Summer travel to Iceland
March 30, 2012 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Planning on going to Iceland this July. I'm looking for advice on must-see/do thing during this time of year in Iceland. Also, suggestions for incredibly amazing/maybe even life-changing music and art festivals during the summer there?

Feel free to share any and all Icelandic experiences/advice with me! I love hearing stories. :)
posted by corn_bread to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
How long are you there? Three days is plenty for Reykjavik, but two weeks (I'm told) is barely enough to see the whole country.

I was there just for three days myself, just for Reykjavik, and had a good time. I wish I'd seen some other part of the country. I also wish I'd gotten out to the Þingvellir. The Blue Lagoon is a giant tourist trap. It's also kind of nice. It's near the Keflavik airport; it worked out very well for us as a first stop in Iceland before getting in to Reykjavik, to wash the jet lag off.

The new concert hall building (photo) is amazing. It wasn't quite finished when we visited. It's open as a cafe, bar, and has small concert halls that I assume now get regular use. Unfortunately the best restaurant we visited is now closed.

Iceland's recent history is dominated by being the first country to fall in the current global credit crisis. The Planet Money podcast did several very good stories on Iceland's economy and how it fell and will give you some useful background. I particularly liked this episode, which gives some historical context.

Iceland's ancient history is dominated by the Eddas and Sagas and by its amazing written historical record. If you're historically minded a bit of research ahead of time could be rewarding.

The best thing we did was rent a private airplane (with an instructor) and do a flying tour. We're pilots, so it was a lot of fun, and if you have a pilot in your travelling party drop me a note and I can give you details. Not sure about conventional flightseeing just for passengers; wouldn't be nearly as fun, anyway.
posted by Nelson at 4:41 PM on March 30, 2012

Make sure to look at other AskMe posts tagged Iceland. Lots of good tips there.
posted by matildaben at 5:14 PM on March 30, 2012

Rent a car and drive to Jökulsárlón. Its a day's trek, but well worth it.
posted by googly at 5:16 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was there in 2006 for one week in August. We flew into Reykjavik, then immediately caught an internal flight across the country to Akureyi, the second largest city in Iceland (which is actually a charming town). I agree with seeing Iceland from the air if possible... the view is stunning.

In Akureyi, we rented a car. We drove to Husavik and went whale-watching, and also visited the Penis Museum (which is "can't miss" in my book). I wish we had been able to stay here, but they were booked up. Then we made our way to the Golden Circle, and spent two days making our way around, ending in Reykjavik. I am so glad we drove... we were in some of the most remote feeling places I've ever been in my life. The days are loooonnnnggg during the summer. It's totally other worldly.

We spent two days in Reykjavik... I agree 2-3 days is enough. Then we ended the trip with the Blue Lagoon, which is tourist trap, but wonderful and enchanting tourist trap and well worth checking out, especially for the lunar landscape of the drive to reach it.
posted by kimdog at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2012

I spent over 2 weeks in Iceland. I wish I had spent at least a week more.
I arrived in Keflavik, and then took the bus to Reykjavik from the airport. Simple, easy, inexpensive.
From Reykjavik I rented a car (2 weeks) and drove clockwise around the country.
The Snaeffelsness peninsula is a wonder. You must stop at the black church at Budir, and at the cliffs of Anarstapi.
Many miles farther, the modern church at Stykkisholmur is a marvel.
The West Fjords are a MUST. Drive in and out of the little fjords, stop in Latrabjarg to see the puffins.
The one-lane tunnel of terror to Isafjordur will be memorable. Unlit, cut into granite, several km long, with pull-outs to let oncoming traffic pass. It's an ...experience.
The Holmavik museum of sorcery is a do-not-miss. It's not a harry potter experience, but a historic reflection on how the people of the W Fjords were treated in the middle ages and later. Sobering. Frightening.
The lonely rock dinosaur near Drangey, past Blonduos, is worth seeing, esp at low tide.
My visits to Hofsos taught me so much about Canadian and American history, in the Museum of Emigration. A must-see.
I had taken the side roads from Reykjavik to that point, only because they are more interesting, more deserted, shedding more light on the real Iceland. I switched to the main road, briefly, in Saudarkrokur.
Highway 1 from Saudarkrokur to Akureyri is beautiful. Imagine driving in Switzerland, with high peaks towering over you. Gorgeous.
Akureyri is inviting, fun, affordable. I loved the pedestrian mall, and visited the lovely church as well.
The drive to Husavik off the main highway can be lonely. It's a dirt road, with lava fields on the left, and lava fields on the right. There's beauty in the arid landscape. I was on a highland plateau, and suddenly I was driving down to the town - and its lovely whale museum. I enjoyed the waterfront. The penis museum was closed. Whatev.
Now things got even more interesting.
Driving the Tjornes peninsula was a jewel of an experience. The landscape and the rocky outcrops are beautiful.
Asbyrgi, with its mysterious wall of rock, beckons. Don't miss that.
The series of waterfalls leading into Dettifoss... Another dirt road, and now I encountered the tourist buses. Whereas until now I was alone on the road pretty much (one morning in the W Fjords I spent several hours driving without a single car behind me or coming towards me, and all homesteads along the way barricades... no sheep... no dogs... no signs of life at all) the meeting of the tour buses is jarring.
But it's worth persevering. The falls are *AWESOME*
And then I made my way to Egilstadur, and the Icelandic national forest. Trees are large. But upon closer inspection I realized they were planted every few meters apart. So measured. So scandinavian.
And from there, oh the coast again. Reydarfjordur with its one-km long aluminum smelter factory.
A former French colony in Iceland, its hospital now closed - imposing building. Beautiful streets, flowers everywhere.
And a massive storm that met me, which caused me to crawl between cliffs and sea. It was tense to Hofn.
And the next morning, the marvel of Vatnajokull. Oh my goodness, a sight for sore eyes.
Even thinking about that glacier fills my heart with glee.
It is so massive, mere words cannot do it justice. I felt that I would be driving into it, inside of it, when following the coast towards Vik, yet it was always safely miles away.The day was crisp and clear and the ice fields were endless.
The highway on the S side of Iceland is wide and new (repaired after the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption) but traverses desolate landscapes. And suddenly, verdant landscapes. The glacier runoff feeds the farms, and the grasses were sharp green in early August. Beautiful open fields, rich homesteads, full of life and bounty. So different from their forlorn counterparts in W Fjords.
And as I neared Reykjavik on my final day, there were more cars on the road, more big buses belching smoke and tourists at each stop, and the pleasure meter dropped. I hated the Golden Circle. Tons of people, tourist traps, ugh. I missed the solitude of the North, the rugged landscapes, the mystical calling of the mosses.

When I return I will spend more time in the W Fjords. I want to take that little road up to Djupavik from Holmavik. Follow the fjord to even sparser landscapes.
I also wish I had seen the E Fjords. Even less visited than their Western counterparts. Rich history there.
And I would have spent less time in Reykjavik. I spent four nights - two would have been enough.
To Reykjavik's credit, it's a beautiful town. The main church is gobsmacking. I spent every day inside, not out of piety, but more out of awe on its architectural power. The side streets are inviting. The cafes delightful. The seafood is delicious. The town is small and walkable. But it's small. Two nights is enough.

Save your time and energy for the drive around. Explore. Get off the main highway and visit the side roads. Talk to people. They are friendly, open. Iceland is beautiful, visit slowly, deliberately. You will not be disappointed.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:01 PM on March 30, 2012 [11 favorites]

(omg, I can't believe I forgot to mention Myvatn lake, and the Jokulsarlon lagoon. But others have, upthread. Again, not to be missed. and my answer would have been even longer if I did)
posted by seawallrunner at 9:04 PM on March 30, 2012

(and I forgot Landmannalaugar too! it's in the interior, a vast landscape of peach- and orange-coloured mountains and endless trails. Many do the multi-day hike, me I did a one day very long tour from Reykjavik. It was worth the time to get there. And next time, I'm hiking the multiday.)
posted by seawallrunner at 3:03 PM on March 31, 2012

the earth is not a col dead place - explosions in the sky
posted by Snorlax at 10:03 AM on April 2, 2012

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