Iceland was so much fun the first time we decided to go back. The first trip was way back in 2018 when a global pandemic was one of the last things most people worried about. Funny enough, the pandemic actually played into the decision to go back.
Our plans for a 2020 vacation were to Hawaii but that got nixed. Fast forward to the dinner table in early 2023. We asked our three sons their thoughts on vacation for the summer. With most of us not big fans of heat, the idea of Hawaii had lost its shine. When we tossed out returning to Iceland to see more of the country it was pretty much unanimous to return.
Let the planning begin
We made the executive decision to travel business class on Iceland Air (recommended). Paying up for such a thing for five is not something we do. After pandemic years we decided to live a little. With airfare secured with quickness we were on to deciding on an itinerary. In our 2018 trip we only did the golden circle area and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This time we were looking to do the whole ring road.
We mapped a route starting at the Blue Lagoon. From there we were heading counterclockwise around the ring road.
It really happened
The morning of departure in mid June arrived. Tracy and I were up and getting organized. I grabbed the passports and for some reason checked the expiration dates. This was odd for two reasons. First, I knew Tracy’s and mine were current. Second, we had updated two of our three sons’ passports mere months before. My heart stopped when I saw that Griff’s passport expired weeks before.
We spent 15 minutes cussing and getting to grips with what happened. Then the replanning started. Since it was a Federal holiday (Junteenth), we could not do anything about a new passport. With the hope of being able to organize a new passport issue we started replanning the trip. It cost us a good bit but, we were able to reschedule the flights for two weeks later. The next morning we were on the phone early. We were able to secure a passport appointment a few days before our new departure.
The heavy lifting started by trying to hobble together new accommodation. We tried to stick to our original route but could not string together a smooth route. On a positive note, the two tours we planned were flexible and had plenty of openings in our new travel window. As well, we were able to reschedule our Toyota Highlander car rental at the same cost as we agreed on months before. Huge thanks to Lotus Car Rental of which we highly recommend.
We spent a full day researching and rescheduling accommodation for the two week trip. In a matter of 48 hours we rescheduled a whole international trip. The end result was a complete rethink on direction. The new itinerary was now going around the country clockwise. In specific, the new route was two nights near the Blue Lagoon, one night in Reykjavik, four nights in Akureyri, three nights in Eidar, one night in Skalafell and two nights in Selfoss.
On the ground
The flight on Iceland Air Saga class was very nice and worth the price of admission. Once on the ground we had hours to kill as check in at the Northern Lights Inn near the Blue Lagoon was 3:00pm. Everyone fueled up at the Kökulist Bakery in Njardvik. We spent the rest of our pre-check in time touring around the Reykjanes Peninsula. While not the most exciting part of Iceland, it was not a part we explored before.
Over a few hours we took in: the Viking Museum, some scenic overlooks, lighthouses, and old churches. By the time we were on the way to the Inn, the boys were doing neck breakers in the back seats.
While chilling in our rooms it was not long before we realized the earth was shaking. Over the two day period that we were in the Blue Lagoon region, the area had 100’s of earthquakes. The epicenter was about 5 miles from the hotel and many registered over 4 on the richter scale. We are talking walls and beds shaking. By the time we left Iceland, the epicenter area opened up a long fissure and was spewing lava.
Just a little plug for the Northern Lights Inn. What a wonderful place to stay. While it is not near much, it’s a comfortable place with wonderful common areas and a brilliant breakfast buffet. To be clear the Inn is a two minute drive from the Blue Lagoon and about 20 minutes from Keflavik airport.
Although we had been to Reykjavik before, we decided to stay one night. The point of one night was a little food tour. We had time to kill before checking in to our Air B&B. We strolled the shopping district with a requisite stop at 66° North’s store. A visit to Valdis for some wonderful ice cream held us over to diner. Some people in our five questioned if we needed to go to Reykjavik again. After our diner at LeKock the questions stopped. Hands down, the hamburgers at LeKock are a top burger ever. Braden, our burger aficionado, put their burgers as top three he’s ever had. That is saying something!
With a long ride ahead, we loaded up on Braud & Co. pastries and their mouthwatering cinnamon rolls and were off to the top of the island. I’ve never had a better cinnamon roll than Braud & Co’s.
Our many hour drive to Akureyri contained our first stop of what would be many at an N1 gas station. N1 stations are a go to place for great food and coffee. For real, we took many meals at N1 stations -soups, burgers, donuts – they are all really good. With yummers coffee in hand, we pressed on through the stunning landscape to the capital of the north.
Our original itinerary had us staying very near downtown. In the course of revising the trip we lucked in to finding one of the Hrimland Cottages. These cute cottages sit on the western slope of the town on the way up to the ski area. Let’s say this was one of the upgrades that came from the rescheduling. Clean, spacious and stunning views are the best way to describe the cottages.
Akureyri is a relatively small town that sits at the head of a long fjord. The town makes a great base for exploring which is exactly what we did from here. The four days we spent here we went to Husavik for whale watching, Myvatn for its volcanic landscape and to Hrisey Island. We were also lucky enough to play the Akureyri Golf Club’s course for a midnight sun round. Our tee time was 9:00pm and we ended up playing until 2:00am with the course to ourselves.
Husavik was the location of one of the two tours we organized. This town is renown for whale watching. We used the North Sailing company and did not regret it. Well run and we saw many whales and dolphins. The water was little rough but nothing that caused any bad tums.
While in Husavik we also hit the awesome Geosea Geothermal Pool. The pools are infinity pools that overlook the fjord from 100’s of feet up. Much more quaint than the Blue Lagoon and way less people.
The northeast of Iceland has few tourists but is a must see. We added it to our itinerary in the rejigger. A big part of our decision to visit the area was accomodation. We found a great place in the Eidar Hostel and Apartments. The apartment we rented had a great kitchen and four bedrooms. As well, it’s a great location for exploring this remote part of the country.
Our big exploration day from Eidar took us up to see some puffins up close. In the tiny town of Borgarfjorthur is a small jut of land that pokes into the sea. This little parcel of land is the landing spot for 1,000s of puffins each summer. It rained a good part of the day but, we lucked into the rain letting up to go see the puffins. Afterward, we stopped at the Alfacafe for some fish soup and pastries. In a land where soup reigns supreme, Alfacafe’s fish soup is top of the list. Wow!
On the way back from our puffin adventure, we diverted to Sydisfjordur. This is the town to see the little church and rainbow road leading to it. Let’s be clear the drive around this area is filled with steep, mountainous switchback roads. So the rainy/snowy day made for some white knuckle driving.
To the glacier
We were back in the car for a long haul to the south of Iceland. We decided on taking the F939 road to save some time. The dirt road was not too busy and not near as scary as some make it out to be. To be sure there are many blind bends and ridges but, well worth it. When replanning the trip we knew this would be a rough day. We spent a good number of hours driving to Hofn and then went on to our glacier tour. Our tour operator was Glacier Journey where we planned a super jeep tour. Because the weather was warm and the snow soft, they suggested we switch to a snowmobile tour.
We agreed to the the switch and took the super jeep for a 45 minute, harrowing drive up to the glacier. Once on the glacier we switched to snowmobiles where we drove onto the glacier for another 45 minutes. Vatnajokull glacier is stunning to see and more stunning to be atop of.
We drove back to Hofn for dinner and then backtracked again to our hotel – Guesthouse Skalafell. These cute cottage-like buildings dot a farm that overlooks the sea. A great location to explore from with comfy beds and a grand breakfast buffet. We were only able to stay one night and had to move on to Selfoss as the trip was winding down.
The drive to Selfoss took us by Diamond Beach and the glacier lagoons. We stopped at both. We were lucky enough to be at diamond beach when there were actually little icebergs on the beach. The rest of the drive was a little uneventful as we were now covering area that we did in 2018. Our first night in Selfoss we returned to Kaffi Krus for diner as we did in the previous trip. Our second night in Selfoss we went to the Old Dairy Food Hall and had a great diner.
We opted for a route to Keflavik via Reykjavik from Selfoss. The goal was to hit a Braud & Co. again for the otherworldly cinnamon rolls. There are a few dotted around the city so we popped in for some treats and headed on to the airport.
Since we flew Saga class, we had access to the Saga Lounge at the airport. What a treat to have a wonderful buffet, comfy seats and great views of the airport.
Final thoughts and other tidbits
The N1 gas stations did not disappoint. Great coffee, good donuts and sound food.
I spent the whole trip trying to get my hands on an Einstok Lager and only found a six pack in the airport on the way out. I bought it and don’t regret it.
Speaking of beer I enjoyed many Viking Lagers and Gull Lagers. Very good Icelandic beer.
A later start in the day is not the worst thing as many tourists buses bug out of the main attractions late in the day.