We went to Iceland on 2 different occasions, first for 7 days then back again for 21 days. I’m going to break up the post into 2 parts, here is part 1. We did this for 3 reasons; 40 days in Iceland was just too much time as originally planned, we needed a plan for what to do in Iceland instead of winging it, and we needed a break for our wallets. Now, it’s no secret that Iceland is expensive but we were caught off guard by how expensive. Previously in Norway and Sweden, they were both expensive, yeah, but not compared to Iceland.
Our first 7 days were spent around Reykjavik and the popular tourist areas in the South and Southwest regions. Reykjavik itself is not a particularly exciting place to wander around if you’re a broke backpacker like myself. We spent 4 days walking everywhere around the city and there were some notable spots that I would recommend but overall you only need to spend 2-3 days max here before going to see the rest of this magnificent country.
One such spot I would recommend, just for the absurdity, is the Penis Museum! (technically called the Icelandic Phallological Museum) The entry was $15 but the pictures and laughs I got out of it was well worth it. Highly recommended and it’s located on the main street in Reykjavik. The second thing I’d recommend is the free public geothermal pool located near Reykjavik University called Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach. The facility was modern, well kept, and with hardly any tourists. It has a hot pool, steam room, warm pool, and beach area with super-cold ocean lagoon. And yes there were people swimming in the lagoon area, I got up to my knees and ran back to the hot pool. Unlike Icelandics, my California blood is no match for these cold temperatures. Another nice spot to visit in Reykjavik we stumbled into by chance and that was the Kolaportid Flea Market in the old harbor area. A nice little place to buy some random knickknacks or food. A must-do just outside the flea market is to go get a world-famous Icelandic hotdog, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. There’s a famous picture of Bill Clinton holding one in front of the stand in the nineties, they have this mayonnaise sauce called remolaði that is delicious. Just order “the works”, trust me ;). Yet another must-see is the famous church Hallgrímskirkja that you’ve no doubt seen pictures of, I also posted a picture of it on my Instagram. We didn’t go inside but instead just took some pictures and left.
Once you leave Reykjavik you start to understand what Iceland is all about, the beautiful nature. We elected to do a two-day hike starting from one of the most iconic waterfalls in Iceland, Skógafoss. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of this one too. The trail can be done from either direction but we wanted to start at Skógar and end at Þórsmörk (about 25km) but stay at the hut for a night to not make the hike more demanding than necessary. Our plan didn’t really work out that way. The morning we were set to start the hike, we both ate unripe/immature avocado and threw up our breakfast at the bus station. Luckily, we felt better after that and proceeded to begin the hike. The Fimmvörðuháls Trail starts at Skógafoss and follows along the Skógá River, past its many gorgeous waterfalls, between two glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull (I dare you to pronounce one) and past the recently formed craters, Magni and Móði, from the 2010 eruptions that disrupted air traffic in mainland Europe for 6 days. The trail then goes down into the Þórsmörk glacial valley and ends in a surprising forest of trees. What ended up happening was that we didn’t plan our bus ride out of Þórsmörk and was not allowed to stay in the hut overnight (it was fully booked for a private group) so that kinda put a damper on things. We ended up camping just outside the hut and the next day returned to the trail up through the glaciers. We stopped just as the valley opens up and hiked back the direction we came from, without a ride planned we felt it was a better option. Overall, the hike was a nice taste of what hiking is like in Iceland and when we return for 21 more days in part 2 of this post, we do the rest of the Laugavegur trail, a four-day trail, with optional fifth-day that we just completed from the opposite direction.
Back to Reykjavik
After we finished our hike we didn’t really have anything left planned for our first 7 days and used that time to plan out our trip around the ring road, talking with other travelers, including buying a $600 hop-on hop-off bus “passport” (http://icelandbybus.is/). The ring road bus was a fantastic option for seeing the whole ring road on a budget. Rather than renting a car and spending $100 a day, the “bus passport” costs $600 and includes 2 day trips, one day-trip up to Landmannalaugar for the start of the Laugavegur trail with pickup in Þórsmörk and the other day-trip around the “Golden Circle,” with secret lagoon access, a very popular tourist attraction that I highly recommend.
Anyways, we left Iceland on a round trip to Poland knowing we needed to do some better planning and you can’t just wing it, unlike Southeast Asia, you need proper planning beforehand.