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Iceland:

My wife and I going to Iceland in June and we'll have about 4-5 days to travel before I have to give a talk in Reykjavik. I'd appreciate any tips anyone has about sights to see and things to do. I'd especially appreciate any tips about underrated activities that we wouldn't find in a guidebook or overrated activities that a guidebook typically would recommend but that we should consider skipping. We plan to rent a car. Thanks!

Le Messurier (mail):
Beautiful country; great fishing! Just take a lot of money. When you think you have enough you should double it.
3.24.2007 12:14pm
KevinQ (mail) (www):
You should check out the Thingvellir, the plain on which Iceland held one of the first parliamentary gatherings, the Allthing:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9Eingvellir

K
3.24.2007 12:37pm
Eric Nielsen:
Iceland is a beautiful place. I drove the entire perimeter last year and had a lovely time. My best memory is taking a snowmobile to the top of Snæfellsjökull, which is about half a days drive north and west of Reykjavik. The glacier is on a peninsula so there are fantastic views from all sides. Also, whatever you do, order fish in most restaurants. It was always fresh and delicious.
3.24.2007 12:47pm
Molechaser:
My wife and I went to Iceland for two weeks for our post-bar trip a couple years ago, and it was the most relaxing vacation ever. 4 or 5 days isn't quite enough to drive the entire ring road, but you might want to try the south coast out and back to Reykjavik. This would allow you to see the more touristy areas in Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss, plus the Jokulsarlon (the glacier lagoon) and Skaftafell national park. If you have time, I'd also recommend seeing Seydisfjordur, on the east coast, where the ferry from Europe arrives--it's a gorgeous little town that is very different from the rest of the country (it looks more like it belongs in Norway).

If you're looking for peace and quiet instead of the best sights, then I'd recommend going the other direction out of Reykjavik. The west coast, the Snaefellsnes peninsula, and the northern coast over to Lake Myvatn are nearly devoid of tourists, and you can drive for 100 or more miles a day and only see a handful of other cars.

I agree with everyone else's suggestions, particularly the part about eating fish. I grew up in the Midwest, where fish is never fresh, so I'm naturally suspicious of it as a food, but the fish in Iceland was always just-caught fresh, without any fishy taste at all. If you like lamb (not everyone does), you should also definitely give it a try--the lamb in Iceland is all organic and free-range, and it is absolutely delicious. In Reykjavik, a very good restaurant (particularly if you can swing someone else paying for it) is Thrir Frakkar, which has a great menu of fairly typical Icelandic foods with a French twist--you can get fish, lamb, fish stew, smoked puffin, and other sea birds.
3.24.2007 1:22pm
neurodoc:
Think twice about renting a car, especially for the entirety of your stay, since many things are best done, and some can only be done ("off-road" in 4-wheel drive vehicles; glacier), as part of a guided tour. It is indeed an expensive place, understandably given its isolation, and I imagine a car rental and gas will be particularly so. My wife recommends pony trekking among a great many other possible activities, and you may want to fly out to the volcanos, all of which would be time a car would sit parked, probably at your hotel.

40 years ago, Icelandair (flying them out of BWI?) was the cheapest way to Europe, so could fold in a stopover in Iceland. I was greatly impressed with how attractive the women were and a tour guide's datum about percent of children born out of wedlock (about 30%) then. Going back years later with my family, my focus was considerably different.

Oh, and ask people how their national genetics study is going. Interesting to compare and contrast a very homogeneous society like theirs with a decidedly non-homogeneous one like ours, both of them advanced in most ways. Here there are great "privacy" concerns about DNA collection, there they don't seem to have them. And ask about the economic situation, because a lot of "hot" money was flowing into that country, the result being a serious "hangover" when the party slowed down.
3.24.2007 1:27pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Look out for hulduvolk
3.24.2007 2:08pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Go to the website for LonelyPlanet and click on its Thorn Tree Forum. Further click on Western Europe and do a search for "Iceland" and you will get great tips from travelers who have recently visited Iceland and have up to date information.
3.24.2007 2:18pm
Starving 1L:
In Reykjavik, I highly recommend a restaurant called Vegamot. Great bistro and at night it turns into a small bar/lounge. (Although it is still bright at midnight, they will close the drapes to make it seem like night).

Any guidebook will point you to the Blue Lagoon, outside Reykjavik and not too far from Keflavik International Airport. But I think it merits another mention because it was worth the hype.

Another note: DO NOT take a cab from the airport into Reykjavik; it's a 45-minute drive and will cost an exorbitant fare. Instead, wait for a "Flybus," which always meets incoming flights and stops at major hotels in Reykjavik. It costs about $15 US per person.
3.24.2007 3:08pm
The Drill SGT:
Icelandic Air to get there.

smiling redish blonde Goddesses for cabin help
smoked salmon for dinner
cheap seats
3.24.2007 5:38pm
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
Iceland is a wonderful place to go. My wife and I went there for our honeymoon.

In Iceland, I recommend the wax museum of icelandic history. It's really interesting, doesn't take very long, and the wax sculptures are very well done. Plus, Icelandic history is quite interesting.

I also recommend the snaefellsness peninsula (about 2 hours north of Reykjavik). My wife and I had a wonderful time going horseback riding there (riding Icelandic horses is a real treat). Also, even if you can afford to eat the really great food (both the fish and the lamb are superb), I do recommend trying the hot dogs at least once, they're much better than American hot dogs.

On the north of the snaefellsness peninsula, there's a boat tour which we went on which was a lot of fun. It's something to see the sheep standing on the tiny Islands, and the sea birds are all very interesting too (you can get quite close).

I do also recommend the hot water springs (i.e. the public pools). They really are popular, and they appear to be quite popular among the icelanders as well as among tourists.

My only other advice is that if you're tempted to stay up late (and going in June, you might be there when the sun doesn't set), make sure to have food back in your guesthouse. Pretty much every store in Reykjavik closes by 10pm, and most things close earlier. Since you can't tell the time just by looking around, you can easily get stranded hungry at midnight with nothing to eat and plenty of hours before you before you feel like going to sleep.
3.24.2007 6:36pm
Blue:
Rent a car and explore! The Snaefellsness peninsula is a fabulous day trip out of Reykjavik and you can stop at a reproduction of Eric the Red's house. Take the little "Berzerker Road" off the main road around the penninsula as well.

Food will be expensive. "Yes, yes," you say, "I know food will be expensive."

No. I'm telling you again: FOOD WILL BE EXPENSIVE. Alcohol will ruin your retirement planning. So pack a lunch and have picnics during the day! The "smoke bread" is particularly good.

Oh, the one thing we found that was realy good value, oddly enough, was very high quality original art, particularly oil paintings. There's a big Coop thing in Reykjavik with a large selection.
3.24.2007 8:03pm
jc:
I highly recommend Skaftafell, a park along the southern Coast. Great hiking, guided glacier "adventures," and easy proximity to Jokulsarlon, the glacier lake, which is among the most stunningly beautiful spots I've seen. Perfect for a 4-5 day trip if you're also planning to see Reykjavik and the Golden Triangle.
3.24.2007 8:21pm
Molechaser:
One other thing: almost every little town in Iceland has some sort of folk museum, most of them with a focus on a particular part of the culture, such as textiles or shark fishing. If you are planning to drive any part of the ring road, get a copy of the Lonely Planet guide book, and it will point you to the museums in the towns you go through. Check them out--they are small but very well done, and you will frequently be the only people in the place (and there's a good chance you'll be the only people there all day).
3.24.2007 8:26pm
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
I lived there for two years back from '75 to '77 and went back for a two week visit in '91. Wonderful place, untouched by reputation and its a well-deserved one.

I agree with the recommendation to see Thingvellir. Snaefulness might be too far on such a short trip, as is Myvatn.

Geysir and Gullfoss are great, I prefer Gullfoss (it's a huge waterfall). There are nice things to see in Reykjavik, museums and parks. I also suggest spending some time on the coast to see the fishing boats.

Drive through the country side to see the fish, sheep, puffins, arctic terns, and rocks. That's pretty much it, but it is so different from the US it is worth taking in.

The sun will be up very nearly all day at that time of year.

Oh, and you HAVE to go swimming in the geothermally heated pools. It's even more fun to do that in the winter, but fun in the summer too.
3.24.2007 8:41pm
Hootsbuddy (mail) (www):
Jonathan and Naomi Edelstein went to Iceland last year and had a great time. She put together a travelogue you might enjoy. It looks like you're not short on information.
3.24.2007 9:42pm
Acad Ronin (mail):
My son and I had a less than 24 hour layover in Reykjavik. In addition to walking around and seeing the usual sights, we took a pony trek among the lava fields that we thoroughly enjoyed.
3.24.2007 10:22pm
ronbo:
Do what the locals do: drink heavily and have lots of sex. :D
3.24.2007 11:15pm
AB:
Definitely ride the small, hairy horses. Listen to some Bjork and Emiliana Torrini on the way over. Also read some of the sagas, like Njáls. And drink brennevin (aquavit). Such an awesome country!
3.24.2007 11:56pm
Lev:
It isn't a travel recommendation, or even a travelogue, but it does take place in Iceland and is quite interesting:

Video Rec: Cold Fever.
3.25.2007 12:44am
Tom Tildrum:
I took a guided city tour, and we were driven around Reykjavik in a van by a bubbly college student. The stops included some magnificent desolation outside the city, and an ancient church, but we also toured a fish cannery (the guide was literally pulling fish out of a barrel to show us) and a public swimming pool. It was great fun, and charmingly unpretentious, but some people might find it a bit dull.
3.25.2007 12:45am
Truth Seeker:
Don't forget to stop sometime and look at a phone book. People are listed alphabetically by frist name! There'll be Erik Erikson (or is it -sen), followed by Erik Jenson and Erik Svenson, and Brigit Eriksdottir, followed by Brigit Jensdottir and Brigit Svensdottir.
3.25.2007 2:12am
Alan H. Martin:
An interesting time of the year to visit Iceland.


In Sneffels Joculis craterem quem delibat Umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende, Audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges. Quod feci, Arne Saknussemm
3.25.2007 9:37am
flatley:
go to the Thrir Frakkar resturant in Reyjkavik - ethical considerations aside, the whale, served au poive and sashimi, is fantastic - probably the best steak i ever had
3.25.2007 2:51pm
Tamara Bezoukladnikova (mail) (www):
I'm living in Reykjavik Send me email maybe i can help
3.25.2007 7:15pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
Btw, several of the more interesting things about Icelandic "ponies" is that they have not had any "fresh" blood (i.e. imported horses from outside Iceland) in some thousand years. Hard to believe but that is what I have read; and they are very strict about even bringing in your own riding gear -- has to be disinfected , I think --because they are concerned about diseases etc.

Also, the Icelandic pony are very easy to ride because it "gaits" rather than trot (though it can do that, too) and so the ride is extremely level with little bouncing. .
3.25.2007 9:22pm
Bjartur:
- the obvious things are obvious for a reason, go to thingvellir, geysir, gullfoss, the blue lagoon. they're all easy to get to too
- if possible take more than 5 days
- just drive around, get out of Reykjavik, there's great scenery everywhere, I also recommed Snæfellsnes peninsula (it's mainly dirt roads on the northern side, but they're fun even in a 2 wheel drive car)
- Akureyri is a great town if you have time to drive up to the top of the island (driving via Snæfellsnes is best, but the interior route on the ring road is cool too)
- grab a cupful of sugar cubes when you're getting coffee sometime, keep them in the car, pull off the road when you see horses in a nice setting, and feed the horses for some great pics
- every hotel/guesthouse you stay at should have a hot tub; use them
- talk to people, almost all of them speak english, they're not overly outgoing at first but they're very helpful and interesting
- read Independent People (before, during, or after your trip)
3.26.2007 11:32am
GMUSL2K (mail):
I loved Iceland and your plan to go exploring is a very good one - BUT:
First - beware the car rental contract. Many roads in iceland are NOT Paved and are covered in crushed lava - sharp as glass, hard as rocks. It's easy to end up offroad and the terrain will slice through tires and underbody. There is very little infrastructure for repairs, etc. MOST ICELANDIC RENTAL CONTRACTS EXCLUDE UNDERCARRIAGE DAMAGE - This may be true even for the LDW - read carefully.
Second - many of the ponies and sheep are hostile. We got chased by both on different occasions. Watch you fingers. They're cute as a button, and some are friendly, but a lot aren't. They're very tough critters.
Third - expect a chilly reception in the pubs at first. The locals don't particularly like tourists in their bars and pubs. Ever see American Werewolf in London - remember the pub scene on the moor? Not quite that bad. Icelanders are god folks mostly - but take a while to warm up.
Fourth - everything is ungodly expensive - especially the stuff that has to be imported (practically everything you want to eat or drink). I defy you to do currency conversions in your head after three beers. Double your budget.
Fifth - DO NOT EAT THE FERMENTED SHARK. I mean it.
Sixth - dress warmly - I was there at high summer - never got above 50 F. Wear waterproof clothes. Carry survival rations/supplies if you go off by yourself - it's a big place - little infrastructure - few people. You could be on your own for a while if you get into trouble.
Seventh - get some good camera equipment before you go if you don't have it already. Every country has spectacular sights and Iceland is no different, but in Iceland you see them every 500 meters. Just amazing. You'll regret it if you don't get lots of pictures.
Eighth - stay off the roads on the weekends. Everyone's drunk. No kidding. Roads signs are considered optional by the locals.
Ninth - see Gullfoss (Golden Falls) - especially cool when you'll be there because of the thaw.
3.26.2007 12:09pm
never been but want to... (mail):
Some Gullfoss pictures are here:
Gullfoss
3.26.2007 3:08pm
never been but want to... (mail):
Oops, the link doesn't work. Trying again:
Gullfoss
If it doesn't work again, here's the URL, but remove the spaces:
http://www.islandsmyndir.is/ html_skjol/sudurland/gullfoss/ forsida_gullfoss_1.htm
3.26.2007 3:11pm
GMUSL2K (mail):
A few things I forgot:

Sun. Like some other writers noted: sun's up almost all the time in summer. By late June, it just gets a little dim after mid-night. Most places have extra-heavy curtains, but if you're at all light-sensitive, you'll have trouble sleeping. Which can be fun too! And it's really fun to stumble out of a bar at closing and have it be daylight outside. BTW: there is some street crime/vandalism/hoologanism in Reykjavik (usually drug and alcohol related), so don't be lulled into carelessness.

Stripclubs. Todd, this isn't for you necessarily, but rather for your other readers (grin). The stripclubs are cool, but two major caveats: First: the smallest denomination they tip with is usually a 1000 kr note (there is a 500 kr note, but you get ugly looks if you use it, and you can't very well tip with coins, can you?). Well, just look at the exchange rates and you'll see why tipping with 1000 kr notes doesn't last long. Second: no local talent - the girls are all from other countries on some sort of nordic circuit. Not what we were hoping for.

Glacier Snowmobiling. Looked like a real blast but outside our budget. Do it if you can. Again, keep in mind that emergency care and trauma centers are few and far between (if any).

Don't take the advice of the other writers and drink the Brennivin. It's mostly dare material. Booze was illegal/highly controlled in Iceland for a long time (they didn't even have pubs until the late 90s). I don't think the Icelanders used to really get the idea of tasty alcohol - just the getting smashed part (and this is lots of fun, I admit). The Brennivin is reminiscent of no-label Vodka, without the charm (it can be translated as "burning wine"). Plus, it usually goes hand in hand with the FERMENTED SHARK - which, as I mentioned, should be avoided at all costs. You can get good beer and booze at most pubs (but I recall it was like $8 for a bottle of beer - about the same as a tip for a stripper!).

Parking in Reykjavik - the locals seem to park on the curbs (at least for short stays). I never had the guts to try it.

If you do one of the bus tours (like the "golden circle" good guides, fun times) bring your lunch. The food at tourist-site, road-side stands is mostly micro-waved frozen stuff, imported. Imagine a frozen hamburger and fries, re-heated, with a can of soda for about $40.
3.26.2007 5:32pm