After ripping over the surface of Langjökull with our snowmobiles, we slowed it way down for our ice cave hiking tour on Vatnajökull Glacier.
Our tour (again affiliated with Guide to Iceland for $200) began in the city of Vik, a small town located about 2-3 hours east of Reykjavik, where another over-sized Land Rover collected us. Much like the snowmobiling tour, it takes a good hour of seriously bumpy, off-roading to get to the starting point where we can start hiking to the caves. And again, like the snowmobiling tour, pee before you go. Keep in mind that this tour is only available November-March otherwise be prepared to be on a waterfall tour.
The winds on the way to the ice caves were the strongest we battled all trip (in fact we did this tour in lieu of a glacier hike option that was cancelled due to the dangerous wind speeds). Even if it’s not sunny out, I recommend bringing your sunglasses to cover your eyes from the blowing dust and ice. The tour company provides crampons and helmuts–both of which you are required to wear.
As we hiked our way towards the ice caves, which takes approximately 10 minutes, it’s an astonishing sight to see the black sand volcanic landscape all around. Our guide told us that they filmed parts of Interstellar there. Once you get to the ice caves, it’s not the immense caverns that will astonish you. It’s the fact that what you’re seeing isn’t stone–it’s incredibly polished ice. It was almost like we were inside a giant, textured glass vase.
After the ice cave tour, we grabbed lunch back in Vik at Suður-Vík. This cute little lodge had an excellent seafood soup and fried camembert.
But the real highlight (if you would consider this a highlight) was randomly seeing the Bachelor Arie and his new, second(?) fiancé Lauren. When they walked in, I at first thought I recognized them because they were on a previous tour with us or something like that. But when I leaned over to the only female in our group and asked, “Is that man the Bachelor?”, her eyes lit up, and she gave 100% confirmation that it was indeed the reality show stars. I’m not sure what was more bizarre–seeing the pair in Iceland, or recognizing them in the first place.
Special thanks to Vikram for filming. The tour guides said specifically NOT to film because of the risk of losing your phone. But Vik doesn’t really ever follow the rules…
Spending time in Reykjavik is nice, but the really good stuff that Iceland offers is outside of the city. While there were many highlights of the trip, the most “exhilarating” of them had to be the snowmobile tour on top of Langjökull Glacier.
It’s not the cheapest activity ($300 with Guide to Iceland), but in this traveler’s opinion it’s money well spent for a unique and memorable experience. To get to the outpost, you ride what can only be described as a monster truck sized rover for an hour to the top of the glacier. Be sure to pee beforehand because the ride is slow, bumpy, and will make your bladder feel like it’s on a one-hour bull ride.
Once you get to the base, and I know it’s an overused cliché, it really does feel like you’re on Hoth or North of the Wall. To give you an idea of how cold it is up there, the boiling hot coffee (and I mean it was boiling hot) they offer is ice cold within two minutes–just from holding it outside. And again, be judicious with what photos you want to take. Your camera will shutdown because of the cold. Keep it close to your body when you’re not using it to keep it from freezing.
Don’t worry about needing a jumpsuit as they provide those along with helmets, gloves, and masks–you’ll feel like an astronaut. The snowmobiles carry two people, though if there’s an odd number there will be solo riders. The vehicles are simple to understand how to use, but much harder to operate in practice.
The snowmobiles top out at incredibly fast 80 mph; you will feel it in your arms if you’re the driver. Turning these things while on inclines and declines is a serious workout, and if you don’t lean your body with the correct form it is not hard to flip these things. It’s even more challenging if you’re on one by yourself as you don’t have the passenger helping you lean with the turns. Luckily, none of us flipped! (Though we came heart-stoppingly close a couple of times…) Your face will take a beating as well from the howling wind and snow.
The views are nothing short of spectacular. It’s just 360 degrees of beautiful white, glistening snow–a really surreal sight especially with the silence. We also got lucky that it was a perfectly sunny day; we were told that weather that great comes very rarely.
The snowmobiling is an activity very much worth doing, even with the price you have to pay.
It’s no secret that Iceland is probably one of the trendiest countries to visit right now, and it’s not hard to see why. For those looking for a trip that is like no other, Iceland fits that bill. As the site of where they film Game of Thrones and created the world from Interstellar, it’s easy to wander around the country and feel like you’re on another planet.
The capital of Reykjavik is about a 50 minute drive from the airport. When you fly in, be sure to stop in the Duty Free liquor store to stock up on some alcohol for your trip if you want to save some money (liquor is very expensive in Iceland due to the taxes). Beer and wine can be purchased in country though for reasonable prices (Einstock and Borg are both excellent beer options). Vínbúdin was our store of choice frequently (this chain has locations throughout the country).
Driving around the country is quite easy, and it seems like most of the rental cars come with GPS. Everyone speaks English and are all very friendly, so it’s not hard to get around–which is lucky because any tourist trying to pronounce Icelandic words will undoubtedly be spewing out gibberish.
As I alluded to earlier, food prices are quite high. But despite the prices, the quality of most of the food we ate was excellent. DO NOT BUY BOTTLED WATER. It’d be a total waste of your money. The tap water is probably the cleanest tasting water I’ve ever had. Keep in mind that when you run the water hot, it smells a little funky, like rotten eggs, because of the sulfur, but it’s fine when it’s running cold.
Reykjavik itself is a very unassuming city. There are no skyscrapers, and the atmosphere is very slow-paced and chill. I’d recommend giving yourself a weekend to see everything in Reykjavik, but you probably don’t need much more than that. Most of the highlights from the trip are from the sights outside the city, and I’ll be getting into each of those in upcoming blog posts.
One other thing–obviously Iceland is cold. But what I hadn’t realized is how much the cold would affect the battery on my cell phone. So my advice would be to make sure your phone stays as close to your body as possible, and on the really cold days (especially when you’re out on the glaciers), be very judicious in choosing when to take pictures. My phone died on several occasions just from being out in the elements too long. My advice is also to invest in a portable charger like I did to kick start it back to life in the car.
Great location, fantastic front desk staff. Don’t bother trying to put the address in the GPS because for some reason those Icelandic letters in the street name don’t show up. Instead, put the hotel name in the “Points of Interest” category and it should show up that way. For $300 a night, three of us shared one of their 3 bed flats.
It’s gotta be something in the water. We were convinced of it based on how good the bread in Iceland is. Any one of these locations offers delicious brunch options with their pastries, such as chocolate croissants and raisin danishes, being the highlights. Sandholt and Bergsson Mathús are good options if you want to sit and eat. Bergsson Mathús is a bit smaller, and cozier, but Sandholt has more food options, including lunch options to-go. I recommend grabbing sandwiches from Sandholt for lunch later in the day, especially if you’re going to be driving the Golden Circle. Brauð & Co. is more of a grab and go place; be sure to grab one of their cinnamon rolls.
This steak house was a little tough to find; we kept missing the small sign that leads to an alley which takes you to the building it’s in. This restaurant is quite pricey, but not any more pricey than going to a really nice steakhouse in the states. On the menu were various items which you probably won’t find elsewhere (such as puffin and whale). Full disclosure: We tried both the puffin and whale. Was there a bit of cognitive dissonance doing it? Absolutely yes. And although we were assured by one of our tour guides that the whale that is served isn’t the “endangered” kind, it still felt a little off. But alas, we tried it, and my advice — don’t bother. It’s nothing to write home about. You can order sashimi and it’s practically the same thing. What is worth writing home about from Grillmarkaðurinn? The black sea salt butter that came with the delicious bread (the bread again!), the 27 day aged ribeye, and the Golden Circle cocktail.
You can make the argument that the single best entree may have been the 27 day aged ribeye from Grillmarkaðurinn, but I think most from my group would agree that Sjávargrillið was the best overall dining experience. The prices were a bit lower and the ambiance was a little brighter and more casual. The specialty of this restaurant is seafood, and that’s what we went with and on the whole, the entire meal was a winner. Each of our entrees was excellent: the catch of the day catfish with mashed potatoes, the salmon with cous cous, the fried cod with cous cous, and grilled tuna with bok choy. The appetizers included lobster tacos, carpaccio, and Arctic char. But the highlight was the creme brûlée with liquid nitrogen pistachio ice cream dessert which one member of our party declared “This is it!” and joked that his trip at that point may as well have been over.
They love hot dogs in Iceland. Not totally sure where that love comes from. But it’s a lot like how Hawaiians love SPAM type thing. The street hot dogs are a good drunk food or if you just want a snack. They’re not really any different from a New York hot dog, but the bun is toasted and the gravy they put on it is pretty tasty.
This dark, cozy, bohemian style beer house offers 20 different styles of beer on tap. It’s definitely a great spot if you want to lay low after a long day of sightseeing, but because you’re so closely packed in with other customers, don’t be surprised if a conversation sparks with your neighbors.
This beer garden could not be more opposite in atmosphere to Mikkeller & Friends. Located within the lobby of a hotel, this beer hall was brighter, had higher ceilings, live music, and the clientele was much more professional. That being said, the beer offerings were still quite excellent and Bjórgarðurinn had more more of a food menu.
Matur og Drykkur
We came to Matur og Drykkur in order to have a traditional Icelandic meal. I feel a bit torn because I don’t want to give it a “bad” review; the service and atmosphere were actually quite nice. But the food was, shall we say, unique. Some of us really didn’t like it, other were okay with it. Personally, I didn’t hate it, but it is a meal that will test your palette. A lot of the food is really salty. And the cod head I ordered was truly bizarre–again it didn’t necessarily taste badly, it was just weird. So my advice is this: If you really want to step out of your comfort zone, give this place a try. But don’t go if you’re really hungry, or are not willing to pay a high price for a meal that may not necessarily sit well in your stomach.
We stopped by here for a drink before dinner, and it wasn’t bad. But it also wasn’t as great as the reviews would make it seem. The cocktails were perfectly decent and fun, but for the price I’d prefer to spend my time and money somewhere else.
When you travel, you always need to expect the unexpected. Even if everything is planned perfectly, things can change on a dime. Sometimes the changes are good, but sadly in this following example the changes are bad.
It’s a pretty simple thing–If a tour company confirms a booking for a tour, that means you have a spot reserved right? Apparently not with Get Your Guide. I’ll let my friend’s experience speak for itself:
“We had a tour booked to go to the Blue Lagoon, around a fishing village and some of the country well in advance of our trip. And then, 5 days before our tour, they told us that time was booked and asked if we could go an hour earlier, and we said yes, not really a big deal. Then they told us 2 days before we were supposed to go, that they didn’t have any slots. WHY did we wait this whole time, if you never had any spots to open to begin with?? So then, by the time they told us all the slots had been taken, the individual Blue Lagoon tickets themselves were sold out.”
I always want to give people, and even companies sometimes, the benefit of a doubt. But if I’m going to pay money to fly all the way to Iceland, booked one of the key sights well in advance, and then 2 days beforehand they cancel — that’s totally unacceptable. You tell’em Joe.
To end on a happy note though, my friend ended up booking a different tour with Reykjavik Excursions that took them to another one of the less-touristy hot springs which they thoroughly enjoyed, despite not seeing the main attraction they wanted to see most, and said their guide was amazing. Here she is again:
“We took a 9 hour tour around the Golden Circle, waterfalls, and geysers. The small hot springs they took us to ended up being a really cool experience. They actually cook their own bread under the sand along the beach, where one of the hot springs bakes it. They bake it for 24 hours, and when we got there, they had finished a loaf, and so we got to try it!”
All’s well that ends well I guess! And a special thanks to Laura Remis for the heads up!