I’ve had beautiful Iceland on my list of places to go for years. With inexpensive flights from SFO and LAX direct to Iceland, it got moved to the top of the list. I was excited about 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 1 of my adventure driving the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Although the weather was not on our side, the landscape was mind-blowingly beautiful with waterfalls everywhere!
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. 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.
I had 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 and comfortable and we had a very smooth 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. Once on the ground, we 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! Beautiful Iceland is worth it!
Driving from Keflavik Airport to Borgarnes
We landed around 4 am at Keflavik airport, and SAD car rental picked us up close to 5 am. 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. A few bottles of wine, a bottle of Jameson, and some Bailey’s in hand, and we were ready to go explore beautiful Iceland. Also good to note that they charge for plastic bags everywhere in Iceland – AS WE ALL SHOULD – so it’s easiest to shove your purchases in your suitcases.
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 5 am. 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.
Guide to Iceland also has a great car rental reservation system that’s very easy to sort through!
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. You’ll be able to drive the short route through 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. If you want to go the cheaper route, there’s a longer route that you can read about on day 2 of our adventure.
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 7:30 am 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.
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. 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 Snaefellsnes peninsula was not to be missed because of its beauty, and whoever “they” are were right!
Beautiful Iceland: Driving 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!
- Nap Time: 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 beautiful Iceland, I had read there was an arch in Arnarstapi that was pretty cool to see. We found a parking lot by what looked like some sort of attraction, parked, layered on our warm and waterproof layers, and set out to explore. We were one of two cars in the parking lot – I’m assuming the weather kept most people away. This was maybe one of the coolest spots to explore around the Snaefellsnes peninsula! There was a clear trail that took you all along the coast, and it was beautiful! 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!
Driving Through the Snaefellsjokull National Park
From here, we continued west and then north around the Snaefellsnes peninsula through the Snaefellsjokull National Park. 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. Really, we were just so tired we weren’t in the mood to get out of the comfort of our car much. But, the tour looks cool if you have the time! If you’d like, there’s another cave a bit south that you can explore on your own as well (Read day 3). But, even without exploring the cave, the terrain through the Snaefellsjokull National Park is so beautiful. There are moss covered lava beds all along the way, and yes, waterfalls everywhere! Pretty much everywhere you look there is water coming down off the mountain. It’s simply spectacular.
Grundarfjordur, Kirkjufell, and Kirkjufellsfoss
We continued North on the Snaefellsnes peninsula to the town of Grundarfjörður and decided to stop for lunch. There are a bunch of attractions here that you can stop and see. 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 as we explored beautiful Iceland. 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 Icelandic 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 the Snaefellsnes peninsula as something not to be missed.
Dinner in Borgarnes
After a few hours of exploring the Snaefellsnes peninsula, we drove back to Borgarnes, checked in to Bjarg Guesthouse, showered, and relaxed a bit. The Bjarg Guesthouse was very comfortable and charming. 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 a small step up from a Chili’s. So, I’m just sayin.
Keep reading and you’ll see how we managed to save money on our meals throughout the rest of our trip!
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 8 pm. The next day in beautiful Iceland we would be exploring the Golden Circle, which is 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 was very nice. The room we stayed in was roomy and clean. The bathroom was a good size, 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. Breakfast included is pretty standard around Iceland. They provide bread, meats, cheeses, and some jams and such. They have this incredible bacon butter everywhere and I don’t understand why that isn’t a thing in the US yet.
The location is quite perfect, and it’s secluded enough without being far from stores and restaurants. If you’re looking to explore the Snaefellsnes peninsula, this is a great central area coming from Reykjavik. Highly recommended!