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.
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.
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.
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.
More waterfalls worth a stop.
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.
6. Taste the local food – when we had time to eat at a restaurant, the food was always good and super expensive.
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.
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.
9. Drive the Golden Circle – the most popular drive near Reykjavik.
10. Explore Reykjavik because you kinda have to if you’re in Iceland
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).