We promised this info here a while ago and although later than hoped, I’m not one to break a pinky swear. Now, I won’t pretend like we actually deserve any credit for planning (most of) this because we don’t. Our soon-to-be-mountaineering-guide and bestie Justin (aka Jeiny aka Jeinbag aka Jeinosaur) did all the legwork. And outside of his inability to understand dates, he did a damn good job… so, we’re just gonna spread the good word to other travelers until we put some new, brag-worthy adventures together ourselves.
Without further adieu..
Night 0: Anticipation!
First and foremost, the lovely staff of Keflavik airport made sure we still had brains by thoroughly poking them with COVID test swabs. All inbound passengers were tested upon arrival and required to quarantine until negative results come back (6-12 hours later). Perhaps this is why there were zero new cases when while we were there?!?
Boarder patrol thought we were morons only having one hotel room for five travelers (and uh, they were right). It’s easy to forget that a standard European hotel room is equipped with two twin beds (hence how the megabed tradition was born), not the two full/queens we’re used to in the US to fit our generally fat asses. The airport Marriott was a great choice for quarantine though, primarily for the massive, tasty breakfast smorgasboard they delivered to our rooms (yeah, we ended up getting a second one) the next morning. It pays to have status 🙂
Day 1: Things that Erupt (ba dum cha!)
Upon receiving our negative results, we picked up our trusty (read: four wheel drive) steed from the rental car agency, double checked that we had the gooooood insurance and went straight after some action at Fagradalsfjall (bless you). For people who don’t recognize gibberish, that’s the erupting volcano outside of Reykyavik. Good thing you don’t need to speak Icelandic to take in one of the coolest things you’ll ever see in real life… The Earth shooting “liquid hot magma” out of herself!
Other activities: The Phallological Museum – highly recommend grabbing their house IPA (Icelandic Penis Ale) or Moby Dick Pale Whale while you enjoy the specimen. Be careful not to spill laughing when you find out what a pizzle is.
Food: Taqueria La Poblana for lunch, and an extremely tasty, if intoxicated, late dinner at Bastard Brewing.
Lodging: Loft HI Hostel in downtown Reykyavik.
Day 2: Reykyavik knows about food, less about whiskey
Today was about exploring Reykyavik, primarily in our favorite fashion – consuming. The food was 10/10 between the pastries & sandwiches at breakfast, braised lamb sandwiches at lunch and then an 8 course tasting menu + wine pairings at dinner. What I would not recommend is the Icelandic sheep shit whiskey, Floki. Sorry, it just tastes like a barn…
Food: Mokka Kafi for brekkie, Sæta svínið for lunch, and Kopar for an almost-too-late dinner. Shout out to the staff for doing an expedited menu so we could enjoy the spread before the kitchen closed! And also for the hefty/extra wine pours from bottles that would other wise have gone to waste… no down soldiers!
Lodging: Loft again! Memorable qualities: Great rooftop bar & happy hour.
Day 3: THEE Golden Circle
We thought Justin was just being an elitist when he kept telling us that this was the ‘worst’ part of Iceland’s ring road.. it’s all relative. I didn’t know where this country’s bar was actually set to realize he was right. I still had the time of my life skipping along the tectonic plate fissure, waterfalls (-foss is the Icelandic suffix you’ll see about 98 more times) and geysers. Also, when you’re at Seljalandsfoss, make sure you walk the whole trail and meander through the slot back into the last waterfall!
Sights: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Hestavadsfoss, Reynisfjara beach, and Svartifoss.
Drive time: 6-7 hours
Food: Both the cafe at Geysir and Reynisfjara were money!
Lodging: Sellfell Guest House
Day 4: In retrospect, we really didn’t have time to do a 6 hour glacier excursion..
So this is the day we were supposed to do a glacier hike + lagoon kayak excursion on Jokulsarlon… aaand did not. COVID has exposed time as a made up construct which is how I excuse Justin messing up the booking dates. Even still, we didn’t get to our lodging until around 10pm (thank god for 22 hours of sun) because there was so much to see! If we did this again, I would definitely do the glacier adventure, but attempt to find lodging that allowed us to split this into two days.
Two important things to note are 1. Hengifoss is a legitimate hike so be prepared for the big ‘ol steep boy and to cross a couple streams via rocks. 2. There are technically two ways to see Studlagil Canyon, but only one correct way and of course it’s the obscure one. It requires what feels like trespassing on someone’s farm and walking a good hour to get to where you can hike down to the basalt columns right up to the water’s edge, which was worth every second!
Sights: Along the route there’s a fun viewing point of Jokulsarlon with a big metal sculpture, shortly after which is the glacial lagoon carrying ice chunks into the ocean. Then Svartifoss, the silly red chair, random waterfall/nature exploration, Hengifoss, and finally Studlagil Canyon!
Drive Time: 8 hours
Food: We stopped off at the N1 gas station for hot dogs and ice cream. I usually would never recommend this, but you kind of have to experience the food quality in Iceland to believe it. The N1’s legitimately have better food and desserts than restaurants in other countries. We tried several to confirm :).
Lodging: Vogar Travel Service, Myvatn
Day 5: Hopefully we smell better than we look!
Myvatn is home to less crowded version of the famous Blue Lagoon – their own nature baths! The soothing hot spring water certainly would have kept us relaxing there for a while no matter what, but we happened to meet some super cool rugby players in the sauna and had a great time exchanging shenanigan stories over beers. After our semi-bougie spa experience, we headed to our guest house which ended up being much further from Akureyri than we thought, in a town that had no open restaurants. So we drove back around the fjord to Akureyri and despite us sporting dirty hiking clothes next to people in slacks, the staff of Strikið thankfully still let us in 🙂
Sights: Hverfjall volcano and Grjótagjá cave hikes, a random slot canyon off the road, the Perpetual Shower, Hverir geothermal area, Myvatn nature baths, and Godafoss.
Drive Time: 2 hours, plus 30 mins to/from our airbnb to get dinner in Akureyri (WORTH!)
Food: Lunch at the nature bath cafe and a high-praise-worthy dinner at Strikið, Akureyri.
Lodging: Vellir, Grenivik was a top tier guest house. While the basement was definitely designed for trolls, the view of the fjord and surrounding mountains was gorgeous. Definitely could have hung out there an extra day if we weren’t on a mission to get to the highlands.
Day 6: Have we finally peaked?
So this was the first big F roads day, meaning you can’t expect to get through here without a four-wheel drive vehicle! There aren’t a lot of specific destinations to call out because half the time we just pulled off the road in places that looked cool and meandered around, which is kind of the best. Another point of emphasis – if you want to camp, trust but verify that your rental gear actually works or you might be going hungry (there aren’t many stores or restaurants up in the highlands). It’s not our first rodeo with tents, but we still struggled to figure the dumb thing out and it struggled to make it through the night, which was less disappointing than our stove’s struggles. Despite those hiccups, the spontaneity in relatively untouched nature and incredible midnight sunset hike put karma back in balance.
Sights: Hveravellir hot springs park, a random canyon in the highlands, hiking near Kerlingarfjoll in a little snow storm, and other things you’ll just have to find yourself!
Drive time: I believe we had 6-7 hours in the car but since we just stopped off the road somewhere between Kerlingarfjoll and Sigoldugljufur on this route that looked good to camp, so that’s just a guess.
Food: Amazing shepherds pie + skyr cake at the Hveravellir lodge, Raw pork loin on a shit camp stove (aka sandwiches & Scotch).
Lodging: A rubix cube of a tent that was unfortunately less structurally sound than a rubix cube.
If this felt like a lot to read, believe me, it’s a LOT to experience.. in the best way, of course! In the interest of digestability, we’ll be coming back with part two later this week.
Stay tuned, adventure buddies!