How do Icelanders travel in Iceland? Do you want tips from an Icelander for your ring road trip? Find local tips about attractions and restaurants on a medium budget in Iceland here.
This is the third, and last blog post about my ring road travel around Iceland in the fall of 2016.
- Read the first part here: Local travels the ring road around Iceland: Reykjavík & south Iceland
- Read the second part here: Local travels the ring road around Iceland: South to east Iceland
This leg of the trip starts on a rainy day in the gorgeous town Borgarfjörður Eystri.
Fifth day of travel: Northeast Iceland
I would've wanted to go for a hike to Stórurð from Borgarfjörður, but the weather was ghastly and it's also around a 3-4 hour hike in total, so we just pressed on to drive to Lake Mývatn where we would spend the night.
We had rented a summer cabin in Hlíð by Lake Mývatn, which was in a perfect location, close to the lake (also close to the Mývatn airport if you are flying there) but still in a quiet and secluded area. The cabin had two bedrooms, a sleeping loft, a bathroom, kitchen and a large living room with windows all around it. Handy if you want to turn the lights off at night and look out in the search of auroras whilst still enjoying the warmth of being indoors.
After getting the keys to our cabin and dropping off our bags we went straight to Dimmuborgir to have some lunch at Kaffi Borgir. They have a soup menu, but we all decided to go for the House special, a lemon and lime grilled trout with potatoes, salad and rye bread. A hearty plate of fish and potatoes filled us all up for a busy day.
Afterwards we went for one of the shorter walks around Dimmuborgir. You can choose between a number of walks there, from 10 minutes up to a couple of hours. We just went for a 30 minute walk, only getting a small sense of this incredibly beautiful part of the country. It's easy to imagine how people would think the devil lived there and that it was full of elves and trolls a couple of hundred years ago when there were no marked paths going through the area.
Next up was the geothermal area Námaskarð that we had driven through on our way to Mývatn. This is a really interesting geothermal area, and although there are no erupting geysers there, you can find a variety of bubbling mud pools and screaming steam fissures. (It's literally like they are shouting at you!)
There are so many places to see around this area, and we had little time so we had to pick and choose. I had my eyes set on visiting Dettifoss waterfall, but in return we ended up skipping Víti in Krafla, hiking up to and around Hverfell and visiting Ásbyrgi, Rauðhólar and Hljóðaklettar. Again, you feel like you are missing out on destinations in Iceland when you only have a week to go around, 10-14 days should be the best amount of time to go around the country.
When we got to Dettifoss it was pissing it down with rain, plus all the water from the waterfall itself was getting us soaked, so we were happy to return to our accommodation to change clothes before dinner.
Here's a pro local Icelandic tip: WEAR CLOTHES in Iceland! When you've put one layer of clothes on, then put another layer of clothes on!
When we got to Dettifoss it was raining a bit, but I knew there would be a lot of spray coming from the waterfall (we could also see people returning to the parking lot that were absolutely drenched). So we decided to put on an extra layer. By extra layer, I mean practically rainproof ski trousers and jackets.
You might feel a little silly at first when you're wearing full on winter clothing during summertime, but even so, we got pretty drenched and a bit cold by the time we returned to the car. Here's a more accurate view of the waterfall:
I felt very sorry for some other tourists we saw that were wearing t-shirts, shorts and sneakers - and shivering with cold. They also just looked at the waterfall very briefly before running back to their cars to warm up. I saw one Asian girl that looked miserable in her soaked, thin layers of cotton, underneath a plastic bag to give her some shelter from the rain.
Always bring rainproof clothing with you, and good hiking shoes when traveling in Iceland.
After standing in awe next to Dettifoss, getting drenched, driving back to our cabin to change clothes, we went to a local cowshed café called Vogafjós for our dinner. There was a little misunderstanding with our booking, so we had to wait for 30 minutes, so we just went for a little drive to Grjótagjá in the meantime.
Grjótagjá is a stunning blue hot spring inside a cave that's in the area. It's a little too hot to bathe in, and it's also unfortunately forbidden to bathe in it. The water has almost no movement, so if people would start bathing there the perfect clear blue colour of the water would quickly turn brown and dirty.
We were happy we waited for our table because the dinner we had at Vogafjós was amazing! I had the burger (one of the best burgers I've had in Iceland), my boyfriend and his mum had the lamb (probably an even better choice, I got to taste it and it was delicious). Treat yourself and dine at this place, you won't regret it. It's also an interesting place to eat at, as you have a view into the cowshed and can watch the cows during dinner.
My 'in-laws' were too tired at the end of the day to join us and went home to relax, but me and my boyfriend ended the day by visiting Mývatn Nature Baths - north of Iceland's answer to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is well worth the visit, but Mývatn Nature Baths have a cheaper entry and less of a crowd.
We were there on the last day of August, meaning that it was the last day of summer opening hours until midnight. It was a clear and bright night, and after we'd soaked in the warm, blue waters for about 30 minutes we heard some excited gasps from the people around us as the northern lights had started performing.
(I've got no pictures, because I was in the middle of a hot lagoon. Just take my word for it).
It was a really good night for the northern lights, they stayed for a long time and were pretty bright. A part of me wanted to run out of the baths to alert my boyfriend's parents to look up in the sky, but at the same time I wanted to make the most of the soothing visit in the hot lagoon. Also, they said they were going to crack open a bottle of wine and we had told them to look out for the northern lights.
When we got back to the cabin (around half past midnight), all lights were on and they'd gone to sleep. The auroras had stopped so we didn't wake them up. As it turned out (we found out next morning) they hadn't found a bottle opener and just went straight to bed, missing out on the lights.
Sixth day of travel: Whale watching from Húsavík & Akureyri
We woke up really early as we had a whale watching tour booked from Húsavík at 9:30am. It was the first of September and we were greeted with some fresh snowfall on the top of the nearby mountains. Húsavík is a short 45 minute drive from Mývatn, and we left at around 8am to be there on time. There's a really lovely café overlooking the bay from where the whale watching leaves where we could have some croissants and coffee for breakfast.
We then embarked on a 4 hour long whale watching tour called Whales and Sails, on a traditional, wooden schooner. This turned out to be an absolutely fantastic whale watching tour with North Sailing! I myself am generally not a massive fan of whale watching, I always feel like you just spend most of your time waiting for the whales to surface and have not much to do in between.
However, I really enjoyed cruising on this gorgeous sailboat, snapping away with my camera at the boat itself, the whales and the surrounding landscape.
We ended up seeing 4-5 whales, all humpback whales, and even a couple of them swimming in tandem. We also had perfect sunshine, clear blue sky and calm waters the entire time. Even though the weather conditions were perfect, it does get cold out at sea, so everyone is provided with thick and warm overalls for the trip. It was soooo nice and warm and comfortable, and I spent the majority of the way back sunbathing on the deck, only taking a break to have some complimentary hot chocolate and freshly made cinnamon buns.
This was the best whale watching tour I've ever been on, I truly can't recommend it enough. It was the absolute highlight of the week for my 'father-in-law'.
After returning to Húsavík it was time for a spot of lunch. There's a number of restaurants by the seaside in Húsavík, all of which look lovely (and I bet they serve nice food too) - but I had heard fantastic things about a local place called Naustið, so we went for a bit of a stroll around town in search for it in the sunshine.
We weren't really hungry after the cinnamon buns and hot chocolate we got on the boat, so I just opted for a seafood starter soup. I was super tempted to have the lobster, but since I wasn't that hungry I couldn't justify spending that much money on lunch. All of the food we had though was super delicious and beautifully presented. It didn't spoil anything as well that the sun was shining brightly and we were getting some tan sitting outside in a gorgeous setting. Húsavík is a very cute little town to stroll around in.
Next up was a short stop at the waterfall Goðafoss (The Falls of the Gods) on our way to Akureyri. In Akureyri we had planned to go to the botanical garden since my boyfriend's mother is a big fan of all types of plants and greenery. First we stopped for an ice-cream at Brynja (legendary ice cream shop in Akureyri) and then went for a stroll to the beautiful garden.
I had never been there before and it is such a nice garden to visit! It's more than a 100 years old (it opened first in 1912) and has a huge variety of plants in it! It has a formal opening time in summer, but all gates are open in winter to go for a stroll and visit their beautiful café. I'd love to see it covered with snow and Christmas lights. This little visit to the botanical garden was one of the highlights of the tour for my boyfriend's mum!
After walking around Akureyri a littlebit we continued to our accommodation for the night, in a converted farm just a 5 minute drive from Akureyri called Lamb-inn.
This ended up being one of our favourite stays of the whole trip. At first it looked as if we were the only people in the guesthouse (we weren't, but there were very few people) and the house is really big and open once you enter. There was also a long hallway leading to the hot tubs and the whole place made me feel like I was inside a Wes Anderson movie - or the Shining (without fearing for my life). The owner was super friendly and nice - and informed us that unfortunately their chef was on holiday but he could cook us a meal instead, with a discount in return. Turns out he's quite a good chef.
The weather had been gorgeous all day, so of course we got a fantastic sunset as well - and the conditions were prime for the Northern Lights. This time I made sure to place the 'in-laws' in the guesthouse's hot tub as soon as it got dark, instructing them to look at the sky. I think my 'father in law' was a bit tired and wanted to go to bed and not into a hot tub, as he gave me a slightly grumbly answer about 'it better be worth it'.
Very luckily, the northern lights appeared again - and they put on an even better show than the previous night. There were auroras simply everywhere in the night sky! Mostly green, but also a bit of white and I could see a faint red colour too. If the northern lights are putting on a good show then that can last for some hours sometimes, so it's good to be dressed really warmly, or better yet, be in hot water. Even if you dress warmly, you'll be standing still for a long time so it gets cold.
So, my pro local tip about watching the northern lights is to place yourself in a hot spring or a hot tub. The only problem is, if you want to take pictures then you have to run out of the water. I had a proper camera with me where I could adjust the shutter speed, so I managed to catch a few pictures (that look better than my phone pictures!) but I'm no photography expert, and unfortunately they mostly came out rather blurry.
After admiring the lights for a couple of hours, we got out of the hot tub - and my boyfriend's dad told me that it had been worth it ;)
Seventh day of travel: Hrísey and Siglufjörður
We had a lovely breakfast at our guesthouse, and then the owner's father in law took us around the old house at the farm. If you go to stay at Lamb-inn, you should ask to go to the old house! It was so interesting, a really well kept house from the last century in Iceland, and we heard a lot about it and stories from the owner's father in law.
After that we returned to Akureyri to have a better stroll through the town. We visited the culture house of Akureyri, and the Art Museum. We also had a cup of coffee at Kaffi Ilmur, a very cute café downtown.
The plan was to reach Siglufjörður before the end of the day, but we had a pretty free day up until then. We decided to go over to the Pearl of Eyjafjörður fjord, the small island Hrísey. The ferry to Hrísey departs regularly from Ársskógssandur and only takes about 15 minutes.
The island itself is inhabited by about 200 people and is the second largest island in Iceland. It was quite lovely to stroll around the island for a couple of hours, and I could've spent much longer there.
However, we had made dinner plans at Hótel Sigló in Siglufjörður, where we were also spending the night. This is one of the best hotels in Iceland, a brand new, really nice 4 star hotel - we decided to treat ourselves for the last night of our travels.
We had a delicious dinner at the hotel, and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the hotel's hot tubs and sauna, that's right at the entrance of the hotel, right next to the sea. We were joined by a small group of Icelanders that were on a staff trip and had some fun discussions in the warm water until we were relaxed enough to go to sleep.
Eighth day of travel: Siglufjörður to Reykjavík
After a wonderfully restful night, we made the most of breakfast before going on a walk around town. The Siglufjörður Herring Museum is known for being one of the best museums in Iceland, and I had my eyes set on visiting it. Unfortunately it wasn't supposed to open until later in the day since the winter - and weekend schedule had started. Luckily there was a group of tourists that had organised a special opening, so we were able to see some of the museum.
Someone had told me that this was the most impressive museum they'd ever been to, and it wasn't until I visited it that I understood why. I'm not much of a museum person myself, but this Herring Museum is soooo interesting! Instead of depicting things inside glass boxes or having them hanging on walls, it's more like walking through an installation, of completely real, historical artefacts. You get a real sense of what life was like some decades ago when Siglufjörður was the herring capital of Iceland.
After admiring the museum for an hour or so, we started our journey back to Reykjavík. We made a stop in Hofsós to admire the beautiful architecture of the local swimming pool. After the long soak in the hot tubs the previous night, we didn't feel like going for a swim however. Next time. The pool is a stunning infinity pool with views towards the sea, and the nearby landscape is beautiful with all its basalt columns.
Soon we got a little hungry. Iceland can be quite difficult when it comes to finding good food in the countryside. I didn't want to stop for some sleazy and overpriced hamburger in a gas station, so we decided to take a very short detour to Hvammstangi to check out a restaurant called Sjávarborg. And wow, I just found a hidden secret! It's a really stylish restaurant, with a simple but very tasty menu! We just had small starters (here's a picture of their seafood soup) but I'm looking forward to returning and trying out the rest of the menu. And this town is literally a 5 minute detour from the ringroad!
After our late lunch, we just drove straight back to Reykjavík. We spent the evening walking around downtown, looking at Hallgrímskirkja church and Harpa concert hall and went early to bed, pretty exhausted.
Not much time left to do anything besides exploring a little of Reykjavík before heading to the airport. A bit of a shame because Reykjavík has so much to offer to explore, but we expect our guests to return one day, and then we can take them around all the best cafés, restaurants and swimming pools of Reykjavík.
- See the top 10 things to do in Reykjavík here
I hope this has given you some ideas about the variety of things to see and do on a ringroad trip around Iceland :)