Our plan was to fly from Vancouver to Europe and we were looking for the cheapest city to land in – Paris, Frankfurt, London, etc. We checked prices to Reykjavik out of curiosity (I had always wanted to go Iceland) and they turned out to be surprisingly cheap. While Icelandair offers a “free stopover up to one week” en-route to Europe, it was even cheaper to only book a flight to Reykjavik with them and then another airline to England (we flew into Bristol with EasyJet).
Once we had the ticket, I asked my grandmother to reach out to our extended family in Iceland whom I had only heard of and never met. I lucked out, and we ended up with a place to stay in Hafnarfjordur (a town just outside of Reykjavik) with my great great grandmothers’ brother’s granddaughter, Labbý, (otherwise known as my second cousin twice removed). But more on the family tree at the bottom of this post.
Our first day in Iceland was pretty much a write-off. We had an awful flight which involved leaving Vancouver first thing in the morning, a six hour layover in Edmonton and then arriving in Iceland – again, first thing in the morning. We napped half the day and in the evening Labbý and one of her son’s drove us around the town.
Our first “real” day in Iceland, we bused into Reykjavik and explored the small city. It was a lot chillier than we had hoped and we were bundled up against the wind (which turned out to be nothing compared to what we had ahead of us over the next few days). We tried to find lunch for under 2000kr (approx. 20 CAD) each which was impossible in a restaurant and settled for a hot dog costing 1100kr.
People’s constant warning that Iceland is expensive is true with regards to eating (and drinking) out – which, following our experience, we avoided almost completely. Grocery stores on the other hand, turned out to be cheaper than back home in Canada – and the sticker price includes tax (<3 Europe). Needless to say, for our road trips over the next few days we stuck to making sandwiches on picnic tables or once or twice in the car due to insanely strong winds. Contrary to being expensive, almost everything natural is free – no parks charge fees which was amazing – meaning our road trip costs were dominated by the car rental fee ($100 CAD/day) and fuel (over $2 CAD/Ltr).
By far the most expensive thing we did in Iceland was visit the Blue Lagoon. Even thought the entry costs the equivalent of almost $70 CAD per person, you honestly just have to do it if you’re in Iceland. We stayed three hours which was just the right amount of time for us; however, there are saunas, steam rooms and relaxing areas if we had wanted to stay longer.
The Golden Circle Road Trip
Our first day with the rental car, we drove the famous “Golden Circle.” We hit all of the highlights and were awe-struck at many – but so were a couple thousand other people. Every parking lot was completely full and every tourist bus packed. It turned out that we were in Iceland for the busiest week of the year!
Þingvellir National Park
Geysir – Strokkur
Gullfloss – “The Golden Falls”
Friðheimar Greenhouse (Reykholt)
South Coast Road Trip ( 2 days)
Over our four days with the rental car we drove a total of 1500km – most of which was along the South Coast from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and back.
The diversity in the landscape is what makes Iceland truly amazing – one minute we would be passing by a lush green waterfall and then around the corner would be a giant glacier, all the while vast barren lava fields sprawled across the other side of the highway. And no trip to Iceland would be complete with out renting a car and seeing as much of the country as possible. Our only fault was not realizing how small Iceland really is – we thought it would be impossible to do the entire Ring Road in the few days we had there but it definitely could have been done (although it would have made for very long days).
We settled for a two day road trip along the south coast where we saw more waterfalls than we could count – we had a road map with a couple special places highlighted as well as the GPS on our phones with a pre-loaded map. On top of that, the luxury of having our own vehicle was that we could pull over whenever we spotted something worthy of stopping for. On the first day we stopped at every stop all along the way and made it all the way to Vik but doubled back to Hvolsvöllur where we had pre-booked accommodation in a guesthouse. The second day we had decided to drive without stopping all the way to the Glacier Lagoon and then see what stops we missed we could hit on the way back. This turned out to be an excellent decision as the winds picked up throughout the day and as we rushed back towards Reykjavik from the Glacier Lagoons we began to hear the dreadful sound of sand blasting our car – one of the many car-rental horror stories we had read about. Luckily we made it through the worst stretches before the wind got too strong.
As for all the stops along the way, words won’t do any of them justice (in some cases the pictures don’t either!).
Our last day with the rental car we wanted to get out and see a bit more without going too far. We opted to drive up the west coast from Reykjavik to Borgarnes taking the tunnel (10 CAD toll fee!) on the way there and the scenic route along the Hvalfjörður (whale fjord) on the way back.
A little more on my extended family. First off – thank you INTERNET/SOCIAL MEDIA. Without Facebook, email and the like, it would have been nearly impossible for me to reach my extended family in Iceland. Luckily for me, my grandmother loves everything the internet has to offer and keeps in touch with far away relatives through both email and Facebook. This made it relatively easy for me to contact them and end up getting to meet and stay with them.
On top of their incredible hospitality in hosting us (and feeding us – although we agreed on no rotten shark or sheep’s head); they taught me about my family’s history showing me books and photo albums tracing our heritage back hundreds of years.
I put together a quick family tree of the Icelandic side of the family I met. I plan on putting together a larger family tree indicating where I tie into this Icelandic family of mine; however I am still missing a few key names.
On a side note:
As we mentioned before, all the national parks and sites are free, which is great and we really appreciated that. However, as tourism in Iceland continues to grow at rapid rates (Iceland now gets over one million visitors a year; that’s triple their population) we don’t see this lasting very long; mostly because of the lack of respect some people have. Every site had nice delineated pathways, parking lots and viewing platforms built, but some people still insisted on making their own routes to get a view. When you have millions of people stomping all over the place, the natural vegetation gets destroyed and ruins the natural beauty for everyone. Countless times we saw other tourists hoping over ropes to get a different viewpoint.