With all the arctic weather outside, I worked inside to create a family photo album of our summer vacation to Iceland. My original intention was to give copies to the boys as Christmas gifts. That’s when I realized I also never finished sharing the last leg of our 10-day adventure exploring Iceland.
Right now, it’s much colder here in Pittsburgh than it ever got in Iceland during our July trip. That includes while floating in a glacial lagoon! Today, it’s a balmy 17 degrees in Reykjavik after dark, while in sunny Pittsburgh it’s minus 7 — before the wind chill. For those unfortunate souls in places like Chicago and Minneapolis that must sound like a tropical heat wave!
Summer is indeed the time for exploring Iceland; when the temperatures are moderate, there are 20 hours of daylight, and roads are accessible for traversing the land of fire and ice.
However, the winter months are an excellent time to research and plan an Icelandic vacation. It’s a small, sparsely populated country with limited infrastructure to support the huge influx of summer visitors. Accommodations should be booked far in advance — whether it’s a hotel, Airbnb or even a campsite. If you decide to circle Iceland on the Ring Road as we did, it’s absolutely essential to determine driving times between destinations and secure room reservations soon.
In Journey North to Whale-Filled Bays, we finished day six driving up the Trollaskagi Peninsula to overnight in the charming harbor town Siglufjorour. Today, we’ll head south to the remarkable Snaefellsnes Peninsula and finally, Reykjavik and the infamous Blue Lagoon.
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Exploring Iceland Day 7: Heading South
Day seven was primarily a driving day; returning south along the Troll Peninsula, a mountainous area lodged between two scenic fjords.
Dramatic, one-lane tunnels with periodic pullovers are quite the experience — nothing quite gets the heart racing as seeing tractor-trailer headlights coming (seemingly) straight at you in the narrow dark! I can’t begin to imagine or recommend driving an RV on that route.
Along the way south, we briefly traversed the remote Vatnsnes Peninsula, an area known for its geology and wildlife. Eldest son took over as official tour guide for exploring Iceland over the next two days; using his phone to chart out points of interest and worthwhile, short detours.
Hviserkur, a tall basalt rock protruding from Hunafloi Bay, is a nesting ground for birds. Local legend has it that the volcano sea stack or plug, is an Icelandic troll petrified by the sun.
A short hike takes you out to an overlook with access to the black sand beach below. During low tide, it’s possible to reach the troll formation — if you don’t mind getting your feet wet.
Further along the drive, the Ring Road makes a short detour to Hvammstangi, known for it’s local seal colonies. An Icelandic Seal Centre on the harbor front is the town’s prime attraction. We didn’t tour the center but did have a fabulous lunch at the adjacent Sjavarborg Restaurant overlooking the water.
Information and road signage is posted on the best locations to see seals around the peninsula. At Illugastadir farm, a brisk 10-minute walk led to a viewing hut with binoculars. There, we got a good close up look at a large seal colony out on the volcanic rocks. It’s an awesome experience to see and hear seals barking just off shore. Unfortunately, my pictures are just too fuzzy and dark to share.
Bedding Down in Borgarnes
Afterwards, we continued south through rolling plains in a river valley, lava fields, and finally descended into the fjord zone around Borgarnes.
Borgarnes was a landing zone for Iceland’s famous first settlers. Although we did not tour the Settlement Centre, we did eat dinner at it’s popular restaurant.
While there, we spent the night in this large, charming cabin. Beautiful horse saddles hung in each of two bedrooms and loft. But, I could have definitely done without the long, bumpy and rutted ‘road’ leading to the well-appointed cabin — a good ways outside of town.
After such a long day in the car, we enjoyed a really fun evening playing card games around the table.
Exploring Iceland Day 8: Western Iceland
West Iceland and the stunning Snaefellsnes Peninsula is sometimes referred to as “little Iceland,” because it combines the most diverse landscapes the country has to offer all on a tiny peninsula.
“West Iceland offers everything from windswept beaches and historic villages to awe-inspiring volcanic and glacial terrain in one neat little package.” Lonely Planet
Gerouberg Basalt Columns
Our first morning destination was Gerouberg, an impressive long wall of basalt columns.
Huge hexagonal rock structures were fun for climbing. I didn’t climb to stand on the top of the volcanic wall, but the guys all did.
We headed in the opposite direction, along the north coast of the peninsula, in order to visit tiny Stykkisholmur and have lunch.
Charming restaurant Sjavarpakkhusid overlooks the working fishing harbor and lighthouse. Youngest son thoroughly enjoyed the local seafood and craft beer.
Meanwhile, eldest son and I enjoyed a fish sandwich served on lava or volcanic bread. A dough of dark rye is enclosed in a metal container before it’s sealed and buried in the ground to bake for 24 hours. How ‘cool’ is that?
Moss Covered Landscape
Back in the car, we drove through Berserkjahraun, a 4,000 year-old lava field on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula covered with green moss.
It was a twisty, up and down drive in an otherworldly landscape. Don’t miss it!
Mountain & Waterfalls
Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland. Jutting out into the sea makes it a focal point along the northern coast of the peninsula.
Nearby is Kirkjufellsfoss, picturesque waterfalls just a short walk from the road.
It’s a popular stop for cruise ship passengers due to its accessibility.
Dramatic Volcanic Cliffs, Black Pebble Beach & Lagoons
Djupalonssandur is an arched-shaped bay of dark cliffs that at one time was a busy harbor.
We spent a good amount of time exploring the area as there was lots to see.
It’s definitely worthwhile to follow the path down to the beach area; viewing volcanic rock formations both up close and just offshore.
Waterproof hiking boots come in handy for traversing the volcanic rock, black pebble beach and two nearby lagoons.
Heading back up from the water offers another perspective of the volcanic cliffs. I loved all the different ‘sculptures’ created by the forces of nature.
Next, we headed around the tip of the peninsula to reverse direction along the southern coastline.
Gatklettur (Hellnar Arch) is a famous, naturally formed stone arch found between the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar.
An easy walking trail takes you through a lava field between the massive glacier and jagged cliffs to the ocean. It was mesmerizing watching the crashing waves come in and out.
Going Inside the Mountain
Late in the day we took one last, short hike — following a stream through a cleft in the volcanic rock face. Rauofeldsgja is a deep gorge where it’s possible to hike into the crack in the mountain wall.
Once we entered the crevice, the ‘path’ was actually a shallow, rocky stream. The source of the water was thawing glacial ice.
We didn’t venture under the ice for safety reasons and stopped here. Still, I felt like such an adventurer exploring Iceland!
Views Everywhere You Look
Skies cleared and the sun came out by the time we arrived at the Budir Hotel with its gourmet restaurant. It was ideally nestled between the glacier and coast; with amazing 360 degree views.
Right behind the hotel is the iconic Black Church and cemetery.
Before a late dinner, we enjoyed artisan cocktails in the cozy library and bar.
Our nearby corner hotel room afforded the same fabulous views with sheep right under the windows!
Exploring Iceland Day 9: R & Blue Lagoon
We woke to a rare clear morning and this breathtaking view just outside our room. See the tall waterfall in distance? We must have seen thousands of waterfalls exploring Iceland, and I never once tired of them!
It wasn’t until after eating a big breakfast and heading out to the car that I realized there was another awesome sight to the immediate left.
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Low cloud cover the day before had obscured the snow-capped Snaefellsjokull Glacier, which covers a volcano. We got another fabulous view two days later when we flew home.
Because of the novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, the volcano is one of the most famous sites in Iceland. Snæfellsjokull is where the passage was into the depths.
We then headed back to the Borgarnes area for a quick stop at the Wool Center to look at Icelandic sweaters. Nearby, we enjoyed a delicious, early lunch at the not-to-be-missed Geirabakari Kaffihus. It overlooks the water, and sits along the Ring Road enroute to Reykjavik.
We timed the drive to reach the Blue Lagoon for our 1 PM timed entry — booked about a month in advance. I booked the minimum, but pricey Comfort Package which included a towel, silica mud scoop, and drink. It and a few hours are all you need to have the full experience.
There’s no pictures from our excursion as I didn’t want to damage the GoPro camera lens with silica deposits in the water. Besides, none of the guys would have allowed it! It took some prodding just to convince them to wear the mud mask for 10-15 minutes.
I thought the Blue Lagoon was very relaxing and a neat way to finish exploring Iceland. The guys could have done without it. I do wish, however, that we had experienced a natural spring/pool during our vacation.
Overnight in Reykjavik
A quick 45-minute drive and we were in rainy Reykjavik. For our last night in Iceland, we stayed in a large, three-bedroom rooftop apartment and enjoyed a gourmet dinner in one of the city’s many obscenely-priced restaurants.
None of us were wowed by Reykjavik. In fact, we’d recommend staying outside the city and skipping it altogether.
Exploring Iceland Day 10: Traveling Home
Having the roomy apartment allowed us all to regroup and repack our luggage for the trip back home. Before heading to the nearby airport, we also had ample time to walk around Reykjavik and enjoy a great brunch. And, we were fortunate our flights back to the U.S. were within minutes of each other.
I can’t thank my sons enough for this amazing adventure that took me well outside my normal comfort zone! For your own virtual experience see:
- Incredible Iceland Trip Ten Day Adventure, Part 1
- Iceland Vacation: Glaciers and Icebergs, Part 2
- Iceland Journey North to Whale-Filled Bays, Part 3
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