Travel Writer's Guide to Iceland (in 4 days!)
February 18, 2008 4:30 AM   Subscribe

Four days in Iceland from Friday: me and my girlfriend are travel writers and will eventually do a write up of the hotel, restaurants and attractions we visit. How can we best stray off the beaten path in only FOUR days?

I have browsed the previous Iceland question on AskMefi, and got some great info, but am now really looking for something unique, and perhaps even, specific to this weekend (Fri 22nd to Wed 27th).

We are staying in Reykjavik at the 101 Hotel. We WILL be visiting the Blue Lagoon, as it is in our writing contract. How else are we to best spend our time? We want to do a really original and exciting write-up of our stay.

And also, what is the weather like at the moment (for anyone who might live there)? And what kind of budget might we need?

Thanks a lot!
posted by 0bvious to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
the Reykjavík Grapevine website has the most complete collection of icelandic travel info and travel writing around. It's a good place to peruse if you're looking for ideas for things to do in Iceland.
posted by svenni at 5:20 AM on February 18, 2008

I haven't been back in a while, so I can't vouch for good things to do, but if nothing else you'll get an idea of what to expect from Mother Nature by reading the Iceland Weather Report.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 7:04 AM on February 18, 2008

To be honest, there's really only ONE beaten trail to follow around the island, anyway, and it's frequently impassible during the winter months unless you have serious 4-wheel drive. If you want to see anything outside the capital, you'll need wheels.

And what kind of budget might we need?

Iceland is expensive. I mean, really, really expensive. Like, downtown-Tokyo-expensive. Car rentals are going to run you at least $125 a day, not including fuel ($200+ for 4x4 vehicles). Fuel is expensive (~$5.00 a gallon). Food is expensive (~$20 for a cheap meal, like the kind you'd get at an Esso station). Hotels are expensive (~$200 a night). Hostels are expensive (~$35 a night).

Starting to see a pattern here?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:27 AM on February 18, 2008

Civil_Disobedient is right: one of the beautiful things about Iceland is that it is sparsely populated and visited enough that almost everything is "off the beaten path," especially if you are willing to venture even just a few yards off the ring road. He is also right that it is hella expensive. However, despite the expense, the best way for you to get off the beaten path is to rent a car (a GOOD 4-wheel drive care - we had a Kia Sportage that only barely sufficed) and drive away from Reykjavik.

As far as places to visit, two possibilities that are within driving distance: trekking in the Landmannalaugar area; visiting Jokulsarlon, which is completely spectacular and just off the ring road.
posted by googly at 8:48 AM on February 18, 2008

Its a long time since we lived in Iceland, but in four days its tough to stay "off the beaten path" unless you know some Icelanders that can take you under their wing and take you to places less visited by tourists. I would say though that if you were to go to Iceland and come home without seeing some of the most famous sites it might be cause for regret later when you think back on what you missed.

Gulfoss and Geysir would be the two things I would never have missed, but maybe one of the quirkier things are the greenhouses at Hveragerði where fruits, vegetables and flowers (including bananas!) are grown year-round in the geothermal greenhouses.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 11:47 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go to a local hot swimming pool, rather than (in addition to) the big touristy Blue Lagoon. It's like the local pub, a place where middle-aged locals can just chill out after work. You'll get a much clearer sense of the actual living-there vibe. There's at least one in downtown Reykjavik, should be easy enough to find.

Maybe go to the giant flea market in downtown Reykjavik too?
Go to the grocery store and get fish jerky for the weirdness, and skyr (yogurt) because it is freaking awesome.

The main attractions are really pretty cool; worth driving around to if you can. Thingvellir is easily driven from Reykjavik. Read up on the geology a bit and you will enjoy more.

I went in March several years ago and the weather was wet and WINDY everywhere. Bring a warm hat that won't blow off, a winter coat that is waterproof and scarf, mitts, whatever else you need to be warm if you're going out into the country.

This would be a day and a half, or maybe 2 full days: You could get the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar, stay one night in a guesthouse there and hike up around the mountain etc. Read up on the backstory about the eruption (John McPhee's The Control of Nature). It was very quiet in the town when we went in March a few years ago, no other tourists. The ferry is almost guaranteed to make you seasick, so take motion-sick pills before you get on, and resign yourself to sleeping for part of the trip.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:41 PM on February 18, 2008

Gulfoss and Geysir in March were asssssss cold. Gulfoss is fantastic, huge waterfall, awe-inspiring, but bring a face-mask because the water spray and mist comes up out of the valley and makes it hard to stand there very long. Geysir is on an open windswept plain, again you will want your warm coat and you'll want to go get a hot drink after.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:43 PM on February 18, 2008

What do you mean by off the beaten path? Culturally, geographically or perhaps in terms of nightlife?

One thing you might do is go into Kaffi Hljómalind on Laugavegur (the main drag in downtown Reykjavík, 101 Hotel is just off it, if memory serves). Kaffi Hljómalind is one of the main hangouts for young hip radicals and the staff there might know of something strange and edgy going on. Not certain, but a possibility.

For culinary delights I recommend having whitefish of some sort at a restaurant, hot dogs (especially Bæjarins bestu... no seriously), go to my favorite vegetarian restaurant in town, Á næstu grösum, which is also just off the main drag and if you hunger for something stinky, greasy and delicious there's nothing finer than Vitabar's forget-me-not burger, which comes loaded with blue cheese and garlic. If you're feeling adventurous you can try some Icelandic traditional fare. I recommend harðfiskur (fish jerky, very tasty, most people prefer it with butter), skyr (available in many flavors) and smoked lamb. In fact, Icelandic lamb is delicious.

All that is fairly normal though. Most of the very off-the-beaten-path stuff is inaccessible during winter, especially given the short amount of time you have. If I think of something else I'll add a comment. Oh, and I can't recommend Grapevine enough. Svenni is right, it's nigh indispensable.
posted by Kattullus at 1:45 PM on February 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Great stuff.

How about more 'off the beaten track' in the city of Reykjavik?
posted by 0bvious at 2:21 PM on February 18, 2008

Iceland is a fantastic place to travel around, and i've had a bast living over here for the last couple of years.

Firstly some useful websites:

Iceland weather. Its actually not as cold as you may expect out there. Reykjavik rarely gets much of a snowfall, and temperatures in the winter hover around freezing. Wind is more of a problem as that makes the difference between reasonable and not so. Most locals drive everywhere or stay indoors anyway so don't worry too much about that.

Icelandic road status
. This site is particularly useful if you're going to leave the more protected Reykjavik area as sometimes the roads can get slippery and more rarely impassable. Contrary to popular belief, Route 1 which goes around the country is actually passable for 99.9% of the time in 2wd vehicles. It's cleared very regularly, but sometimes you just have to take it easy. The roads in the interior will be closed outside May to September time, but are well worth a look in the summer with a suitable jeep.

The vast proportion of the population live in the Reykjavik area. And the vast majority of the tourists stay within a day trip of the city. If you're looking for nightlife stay in that area, but the better landscapes are further away.

The Goldern Circle is a must (Geysir, Gullfoss (waterfall) and Thingvellir (old parliament site), but if you have time try and get further away. Jökulsárlón is worth a trip (but it's a 5hr+ drive from Reyjkavik). Its the scene used in James bond films and more recently Top Gear.

If you're interested in the blue lagoon and you have more time / more adventurous definitely go to the lagoon in Myvatn. Myvatn is amazing as it is, but the lagoon there is more intimate (and much quieter). See

If you're in the mood to escape Reykjavik do check out Flugfelag Island Domestic flying is much like catching a bus in other countries.

I could go on forever about the country. But just visit it and you'll have a great time!

PS Don't forget the nightlife only really kicks in after midnight on a Friday and Saturday night. You will be disappointed if you go out earlier at how dead the place feels.

Good luck!
posted by Fezzer at 7:09 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Off the beaten track in Reykjavik itself... It's harder to get off the track as it's not so large and tourists are good at finding the places to go. But...

NASA is the main music venue / Nightclub in town. Keep an eye out in the paper copy of The Grapevine For upcoming events. Normally you don't need to pre-book which is good. It's located next to the rather small Cathedral in the square in Downtown with Cafe Paris. You'll be amazed at the variety of bands and groups that play there.

For cafe/bars i'd recommend Cafe Prikið on the main drag. Its a good place to chill with the free wifi in the day, and the food is reasonably priced. Nice relaxed atmosphere. Gets a bit more upbeat later at night though.

Do visit one of the outdoor geothermal pools too. They're all over Reykjavik. Avoid the indoor ones - its much more of an experience being outside, and anyway its more of a sauna/jacuzzi affair than any swimming :)

Restaurants are plentyful, and often good, but pricey. Locals tend to stick to burgers/pizza/pasta most of the time as that's cheapest, then fish, and meat courses really very pricey. If you're after reasonable meals without going crazy on the credit card try Icelandic Fish and Chips down by the harbour.

One little gem in the city is The Volcano Show at Red Rock Cinema. (Couldnt find direct link i'm afraid). It's hidden near the US embassy and is ideal for a wet day (as happens all too often in the city unfortunately). If you're interested in Icelands changing geology you really should visit the place as the films have been recorded by a father and son team for many decades. Surprisingly fascinating.

Right, i'll stop now before i take up too much space on this page....
posted by Fezzer at 7:37 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

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