Five years ago, when I first set sail to Iceland with my two best friends, we were all broke university students who wanted to explore this beautiful country in the most cost-effective way.
While I’m still mostly frugal in mindset, it was nice to take Ricky around Iceland and not have to worry about if we’d be able to afford dinner this time around.
The times have changed, but my appreciation for this rugged island has only become stronger. Here are six more tips to consider if you’re planning a trip to Iceland.
1. Visit Vestmannaeyjar
On the south coast of Iceland, and a two-hour drive and a 40-minute ferry ride from Reykjavik, are the archipelago islands known as Vestmannaeyjar, or Westman Islands.
The main island, Heimaey, is the only inhabited island of the 15 islands. Currently, there are only around 4,000 residents, and most of the island is composed of rocky beaches and rolling green hills.
During the ferry ride to Heimaey, we saw some cabins on the other islands. After speaking to locals, we discovered that those were in fact cabins for people who hunt puffins!
Yes, it was in that same breath that we learned that puffins are a traditional dish in Iceland. While I purport myself to be an iron-stomached connoisseur of all local foods, in the end, I couldn’t bare the thought of eating a cute orange-nosed friend.
Anyway, back to Vestmannaeyjar.
The ferry terminal on the mainland is located in Landeyjahöfn and has a massive parking lot. It was very easy to book tickets in advance online, which is a must if you want to bring your car on the ferry. I saw many walk-on guests buying tickets at the terminal, so it may not be necessary if you’re travelling as a foot passenger.
Ricky and I opted to go by foot, which was very doable, as we had an overnight stay on the island. The round-trip total was 8,000 Icelandic króna ($75 CAD). The sailing times change depending on the season, and sailings may be cancelled due to inclement weather, so plan accordingly.
On the island, we hiked up to Eldfell, a volcano that wreaked havoc during six months of eruption in 1973.
We also scooted and walked up to Stórhöfði, the windiest place in Europe, to capture the views of the island and the largest colony of puffins in the world. Luckily, there wasn’t a puffin café anywhere in sight.
Our next stops were Stafkirkjan and Skansinn, where we learned about the first medical office on the island, situated within the old abandoned fort.
And lastly, we ate a delicious meal at an unassuming restaurant, Slippurinn, which is a family-owned restaurant that offers beautifully presented Nordic cuisine. This meal turned out to be one of the best we’ve ever had anywhere in the world.
2. Go on a Boat Ride at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
One of the only tours we did on this trip was an hour-long ride on a Zodiac. Our tour took us between bright blue icebergs that float atop the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
The lagoon itself was formed by melted glacial water and is rapidly growing in size every year. As the icebergs break away, they spill into the lagoon, which eventually feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.
It was hauntingly beautiful seeing the vast glacier and the breakaway icebergs, all the while knowing that it’ll sadly cease to exist one day.
We booked our tour online for 11,000 Icelandic króna ($102 CAD), and it was well worth the price.
3. Hike Mount Esja
We had an extra day in Reykjavík at the end of our trip. Ricky and I mustered up the last remaining energy we had and hiked up Mount Esja.
Looking up from anywhere in the nation’s capital, you can see a collection of mountain ranges that tower over the city. Getting to the trailhead in these mountains was a very easy 30-minute drive, and there was ample parking available.
The hike took us about four hours round-trip, with plenty of stops for pictures along the way. And boy was there so much to see, even though it was a foggy day!
The views along the way to the top were incredible. The scenery changed with every step we took, ranging from forest to grassy fields of wildflowers to rocky terrain.
For me, the best part of the hike was the stream that ran along the main hiking trail. Not only did it add an idyllic melody to the experience, we were also able to fill up our water bottles with the freshest water around!
4. Icelandic Phallological Museum
Tucked in the basement across the street from our hotel was the Icelandic Phallological Museum. The unique museum houses the world’s largest collection of penises and penile parts.
Okay, okay, okay – hear me out. Is this a cheesy tourist trap? Possibly. Was it hilarious and surprisingly educational? 100%. For instance, did you know that many species of ducks have an s-shaped phallus?
My friend Sinéad and I left our respective partners behind (by their own volition) and spent around an hour learning about the mating habits of various animals and having a laugh at phalluses from across the animal kingdom.
From the house cat to whales to the human male, the museum had over 280 specimens from many different mammals available for inspection.
Just in case you were wondering, the sperm whale’s penis measures about 170cm or 5’5″, which is three inches bigger than a Jessy.
5. Stay at Puffin Nest Capsule Hostel
As mentioned, we stayed overnight in Vestmannaeyjar. While there were some guesthouses and fancier hotels, what piqued my interest was the Puffin Nest Capsule Hostel.
You read that right – I made Mr. Jumping-on-King-Sized-Beds-in-Luxury-Hotel-Rooms sleep in a pod in a hostel. Much to my delight, I think he’d also tell you that it was one of the best nights of sleep we had all trip.
Because of the midnight sun, many of the places we stayed in during our trip weren’t completely dark. In the capsules, this wasn’t an issue, because the four walls of our pods shielded us from the never-ending sun.
And of course, it was also nice to get some personal space after spending so much time together on the trip. 😉
6. Try Noodle Station in Reykjavík
By Day 7 of being in a Nordic country, both Ricky and I had been desperately craving some different flavours. Luckily, Ben from the Prince of Travel team had been in Reykjavík for a while already, and he led our tastebuds to the promised land at Noodle Station.
The menu is limited to only a handful of items on the menu, such as chicken and beef noodles in both regular and spicy flavours, as well as a handful of side dishes. But what lacked in variety was made up by the abundance of flavours, which rivalled some of the excellent noodle shops we have back in Vancouver.
This meal was exactly what we needed after a week of eating sandwiches and fish and chips, and I’d highly recommend a stop here if you’re craving some Asian flavours when in Reykjavík.
I had such a great time back in Iceland five years after my first trip. Just as before, I was completely taken aback by the rugged nature and the quirky attractions that are dotted around this beautiful country.
Even after visiting twice now, I’m still looking forward to coming back and discovering even more of Iceland in the future. In the meantime, I’ll keep luring Ricky away from the throes of luxury into more modest lodgings here and there.