Back with part 2 of my trip to Iceland, where the hubs, my sister-in-law, her husband and I took a camper van around the Ring Road. If you'd like to read part 1, here's a link where I share some logistics on how we survived living in a camper van, and what we did in Reykjavik and southern Iceland.
Day 4: Eastern Fjords to Myvatn
We spent a good chunk of the day in the camper van, driving from the southeast corner of the island up to the northern island along the the eastern fjords. Part of the fun of the eastern fjords is stopping along the road for views, but it was a little foggy and rainy that day so we missed out a bit. We started our day in Stokksnes, a little seaside valley just outside of Hofn. It's filled with ruins of a bunch of old farms from the Viking ages up to the early 1900s as well as a recreated Viking village, an abandoned set from a movie.
Then we got back on the Ring Road, winding along the coast and weaving in and out of the fjords before eventually making our way up into the mountains, where the road opened up into these gorgeous glacial ponds and lakes. I loved seeing the bright, colorful Icelandic towns on the other side of the fjord. Another highlight was this gorgeous waterfall near Djúpivogur - just check out that bright blue water!
The one fjord town we spent time in was Seydisfjordur, since it’s supposed to be the prettiest. It was honestly one of the cutest places I’ve ever been - this little artsy town filled with simple, brightly colored wooden houses, restaurants and shops wrapped around the innermost corner of a fjord, with huge waterfall and glacier covered mountains looming overhead. After stopping at Skaftfell Bistro for a a beer and reindeer pizza (sorry Rudolph), we wandered around town a bit. There's a ferry that comes once a week from Europe, so there's a decent bit of good shopping and eating for such a small town.
It was a long drive from there to Myvatn, so we decided to hit up the natural baths and relax there until they closed at 11. The country is dotted with geothermically heated baths in lava fields and this one is the most famous in the north. Unfortunately it was really cold and windy outside and the main bath was about 5 degrees cooler than I would have liked. My body was lukewarm and my ears were frozen solid! Thankfully, room opened up in the smaller hot tub, so we hung out there and chatted over beers with a bunch of tourists from all over Europe and the US. Then it was back to the campsite in Reykjahlíð for a late night (err midnight!) dinner of pesto pasta in the van, with a quick break to see the midnight sun over Lake Myvatn on summer solstice!
Day 5: Myvatn to Akureyri
Possibly my favorite day of the trip - although I do have three contenders ;) We spent most of it exploring the volcanic region around Myvatn. Since I’m a bit of a geology/science nerd I was totally geeking out. We started our day with a hike up Hverfell, an almost completely symmetrical crater formed by a volcanic eruption 2700 years ago. The views at the top were insane, especially on a clear day. You could see almost all of Lake Myvatn, the flat topped mountains formed from volcanos erupting under ice caps, craters of extinct volcanos, lava fields and steam rising up from the ground.
Then we went to the lava fields at Dimmuborger, which literally means "dark castles" and it's pretty aptly named. It was formed when lava from a volcano flowed over a lake or swamp and the water bubbled up, causing these crazy looking lava formations.
From there, we visited Grjotagja. For my fellow Game of Thrones fans, it’s John Snow and Ygritte’s love cave. My sister and brother-in-law didn’t know why it was famous so I was trying to show them the video until I realized – oops, I’m that weirdo streaming porn in public 😬
Next stop was Hverir, a volcanic area filled with fumeroles and mudpits. It made us laugh thinking back to our trip to Yellowstone, where similar areas are heavily roped and cornered off to protect tourists from falling into a hole of scalding hot volcanic water. Iceland, on the other hand, seems to be a type of Darwinic experiment on tourists. While the bigger steam holes and hot springs are roped off, you’re basically free to walk around everywhere with the warning not to step on any ground that looks white because, you know, you may fall into a 200 degree Celsius pit of water.
Then we drove down to see the waterfalls at Dettifoss and Selfoss, which are walking distance from each other. They former is the most powerful waterfall in Iceland and they both rip through this massive volcanic canyon. On the way out of town, we stopped by Godifoss, another famous waterfall. Selfoss and Godifoss were another example of Iceland’s great Darwinic experiment – you could walk right up to the edge! I wasn't nervous when I was there, but looking back at our pictures gives me anxiety!
We arrived in Akureyri around dinnertime and immediately hit the town for food. The fish and chips place we wanted to go to ran out of fish (how does that happen???) so in a happy accident, we went next door to Strikid for the most amazing dinner with sunset views over the fjord. Scott and I went halfsies on the fried catfish and smoked cod with roasted carrots and calamansi (a type of citrus) and honey glaze, and the seafood trio with ling, langoustine, and puffin (I know! They’re so cute…but also delicious!).
Day 6: Akureyri to Snafellsnes Penninsula
Since we stayed out late the night before, we slept in and spent a leisurely morning shopping and exploring Akureyri, which is the second biggest city, err really town, outside of Reykjavik. If you ever find yourself there, be sure to drop by Kaffi Ilmur for coffee and a slice of their coconut date cake layered with whipped cream and topped with chocolate ganache. It’s one of the best cakes I’ve ever had, definitely top 5!
For lunch, we hit up Akureyri Fish and Chips since we were sad about missing out the night before. The cod was perfectly fried, not at all greasy and so good paired with their skyr dill and lemon dip.
After we ate lunch, we hit the road again for another long drive down to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Most people doing the Ring Road will do the western fjords, but since we didn’t have enough time, Snaefellsnes is a smaller peninsula with a really cool national park at the tip. Along the way, there were tons of great view points we stopped at, including one where it was so windy, the waterfalls going off the side of a cliff were being blown upwards. We spent some time in Stykkisholmur, this really cute harbor town, also the scene of the adorable karaoke scene in Walter Mitty. We climbed to the top of this cliff overlooking the town on one side and the ocean and islands out to the other. We also visited Kirkjufell, which is kinda like the flatiron building of geology, and Kirkjufellfoss.
We spent the night right outside of Snaefellsjokul National Park in a lava field running up to the beach, where we spent our last night with Caroline and Neil enjoying the most beautiful 1 am sunset over the beach.
Day 7: Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Blue Lagoon
After saying our goodbyes to Caroline and Neil, Scott and I spent the morning exploring Snaefellsnes National Park, which houses the Snafellsnes ice cap that's the setting for Journey to the Center of the Earth. We started off with the beach, bird cliffs and lighthouses at Ondveroarnes, then climbed to the top of Saxholl Crater (and were subsequently almost blown off it by the wind). Then we went for a hike at the beaches of Djupalon and Dritvik, the site of two ancient fishing villages and (according to legend) the home of trolls. The hike to Dritvik takes you through the most magical lava fields - I felt like I was in another world!
For lunch, we stopped at the most adorable little cafe in Hellnar, Fjoruhusid, which is built into the side of sea cliffs. We bundled up with blankets, since despite the sunny day it was really windy, got bowls of their famous seafood soup and ahhhmazing bread and skyr butter, and watched the seabirds.
Although there was still more to explore in Snaefellsnes, we had to make our way back to Reykjavik to drop off our van and get to Blue Lagoon so we could have maximum relax in the spa time. We did make time to stop at a naturally carbonated spring ("it tastes like shitty lacroix" ~ me) and to play with Icelandic horses.
Our last night we stayed in Silica Hotel, this gorgeous spa with it's own private lagoon, just a few minutes walk from the Blue Lagoon. It was a bit of a splurge, but a.) we just spent a week sleeping in a van b.) all hotels in Iceland are pretty expensive c.) when you factor in free admission to Blue Lagoon (which is pretty expensive) and their private lagoon, drinks and breakfast, it comes close to breaking even.
The Blue Lagoon is a natural geothermically heated lagoon in the middle of a lava field outside of Reykjavik. It's famous for being rich in silica, which gives it a milky blue color, and makes it really good for your skin. Our hotel's lagoon was a smaller and quieter, so it was perfect for relaxing. We spent the afternoon soaking in our hotel's lagoon, took a break for a nice meal at Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon, then hung out with the end of the day crowds at the Blue Lagoon, where we got silica and algae facials. The Blue Lagoon was really nice, but it definitely had more of a party atmosphere compared to our hotel's lagoon.
We decided to continue the splurge-fest with a four course meal for dinner at the Lava Restaurant, which was SO beautiful! It had huge windows overlooking the Blue Lagoon and lava fields and the seasonal Icelandic cuisine was SO tasty and beautifully presented. Plus, more bread and skyr butter - woop woop!
Day 8: Blue Lagoon to (sad!) home
Our last day in Iceland was a pure relaxation day! We woke up early for breakfast at the spa, where they served the yummiest cheeses and breads (my kinda breakfast) including the best croissant of my life (big claim. I stand by it). Then we basically just did the following all morning before heading off to the airport.
Have you been to Iceland?? Would love to hear of any places we missed! Dying to go back!