Mention Iceland and all sorts of images are conjured up. Ice-covered land, glaciers, wilderness, cold, volcanoes, geothermal activity to start. As an American living in the UK, I have flown over Iceland several times on my way back and forth. I wondered what Iceland was really like. Was it the cold, icy place it seemed to be?
I always longed for a visit to Iceland. For some reason it wasn’t high on our list of priorities partly due to cost, partly due to lack of knowledge. If I knew what I was going to find when I visited Iceland I would have gone a long time ago.
Like other Scandinavian countries, Iceland isn’t a cheap place to visit or live. Due to the world’s financial collapses in 2008 things suddenly because much more affordable. Iceland was hit particularly hard by the financial troubles which made our American dollar so much stronger than the Icelandic kronur. On that note, we thought maybe it was time to fulfill a dream and visit Iceland.
Although we had other travel planned for early in the year, to Malta and the US, we decided to squeeze in a ten-day visit to Iceland in May, a bit earlier in the year. We chose the off-season due to costs mainly—cheaper airfare, hotels, car rental, and the fact that it is low-season when less people would be visiting. We thought about maybe taking less than ten days and only going to Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. I said that if we were going to Iceland that we were going to do it properly and go all the way around. No arguing there. Ten days it was…
Next issue—which direction do we travel? Clockwise or counterclockwise? There were pluses and minuses to both. In the end we decided to go clockwise and for no particular reason. Given the chance to do it all over again I would not have done it the same way. I would have gone to Reykjavik first then traveled counterclockwise around the island. Why, you ask? Iceland is full of spectacular scenery, and lots of it. By the time we had gone ¾ of the way around we had been wowed that many times that it wasn’t as interesting anymore. Yep, another glacier. Yep, another waterfall. Secondly, we didn’t give ourselves enough time or attention to Reykjavik. It was raining the one full day we had in Reykjavik. And we had the end-of-holiday blues. I would have been happy to call for my things and settle down in Iceland for the foreseeable future.
Arrive late to Keflavik Airport and stay overnight at B&B Keflavik Airport. Then it was two nights in the Akureyri area and two nights in the east of Iceland near Egilsstadir. We then spent one night each at Skaftafell National Park and Kirkjubaejarklaustur in the south. From here it was to southeast Iceland, the Hveragerdi area, for two nights. Finally, we stayed one night in Reykjavik before flying home.
We obviously had specific ideas in mind about what we wanted to see and what we would skip since ten days isn’t enough time to see everything. For the most part we would set off each day with no expectations. Iceland is full of brown signs pointing you to tourist sites as well as informational signs in Icelandic and English so you know what you are seeing. We would have a look at our guidebooks to see what was along the way or what was in the area and take it from there.
Let’s have a word about eating in Iceland. Be prepared to pay to eat in Iceland. It was expensive. Subway became a good friend of ours and it was not cheap either. The ten days we were there I can honestly say that we had three restaurant meals, several Subway meals, more hot dogs than I would like to admit and quite often we ate from the grocery store or sandwiches from a petrol station. Iceland has a unique system of grills in petrol stations. You can get a good variety of fried food, hamburgers, hot dogs, drinks and snacks. At times it may be your only option.
What should you drive in Iceland? We rented an economy car but when we arrived to pick it up they were short on them and they gave us a Tucson, a small 4X4. We were obviously very happy with this since we wanted one in the first place. We were not willing to spend nearly twice as much for a 4WD vehicle. Luck was on our side here. Although the main road, Route 1, in Iceland is mostly paved, many of the other roads are not. There were some seriously rough roads out to some of the glaciers and waterfalls. In order to reach some of these you really had to have a four-wheel drive vehicle. The interior roads were not open in May when we visited—they aren’t open very often as the roads are not kept cleared all year. I think July and August are good months to visit this area. The interior of the country needs a four-wheel drive vehicle for sure. The roads are not paved and they are rough and mountainous.
If you are a person that loves surreal landscapes like lava fields and glacial lagoons you really must visit Iceland. If you are a person that loves wildlife like whales, birds and reindeer you really must visit Iceland. If you are a person that loves outdoor adventures you really must visit Iceland. If you are person that loves a modern, high-tech, cultural country you really must visit Iceland. I could keep going here. There is something in Iceland for everyone. Like I said before, if I knew what I was going to find in Iceland I would have come a long time ago. This is one place I will see again. Words cannot describe what Iceland made me feel. Go discover it for yourself.