Are you looking for a short romantic stay in Iceland? Perhaps you are coming over for a weekend, or a 3 day stopover with a loved one? If, like me, you can't think of anything more romantic than camping out in the wild nature, then my number one tip in Iceland is: Go glamping in the beautiful surroundings of Þórsmörk at the Volcano Huts.
Every May I celebrate my relationship anniversary with my boyfriend. In 2018 we were going to spend this time in Iceland, and I wanted to do something extra special and memorable, and splurge on a memorable experience. What I wanted to do was to organise a surprise weekend away, in the stunning Þórsmörk area in Iceland's highlands.
One of the first trips we went on together was to Þórsmörk, that's in the southern part of the Icelandic highlands, so I wanted to book us a weekend away there. However, the season for going to Þórsmörk is normally much later in the summer, such as in late June or July, and normally when I go there I go camping, with our tiny 2 person tent.
Since we were going in late May, I didn't want to simply go camping, even though I love setting up a tent and cuddle up in a sleeping bag inside, especially when it rains outside. I figured it might just be too cold and a bit miserable (and the weather forecast for that weekend was dreadful!).
So I did a little digging around, and found out that Volcano Huts were going to be open at that time, and are in fact open all year round!
This was the beginning of the season really, since bus tours only start going regularly in June to Þórsmörk, but since it had been a mild spring then organised buses had already started going. In wintertime however you need to go with a specialised modified monster truck to get there, such as on a tour with Midgard Adventure, that happen to be one of my favourite tour operators.
Volcano Huts offers mountain hut dormitories, private bedrooms and small private cabins, but I also found out that they offer a glamping option. If you're not familiar with the term 'glamping' then it stands for 'glamour camping'.
Basically it means you'll get a large tipi tent, with made up beds, heaters, blankets, cushions and furniture. I figured this would be the best of both worlds, both getting to stay inside a tent, but at the same time having all the luxury we'd need!
Obviously, if you don't enjoy listening to the howling wind on your rooftop, or for some reason are not into glamorous camping, then you can always opt for private cabins. Or if you don't feel like splurging, then you can go for the dormitories.
Picture by Regína Hrönn
There are regular buses going to Þórsmörk, both from Reykjavík city, as well as smaller towns along the south coast. However, I wanted to do something more fun than simply sitting on a bus, so we drove down to Hvolsvöllur on a Thursday night where I had booked a one night stay at Midgard Base Camp.
I had been on a tour with Midgard Adventures before, and dined at their basecamp and spent one night there, and I absolutely love this place. The beds are comfortable but cheap (this is a hostel after all), the food is tasty, there is a hot tub on their balcony that's perfect for spotting Northern Lights in winter and enjoy the Midnight Sun during summertime, and all the staff is just wonderful and fun to hang out with.
So I booked their tour Hiking in Thorsmork Valley | Super Jeep Day Tour to join on the Friday, but asked to be dropped off in Þórsmörk at the end of the trip. And it was the perfect choice! Luckily this day we had beautiful weather, and we spent our day hiking in various places along the way.
First we stopped by a small waterfall while the driver was adjusting the tyre pressure before heading further into Þórsmörk. Then we had a longer walk where there once was a glacier lagoon, that has now dried up due to the receding glacier. We hiked up to the edge of the glacier, and saw a beautiful ice cave/tunnel (that was probably going to melt away in less than a week).
We then went further into Þórsmörk, had lunch in the mountain hut Básar and hiked around the green birch tree area there, before going to Stakkholtsgljúfur canyon, that has been on my list of places to go for a while. This is such a gorgeous canyon, and at the end of it, after about an hour hike, you come to a gorgeous waterfall! I did get a bit wet making my way up to the waterfall as I misplaced my foot and stepped into the river at one point (I recommend bringing extra dry shoes and socks with you). But luckily the day was nice and sunny, and I had some spare shoes and socks with me in the car when we had hiked back.
Then we just had to cross the river Krossá and be dropped off at the Volcano Huts.
It's no joke crossing the mighty river Krossá, and very common that inexperienced drivers get stuck there. I myself wouldn't trust myself to cross this river, mainly because I wouldn't want to pay the damage to the car if something would happen!
I really would urge any tourist coming to Iceland not to attempt crossing the rivers to reach Þórsmörk, even if you have rented a 4WD car. Go with local, experienced guides, either on a scheduled bus (they have special 4WD buses to reach Þórsmörk) or with a private tour company such as Midgard Adventures.
During our trip we had to save one car that had gotten stuck, and the poor guys driving it were completely soaked and I imagine there was substantial water damage on the inside of the car, as they had to open the car door in the middle of the river and get into the river to try and pull the car out/tying a rope to the car's hook.
But when you have made it the whole way into Þórsmörk, safe and sound, you are presented with incredible views! The poor image quality from my phone really doesn't do it justice, but you hopefully get a slight sense of what to expect. Wild rivers running through black sands, in between lush green valleys filled with birch wood, incredible rock formations and hidden waterfalls, all nestling in the nook of two mighty glaciers, Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull.
Camping is some of the best ways to explore Iceland, it tends to be the cheapest way to get around, and you can find some awesome locations to pitch your tent. There is also something so romantic about camping, but that romance fades a bit when you need to pitch your tent in cold wind and rain, and all your gear becomes damp or soggy, with no way to dry it. And like I said before, then the weather in Iceland is not to be trusted. Even at the height of summer when it's supposed to be nice and sunny, you might get pretty awful weather.
Although glamping kicks up the price, then it is still a great way to stay connected to the nature, listening to the wind rage outside and the rain batter your roof, but still have all the luxury in the world. You don't need to pitch the tent yourself, it's nice, warm and dry inside, you have a made-up bed, a heater, lovely lighting, cushy blankets, furs and pillows and it's tall enough for you to stand up straight (my tent is a tiny one that you need to crawl into).
All in all, glamping is awesome!
The location of the glamping tents in Þórsmörk are in a great setting, with a view towards the mountains and rivers and nestled right next to the birch clad mountain Valahnúkur, but at the same time right next to the service centre where you can access restrooms, warm meals, a bar and some boardgames.
Above you can see the surrounding area of the tents, seen from the top of nearby mountain Valahnúkur.
Just about a one minute walk away, on the other side of the service centre there's a sauna, available for free for all guests. Outside the sauna is a small, lukewarm pool to cool off in after the sauna gets too steamy.
We met some fun Norwegians during our first night at dinner, and had a great time with them in the sauna into the night, before retiring to our tent when it had started to rain.
Planning trips in advance in Iceland means that you can't always get the weather that you want, and since we had a set date that we wanted to be there, we just had to put up with whatever Mother Nature would give us weather wise.
Luckily on the Thursday evening it was a gorgeous sunset all the drive to Hvolsvöllur, and on Friday we actually got a fairly warm and sunny day, despite the forecast of rain. When it came to Saturday however, it was pouring rain all day long.
So the plan for the day? Spend most of it inside our cosy tent, cuddling up under fur blankets, sipping on champagne and nibbling on strawberries and chocolates, listening to the rain on the roof. We got some books and boardgames, not that it was needed really. And I had brought some champagne and sweets with me, although we got most of our food as warm meals in the service centre that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We also went for a short hike, just for about one hour or so, feeling completely alone in the world. It was nice to feel a bit active and enjoy the beautiful nature, but also great to know that we had this amazing retreat waiting for us when we were starting to get chilly.
There are several hikes to choose from within Þórsmörk, perhaps the most common one, and a fairly short and easy one but with a magnificent reward on the top is to hike up mountain Valahnúkur.
It's not a difficult hike, although somewhat steep. If you're in moderately good shape then the hike to the top is about 45 minutes, and if you're struggling you can take plenty of stops on the way and do it in double that time. But the view on top is well worth it!
There are several longer hikes you can take within Þórsmörk, both for a few hours such as half day hikes, or full day hikes, and the staff working at the service centre can advice you on the many different routes you can choose from.
You can also choose to go on shorter hikes, such as to Snorraríki where you'll find a small cave that you can climb into, or to Sönghellir where you can walk behind a small waterfall. Both of these hikes are just about 10-15 minutes from Volcano Huts.
On top of that then the two most famous hikes in Iceland lead to Þórsmörk - Laugavegurinn from Landmannalaugar and Fimmvörðuháls that goes via Eyjafjallajökull volcano to Skógafoss. Laugavegurinn hike is 55km and most people hike that in 3-4 days, whereas Fimmvörðuháls is 22km and most people hike that either in one day, or spend one night on top of the glacier in a mountain hut and do the hike in two days.
I've been on both of these hikes a couple of times, so I know them quite well, and I can heartily recommend them both. Just make sure you prepare well for them and bring warm layers of clothing and all the food you're going to need.
Photo from Highland Hiker's Passport