Iceland – March 2019

March 19, 2019 (Day 1)

On March 18, my friend Lai, her brother Nelson and I left for Reykjavik by Icelandair and landed the next early morning. We picked up a 4-wheel drive SUV at Budget. We covered most of the same spots I had done 3 years earlier and so I don’t plan on repeating the descriptions in this post. You may want to check out the 2016 Iceland post. It was mostly cloudy throughout the trip and so unfortunately, we did not experience the northern lights :-(.

We left the airport at around 0900. Our first spot was at Reykjanes Lighthouse, built in 1908 on top of Bæjarfell hill in Reykjanes. I had not been to this spot in 2016. We found a spot to park the car and take the shot below.

Reykjanes Lighthouse (63°49’6.5748″ N 22°41’53.8764″ W)

We then visited Gunnuhver Hot Springs, one of the hot springs in the area. Due to the geological location of Iceland (over a rift in continental plates), the high concentration of volcanoes in the area is often an advantage in the generation of geothermal energy, the heating and making of electricity. Five major geothermal power plants exist in Iceland, which produce approximately 26.2% of the nation’s electricity. In addition, geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements of approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland.

Here is a short video of the hot spring in action.

Gunnuhver Hot Springs (63.819215, -22.683837)

We spent about 20 minutes at the hot spring. We then drove to Grindavik. After an early brunch, we visited the spots nearby and headed to the town of Selfoss on the Ring Road. Below is a 30 sec video of the drive to Selfoss.

Driving from Grindevik to Selfoss

We stopped by a cute church just east of the town.

A church east of Selfoss (63°56’53.0124″ N 20°49’21.6408″ W)

After the church our next destination was at Urriðafoss waterfall that is on the Þjórsá River. At 230 km, Þjórsá is Iceland’s longest river, and Urriðafoss is the most voluminous waterfall in the country. It is not a tall waterfall, but it is very broad. It was so windy when we reached the falls, and it was a challenge to walk to the spot and setup my tripod. We ended up staying there for just 5 minutes.

Urriðafoss (63°55’25.59″ N 20°40’25.1508″ W)

Our next stop was to our hotel in the town of Moldnúpur. Country hotel Anna is the smallest 3-star hotel in the country has just 7 well-furnished rooms. After checking in, we relaxed a bit and at around 430pm left to see the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. As we were leaving the hotel, we saw a beautiful church in front of a cliff. We stopped to capture a few images.

Ásólfsskálakirkja (63°34’9.1164″ N 19°48’2.0556″ W)

Seljalandsfoss was about 15 km west of our hotel on the Ring Road. It is 60 meters high with a footpath behind it at the bottom of the cliff. It is the only known waterfall of its kind in Iceland where it is possible to walk behind it. There was not a big crowd at the falls and it started to drizzle. We walked around the falls and shot a few images.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (63°36’57.0672″ N 19°59’24.3024″ W)

We got back to the hotel at around 1830 and had a terrific dinner.

March 20, 2019 (Day 2)

The beautiful town of Vik was the destination for Day 2. We got up early to visit the world famous 60-meter Skógafoss waterfall, about 20 km east of our hotel. When we reached the waterfall, there was a small crowd. The weather was awful with winds hitting over 60 kmph. It was very tough to walk without slipping and falling. We literally crawled from the parking lot to get close to the falls. Lai did some yoga poses on a rock in the terrible wind. Video below shows one of her poses.

Lai doing yoga in front of Skogafoss (63°31’49.656″ N 19°30’47.8332″ W)
Skógafoss (63°31’49.656″ N 19°30’47.8332″ W)

After spending an hour at the falls, we returned to the hotel. After a very good breakfast, we checked out and headed towards Vik. I would highly recommend Hotel Anna if you planned to stay in the area.

About 8 km east of our hotel on the Ring Road, we noticed a cute home. We immediately stopped to take a shot.

Icelandic Home on Ring Road (63°32’34.728″ N 19°39’45.6264″ W)

We reached Vik at around 1000. Our first stop was at the beautiful Víkurkirkja (Vik Church). The sky was stormy and I took a shot and converted it into a B&W image in DxO Silver Efx Pro 3.

Víkurkirkja (63°25’19.4232″ N 19°0’49.6368″ W)

From the Vik Chruch we drove to Reynisfjara Beach and Dyrhólaey. At was close to 1300 when we got back to Vik. After a good lunch, we checked into our hotel, Hotel Katla. We relaxed for a few hours and at 1600, we went to Vik’s Black Sand Beach and spent about an hour and a half there.

Vik Black Sand Beach & Reynisdrangar) (63°24’47.7972″ N 19°0’57.384″ W)

It was getting dark and I wanted to capture an image of the Vik Church during the blue hour and so we drove to the same spot where I shot the image of the church in the morning.

Víkurkirkja (63°25’19.4232″ N 19°0’49.6368″ W)

We then had a terrific dinner at Restaurant Suður-Vík and returned to the hotel for the night.

March 21, 2019 (Day 3)

The world famous Jökulsárlón was the final destination on Day 3. After a rather late breakfast, we checked out of the hotel at about 1000 and started our drive east towards the Glacier Lagoon.

Our first stop was at the Stjórnarfoss waterfall in the town of Skaftárhreppur. It was off and on snowing. Nelson took out his drone and shot a few videos of the waterfall. Lai did her yoga poses.

Lai in front of Stjórnarfoss (63°47’58.8012″ N 18°3’40.3704″ W)

We left the waterfall at around 1300 and continue to drive east on the Ring Road. Between Skaftárhreppur and Jökulsárlón are three beautiful waterfalls on the side of the road. We stopped in front of two of them. The first was the Foss á Síðu. A tourist bus was also at the spot. We waited for the bus to leave to take out our gear to take some shots.

Foss á Síðu (63°51’14.2092″ N 17°52’16.2336″ W)

The second waterfall, Fossálarfoss, is rather small consisting of a few cascades. There was parking for 4-5 cars, but we were the only ones.

Fossálarfoss Waterfall (63°51’8.442″ N 17°50’20.8284″ W)

We came across a farmhouse in front of a massive cliff in the town of Hof.

Farmhouse in Hof (63°54’7.326″ N 16°42’43.344″ W)

Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon has developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. It is now 1.5 km away from the ocean’s edge and covers an area of about 18 km2. In 2009 it was reported to be the deepest lake in Iceland, at over 284 m, as glacial retreat extended its boundaries. The size of the lake has increased fourfold since the 1970s. It is one of the most famed and visited attractions in Iceland. Floating on the lagoon are countless icebergs that have broken off the resident glacier, creating an ever-changing scenery of incredible beauty.

We reached Jökulsárlón at around 1730. We parked the car at the Glacier Lagoon and walked around for about 90 minutes.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon (64°2’52.8144″ N 16°10’49.8684″ W)
Glacier lagoon
Glacier lagoon

We left the glacier lagoon at around 7 and drove to our hotel for the night, Hali Country Hotel. After checking and unloading our luggage in our room, we drove to the hotel restaurant for a terrific dinner. The nearest self-standing restaurant is 80km away in the town Hofn.

March 22, 2019 (Day 4)

We spent the morning at Jökulsárlón’s Diamond Beach which located on the southern side of the road from the glacier lagoon. We got up just before sunrise and drove to the beach. We walked around for about 2 hours.

Jökulsárlón Diamond Beach (64°2’21.9222″ N 16°11’4.5676″ W)
Jökulsárlón Diamond Beach
Lai @ the Jökulsárlón Diamond Beach

We returned to the hotel, packed and loaded our stuff into our car, had a good breakfast at the hotel restaurant and continued driving east towards Höfn, our destination for the day. We reached our hotel, Seljavellir Guesthouse, where we had stayed in 2016 at around 1300. It is located just outside the town. The rooms are simple, modern and elegant. Service is excellent. Reasonably priced. If the northern lights are visible, you can experience them lying in your bed as the rooms face north and there is floor to ceiling glass. There is no need to run around in the cold. I highly recommend the hotel if you plan to stay in Höfn.

Höfn means ‘harbour,’ as the town is located in one of the few natural harbours of Iceland’s South Coast; unlike the rest of the country, this stretch is beachy and flat. It is right at the tip of its own peninsula and is surrounded on three sides by the ocean. After a simple lunch at the hotel, we drove around the town.

Vestrahorn (West Mountain), 450m tall, is located on the Stokknes Peninsula, close to Höfn. Unlike most of the mountains in Iceland, it is made out of iron- and magnesium-rich gabbro rock, which leads to its dark and jagged appearance. We searched for a spot in Höfn to photograph the mountain. We located one opposite to the N1 gas station, and we spent some time photographing it.

View of Vestrahorn from Höfn (64°15’29.8807″ N 15°12’8.174″ W)
View of Vestrahorn from Höfn (64°15’30.2273″ N 15°12’9.1396″ W)

We returned to the hotel at around 1600. After dinner at the hotel we drove in search of the northern lights but were unsuccessful and we returned rather disappointed. Later we heard that folks did experience the lights about 60 km north-east of Höfn.

March 23, 2019 (Day 5)

After breakfast at 0700, we drove to Stokksnes Peninsula. We spent most of the morning there to see the lighthouse and to photograph Vestrahorn up close. When we reached the lighthouse, it was extremely windy. As I had photographed the lighthouse during my 2016 visit, I decided just to watch the ocean waves crash into the rocks surrounding the lighthouse.

An hour later, the weather improved considerably, and we hiked in the grassy sand dunes along the black sand beach half a mile north of the lighthouse. We spent over 2 hours here as in our 2016 visit we couldn’t spend much time here due to high winds. It is definitely worh a visit here as the photo opportunities are limitless.

Lai watching Vestrahorn (64°14’47.3928″ N 14°58’19.8156″ W)
Hut along the road between Hofn & Stokksnes (64°15’27.767″ N 15°0’8.931″ W)

In Iceland, weather changes are frequent and dramatic. You can experience changes from blue skies and snow and back to blue skies in minutes. Below is a video captured while driving back to Hofn from Stokksnes.

Driving back to Hofn from Stokksnes

We drove to Kaffi Hornið restaurant in the town. Most restaurants are closed during winter due to limited demand and I believe it was the only one open at that time. We had eaten there in 2016 as well and they had a good vegetarian menu. The food and the service were excellent. We returned to the hotel at around 1500. After dinner at the hotel, we drove in search of the northern lights but were unsuccessful and we returned rather disappointed. Later we heard that folks did experience the lights about 60 km north-east of Höfn.

March 24, 2019 (Day 6)

Day 6 was mostly driving day from Höfn to Gullfoss, covering a distance of 450km. We had an early breakfast and left the hotel a few minutes past 0730. Between Höfn and Vik, we stopped along the side of the road to capture snow covered hills and small creeks. The weather was clear, but it was quite cold and windy.

Fjallsárlón (63°59’56.2194″ N 16°22’32.9299″ W)
Fjallsárlón (63°59’56.2194″ N 16°22’32.9299″ W)

We reached Vik at around 1300. While filling up gas at the N1 station, the Vik church looked beautiful, and I took a quick shot.

Vik Church (63°25’04.3″N 19°00’03.7″W)

Our goal was to have lunch at the famous Friðheimar restaurant in the town of Reykholt that is only open between 1200 and 1600. From Vik, the restaurant was about 150 km – a two-hour drive. We were quite confident that we could reach it before it closed. We didn’t stop anywhere until we reached the restaurant at 1515. We were immediately seated.

Tomato is the theme of Friðheimar cuisine – and that’s not surprising, since three different varieties of tomato are cultivated in a huge greenhouse, where food is served among the tomato plants. Having lunch among the tomato plants is amazing and you will never forget the experience. We were so hungry that we had 3 bowls of soup with bread and pasta.

Friðheimar Restaurant (64°10’39.7″N 20°26’42.8″W)
Friðheimar Menu

We left the restaurant at about 1615 and drove to Faxafoss waterfall (also called Faxi) a few miles north on the way to Gullfoss. The waterfall is 80 meters wide and seven meters high. There was too much snow for me to hike to the bottom, but Lai was brave enough to walk down in over a foot of snow.

Faxafoss in B&W (64°13’33.6468″ N 20°20’10.5072″ W)

After spending about 30 minutes at the waterfall, we headed to Gullfoss, our destination for tonight. We checked into Hotel Gullfoss, an excellent choice close to the Gullfoss waterfall. We unloaded our stuff and then drove to the waterfall.

In volume, Gullfoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. The average water flow is around 50K ft³/s during its peak season of summer and only 3K ft³/s during the winter season. Gullfoss is fed from the wide Hvítá river as it travels from Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. The waterfall has two tiers of falls, with a total of them standing together at the height of 105′. The upper falls measure at 36′, and the bottom falls at 69′. Below is the video of the waterfall captured on my phone.

Gullfoss

March 24, 2019 (Day 7)

Destination of the 7th day was Arnarstapi in the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We left an early breakfast. Our first stop was at Strokkur geyser. We watched it doing its usual routine. After spending about 45 minutes, we drove west to Þingvellir National Park. We stopped at Þingvallakirkja (Þingvellir church). The path from the parking area to the church was super slippery and with some difficulty, we reached the church. It was closed and so we couldn’t go inside. We snapped a few pictures on your phones.

Þingvallakirkja (Þingvellir church) (64°15’26.7″N 21°07’17.6″W)

From Þingvellir, we drove to our destination for the night, Arnarstapi Hotel in the hamlet of Arnarstapi. The hotel is basically self-standing rooms with the Mount Stapafell as a backdrop. The room was very comfortable but as our room was over 200m from the parking lot, it was a bit of challenge to carry our luggage to the room & back on sheets of ice. The restaurant was simple and elegant and had a decent choice of items for breakfast and dinner. This is an excellent choice if you plan to visit Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Arnarstapi Hotel (image from the hotel website) (64°45’59.8″N 23°37’50.7″W)

March 25, 2019 (Day 8)

Arnarstapi (or Stapi) is a small fishing village, and it was an important trading post in the past and had a much bigger population than it has now. There are lots of hiking trails to view the beautiful scenery.

At sunrise, we drove down to to the town’s small harbor. I had seen a fine-looking farmhouse that I wanted to re-shoot. The lighting was much better this time and we spent a few minutes in the harbor.

Arnarstapi Farmhouse with Mt. Stapafell (64°46’16.7″N 23°37’09.9″W)

From the harbor, we went to Gatklettur, an arch-like rock formation. It is particularly spectacular to photograph The strange, swirling patterns across the rock itself is a testament to the ocean’s constant barrage and makes for a fascinating photographic subject. Thankfully, it is less frequently visited by the tourists, so there is a good chance you’ll have this scenic spot all to yourself. The lighting was perfect for less than a minute and I grabbed a few shots. Soon the sun disappeared into the dark clouds. When it comes to landscape photography, luck plays a huge part to capture the right mood.

Gatklettur (64°45’55.6″N 23°37’20.2″W)

We then returned to the hotel, had breakfast and checked out. Our first stop was at Hellnar, another fishing village, just 4 km away from the hotel. In the past, the settlement was a hub of activity, with many trading and fishing vessels pulling in and out of the harbor daily. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, Iceland began to develop and industrialize, and its fishing and trading industries began to move to Reyjavík, bringing with them many people. Hellnar, therefore, rapidly lost its population and importance, like many other places in Iceland. We drove around the village. I got a shot of the village church on our way out.

Hellnar Church (64°45’4.338″ N 23°39’13.5396″ W)

The next stop was at Djupalonssandur Beach. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay long as it was extremely windy, but I did capture an image. This is a terrific spot to visit in the summer but can be skipped in the winter. We didn’t see anyone at the beach.

Djupalonssandur Beach (64°45’11.4516″ N 23°53’51.8892″ W)

We then stopped by Ingjaldshólskirkja, a beautiful church in the town Hellissandur. You can capture a great composition right from the road leading to the church.

Ingjaldshólskirkja, Hellissandur (64°54’39.5028″ N 23°51’25.3188″ W)

From Heelissandur, we went to the famous Kirkjufellsfoss just outside the village of Grundarfjörður. I consider it the prettiest waterfall in Iceland. As I had already shot a number of images of the waterfall during my 2016 visit and the light was not that great, I decided to just take a set of short videos with my phone. Below is one.

Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall (64°55’34.0″N 23°18’39.2″W)

It was time for lunch. We went to Hraun restaurant in the village of Ólafsvík. It is a casual and vegetarian friendly place. I had a vegetarian pizza that was excellent. After lunch, we started to drive to Reykjavik, our last leg of our Iceland trip. On the way, we stopped at the Lóndrangar and the town of Búðir. Once a volcanic crater, all that remains after eons of ocean battering are two basalt pillars upon a cliff, one 75m high and the other 60m.

Lóndrangar (64°44’8.2536″ N 23°46’34.3848″ W)

In Búðir we visited the beautiful Búðakirkja, a small wooden church built in 1848. As it was closed, we couldn’t go inside.

Búðakirkja (64°49’16.6404″ N 23°23’3.1632″ W)

From Búðir, we drove straight to Reykjavik, and we reached our apartment at around 1700. After unloading our luggage, we went to dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant and then walked around the neighborhood as well as around Hallgrimskirkja, an ultra-modern looking church.

March 26, 2019 (Day 9)

Reykjavik is only a small city, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character and color. You can travel everywhere by foot and within minutes you’ll notice a city that takes pride on skirting away from the norm. Every home or a store front is painted in bold colors and has a unique personality.

Day 9 was our last day in Iceland. After breakfast, we walked around the neighborhood and snapped a few images on our phones. On both my trips to Iceland, I spent just a day in Reykjavik. The streets are so colorful that spending another would have been better. Hopefully, next time. Below are some of the images I captured.

Drekinn Restaurant (64°8’38.03″ N 21°55’34.89″ W)
Reykjavik Street Art (art no longer exists)
Reykjavik Street Art (art no longer exists)
Reykjavik Store Front (64°8’38.25″ N 21°55’36.86″ W)
Bravo Bar (64°8’44.49″ N 21°55’44.87″ W)
Colorful Facade (64°8’44.35″ N 21°55’44.95″ W)
A Store on Laugavegur (64°8’44.4″ N 21°55’45.13″ W)

We then loaded our luggage to drive to Keflavik airport. On the way, we visited the Harpa Concert Hall. Reflecting the geography of its surroundings – the sky, the harbor and the city of Reykjavik – Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center opened in May 2011 and is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera.  Harpa has a glass facade made up of geometric shapes that change color with the light of day. It boasts four halls, 1,800-seat auditorium, ample meeting space, catering services and boutiques.

Harpa Staircase (64°9’0.2″ N 21°55’57.66″ W)

After spending an hour at the Harpa, we drove to Keflavik, a distance of 50 km. The weather was constantly changing – from rain to hale to snow to blue skies). For a few miles, the visibility was less than 100m.

Driving from Reykjavik to Keflavik

It was past noon when we reached Keflavik. We had lunch at Thai Keflavik restaurant. After refueling the car, we dropped it off at the rental car center and took the bus to the terminal. A tip: As all North American bound flights leave at around 1700, you should give an additional 90 minutes to drop off the luggage at the rental car facility. We dropped off the luggage and Lai at the terminal and Nelson and I dropped off the car and took the rental car bus back to the terminal. This time, dropping of the car was uneventful compared to the 2016 trip. Believe me, if possible, avoid loading your luggage on the bus to the terminal.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable trip. Unfortunately, the northern lights gods were not supportive on this trip. I have heard folks not having seen the lights on a multiple week trip while others have seen it on a weekend trip. As Iceland is cloudy most of the time in the winter, I believe the odds are not that high compared to places like Fairbanks, AL or Tromso in the Arctic Norway.

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