dolorosa_12: (le guin)
[personal profile] dolorosa_12
Friends who've spent time in Iceland (either living there or on holiday), I need your help. My mother and I are going there for a holiday for a week in late May, and I'm looking for advice about what to do, where to go, and where to stay.

Things to know about us: we both like very active holidays with a lot of walking and outdoorsy stuff. Although my mother is in her late sixties, she is fitter and healthier than I am — to give you some indication, she swims for about a kilometre almost every day, walks everywhere, and the two of us went on a hiking trip in a very hilly part of Devon and Somerset last year that saw us walk more than 100km in seven days.

We are unlikely to have our own mode of transportation. I don't know how to drive, and she has only ever driven in countries which drive on the left-hand side of the road (and I don't think Icelandic terrain is exactly the best place to start driving on the wrong side of the road).

At present we are weighing up whether to spend the entire trip in Reykjavik and go out on day trips using public transport, spend most of the trip on some kind of extended hiking tour (the kind where you go with guides and as part of a group, not the kind where you go off on your own and carry your own tents), or some combination of the two. Advice about which of these is likely to make the most sense (especially given that it will still be fairly early in the year, and potentially cold/difficult weather) would be greatly appreciated.

All suggestions welcome. If you don't want to post in the comments here, feel free to send me a message.

Date: 2017-01-07 03:35 pm (UTC)
jennaria: Kitty in a teacup (tea?)
From: [personal profile] jennaria
:raises hand: Went there in February of 2014! Spent most of our time in Reykjavik, which is very pedestrian-friendly (more so than car-friendly, as I recall) and has plenty of museums/notable buildings/etcetera. Weather was slightly milder than Boston, MA. They have lots of bus tours around the Golden Circle, but I believe they're expensive. :-(

Otherwise: I seem to recall that puffins are a summer thing in Iceland, if that's of interest. We were going mostly for the Northern Lights, which are obviously more visible during the longer nights of winter.

Date: 2017-01-07 04:42 pm (UTC)
hesychasm: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hesychasm
"Icelandic terrain" isn't really an issue -- there is one main highway that goes all around the country and it's very well-paved and not at all high-traffic, so if you occasionally drifted over to the wrong side, it would be okay. Other roads can be dirt or gravel, but those are also not high-traffic. (If you do decide to rent a car, you'll find that people will recommend you don't use them to go anywhere rougher than dirt or gravel, unless you splash out on 4-wheel drive or something.)

If you're more comfortable booking a GAP adventure type tour with a group and guide, that would probably have the added benefit of removing the pressure to book your own accommodation. Hotels and Air BnB can and do get full in the high season. Now is definitely a good time to be looking.

The benefit of driving yourselves is that you can control your own time and destinations. There are so many waterfalls and vistas you can drive right up to, with hiking trails that go on for quite a ways. Pretty much everyone speaks/reads/writes English. Be prepared for rain and wear lots of layers. Also, food will be incredibly expensive.

Date: 2017-01-08 05:38 pm (UTC)
hesychasm: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hesychasm
I'm envious of you getting to go to Iceland this year! We went recently (August 2016) for just one week, and I can't wait to go again and spend more time. It was really magical.

You'll probably get a lot of the same places recommended to you -- with good reason! -- but I particularly remember Skogafoss Waterfall having hiking trails at the top, once you climb a fair number of steps. We took pictures of Vatnajokull Glacier from a distance but didn't have time to hike it. That's near Jokulsarlon. I saw you mentioned your mother likes swimming; hot springs aren't really for swimming but we really really enjoyed the Myvatn Nature Baths near the town Akureyri.

Basically we did a sort of highlights road trip. We landed at the airport, hit the road immediately and drove the whole ring around the country, seeing as much as we could. Then we ended the trip with an afternoon doing the Golden Circle, before spending the last night in Reykjavik. To be honest, I felt no need to see more of Reykjavik than we did -- food and accommodation, for one thing, were more expensive than anywhere on the road.

Regarding driving: I understand you probably don't want your mother to be uncomfortable, but from my own experience it's easier than one would think to "snap" into the mindset of driving on the other side. I grew up in the USA but I have lived in Australia and the UK and have driven in both. It's scary for the first hour or so, and occasionally you might need reminding about which lane to turn into. But with everyone else driving on one side versus another, it becomes very automatic. And if there's any country to try driving on the other side in, it's Iceland -- it's so low-traffic, seriously.

But, absolutely, your mother should be comfortable! (And I forgot to mention that rental cars are godawful expensive as well, so shop around for those. Beware of Sixt, which has a terrible policy for canceling bookings.)

Date: 2017-01-07 05:39 pm (UTC)
naye: a huge sky over a distant town and mountains (kyoto in the distance)
From: [personal profile] naye
Eee Iceland! You should come over and borrow our box of guidebook + maps + tourist leaflets! We have some excellent stuff - you'll probably want to buy your own, too, but just to start you browsing? Why don't you come pick it up next time you're getting bread from Alison's. ♥

It's SUCH a fantastic place to travel. There's buses that go everywhere - they may only run once an hour or so, but they'll get you all the way around the country should you want to do that. I totally understand not being comfortable with the whole renting a vehicle and driving it around, so I suggest doing some research into bus routes and schedules, and then booking a few nights out of Reykjavik. (There's lots of accommodation available, but Iceland is swamped in tourists, so book early!)

There's also tons of companies that run tours out of Reykjavik so you get back from the sights the same day, but for some places (like Jökulsárlón , which I DEFINITELY recommend) that would mean most of a day spent in a bus, with very little time spent out exploring the landscape.

Oh, and no matter where you go - don't miss the hot pots! With all that geothermal power they've got, Iceland's big on heated pools, and even tiny communities will have a swimming pool with a couple of jacuzzy-style "hot pots" in different temperatures. Nothing beats soaking your whole body after a long day's walk, and the baths are all cheap and clean and outdoors, which feels amazing. So don't think you have to hit something called "spa" or whatever - if it looks like a small municipal swimming pool it's actually a fantastic soaking spot and you should check out the opening hours and make sure to squeeze a soak in before they close at the end of the day. I cannot recommend this enough! (As a bonus, being outdoors, you get some spectacular views from these places. (One of our booklets has a list of most public pools in the country operating in 2016, including opening hours and such.)

But yeah, Iceland is gorgeous and you can't really go wrong? If you pick a few walks you'd like to do - and in Iceland "walks" can be day-long hikes with mountain huts - you'll definitely be able to get there and back with public transport and save you the hassle of driving nerves and "what if I scratch the car up" nerves and having to return the car before your flight nerves. (I was nervous about all of that, it all went fine, but if I hadn't had Skuld to drive and be calm about things I would NEVER have done it.)

Date: 2017-01-08 04:02 pm (UTC)
naye: a hilly road winding towards distant mountains (miles ahead)
From: [personal profile] naye
I think Alison said she'd bake next week, and we'll def be home then, so come right over! I'd love to have you pop in for a quick cup of tea if you have a moment, and we can look at some of the stuff together? Or if you have to run, just grab the books and go and we can catch up some other time.

Other advice: The beaches near Vik (Reynisfjara) and the stone arches etc are really gorgeous. It's got those amazing honeycomb basalt columns and black sand and it's definitely worth a trip. We didn't find much to do in Vik proper? But might have missed something, as we were holed up in the camp site avoiding the winds that night!

I'd also recommend the Golden Circle - yeah, it's touristy, but the it takes you to some impressive spots. If we'd have the time/money/lack of glasses we would definitely have taken a tour of Silfra, snorkling or diving. Even if you don't go in, staring into that clear water is a cool part of visiting the Þingvellir National Park.

Otherwise - some of the waterfalls really are super cool. Like Seljalandsfoss, that has path behind it! I also really liked Skogafoss, which threw up some lovely rainbows at us. Plus we really wanted to go to Skaftafell, but the weather didn't play nice...

We also really enjoyed the Snæfellsnes peninsula with its national park. Lots of lovely coastal walks here, all in view of a glacier on top of a volcano (the one Jules Verne used in Journey to the Centre of the Earth). And if you do go, don't miss the hot pot in Olafsvik. :D

Oh, and Esja was really pretty! We just happened to have lunch at a little restaurant at the foot of the mountain on our first day, but it's clear why it's such a popular spots with the locals.

If you do go all the way to Jókulsárlón I know the Route 1 bus actually stops there for an hour to let you do the lagoon tour. Then you could spend the night in Höfn - another spot with lovely hot pots in the municipal pool, and some really nice restaurants. (We only ate at one, but there were several places that had good reviews.)

Really, Iceland is so stunning, you can't really go wrong. ♥ Just bring lots of layers (it's COLD), prepare for rain and wind, and resign yourselves to spending lots on your food. The gas station N1 serves surprisingly delicious fish stew and other hearty dishes for pretty cheap. A favorite all across the country is lamb soup with chunks of vegetables - absolutely delicious. And most places do offer you unlimited rolls with your soup or stew!
Edited Date: 2017-01-08 04:03 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-01-07 07:50 pm (UTC)
quiara: (Default)
From: [personal profile] quiara
Even boarding in Reykjavik and doing day trips would leave a lot of room for some hiking adventures. Public transport is excellent. Such a beautiful part of the world. Whatever you decide, have an amazing time. It sounds wonderful.

Date: 2017-01-09 01:03 am (UTC)
quiara: (Default)
From: [personal profile] quiara
It sounds like a wonderful time. I hope you'll post photos between adventures. ^_^

Date: 2017-01-07 09:27 pm (UTC)
dhampyresa: Paris coat of arms: Gules, on waves of the sea in base a ship in full sail Argent, a chief Azure semé-de-lys Or (fluctuat nec mergitur)
From: [personal profile] dhampyresa
Alas, I can be no help, since I've never been to Iceland (yet), but I just wanted to say she swims for about a kilometre almost every day FUCKING HOW Does your mom have her own pool? Either way, she is LIVING THE DREAM.

Have a great time in Iceland!

Date: 2017-01-08 08:54 pm (UTC)
dhampyresa: Paris coat of arms: Gules, on waves of the sea in base a ship in full sail Argent, a chief Azure semé-de-lys Or (fluctuat nec mergitur)
From: [personal profile] dhampyresa
I'm really jealous! I wish my schedule let me swim more often. Your mom is living the dream!

Date: 2017-01-07 03:58 pm (UTC)
pax_athena: (hiking)
From: [personal profile] pax_athena
I'd strongly encourage you to go further then Reykjavik - there is a lot to do around the city, but I had the general feeling that most interesting places take a bit too long to get to (don't underestimate the distances there; the roads are bad and very curvy) to really enjoy it if you stay in the city. At least it would annoy me to have to drive somewhere for three to four hours and then spend the same time to get back the same day.
We did Iceland with a car, but there is a bus route all around the island - we've been told that there is a reasonably priced ticket that only takes you in one direction, but at your own pace. It's also comparatively easy to catch ride if you miss the bus since there is pretty much just the ring road and nothing else outside of Reykjavik so everybody is going along the same road either in one or the other direction.

I think May will be too cold for spending all the time outdoors - we've been there in late June and I would not have wanted to spend the nights outside. I do admit that I am not disinclined to the comforts of youth hostels and small guest houses myself in general, but we spent the last two big trips camping - but not Iceland. If you think hostels, book NOW. We booked around this time of the year for June last year and some places were booked out already - but maybe June is also the busier time.

We've got this book recommended - it was the best decision ever to buy it: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Iceland-finest-coastal-mountain-Walking/dp/3763348026/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1483804226&sr=8-1&keywords=iceland+rother
Not all hikes are accessible via public transport (if they are, they give the info) or even via normal car (a lot of the roads on the inner side of the ring road require a 4x4), but we've did more than a dozen hikes from the book and none did disappoint. They also rightly point out that more small hikes may make more sense in Iceland if you are there for the first time than one big long hike; the terrain and the landscape is very diverse and it's worth seeing the different sides of it.

If you want recommendations for individual places, I will be glad to give some (I did ask for recs before my own trip and was glad I did!).

Date: 2017-01-11 05:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dolorosa-12.livejournal.com
This is super useful advice, and chimes with what I've been getting on Facebook and Dreamwidth (where I also posed this question). At the moment, we're leaning towards one night/day in Reykjavik at either end of the week, and spending a day at a time in other places, with a bit of hiking/outdoors stuff and retreating indoors in the evening. So far, Vik and Jokulsarlon are definitely on the list, and possibly some waterfalls. Are there any places you would definitely recommend?

After some discussion with my mother, we've concluded that she doesn't want to drive, so we're likely to use that bus around the ring road - the ticket you mention is called a 'Circle Passport', and lets you travel in one direction at your own pace. If you want to go back in the other direction, you have to buy a new ticket, but it's at a slight discount.

We're starting to book accommodation this week or next week. Because Iceland is so expensive, we're not going to be fussy about where we stay (although I think we're both too old for group rooms in youth hostels!), as long as it's in the locations we want to go to. We've both been to Norway before, so we're braced for extreme Nordic prices, and extreme Nordic weather...

Any recommendations of specific places you'd recommend would be most welcome. I'm meeting up with some friends on Friday - they were in Iceland last August, and they're going to lend me their maps and guidebooks and advice about places to visit. It'd be good to have as many recommendations as possible from different people, so that we can narrow down where we want to go based on popularity and what people say about various locations...

Date: 2017-01-11 05:24 pm (UTC)
pax_athena: (hiking)
From: [personal profile] pax_athena
I'm so excited for you going - I hope you will love it as much as we did!

Vik and Jokulsarlon sound great, would have been my recommendation, too. I was also thinking about one geothermal area but both we've been to on this side of the Island (there is another one on the Northern side) are not really accessible with bus. I think this one may be: http://besthiking.net/hveragerdi-hot-spring-river-trail-hiking-iceland/ if you add a bit for getting from the town/village to the beginning of the trail. It's pretty amazing and absolute recommendation (take your bathsuits with you, it's worth it!)

If you are thinking about going to the North, Arnarstapi would be a great stop - the basalt coast is absolutely amazing. The hike is super easy (more of a walk) but the views are just stunning.

I would also recommend to make some (guided) hike to one of the glaciers. We haven't planned properly ahead here and ended up driving a mud road and then hiking at some random location - I think it would be even greater if better organized (and I've heard good things about actual glacier walks, but as said, we haven't planned this part properly and then it was too late ...).

(P.S. Some of my impression are here http://pax-athena.livejournal.com/264157.html - but please don't feel forced to look/comment. I would not be pointing it out if I did not think that it could be useful.)

Definitely stop at Seljalandsfoss - and go the 200m inlands to take a look at the second waterfall there; this one was perhaps the most impressive of all I've seen.

Date: 2017-01-16 05:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dolorosa-12.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for this advice - I've added Seljalandsfoss to the list, and a glacier hike (you're probably the third person who recommended this, so I'm definitely taking notice). Not sure if we'll have time to make it to the north, given we'll be relying on buses and only there for the week, but that coast sounds beautiful! Skogafoss was also recommended to me, and I see that you went there too.

I think it would be good to spend the last day or so back in Reykjavik, where we could visit the Golden Circle as well.

Your post of impressions is super helpful - it's confirmed to me most of the places I want to go, so now it's just a matter of planning our route from place to place (in order to allow minimal time on a bus, and maximum time out and about).

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