Iceland Highlights

I just got home from a whirlwind trip around Iceland! It's been on the top of my "places to go" list for a few years now, so it was pretty incredible to finally make it happen. If you follow me on Instagram then you may have already seen a few photos of my travels and the art that I made while I was away.

This was the first big trip that I have been on where I decided to leave my travel plans very open. There were a few places that I knew I wanted to see, and I knew that I wanted to do as much drawing and painting as possible, but that was really as far as I got. I rented a car for 5 days and then booked a hostel for the rest of my stay, but I had nothing specific planned which actually worked out so well. I loved being able to wake up every day and think "What should I do today?" and then doing exactly whatever I wanted.

So many of the amazing things I discovered on my trip were just word of mouth from people I met along the way, from other travellers as well as locals. I wanted to share my favourite places in case anyone else is planning an Iceland trip and wants some word of mouth suggestions. 

1. Landmannalaugar

Located in the southern highlands, this hiking destination is absolutely stunning. I really wish that I had had more time to explore, because there's a 3 to 4 day trek that you can do in this area that sounds pretty amazing. I still had a great time hiking around and exploring for a few hours though, and the best part about it is that when you're done hiking you can soak your weary bones in a natural hot spring (pictured in the above right photo.)

2. Jokulsarlon

This was my number one spot for sure. I think even though it was August I still expected there to be some snow at least in the northern areas of Iceland, but I was incorrect. This time of year the snow is pretty much just in the Highlands, and I didn't spend too much time there. Jokulsarlon was the place that really felt like Iceland to me. I saw some seals (you can see their little heads poking out of the water in the second photo) and made my favourite paintings of the whole trip there. And waking up next to an iceberg lagoon was pretty freaking cool. 

3. Whale Watching in Husavik 

For some reason I've never gone whale watching in Canada, so I decided to treat myself while I was in Iceland. Husavik is the whale watching capital of Iceland, and a really adorable little port town as well. I saw humpback whales, white beaked dolphins and even a couple of puffins! If you book with Gentle Giants, you get hot chocolate and a fancy Icelandic pastry with your tour. 

4. Myvatn Nature Baths

Oh man, this place is the dreamiest. It's basically the Blue Lagoon, but for half the price and far less crowded. Because it's in the north, if you're just doing a quick stopover in Reykjavik then it's a little bit out of the way for a lot of tourists. There is something very odd about relaxing in a big beautiful steamy bath that smells like sulphurous rotten eggs, but once you get past the smell it's totally worth it.  

5. Fish Buffet at Tjoruhusid

This may have been the best meal I've eaten in my life, and I'm not even a big seafood person. Tjoruhusid is an adorable little restaurant located in Isafjordur in the Westfjords. It's a wooden longhouse with communal tables that serves the most incredible fish buffet. It was course after course of seafood soup, stew, and all different types of fish cooked in completely different ways. I didn't really go out to eat much while I was in Iceland as it's so bloody expensive, so this was my one treat and it was completely worth it. I think I had four plates total. Definitely got my moneys worth.

6. Gothafoss

There are a heck of a lot of waterfalls in Iceland, my number one was Gothafoss (spelled Godafoss with the fancy "d" that has a line through the stem, which is pronounced "th", hence "Gothafoss.") You can find this beauty on the drive from Myvatn to Akureyri. Look how blue that water is! And it isn't as heavily populated with tourists as some of the other waterfalls like Gullfoss, so you can actually get some pretty gorgeous shots of it and take a nice little hike down to the bottom. 

7. Thingvellir National Park

Again, this is actually spelled with a symbol that sort of looks like a "p" but is pronounced as a "th", thus Thingvellir National Park. Isn't Icelandic fun? Anyway, this park was the best touristy thing that I did. It's such a beautiful place, I wish I had been able to spend more time there. This is where you can see the North American tectonic plate separating from the Eurasian plate. And I heard rumours that they film some Game of Thrones stuff here. Pretty neat!

8. Flokalundur

This isn't actually a picture from Flokalundur, but as I got there at night all I've got is a photo from the drive there. Flokalundur is a little spot in the bottom of the Westfjords. I'm not sure if you can even call it a town, all it consists of is a campsite, a hotel, and a wonderful natural hot spring. That's pretty much the whole reason I went there, and I was not disappointed. The hot spring is located right next to the ocean, so if you want to be brave you can dip yourself in the ocean and then pop into the hot spring to warm up again. 

9. KEX Hostel

I think this is my new favourite hostel (sorry Flying Pig, Amsterdam.) It's got really hip, vintage eclectic decor and the flooring is so dreamy. They've got a great bar downstairs that's frequented by Reykjavik dwellers as well as hostel guests, so you can meet locals and fellow travellers. My first night there was even an Icelandic band playing in the bar, free of charge! They also leave out fresh baked bread and Icelandic butter for their customers, which I think is absolutely wonderful and more bars should do. 

10. Reykjavik

I really wish that I had gotten more time to spend in Reykjavik, it is such a cool city! I loved how small it is (same population size as Kelowna) but it still has a big city vibe. I went to the National Gallery, the National Museum, and checked out the remains of a viking longhouse discovered underneath the city. There's also a lot of great bars with local music and djs. 

A few extra tips:

-Hitchhiking is where it's at in Iceland. It's so safe, and so many people do it. I had never hitchhiked before in Canada, but on my trip I picked up 11 hitchhikers and even hitchhiked once myself. I met so many cool people, and that was how I picked up most of my tips of where to go. I found out about the fish buffet from a couple of french Canadian girls I picked up. If I were to do the trip over again and I had more time (say a month) I would exclusively hitchhike around everywhere. 

-Don't go on bus tours. After spending 5 days driving around and being able to do whatever the heck I wanted, going on a bus tour of the Golden Circle was absolutely painful. We spent an hour and a half at Geysir (which goes off every 5 to 7 minutes, so really a half hour would have sufficed) and then only spent 45 minutes at Thingvellir National Park. I would have much preferred to spend 20 minutes at Geysir and 2 hours at Thingvellir. I had a second bus tour planned for the next day of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula which I was thinking about cancelling, but a girl I met on the bus told me she had done it and that it was much better than the Golden Circle, so I decided to give it a shot. While it was better than the first and far less touristy, it was still a bit of a bust. It was just way too much driving for how little we got to go out and explore. And one of the people on our tour got lost so we had to wait on the bus for 45 minutes until she was found. I wish that I had rented the car for the full 10 days, so I could have checked out Thingvellir and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula on my own time. 

-Buy food from grocery stores. Going out to eat in Iceland is so expensive!! Holy moly! You'll save a lot of money by making your own food and eating snacks. Same with alcohol, an average beer at a bar was 12 to 18 dollars. Buy alcohol from the duty free in the airport on your way in if you're planning on drinking.

If you have any questions or want any more tips, feel free to ask in the comment section below!