A view of Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon.
A view of Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon.

Iceland: My Recommendations, Part 1

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.

I don’t think I’ll be able to write every single detail of the trip, but I can surely recommend a few things to those thinking of visiting Iceland in the future or researching for a trip there. I had a lot of fun reading a lot of blog posts about Iceland while researching for our trip and I’m writing this hoping that someone out there will have as much fun as reading my posts. I’m going to write down my recommendations in a few installments. In this first installment, I’m just going to write about the highlights of South Iceland and the East Fjords (according to me anyway; your mileage may vary), so here goes:

DO catch a red-eye flight to Iceland with Icelandair if you’re flying from Toronto for a chance to see the Northern Lights from 37,000 feet above the sea level and catch a glimpse of Greenland! You might have to stay up all night for that, which we were forced to do due to a crying, kicking and screaming baby sitting next to us, but I like to think of it as a blessing in disguise. The view of the Northern Lights high up in the sky and of the fjords of Greenland with icebergs floating free into the open sea was totally worth staying up to.

A glimpse of Greenland in early morning light.
A glimpse of Greenland in early morning light.

DO visit the Blue Lagoon! It might be a bit touristy and pricey, and there might be some older American ladies who would passive-aggressively bitch about you for doing the Icelandic thing in the shower room, namely not being modest (first-hand experience; fortunately I was too tired to care), but you want to go there. It’s lovely. A nice, long soak at the Blue Lagoon is just what you need after a red-eye flight with zero sleep like we had. Unfortunately my camera’s memory card crapped out on me so I have no good pictures of it. :-(

Elliðaey, with not-Björk-house on the left-hand side.
Elliðaey, with not-Björk-house on the left-hand side.

DO take the ferry to visit the island of Heimaey! Even if you can’t catch a boat tour around the island, the ferry ride would give you a glimpse of the beauty of the Westman Islands in general, and allow you to see that little house in the small island of Elliðaey that is rumoured to be the property of Björk (it’s not; it’s really just a puffin hunting lodge). Also, if you rent a car, do book the ferry in advance so you can take your car with you to the island. I wish that we’d had. We would’ve seen so much more of the island. We did take a bus tour around Heimaey with a very knowledgeable guide from Viking Tours but we didn’t get to stop at most of the places we wanted to stop at due to time constraint. But seriously, Heimaey is beautiful. Do go there!

A view of the coast from Heimaey.
A view of the coast from Heimaey.

DO visit Seljavallalaug! It’s not really as difficult to find as some people made it sound. Just make sure you wear waterproofed boots because you’ll have to cross a stream to get there. In case you’ve never heard of the wonder that is Seljavallalaug, it’s a sort of abandoned swimming pool by the side of Eyjafjallajökult (you know, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and no one knew how to pronounce) and the setting is breathtakingly beautiful! Water from a hot spring flows into this swimming pool which keeps the pool warm (not hot, just lukewarm). And yes, you can swim in it. It’s a relatively short and easy walk to the pool from the parking spot. About 20 minutes, or half an hour if you’re a slow walker like me. This blog post has a rough map to the pool location that you might find helpful.

Seljavallalaug swimming pool, one of Iceland's best-kept secret.
Seljavallalaug swimming pool, one of Iceland’s best-kept secret.

DO visit Jökulsárlón, the beautiful glacial lagoon. I’d recommend you park at one of the parking lots by the side of the road just before the bridge by the visitor centre (if you come from the West; after the bridge if you come from the East) and climb up the hill for a jaw-dropping view of the lagoon. Also be sure to check out the black sand beach across the street from the lagoon to see pieces of glacial ice scattered on the sand, looking like huge chunks of diamond.

Doesn't it look like a big chunk of diamond?
Doesn’t it look like a big chunk of diamond?

DO stop at Djúpivogur and check out the waterfront for a beautiful view of the fjord with the towering mountain range in the background. It was the only town we stopped at as we drove through the East Fjords and it didn’t disappoint.

The lighthouse in Djupivogur has the most beautiful background.
The lighthouse in Djupivogur has the most beautiful background.

DO have a lunch buffet at Klausturkaffi in Skriðuklaustur. It costs about $20 per person but for an all-you-can-eat buffet of authentic, homemade Eastern Icelandic food, it’s a steal! When we were there, the menu includes reindeer meatballs, a fish casserole, and, my favourite, lamb tenderloin stew which I still dream about every now and then. It was so good! There was also a small selection of soups and salads, cakes for desserts, and a good selection of teas, all included in the price. You won’t regret it!

Skriðuklaustur housed a museum and a cafe with excellent buffet menu.
Skriðuklaustur housed a museum and a cafe with excellent buffet menu.

DO visit Borgarfjörður eystri! It’s an amazingly beautiful place between the mountains and the sea. It is in fact my favourite place in Iceland. I could stay there forever! It’s supposed to be a hiker’s paradise but we were there a bit too early in the season and most of the trails were still covered with snow. However, we came just in time for the puffin season. Be sure to visit the observation platform by the marina (Hafnarhólmi Harbour) to check out the puffins up close and for free!

This goofy guy was standing about a meter away from me, posing for my camera. Such a great model!
This goofy guy was standing about a meter away from me, posing for my camera. Such a great model!

In the next installment, I will write about the highlights (and maybe a few not-so-highlights) of North Iceland and West Iceland. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit the West Fjords but we will someday! Stay tuned for my next post!

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