I’ve had beautiful Iceland on my list of places to go for years, but with inexpensive flights from SFO and LAX direct to Iceland, it got moved to the top of the list. I was excited for the trip, but I had far underestimated how incredibly beautiful Iceland would be! I traveled in October 2016, just outside of the busy season, but not far enough into winter that you lose daylight. Read on for a day by day account of my one-week itinerary for Iceland.
Flying with WOW Airlines: Landing in Beautiful Iceland
For a budget airline, I had a great experience with WOW airlines. I had credit with Southwest air that got me from San Diego to San Francisco, and from there we had a direct flight to Keflavik airport in Iceland. The crew that checked us in were very friendly, and we had no issues. Granted, we did a lot of research prior to make sure that we would fit the baggage guidelines, this way we wouldn’t get stuck paying more at the gate.
We also prepared and packed food and snacks for the flight, and filled our water bottles before boarding. As a budget airline, they charge for all meals and drinks – but even then, their prices are very reasonable.
The plane was roomy, clean ad comfortable and we had a very comfortable flight. We were even lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis the last 40 minutes or so from the plane – it was amazing, dancing in the sky, welcoming us to beautiful Iceland. And we were lucky because unfortunately, this was the last time we would see it.
Landing at Keflavik airport was probably the most impressive part of the trip. It was such a soft, easy landing, but we didn’t realize how impressive it was until we had landed and then spent the next few minutes waiting to get off the plane as it swayed back and forth in the at-least-30-mph winds. In the US, they’d be like “nah, sorry, we can’t land in this”.
It’s important to note that the locals did tell us that it’s quite normal for the winds to be that crazy all throughout the winter, so be ready!
Driving from Keflavik airport to Borgarnes
We landed around 4am at Keflavik airport, and SAD car rental picked us up close to 5am. We were able to get our bags quickly, and even made a stop at the Duty Free shop. I had read previously that because there is a gigantic tax on all imports, it’s cheapest to buy your alcohol at the Duty Free to save some money, so that’s what we did. A few bottles of wine, a bottle of Jameson, and some Bailey’s in hand (also, they charge for plastic bags everywhere in Iceland – AS WE ALL SHOULD – so it’s easiest to shove your purchases in your suitcases), and we were ready to go.
The process to get our rental car with SAD car rental was relatively quick and easy, and the agent was very pleasant for having to work at 5am. I had read a lot about 4WD cars in Iceland, but for October, and with the roads we would be driving, we assumed (rightfully so) that we would not need one. So, we loaded in our tiny car and set off for Borgarnes.
Our drive to Reykjavik was in the dark, but as we headed north the sun started to come up. The drive was beautiful along the coast. There’s this really cool tunnel (Spölur) on the drive north from Reykjavik – it costs 1,000 KR, which is normal for someone like me coming from NYC – but the cool part is that you don’t even realize how deep you’re going until you start going up and go – holy crap, we were way down there! Their website says the lowest point is 165 meters, or about 541 feet, below sea level. They take credit cards, like most places in Iceland, so you don’t have to worry about having cash on hand.
Breakfast in Borgarnes
Before our trip, I had tried to email our guesthouse, Bjarg, to try to arrange for an early check-in, but sadly we never heard back. We pulled up around 7:30am and unfortunately the woman who runs the place told us that someone was currently in our studio so we wouldn’t be able to check in until after noon. At that point, we figured we’d grab some breakfast and coffee, and head straight into exploring since we wouldn’t be able to shower and nap.
I had done a lot of research about what to see in beautiful Iceland before getting there, so we had a general idea of where we would be headed for the day. Since we couldn’t check-in, we decided to start out Iceland tour with breakfast in Borgarnes.
There was a café nearby, Geirabakari Kaffihus, with great reviews so we decided to try them out – we were very happy with our decision! The parking lot was mostly empty, and it’s attached to a shopping/grocery store. Inside was pastries-and-coffee galore. Apparently, they turned the café into a Papa John’s for the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (great movie, if you haven’t seen it).
The lady at the counter was very friendly – we ordered 2 cinnamon rolls and a donut (whatever, don’t judge) and 2 coffees. We sat at a table and through the large glass windows enjoyed the view of the magnificent sunrise over the water and mountains. One of the nicest parts about visiting beautiful Iceland in October was the angle of the sun. Sunrise and sunset each last forever! Seriously, the sunrise lasted for like 3 hours and it was incredible.
As we left the cafe, we realized how exhausted we were and tried to take a quick nap in the car, but with the 30-40mph sustained winds and plenty of daylight, we gave up quickly and headed towards the Snaefellsnes peninsula. I had read that the peninsula was not to be missed because of its beauty, and whoever “they” are were right!
What to See on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Our first stop on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula was the Olkelda Mineral Spring – a mineral spring of carbonated water, said to have healing powers. They ask for a small donation (don’t be stingy!) to fill your water, and the spring is located randomly around a few homes. We put our money in the box, filled our water bottles (while fighting ridiculous winds) and got back in the car to taste. Personally, I thought it tasted like I had filled my water bottle with a bunch of pennies – after a few sips, I couldn’t drink anymore. But Ransom didn’t mind it!
- Next up for day 1 exploring beautiful Iceland we’d be driving west on the Snaefellsnes peninsula towards the town of Arnarstapi – but first, we had to try to nap again. We were exhausted, the winds were ridiculous, and a 45-minute nap would be perfect. We found a small campground by the ocean, pulled in, covered our eyes with beanies, and napped briefly. It was enough to keep us going…
- When researching what to see in Iceland, I had read there was an arch in Arnarstapi that was pretty cool. We found a parking lot by what looked like some sort of attraction, parked (with nobody around us cause seriously, the weather was ridiculous and only crazy adventurers were out on a day like this), layered on our warm and waterproof layers, and set out to explore. This was maybe one of the coolest spots to explore! There was a trail that took you along the coast, and because of the crazy winds, the waves were crashing up against the rocks which was awesome to watch. We had to keep our hoods over much of our faces because the rain was whipping against us very hard, but we were determined to enjoy the view, and it was well worth it!
- From here, we continued west and then north around the Snaefellsnes peninsula – there was one cave tour I had read about in this area, but considering the weather and that we were late in the season, we decided to skip it. Not in the mood. They basically bring you down into the cave with a guide and it’s real dark and you can’t see much. If you’d like, there’s another cave a bit south that you can explore on your own! (Read day 3). But, even without seeing that, the terrain is so beautiful. There are moss covered lava beds all along the way, and yes, waterfalls everywhere!
- We continued North to the town of Grundarfjörður and decided to stop for lunch. There are a bunch of attractions here – Kirkjufell, which is one of the most photographed mountains, the Kirkjufellsfoss (waterfall), and supposedly, this town is a major attraction for seeing killer whales. Unfortunately, because of the weather, there were none around….super sad face. We ate lunch at Laki Hafnarkaffi – split a rather delicious panini, and then decided we had done enough exploring for the day and were ready to check into our Guesthouse.
In terms of actual attractions on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, they weren’t too crazy awesome. But, the drive itself….was….simply….spectacular. Seriously. You drive from one beautiful landscape to another, and there are waterfalls EVERYWHERE! The coolest part was that with the crazy winds, the waterfalls were actually falling upwards! I definitely recommend this as something not to be missed.
Dinner in Borgarnes
We drove back to Borgarnes, checked in to Bjarg Guesthouse, showered, and relaxed a bit. The Guesthouse was very comfortable – nicely heated, 4 double beds (2 pushed together) and the location can’t be beat – it’s right on the water looking out towards the mountains. Beautiful! It’s not quite as secluded as the photos on their website make it look – the town is a 5 minute drive away – but it is down a quiet road and far away enough from the main road.
We checked out some dinner spots, and most were pretty expensive, so we settled on Grillhúsið, which was right near the café we had breakfast at. The place itself is right inside a gas station, which was weird, but inside it was a nice bar/restaurant. I ordered a burger and sweet potato fries which was quite delicious, and Ransom ordered alfredo chicken pasta – also pretty good. That plus 2 beers put us back about $55.
Going into the trip I had read a lot about how expensive Iceland is. I’m originally from NYC, and currently live in San Diego, so it takes a lot to surprise me. To spend $55 on a random food joint at a gas station was definitely more than I expected. I could see spending that at a nicer place, but this was like a small step up from a chili’s. So, I’m just sayin.
After our meal, we headed back to Bjarg Guesthouse and were so tired we couldn’t even consider pouring ourselves a drink from our Duty Free collection. I skyped briefly with my grandparents who continually pointed out how tired I looked (thanks, I look like crap, got it) and we went to sleep around 8pm, happy with our day. The next day in beautiful Iceland we would be exploring the Golden Circle, which I warned Ransom was incredibly touristy, but a must-do while in Iceland. The winds kept up throughout the night, which concerned us for the following day, but…we would take whatever Iceland had to throw at us!
Review of Bjarg in Borgarnes
Although we weren’t able to contact the owners of Bjarg in Borgarnes prior to our trip to see about early check-in, the rest of our stay was lovely.
First off, the owner has this beautiful, very well behaved dog who can come hang out if you’re comfortable. Loves the belly rubs. So that pretty much made my day.
But besides that, everything else were very nice. The room we stayed in was roomy, and clean. The bathroom was a good side, and the shower temperature stayed consistent which isn’t always common. The running water does have a smell of sulfur, so if you’re sensitive, this could be an issue. The heat also works nicely which came in handy after a wet and windy day exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
The room had all the basics we needed, and a beautiful view of the lake. Breakfast was included and the dining room is comfortable and clean.
The location is quite perfect, and it’s secluded enough without being far from stores and restaurants. Highly recommended!