Photo by Eileen
Length: 8 minutes (1714 words)
Recently, I invited world travelers Jenn, Eileen, Sangeeta, and Steph to share their individual experiences traveling in Iceland. They all had different traveling styles – traveling with a young family, all girls trip, great Icelandic camping adventure; their one unifying factor – they are awesome people. They are also all respectful travelers who really know how to make the most of an overseas adventure.
Let me introduce our travelers to you and let’s hear what they have to say about Iceland.
Jenn is energetic and funny and recently traveled to Iceland with her husband, Paul, and their lovely 2-year-old daughter, Lilah. They wanted to go somewhere within a 5 hour flight range (it’s not always easy traveling with a toddler!) and ultimately chose the cooler shores of Iceland over Vancouver.
Eileen and Steph are colleagues and experienced world travelers. They’ve both worked as volunteer pediatricians in South America and came up with the idea of going to Iceland when Steph texted Eileen about a promotional discount flight to Reykjavik in the midst of studying for their Royal College exam. Spontaneity and the travel bug got the better of them and they left for Reykjavik right after their exam – which they both aced of course. They were joined by two other friends to make one fantastic all girls traveling band.
Sangeeta is a down to earth outdoor enthusiast. Her travel requirements were: some culture, lots of outdoor adventuring, easy to travel around, and limited planning required (she too was preparing for an exam). She left for her Icelandic camping adventuring in the company of her fiancé Spencer and good friends Emily and Travis.
How would you describe your travel style?
Eileen and Steph: Budget travel, low-key exploration, with a touch of adventure.
Jenn: Very relaxed and not super structured. We are quite flexible and always looking for unique experiences!
Sangeeta: Em and I enjoy planning to a fault. Spence and Trav go with the flow and follow the adventure. We are all pretty low-key travelers and enjoy cheap eats, seeing the scenery, and meeting locals.
How did you get around?
Eileen and Steph: We rented a car through a Hostel International package and drove around the country.
Jenn: By rental car.
Sangeeta: Bus for the first part of the trip and a Subaru Outback we lovingly named “Rattle Clank”. We used the car to do a circumferential tour of the Island. Our favourite part was the road through the highlands – poor visibility due to torrential rain, deep puddles, and lunar landscapes.
Where did you stay?
Eileen and Steph: At hostels arranged through Hostelling International.
Jenn: In Reykjavik we spent one night in a guesthouse and one night in a hotel. The rest of the time we stayed at various Icelandic farms that were pre-arranged for us. They were all very comfortable and more of a bed and breakfast-like accommodation. All of the farmers were extremely friendly and hospitable.
Sangeeta: AirBnB for the first few nights – The owner of the home put up an incorrect address on the website and then went on a bike race on the day we arrived. Em arrived first and wandered around in the rain trying to find the place and finally located it by going back to the AirBnB site and matching the pictures of the home and the street to the actual location. We did the beautiful Landmannalauger trek at the beginning of our trip and stayed in a combination of tent and hut. We camped for most of the rest of the way except for at Myvatn, where we lodged in a cute BnB on the lakeside. In the west fjords, we did a kayaking trip and stayed in an old abandoned farmhouse that was perched on the edge of a cliff. Beautiful but very chilly!
What was your most memorable moment in Iceland?
Eileen: There are too many moments to choose from. The memorable moments are what make Iceland a unique travel destination. 1) The landscape is gorgeous: towering waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, and serendipitous Northern Lights sighting. 2) Friendly people: everyone spoke English, and all were hospitable. 3) Interesting cuisine: puffin, whale, horse, and shark.
Steph: One of my friends had not seen Northern Lights before and that was on her wish list for Iceland. One night we were driving to get to our hostel in Akureyri a bit later than usual – lucky us, the Northern Lights decided to make an appearance right above us. There was a lot of squealing and as the driver I made the responsible call to randomly pull over on a field where we spent the next few minutes running around and lying on the ground looking up. Eileen has good pictures of them.
Jenn: There were so many! Swimming in the hot springs was pretty unique as well as traveling to Lake Mývatn (where they filmed parts of Game of Thrones!)
Sangeeta: There were so many! On the top 5: 1) Standing on the black sand beach at Jokullsarlon and watching the waves crash around crystal clear icebergs and pummel them! 2) Hiking Landmannalauger – beautiful, multi-coloured, surreal mountains 3) Seeing puffins on our kayaking trip 4) Hot pots – as we were mainly camping, we didn’t have access to regular showers until we discovered the Sundlaugs – public pools that required you to shower thoroughly before going in and coming out of the hot pools. Heaven! Also, the price was right – only 500kr (about $5) per visit 5) The architectural beauty that was Harpa, the concert hall in Reykjavik.
What makes Iceland a unique travel destination?
Eileen: The landscape, the friendly people, the cuisine – all the memorable moments make Iceland a unique travel destination.
Steph: The natural beauty and scenery.
Jenn: The scenery! It is literally one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been and our jaws were basically dropped the entire time we were outside!
Sangeeta: Very easy to travel around and the geography makes you feel like you are on the moon! Great camping facilities too.
What was the most interesting meal you had?
Steph: We had dinner at 3 frakkar (Three Trenchcoats) in Reykjavik and ordered whale steak, horse tenderloin, with fermented shark, and puffin for appetizers.
Eileen: And yes we ate it all, well, except the shark – that was incredibly unpleasant for my palate.
Jenn: We didn’t eat anything too crazy. We didn’t come across the raw fermented shark thing that everybody talks about. Crowberry jam was pretty neat!
Sangeeta: Given our various food restrictions, we didn’t adventure too much in the food department. No one opted for puffin, whale or fermented shark.
What was the most delicious thing you ate?
Steph: The whale was really tasty. But you’re also not allowed to leave Iceland without eating a pylsur (hot dog). They also have a slushy iced drink called “Krap,” haha.
Jenn: They had incredible seafood! We had the most delicious lobster dinner in our lives in Stokkseyri at a restaurant called Fjöruborðið. We also had incredible fish stew at Geitafell restaurant in Hvammstangi. The restaurant was actually closed but the owners opened it up just for us and we were so thrilled!
Sangeeta: Skyr yogurt.
What did you bring back from Iceland?
Eileen: Photographs and an Icelandic jacket.
Steph: Sealskin boots and a parka from Iceland wear – so warm!
Jenn: Mostly woolen goods (hats, sweaters). We also took tons of pictures!
Sangeeta: Sweaters of course! Amazingly warm, slightly itchy, and leave sheddings that look uncomfortably similar to pubic hair.
What final advice would you share with readers planning a trip to Iceland?
- Driving a 4×4 vehicle is the best way to see the country. Roads are well-maintained, even the off-road roads.
- Weather in Iceland changes almost by the hour – dress in layers. I would also recommend water-resistant clothing.
- Dining out can add up quickly. You can save a lot by purchasing groceries and making your own meals.
- If the weather permits, definitely rent a car, preferably a 4×4. We had some fun driving on some crazy off-roads.
- When you get to an attraction, there are some sites you might have to do a bit of hiking to go see. It’s always worth it! Wear lots of layers. If not, you’ll be cranky cold and wet and it would be a shame to miss out on enjoying your trip because of it. There’s no one really around to judge your style anyway.
- Eat Skyr yogurt.
- Take lots of pictures.
- Explore! So many people just stay in Reykjavik but there is so much more country to see!
Everyone is incredibly nice and they all speak English so traveling outside of major cities is easy. We really enjoyed staying at the farms and would recommend it for anyone looking to travel inland.
- If you enjoy camping or horseback riding there are many opportunities to make trips out of those activities which would be amazing.
- Also, don’t be afraid to bring your kids! You can be as adventurous as you like and there are things to do for every activity level – though a love for the outdoors is a must as almost all the activities involve being outside.
- As for packing, formal attire is not required. Ensure a good pair of waterproof, comfortable footwear and a light-weight rain layer and you will be good! Dress in layers as the climate changes frequently.
- Bring layers and be prepared for cold or rainy weather.
- Eating out can be expensive, so consider organizing accommodations with kitchen facilities.
- Rent a car that can go off the main road – you can get fined heavily if you take a car off the highway if it was not allowed to be.
- Plan to visit the local hot tubs over the tourist traps (read: Blue Lagoon).
- Try to learn basic greetings and phrases in Icelandic – everyone speaks impeccable English but appreciate if you try their language!
Thanks to our wonderful world travelers for sharing their Icelandic adventures with us and for offering their tips and advice.
Planning a trip to Iceland yourself? We’d love to hear about it!