I know, I know. Iceland has been on travel bucket lists and on itineraries of cruise ships. Iceland has become very trendy for layovers before you hit North America. Iceland has been on the news due to masses of tourists entering this peaceful place. Restrictions?
No, do not restrict people to go to Iceland, but show them their wide ranged options. There are hundreds (more, thousands) of places you can stop, enjoy the views, eat, have picnics, listen to music or just hang out for a while. Simple as that:
Iceland is worth every single ISK. Every single euro. Every single dollar. And you will spend loads.
I decided to go to Iceland because friends of mine from the states were getting married. They picked the land of fire and ice to say Yes! and invited me to come along. Well, I am not the only one who followed their invitation. I know Marcus and Gwen from a while ago when I traveled the US east coast in 2012. I met up with them in Prague and Vienna, hiked Torres del Paine in Chile with them and became part of their travel group. As a matter of fact: I am very happy for them!
As well, I am very happy for myself to spend some crazy nice days on an island I would have not gone to this time of the year. These are some of the spots I recommend you to go off the beaten path:
Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavik and the Arctic Fox Rescue Center
As you know, I love stories. I love to tell them and I also love to listen to new ones. Iceland is full of stories and people who want to tell them. I stayed with Mila, in her Helgugata Guesthouse in Borgarnes at the West coast. It was a good deal to stay at her place because only 90 Euros per night, breakfast included is a cheap (plus comfortable) night. She has a three story house, very nice interior and magnificent friends. I met Masha, her friend from Georgia who now married to an Icelandic, lives there, collects Danish design objects and works for the police force as a translator. How cool is that?
From Borgarnes it is only a 2 hour drive to Hólmavik entering the Westfjords. Hólmavik is a charming and quiet little town but has two major attractions: The Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft and the Arctic Fox Rescue Center.
Fisherman Café, Restaurant and Hotel in Suðureyri
Hitting the Westfjords of Iceland was probably the best decision made. Why? Because there were barely any tourists around. Suðureyri is a little fisherman village which as only become part of mainland Iceland through a tunnel in 1996. I was absolutely fascinated of the beauty and rawness of the fjord belonging to Ísafjarðarbær. How did I find out of this special place? I looked up sustainably but touristically interesting tours in Iceland which were off the beaten path. Fisherman Seafood Trail was one of them.
Peter and Eva invited me to be part of one of their tours which was not only a pleasure but mind-blowingly interesting. My guide invited me to a historical, yet foodie tour around the village, starting at the place where the first farm was situated a few hundred years ago. While fishermen were trying to catch the best fish in this raw area between fjords and rough sea, the farmers went to use the little land they had to grow potatoes (only during 19th century) and winter veg. On the plus side their fjord still offers them geothermal energy which means heating, warm water and relaxing pools are not a problem at all. Other than that they figured out how to survive in conditions like these, off from everything else, only reachable through the seaway. They got their protein and fat through dried fish. Hung in open stalls in the winter they could collect it and eat only one filet per week. Of course I tried some!
And now with the hammer I feel like Thor!
In Suðureyri the fish factories gather the most income and help rise economy. Yet, they are wonderful examples how to use everything of the fish, even fish head. On the trail I tasted fish cakes and freshly made Plokkfiskur (see the recipe in the link) !
For a very special getaway from ‘mainland’ Iceland take the ferry to Heimaey, which is part of the Westman Islands archipelago. It is the only inhabited island of the islands south of Iceland with a population around 4.200. The Westmans or Vestmannaeyjar as it is called in Icelandic have a rich history but even richer is their flora and fauna. While walking through lava sand and stones bedded in moss you look up and see the beautiful volcanos Helgafell and Eldfell. The second one only appeared through a major eruption in 1973 when the whole island had to be evacuated to Reykjavik. Houses, streets and everything left were covered in volcano ashes. You can find out more about this tragic yet force of nature event at the museum Eldheimar. I was mostly impressed of how many photos and videos of this time were taken.
Plan your travels ahead
Rent a car or try to find someone to share a car with. I have found so many people traveling from Reykjavik to several destinations, only two or three people in the car. They have space. Use it!
After looking into bus times I decided to rent a car with Budget / Avis car services. It is very expensive and I would rather recommend a different deal. Look into local car rentals like SADcar. I have been following Route 1 and Route 60 for most of my travels there. It is concrete and very easy to drive on. You do not need 4×4 on your car. But it is always appreciated in Iceland to be prepared for the worst.
For going to the Westman Islands I decided to try public transport. I went with the local bus services Straeto (No. 52) to go to Landeyjahöfn to take the ferry Herjólfur to Heimaey. It is very inexpensive to go this way.
35 Euro for the bus ride (per direction)
12 Euro for the ferry (per direction)