Final thoughts from Iceland

Hiring a car is always a challenge, you think you’ve covered every eventuality, then the hire company find another to take your funds. In Iceland, it is trying persuade you to take extra insurance cover against damage from sand and ash. Usual insurance doesn’t cover this and you take a risk if you drive on the south coast which has unpredictable winds. We chose not to take it and, luckily, Avis were happy with the state of the car when we returned it!

Our apartment was a good choice, we’d stay there again. We were a 2 minute walk from the bus station and all of the tours picked up from the hotel around the corner from us. Now that we’ve see the Northern Lights we probably wouldn’t hire a car again. It was extremely useful being able head to out as, and when we wanted, especially on clear nights.

Several of the sights we visited has signs banning drones which was a hazard we hadn’t considered. That didn’t stop some inconsiderate, lazy people using them to save the walk or climb. The noise a sort of high pitched buzzing was extremely irritating and felt very intrusive.

We did try Icelandic Skyr (and, yes, we know you can buy it in the U.K.!) Its a cross between yoghurt and cheese and comes in a variety of unusual flavours including liquorice. It was very thick and smooth and made a nice change at breakfast time.

We decided not to try roast puffin, whale or horse steaks.

We definitely need to come back to do a glacier walk. There are many museums, art galleries and geothermal pools and we didn’t visit a single one. Neither we did we see any Puffins except as ornaments in the shops. We were too late in the season so that’s on the list for next time too.

Our last day in Reykjavik

We went our seperate ways this morning. Matt disapppeared for a 2 hour private running tour with Bjorn, who we’d found via Citywalk tours, while John and I headed out to the Botanic Gardens.

After the last few days looking at quite alien scenery, the Botanic Gardens were lush and filled with familiar looking trees and plants.  It was surprising to see them surviving in a climate that must be quite hostile at times.

We also saw a traditional Icelandic turf house. Reykjavik started life as a small settlement of turf houses back in the 9th century. There are preserved houses and villages dotted around the island which would be worth a visit on another occasion.

Matt’s running tour took him 9 miles around the city and its suburbs. He learned about curing shark meat. When first caught, sharks are cut up and, because it’s poisonous, the meat buried in the sand for three months. It’s then hung up to dry in the wind before it’s eaten. Here’s the shark drying shack!

We met up for a quick lunch, before heading out to Grotta Lighthouse. Grotta is accessible at low tide and high tide was approaching rapidly. Matt disappeared over the rocks to take photos, just as everyone else was coming back, while John and I stayed safely on dry land. The water came higher and eventually Matt decided he ought to come back. Guess who got wet feet today?

Next a sculpture walk along the harbour took us to the Sun Voyager. Although it looks like a Viking long boat, it is intended to be a dream vessel and ode to the sun. However you view it, it’s a striking piece of art and visible from the top of Hallgrimskirkja.

Our evening entertainment, at the Harpa Concert Centre was….

We thought it would be a fitting end to our adventure and learned how to walk, talk and behave like an Icelander.

Waterfalls and Glaciers

Yesterday’s challenge was to visit Iceland’s highest waterfall and a glacier.

We started with a quick trip, after breakfast, to Braud & Co to pick up provisions for our trip. Customers were queuing out the door and the shop was jam packed, a complete contrast to yesterday’s early morning visit.

This wouldn’t have been a problem but it was pouring with rain and only Matt had been bright enough to wear a waterproof. Luckily we were able to reward ourselves with freshly baked cinnamon buns which were as delicious as the reviews promised

Iceland’s highest waterfall, Glymur, was our first stop after leaving the city. We drove along the fjord that had rewarded us with last night’s light display, up an unmade road, worrying about damage to the hire car and our insurance excess. We found a car park and a 3.5km hike to the waterfall – not quite what we had in mind. We only really wanted to spend 10 minutes there, taking photos, before heading to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to get up close to a glacier.

The waterfall might be the highest but it wasn’t as spectacular as the others we’ve seen. We couldn’t see it all without hiking along quite a hazardous track so we made do with crossing the river at the bottom which was hazardous enough! We’d scrambled down through a cave before crossing the river by holding onto a metal cable while walking across rocks and a tree trunk.

We all made it across safely but guess who slipped and got very wet feet on the way back. Was it Matt (never pays attention), John (expert on hazards) or Kim (terrible sense of balance)?

So bad luck tends to come in threes. Matt dropped his lens cover, John managed to twist his ankle on the walk back to the car and Kim had shoes full of water!

Next stop was the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, a two hour journey but we were aiming to drive across a glacier. As we headed north, the weather became revolting. It was wet and windy with visibility becoming increasingly poor, we could barely see the road let alone the beautiful coastline, amazing lava fields and towering volcanoes. According to our research, you can see everything Iceland has to offer here. Our experience says that’s fog, wind and rain.

We drove out as far as Hellnar where the glacier should be easily visible and accessible. This is what we were hoping to see…

Here’s what we could see…

We arrived back in Reykjavik at 8pm, after 300 mile drive, and decided to treat ourselves to another meal out despite plans to eat more economically. We headed out to The Old Iceland restaurant which looked a little different to some of the others. We have tried to stop converting the cost of everything into sterling, it is too distressing. We worked out dinner would be eye wateringly expensive and got on with ordering (£12 for John’s local beer and £55 for Matt’s langoustines – oops shouldn’t have done that!). We had a delicious meal, John’s starter of Icelandic cheese and fruits was ‘the best salad ever’

There is always water available in restaurants which is helpful when you consider the cost of beer, wine is even more expensive so we’ve avoided that. Icelandic tap water comes straight from the ground, into the pipes and out of the tap. It is so pure it needs no filtering and literally tastes of nothing.

Luckily, the sky was cloudy, we therefore found no need to hunt down the Northern Lights and, for the first time since we’ve been away, we went to bed the same day we got up.


On our third night of trying, we were treated to a spectacular display by the Northern Lights. We drove out along Hvalfjard, which is fed from the Greenland Sea, and found a nice dark spot to park. If it wasn’t for eagle eyed Matt, we’d have dismissed the initial sighting as clouds and given up. He insisted there was a green tinge and took a photo to prove it. By 11:00pm the sky was dancing with light before fading around an hour later. We were very lucky, the rain has set in today and we’re unlikely to see a clear sky again

Cinnamon buns, Golden Circle and Green Energy

The answer to yesterday’s challenge: it’s a photo of where the wing attached to the fuselage on the DC10.

We needed to be ready by 8 for today’s tour so John and I were out at 7am to buy breakfast – freshly baked cinnamon rolls from the Braud & Co bakery. We were so early the cinnamon rolls hadn’t been baked so, heroes that we are, we made do with warm almond pastries and cinnamon croissants. They were well worth the trip and might be a reason to move here!

We’re a little sleep deprived and there was muttering from all of us when the minibus didn’t turn up until 8:40. To be fair, we did only have a 2 minute walk to our pick up point or, if we were all a little more agile, climbed over our balcony straight into the minibus. Our guide for day was Ardis from Sterna Tours, a lady with a passion for her home country and an ability to drive a minibus whilst waving her arms around to illustrate her point and looking anywhere but at the road. She was brilliant.

We started at the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant Exhibition. This is built at the base of the Hengill volcano and is just round the corner from yesterday’s mud spitting hole. We won’t give you the history of the plant, or green energy in Iceland, there’s a whole web page devoted to it. What is impressive is the care that’s being taken to protect the resources from over-harvesting and that water leaves the plant, through heavily insulated pipes, at 85 degrees and is still at 84 degrees when it enters homes, in Reykjavik, about 30km away.

Next stop, Kerio crater which, for any geologists out there, is a large scerio crater. All you need to know is that we walked around the top of a volcano and down into it.

Faxi waterfall followed. It is situated on the Tungufljot River which is a surface water river rather than a glacier water river. Apparently it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. Surface water rivers are sparkly and clear, glacier water rivers aren’t – who’d have thought it? Anyway, this is a popular river for salmon fishing and we learned all about the salmon run (just visible on the photo)

Our lunch break was at Geysir where we able to watch the Strokkur geyser spout water every 4-6 minutes. The area is full of boiling mud pits and you are kept well away from them. There are warning signs every few metres reminding you that the water, and mud is 80-100 degrees. There is also a very strong smell of sulphur hanging around the place!

Next was the 32m high Gullfoss waterfall. It was saved from becoming a hydroelectric power station by Sigridur Tomasdottir, the daughter of a local farmer. She campaigned tirelessly to save it and we were rather pleased she did! It is fed by the glacial Hyvita River, can you tell the difference in water colour from the earlier picture?

A short stop Fontana Spa followed. Bread is baked in the thermally heated sand and the water at the edge of the lake is boiling in places. Ardis is the lady in the hat, I think it’s specifically chosen we don’t lose her.

Pingvellir National Park was our last stop of the day. This is where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates are slowly pushing apart at the rate of 2cm a year. Give it a few thousand years and Iceland will be massive! The area is full of fissures where the ground drops as a result of the movement and surrounded by lava fields. There is very little vegetation on many of the lava fields because it is grazed by sheep , cattle and horses. It became much greener when we entered Pingvellir but it’s obvious plants struggle to survive – it’s mainly mosses and a few low growing grasses and shrubs. Any trees you see have been planted, they don’t grow naturally.

Gosh, we seem to have done a lot today and we still have the evening to go. Time will tell if we attempt another viewing of the Northern Lights. We have been really lucky with the weather so far. The sun has shone every day and it looks like there might be clear skies tonight…..

Black volcanic beach, crash landed planes and a waterfall

Yesterday’s plan involved a 2.5 hour drive to see the remains of the American Airforce plane that crash landed on the black sand beach at Solheimasandur in 1973. This was top of Matt’s wish list and took us out along the south coast, past lava fields, sulphur pools and the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. This volcano brought European flights to a halt when it last erupted in 2010, much to the amusement of locals – they weren’t particularly affected by the dust because it all blew south!

Back to the DC10, it crashed when the pilot switched to wrong fuel tank, everyone on board survived and Iceland gained an unusual tourist attraction. It was a 40 minute walk across a very grey, barren landscape to the plane and it was quite an eerie sight when we finally found it.

The first stop, on our route back, was the Skogafoss waterfall. It was spectacular but, more importantly, it came with a visitor centre with a cafe attached. It was after 3pm and lunch was most welcome although we seem to be living on fries at the moment.

The waterfall was impressive and the challenging walk up 527 steps to the top was well worth the effort.


As we headed back to Reykjavik, we encountered the strong smell of sulphur, saw lots of steam rising from the side of the road and decided to investigate. Matt reluctantly left the car, complaining loudly about the smell but was then off exploring. There is something rather compelling about holes in the ground that spit hot mud at you, definitely something you don’t see at home.


Our last stop was dinner at the Bike Cave in south Reykjavik. It was recommend as the best place for a budget meal. Our meal could not be classed as healthy but it was certainly budget, by Icelandic standards, and was accompanied by a live jazz pianist in a very quirky bike repair shop.

The day ended with another trip to try and see the Northern Lights. We’d settled down for the evening when Matt suddenly announced there was a strong chance of seeing them, we may need to take his internet access away! Back to the car we went. At least this time we were only chasing a clear sky in Reykjavik. We went down to the thermal beach at Nautholsvik where we got carried away until we realised we were looking at laser beams. Then we drove out to the Grotta lighthouse where we waited patiently for half an hour or so before giving up in despair.

Northern Lights, woohoo?!?!

Last night was a good night for seeing the Northern Lights, the sky was clear so what could stop us?

Our evening started with dinner at 73 on Laugauvegur. The meal was delicious but £70 for two burgers, grilled chicken and three cokes came as a shock. Saying that, we’d eat there again, the atmosphere and staff were lovely.

At 9pm we packed the car and set out of the city towards Hvalfordjut, a fjord just north of Reykjavik where the light pollution would be less and tourists fewer. Neither John or I like driving in the dark and adding Matt to the car insurance is money well spent. He doesn’t stop complaining about the little Hyundai but it seems ok to us.

We spent three hours in and out of the car on a freezing hillside watching the sky. We lost count of the number of shooting stars we saw and how many times we said ‘did you see that? I think something’s happening over there but itcould be my eyes going funny’.

On balance, we can say we’ve seen the Northern Lights but they weren’t as spectacular as you see on tv and we got blooming cold doing it.

Finally to bed at 1am!

Reykjavik, the world’s most northerly capital city

A big thank you to Diane for getting up unreasonably early to take us to Luton Airport for 5:15.

Flying into Keflavik Airport gave us some fantastic views of the Icelandic coastline which is very different from anything we’ve seen before. The volcanos dominate and are surrounded by flat lava fields with the occasional plume of steam rising from the ground.

Matt drove us into Reykjavik, his first experience of driving on the wrong side of the road, and we arrived at our apartment in under an hour. The roads were fairly quiet and the drive into the capital was easy, unsurprising for a country with a population of less than 500k.

Our home for the next few days is a lovely modern apartment about 20 minutes walk from the city centre along the main shopping street – Stakkur Apartments are recommended if anyone is planning a trip!

Our late breakfast tested out Reykjavik Roasters, voted best coffeehouse in Reykjavik 2017 and conveniently just across the road from us.

Next was a visit to Hallsgrimskirkja which is the largest church in Iceland and one of the biggest structures, constructed from white stone its designed to look like a volcano.

It is named after Poet Hallgrimur Petursson, a 17th century Icelandic poet and clergyman. It took over 40 years to build and was finished in 1986. We’re still not sure why it took 300 years to honour him!

The inside of this Lutheran church is beautifully simple and a calming place to be. The views from the top of the tower were fairly special too.

Next stop was a Citywalk walking tour led by Tomas, a local with an unusual accent courtesy of his Chicago born father.

We were treated to a whistle stop history of settlers in Iceland (Vikings in 870ish who probably landed here because they were poor navigators) and the story of independence from Denmark (Siggtryggur Jonasson led the dissent against the Danish in the mid 19th Century before Iceland finally declared their independence in 1944 while Denmark was distracted by Nazi occupation!) We also learned some Icelandic and it is the most complicated language ever.

We treated ourselves to a late lunch before heading back to the apartment for a rest before dinner and a trip up the coast to try and see the Northern Lights.

Can you tell which one is the troll?