“Go to Iceland” at a Glance
This post was originally for one particular traveler who wanted ideas to build an itinerary that was adventurous, but not too extreme. As it turns out, these are good ideas for anyone interested in planning a trip to Iceland with just the right amount of adventure. Here’s the general gist of the ideas — read on for more specifics!
++Go to Iceland, Go Inside a Volcano
++Sign up for the Midnaeturhlaup
++Taste Ancient Waters
++Head to the Highlands
++To the Far North
++Coffeehouses, Bookstores and Fashion
I started this blog for one reason: to give people ideas for finding the right adventure for them. My favorite days as a blogger are not when an advertiser throws some cash my way. It’s when someone writes and says something like “Hey, I got the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe using your tips.”
So I was fired up to get a message from a friend who decided to go to Iceland — and promised to mine my blog for ideas.
Rather than make my friend Katie leaf through dozens of post, I decided to compile some ideas to help her go to Iceland. These will be perfect for anyone who plans to go to Iceland. Katie did say “you probably went more rugged than I will go.”
Fair enough. I think I can help Katie find the right adventure for her taste.
Katie has her plane ticket and her new hiking boots — let’s see what we can do for her! (And be sure to check out a more recent post with even more Iceland info!)
Go to Iceland, Go Inside a Volcano
I love volcanoes, especially if they’re still spewing something. But an extinct volcano can offer something, too. Especially Thrihnukagigur volcano, which is just a 30-minute drive from Reykjavik. It’s the only volcano in the world that I know that is extinct, yet has its magma chamber fully intact. The Inside the Volcano tour takes you more than 400 feet into the depths of Thrihnukagigur.
I was in Iceland before this tour started, and I wail at my misfortune on a daily basis. This is not something any visitor to Iceland should miss.
Sign up for the Midnaeturhlaup
June 23 is the date for the Midnaeturhlaup, a great race in Reykjavik with 5k, 10k and half-marathon distances. All the races start and finish at the Laugardalslaug geothermally heated pools – a perfect way to kick back after running — and to meet locals. It’s also a good shot at glory: I love telling people that I was the first American finisher the year I ran. Of course, there were only three Americans, and my wife would’ve cooked me if we’d run the half-marathon instead of the 10k.
Since this is right in the middle of Reykjavik, it’s easy to sign up and get to the venue.
Taste Ancient Waters
Just try pronouncing Jökulsárlón like an Icelander: I dare you. It translates into “glacier lagoon,” and you’ll see the word jökul all over the place. Anyway, the word sounds cool – but seeing the Jökulsárlón in person will blow you away. Check the image, and bear in mind that it’s straight out of my camera. No photo editing or processing whatsoever. I’d also recommend the boat tour. Our guide fished a hunk of ice out of the glacier lagoon and chipped bits off for everyone to taste. We did a full day of glacier hiking combined with a visit to the glacier lagoon, which we arranged through Glacier Guides. I recommend them highly, especially if they’re still cruising around in a yellow school bus with a cute dog named Hekla.
Jökulsárlón is a haul from Reykjavik. We spent a night camping nearby at Skaftafell National Park, and a second night further west in Vik. Vik is nice, but not a must if you’re crunched for time when you go to Iceland.
Head to the Highlands
OK, I know Katie thinks she doesn’t want to go too rugged. But I think she must get out to the highlands. I’d recommend that she takes a morning bus from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar. From there, she can do an eight-mile hike on the Laugavegur trail through some of the most unearthly scenery she’s ever seen. By the time she arrives at Hrafntinnusker Hut, she’ll have hiked past volcanic plugs, fumaroles, Technicolor rocks of all sorts, an incredible field of glossy, black obsidian boulders and the scenery used in the opening shots of the movie Prometheus. What’s really funny is when a ranger at the trailhead says “Oh, it’s really crowded today” and then you don’t see another person for the next two hours. Have a look at this post for more photos.
You can turn this into a three-day hike by pressing on toward Thorsmork, or you can return to Landmannalaugar and catch a bus to Skaftafell National Park or Kirkjubaejarklaustur (aka Klaustur, for short).
It takes a good four hours to get to Landmannalaugar from Reykjavik. Much of the trip is over bumpy dirt roads that have, by early June, been open for less than a week (many of the highland roads are closed during much of the year – the terrain is that rugged). But I can’t in good conscience tell anyone to go to Iceland and give this area a miss. If you don’t travel with a tent, you can book a bunk at Hrafntinnusker hut.
To the Far North
66° North is an Icelandic clothing brand you’ll see everywhere – at trailheads, at coffee shops, you name it. Icelanders seem to pride themselves on enduring the north, and doing themselves up in 66° North was a manifestation of that pride. But there’s north and then there’s NORTH! To get further up the globe, I recommend that Katie hops on a plane to Akureyri, and then either rent a car or takes a bus to the area near Myvatn (which means Midge Lake). There are hotels and hostels around the lake, but I’d stay on the north side near the Vogar Farm Guesthouse campground. From there, Katie would be close to the Myvatn Nature Baths (a less-touristy and less-expensive Blue Lagoon), the Dimmuborgir lava field, Hverfjall crater and other cool spots. It’s also a very serene area. Do avoid the chocolate-covered black licorice at the gas stations, though.
Something else cool: The road from Akureyri to Myvatn passes a waterfall that freezes in the winter; when it’s frozen, it stars as The Wall in the HBO series A Game of Thrones.
Coffeehouses, Bookstores and Fashion
Reykjavik is as cool and artsy a city as Katie will find anywhere. She likes coffee shops if not coffee, and the city is loaded with them. And they are all regional – as far as I know, Iceland has kept the Starbucks invasion at bay. Katie is a reader, so she’ll love all the bookstores. It’s hard to walk a half-mile without running into one, a sign that this is a very literate society (another sign – all the beds have reading lights on both sides). Reykjavik also has a huge interest in fashion; women there cruise around in some pretty wild styles. And I saw a huge number of independent fashion businesses selling their wares for reasonable prices.
OK, so I hope this gets Katie started on her plans to go to Iceland. Next up, I’ll share some advice on gear for her trip.
Find out even more in my Quick Iceland Travel Guide.
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Hello I am looking into visiting Iceland but have a few questions about how you got around. It sounded like you were very open to the bus rout. Did you have a rental car or was public transportation accessible enough?
Hi, Rachel. We used both. If you’re planning to stick to fairly established roads, rental cars are great. You can take a little extra time without being tied to the bus schedule.
But if you’re planning to hit some of the highland areas in the interior, I’d stick with the bus. They know the routes and the hazards, and that can be really crucial. Many of the routes are closed during most of the year, so they’re not exactly a smooth ride. I felt a lot better with someone who knew what he was doing at the wheel!
When your plans take you to the paved or graded roads, though, you can definitely have a good time with a rental car. I would recommend something rugged with a bit of ground clearance. Just in case! And when you’re behind the wheel, beware of the F Roads. They mean business!
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Glad you enjoyed it. Yell if you have ideas for a post, or have a question!