In February this year, I contacted my travel agent Catterfly AG based in Basel Switzerland and a few others for a quote for two couples (Ashok, Maya, me and Archana) for a seven day trip to Iceland where we wanted to go for the self-drive option as this is considered the best way to experience this ice & Fire island.
Finally, after considering all quotes Catterfly was selected at Euro 4075 per couple on a self-drive and apartment-sharing basis. It included three major attraction tickets in Iceland plus all logistics from Bedford to Bedford. We had to take care of all our meals including breakfast.
Iceland's volcanoes, earthquakes, and glaciers keep it geologically young, active, and spectacularly beautiful. Land is created and destroyed here faster than anywhere else in the world. Straddling divergent tectonic plates, Iceland stretches by about two centimetres per year. The sea erodes the shore at about the same rate. Mountains, islands, lakes, and gorges come, go, and transform. It's a land whose story always seems to be starting a new chapter. Unfortunately, in a couple of centuries continued human activities will result in melting of all glaciers and the story will be different. While efforts are on the dooms day can only get postponed. Isn’t this the story everywhere in the planet?
Packing for Iceland:
We kept with us double the money that we needed and half the clothes-just one change of layered clothing set. June is summertime in Iceland, but the weather can change drastically if it rains. On a bright sunny day, you can wear your jeans and T-shirts, but warm clothes and a rain jacket must be handy at all times. We also kept about 7 kilos of ready-to-eat or heat & eat food as food in Iceland is very expensive. Our friend also kept about the same.
The D-Day: 19/6/2023- Day-1 :
We took 6 am EasyJet flight from Luton airport and reached Keflavik international airport at about 8:10 am Icelandic time which was 1 hour behind UK time. I found that my O2 sim taken while I had arrived in London on 14/6/23 which was slated to work in Europe wasn’t good in Iceland. I had to purchase another local sim as we needed to use our phones for navigation. Vendor’s (ICERENTAL,Bogatröð 2, Reykjanesbær)transport came after some time to drop customers to the airport and take arriving customers to their car park for formalities and vehicle handover. Eventually, they took us to the car park which was 7-8 km drive. Once there they made us sign an agreement. The car rental with comprehensive insurance for this 5-seater 4x4 Suzuki Vitara was about ?100000 for 8 days. The car had done around 250000 km already and had several nicks on its body caused due to flying volcanic gravel in previous trips. These were all mapped on the agreement document that we signed. To be careful we took several photos. Apple Connect (wireless or wired) didn’t work on this car.
In Iceland steering is on the left side and one has to keep driving on the right side of the road close to the centreline. None of us were used to driving like this. Fortunately, Maya Khandelwal ( Ashok’s wife) kept guiding and navigating us for the entire duration of the trip. It was a different experience and we came out unscathed after 2000 km of driving though Maya did not certify us for driving license in Europe.
Reykjavik - Perlan:
We drove down to this place around 12.30 pm. Purchase tickets to Perlan @ INR 3000 per person and went in.
Perlan (English: The Pearl) is the number one attraction in Reykjavík and the biggest nature museum in Iceland. It´s also a prominent landmark in the Icelandic capital situated on the top of Öskjuhlíð hills.
The building consists of a vast glass dome resting on top of six district heating tanks. Four of them are still in use, one hosts a real Ice cave, and one has been turned into a planetarium.
At Perlan, you can learn all about Icelandic nature at the Wonders of Iceland exhibition. Its exhibits are modern and interactive so guests can experience and learn in a fun way. The main attractions are a real Ice cave, a Northern Lights show in Perlans Planetarium, and a Lava film.
360° observation deck: Can be accessed from the 4th floor. The deck provides views all over the city and its surroundings—nearby mountains and out to the Atlantic Ocean.
On the 4th floor, there is a gift store. We checked some prices and found them to be about four-five times of Indian equivalent. On the 5th floor, right under the glass dome, there is a restaurant and Café. The view from there is quite spectacular. As the floor revolved 365, it constantly changed as we sat there eating our lunch.
Rainbow Street ( Reykjavik):
Back in 2015, the city of Reykjavik decided to paint one of its streets a rainbow to celebrate Reykjavik Gay Pride which started in 1999. Since then, the festival has grown and attracts up to 100,000 visitors each year. The now-named Rainbow Street is painted year-round, with many stopping to pose and have their photos taken on it.
Around 5 pm we reached Geothermal Park, Haveragardurin which was 46 km from Rainbow Street and took us about 50 minutes. This was a mud thermal park with the smell of sulphur and hot gases bubbling out through the simmering mud. The passage was strategically through a cafe which charged an admission fee of ISK 400(? 280) for each person. We could use their free toilets. We took a walk through the park but did not stay for the coffee there.
Minni Borgir -Selfoss area:
Minniborgir Restaurant & Cottages
Around 5:20/25 pm, we left the Geothermal Park area and drove down to our first apartment stay Minniborgir Restaurant & Cottages in Selfoss. This was about 32 km from Geothermal and
took about 30 minutes. Minni Borgir Cottages is a cluster of 22 cottages. It had two bedrooms but a common toilet. The bedrooms were too small. The cottage was otherwise good with a living room, open kitchen, microwave, stove, freeze, washing machine and dishwasher. The hot tub wasn’t operational.
In Reykjavik, we hadn’t gone to the supermarket thinking that we will buy things at Minni Borgir but here the store closed at 7 pm. We had no oil to cook. Maya and Archana approached the restaurant receptionist for help, and they provided 500 gm butter block free of cost though we offered to pay. This helped us cook our dinner which consisted of khichadi- India’s national dish.
The darkness in Iceland only lasts from 11:30 PM until 3:30 AM. When I got up at 3:30 am for the toilet the sun was already up in the sky. The times for sunrise and sunset in Iceland are significantly influenced by the high location in the northern hemisphere. Iceland lies only just below the Arctic Circle and therefore almost reaches a real midnight sun in the summer months.
Thingvellir (Þingvellir)National Park
After breakfast we proceeded to Thingvellir National Park, which was 42 km away. The information centre has toilets, a cafe and plenty of display boards giving information about the park.
This was the site of first parliament of Iceland. Þingvellir - literally means the "Assembly Plains". The parliament continued to convene here until 1798. Major events in the history of Iceland have taken place at Þingvellir and therefore the place is held in high esteem by all Icelanders.
This stunning narrow valley is a part of the Þingvellir National Park and is at the tip of the tectonic plate of North America and Europe. The Mid-Atlantic Rift is the boundary between North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Almannagjá Gorge is eight kilometres long, and you could enjoy a scenic hiking challenge with a rewarding view of the man-made waterfall Oxfarafoss. There is no better way to explore the location than going on an Almannagjá hike.
Oxararfoss Waterfall is famed for being a film location in the hit TV series Game of Thrones. It’s also known for its special geology. The human-made waterfall sits on the edge of the boundary line between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Geysir Hot springs centre:
From Thingvellir, we drove to Geysir centre which was 56 km away and took about 50 minutes. We reached here around 3:45 pm. This is a famous geothermal area with hot springs erupting every 20 minutes going up to 70 meters.
From Geysir (English- Geyser) we proceeded to Gulfoss which was under 10 km. Reached in 10 minutes. Gullfoss ("Golden Falls") is a waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá River
("white river") in southwest Iceland. This waterfall was privately owned but was later sold to the state of Iceland and is now protected. Together with Thingvellir
and the Geysirs of Haukadalur Gullfoss forms part of the Golden Circle, a popular day excursion for tourists in Iceland covering about 300 km round trip from Reykjavik.
The river Hvítá flows southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the west and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages.
From Gullfoss, we drove down to a secret lagoon which was 32 km away. We were certainly not going sequentially because the planned itinerary didn’t include a few things which we
added spontaneously. The Secret Lagoon, known locally as Gamla Laugin, is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. It was made in 1891 at Hverahólmi, a geothermal area near Flúðir. The pool water flows continuously, and it takes only 24 hours for its complete replacement. Warm, clean, and rich in sulfur, stays at 38-40 Celsius all year
round. We reached there at 6:30 pm just 30 minutes before closure for the day. Spending time in the pool would take at least 2 hrs and so we had to be content with just moving around.
21/6/23 - Day-3-Minni Borgir restaurant & cottages
Seljalandsfoss is located in the South Region in Iceland right by Route 1 and the road that leads to Þórsmörk Road 249. We drove to Sejlandsfoss which was about 95 km from our apartment. Seljalandsfoss which is one of the top seven waterfalls in the world is located in the South Region of Iceland right by Ring Road and the road that leads to a mountain ridge that was named God Thor (Þór) Road
The waterfall drops 60 m (197 ft) and is part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. You can hike through the back of the falls and view them from the inside out. We had carried our raincoats which we used to go behind the waterfall.
From Sejlandsfoss around 10 am we drove 30 km to Skógafoss. Iceland surprises you. When you feel that there can be no better than this what you see next is unbelievable.
Skógafoss is a waterfall on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliff marking the former coastline. The name comes from 'scoga' meaning forest and 'foss' meaning falls. This is an amazing place! If we had more time, and strong legs we would have taken a longer hike and gone to see the waterfall from above. The views were amazing, and the weather was good. It seemed like a small paradise.
From Skógafoss we drove 28 km to Dyrholaey lighthouse. The light station was established in 1910. The present lighthouse was built in 1927.
The only way to get from the main lower parking lot and lower viewpoints up to the lighthouse and higher viewpoints is to hike. We hiked up1 km for the views.
Broken Plane-Sólheimasandur aeroplane wreckage:
On Saturday, Nov 24, 1973, a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 aeroplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach in the south of Iceland after experiencing some severe icing. Miraculously, all crew members survived the crash,
The Sólheimasandur aeroplane wreckage is located on the South coast between Skógafoss and Vík. From the lighthouse, the parking to the broken plane was 18km. We reached there in 20 minutes around 1 pm. We waited for the shuttle bus which has a frequency of 30 minutes. This time-saving option takes 5 -10 minutes one way and guarantees you a ride back at your allotted time. After you have explored the famous DC plane wreck. The shuttle ticket price per person was about Rs. 2000.
From Broken Plane parking, we drove down 25 km to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.
With its enormous basalt stacks, roaring Atlantic waves, and stunning panoramas, Reynisfjara is widely considered to be the most beautiful example of Iceland’s black sand beaches. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara as one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet.
Vík i Myrdal Church
From this beach, we drove 11 km to Vík i Myrdal Church which is over a kind of hill for the beautiful view of the town below.
Hamrafoss Holiday Home
From Vík i Myrdal Church we started at about 4:45 pm and drove 83 km in 1 hr 10/15 minutes to reach Hamrafoss Holiday Home at 6 pm. There was a waterfall in front of this guest house.
We packed up our things. Our stay here was just one night on 21/6/23. Today we had our first paid attraction of iceberg boat tour. But that would start after 3 pm and so we decided to go to Skaftafell national park which was on the way 57 km away from our guest house. It took us about 50 minutes. We arrived there around 10:30 am.
Skaftafell which was originally a farm was joined with Vatnaiökull National Park, which was established in 2008. The park is a nature reserve which is well known for its diverse landscapes. In Skaftafell you can find beautiful hiking trails that vary in difficulty levels. You can find glaciers, mountains, valleys, and even black sandy beaches in Skaftafell. It is also a great spot to enjoy Icelandic nature while having a great scenic view from the Sjónarnípa viewpoint. The National Park also has one of the best campgrounds in Iceland.
Sjónarnípa viewing point
Sjónarnípa is a viewpoint located in the Skaftafell national park, in south-east Iceland. The viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area, which includes the mighty Vatnajokull Glacier – The Largest Glacier in Europe, as well as the nearby mountains and valleys. The viewpoint is located on a short hike from the Skaftafell visitor centre and is a popular spot for tourists and hikers to stop and take in the scenery.We decided to give it a try. The difficulty level was mild.
Fjallsárlón Glacier tour
From Skaftafell Fjallsárlón Glacier Parking, was 47km and took us about 40 minutes. We reached here at 2 pm for a 3.30 pm slot. We registered for the tour and went for some coffee. They had a good restaurant which served buffet meals.
At 3 pm they issued us their prescribed outfit and safety jackets and helped us to dress up. The outfit was quite heavy, but they insisted. After dressing up they gave us a rundown on the event and safety instructions.
22/6/23-Day-4, night stay at Apartment by the sea:
From Fjallsárlón Glacier Parking, we drove 90 km in 1 hr 10/20 minutes for our night stay at the Apartment by the sea and arrived here at about 7 pm.
23/6/23-Day-5- Longest single-day drive to Vacation Home Fagravik.
We made a plan with three breaks including Eglisstadir to arrive at our destination 4th stop in about 7 hours covering about 450 km.
But, after travelling some distance the car indicated engine oil issue. We decided to travel at low speed till engine oil could be found. Our plans for three stops fizzled out. Even the thought of doing Mývatn Nature Baths, Mývatn, 348 km from the Apartment by the sea wasn’t practicable.
Finally, we ended up doing the following route to Vacation Home ( Hofn to Akureyri)
Hofn-Eglisstadir-Fljótsdalshreppur-Dimmuborgir Lava Field -Vacation Home Fagravik
190+90+190+90= 560kmThe above route travel time was about 9 hrs. Having started around 7 am and with one lunch break and a Lava field visit we expected to arrive at our stay for the night around 7 pm which we achieved.
Eglisstadir -Skalinn Diner:
After driving about 190 km we stopped at Eglisstadir at Skalinn Diner at about 12:30 pm for a break and had fries with coffee.
We reached this point by driving 90 km around 3:15 pm and parked at a high raised gravel topped flat ground. This was just a stop for a break from driving. From here volcanic
mountains could be seen in the distance. This was somewhere in the Fljotsdalsherad district in East Iceland, home to East Iceland's main town, Egilsstadir.
There was a placard which gave the phone number of a helicopter service which could be hired to see lava fields and other attractions from the sky. A 60-minute one-landing tour was prised at ?40000 per person. A 90-minute private tour for the whole helicopter was around ? 270000. We neither had the time nor that kind of budget and so it was out of our consideration. While landing in Kaflavik we had hoped for a view of Iceland from above but due to dense clouds, nothing was visible. The same was the situation while taking off later for LHR.
Looking at the lava fields from a distance we decided to go to Dimmuborgir.
Dimmuborgir, the "Dark Castles"
We reached the parking here around 4:30 pm. There were several pizzerias advertising lava pizzas cooked on metal trays capable of withstanding scorching temperatures of over 1,800 degrees. Since there was no molten lava, they were all defunct
In Icelandic folklore, Dimmuborgir is said to connect the earth with the infernal regions. In Nordic Christian lore, it is also said that Dimmuborgir is the place where Satan landed when he was cast from the heavens and created the apparent "Helvetes katakomber" which is Norwegian for "The Catacombs of Hell".
Vegetation in Iceland - Erosion
Before human settlement, nearly 65% of the country was covered in vegetation.
Human activities coupled with the destructive forces of drifting lava sand have threatened and destroyed vegetation widely, and large areas have become sand. However, much has positively been achieved in the battle against natural forces, as seen here in Dimmuborgir.
We finally reached our vacation home at Fagravik at about 7 pm.
24/6/23-Day-6-Vacation Home Fagravik.
Goðafoss was 42 km from the vacation home at Fagravik. We reached there around 10.40 am.
Goðafoss is a waterfall in northern Iceland. It is located along the country's main ring road at the junction with the Sprengisandur highland road, about 45 minutes from Akureyri where we were staying at the vacation home. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 metres over a width of 30 metres.[A 1.8-mile hiking trail loops around the waterfall area.
Husavik whale watching:
Húsavík was 40 km from Godafoss. We reached there by 12:30 pm. There was some trouble finding parking. Húsavík is well known as one of the best locations in the world from where to see whales in their natural habitat. Situated along Iceland’s Northeast coast, Húsavík is a haven for wildlife.
It was a good day. We saw many whales. After whale watching we found that our car headlights had been left on by oversight which had resulted in battery drain. The car wasn’t starting. Called the insurance company roadside assistance. They said that the battery issue was not covered and that they will send a mechanic to jump-start the car from 50 km away and will charge us for 100 km which would be near ?30000/-. Fortunately, Maya found a young car owner who had the equipment, and our car was started again.
We went back to our apartment via Greifinn restaurant which was 76 km away from Husavik. Here we ordered a pizza, a soup, risotto and garlic bread. Ashok ordered a coffee. The bill was about ?10000/-. From Greifinn our apartment was just 6-7 km.
25/6/23- Day-7, To downtown Reykjavik apartments
We started around 8 am. After some 25 km, we stopped somewhere in Hörgársveit municipality area located in north-central Iceland, in Northeastern Region for photos of Icelandic horses and Lupin blooms found all over Iceland. The kind of Lupine that grows in Iceland is the Alaskan Lupine (Lupinus Nootkatensis). Every single Lupine plant in the country is here because of one person. In 1945, a committee was set up to revegetate. A representative of the committee, Hákon Bjarnason, took a trip to Alaska to select plants he thought would do well in the harsh Icelandic landscape. On November 3, 1945, he arrived home with his collection of seeds, and the story of the Lupine began.
Fun Fact: Although Icelanders always refer to the plant as Lúpína (derived from the name Lupine), there is an Icelandic name for it. The official Icelandic name given to the plant is Úlfabaunir, which means ‘Wolf Beans.’
After driving for 310 km, we stopped at a N1 gas station around 10:25 am to purchase engine oil and some breadscas it may be late in Reykjavik. We topped engine oil, but the issue was different. The oil already there had become dirty and thin and needed scheduled replacement. The oil signal remained as it was. At the gas station, we found several bikers at the gas station.
This place was Varmahlíð( warm slope). Varmahlíð is in the middle of a flourishing agricultural area, where the Icelandic horse ( small and pony-sized) has been treasured for centuries. Varmahlíð has several greenhouses with tropical and sub-tropical fruits and vegetables. From here Reykjavík was about 300 km which would take us 4-5 hrs considering that we were limited in speed due to engine oil condition. We hoped to reach in about 6 hrs So, we expected to make it to Reykjavik by 4:30 pm.
We finally reached Reykjavik around five pm. It was cloudy and raining slowly. We still got down near a gas station and took some pictures.
We reached the apartment hotel around 5:30 pm. This was the only accommodation out of the five we had during the trip with two bathrooms.
Reykjavik apartment Bedrooms
26/6/23- Day-8, Reykjavik apartments to Keflavik International via Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon was 47 km from the apartment. The traffic was rather heavy. It took us about 45 minutes. We reached in time at 8:30 am. After registration, we were given lockers to put away our clothes and belongings. We changed into swimming pool costumes after taking a shower and entered the hot spring pool.
To ICERENTAL4X4 at Bogatröð for return of car:
We finished at the hot spring by spending time at their jacuzzi and dry heat chamber followed by warm showers. We collected our things, took a coffee at their restaurant and drove down to our car provider called ICERENTAL4X4 at Bogatröð 2, Reykjanesbær. They were some 20 km away. On arrival there, they checked the car and the fuel which was found a little short. They asked us to fill up to the level or pay ISK 3000. We took the car and topped the petrol at the nearest pump for ISK 2000. After returning the car they left us to the airport which was 7-8 km away.
Keflavik international airport - back to London:
We reached the airport around 2 pm for a flight at 4 pm. The airport had skeletal staff and machines were in use for check-in and baggage tag printing. Ashoks were helped by a staff and things that were done. I had used machines many times earlier band so tried and found that it didn’t work for us. Even the staff couldn’t do it as there was some glitch as we had Indian passports and Schengen visas. Finally, we went to the line for the purpose. She asked us some questions and completed the documentation. We were told to deposit an odd size bag( it was a duffel bag) at another counter.
The flight was uneventful. We reached LHR at about 8 pm UK time which was 1 hour ahead of Keflavik time. The flight duration was 3 hours. For Ashoks, there was no immigration they were British passport holders. For me and Archana immigration check was quick taking about 30-35 minutes. Our cab driver Manjit Singh Saini originally from Chandigarh met us shortly and drove us to Bedford in about 90 minutes. Our Iceland trip
ended thus. We were tired as it had been hectic, but we were glad that we did it. For me, it was the fulfilment of one of my bucket lists- Driving in a foreign land.
Duration- 7 nights-8 days
Total travel by self-drive car- about 2000 kms
Petrol used- 135 litres
Total spent for two (Satish & Archana) € 4500 (INR 410000) ex Bedford- to Bedford
(Bhubaneswar-London-Bhubaneswar airfare+ incidentals INR 230000)- TOTAL: INR 640000/-
Places of stay in Iceland on the ring road
1. Gullfoss Falls
2. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
3. Skógafoss Waterfall
4. Goðafoss Waterfall
Major attractions visited :
1. Perlan, (Museum)Reykjavik
2. Hallgrimskirkja (Church), Reykjavík
3. Rainbow street, Skólavörðustígur, celebrating LGBT community, Reykjavík
4. Geothermal Park in Hveragerði
5. Thingvellir national park
6. Geysir centre -Haukadalur, southwestern Iceland, geothermal hot springs and geysers
7. Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, central south coast
8. Broken Plane-Sólheimasandur aeroplane wreckage
9. Reynisfjara Beach-black sand beach
10. Halsanefshellir cave, at the foot of Reynisfjara
11. Octagonal basalt pillars at Reynisfjara
12. Vík i Myrdal Church-view point and a sea front village
13. Skaftafell national park
14. Sjónarnípa -the best viewing point in Skaftafell
15. Fjallsárlón Glacier tour
16. Fljotsddalsherad-home to East Iceland’s main town Egilsstadir
17. Dimmuborgir, the "Dark Castles" Husavik whale watching
18. Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, Grindavikurvegur