Friday, 22 August 2014

The Ring Road in Iceland (Route 1)

Route 1, also known as the Ring Road, is the major highway in Iceland connecting most of the towns, including Reykjavík, the capital and only city. It is 830 miles long (1330 km) and goes through the fjords, mountains, plateaus and flat land. Because Route 1 is the only road connecting east to west in Iceland, travelers should take precautions when crossing the country.


Marketers in Reykjanes, Snæfellsnes, the Westfjords and the far northeast of Iceland often complain that sticking to the ring road means you miss some of the country’s greatest pearls – and that is undeniably true. On the other hand, you also drive right through some of the country’s greatest pearls and it is an excellent first-time introduction to Iceland before you return to the country again, and again (hopefully).


The many amazing highlights of the ring road experience include some of the biggest towns in the country, some of the most sought-after waterfalls in Europe, the Eyjafjallajökull and Vatnajökull glaciers, the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon…and that’s just on the south coast alone!

There are already articles about the major attractions in South Iceland, East Iceland, North Iceland and West Iceland on this site, so we won’t dwell on them too much here. Suffice is to say simply that you won’t run short of things to see and do.


The Route 1 ring road around Iceland is 1,339 kilometres long, which makes it ideal for exploring slowly over the course of a week – or even longer. But the relaxed driving schedule also makes it easy to add in one or all of the missing areas mentioned above (like the Westfjords or Snæfellsnes) to increase the length of your journey and see more, erm, sights along the way.

The same is very much true if you want to roam off Route 1 and explore the East Fjords, and if you want to save a thousand krónur by taking the beautiful old Hvalfjörður road instead of the much shorter tunnel.


Route 1 is considered the national highway and it is used by lorries carrying freight almost every day of the year. This means snow ploughing is top priority in the winter and the road will be open when others may be closed. Of course extreme weather can shut even Route 1 for short periods, so it is always best to check the road conditions before you set off. There are no such concerns in the summer though (stated with at least 90% certainty).

The road was finally completed in 1976 and these days most, although not all, of it is paved. The small remaining sections in the East are gravel. The speed limit is 90 km/h (80 on gravel) and the police are extremely hot on dishing out speeding tickets. Apparently about half of tickets issued are to foreign tourists, and they even chase speeders by helicopter, believe it or not...


Example: 8/9/10 Days Round Trip in Iceland

Day 1: Reykjavík - Hvalfjördur - Borgarnes - Hraunfossar - Bifröst - Hvammstangi (sleep around this city)
(+1/2/3/4 days Westfjords)
Day 2: Blönduós - Glaumbaer - Hófsos - Öxnadalur - Akureyri - Godafoss - Mývatn (sleep around the lake)
Day 3: Mývatn - Detifoss - Egilsstadir (sleep at Egilsstadir)
(+1/2 days Mývatn + Askja)
Day 4: Egilsstadir - Hengifoss - East fiords - Fáskrúdsfjördur - Hvalnes - Stafafell - Stokksnes - Höfn (sleep at Höfn)
Day 5: Höfn - Jökursárlon - Skaftafell (Sjónarnipa, Svartifoss) - Vík - Reynisfjara - Dyrhólaey - (sleep around Vík)
Day 6: Vík - Skogafoss - Seljalansfoss - Golden Circle (sleep around Fluðir)
(+1/2/3 days at Landmannalaugar)
Day 7: Fluðir - Krýsuvík - Blue Lagoon - Reykjavík (sleep at Reykjavík)
Day 8: at Reykjavík, shopping etc...


This classic 10 days round trip brings you along the Ring Road as well as other roads looping out from the Ring Road. You will see the City of Reykjavik, do the Golden Circle, see hot springs, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, Skaftafell nature resort in Vatnajokull National Park, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, the East Fjords, impressive Dettifoss Waterfall, the towns of Husavik and Akureyri, and much more.


Berglind Rós, Iceland24
May 2014

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Best Hot Springs in Iceland

Iceland is a volcanic island on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rift zone, and the country's volcanic base contributes to its geothermal activity.

This activity underneath the Earth's surface makes Iceland richer in hot springs and high-temperature activity than any other country in the world. This otherwise cold country has about 250 geothermal areas producing 800 hot springs with an average water temperature of around 75°C / 167°F.


You will feel chilly at first when you take off your clothes, but once you are in the steamy water, every chill disappears and you can take a swim or relax in the waters with ease. Whether you have a migraine, a bad back, depressed or stressed, it is best to do this as it is said to have healing and soothing effects.

What are the best hot springs in Iceland?

1. Viti (Askja)

The caldera contains several volcanoes, including Víti (explosive volcanic crater). Water has accumulated in the crater,  its temperature is variable - it is around 30°C on average. Víti is a popular bathing site, but if you intend taking a dip, please be aware that the sloping path is very slippery in wet weather.


The road to Askja goes from road 1 to road 901 and onto mountain road F905. Onward to F910 to Drekagil. On this route there are two fords to cross, usually small. From Drekagil goes mountain road F894 (8 km) to the car park at Vikraborgir.

This place is one of the most awesome and magnificent places in Iceland.

2. Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar (icelandic meaning the hot springs of the people of (the) land) is a region near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. This pearl of the interior is situated in a valley between colourful mountains at the dark edge of the rhyolite lava field Laugahraun.


In Landmannalaugar there is a popular geothermal hot spring. The water is a bit mixed, hot in some areas and colder in other. The pool tends to be crowded as Landmannalaugar is a popular tourist attraction. Make sure to bathe in the geothermal hot springs after exploring the area, in those surroundings it's probably one of the most relaxing things you can do on Earth.

There are lockers and changing rooms so no worries on your belongings or having no privacy. You can stay for as long as you want or when you feel you are relaxed and energized to take your journey in Landmannalaugar.


The road to Landmannalaugar (only accessible by 4x4 vehicles) is usually open from June through September but closed for the rest of the year. If you want to spend the night there you can bring a tent to the campsite or book a bed in the mountain lodge, it fits 78 people and has all the basic facilities needed. Make sure to bathe in the geothermal hot springs after exploring the area, in those surroundings it's probably one of the most relaxing things you can do on Earth.

3. Seljavallalaug (South Iceland)

Seljavallalaug is a protected 25-metre outdoor pool in southern Iceland. The pool is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland and was built in 1923.

The original Seljavellir pool was built of traditional Icelandic construction materials, rock and turf, in 1922.  Nine metres long and 4-5 metres wide, the original pool took two days to build. Swimming lessons were due to commence three days later. Twenty-five people were registered for the first swimming/sports course, during which they camped at the swimming pool in tents.


The old Seljavellir pool gradually fell into disuse, and was superseded by the modern pool, but in 1998 it was thoroughly restored and renovated, and today it is once again the pride of the local area.

There is no entry fee and you are asked to treat it with care and respect but alcohol consumption is strictly forbidden. I don’t think you want to be wasted in that location with something happening and no life guard anyway!

4. Grjótagjá (Mývatn)

Grjótagjá is a small lava cave near lake Mývatn with a thermal spring inside. In early 18th century the outlaw Jón Markússon lived there and used the cave for bathing. Until the 1970s Grjótagjá was a popular bathing site.


But during the eruptions from 1975 to 1984 the temperature of the water rose to more than 50 °C, though the temperature is slowly decreasing and has fallen below 50 °C again. The nearby lava cave of Stóragjá is being used as an alternative bathing site.

Grjótagjá was used as a location for filming the fifth episode of the third season of Game of Thrones, called "Kissed by Fire".

Jóhanna, Iceland
© 2014 by Iceland

Akureyri Travel Guide, The Capital of North Iceland

For some time now we have wanted to write about the biggest town in Iceland, outside the Reykjavík peninsula. Akureyri is one of the places you´ll end up in if you are travelling around the island (the road ring or route 1 passes through it) and it were those visitors travelling that circle that inspired the writing of this article.


This precious town is located in the biggest fjord in Iceland (Eyjafjörður), surrounded by a beautiful mountain ring and enriched with many touristic attractions (but most of them are unknown to outsiders). With the help of Jóhanna, a local “akureyringur”, we got a detailed guide through one of the most delightful places of the island.

History

The town received its first municipal rights in 1786 but lost it in 1836. In 1862 the town regained its right and from then it started growing for real. In the 19th century the town expanded rapidly and became an important industrial center, dividing itself in two different zones, the commercial traders living in the south (the most beautiful one today) while the working class built up the north area.


It´s an interesting fact that the area of the present town was once a Viking settlement, one of the most important remains of the Viking era in this place is a small bronze sculpture of the Norse thunder god Thor.



Places recommended in Akureyri and its surrounding

The botanic garden (Lystigarðurinn)

What do you think of visiting the most northern botanic garden on the planet? If yes, then you´ll find it in Akureyri. It´s located at the heart of the town offering a romantic stroll amidst amazing diversion of colorful flowers, especially recommended in the heap of summer.

The garden was established in 1912 by a group of women but today its own by the town. In it you can find almost all the flowers and plants existing in Iceland as well as over 6000 foreign species. We recommend after a walk to sit down for a coffee and cake at the coffee house “Björk” which is located in the middle of the garden. Here you´ll find a detailed plan of the place.


The botanic garden is open from the 1st of June until the 3th of September with the opening hours from 08.00 until 22.00 (free entrance).

The swimming pool of Akureyri

Even though there is couple of swimming pools in and around Akureyri, the one we like the most is a walking distance from the botanic garden, as well in the middle of the town. Going there after a stroll in the botanic garden is a fantastic way to finish the tour.

The swimming pool (called Akureyrarlaug) is almost completely outdoor and has alot to offer in terms of relaxation and of course, exercise.  There are two big swimming pools, a splashpool for the little ones, 4 hot tubs (each being at different temperatures), steam bath, 3 water slides, an extensive area for sunbathing and a perfect artificial waterfall to relax your back and have a natural water massage. All the pools are heated by natural geothermal water and the temps range from a pleasant 27°C to the hottest pot at 42°C.


The swimming pool of Akureyri is open all year around and you can rent both swimsuits and towels. Weekdays it´s open until 21.00 and to 19.30 at weekends.

The Christmas house (Jólagarðurinn)

Located 10 km south of Akureyri, this adorable little Christmas garden and a store are open all year around and has an amazing variety of decorations, local handicrafts, ornaments and sweets all related to Christmas.


The outside of the red house resembles a house made of cookies and inside the decoration is impressive. Around the house there is a beautifully decorated garden, ideal for picnic. It even has a fairy tale tower which hosts the world´s biggest Christmas calendar (makes it worth climbing the stairs).

Traditional Icelandic houses (Laufás)

You´ll find these farmhouses just 20 minutes with a car from Akureyri and they are considered as a prototype of the old traditional Icelandic architecture. The oldest house still standing was built in 1840 but there has also been a church located at Laufás since the earliest period of Christianity in Iceland.

What immediately calls for an attention are the roofs of the houses which are covered with grass but that gave a “natural isolation” against the cold. At times, there was between 20 and 30 people living in Laufás and the last inhabitants lived there in 1936.


Now the houses are maintained as a museum as well as you´ll find a restaurant and a souvenir shop. The museum is open every day from 09.00-18.00 (from 15th of May until 15th of September). On Thursdays they have open until 22.00.To get to Laufás you´ll have to take route 1 in the direction east and take the exit 83 in the direction to Grenivík. You can see Laufás from the road (it´s easy to reach). 

The ski resort (Hlíðarfjall)

Without a doubt this is one of the best places in Iceland to practice this winter sport. The mountain rises above the town and the view up there is breathtaking. There you can do downhill skiing and cross country skiing, snowboarding or whatever you feel like with over three ski lifts to take you up the mountain. You don´t need to bring your own equipment, you can rent all of it there.


Hlíðarfjall is situated 500m- 1000m above sea level so in the winter there is alot of snow, an ideal condition for skiing. It´s only 5 km from the town and it is usually open from early december through april, depending on the amount of snow each year. You can see the opening hours in the following link and the price list here.

The forest of Akureyri (Kjarnaskógur)

South of the town, just above the airport, you´ll find Kjarnaskógur, a small but perfect place for an afternoon stroll, picnic or just to relax with your family. There are plenty of small routes all over the proximately 600 acres and it´s estimated that there are around 1 million trees in the area, many of them planted in the last 50 years.


There is one simple route of 7km that we recommend as well as another 10km designed for mountain bikes. There are also two playgrounds, picnic areas, barbecue facilities, toilets and a volleyball court. For bird lovers, it also has a rich wildlife and even a bird sanctuary.

Grímsey

Even it´s not located in Akureyri, we cannot help to mention Grímsey, an island located 150 km north of Akureyri, a place totally recommended for bird lovers, especially lovers of puffins. On this island there are cliffs filled with thousands of these tiny cute birds. It´s an unique experience to see that island.


There is a direct flight connection Akureyri - Grímsey but it´s also possible to take a bus + boat to get there. We already have a more detailed article about Islands of Iceland which you can find here.

Where to sleep?

In Akureyri there are plenty of hotels, guesthouses and hostels to pass the night but we would like to make one special suggestion: Elf Guesthouse.

This is a guesthouse run by an elderly couple on the other side of the fjord (about 2 km from the town center) but they have built a gorgeous little wooden hut in a small forest next to a big stone which is said to be the home of an Elf.


If we are not mistaken, the Elf Guesthouse only has one other house nearby where the Icelandic couple lives in their own land of 200 square meters. According to Karl (the owner and a local carpenter), when they bought the land one of the condition that the seller made was that they would not “disturb” the elf nor built on or demolish the stone.


That promise they have kept, a garden around the stone is beautifully kept with lovely trees, flowers and ornaments. This place is the most romantic and amazing that you can imagine it´s like a small paradise. It only offers the possibility of renting the house to a couple. Direct contact with Karl is info@elfguesthouse.com

Where to eat?

Even though it may sound unbelievable there are many dining options in this small town of 18.000 inhabitants, all with different taste and budget. We will recommend four places we think are interesting for several reasons:

Bautinn. This restaurant is right in the town center and offers a classic menu for medium price. We recommend trying out the horse meat but all the main dishes come with a soup and a salad bar.

Rub23. This is the best restaurant in Akureyri and one of the top 5 in Iceland (the owner has another restaurant in Reykjavík). Here all the food is of high quality, an excellent wine menu and we highly recommend trying their specialty: sushi pizza.


1862 Nordic Bistro. Located in the cultural center HOF and offers a magnificent view with dishes and food typical of Denmark.


Strikið. Situated at the 5th floor, next to the main street of Akureyri. This place has a nice lounge atmosphere, quality food, good wine and gorgeous view. What more do you need?


To top it off here we have a link where you can view schedules of different activities, restaurants, museums, transportation, travel agencies, supermarket, drug stores, ice cream parlors and cafes in Akureyri. There were so many other places we could have mentioned but we don´t want to overdo it. What a piece of an article!

Kolla and Jóhanna
© 2014 by Iceland24, August 2014