Words by Sarah Martin
I spent three weeks in Iceland with my photography students for a summer study abroad program. I have always been blown away by images of the country and friends’ tales of exciting adventures, so we booked our flights in February and departed in early May for our great trip north. After thinking through some of my favorite memories, I put together what I consider to be a fabulous weeklong getaway. I’m excited to share my students’ photographs from the trip; there were a total of nine undergraduate students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Day One: The National Museum of Iceland is a great way to learn about the country and its unique history. There is also a photography museum and cafe on the first floor. Spend the day walking the streets of downtown. You will definitely want to try a bowl of lobster bisque at the Old Harbour Village. Plan to see a performance at the Harpa or visit the Cinema in the Loft for a night of entertainment.
Day Two: Head out to the countryside for the famous Golden Circle tour and take in the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir hot springs area, and Þingvellir National Park. There are many organized tours that cover this route, or you can rent a car yourself. It’s very easy to drive in Iceland and most rental car companies will come pick you up at your hotel. We saved hundreds of dollars driving ourselves, and the perks of not touring with dozens of other tourists on a big bus is priceless!
Day Three: Relax at the Blue Lagoon or simply go there to view the geothermal spa and eat dinner at the world famous buffet.
Days Four and Five: Pack up a car and drive northwest to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. You will be amazed at the diversity of the landscape; plan to spend the night at a hostel or B&B. The Hvalfjörður tunnel cuts travel time dramatically. Emerging from the tunnel, bypass the town of Akranes and drive north to Borgarnes. Just north of it, turn west (left) on Route 54 out on the peninsula and head to the tiny village of Arnarstapi. If you leave Reykjavik early enough, this is a good place to have lunch and take a stroll along the shore. Afterward, enter Iceland’s newest national park, Snæfellsjökull, and marvel at the mystical moods of this mountain as you circle north to Ólafsvík en route to Stykkishólmur. It takes a little over two hours to drive back to Reykjavík from here.
Day Six: Horses, horses, horses. We took an afternoon ride at a family run farm called Islenksi Hesturinn, which is about 15 minutes north of downtown Reykjavik. The Icelandic horse is smaller than most horses, and this farm takes great pride in teaching visitors about the history of the horse and how to ride confidently, even if you are a beginner. The Icelandic horse is a five-gaited breed, known for its sure-footedness and ability to cross rough terrain. We also learned that you NEVER call these creatures ponies!
Day Seven: Head to Laugardalur Park. It is actually made up of several parks in one large area. Besides one of the best swimming pools in the city, the recreational expanse has picnic and barbecuing facilities. To get to the park, you can take the city bus east for only about 3 dollars per person. The free Grasagarður has an extensive outdoor collection of native and exotic plants. Coffee, wine, cakes and other snacks are sold in summer at the cozy Café Flóra, which is open only in the summer and on weekends in December. The Húsdýragarðurinn has reindeer, goats, cows, horses, seals, fish, and my favorite surprise—two small arctic foxes.
Some favorite places to eat & drink in Reykjavik:
- Geysir Cafe
- The Laundromat Cafe (As the name suggests, you can do laundry in the basement.)
- The Big Lebowski Bar
- The Volcano House
- The Pearl
- Iceland is the safest country in the world.
- Iceland is very kid-friendly.
- Most people in Iceland speak English.
- The best time to visit Iceland is right before summer season or right after. Prices are significantly higher from June to early August.
- In the spring and summer months there are only 4-5 hours of darkness each day.