Traveler’s contributing editor shares her dream trip—an epic summer adventure across one of the most photogenic countries on the planet.
I’ve always dreamt of going to Iceland. My mother has been going there for the past 20 years, with her husband. A fly-fishing fanatic, he and his friends have met religiously in the same lodge every summer. They fish on the Haffjardara river, day and night (one of the benefits of almost 24 hours of sunlight). After years of having to decline her recurring invitations, the timing was right this past summer, and I finally managed to make the trip. My family and I were planning on going to Europe for the summer, so we decided to make a 10-day pit stop in Iceland on the way. It was my mother and stepfather, my husband, his two kids, myself—and a big black Land Rover Defender to take us on an epic road-trip I will never forget.
After a short flight from New York we landed in Keflavik Airport, making it into Reykjavik for a late lunch. The kids voted for hot-dogs, and as I had heard this is a local specialty, we stopped by the famous food truck Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Made with lamb, they tasted different than American hot dogs, but I heard no complaints. As it was colder than we had anticipated, our next stop was 66°North, a local brand named after the latitude of the Arctic Circle that touches Súgandafjörður, where the company was founded over 80 years ago. There, we stocked up on hiking boots and Icelandic sweaters before stopping for dinner at a charming little fish shack by the harbor called Saegreifinn. We had their most popular dishes—a delicious halibut brochette and a warm lobster soup—then headed to our hotel, Kvosin, in the center of the city.
The following morning we had a delicious coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, and then we were off—heading toward the remote Westfjords, a few hours away. The kids kept asking “Are we there yet,” to which I would reply, “It’s all about the journey, and not the destination!” (Though my step-dad, who was anxious to start fishing, would contradict me every time.) We stayed for four days in the Westfjords, where we saw countless mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls, took multiple dips in the local hot springs, and rode on dainty Icelandic horses. On the way back to Reykjavik, we took a ferry from Brjanslaekurto to a tiny, charming island called Flatey. It seemed frozen in time with its beautifully kept old cottages in bright colors, fishing boats, and teeming birdlife. There are no cars on Flatey and only two families live there. It was really just one main road, a little church, dogs, and sheep. We stayed overnight at the only hotel—the Hotel Flatey—where we enjoyed the best meal of our trip and stayed in a cozy bedroom that would be ideal for honeymooners.
Back on the mainland (the car was dropped off by the ferry company the day before), we explored the Snaefelness Peninsula, where the famous Snaefellsjokull Glacier—one of the settings in Jules Vernes’ classic book, Journey to the Center of the Earth—is located. I recommend reading the book or watching the film before visiting. It makes the experience much more thrilling! That night, we stayed at Hótel Buđir, another incredibly charming spot. We walked by the sea before sunset with the most enchanting light, and it was already 10pm.
With the end of our trip approaching, we decided to indulge ourselves and the kids (and eliminate the possibility of FOMO), by booking a helicopter tour. We were lucky enough to get a fabulous pilot who was up for everything we requested. First stop: the Blue Lagoon, which from the air looks even more incredible than from the inside. The water gets its milky, aqua color from silica and sulfur, which are great for the skin (though not so much for your hair).
After a quick dip, we headed off to the Thrihnukagigur Volcano. This is the only location in the entire world where it’s possible to descend into the volcano itself, which is so deep, you could easily fit the Statue of Liberty inside. We took an elevator (which is only operational during the summer months) into the crater, where we could see countless colors in the walls, all from different minerals. From there we flew to Hengill Geothermal Fields, an area of active (and smelly) hot springs and fumaroles. After a quick lunch, we helipotered over Iceland’ s second largest ice-cap, Langjökull Glacier (“The Long Glacier“), where snowmobiles were waiting for us for a full speed excursion across the ice.
Towards the end of the day, with the sun still bright overhead, we flew over the Þingvallavatn Lake, where you can see the tectonic crack between the North American and Eurasian continents. This is where the continental plates meet (and drift apart about 2cm per year). We landed, and geared up for a freezing diving experience in the Silfra Fissure. The very thick drysuits were barely enough for the 2°C glacial water, which don’t really keep you dry, as your hands and head are exposed to the frigid water. Nevertheless, the experience was unbeatable—we touched Europe and America with each hand, both at the same time, in the brightest and clearest water I had ever dived in (in fact, with visibility of over 100 meters, it is some of the clearest water in the world). After the ridiculously cold dive, they served us warm soup and hot chocolate, and then a car took us back to our last indulgence, theIon Luxury Adventure Hotel.
The following day we drove to Reykjavik where we said goodbye to this vibrating city. We had a delicious dinner at the hip restaurant Snaps Bistro Bar, and then drinks at the super cool bar from Kex Hostel, before our flight to Europe. Even though we went for a good amount of time and did a number of amazing things, I definitely feel I have to come back—even if only for one night in winter to see the aurora borealis, or visit the ice caves. Next time I fly my usual route from New York to Paris, I’m taking a day or two to visit one of the most enchanting countries I’ve ever been to.