After an amazing summer adventure crisscrossing Iceland for 6 weeks last year we were back, this time in January. And even under the snowy cover it was the same old beautiful Iceland.
To Iceland by air
We started our adventure in Prague, but boarded the plane in Budapest, where temperature at the time was about -17°C, which meant about 20° lower than in our destination. This also meant that we rapidly changed our initial plans, which included a short walk through the city, and we headed directly to the airport, named after Ferenz List (a pianist who, during his time, was more famous than Michael Jackson in the 90´s). It was also at the airport that we encountered the first issue of this trip – it turned out that having a drone in a carry-on was not allowed according to the local regulations of the Budapest´s airport. Yes, they actually came up with something this absurd. I wouldn´t have been surprised if there was some Wizz Air lobbying involved in this – just to make passengers with a drone pay more for the checked-in luggage. Anyhow, the first challenge was to turn a carry-on into a checked-in luggage. That wouldn´t be much of a problem by itself, but what made it trickier was that I needed the drone to actually survive the trip in the checked-in luggage. Well, we had some extra time after not going for a walk in the city, which in the end turned out to be a very good decision.
The solution to our checked-in-drone problem was couple of filled half a liter bottles serving as support for the top of the suitcase and a lot of socks in between. The drone had it all soft and cozy. And more importantly, survived the journey.
We got off the plane just to face another challenge – to pick up the rented car. In order to save money, I chose the cheapest option (11 days for only 276 EUR), the problem was that these cheap car rentals are generally not located at the airport but rather pick up the clients and take them to their office, usually about 5 km from the airport. But, in our case, no one came to pick us up. I happened to tell them that the plane was going to arrive an hour earlier and on top of that the plane had a half hour delay. I couldn´t reach them by phone (I only got to an Icelandic answering machine, and who knows what it was mumbling about?), but luckily a competitor rental staff whom we talked to said that they were neighbors of our rental and that he was going to let them know about us. He couldn´t take us with him as he was full. And in the end, he did as he promised and we were finally picked up.
Selfoss area – your perfect icelandic base camp
Half an hour later we were heading with a car rental staff to pick up our Hyundai i10 (we resisted the broad variety of nonsense insurance) and later headed to Selfoss, a town about 100km away, where we booked a place through Airbnb (for about 300 EUR / week using bonus Airbnb credits). It was no coincidence that we chose Selfoss. It was located almost right in the middle of so-called Golden Circle (Þingvellir, Gullfoss, Geyser) and within driving distance of about 50% of the must-see Icelandic sights – Seljalandfoss, Skógafoss, Háifoss, Gjáin, the abandoned DC-3 on Sólheimasandur beach, the Black beach and when going a bit more heavy on the gas pedal even within the Glacier Lagoon – which you already know.
According to the weather forecast we had two beautiful days ahead of us – so we didn´t waste any time and set off to properly enjoy them. I think it is important to mention that a “day” in the middle of January in Iceland means from 11 am to 4 pm, about 5 hours (when travelling in Iceland, at least during winter, the website: road.is might come handy).
The Golden Circle
We did the main tourist attraction – Gullfoss, Geysir right away. It was incredible how there were equally as many people as in the summer. Uggggh.
It was also where I met the most beautiful rock I had ever seen. Well the rock was actually quite ordinary, but its snowy outfit just made it look astonishing. Behold!
And just a bit further there was Geysir, the one that all the others of its kind were named after.
It has been active for most about 10,000 years and the first written documents mention it around the year 1294. It acquired its name later during the 18th century. Back then the eruptions were reaching up to 180m. That must have been quite a show. Unfortunately, the intervals between Geysir eruptions are quite irregular, with instances when it went completely quiet for a couple of years. Waiting for it can be very well compared to waiting for Godot.
Luckily, Strokkur, located only a few meters away, erupts every 8-10 minutes and reaches the height of about 20 meters. Sometimes the eruption only reaches around 5 meters, which is followed by noticeably disappointed sighs. On the other hand, when there is a proper eruption, the excited screams of the crowd are endless.
Enjoying the awesome weather (which might look harsh, but in fact it was only about -5°, so nothing too terrible) we decided to move a bit further, where the Gullfoss waterfall was waiting for us.
It was sunny, snowy and filled with tourists. Well, it was the Golden Circle, the place where literally every tourist who comes to Iceland goes. About 1,200,000 tourists came to Iceland last year only and increasing yearly by 25 – 30%.
It was beautiful. If, the Snow Queen had a palace somewhere it would definitely be around here.
If you are asking yourself right now: where are all the tourists in her picture? Well, they lost a fight with Photoshop, using the “delete” function. Because without the people it is, well, how to put it… way better.
Time passed by quickly. On our way home, we pit-stopped in Krónan for some groceries (One of those Icelandic groceries where because of prices, your head will start spinning, but not all the way round, just a little bit :))
The second day we had another portion of Icelandic monuments ahead of us. Make yourselves comfortable and let’s begin!
South Iceland – main attractions
We left home early in the morning, to make it in time for sunrise over the abandoned DC-3 plane. I was quite amused when we were passing Seljalandfoss – most of the countries lit up churches or castles and only here in Iceland they lit up a waterfall. And we were there all alone – unbelievable.
Unfortunately, this time the classic walk behind the waterfall was out of the question – the path was covered with a thick layer of ice and was therefore closed. But that didn´t come as much of a surprise, if it wasn´t so they could move the local emergency unit right on to the nearby parking lot and it would be filled with patients.
Wow. It was incredible. Such, a touristy attraction and we were there all alone. We were enjoying the magical moment, then got in the car and headed towards Sólheimasandur black beach. To get to the abandoned DC-3 plane we had to walk for about 40 minutes from the main road. Two years prior, it was possible to drive all the way up. Yet, tourists turned the route into a mess causing local farmers to close the road. Leaving only one choice: walking.
Already, on the way there we realized we were not the only ones who had the idea to take pictures of the wreck at sunrise. The classic Iceland experience, something a bit like India, you are never alone. There were some weird looking clouds on the horizon so the pictures weren´t that amazing either. I was walking round and round trying to find a good angle, but well, there is no choosing from out of nothing.
Those who know me know very well, are aware that flying runs in my blood (and now all of you know that!), so I am always happy to be in the cockpit. Well this one was a bit poorly equipped (almost like a convertible plane), but being able to crawl through it was still a great experience. If nothing at least this is a reason to come to Iceland.
It´s true that the horizon on this picture is a bit crooked, but I made it so on purpose so it would give you the view you get from the cockpit. So, if you tilt your head a bit to the right you might feel as if you were there.
Well, it was really nice visiting the place but soon it became too crowded so we continued further. It was another 45 minutes to get to the car and from there another while to come to Skógafoss waterfall.
At Skógafoss there were significantly more people than at Seljalandfoss. That was no surprise because the weather was great. It almost made it look a bit cheesy. A famous Czech portrait photographer Pavlina Jarosova (a good friend of mine) always comments pictures like this with “Cheesy as hell”. Well see for yourself:
Some of drone-made motion pictures,
Dramatic, wasn´t it?
Not sure how I got the idea but I decided to race Honza up the hill to a view point. Well I was the only one in that competition and made it in a race pace only to about a third of the hill, then desperately trying to catch my breath. Well, the world is not what it used to be.
Then we were back at Krónan in Selfoss and then straight to bed. The next two days the weather was quite unpleasing (the forecast got that right) so we dedicated our time to doing some digital nomading.
The dusk was upon us and we were offered this view out of our window.
Seemed like another wonderful day was ahead of us. We planned a trip to Kerið crater and to the nearby national park Þingvellir (pronounced thing-well-ear).
Kerið, a 3000-year-old crater of volcanic origin, was covered by a snowdrift which made it quite unrecognizable. The lake inside of it was covered with ice and snow, so after paying about 400 ISK we got to see this.
Since we were already there we decided to go down the crater and make at least a few steps on the frozen lake. Well it was a great feeling to be walking on 3000-year-old frozen water. Definitely worth the money!!!! 🙂
Þingvellir – the gem of Iceland
Then we headed to Þingvellir and since we were a bit of «lazy pigs» that morning also because the Icelandic roads with about 5 cm thick layer of ice didn´t allow us to drive too fast (which is actually not possible during summer either), we arrived to Þingvellir almost at dawn.
So it seemed that it would be wise to leave Þingvellir for the next day.
Þingvellir became our priority for the next day. In case you are right now enrolled in a history class, you can surprise your teacher with the fact that in Þingvellir the first modern-day like parliament was founded around the year 930. Only in 1844 that the parliament was moved to Reykjavík, the current capital of Iceland. The weather wasn´t on our side and on the way to the Öxarárfoss waterfall, the sky covered up completely and we felt as if we were on a polar expedition.
Definitely not the weather a tourist would wish for. I remembered the famous Norwegian saying “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”. Well that was exactly what we were wearing.
What happened next was a miracle! Before we made it back to the car the clouds cleared and we were surrounded by sunshine. I finally understood the “theory” that weather in Iceland changes every 5 minutes. The sun covered Öxarárfoss in warm golden rays and the sky was clear blue. And these two pictures were taken 23 minutes apart.
We tried to make the best of the pleasant weather and took a walk in between the rocks (exactly where a part of Game of Thrones, was filmed). I liked it better during winter than during summer. During the summer, it is basically just fifty shades of black but snow sprinkled on top of it added more contrast and depth to the place.
These little pyramids were built in the past to improve orientation in terrain.
Well it was a nice walk and since we were already there why not visit Reykjavík, right? We couldn´t have missed one of the most expensive capitals in the world.
Reykjavík – the cutest capital in the world?
Days were really short and it was already getting dark again, but that wasn´t much of a problem when discovering the city. On the contrary, some cities actually look better under the cover of the night. Well I have to admit that Reykjavík is quite a nice city even during the day. Except for a few locations, it´s basically just small suburban houses. Big Town.
For a start we went to one of the local places for some coffee and beer.
We gave the buddy there 1700 ISK. There they knew how to earn some serious cash. They deserve the bankruptcy. It felt exactly like Norway. Awful.
Then we were off to the streets of Reykjavík,
After that, off to bed.
Road conditions in Iceland in the winter
The way home from Reykjavík turned into an adrenaline filled experience. It was snowing like hell, in some instances with the visibility of less than 20 meters. I almost had to stop the car, the locals, on the other hand, were tough guys. Driving 70 km/h as if nothing was happening. I didn´t get that, really. We even came across accidents.
The same evening we had a little chat with the landlord and it turned out he was on the way from Reykjavík at the same time as us. And that he was also one of the guys driving 70 km/h. My argument that driving on an icy road with (at the speed of the car) basically zero visibility seemed a bit crazy was quickly dismissed with him saying: “It´s alright, I have tires with nails and know the road perfectly”. Alright then.
The next day we went to Háifoss, one of the favorite places during our summer adventure, because despite being there in high season there were no tourists.
On the way we stopped at Hjálparfoss, a tiny little waterfall just off the road Nr. 32 We had to drive about 500 meters on a smaller road which was completely covered with snow and ice. Driving a Hyundai i10 made it into a rally experience. And I really enjoyed that!!
Well the place wasn´t very interesting even during our summer Icelandic adventure, good enough for a picnic but that’s about it (of course within the Icelandic setting!), so another 500 meters of rally to get back to the main road and we continued further. The road reminded us of a bobsled track rather than a road. But, the good part was that no matter what crazy stuff we were doing it was impossible to drive off it.
We turned right on the main road, up a steep hill and after a while we got out of the car and faced about 7 km of completely snow covered landscape. Right at the beginning of it we saw tracks that a bit abruptly ended and there was a broken shovel next to it. No sight of car that made them. This was after about 100 m into that road. Whoever decided to make it the 7 km on this road must have been very brave (in some parts there was more than 1m of snow).
Hmm… Háifoss, still amazing. And without all the annoying tourists.
You tell me, isn´t it worth to walk 7 km through snow covered land to see something like this? It is not really clear on this picture, but the waterfall had 122m, about twice the size of the Petrin Tower in Prague (or 2/3 of the Space needle in Seattle).
A moment of enjoying the beauty and it was time to head back.
On the same road, not too far away, was Gjáin, a fairy land where all the elves live. But as it was on the other side from Háifoss there was no way we could make it that day. And what´s more, I believe that the beauty of Gjáin is all about the summer fifty shades of green, which at the time were cover under a thick layer of snow, which made it all a bit less sexy.
The time spent at our accommodation was almost over so the next day we headed southeast. The weather forecast was being good to us and all seemed like it was going to be a great day. Our destination for the day was Höfn, a small town in southeastern Iceland, which we already knew from when we had spent some time there during our last adventure. And the road there took us through some even more beautiful places.
We made a quick stop at Seljalandfoss as the icy crust that was previously covering the path melted so it was possible once again to walk behind the waterfall. Well it might not have been the wisest decision as our pants got some «rain» onto them and walking at around zero temperatures with wet pants was not too pleasant. Luckily our car had heating in the seats. That came in really handy.
The weather so far that days was not too good, but vedur.is promised that it was going to get better later.
And it was true. We passed Skógafoss, the turn towards islands of western people -Vestmannaeyjar and we were slowly approaching the southernmost city in Iceland – Vík í Mýrdal (with a pretty good, although a bit crowded camp during the summer). And on the cliffs nearby of course plenty of puffins.
One of the local attractions is the black beach, Reynisfjara and right next to it a cave called Hálsanefshellir, made of hexagons of volcanic origin. It was pretty nice experience for me, but I believe it would be a orgasmic one for a geologist.
The sign saying “Danger! Watch out for waves!” is there sometimes a bit in vain, as despite of it now and then somebody is washed in by the sea. Last time it was a German tourist about a month ago!!!
The one thing missing in Iceland during the winter months is sheep. While during summer the place was covered in sheep, this time we only saw one standing by a barn, not looking like it wanted to go anywhere. But horses were still around. While during the summer the ratio between sheep and horses made it seem like there was not so many of them, in winter it seemed like they were all over. And they did look very fine.
We passed Vík, later also the famous church called Hofskirkja, went over a bridge, left turn signal, turned left and there we were.
Jökulsárlón – The glacier lagoon, yaay!
The weather was great, but unfortunately the sun was already under the horizon (going 350 km took some time).
We took a walk around the lake, this time we didn´t hear any cracking ice sounds, which made sense, as that doesn´t happen that often at around zero temperatures. Also, no tourist boats on the lagoon this time – I guess because they could freeze in in there.
We made another stop at the Diamond beach, where the sea washes out pieces of the glacier onto the beach, some of them even a couple meters large. Some Japanese were having a photo session there, fooling around, one of them completely wet, but seemed like they were having fun.
And then finally off to Höfn, the place of our next Airbnb accommodation (and once again with a bonus, all you need to do it unregister and then register once again – as it is described into this Airbnb bonuses article).
Höfn is a tiny town, has one burger place and a gas station (and Ok, during the icelandic summer one very large camp), but it looks very friendly and offers amazing views over the sea on the Vatnajökull, the largest European glacier.
The forecast for the next day was not too good, but we still decided to go back to the Glacier Lagoon and enjoy it a bit more. And also to have a look on its sister, Fjalsárlón.
The forecast was right. But we still stubbornly headed towards the lagoons. And it was all in vain. Completely in vain. And completely useless. We couldn´t even leave the car. The weather was horrible and extremely windy. To make it worse no gas station in sight and the gas indicator light was intensively trying to tell us something. We hoped that it would be enough to make it back. Welcome to Iceland stupid tourists!
On the way back we came across an interesting building. Deserted, but still looking very nice. There was plenty of these in Iceland.
We were passing a village where we had happened to film a viral video during our last summer trip to Iceland. The video has 226 000 views up to this day and counting..
We also met a lone wandering reindeer. But it was so shy that before I could take out my camera it was gone. At down we were faced with the beauty of Reydarfjordur that opened up in front of us. I couldn´t resist and took out my drone. (Also, it was the place where stayed during our first summer trip to Iceland).
We continued straight to Egilsstaðir, a place where we booked accommodation for the night and also a local metropolis of Eastern Iceland (with impressive 3000 inhabitants). We spent a while being lost and right after that … straight to bed. A very good bed in fact. Definitely the best bed we had encountered during our trip. And only 60 EUR per night, what a bargain!
The next morning, we started the longest part of our journey. We left Egilsstaðir, passed the mountain plateaus of northeastern Iceland
frequently lined with signs like this one. This is how winter driving in Iceland might look like..
Please, please, respect these signs. If you get stuck in such ways, to rescue you and your car may easily cost 500 000 ISK!!!
made almost 50 km long detour off the Ring road to Dettifoss waterfall (here I would like to let those of you considering going there in winter know that the “eastern” road Nr. 864 is usually closed, so the only way to get there is on road Nr. 862), which is due to snow accessible only from view point a bit further away from the waterfall. (We did see footprints of some brave guys who headed for the waterfall, but well, they only led one way).
Near to Mývatn in the area called Hverir we took a walk through Sulphur fields (you can´t even imagine the smell),
passed by one of the beautiful waterfalls (not so much after the sunset) – Góðafoss (that I described with such fondness in my summer Icelandic adventure trip post).
Going down the road to Akureyri was really nice. And the local airport, where the runway leads into a lake, was also quite fascinating. We ate a hotdog, made a short break and continued further. Unlike in summer we actually booked tickets to the Blue Lagoon this time, for 8 am. These were the last tickets for the next five days. The only other tickets available were for 5 pm, and since by that time it would be already dark and our plane was leaving at 7pm, I guess we wouldn´t have enjoyed that very much.
Tens and hundreds of kilometers were passing by when suddenly it happened. The sky got bright and there it was!
The Northern light, Arctic light, Aurora borealis.
Nice to meet you!
We made a short stop in Reykjavík, snacked on a (f*cking expensive) burger (all the restaurants were closed but there were still plenty of street food stands primarily catering to drunks), and continued a bit further to the Blue Lagoon. We arrived at 3am after driving amazing 692 km that day. We chose the car as our shelter for the night mainly out of economic reasons. There were some another impatient guys at the parking lot with us, but apart from them it was completely empty.
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa in Iceland
In the morning, we went straight to the line that formed outside and then into the water. It had between 38° and 40°C so not like we would feel cold. And as a bonus you can put silica mud on your face – which then looks approximately like this.
And that was it. Returning the car, getting on board of the plane, flying to Budapest, buying tickets for the train, getting from the airport to the train station through Budapest at night, buying something to eat, getting on the train, crossing a couple of boarders, eating the traditional creamy sirloin with dumplings and a Pilsner for less than a beer costs in Reykjavík – well its nothing much to write about.
Till we meet again!
Do you need more?
Read the story of the summer Icelandic adventure
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