Vandana Om Kumar
Iceland does not match up with its European cousins in its repertoire of culture, history, architecture, and the other tells of a land that has been long occupied by human settlers. But what it lacks in manmade sights, it more than makes up with its natural attractions; places so unique that they are not found elsewhere in the world. This explains why keen explorers on the quest for “the different experience” are tripping over themselves to explore this land.
Here are my observations from my Iceland trip last summer. This is not a guide book or travel guide of the places to see, given the plethora of information already available online. Rather, this is a trip enhancer; tips and observations to help make the best of your holiday!
Packing for the trip.
Summer can be chilly, and the wind chill factor exacerbates it. So, make sure you are well stocked with wind sheeters, thick socks, caps, scarves and gloves. The raincoat is essential, given that the weather can be unpredictable and umbrellas are ineffective in the high wind. Hiking shoes keep the feet warm and dry!
Get your own wheels.
Driving yourself from one place to the other at your own pace is the best way to enjoy Iceland. Excellent paved roads make the drive even more enjoyable. Make as many pit stops as you like, be it for photo ops, to enjoy the view or to just step out of the car and get high on oxygen. 4 wheels will come in use if you are planning to go off the beaten path.
Iceland is expensive.
Be it a car rental or accommodation, you will find yourself paying double the prices of what you would pay for similar services in the rest of Europe. We found AirBnB the most economical, and the most comfortable as well! For the tours, there were a lot of great last minute deals for empty spots or late hours; try it, if you’re okay to wing it.
Accommodation options are limited: In the busy season do not leave bookings till late since the big-ticket tour companies tend to block out entire hotels, which can be trying especially in small towns which have only 1-2 accommodation options. If there is anything left, only the expensive options remain.
Follow road rules: Iceland’s roads are excellent and on an empty patch you might be tempted to press down on the gas. There could be hidden dangers on the road, from strong gales and sharp curves, to surprise visits from wild animals and police officers who can conjure themselves out of nowhere. Stay safe, and follow the rather well laid out road signs and speed limits.
Food for one and all!
For those who want to go local, and more so for the food, you’re in for a whole new gastronomic experience! That said, Iceland is great for vegetarians, and is even vegan friendly. Having done considerable background research, followed up with visits to these great eateries, I would highly recommend these places in various parts of Iceland:
Svarta Kaffid for a wholesome meal of soup served in pumpkin style bread baskets. They served 2 varieties of soup, meat and mushroom the day we went in for dinner, both equally scrumptious. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations; so be prepared to wait in line.
Austur Indiafjelagid. This restaurant features on this list only, and only for its spectacular lobster dish Tandoori Lasooni Lobster. Otherwise, it was rather pricey and the rest of the food was standard Indian restaurant fare.
Nordic Hotdogs (that are not American style): liberally doused with sauces, and topped with crispy fried onions.
The theme of Friðheimar cuisine is tomatoes, in many different forms. Visitors are treated to a guided tour of the greenhouse, where four different varieties of tomato are cultivated. Lunch is served at the greenhouse among the plants, a rare food experience that starts with tomato soup and culminates with tomato ice-cream; all yummy fare.
Pakkhus for its Langoustine. Enough said.
Should you have a pizza craving, Íshúsið Pizzeria serves up piping hot authentic pizzas. You will not want to miss out on a side of garlic bread as well!
Salt Café and Bistro; great burgers and salads, and perfect for a Ring Road pit stop.
Hamborgarafabrikann. Their Miss Reykjavik burger was unarguably the best we’ve ever had…anywhere, ever!
Lunch at Naustid before you take off for your whale watching tour. Do make it a point to keep spare time between your boat tour and meal to digest your food, because you’re bound to eat a hearty fare here!
Gamla Rif: The menu at this quaint restaurant in a small village by the coast is largely fish soup and a good lesson that, if you are fabulous at something then stick to it!
Daddi’s Pizza, happily serving up piping hot pizzas after a day out exploring the interesting outdoors around.
Geographical areas apart:
By a rule of thumb, coffee and fish and chips were excellent everywhere! The best place to have the latter, were at the local stalls, where it felt like fresh fish was served up almost from the sea!
Do try out the local Floki Single Malt whisky. There is a lot of national pride resting on it. All I can say it that there is room to raise the bar!
The Icelandic skyr (yogurt) is an interesting creation. It may take a while to get used to it but once the taste settles it’s a handy in-between meal, especially on the road trips.
7. Places and experiences not to be missed (or you will have to come back again)!
Feel the mist of the waterfalls. The country is rich in waterfalls, but to see the majestic ones, Gulfoss and Godafoss are definite to dos on your list.
Soak in the Blue Lagoon. Turquoise blue water heavy with minerals, mud wraps, the extreme contrast of hot water below and biting cold air above, makes the Blue Lagoon a memorable experience. The price of entry fluctuates on the basic formula of demand and supply. So, remember to book your tickets well in advance before prices spike closer to your date of visit.
A bike tour of Reykjavik-One can look to cover all major sights of the city with.
Whale watching at Husavik. Watch whales frolic and dolphins chase your boat in the high seas; this is as close as you can get!
Rev up a snow mobile at Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland. While on the glacier, you will be given ample time to take a stroll through white expanses and indulge in a snow fight as well!
Don’t miss Dimmuborgir. Often referred to as a gateway to Hell, this area is full of twisted towers of coagulated rock that breach the earth’s surface to form a lava field full of giant pillars and arches. These dramatic structures aren’t known to exist anywhere else in the world on dry land.
A boat ride through the beautiful ice formations at Glacier lagoon. It’s melting away, so get there before it all goes away!
Go lava tube caving- A truly overwhelming experience of not seeing, even with eyes wide open. On this tour, climb way down under the earth through the lava tube. Once here, all lights are switched off, and true black darkness envelops you.
Vandana believes that travellers should get the best out of each trip that they make. This is the underlying philosophy of tourHQ, the company she has founded.