Some of the photos I am posting are from other members of the travel group. I unfortunately didn’t not keep track of who took each photo. I apologize for not giving due credit.
It all began with a post from travel expert Eric Hansen who has a YouTube channel Backpacking TV and you can follow him on Instagram @EpicTrails365. He was approached by TrovaTrip to host a trip to Iceland and he invited his followers to join him. We signed up right away.
Great hosts, great group of people to travel with and our guide Bara was amazing. She adapted to our group and adjusted the itinerary to our level of activity perfectly. I highly recommend a tour guide. The sites are fairly far apart and it really helped to have someone who knew exactly where to take us. She even threw in some special extras.
The places we went to were definitely where the tourist go but it’s not like other places we’ve visited. Even at the most crowded waterfall it was still a very reasonable number of people. There were the occasional Instagram posters who were trampling areas they weren’t supposed to be in but mostly it was like minded people who absolutely were in awe of the landscape. The trip there was pretty easy. From NYC it was just 6 hours. The airport was small and easy to navigate.
Weather – I am not a person who likes the cold. A couple of days into a visit to any location with snow and I’m over it. We visited Iceland in September. The highs during the days were in the 50s. According to Bara we had unusually amazing weather. I think it drizzled the first day we were there and the rest of the days it was sunny and blue skies. We packed lots of layers and rain gear. One day I wore my long underwear but the rest of the time standard long pants, long sleeve shirt, sweater, heavy jacket, and hiking boots were fine. No gloves, scarves, or hats required. But again, we had unusual weather and everyone says to expect the weather to be all over the place so pack appropriately.
Because this was a package everything was included – where we stayed, where we ate for main meals and the sites we visited.
We flew into Reykjavík and stayed just one night before we were off on our bus. We didn’t really have a chance to explore that first day. Several of the people in our group stayed a week longer. If you are doing a group thing and plan to stay a few extra days I recommend staying after the group part is over. That way you have a better lay of the land and can go back to the things you want to further explore. Our only stop in Reykjavík that first day was Skal a bar around the corner from our hotel. The food was amazing. Fresh and interesting.
Salt Baked Beets with walnuts and homemade mascarpone; Roasted sunchokes with smoked creme fraiche, hazelnuts, apple and brown butter; Smoked arctic char with sour cream, cucumber and herbs. The drinks were the special that day and I can’t remember what they were but they were delicious.
We stayed that first night and the last 2 nights at Hotel Klettur it was nice, clean and comfortable. Great location. One thing that took us a while to figure out, you had to put the room key in a slot near the door to turn the lights on. It was a very ingenious way to conserve energy and make sure people turned out the lights when they left the room. Most hotels had this. Most of the architecture in Reykjavik was newer and basic. Built for the weather. I’m sure there are historic sites, museums etc but we didn’t get to see them because we didn’t stay longer. I regret not staying. Just a couple of extra days would have been enough to really see the city.
Day One | Canyons, Geysers & Hot Springs
Our first site was Thingvellir National Park. Waterfalls, canyons, and historic sites. Game of Thrones filmed several scenes in the canyons. Click here for other filming locations in Iceland. As you can see, it wasn’t super crowded. There are other people there but it was really easy to snap photos without people in the shot. It was also easy to stray off from the group to see other parts of the park. No one was over by the church and the cemetery (my favorite part 🙂
Next stop was Geysir Hot Springs. This was one of the touristy places. Lots of people trudging along not really taking in the view. I would still recommend stopping here but it wasn’t may favorite. The springs were hot, really hot. In the first photo you can see bubbling, that’s boiling water. They had signs everywhere not to touch the water it was scolding hot. The geysers were just feet away and there was just a small rope around it. It was pretty exciting when they went off.
The next stop was massive Gullfoss Waterfall. It’s really hard to tell just how massive this was. If you look closely you can see the people walking along the path in the first photo. We needed raingear to protect us from the spray. In the third photo you can see how the path leads to the top of the waterfall. The view was beautiful.
At the geyser park there was a nice gift shop, restrooms and a restaurant with good food. Most of the food, even at the tourist spots were good. Nothing crazy, just freshly made burgers, soup, sandwiches etc.
Following the geyser we stopped at a hot springs, Secret Lagoon Hot Springs it was not a fancy one but I don’t think it would have mattered. It just wasn’t my thing. I’m not a hot tub person, really not even a water person. You change in a locker room and they want you to shower in a group shower before you put on your swimsuit. Which I can tell you did not happen. I felt awkward enough changing in front of the group I was with. After strategically working with my towel I managed to get changed, showered with my suit on. Then jumped in. Yep it was warm water. You just stand around with everyone in a warm pool of water. The springs are off to the side and they build a natural wall of stones to divide it and create a little stream as it runs down the stream it cools off enough for the pool. So if you aren’t sure if it’s worth doing or not. There are no surprises, it’s exactly as pictured where ever you go. A warm pool of water. The changing facilities might be a little more private but in the end you are just standing around in a warm pool.
Our first night on the road we stayed at a farm just outside of Hvolsvöllur – Hotel Fljotshlid It was beautifully natural. We saw a glimpse of the northern lights. It was simple, dorm style accommodations and a nice meal. The view was spectacular though.
Day Two | More Waterfalls, Sneaker Waves & Pizza
On our way to Skogafoss Waterfall we stopped at a farm that was at the foot of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. The visitor board explained how the farm continued even after the volcano erupted. Which was something that we saw a lot along the way. Traveling on the road around the perimeter of the island you have mountains and volcanos in the center with glaciers in-between them filling up the valleys. You can see how the landscape has changed depending on if the glacier has receded or if there was lava from an eruption.
Next stop was Skogafoss Waterfall there’s a fairly steep climb to the top, stairs most of the way but only a rail or rope in certain places. Once you are at the top it’s pretty flat. You can continue to hike along the path and eventually end up on the other side of the mountain. Camping is allowed most places but they are having to make changes to those rules because farm and home owners had tourists camping on their property without asking and then asking to use their bathrooms or kitchens. So if you do want to camp, be sure to look into the rules before you go.
Next stop was Reynisfjara Beach, as we drove there, our guide cautioned us several times to be sure to stay away from the water’s edge. The waves are very erratic. They have warnings for sneaker waves. If you search for Reynisfjara Beach sneaker waves you’ll see videos. The beach has beautiful black sand, the most interesting cave with natural columns and several rocky islands just off the coast. There was also a little restaurant, Black Beach Restaurant. Again, everything was fresh and well made and the restrooms were nice. Even at the tourist spots or parks the facilities were really nice.
On our way to Fjadrargliufur Canyon we stopped at a little village called Vik and had pizza at Black Crust Pizza. They make their dough with volcanic ash and serve some of the pizzas with red pepper jelly. I will never eat pizza without jelly again. Imagine a cracker, with cheese, prosciutto and jam. That’s what it was like. Delicious. After beer and pizza, our guide asked us to walk down to the water and collect a stone for our next stop.
Along our road to our last stop for the day, Fjadrargljufur Canyon, where the road Hrifunesvegur meets Sudurlandsvegur there’s a little rest stop. People started building cairns there. We each added our stones to build our own little cairn and leave our mark in Iceland. I absolutely loved this.
Last stop for the day was Fjadrargljufur Canyon, easy hike to the top then flat from there. If you prefer not to hike up you can drive a little further down the street from the main entrance to a second parking lot. Then walk over to the look out area. There is a path further along the canyon from there but we stopped at the overlook. The path is far from the edge and has a little rope to keep you off the flowers. The look out area has a metal railing so you can get closer to the edge if you want to. See the sheep in the last photo. Sheep just run wild wherever they want to go. At the end of the season all the farmers go and collect their sheep and bring them in for the winter. It’s a big deal there. We found sheep in the craziest places.
Bara had a surprise for us and we made an unscheduled stop. At a little town called Kirkjubæjarstofa there was a folktale about 2 nuns from 1186 you can visit the website to read more about the area. We parked in the parking lot of Kjarr Restaurant next to the Klausturhof Guesthouse. There’s a path just across the street from the parking lot with a picnic table. It’s pretty hard to see. Beautiful little creek with amazing old trees and rocks around the water’s edge. There’s a little stone step path that you climb through the woods to get to the top. You could see for miles. The hike down was just as steep but if I can do it almost anyone can. A suggestion of walking sticks for next time was well noted.
Wow what a day! We hit the ground running on this trip and never stopped. We made it to our next hotel, the nicest of them all and the best food. Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. We had a delicious meal for dinner then they have a breakfast buffet. Most of the hotel’s had the breakfast buffet but this one was definitely elevated. More warm dishes and offerings. We stayed here 2 nights.
Day Three | Boat Rides, Diamonds & Ice Caves
Next day we were off to a boat ride in Glacier Lagoon and visiting Diamond Beach. The boat ride takes you around a lagoon next to a glacier that is slowly receding. As parts of the glacier break off the icebergs float into the lagoon they slowly float down the river to the ocean. As they reach the ocean they get washed up on shore of the black sand beach. The guides on the boat ride were outstanding. So happy to be there and happy to show us around. There was a little stand with necessities and quick food. I kept hearing about the Icelandic hot dog with crispy onions so I gave it a try. The hot dog is served with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs. It was a good hot dog. I’m not sure I’d wait in line for an hour for one (in Reykjavik there’s a famous food truck with them an people do in fact wait that long) but it was good while we waited for the next leg of our trip. There were also bathrooms and several food trucks there. The boat tour company was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours.
After the boat ride and a snack we drove across the street to the Diamond Beach. Where the icebergs wash up on the black sand beach. I couldn’t take enough photos. (the first photo is from someone else on the trip. Not sure who.)
Next we drove about 30 min to go off road over what looked like Mars terrain to a glacier. We boarded a truck with giant wheels (if you have back problems you wouldn’t be able to ride in this vehicle. It just hauled ass over every rock there and you bounced all over the place). The “road” was over the ground that was left after the glacier receded. There’s no vegetation yet just dirt and rocks of all sizes. Once you arrive we hiked another 15-20 minutes to the edge of the glacier. Donned spikes for our shoes and hiked up the glacier. There were some interesting holes to look down but aside from being able to say I hiked on a glacier it was just a giant slope of dirty ice. Now the cave underneath, that’s a completely different story. The opening was very large you just walked in. The ceiling is ice so it looks like you are under a river. There’s a river flowing through it. As you walk further back into the cave it gets smaller for a short time and we had to duck down as we walked. That was just for a minute then it opens back up, turns a corner and ends. But it was so beautiful. If you look closely in the cave photos most have people in them. That will give you the scale and help you see what’s up and what’s down.
Another amazing day, finished with probably the best meal we had on the trip. Dinner at Foss Hotel.
Day Four | Hiking, Hot Springs & the Backside of Waterfalls
On the road again, to Vatnajökull National Park this was a big hike up over the mountain. At the end we had the best fish and chips from a food truck at the visitors center/camp area.
Once again our guide surprised us with a little side trip to Kvernufoss waterfall. We were virtually the only group there visiting these falls. Moss covered boulders along a winding river in a canyon that takes you to a hidden waterfall. That you can walk behind. It was dreamy.
Our last stop for the day was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This one had the most tourists. Tourist, the annoying kind that are rude and throw cigarette butts on the ground. It was ok. Kvernufoss gave us the behind the waterfall experience without the nasty people and the walk to the waterfall was much nicer. Seljalandsfoss you need rain gear. You walk up to the waterfall around behind it and back out. There’s a fairly steady stream of people walking through and you will get wet from the spray and the mist. The location had restrooms and gift shops. There was a food trailer with quick snacks and coffee. Mostly packaged items.
On our way back to Reykjavik we stopped at Reykjadalur Hot Springs. This was an easy 2 mile hike from the parking lot to a hot spring. They did have places you could change but they weren’t private. It was a platform with a divider but you were divided from each other not everyone else. Again, not a water person so I just opted to put my feet in. In the parking lot was a really cute visitors center. Nice bathrooms (they were pretty nice everywhere we went) and a restaurant that made waffles that were delicious.
Back to Reykjavik
Back in Reykjavik we decided to hit some of the restaurants I had seen online before our trip. The first 3 photos are from Sandholt Bakery. We stopped here the first day we arrived and grabbed a coffee. I wanted to go back to have lunch but we got there just after they stopped serving meals. Their bakery and desserts were yummy anyway. The next 2 photos are Braud & Co a bakery, also end of the day so they only had a few things left but also yum. Next 3 photos are from Cafe Loki. I knew it would be touristy, it’s right across from the Leif Erikkson Monument downtown. They serve traditional Icelandic food. From the YouTube channels it looked pretty basic. The item that got my attention was the ryebread ice cream. I have no way to describe this. It doesn’t taste like rye bread or like ice cream. It’s not overly sweet, its also not creamy. It’s not the most delicious thing I’ve eaten but it wasn’t bad either. Definitely worth trying though. We didn’t have to get a table, I just ordered at the counter. The last photo is from Joe & The Juice which was in the airport. They made smoothies, pressed sandwiches and coffee. If I’m ever there again, I will definitely pick up a sandwich when I land and again when I leave. As with most of the restaurants in Iceland, fresh made farm to table food.
To Wrap it Up
So glad we made this trip. As I said, I highly recommend a tour guide. She understood what we wanted and customized the trip to fit our preferences. There were lots of campers and camp sites as well. If you want to travel without a guide try visiting some of the YouTube channels for Iceland. I really liked Iceland with a View she has an entire channel devoted to Iceland. Her point of view is unique as well because she’s an American living in Iceland. I also liked the post from The Ryan’s Travel – What do Icelander’s Eat.
Packing – whatever they tell you to pack, pack. Normally the weather is all over the place. We were there in early September. We had t-shirt days and days with long johns. We were lucky and had warm sunny days but that isn’t usual. So come prepared. Most of the YouTube channels have packing tips.
We didn’t really need cash. We used our credit card just about everywhere. I grabbed $100 in Icelandic Krona at the airport when we arrived and ended up only using it as a tip for our guide at the end. I know usually they say don’t exchange money at the airport they charge a higher fee. But with a group I didn’t want to have to make the group stop so I could exchange the money and I didn’t want to have to search for a place to exchange the money in town. It was worth the extra fee to get it over with.
The airport is nice, easy to get around and had great restaurants and friendly staff. The gift shop actually had the nicest t-shirts I saw on the whole trip. Gifts were a little hard to get. It was either tourist junk made elsewhere or hand made items that were hundreds of dollars. And living in the south a $300 wool sweater doesn’t really make sense.
As active as this trip was is was so relaxing. This was the first group/tour guide trip I’ve been on. It was a great way to travel. I’m not sure it would work everywhere. It worked in Iceland because even the touristy places are beautiful. It’s not like normal vacation places. It would be hard to miss the “good spots”. It also helped we had such a great group to travel with.