Out of Office: Katie Explores the Remote Corners of Iceland

October 25, 2014 by

Places to Go

Viator’s team of travel insiders is obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere we travel. From traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe, we spend our time scouring the globe for the best tours and activities around the world.

Whether traveling for work or pleasure (or both!) our staff members are always on the go and we want to share their experiences with you! In this new series, Out of Office, we’ll bring you their stories, highlighting the best things to do and see in destinations around the world, as experienced by a real Viator Insider.

Katie on the cliffs at Latrabjarg

Katie on the cliffs at Latrabjarg

The Traveler: Katie Hammel, Senior Travel Editor

What’s your role at Viator? I manage Viator’s network of blogs, assigning, editing and curating content to help our readers get inspired and plan their perfect trip.

The trip: Iceland for 15 days in September, 2014

Why did you choose this destination? What appealed to you about the place?

This was my third trip to Iceland. It’s my very favorite place in the world so I was thrilled that the SATW (Society of American Traveler Writers) was holding their annual conference there, giving me the perfect reason to go back. I attended the conference and then my husband met me afterwards so we could spend seven days driving around the country and seeing its amazing natural wonders, like waterfalls and geysers and glaciers.

What did you do on the trip?

We rented a campervan and set off on a very fast-paced round tour of the island. Since we have been there before we were able to follow a faster itinerary than I would recommend for most people. On our first day we drove for more than eight hours, covering all of the south coast, including the black sand beaches at Vik, the southernmost point at Dyrhólaey, several waterfalls, and the incredible glacier lagoon at Jokulsarlon.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

From there we stopped in the Eastfjords at an amazing little country inn called Silfurberg where we got to see the final stages of the annual sheep roundup, visited Asbyrgi Canyon and Dettifoss waterfall (the most powerful waterfall in Europe) made a quick stop in the adorable small town of Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland, and then made our way to the Westfjords, where we spent three days exploring the most remote corner of the country, before returning for one more night in the city of Reykjavik.

What was the best experience?

In the remote Westfjords

In the remote Westfjords

Seeing the Westfjords has been on my dream list since my first visit to Iceland, but the timing never worked out. It was incredible to be in such a remote area, where the tiny towns are few and far between and it seems like there are more waterfalls than people.

One day we spent ten hours driving on potholed dirt roads from the largest city, Isafjordur, which is home to only 2400 people, to the westernmost point in Europe, the windswept bird cliffs at Latrabjarg. On the way there, we passed no more than three or four cars. It was such an amazing feeling to be so isolated from the rest of the world and surrounded by the immense beauty of the fjords.

A hidden hot tub

A hidden hot tub

Aside from the Westfjords, one of the most memorable experiences happened on our first night on the road in our campervan. We had planned to wild camp that night, figuring we’d find a place that looked appealing off the main road, pull over, cook dinner, and then sleep in the camper.

We pulled off the road into a small dirt lot, from which stretched a mossy field that eventually met the sea. There wasn’t a house in sight, but when we crested a small hill was saw that – totally hidden from the view of the road – someone had built a small tub, which was fed from the water of a natural hot spring. After dinner, we enjoyed a twilight soak in the middle of nowhere.

Did you take any Viator tours?

I didn’t take any Viator tours on this trip, but on past trips I have gone horseback riding, visited the Olgerdin brewery and gone snorkeling (in winter!) at Silfra, where you can see the rift in between two tectonic plates. Each was an easy day trip from Reykjavik.

Which attraction did you enjoy the most, and why?

Dyrhólaey on the south coast

Dyrhólaey on the south coast

All of Iceland is an attraction, really.  At least a few times an hour I would have to slam on the brakes and pull over (thankfully we rarely saw other cars on the road) to take pictures of the beautiful scenery.

During our week on the road we counted more than 400 waterfalls, saw thousands of sheep and horses, and took more than one thousand photos of the country’s staggeringly diverse scenery, which ranged from dramatic cliffs to snowcapped mountains to green hills to desolate moonscapes. The landscapes would change so quickly within just a few minutes, and so would the weather – one day we even drove through a brief snowstorm and then, an hour or so later, it was warm and sunny.

What surprised you the most about the destination?

On the cliffs at Latrabjarg

On the cliffs at Latrabjarg

It’d be easy to assume that Iceland couldn’t surprise me by now, but it still did. Or rather, I was surprised by the fact that for as much as I love Iceland, I could fall even more in love with it on this trip.

What sight, activity, or experience would you tell people they should not skip?

The Blue Lagoon is the most famous attraction in all of Iceland (and it has the cost and the crowds to match) but there are plenty of other options for a hot spring soak. Icelanders love the water and hot springs and pools are places for social gatherings and family fun. Whether you choose the Blue Lagoon, a private hot spring in the countryside, or a simple city pool, don’t miss the chance to soak in a hot spring any time of year. Winter might even be a better time, as it’s a really unique experience to be soaking in a hot pool when it’s snowing!

What was the best thing you ate or drank?

Everything I ate and drank was delicious, from fast (and cheap) hot dogs to creamy lobster soups to delicious lamb filets. Some of the best meals were surprisingly simple. In Isafjordur, we stayed in a lovely apartment called Gentle Space, so one night we cooked our own dinner of Icelandic langoustines bought from the local store and sautéed in garlic and butter. And at Silfurberg, our hosts served us a chicken in a creamy garlic sauce that was heavenly.

What are your top three recommendations to any visitor?

Watching the sheep round up at Silfurberg

Watching the sheep round up at Silfurberg

  • Don’t forget to spend some time in Reykjavik. Iceland’s main draw is its beautiful nature, but that doesn’t mean Reykjavik should be overlooked. The small city of about 200,000 people has great food, a wild nightlife, and several excellent museums and art galleries
  • I think one of the best things you can do in Iceland is hop in a car and go for a drive. Tours are a great way to see the areas outside of the city, but if you can afford a rental car, even for a day, the opportunity to hit the road shouldn’t be missed.
  • Iceland is expensive, but there are a few ways to save money, including by staying at guesthouses and apartments that include meals or have kitchens so you can self-cater. A campervan is also a good option if you plan on driving a lot and don’t mind roughing it a bit.

What’s the best Insider Tip you can offer future visitors to this destination?

A friendly Icelandic horse

A friendly Icelandic horse

Iceland is closer than you think (only seven hours from Denver, five from NYC) and easier to get to than you might realize. Icelandair even offers free stopovers for up to seven days for people flying between the US and Europe.

The vast majority of people visit in the summer, from mid-May to mid-September; if you can come at another time you’ll save big and see far fewer crowds, plus visitors who go between September and March have a shot at seeing the Northern Lights!

Where are you off to next?

In October I’m attending the TBEX Travel Bloggers Conference in Athens. I’ll only be there for a few days but I plan to do a bit of sightseeing to check out the city’s most famous landmarks and to try some delicious Greek food.

– Katie Hammel 

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