My daughter's incredible drone footage video of our trip...and my own longer video edit below that:
Iceland, land of fire & ice. And with all the names I can’t pronounce. I mean really…how do you say Snaefellsnes?
We just kept calling it Sniffles. I know…totally disrespectful and lazy. Guilty as charged. The Icelandic pronunciation is [ˈstnaiːˌfɛlsˌnɛːs]. If you can pronounce that quickly and accurately after only a couple of looks at the name, congratulations. You deserve a nice dish of Arctic Char. The kids kept telling Kris and I that we really needed to be sure to visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but no one could really say it right, so we just kept calling it the Sniffles Peninsula and it stuck all week as a running joke. How about Djupalonssandur, or Svinafellsjokull? Sorry Iceland, please forgive us. You have a beautiful country. It’s just taking us a while to adjust to your naming conventions.
Kris and I are empty nesters to be. Our three kids are getting older and starting to spread out. By Fall, our three kids will be in three different states away from us. It will be a weird feeling, one of excitement for our kids spreading their wings, and for Kris and I to explore life together with just the dog, but sad not to have them around. The five of us have explored life together for the last twenty-three years. In that time, we have taken many trips together, including road trips in the car not only all over the eastern seaboard, but also out west several times including many of the National Parks.
Yes, it was exactly as you imagine – five of us bundled into usually a mid to large size SUV, seemingly still too small for all of us, with all the nit picking back and forth about who was encroaching into who’s space, arguing over the music play list, arguing over whose feet smelled the worst, making fun of the ones who fell asleep with their mouths wide open, and piled into one hotel room sharing one bathroom. Yes, all of it. There was a lot of closeness, a little too close perhaps. Nerves got frayed. But that’s family. We always came away from these trips the better for it, having experienced incredible places and outdoor sights and sounds most people never get to experience, and becoming just a little bit closer as a family each time.
Iceland had been on our list for a while, primarily selected by the kids a while back. In fact, we almost went three years ago but for some reason we opted for Banff Canada at that time, which was a great choice too. But now it was time to visit Iceland before they all spread out. I knew deep down this might be the last trip we do on the road together as just us five. After this, it will be tough to get everyone back together except for the usual holidays.
If you’ve been thinking about visiting Iceland, just do it. Unless you’re not an outdoors person. Or don’t like less than ideal weather. There will be rain and wind at some point. Possibly every day. You’re likely to have rain, wind, and sun make an appearance multiple times a day, sometimes all at the same time. The average lows in the summer are in the 40s and the average highs are in the low to mid 50s. The summer sun never truly goes down, it just goes to dusk level for a few hours starting around midnight. Getting in and out of the car requires putting on and peeling off layers of clothing. But the views around every corner are jaw dropping, truly unique, and worth the trip. And if you're into geology, glaciers, or active geothermal regions, this is a must visit.
Yes, it was expensive. Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Combine that with 40-year high inflation and all time high global fuel costs, and let’s just say our timing wasn’t great for this trip in order to save money. But we had planned this trip quite a while back, so I eventually resolved to file this under “life is short” and “@&$! It!” and we just got on with things.
Planning for an Iceland trip can be intimidating. Our initial planning was spent talking to others who had visited and looking over some travel blogs. There’s so much information out there, it was like trying to pick a movie to watch on Netflix. And those names. It was difficult for my brain to keep track of all those unusual names. All the options were creating paralysis by analysis. Where to go, what to see, where to stay? It did become clear however, that we should drive around the island, utilizing the Ring Road route. Not knowing when and if we’d ever get back to Iceland, we wanted to see as much as possible, not just one area.
There are plenty of group and individual tours and packages offered, including ones you don’t have to do any driving. I like to drive, so we opted to do a self-driving tour arranged through a local tour company Hey Iceland. The value of going through Hey Iceland is they took all the mystery and work out of where to go and where to stay each night. I told them what we were interested in (outdoor natural features, waterfalls, coastal areas, scenic areas, hiking, etc) and they set us up on a great itinerary that had us staying in farmhouse inns and bed and breakfast lodging. It originally didn’t include Snaefellsnes Peninsula but my kids said we needed to see that area, so Hey Iceland made the customized changes to our itinerary for us to include it. They also got us our rental car, which was a mid-size SUV. It was a little tight for the five of us but we’re used to it, we made it work, and everyone were good sports about all the family closeness. We could have rented a larger vehicle but it would have cost a lot more and hey, what would be the fun in that?
|Vestrahorn mountain in eastern Iceland - note the replica Viking village at the base of it.|
Hey Iceland also provided a tablet in our car that had our daily itinerary, GPS function so we never got lost and kept us on the right path, a way to contact them in case we needed anything and WiFi so we were all connected throughout most of the trip. The kids did a lot of research and found some other things they wanted to see that wasn’t in Hey Iceland's original agenda, and we were able to add them to our tablet easily so it was included in our itinerary. This tablet was critical and of great value each day.
Do you remember Cliff Clavin? He was a great character in the hilarious 80s sitcom Cheers. Played by actor John Ratzenberger, he played a local US delivery postman who was a regular at the Cheers bar after his every shift. His best (or worst) quality was his penchant for imparting little-known facts to all the other bar regulars, acting like a real know-it-all, often to their chagrin. Here he goes again with that nickel knowledge as they rolled their eyes. Carla was so frustrated by it, she loved to put him in his place any time she could. His buddies Norm and Sam would try to ignore him. Frasier would try to challenge him. Coach and Woody, both with their innocent natures, loved it and soaked up all the little factoids Cliff shared…true or not.
In the spirit of Cliff Clavin, here are a few interesting facts about Iceland. Perhaps you’ll get in the spirit of Coach and Woody, and enjoy reading these fascinating Iceland tidbits that are in fact true (most of this sourced from Wikipedia):
⁃ 100% of Iceland’s electricity grid is produced from renewable resources, with about 73% coming from hydropower and 27% from geothermal power.
⁃ one of the few countries that have filling stations dispensing hydrogen fuel for cars powered by fuel cells.
⁃ ranked 3rd in the world in median wealth per adult.
⁃ ranked 3rd most expensive country in the world according to Numbeo Index.
⁃ Based on the World Bank Gini Coefficient, Iceland ranks 7th for lowest rate of income inequality in the world.
⁃ The constitution explicitly prohibits the enactment of noble privileges, titles, & ranks. Everyone is addressed by their first name. As in other Nordic countries, equality between the sexes is very high; Iceland is consistently ranked among the top three countries in the world for women to live in.
⁃ ranked as the 4th most developed country in the world.
⁃ is the most peaceful country in the world according to the Global Peace Index. It has no standing army, only a lightly armed coast guard.
⁃ Global Finance Magazine ranked Iceland as the world’s safest country in 2019 for its low crime & murder rate.
⁃ Numbeo Index ranks Iceland #6 in the world for highest quality of life.
⁃ Has the smallest population of any NATO member.
⁃ The national currency of Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). Iceland is the only country in the world to have a population under 2 million yet still have a floating exchange rate and an independent monetary policy.
⁃ Most Icelanders remain opposed to EU membership, primarily due to concern about losing control over their natural resources, particularly fisheries.
⁃ It maintains a Nordic social welfare system that provides universal healthcare and tertiary education for its citizens.
⁃ there are no private hospitals, and private insurance is practically nonexistent. A large portion of the government budget is assigned to health care, and Iceland ranks 11th in health care expenditures as a percentage of GDP and 14th in spending per capita. Overall, the country's health care system is one of the best performing in the world, ranked 15th by the WHO. Icelanders are among the world's healthiest people, with 81% reporting they are in good health, according to an OECD survey.
⁃ Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, including software production, biotechnology and finance.
⁃ The tourism sector has expanded a great deal. 2.2 million people visited Iceland in 2019, 4 times more than the number that came in 2010. Iceland’s population is approx 376,000 people.
⁃ Iceland has a flat tax system: the main personal income tax rate is a flat 22.75%, and combined with municipal taxes, the total tax rate equals no more than 35.7%, not including the many deductions that are available. The corporate tax rate is a flat 18%, one of the lowest in the world.
⁃ is about the size of Kentucky and has 8,099 miles of administered roads, of which 2,869 miles are paved and 5,181 miles are not. A great number of roads remain unpaved, mostly little-used rural roads. The road speed limits are 19 mph and 31 mph in towns, 50 mph on gravel country roads and 56 mph on hard-surfaced roads.
⁃ There are no McDonalds or Starbucks in Iceland but we did see one KFC. That was oddly random.
What Iceland has done, particularly in the last decade, is impressive. They haven’t squandered any opportunities. All these things certainly make Iceland an attractive place to visit for reasons beyond just its outdoor beauty. Those were some interesting facts. Now allow me to impart upon you some observations we made during our trip around Iceland.
First impressions: it is really clean. No litter anywhere. On our last day in the city of Reykjavik on one particular downtown street, I finally did see some trash on the ground like cigarette butts, bottles, and paper but it wasn’t a lot like you see in most American cities.
It’s quiet. Even though we were there during the summer tourist high season, it never felt crowded until we got to some of the sights close to Reykjavik. If you hit a spot early or late enough, there wasn’t anyone there. The longer days more easily allow going at off times. Most of the really good sights required a half mile to one mile walk or hike in, and that keeps a lot of tourists away. There were a lot of one and two-mile round-trip hikes just to see a waterfall or cool geological feature. At the end of our trip, we had hiked over 36 miles, not including all the walking around the various towns we were in.
The landscapes reminded us of a mix of Banff Canada, Montana, Colorado, Norwegian Fjords, and the Big Island Hawaii. It hits all the senses. West, North, East, and South Iceland were all different. It was a postcard around every corner. If you only visit the popular Golden Circle area near Reykjavik, you’ve only just scratched the surface of everything that Iceland offers. Doing the Ring Road drive allowed us to see so many different and unique features that Iceland provides. It is a wild place.
Lots of sheep on the sides of the road. They are everywhere. Interestingly, they don’t have any predators. No bears, no wolves. Its estimated there are over three times as many sheep as there are Icelanders.
There are volcanic craters & old lava beds everywhere. Iceland continues to be a very active volcanic region. The geothermal areas are fascinating and reminded me of Yellowstone National Park. You never get used to that sulphur smell. The shower water smelled of sulphur in some of the places we stayed near geothermal features.
The food was generally good. The Arctic char was good the first two times I had it but I tired of it after that. But there were other good seafood choices....lobster soup, salted cod, etc. The best meal we had was at Sel Guesthouse in the Golden Circle area near Reykjavik, made and served by the owner. Completely homemade, including the smoked goose meat shavings that topped the salad, also fresh from their garden. The owner had harvested the goose himself. Not to mention his cute kids and two dogs running around the property with their infectious energy made us all smile. Another worthy mention - the dinner fish buffet at Englendingavik in Borganes (western Iceland) was outstanding.
Every home seemingly has a nice view at least right out their front or back door, if not right out their windows. We only saw trees in a couple areas and there weren’t very many. It’s said that Vikings completely deforested Iceland after their arrival around 900 AD.
Water is everywhere. Lots of rivers, from glacial melt and all the rain. A lot of giant mesmerizing waterfalls and they were all so unique in their own way. Its estimated there are over 10,000 waterfalls. I believe it. Just driving through the landscapes, you could see random waterfalls way up on the distant mountains and cliffs everywhere we looked in both directions. The tidal shifts around the Iceland were powerful. I’m used to tides and currents living in a coastal are
Driving Ring Road & some roads off it in 9 days ended up being approximately 1800 miles driven. This included some dirt and gravel roads to get to some interesting places. The dirt road to the Dettifoss waterfall was full of washboard ruts that just about rattled the teeth out of our heads. And that wasn’t even an official “F” road, which by law can only be driven by a 4x4 vehicle. We were pretty tired at the end of the 9 days. True to form, I blissfully hadn’t considered ahead of time the total mileage I would be driving. It’s probably better that way. If someone had told me I would be driving 1,800 miles, I might have balked at doing it. Here’s something else most people or websites don’t tell you about driving in Iceland. Make sure you know your credit card (or debit card) PIN number because every fuel pump there requires the PIN for payment.
The stretch of Ring Road from northern Iceland to eastern Iceland was probably some of prettiest and most dramatic mountainous views of the entire trip. Other highlights included the Dettifoss waterfall just for its sheer power, as it’s the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, based on volume of water per cubic feet that goes over those falls. It’s seriously impressive. Skogafoss Falls was also very impressive. The Skogafoss waterfall trail that goes beyond it for a couple miles (& more) was an incredible hike highlighted by more beautiful waterfalls and scenery stretching out to the coast.
One of my other favorite highlights was Diamond Beach, where icebergs lined the beach and the adjacent Jokulsarlon lagoon filled with icebergs. The current running from the lagoon into the ocean (and vice versa) was super impressive, moving the icebergs around and banging them into each other. We witnessed two different icebergs roll over and expose the giant icy deep blue underside that appeared above the water’s surface. Seals were swimming all around them. It was quite a sight. The magnetic views of the glaciers in southeastern and southern Iceland had us in awe. We also enjoyed walking to the base of the Svinafellsjokull glacier, which served as the filming location of the ice planet depicted in the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar.
Was this the last road trip hurrah for our family? It was probably the last trip where we’re all on the move every single day and staying at a different place each night. We definitely started something with all these trips over the years. Our kids have already started to do their own road trips with friends and significant others. I imagine our future family trips will probably just be staying in one or two different places and do various outings and activities from there. Perhaps a new significant other will be in the mix. If indeed this was our last road trip hurrah together as just the five of us, it was one heck of a trip to go out on, and the memories we created together will always be with us.
Iceland is one the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Even having driven around the entire island, there’s still so much more to be explored there that we didn’t see, with more names we have difficulty pronouncing particularly in the middle of the island away from Ring Road, off the beaten path and F Roads. Hopefully the pictures you see here do it some justice. I’m still amazed at the beauty we saw around every turn. Even with all the photos we took, there were still so many scenes we didn’t capture on camera but thankfully have emblazoned in our minds. If you get the opportunity to visit Iceland, throw caution to that chilly Icelandic wind, work on your Icelandic pronunciations, and just do it. And get yourself to the Sniffles (Snaefellsnes) Peninsula. And Fagradalsfjall, Dettifoss, Skogafoss, Jokulsarlon, Svinafellsjokull,......