“But many fled abroad from this tyranny, and much waste land was then
colonized far and wide, both eastwards in Jamtaland and Helsingjaland, and also the West lands, the Southern isles, Dublin in Ireland, Caithness in Scotland, and Shetland. And in that time Iceland was found.” (Egil’s Saga)
Iceland is like a different planet: the black rocks, the hot springs and the glaciers. Iceland is a paradise for nature lovers. I’m quite the city girl, but this was mesmerizing. Where else can you find 800 hot springs, 10,000 waterfalls, 35 active volcanoes, the Northern Lights and Europe’s largest glacier? You can’t see it all in one week, but you can get an unforgettable experience. We came for the whales and the Aurora Borealis – but we saw neither! Still it was one of the best travels ever.
You can easily see the top highlights of Iceland based in the small capital of Reykjavik and then drive for day trips. And you can easily do it with children.
Find a 1 week itinerary for the highlights of Iceland here:
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. Reykjavik is a UNESCO City of Literature, which is befitting thinking of the Icelandic Sagas and their large role in European history. Remember to bring the Sagas or read them online here and really get into the spirit of the Vikings.
The city is a also a great basecamp for day trips around Iceland. You can find plenty of tour operators here to take you out in the wilderness, if you can’t drive yourself or need an experienced guide.
Reykjavik has an interesting story, and the museums will tell you all you need to know. Somehow we manage to plan museum trips on the one day they were all closed – which of course heartbreaking for a museumlover like me.
Is it a LEGO church or a spaceship? It is Hallgrimskirkja! Designed in 1937 and built between ’45 and ’68. You can climb the rocket for some splendid views of Reykjavik.
In front of the church is a statue of Leif Erikson, who “discovered” Vinland – also known as USA. In Denmark he’s known as Leif the Lucky. He was Norwegian, but from Iceland. What you say? Well, Iceland was originally populated by Vikings. You can read all about it the saga of Erik the Red – his father – who colonized Greenland. The saga tells that Leif, while returning to Greenland from Norway in year 1000, he was blown off course and landed in current USA. Here he saw forests with wood to build houses and lots of grapes, which led him to call it Vinland or Land of Wine.
Find the saga here
“Bjorn and Helgi wished to go to Iceland, for they said they had heard many pleasing news thereof. They had been told that there was good land to be had there, and no need to pay money for it; they said there was plenty of whale and salmon and other fishing all the year round there.” (Laxdale Saga)
As I said before, one of the main reasons for going to Iceland was to see whales, which is on my bucket list. It was our second attempt (first in the Azores). Apparently, around Iceland it’s possible to see more than 20 different species, 8 of which are frequently seen on whale watching tours. Yeah right! The only whale I saw was the one I ate later in the evening. But I did throw up 6 times due to sea sickness. Isn’t travelling just an adventure?
The Elding Company was nice though. Since we hadn’t seen anything we had a coupon for a new free tour. But I wasn’t going on a boat in another 5 years (actually still haven’t).
By the way, the kid thought it was the most boring trip ever.
EAT & SLEEP IN REYKJAVIK
In Reykjavik, we stayed in Centerhotel Arnarhvoll. The hotel has a very good location and a small hot spring pool in the basement, but unfortunately they made a booking mistake, so we spent the first night somewhere else on the main street, and it was very noisy! My husband has just visited Reykjavik again on a business trip, and this time stayed at Loft Hostels and highly recommends it.
There is good food in Reykjavik. The first night, we had a gastronomical experience at Dill at the Nordic House. It now has a Michelin star. It’s really good and uses mainly Nordic ingredients. Again, we were the only ones with a child. But because of the change of hotel, we didn’t have time to shower or change, so we definitely stood out among the few tables. Highly recommend booking a different evening than the first, but it’s not easy to get a table.
Another great place was Grillmarkadurinn which served whale (not an endangered one!). It looks a little brown, but it was really good.
DAY TRIPS FROM REYKJAVIK
The best way to get around is to rent a car. It wasn’t that expensive. I am so glad we opted for a for 4 wheel drive – the road are not good! We also had a gps, but we still got lost. But you can easily drive from Reykjavik to the most important sites in the so called Golden Circle.
We rented a car with Procar Rental, which seemed to cheap, but it was great. We got a huge new 4 wheeler, a free GPS and no complaints about the muddy car afterwards.
DRIVING THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
The Golden Circle is main tourist trip on Iceland. It consists of Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring and Gullfoss Waterfall. Þingvellir National Park is a World Heritage Site, and where Thing or parliament was held.
“Then he and his men went thither, and cut in sunder the precinct-ropes and tore down the poles, and scattered the judges. Great uproar was here in the Thing; but men there were all weaponless.” (Egil’s Saga)
Find out more on the Golden Circle in Driving the Golden Circle is a tour of Viking history & natural wonders!
Everyone has heard about the Blue Lagoon and for good reason. But Iceland is filled with hot springs and a lot of them cheaper and less crowded.
Even the common swimming house in Reykjavik is quite fantastic with everyday Icelanders coming after work or young people for some couple time. We also went to a very small, but so cool place Laugarvatn, and there was just us in the hot pools and in the sauna looking out on a lake. It is more basic, but really nice.
Heading east will get you closer to the stunning nature. Especially in a 4 wheeler. You can see Eyjafjallajokul and Seljalandsfoss.
Remember the big ash cloud from a volcano eruption in April 201, so you couldn’t fly?
We drove several hours to find the Vatnajokull – a glacier which is larger than all of Europe’s glaciers combined and somehow we missed it… In the end, we had to give up because of time and road conditions. Apparently, our mistake was that we drove around the volcano, and the glacier is right by the road, we later discovered. What an idiot I am.
Close to the glacier and the road is the impressive waterfall Seljalandsfoss, which you mustn’t miss. You can walk behind it! That’s fun for kids and pretend grown-ups. It is one of the highest waterfalls with 63 meters.
The surrounding area is fantastic. It’s the most impressive and stunning nature, I’ve ever seen. The landscape is out of this world, and it’s no wonder a great number of Icelanders still claim to believe in elves, trolls and hidden people. We didn’t see anyone though…
The influence of the Viking age can still be seen in the traditional turf houses and the Icelandic horse, which was brought here by the Vikings.
Just driving around in the surreal landscape is enough reason to go back!
Iceland is a the least populated country in Europe, so there is plenty of space – especially off season. We went in Februar,y and it rained, was foggy and the sky was constantly grey. But somehow this just added to the mysterious atmosphere of the island. But be dressed for rapid weather changes. Next time I will go further away from the capital, even though it’s nice and there’s a few thing to see.
If you like roadtrips, try Cava, Carmen & GOT! Roadtrip itinerary for Andalucia, Spain.
Have you been to Iceland?