We are about half-way through our one week trip in Iceland, driving the Ring Road. The trip so far has been amazing, with great weather (we’re so lucky!), amazing scenery, and a few surprises (generally pleasant). Here are some of our first impressions of Iceland.
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the rumours are true: the scenery here is amazing. Every time you round a corner, you see vast expanses of rivers, waterfalls, lakes, fjords, and snow-covered mountains. The landscape can vary between jagged lava fields to farming fields. We agree with what we were told when researching this trip, you could literally stop the car every 5 minutes to take a picture, the views are that amazing. And we’ve only seen half of the Island – and not the best known parts.
Tons of opportunities to be active
We hike a lot, and have not been disappointed in Iceland. On the south coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, we did the short hike from Arnarstapi to Hellnar and back, which took us along the jagged coast above the crystal clear ocean. Earlier today, we circumnavigated the rim of the Hverfjall volcano near Lake Myvatn which last erupted in 2500 BC (so must be due!).
We have also seen a surprising number of people biking the Ring Road, which is hugely impressive given both the distance and steep inclines and descents. If we had time, there is tons of kayaking, more hiking, and horseback riding that we could be doing. The best part is that the sun barely sets this time of year (pack a sleeping mask for night!), which means you don’t have to worry about getting caught out after dark.
The food is unbelievably expensive
Granted, this wasn’t a surprise. And we get it…the growing season isn’t very long here. Many things need to be flown in or shipped from North America or Europe. But we’re not just talking about exotic delicacies. We found a restaurant in Akureyri selling sushi for $25+/roll. Last time I checked, sushi is basically rice and raw fish. Iceland is an island with a huge fishing industry. Rice is (I would expect, even being imported) relatively cheap. I mean, it’s not like the rice we have in Canada is grown in the rice paddies of Saskatchewan, we have to import it too. The fact that most main courses seem to go for $40+ even for local lamb or fish means we have been self-catering even more than we had planned. Do locals pay the same prices?
Having said that, the fast food hot dogs are excellent. I know that sounds weird to anyone who hasn’t been here, but it’s true. They’re made from primarily local Icelandic lamb. And they’re served with fried onions, raw onions, ketchup, mustard, a mayo-based mixture, and maybe some other stuff. And they’re fantastic. Even Conde Naste says so (Click Here).
Meanwhile, Christine has been eating a TON of skyr, the local yogurt-like cheese that you can get in several different flavours. The raspberry-blueberry cup has 17 grams of protein and almost no fat for just over 140 calories.
Iceland is great for independent travelers
As with many places in the world, Iceland is not devoid of tour groups, bus tours, cruise ships and the like. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We just want to reassure people who may worry that Iceland is a bit out of their comfort zone to not be afraid. Cars drive on the same side of the road as 99% of the world (C’mon Brits, get with the times!). Everyone speaks English, and doesn’t act all uppity that you don’t speak any Icelandic.
There are tons of activities to fill your time (see above). Tourist-friendly facilities are rapidly being built – despite warnings we had heard, gas stations (with restaurants and washrooms) are relatively frequent, larger villages have multiple accommodation options (although you still will do well to book ahead in high season), and signage is pretty good. And if you’re here in the summer and get some good weather, you can go home telling all your friends how you wore your sunglasses at night (the dream of any Corey Hart fan – Click Here – you’re welcome!)
So those are our first impressions. We’re in Egilsstadir at the moment, continuing on along the east coast and more popular south coast over the next couple days before finishing in Reykjavik. We’ll let you know how it goes!