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A tiny house, big vistas and endless daylight: Our week in Iceland

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Jul 17th, 2018, 08:07 AM
  #1
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A tiny house, big vistas and endless daylight: Our week in Iceland

We just returned from a one-week trip to Iceland and wanted to share a little about our experience in case it is helpful to others. We took a lot of input from this board as we planned our trip – so thank you to all who have posted in the past and particularly to Melnq8, who sent us some maps and booklets she collected last year while traveling around the country.

Our last couple of trips have been city trips, so we were itching for a little fresh air and scenery.

We had seven nights to play with, which isn’t a lot, but it’s what we can muster at the moment due to work, aging cat, aging parents and other matters. We tried hard to work that into a trip around the entire ring road. Ultimately, we decided we wouldn’t enjoy having to pack up and move accommodations every night, and renting a camper, while maybe fun for a night or two, would get old quickly.

Instead, we settled on this plan:
· 3 nights in the west
· 3 nights on the south coast
· 1 night in Reykjavik prior to our 11:55 am flight home

Getting there
We flew Chicago-Newark-Keflavik and reverse on United, which just began flying to Iceland in May. Newark is – how shall I say this politely – not our favorite airport. On the outbound portion of the trip, thunderstorms earlier in the day caused havoc and forced a lot of diversions, including the plane that was to take us to Iceland. On the return, the weather was great, and our flight arrived early. We breezed through Global Entry only to wait an hour for our checked bags (vs. <15 minutes at ORD later in the day).

Accommodations
We wanted at least some kitchen facilities in our accommodations so as not to have to eat all meals out. Accordingly, we looked for apartments rather than hotels and eventually booked everything through Airbnb. Two were rural, on farms. We were very happy with all of them.

Near Búđardalur in the west (3 nights; $142/night plus fees):
This is an actual and modern tiny house (just like the kind on HGTV) on a farm with a long history. It once was part of the property of Erik the Red, and the Eiríksstađir homestead museum is just down the road. Written history indicates Erik gave the property to his slaves. In the 16th and 17th century, it became the site of an annual feast for common workers that was eventually banned due to “indecency.” The host provides breakfast in her kitchen each morning, and we enjoyed our visits with her.
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/11178408


The tiny house

Near Kirkjubćjarklaustur on the south coast (3 nights; $208/night plus fees):
This is on a working sheep farm that extends up a large valley. We enjoyed a lovely hike up the valley to one of the waterfalls on the property – a rare opportunity to hike without other people around. The farm has been in the host’s family for four generations.
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18946955

In Reykjavik (1 night; $145/night plus fees):
This is a well-located and well-furnished apartment in an area that is convenient but quiet and mostly residential. As a bonus, we found parking right in front of the apartment.
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19553562

All three of these are fairly popular properties. We booked the first two last fall, after we’d made flight reservations. We booked the Reykjavik apartment in January.

Last edited by ms_go; Jul 17th, 2018 at 08:16 AM. Reason: fix spacing issues
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Jul 17th, 2018, 08:14 AM
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Food and drink
Restaurants are expensive – think $25 for a bowl of soup on at least one occasion. Aside from our first day, when we just missed closing time at the grocery store, we limited our eating out to once per day.

We didn’t even think about ordering wine in restaurants except for our last night in Reykjavik. Instead, we hit the duty-free store adjacent to baggage claim in the KEF arrivals area and bought some bottles of wine to consume in our apartments. This was somewhat less expensive that bottles sold in the state-run Vínbúđin stores, which have limited hours and selection.

Money
We got a small amount of cash at the beginning of the trip but barely used it. It was handy to have some coins for restrooms, on a few occasions. Virtually everywhere we went, we used credit cards, even for a few parking fees. Having a card with chip/PIN functionality (thank you, USAA) was especially helpful at gas stations.

Weather
Even in the height of summer, the weather in Iceland is notoriously fickle. We read that we should prepare for anything – and so we did, especially cold and wet weather. We ended up being quite lucky. Most of the rain we experienced was when we were driving – right after arrival, on our day spent getting from the west to the south, and on our return to Reykjavik. We had two dry and mostly sunny days in the west. We had two dry and partly sunny days in the south. Temps ranged between 9 and 13 Celsius according to our vehicle’s dashboard. It was, however, quite windy at times. And while it was chilly and windy, the rain mostly spared us for our afternoon and evening in Reykjavik (which, by the way, has experienced record rainfall over the past few months).

While not really weather related, this seems a relevant place to note that in early July, it is light almost around the clock. At our far north point in the trip, the sun set at 12:30 am and rose just two hours later.

Getting around
We rented a car from Lagoon Car Rental, which is an airport off-site provider. Communication was good, and prices seemed better than other agencies we checked. We splurged for a small, automatic AWD SUV that is rated for “F” roads. By the time we booked, we knew that two of our accommodations would require navigating some gravel roads and that our plans might call for a little rough driving in spots. Our original rental agreement was for a Kia Sportage, but we ended up with a bump to a Kia Sorento (in the photo above). It performed admirably throughout, and we ultimately deemed it MVP of the trip.

We read in advance that it is prudent to fill up when you have the chance, as there can be long distances between gas stations. That is good advice. We had one close call.

Overall, we found the roads fairly easy to drive and the only really “heavy” traffic around Reykjavik. This was, however, July, with long daylight hours (i.e., no chance of driving in the dark unless one is doing so around 1:30 am) and no ice and snow. Even the gravel roads, which went for many kilometers in some places, were fairly manageable. I’m not sure we ventured far on anything actually considered an “F” road. You do, of course, have to be constantly aware of oncoming traffic, which includes the occasional tour bus or large tractor, as well as people who have stopped along the road to gawk at the scenery, take photos and/or pet the ponies. Sheep in the road are also an occasional hazard.

We had a decent map but found ourselves relying extensively on the iPhone GPS and Google Maps (thank goodness for AT&T Day Pass).

We failed to record the number of kilometers covered during the week. Suffice it to say: many. For us, driving in Iceland was as much or more a part of the total experience as the destinations, themselves. Whether winding through the Westfjords, traversing miles of “mossy moonscape” (credit to a NYT writer for that one) punctuated by patches of purple Alaskan lupine, driving through a steep green valley with waterfalls on both sides, or going up and over a mountain on a gravel road, it is all happening in a 360-degree panorama. Photos just don’t do that justice.

And on that note, more to come soon about our days in Iceland.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 09:08 AM
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This is so helpful!! Iceland in on our list, just not sure whether to take a (relatively) cheap winter flight on WOW airlines to try to see the northern lights or to go when you did. Thanks for posting!
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Jul 17th, 2018, 11:45 AM
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ms_go -

Waiting with bated breath!
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Jul 17th, 2018, 12:52 PM
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Day 1: Arrival
Originally, we were to land at about 8 am, and our accommodation would not be available until 6 pm. That’s a lot of time to fill when coming off an overnight flight. The mess at Newark “helped” fill that gap somewhat, truncating our available time by a few hours. After all of the formalities and a stop at the duty-free store, we didn’t end up driving out of the Lagoon parking lot until just after noon.

After discussion, we decided to stick with our plan to see some of the Golden Circle attractions before heading north. These included the Keriđ crater, Strokkur Geysir and Gullfoss (waterfall). Gullfoss was the highlight among those, regardless of how crowded it was. By this time, the sun was out and producing nice rainbows over the falls.


Keriđ crater


Gullfoss

Honorable mention for the afternoon went to lunch at Friđheimar tomato farm, which is an interesting place – a restaurant in the greenhouse, surrounded by thousands of vines ($59 for the tomato soup and bread buffet, x2, and a couple of beers).

By the time we were done at Gullfoss, it was nearly 6 pm, and we still hadn’t been to Ţingvellir National Park. A quick check of the GPS showed that we still had three hours of driving – and we’d told our host we would be there at 6 pm. So much for the park; we set our GPS for the fastest route, which ended up including a gravel road that ran north and west the park with NO other cars on the road for the hour+ we were on it. Our host later told us that was “not a route that most people choose take.”

We barely missed opening hours at the Búđardalur grocery. Our only alternative to a dinner of wine and Clif bars, therefore, was to stop in the only restaurant open in Búđardalur on that evening, Veidistadurinn (The Fishing Spot), which served a nice fresh fish sandwich and fish tacos ($54, including beer).

Our route for the day looked something like this. Needless to say, we were a little tired!

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Jul 17th, 2018, 12:56 PM
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I should add, it is going to take some time to go through all of our photos from two cameras and two phones. As we post this, therefore, I'll just include a few photos from the phone and occasionally, a relevant map.

dcd, tough call! I'd love to see the northern lights, but I'm not sure what the chances are when picking any random time in the winter. And I certainly wouldn't want to do all the driving that we did during the winter.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 02:51 PM
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I'm joining you too. Gullfoss looks beautiful. With all the marketing about Iceland and the many low-cost flights, was the island brimming with tourists at the major sights?
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Jul 17th, 2018, 04:04 PM
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I find your trip report intriguing and am signing on for more.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 04:26 PM
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I’m fascinated by your story of the drive to Búđardalur. I can imagine what you were seeing. I’m not sure I would enjoy that route with a regular sunset time but it sounds like it worked out well.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 05:03 PM
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I'm enjoying your trip report and looking forward to more.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 05:36 PM
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Thanks, everyone! We're working on it.

Hi tripplanner001! Gullfoss was beautiful, but there were others just as impressive - for example, we'll get to Dynjandi soon. I would say the major points on the Golden Circle and a few others on the south coast were "brimming" with tourists, but generally speaking I didn't find them unmanageable. We talked about this with one of our hosts, and she said the tourism growth curve is beginning to slow a little compared to last year.

xcountry, it really wasn't a bad drive and somewhat scenic. It was partly paved and partly gravel, and I don't think any part of it was an F road. We were just surprised to see no one for about an hour and, thus, weren't sure what was ahead - but as you noted, it was well before sundown so not really an issue.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 06:08 PM
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Day 2: Snćfellsnes peninsula
The day began cloudy, but the sun was breaking through even before we reached our first stop – and it got even better from there.

There are many options in this area. Our stops included:
· The small seaside town of Stykkishólmur, which is especially pretty – be sure to climb the hill to the lighthouse
· Kirkjufell waterfall – take the path all the way up and around for various vantage points
· Saxholl Crater – yet another climb
· Malarrifsviti lighthouse and Lóndrangar basalt cliffs
· The 2.5 km cliff walk between Hellnar and Arnastapi and back, with interesting rock formations, bird colonies and such all along the coast

It was during the latter stop that we witnessed our first extreme wedding photo shoot of the trip, with the bride in her full dress literally on her hands and knees trying to climb up the basalt rocks of the beach cave.


Somewhere along the road


Stykkishólmur


Kirkjufell waterfall


Cliff walk from Hellnar to Arnastapi

Total driving time without stops was about 4.5 hours. A good part of the road is gravel but well maintained. We could have built even more stops into our day, but we were determined to get back to the grocery store before it closed so that we had something for dinner besides wine and Clif bars.

Here is the map for today's drive:
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Jul 17th, 2018, 07:12 PM
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<<It was during the latter stop that we witnessed our first extreme wedding photo shoot of the trip, with the bride in her full dress literally on her hands and knees trying to climb up the basalt rocks of the beach cave.>>

Seriously? There was more than one? Good Lord.

And what's wrong with wine and Clif bars? Dinner of champions!
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Jul 18th, 2018, 03:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Melnq8 View Post
Seriously? There was more than one? Good Lord.
Yep. We ran into the same couple a few days later at the black beach near Vik, then a different couple the next day at the glacial lagoon. The best, though, was at Sólheimasandur beach, where a couple was posing with the plane. They had three photographers with lots of gear plus at least two handlers/wardrobe helpers.I suppose it is possible they were models, but even then, I can't imagine what that cost with the travel and such.
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Jul 18th, 2018, 03:40 AM
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We have been to Iceland once but only went south. I want to go back to go north. Thanks for the great information. Sounds like a wonderful trip!
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Jul 18th, 2018, 05:16 AM
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Day 3: Westfjords
This was an even longer day of driving, but it was all about the journey. We drove north on road 61, which crosses the Steingrimsfjörđurheiđi pass and then winds through the fjords all the way north to Isafjordur. The entire road is paved, and while there are a few bridges across fjords, most of the road traces the water’s edge – with views that change often from waterfalls, to solitary churches or red-roofed farm houses, to glimpses of the Drangajökull glacier across the water on the Hornstrandir peninsula. We had the benefit of clear skies and full sun – a gorgeous drive with relatively little traffic.


Road 61 along the fjords

Our first primary stop was at Isafjordur, where we had the best meal of the trip at Tjöruhúsiđ. There is no menu. The restaurant serves a fish soup, fresh catch of the day (3 varieties the day we visited) and some side salads set out in a serve-yourself, all-you-can-eat manner ($84 for two, including a couple of few beers). It is not a fancy place. You sit at long communal tables, inside or out. Fortunately, I had called the day before and found that the lunch service ends at 2 pm. Otherwise, we probably would have missed it.


Isafjordur

Isafjordur is a pretty town with some historic buildings and a dramatic setting in a narrow fjord – making the large cruise ships that were in port all the more noticeable against the green hills.

After lunch, we drove west through the tunnel, which is one lane for the most part with a passing protocol that we had to learn on the fly. Once out of the tunnel, we were on road 60 heading west and then south. This road is gravel for long stretches and more mountainous, crossing some passes with somewhat steep climbs and descents. The scenery is different but just as dramatic. This link is to a short video. Pardon the bugs on the windshield – you’re seeing it just as we did. Be sure to have the audio on at :50 to hear mr_go share his thoughts what will happen if we run off the road!
Zenfolio onelittleworld West Video 10

Our second primary stop was at the sensational waterfall, Dynjandi, where there are various paths to the vantage points.




Dynjandi

Then, more of the same on road 60 for a couple of hours. All in all, this was about 7 hours of driving and a 10-hour journey. Completely worth it!

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Jul 18th, 2018, 11:50 AM
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<<A quick check of the GPS showed that we still had three hours of driving – and we’d told our host we would be there at 6 pm. So much for the park; we set our GPS for the fastest route, which ended up including a gravel road that ran north and west the park with NO other cars on the road for the hour+ we were on it. Our host later told us that was “not a route that most people choose take.”>>

Looking at your map I think that's a road we took too and barely saw another soul for miles. Ditto on the gravel road to the end of the western fjords which whilst it may not have been officially an F road that was certainly what I was calling it.

You certainly packed in some miles but somehow most trips to Iceland end up like that I think. But as you say worth it in the end.
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Jul 18th, 2018, 04:39 PM
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Althom has a trip report from Patagonia with pictures that are incredibly vibrant. I find pictures of Iceland are a little more muted with the greens and greys, but still so wonderful to look at. Of course you know how to take pictures (I use your pictures of the Inca Trail to show people our trip).
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Jul 18th, 2018, 05:15 PM
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Day 4: Moving from west to south
We bid adieu to the tiny house and our host and followed the ring road south. Since the weather was more “traditional” (rain), we pushed on past Reykjavik and didn’t stop until lunch time. Lunch was notable for the chance to try Iceland’s traditional fish stew, plokkfiskur (Skyregerdin in Hveragerdi; $57 for lunch for two, with dessert plus beer – pretty good food and not an exorbitant amount for the quantity and quality).

Once we passed Selfoss, around 3 pm, the rain started to let up, so we stopped to see several of the "big attraction" waterfalls, including Seljalandsfoss, which you can walk behind; Gljúfrabúi, which is in a cave just down the path from Seljalandsfoss; and Skógafoss, which has a long stairway to a viewing point at the top. All are located around the base of Eyjafjallajökull, which is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused havoc for travelers on both sides of the Atlantic.


Seljalandsfoss and its neighbors


Skógafoss

Over previous two days, we encountered an occasionally busy parking lot with maybe 20 or so cars, but now we were back into what I'd characterize as more of a crowd with many dozens of cars coming and going. The lot at Seljanlandsfoss requires a parking fee.

We also stopped to see the black sand beach and interesting basalt columns at Reynisfjarabeach. Wouldn't you know it? The same wedding couple was there getting ready for more photos. We wondered how high she would climb on the basalt columns.


Basalt columns at Reynisfjara beach

Our last stop for the day was the grocery store in Vik, as we would now be preparing our own breakfasts. As we headed out across the fields of lava and Alaskan lupine towards Kirkjubćjarklaustur, the sun came out.


Lava and lupine fields near Vik

A welcoming committee of sheep greeted us at our next accommodation and “led” us up the gravel road into the valley.


Welcoming committee


Golden hour on the farm

Our route today:

Last edited by ms_go; Jul 18th, 2018 at 06:10 PM. Reason: Some punctuation doesn't seem to be working
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Jul 18th, 2018, 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by xcountry View Post
Althom has a trip report from Patagonia with pictures that are incredibly vibrant. I find pictures of Iceland are a little more muted with the greens and greys, but still so wonderful to look at. Of course you know how to take pictures (I use your pictures of the Inca Trail to show people our trip).
I will look for that report. Patagonia is high on our list when we have the time for that. For now, the situation with my mother, plus 18-year-old cat, makes it hard to plan for the time away that we would need.

Iceland is maybe a little more muted, but there were definitely some vibrant moments. Thanks for the compliment, and I'm glad you enjoyed our Inca Trail photos. That was such a great trip. I would love to go back and see more of Peru.
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