Travel & Adventure Iceland Vacation: A Roving Trip Through the Land Of Fire And IceWe scoped out a handful of super cool destinations worth exploring in the Nordic island nation.
- Words & Images Gregory George Moore
With nearly every step, my microspikes slipped off the soles of my chukka boots. I couldn’t have picked worse footwear for hiking a snow-covered mountain. To be fair, I didn’t plan for much on this Iceland vacation, never mind hiking, so I’d packed light for my five days in Reykjavík. Enveloped in fog, I could only see one step in front of me the entire way up the steam-belching mountain — barely enough to follow in the footsteps of the few others also braving these poor conditions. I was heading to Reykjadalur Valley to bathe in the Thermal River, and with my current sleeping conditions, I sure as hell needed it. So here I was, ill-prepared, uncomfortable, and alone. What the hell was I thinking?
Out of my typical character, I’d decided to go to Iceland on a whim. Laying in bed one night, in the dead of the freezing New England winter, I looked up “the best hot springs,” which naturally lead to searching for flights to Iceland. I had no intention of taking a trip to Iceland, but feeling spontaneous on the heels of my recent trip to Portugal and looking for another escape, Iceland seemed like a perfect winter getaway. That is if you’re looking to replace your winter with … well, more winter. I had no plan, no transportation, no place to stay, and I knew nothing about the place other than it’s cold and has hot springs. Risking only $400 and a six-hour flight, I bought the ticket.
Here are a few destinations worth checking out — or avoiding — if you happen to find yourself with a few days and a dirt-cheap ticket and decide to make your way to the land of fire and ice.
ICE ROVERS | RENT A LAND ROVER
Iceland is a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a population of around 360,000. Though the entire country has the population of a small American city, it accommodates hundreds of thousands of tourists at any given time, making places like Reykjavík feel urban and cultured. But if I was going to explore Iceland, I was going to need a vehicle — a four-wheel-drive one at that. The roads can be challenging, and the weather is notoriously fickle. I reached out to our friends at Ice Rovers in Reykjavík and they happened to have a Snow White Rover available for me to carry my aimless ass around the ice-covered island: a Defender 110 lifted with 35” tires and all the fixings necessary to handle any unpredictable Icelandic weather Mother Nature was scheming to send my way.
The Rover was my ticket and curiosity was my guide. This was a personal trip with no specific objective, so my agenda was as follows: food, museums (minus a particular one dedicated to dicks), a DC-9 plane wreck, soak in as many hot springs as possible, and maybe hit a waterfall or two. The Rover did exactly what it’s supposed to do; it lorded over city traffic, conquered the snow-covered roads of the countryside, stalled and flickered its dash lights occasionally, and gave me an all-around good old time with that ever-present Land Rover “is it going to strand me out here?” sensation that is so characteristic of these rigs.
THE DONNA WOOD | SLEEP ON A BOAT
The romance of sleeping on a 100-year-old sailing ship in the frigid Reykjavík harbor sounds like a decent-enough idea. It wasn’t. It was awful: cramped, smelly, and a bit cruddy-feeling. I’m a New Englander through and through, so communal spaces make me uncomfortable. I need my privacy. This is most apparent when I’m forced to share a bathroom with a bunch of other humans I don’t know. And on one fateful morning, those humans ran a train in the bathroom situated next to my cabin, and the smell woke me from a deep, drunken sleep — the perfect complement to my throbbing cranium. I don’t suggest it.
FLATEY PIZZA | EAT
Possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had. I ate dinner here two out of my five nights in Iceland. Then, when I got home, I went and bought all of the ingredients to attempt to recreate the pizza for my friends. It wasn’t nearly as good, but it was still a hit. Go here, get the Umberto, and thank me later.
LE KOCK | EAT
Yep, that means “Cock.” As in penis. Icelanders love the cock; they have a phallus museum that celebrates the penises of all living creatures. It’s the only one of its kind. The logo for this restaurant is a rooster with a big ol’ wink — everyone knows what they’re getting at. Craft Donuts, craft beer, and craft cocktails — a magic mixture of vices, diner food, and a spritz of vulgarity for flavor. Try the Kock Shot — no idea what’s in it but “when in Rome,” right?
SECRET LAGOON | SOAK IN A HOT SPRING
I went back and forth in my head about going to the Blue Lagoon or the Secret Lagoon. I eventually chose the Secret Lagoon in the Fludir area in hopes that it would be less crowded. The Secret Lagoon is also a natural hot spring, whereas the Blue Lagoon is actually hot water runoff from a nearby geothermal power plant. I arrived mid-evening and it wasn’t crowded at all. The natural hot water spills into a man-made pool that feels like something in between an outdoor YMCA pool and a desolate swimming hole. It was peaceful and relaxing — especially with a beer and hot dog in my hand.
REYKJADALUR HOT SPRING THERMAL RIVER | SOAK IN A RIVER
Forty minutes outside of Reykjavík in the town of Hveragerdi is the Reykjadalur Valley Thermal River. The soaking spot is about an hour’s worth of clumsy hiking if you’re wearing inappropriate footwear. There are signs of geothermal activity all around you as you make the ascent: sulfur-burping mud holes, steaming waterfalls, and plenty of snow make for otherworldly surroundings. The trail turns into an elaborate deck along the river in the Reykjadalur Valley, with a couple of dozen fellow travelers all laying in eight inches of 100+ degree water. I found a semi-private place to put on my shorts and climbed into the shallow, steaming trickle. And as I lay half-naked on my back in the hot water, I realized why I was there. It was for this: To experience the natural wonders of a strange land. To listen to foreign voices laughing, murmuring, and almost certainly feeling as uncomfortable as I was.