Back to the surface

3. Ingólfshöfði Puffin Tractor Tour – the best part of the tour is the tractor ride to the remote island where the puffins breed. The ride goes first though a river, then some shallow water and finally a huge black sand beach.

The meeting place of the tour is in the middle of a flat, empty field. But where are the puffins?
The meeting place of the tour is in the middle of a flat, empty field. But where are the puffins?
Starting the 25 min tractor ride by crossing a river. You could barely see the cliffs of the island at the horizon.
Starting the 25 min tractor ride by crossing a river. You could barely see the cliffs of the island at the horizon.
Here it is closer.
Here it is closer.
Reflection of the overcast sky on the way to see the puffins
Reflection of the overcast sky on the way to see the puffins
And here are the little buggers. So cute!
And here are the little buggers. So cute!
Huge black sand beach, sometimes under water, separates the puffin island from the mainland.
Huge black sand beach, sometimes under water, separates the puffin island from the mainland.

4. Walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall and find the hidden Gljúfrabúi waterfall – even with a huge crowd of tourists the experience of walking behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall and getting soaking wet was pretty fun. Luckily my camera is “waterproof” 🙂 Just down the road from Seljalandsfoss, there are two more waterfalls. Stop at the last one where you can enter the little canyon and see Gljúfrabúi falls.

Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss
Walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss Falls and Entrance to the Gljúfrabúi falls
Seljalandsfoss Falls and Entrance to the Gljúfrabúi falls
Hidden Gljúfrabúi Falls
Hidden Gljúfrabúi Falls

More waterfalls worth a stop.

Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufellsfoss
Svartifoss. You gotta hike to get to this one.
Svartifoss. You gotta hike to get to this one.

5. Soak in a hot spring – Even if it’s a little overrated, overpriced and overcrowded, the Blue Lagoon is worth a try. We were there at 10pm and the crowds were manageable. For a cheaper and simpler option, we tried Hoffel hot pots, which are in the middle of a field. There are a few tubs which you share with the fellow tourists as well as locals. We mingled with a retired couple from Reykjavik who were very curious about where we are from, what we are doing for work and how old we are.

It's almost midnight
It’s almost midnight
Blue Lagoon at night
Blue Lagoon at night
They are planning to expand due to its popularity
They are planning to expand due to its popularity
Hoffell hot pots in the evening
Hoffell hot pots in the evening
On the way to Hoffell hot pots
On the way to Hoffell hot pots

6. Taste the local food – when we had time to eat at a restaurant, the food was always good and super expensive.

Nyhofn Restaurant in Hofn - local fish and langoustine
Nyhofn Restaurant in Hofn – local fish and langoustine
Breakfast at Cafe Prepp in Reykjavik
Breakfast at Cafe Prepp in Reykjavik
Pastry from Braud in Reykjavik and entrees from Nord restaurant in the airport
Pastry from Braud in Reykjavik and entrees from Nord restaurant in the airport

7. Climb the stacks at the black sand beach in Vik – it’s a unique natural feature but the enjoyment was diminished by the loads of people.

Black sand beach in Vik
Black sand beach in Vik
Black sand beach in Vik
Black sand beach in Vik

8. Walk among moss covered lava rocks. Driving through miles and miles of mounds of lava is outworldly. It’s worth stopping and walking among them.

Rough, black lava rock covered in green, fluffy moss
Rough, black lava rock covered in green, fluffy moss

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9. Drive the Golden Circle – the most popular drive near Reykjavik.

Watch Strokkur Geyser shoot hot water into the air (similar to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, only much smaller)
Watch Strokkur Geyser shoot hot water into the air (similar to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, only much smaller)
Watch Gullfoss waterfall from all vantage points
Watch Gullfoss waterfall from all vantage points
Meet local horses
Meet local horses
Walk around Kerio crater
Walk around Kerio crater

10. Explore Reykjavik because you kinda have to if you’re in Iceland 🙂

The stacks from the beach in Vik may have been the inspiration for Hallgrimskirkja church
The stacks from the beach in Vik may have been the inspiration for Hallgrimskirkja church
Street art in Reykjavik
Street art in Reykjavik
Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall
Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall
Creative gate
Creative gate
Street findings
Street findings

I’m sure we only scratched the surface of what Iceland has to offer, but for 4.5 days and with one day of planning, I think it was a successful trip.

Something to keep in mind:
– When renting a car consider getting additional insurance. Apparently cracked windshields are very common. There are a lot of gravel roads, however, a rock hit our windshield on a paved road and it cracked slightly. It was less than 1 in thankfully and they didn’t say anything when we returned the car, but it was a close call.
– There are not a lot of public restrooms when driving through Iceland, so seize the opportunity when you see one, especially if it’s free.
– A couple of places that could be skipped if strapped for time (IMHO): (1) the old plane wreck site. Unless you have a couple of hours to waste, it’s a 5 mi round trip hike through a flat, rocky, barren lava field which makes the hike very monotonous and long. (2) Thingvellir National Park where the only point of interest, other than being the site of the first parliament in the world, is the Mid-Atlantic rift where the North American and Eurasian plates are separating creating a canyon.

Here’s a map showing the location of the places we’ve seen above (click on the image to see it bigger).

map

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July 29, 2017

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