We had to cancel our April trip to France and Iceland due to a cancer scare. After over a month of worrying like crazy, we found out it was just a benign tumor–thank goodness! But I figured, we should still go somewhere to celebrate the non-cancer diagnosis and the husband’s milestone birthday. So, as soon as I received the final diagnosis, I started planning another trip.
Our destination shortlist included Iceland (again!), Wales, the Azores, and Scotland. A trip to Iceland ended up being too expensive for our liking. Wales is too fussy. The Azores seem lovely and is the cheapest destination of all, but in the end, I decided to save it for another time. The thing is, after doing tonnes of research, I found out that Scotland is actually less expensive than Iceland–at least in terms of accommodations and car rentals–and is just as stunning. Plus, the husband loves Scotland. He went there 13 years ago and still couldn’t stop talking about it. Scotland it is then!
I‘ve been thinking about our little detour around West Iceland’s Hvalfjörđur (Whale fjord) a lot lately. I don’t know why. It could be that I’m just missing Iceland in general and the drive around Hvalfjörđur was the last item in our itinerary before we headed down to Reykjavik to spend the last two nights of our two week road trip around Iceland, so it was one of my last memories of Iceland. But it could also be because it was surprisingly beautiful. Like, breathtakingly beautiful.
Hvalfjörđur used to be a busy route because it used to be the only way for people in Reykjavik to get to the town of Borgarnes, which is like the gateway to the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula. However, in the late 1990s, the tunnel Hvalfjarðargöngin was opened for public. For a small fee, people are now able to bypass the 62 km detour around Hvalfjörđur by taking the tunnel. When we were there two years ago, the Hvalfjörđur route had very little traffic. Driving around the fjord on a drizzly and foggy day, I felt like we were the last two people on Earth!
So you have a road trip around Iceland coming up but you’re not quite sure what the road conditions and the weather will be like (the weather part will also determine whether you need to pack your winter coat or not). The following websites are your friends and they will show you just what you need to know. We found them very useful during our visit.
For road conditions, make sure you bookmark Vegagerdin (Icelandic Department of Transportation) website. This clickable road condition map is essential. Don’t hit the road before consulting it first. If that’s not enough and you need to know what road conditions are like in (almost) real-time, there are road web cams, ready for your perusal.
We did the Game of Thrones tour by accident. We didn’t realise that the places we were visiting were some of the spots where they filmed the episodes Beyond the Wall in the Season 3 of Game of Thrones. Only found out about it once we were back from Iceland.
There are a few tour companies that offer the Game of Thrones guided tour in North Iceland for a fee, but if you wish to do a self-drive/self-guided tour, just pick up a copy of the Lake Myvatn attractions brochure from the visitor centre or the front desk of your hotel and visit the major attractions listed there. You’ll find yourself in most of the Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall filming locations!
If you’re considering a road trip around Iceland, please take me with you I’m going to try to persuade you into doing it in mid- to late May instead of any other time. Why? Because I think we picked the perfect time to go! We had such a great time seeing the country at this particular time of year and I’d like you to experience the same. :-)
Before we continue, I should probably let you know the kind of travellers we are. We are budget travellers for sure but we are not the backpacking or even the camping type. Our backs prefer not to carry anything heavy for prolonged amount of time and we like to lay our backs on a soft, warm bed at the end of the day. We’re getting old! We also enjoy a good amount of privacy during our travels. That said, on with the list!
On our second day in Iceland, our plan was to drive the Golden Circle route. After having our first Icelandic breakfast at the farm we were staying at, getting driving recommendation from our host, and checking out the waffle-eating ducks and the horses, we hit the road.
Like most of the days we got to spend in Iceland, it was wet and windy. It was also a little chilly, but we’re Canadians. Anything above zero degree is not worth complaining about. ;-) I think the average temperature during our stay was around 6° Celsius.
Like any self-respecting visitors of Iceland, I took a boatload of pictures of the adorable Icelandic horses while I was there. I read so much before our visit about how friendly these horses were and how they would come to you and practically ask for a pet, so I wasn’t prepared for the harsh reality:
The number of horses I saw:Too many to count. The number of horses who didn’t mind being pet by me:One.
It had been three months since our trip to Iceland so I guess it’s about time that I write something about it.
I had been putting off writing it down, partly because I didn’t think my words could do justice to the experience, and partly because I hated to admit that it was all over. I think my husband is tired of hearing me lament about how badly I want to go back to Iceland like I’ve been doing since the day we were back in Canada.
Planning a trip to Iceland is so much easier when you’ve been there before. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed when I was planning our first trip in 2013. So much to see, so little time! (Two weeks is not enough time to see everything Iceland has to offer, unfortunately.) Though not being able to afford to rent a 4×4 vehicle did help limit our options a little bit.
Planning for this year’s trip in April is a lot easier because we already know what to expect and we know what we want to see and where, how to get there and so on. Well, at least we kind of know what to expect. We’ve never been to Iceland in April before and googling “Iceland in April” doesn’t really yield in anything that can satisfy my curiosity (I tend to trust independent reviews from other travellers more, but here’s a summary from a hotel chain), or anything that basically says “go to Iceland in April, it’s the best time ever!” which is what I’d really like to hear. ;-)
If you’ve been following some Icelandic news sources this week, you would’ve read the news about an American tourist who, while driving from the airport to his hotel in downtown Reykjavik on his first visit to Iceland, got so terribly lost and somehow ended up in a sleepy, northern Iceland town of Siglufjörður, at least 5 hour drive away from Reykjavik. In his defense, he was tired after a red-eye flight and he just went where the car GPS unit told him to go, in addition to the hotel not spelling the street name correctly in the address. But still, had he used a little more common sense, I don’t think he would have ended that far off course from his original destination. He should’ve at the very least known that Reykjavik was where he needed to go and that it was only less than an hour drive away from the Keflavik airport. He’s become some sort of a celebrity because of this mishap. Fancy that!
I found the roads in Iceland to be pretty well-marked. We managed to navigate ourselves around Iceland (even took some detours away from the ring road) without getting terribly lost, and all we had with us was a copy of a good, old-fashioned, paper map of Iceland, which we didn’t even use that much. Granted, we also had an access to Google Maps on my tablet but we only ever used it to navigate our way around Akureyri and Reykjavik, two of Iceland bigger cities, which our paper map didn’t cover very well. So, here are some tips I could give you in order to not get lost during your Iceland road trip:
On the 10th anniversary of my first arrival in Canada last year, I made it to the only Canadian province I had never been before: Saskatchewan. When I told people that I was going to Saskatchewan, they usually looked at me funny and then asked why. I simply said, because I’ve never been, which is pretty much the main reason for all my travels, really. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the province, but fall in love with it I did.
Most fellow Canadians seem to think that Saskatchewan is flat and boring with nothing to see, but I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. Now, I’ve only been to a small corner of Saskatchewan, but if one small corner could have that much to see, imagine how much the whole province has to offer! In the four days I spent in Southwestern Saskatchewan, I saw so many amazing sceneries and so much wildlife unlike anything I had ever seen before
I’m a big fan of Parks Canada national parks. I don’t visit them enough to have an annual pass, but whenever there is one close to where I am and I have the time to visit it, I will visit it. My logic is, there must be something very special about a park that they had to turn it into a national park so it must be worth a visit. I still have yet to be disappointed by a visit to a national park and really wish that I could visit them more often. In my defense, the closest national park to where I live is about 3-4 hours drive away so it’s not like I could just walk to one. ;-)
Anyway, in my 11 years of living in Canada, I have managed to visit 11 of Canada’s national parks in 8 provinces. I’m one of the few lucky Canadians to have had the chance to visit all 10 Canadian provinces. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to visit any national parks when I was in New Brunswick and Manitoba due to one reason or another. But I’m sure I’ll get around to it someday. Wapusk National Park in Manitoba and Fundy National Park in New Brunswick are high on the list of national parks I’d like to visit!
I’m a big fan of national parks. Doesn’t matter where they are or which country they belong to. If there is one within a driving distance from where I am, I’m so there! Naturally I had to pay Forillon National Park (Quebec’s first national park) a visit while we were in Gaspé Peninsula even though it would take us about 90 minutes of driving to get there from where we were staying in Percé. When you live in a country as big as Canada, 90 minutes of driving is nothing. :-)
Before we left Percé, we stopped by Boulangerie Le Fournand, a local bakery, to pick up some tasty pastries for the trip. We ate some on our drive up to Gaspé and saved the rest for a little picnic in the park. We decided to have brunch at Restaurant Cafe Des Artistes in Gaspé to refuel before we headed into the park because we all know that hungry Firda is hangry Firda! :-D I had the shrimp panini sandwich. It was simple but tasty and also quite filling.