It took me a year and a half to sit down and finally go through all of my photos from Iceland. My initial limit was 20 but it quickly went down the drain. I hope I will be forgiven.
In June 2016 we spent 11 days on the island and we absolutely loved it. We were planning on some more hiking than we eventually managed to do, since I twisted my ankle very early into our holiday, but even though we had to modify our plans, Iceland has so much to offer that our whole stay was packed with amazing experiences anyways.
Despite temperatures dropping to 3 degrees at night (and note that June and July are the warmest months – and therefore the best to visit Iceland), we decided to camp. We got a camping card in Reykjavik for something like 50 euro which was valid for a month for 2 people and a car. I know its price went up but I still think it’s worth it, and definitely the most budget-friendly accommodation you’ll find (besides sleeping in the wild).
The campings vary in standard, some being larger hubs, with hot showers and common areas full of travellers, some completely empty (with no staff either), with no showers at all and a sink outside a small shed, with freezing cold water only. If that sounds like too much, choose a different accommodation type, but know that you’re missing out.
Here are the campings we stayed at:
- Skógafoss (not included in the camping card)
- Vík í Mýrdal
- Camping in the wild (close to Höfn, where in the Pakkhús restaurant we’ve had the best seafood on Iceland)
- Lónsá (convinient if you want to stop by Akureyri, the second largest city of Iceland)
- Sandgerði (worth stopping by here right after landing in Keflavik, a lot of people leave their gas bottles and food supplies here before taking off)
We didn’t have a fixed itinerary (which is quite easy to handle when you camp) and eventually we drove around the island in the counterclockwise direction. Starting with Reykjavik and the Golden Circle (including the famous Geysir), we went south along the coast, doing the classic Ring Road tour, with numerous additional mini-trips along the way. We did around 2000 km and although it might not sound like a lot, stopping every couple hundred meters and slowing down to be able to stare at what’s around you makes it feel like at least twice as much.
It’s not easy to describe Iceland’s landscapes. You could say it is ‘moon like’, but that’s still a simplification. Yes, you see craters and black sand, geothermal areas and rock formations straight from a fantasy world, but also incredibly blue lagoons, the most stunning glaciers, insanely violet fields of lupine, hundreds of waterfalls, each of them appearing unique, basalt columns which made me think of the Italian fascist architecture. The landscape is as diverse as the weather conditions on the island and right when you want to say ‘it cannot get any better’ it just does.
Our top 10 experiences
1. Jokulsarlon Lagoon. Crazy-blue ice blocks on the intensely black, volcanic beach. Water from this glacier is used for a local beer production. Since we haven’t managed to find it, we gathered small blocks of the thousand-year-old ice to our Thermos and enjoyed what must have been the best Jägermeister on the rocks ever.
2. Vatnajokul glacier with its stunning beauty. We couldn’t climb it with my twisted ankle, but just coming face to face with it was a memorable experience.
3. Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s considered to give you an ‘Iceland in a nutshell’ experience and although, if you have enough time, we’d definitely recommend driving further away from Reykjavik, it might be a great first experience with the island and an encouragement to plan your next trip. We especially liked the seals, sunbathing at the beach and the stratovolcano, overlooking the peninsula.
4. Puffins! (ok, my inner child wanted to put it as number one, but I refrained). I was already trying to spot them during my trip to the Lofoten islands in Norway, with no success, and we visited two spots where their colonies are normally residing on Iceland before we finally got to see them up close in Borgarfjörður Eystri – definitely worth the extra drive.
5. Wild reindeers, just hanging out at a side of a road.
6. A geyser, shooting water an impressive 30 meters into the air.
7. The Mývatn Lake and its surrounding geothermal areas. We decided to skip the Blue Lagoon and instead go to the natural baths in the eastern part of the island and we recommend you do the same*.
8. Camping in the middle of a lava field (number 10 on the map above). Made even better by a beautiful sunset at a quarter past midnight.
9. Vestmannaeyjar. The newest part of the main island was formed in 1973 as a result of a volcano eruption, making it also probably the newest land I have ever stood on. It’s also here we saw the prettiest lupine fields.
10. Waterfalls. On my personal list of favourites, Svartifoss, with its altar-like black basalt columns, and Seljalandsfoss, which lets you go behind and observe the sun setting through the stream of water, took ex aequo the first place.
This list could easily have 20 of 50 points. Iceland is surely one of the places I’d like to go back to.
* What’s also worth noting is that most of even very small towns have a local swimming pool, usually naturally heated and outdoors. Entrance is usually not pricey and we regularly used those as a shower-and-chill break during our road trip. One thing to remember is that those pools are chemical-free so a no swimsuit, proper shower is a must if you don’t want to be rude.