When telling people about our recent trip to Iceland, one of the most common question I've been asked is "why did you choose Iceland?" There are lots of answers: direct flight that wasn't too pricey, no Zika risk, good spot in June. But the main reason, I think, was that we felt like Iceland would be a destination that would offer a sense of adventure and excitement while still feeling relatively low-key and relaxing. It definitely delivered on both these points. We stayed for 9 nights, and spent 3 in 3 different places. We wanted to make sure we got to see a few different parts of the island, but we didn't think we had it in us to drive the entire ring road that circles the island.
Our first stop was the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Don't ask me how to pronounce it. (When we were going though customs on arrival, I turned to Dan and said, "I sure hope they don't ask me where our first destination is!") This peninsula in western Iceland is sometimes called "Little Iceland" because it offers a chance to see almost everything Iceland is known for in just one small area.
We had two full days there, and explored pretty much the whole peninsula. Our home base was the ^^Traðir Guesthouse^^, which I recommend highly for location and breakfast, but probably not for the value. (But then again there's such limited accommodations in Iceland, especially in the more remote areas, that everything is a bit expensive.) There is always more to see, of course, but I was really happy with how much we were able to take in during our two days on Snæfellsnes.
Ytri Tunga Beach ("Seal Beach")
This was quite close to our guesthouse so we got there early in the morning and beat the tour buses. After being aggressively warned by an Arctic Tern that her eggs were nearby, we were able to walk out on the rocks and watch some seals laze and swim. If we'd had time, it would have been interesting to come back at low tide to see the difference in the shore.
Búðir Black Church
I must admit I didn't fully internalize the historical significance of this church, but it was quite beautiful. Also, the settlement of Búðir was one of the first on the peninsula.
One of the blogs I read commented that this was a "hidden" or "secret" spot to visit. Not so much. There were several other people there when we arrived, but it's wasn't surprising that the word was out about it. It was spectacular! From the parking lot, you hike up a short hill into the center of the gorge. There is water falling from the rocks higher up, so to climb into the gorge, you have to navigate a small stream. Willa had been snoozing in the car when we arrived, and was initially grumpy at the prospect of climbing up the "huge mountain" in front of her. But as soon as she got going, she was taken in by the natural beauty. It was so wonderful to watch her challenge herself. Successfully climbing into the center of the gorge ended up being one of her highlights of the whole trip!
One place I was most excited to visit was this small fishing village. The coastline there is absolutely breathtaking; jagged rock cliffs with beautiful teal blue waves crashing in. The kids unfortunately hit a bit of a low point when we got to the town. They were sick of putting all their layers on and they were just ready for lunch. The walk along the cliffs scared Willa. We were always a safe distance from the shore and cliffs (except when I ventured alone out onto the land bridge!), but the view was pretty intense. As for Cam, he fell asleep. We cut the walk a little shorter than I would have liked to have fish and chips for lunch. Despite the $20+ price tag for one order, they hit the spot on a chilly day.
Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs
There were so many opportunities to get in and out of the car to see sights, and a couple of times Dan and I opted to take turns instead of unloading the whole team. Dan ran from the parking lot to the lookout point to admire these cliffs. I got a few glimpses while we were driving; they seemed mighty impressive.
Ölkelda natural soda water
When I read you could get natural soda water right from the ground, I immediately added it to our itinerary. We filled up our bottles for a small donation to the farm housing the springs, and did our best to drink it. It was incredibly mineral-y! But really fun to try.
Mt. Kirkjufell + Waterfall
Apparently this is the most photographed spot in Iceland, and understandably so. It was gorgeous. We had trouble finding an open spot in the parking lot, and got a friendly (?) reminder by a policeman patrolling the area NOT to park on the side of the road. They take that rule very seriously in Iceland, which I appreciate. However, it seems with the ever-increasing popularity of tourism on the island, they may need to find new ways to accommodate all the cars, buses, and RVs.
I'd read that this small town of just about 1,000 people was an idyllic spot with colorful houses and a bustling harbor. It was, indeed, all that. However, it was also where we were when we found out our dog Bryna had gastric dilatation and volvulus (bloat) and needed emergency surgery. We had lunch at a quaint restaurant by the port while we awaited what was ultimately bad news. Needless to say, it was a very sad day. But the town was quite picturesque...
Lýsuhólslaug Geothermal Pool
This was our last stop on the peninsula and our first hot springs experience in Iceland. It is definitely worth a visit. We almost didn't go, given what happened with Bryna, but we decided it would be better than sitting around our guesthouse with two rambunctious kids. Given all the emotions, we were a bit disorganized: I managed to forget Willa's bathing suit. But she, thankfully, made no fuss about just wearing Cam's swim diaper. Ha! The locals might have thought we had a bit odd in swimming attire choices, but oh well!
If you only have time to go to once place in Iceland, I would definitely recommend Snæfellsnes. I was so impressed with all the things were were able to see in such a small area. There was much more to explore too, including volcanos, lava fields, glaciers and caves!