I am so, so far behind on posting—we’re now in Ireland, our fourth country on this trip—but I don’t want to miss noting some of our favorite (and not-so favorite) moments in Iceland.
Iceland had been on a bucket list for a few years, and Sam, Addie and I finally made it there last summer, as part of a bigger trip for my 40th birthday. That time, we used a North Dakota-based travel agency (apparently very popular with the community of Norwegian immigrants and their descendants in North Dakota and Minnesota) to help plan our 2.5-week itinerary through Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
This time around, I booked things myself, wanting to see some of what we missed last year (because I’m always curious about where I’ve never been) and revisit some of our favorite spots. In general, I tried to aim for 2-3 hours of driving per day—though I, ahem, miscalculated the number of days we had there. I only realized that as I was about to book our last two nights (I had been booking rooms along the Ring Road as I went)—so I ended up giving us a 7+-hour driving day toward the end of the week in order to make it back to Reykjavik in time for our flight to the Faroe Islands <cue the applause>.
The last time around, we flew into Keflavik, the major international airport just outside of Reykjavik. Unfortunately, traveling onward within Iceland usually requires transferring to the (teeny tiny) Reykjavik domestic airport, instead of merely changing planes in Keflavik. The travel agency had arranged for a private car transfer between the two (it’s something like a 45-60 minute drive). We then flew up to Akureyri (pop ~19,000), Iceland’s second biggest city after Reykjavik (pop. ~129,000), and eventually drove about two-thirds of the Ring Road back to Reykjavik before traveling on to Norway. Note: this is a good way to see Iceland, especially if one is pressed for time; there really isn’t a whole lot to see in northwest Iceland. I, however, excel at learning lessons the hard way.
Night #1: Stykkishólmur
This time around, we drove our rental car from Keflavik and started our clockwise Ring Road travel that same morning. On the first day, we made it as far as Hótel Stundarfriður in Stykkishólmur in western Iceland, on the northern part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. There we stayed in one of the cottages overnight, grabbing dinner in town at the delightful Sjávarpakkhúsið. The restaurant is just across the street from the dock where all of the fishing boats come in to offload their catch, so everything (including crispy cod cheeks, shellfish risotto and seafood stew) was incredibly fresh and delicious. Thankfully, our friendly waitress graciously ignored Addie’s jet lag-induced tantrum and full-on meltdown during the wait for our meal.
Night #2: Varmahlíð
Our second day was super low-key. We all slept in until 9-10 am, had some tasty Icelandic skyr (procured from the grocery store the night before) for breakfast, and then hit the (unsaved) road. There aren’t a whole lot of tourist attractions (or really, much of anything) in this part of Iceland, and I figured that we’d want to take things kind of slowly in light of jet lag, the kids, etc. It was a beautiful drive, though the kids were unimpressed with the gorgeous scenery.
We grabbed lunch at Veiðistadurinn, one of the two restaurants in Búðardalur, one of the few towns/villages we passed through. My original plan had been to stop at the Glaumbær Farm & Museum, a historic turf house run as a museum, before making our way to our next stop for the night, but when we finally got out of the car, it was freezing cold and windy, and everyone was very cranky (Sam and me included). We ended up basically making a quick run around the outside and jumping back into the car without exploring any further. Not the most educational stop we made, and I have no doubt we could have learned something had we actually gone inside, but as it was, it was the right call for this particular crew on that particular day.
For our second night in Iceland, we stayed at the Hestasport Cottages near Varmahlíð in northern Iceland, which had a lovely rock-lined in-ground hot tub in between the cottages. Although much of Iceland’s water supply smells rather sulphurous, the water in this particular location was almost eye-wateringly so, especially when running the shower in the tiny bathroom, so I was especially grateful that this bathroom had an exterior window to help the rotten egg smell dissipate.
We grabbed dinner at the Hótel Varmahlíð despite very mixed reviews online because it was literally the only option in town (remember what I said about there not being much around?!). Luckily for us, the food was actually pretty good, especially the lamb goulash I ordered. Unluckily for us, all of the kids were still super cranky (jet lag + being stuck in a car together for many hours = disaster), and there was A LOT of fighting at the dinner table, mostly over who got to sit on the bench with Sam and me (it ended up that Henry and Addie both squeezed in next to us, so just Ben was left sitting across the table from us).
We could have just gone back to the cottage and called it a disaster of a night, but because it stays light for ~23 hours/day in Iceland’s summer, we force-marched the kids for a short walk through the woods nearby and came upon a small family-owned campground with an enormous in-ground trampoline. Two other kids were there jumping already, and ours quickly joined in. Sam and I parked ourselves nearby and let them jump for quite a while until their giggles vastly outweighed any groans. The unplanned pit stop allowed for us all to end the day on a high note, and I know I need to remember this lesson of going with the flow and (sometimes) tossing bedtime schedules out the window to allow for spontaneity (and hopefully some glee).