Posts Tagged With: Iceland

Top 10 Things We Ate in Iceland

I never imagined I would ever write a top 10 food post on Iceland but here we are. Iceland reputation doesnt quite extend to food, and I’ve been warned by some that this is one heck of a challenging area. Maybe all they ate was fermented shark and Sour Ram Testicles to reach this conclusion? The more traditional Icelandic food like Plokkfiskur (fish stew) most likely wont thrill your taste buds, but that doesnt mean that they are the dominant menu items, other than perhaps on food tours. Fresh Seafood, especially Cod, its cousin Ling, and Arctic char reign supreme, whether baked, grilled, or in soup form. Same goes for Lamb, though I suppose it was a fail for us since it didnt make this cut. I did not include the usual suspects you see in every blog like Skyr and Hot Dogs. These are more specific, and obscure items.

Baked Arctic Char at Skal! (Reykjavik)

The dish that set the stage for a 10 day fishorama. Skal! is more like something you can find in NYC including its food court home (the first food court in Iceland) but with these kind of ingredients I’m not complaining. The fish is not much of a looker but was cooked to perfection. The Char is most likely the signature dish here but dont overlook the expertly cooked skirt steak, and the outstanding roasted sunchokes (Jerusalem artichoke)

Date Pesto at Gilbakki (Hellissandur)

If Gilbakki feels like eating at someone’s house that’s probably because it is. Or it looks like it at least. I was not in liberty to inspect or ask for a nap instead of dessert. Calling this spread Pesto may cause people turn in their grave in the beautiful cemetery in Genoa, the Pesto capital of the world. But its a very agreeable thick mix of dates, olives, nuts, and cheese that comes with a bagel. The curried fish soup here is not too shabby either. And the location, in sleepy Hellissandur, a mini Wynwood if you will, the mural capital of Iceland, is another reason to visit.

Seafood Soup at Sjávarborg (Hvammstangi)

When I asked the waitress if there are more restaurants in Hvammstangi, she started to laugh. I took it as a no as I didnt find any myself. Its good to have a monopoly but it was the food quality that made us backtrack 12 km after we were done with Kolugljúfur Canyon. We sampled more fish soup in Iceland than all our years in college combined, and this was the best of the bunch. Chunks of fresh delicious fish in a well balanced broth.

Fish of the Day at Naustið (Husavik)

Will Ferrell’s hometown of Husavik is one of Iceland’s worst kept secrets. But finding food that isnt catered to the whale watching crowds was a little challenging. That meant two visits to the excellent Naustið, something we rarely do abroad. After trying much of the menu its not a surprise that the best dish was a simply grilled Fish of the Day. Some of the fish we tried in Iceland was lacking just enough texture, but this Blue Ling (Cod’s fat uncle) was firm, and perfectly flaky.

Fish and Chips at Fancy Sheep (Seydisfjordur)

Fish, fish, fish, fish soup, fish. See a theme here? Well, thats the end of it as we started to experience fish fatigue by this point. We had fish and Chips three times during this trip and this was by far the best one. Nothing fancy here. Just great, thin batter, and none of the mushiness you often get with Fish and Chips. Fantastic fries.. err.. chips to boot. Even the Tartar sauce is better than average. This truck is run by a duo that’s in the happiness business, giving the obligatory jumps at the nearby rainbow church road extra oomph

Steak Tartare at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

Another unexpected delight. Staying in seemingly a middle of nowhere chain hotel, it felt like I struck gold with this so called appetizer. It was not only a Piedmont style expertly done chop, but big enough to be a main course. We couldnt finish it. These flavors came especially handy while the couple sitting next to us insisted on discussing politics. I thought that was the point of vacation these days. This Fosshotel also produced the best breakfast hotel of the trip

Seafood Pasta at Kjarr (Kirkjubæjarklaustur)

Kirkjubæjarklaustur, say it three times. Ok, say it once. Seven days without pasta was a proud moment, but enough is enough. This unassuming newish Italianish was just what the doctor ordered. There were other standouts like the Tiramisu, but the star was seafood with Squid Ink Taglioloni that wasnt terribly far from what you get in the motherland. The view of the twin waterfalls added to the magic. In the US this would have been a state park, while in Iceland its just another corner.

Langoustines at Fjöruborðið (Stokkseyri)

After some big fails the previous few days, and an amazing day spent hiking Landmannalaugar we really needed this one. A three course feast of langoustine soup, langoustines with potatoes and other veggies, and dessert. These Danish beauties were buttery, garlicky, and unlike Hofn Langoustines (see next) just the proper texture. You know things are working when we dont talk to each for over 10 minutes (and its not a fight). Even the beer here, Ulfrun Session (available only in the summer) was a notch above the rest we tried.

Skyr Dessert at Pakkhús (Höfn)

This may confuse some folks that are well too familiar with Iceland or those serial researchers that read about Höfn being the Langoustine capital of Iceland. You would think the Langoustine would get smart by now and swim elsewhere. But there’s no need for that as Iceland is in the midst of a fishing pause so Langoustines are imported these days. Still, we enjoyed Langoustines here even though we found them on the softer side. But it was really the dessert that got our attention. Beautiful layers of Skyr mousse, Tahiti vanilla, ample crunchy crumble and caramel. An absolute Triumph.

Love Balls (Ástarpungar) at Almar Bakari (Hella)

This was the best little snack that we heard nothing about prior to the trip. Nothing earth shattering, just tasty ball shaped donuts, usually with raisins but flavors defer. They are called Love Balls because Ballsacks the literal translation of Ástarpungar doesnt sound as appetizing. To most at least. We first discovered them at the charming Beitarhúsið in the North but the orange flavored Schweddy Balls at Almar won us all over.

Honorable mentions:

Cinnamon Buns and anything really at Brauð & Co

Hot Dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Rye Bread Ice Cream at Café Loki

Burger at Vogafjós Farm Resort

Beef Carpaccio at Gistihúsið – Lake Hótel Egilsstaðir

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Iceland – 10 Day Ring Road Itinerary

Much of this is a copy and paste (including her wonderful emojis) of what Mrs Z posted on her Facebook travel group. This trip was done in mid August in almost perfect weather. Watch road conditions if you attempt this at other times. 10 days is the minimum to do this. If you only have 9 days, skip Snæfellsnes, but thats not to say its skippable.

Day 1 – Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik

Blue Lagoon. Allow a couple of hours.

Explore Reykjavik. Main streets, Sun Voyager, Harpa Concert Hall, hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Lunch at Cafe Loki – Try to sit upstairs, traditional plate (no fermented shark for us. Stinky food not my jam, and I havent found a single soul that liked it), Lamb Shank soup, smoked trout, Rye Bread Ice cream (yes!!!)

Dinner at Skal! – Inside Iceland’s first Food hall – sunchokes, skirt steak, arctic char. Excellent!

Perlan Museum

Stay at Reykjavik Residence Apartment. Recommend!

Day 2 – Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Geirabakarí Kaffihús – Good midway point stop. Bakery was the location of “Papa Johns” in ”The secret life of Walter Mitty”.

Kirkjufellsfoss – GOT sight, highlight

https://www.heyiceland.is/blog/nanar/5222/epic-iceland-itinerary-game-of-thrones-filming-locations

Lunch at Gilbakki – fish soup 😋, date pesto on a bagel. Fantastic lunch in the lone restaurant in Hellissandur where you can find some interesting murals. Like a mini Wynwood (Miami)

Djúpalónssandur beach – Very cool, atmospheric black beach

Lóndrangar – short stop, dramatic cliff views

Hellnar – nice little walk toward Arnastapi, and a good stop for coffee break with a view

Arnarstapi – Bárður, Gatklettur

The story of Bárður Snæfellsás the area first settler – https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/regina/bardur-snaefellsas-the-mysterious-protector-of-the-snaefellsnes-peninsula

Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge – This was a fail for us. We walked inside the Gorge until reaching a dead end too soon (large boulder), need waterproof shoes

Búðakirkja – Black Church – The Motif #1 of Iceland. The most photographed structure. Dark skies actually help in this case

Bjarnarfoss waterfall – Cool, relatively unknown waterfall. Short hike to the bridge

Ytri Tunga – Beach where you may find seals, and whale skeleton

Buffet Dinner and stay at Langaholt Guesthouse. Fine stay, nice setting. There’s not much else in the area

Day 3 – Drive to Husavik

Grábrók crater – The largest of three volcanic craters, mostly covered in moss. It stands 170 m/550 feet tall. The last eruption was around 3400 years ago. Can be windy 👍. Beautiful views from the top. Bathroom at the restaurant in the gas station just prior. You just need to buy something. And by something, I mean more chips 

Kolugljúfur Canyon – Another cool stop on the way. As nice as the waterfall is, the canyon is the highlight. Walk down under the bridge, but can be slippery 👍👍. Unpaved road to get to the site

Sjávarborg Restaurant – Backtracking 10 km or so, but worth it. Seafood soup, fish of the day ❤️❤️

Glaumbær Farm & Museum (cool cafe inside that looks like a tea parlor ) 👍

Akureyri – Second largest city, cute downtown, good hot dog, ice cream stop. Park by the church

Goðafoss – Goðafoss got its name when Christianity was declared the official religion of Iceland, so the locals threw Norse pagan gods statues into the waterfall. Park and do the east side, by N1 gas station ❤️❤️

Dinner at Naustið – Mussels, fish and chips, Arctic char. Good, but second night better

Stay at Fosshotel Húsavík (2 nights)

Day 4 – Myvatn

Dettifoss – Take the paved 862 to the west lot, largest and strongest waterfall in Europe, Another 15 minutes walk against the flow to Selfoss – allow 1-1&1/2 hours total here

Hverir – Very cool Geothermal area. Nice setting. 👍

Grjótagjá – Quick cave stop. This is where Jon Snow and Ygritte had their romantic rendezvous 🤔

Lunch at Vogafjós Farm Resort – Good Burger! 👍

Hverfjall – 20 min steep hike to crater of a 2500 y/o volcano

Lava field Dimmuborgir – Volcanic rock formations – if time allows

Skútaís – Farm Ice Cream 👍

Skútustaðagígar – a park of pseudo craters, much more appreciated with a drone, but pleasant walk. If time and black midge flies allow. Myvatn afterall is named after the midge flies

Geosea in Húsavík – Geothermal Sea Baths – Try to go at sunset if its a nice day

Dinner at Naustið – Second meal. Fish of the day, fish soup. This is the strength of this place. Reserve in advance.

Day 5 – Northeast

Beitarhúsið – Nice middle of nowhere pit stop for coffee, lunch or whatever. Try the love balls

Stuðlagil Canyon – One of the highlights of the entire trip. Park at the second lot, a mile or so after crossing the bridge, very bumpy ride especially the last mile. Parkplatz Klaustrusel – Stuðlagil on Google. 3&1/2 mile round trip hike. Allow 2-3 hours. 

Seydisfjordur – Beautiful drive down to this Picturesque town. Check out the blue church, Fish n chips lunch at Fancy Sheep food truck. 👍

Gufu waterfall on the way back. Short stop

Litlanesfoss, Hengifoss – Steep hike, about 2 hours total (3.6 mile round trip). Unique fall, but not a must. Litlanesfoss halfway just as impressive. Looking back we probably should have relaxed at the hotel spa, or a town pool.

Dinner and stay at Gistihusid in Egilsstaðir

Day 6 – East

Drive toward Höfn on road 1 (against Google advice). Numerous short stops on the way:

Petra’s Stone Collection – very cute 👍

Nykurhylsfoss

Barkináfoss

Lækjavik

Hvalnes Lighthouse – stop if not cloudy or foggy

Red chair – Yes, its just a red chair on a rock

Hofn – Langoustine lunch in Pakkhús 😋 – skyr cake 😋😋

Diamond Beach – Park at the west side.  Waves can sneak up.💎💎💎

Múlagljúfur Canyon – Better light in the morning but tomorrow is busy, turn at 63.9886667, -16.3971589, 1.5km rough road to the parking lot, 30-45 minute walk to the viewpoint. We tried but elected to skip due to weather, but this seems like a relatively undiscovered gem

Dinner and stay at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon – go to sauna and hot tub. Get the steak tartare, huge dishes

Day 7 – Glacier lagoon, drive to Vik

Jökulsárlón Zodiak tour 9:30. Arrive by 9 👍

Fjallsárlón Glacier Parking – Walk to observation area to see glacier up close

Hofskirkja church – turf covered roof and unique cemetery. The last turf church built and one a few remaining 

Svartifoss –  “the black waterfall”, the basalt columns inspired the design of Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. parking 700 ISK, 90 min round trip. 

Lunch at Kjarr Restaurant – cute location w waterfall view on some days, nice pastas especially the seafood

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – Allow an hour. Walk till the metal deck 👍👍

Dinner at Black Crust Pizzeria  – liked the pizza but not the smell of clothes after. 

Reynisfjara Beach – black sand and puffins in season

Stay at Hotel Vik

Day 8 – South

Explore Vik’s other side:

        Reynisfjara beach – Columns and black sand beach and caves. Be careful of sneaker waves

        Dyrhólaey – lighthouse and dramatic black beach views 

Skógafoss – Try to come before 10 to beat the tour groups, go up the stairs and hike waterfall alley for at least one mile or at least until Fremri-Fellsfoss. Allow 2 hours. Best hike of the trip 

Lunch at Mia’s Country Van – Fish & Chips 

Kvernufoss – park at Skogar museum, 10 minute walk to the falls, waterproof clothes if you opt to go behind the fall. Rainbow if sunny 

Seljalandsfoss – go behind the waterfall, will get wet, slippery – wear waterproof gear

Gljufrabui – 5 minute walk from Seljalandsfoss (go left), hop on wet stones to go through canyon in water to get to waterfall

Secret Lagoon 👍

Dinner at Messinn Selfossi – Very popular with locals, but disappointing overall. I think we just ordered the wrong dishes for us (wolffish lacking in texture). Reserve if you go.

Stay at Hótel Kvika (2 nights) – Budget hotel but comfortable

Day 9 – Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar Hiking Tour with Arctic Adventured – Pickup at 8:15 from Selfoss N1 Gas Station 👍👍👍 ( take sandwiches and snacks with you ). Long day, a lot of driving but highly recommend

Dinner at Fjöruborðið Restaurant ❤️

Day 10 – The leftovers

Gullfoss

Strokkur

Þingvellir National Park

Fly home

Important tips

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Iceland – The Things They Dont Tell You

Ok, I get it now. You hear about Iceland for much of your adult life. You watch countless of pictures of waterfalls, sheep, sometimes together. You realize that its an easy hop and a skip away. But for some reason you keep postponing this giant national park in favor of places with better food and more culture. The reality is nothing you’ll see and hear will properly prepare you for the Iceland experience. When you come back, Iceland will feel like one of those vivid dreams you can only experience during a colonoscopy anesthesia.

You can pretty much forget everything your neighbors and cousins told you (like stay in Reykjavik and do day trips). This was a last minute trip to replace a badly damaged Yellowstone after severe floods. A 10 day, record breaking 7 hotel road trip around the Ring Road. If I would do this again, I would do it again, almost exactly the same. I will post a detailed itinerary, and more about the food when the time comes, but here are some of the things we learned. Some things were more expected than others.

10 days is ideal. Thats not to say you shouldnt do more, and you can do less. But 10 days for us city slickers felt like a good amount. Its also the minimum amount you need for the Ring Road which I wholeheartedly recommend over the more popular and accessible Golden Circle, Reykjavik and surroundings. People tend to allocate less for islands everywhere. Sicily is the best example, a two week destination but so many try to do it in five days. Dont make this mistake here.

Reykjavik is Skipavik. I always imagined the capital being remarkably foreign, meaning very different where one can enjoy the differences and experience local culture. Much of that went out the window by the time we found ourselves having dinner at a NYC style food hall. Its not so much that you cant experience some culture here, but considering everything else Iceland has to offer, one night in Reykjavik feels more than enough. We spent one day here, and we kept walking by the same streets, same cats and organized tours.

The Ring Road is strikingly beautiful. The Ring Road is the main road circling the island. I was expecting to find many of the attractions striking, but I really didnt expect the drive itself to be so mesmerizing. You will triple your old number of oohs and ahhs per hour record, especially in the north. There was one moment where we stopped at a random side of the road, all alone surrounded by greener than green mountains, waterfalls, and canyons. Narnia meets Jurassic Park. Do yourself a big favor, and do the Ring Road.

Forget the ATMs. After much deliberation we opted not to take out local money, and we didnt need any. We dont even know what the local currency looks like. Its liberating not to deal with this on vacation. We heard that the only time you might need some change is for remote bathrooms, but we didnt really encounter them. You can stop at any gas station, a shop/restaurant, or the occasional remote bush if needed.

Bring a debit card with a pin. On our first try, our pinless CC failed. Once we started using the debit card, we didnt encounter any issues. Fill as soon as you reach half a tank, as you may drive many miles without seeing a gas station.

Iceland Gas Stations are awesome. You can get fresh hot dogs, Skyr – the best Yogurt on the planet, borrow a device to check tire pressure, fill air and wash the car for free, and get any help you need from the super friendly workers. They will also change your baby and call your mom.

Food is actually surprisingly good. The rumors that Iceland cuisine is lacking is widely exaggerated. What it may lack in finesse they more than make up for it in great ingredients. Sure, some meals were better than others, but its hard to screw up fish, and lamb raised in this climate. Expect a lot of lamb, simple fresh fish, flaky fish and chips, fish soup galore with wonderful bread and room temp homemade butter (a luxury in NYC). Iceland is also known for Langoustines, but for the time being, they are importing them, as fishing is banned. I also love the little differences like paying for your meals at the cash register.

Double up on the snacks. Iceland will wear you down in a very good way. Its hard to calculate the time you’ll spend getting to the destinations, and the amount you’ll spend there. If the hike is more than an hour, take a bag with snacks and water. And if you’ll do the Ring Road you’ll be facing some long drives. The snacks will come in handy.

You dont really need to buy water. I had trouble understanding this concept but I get it now. Iceland has some of the best tap water in the world. You can fill your bottles not only from any sink, but from waterfalls and streams while hiking.

Less is more than you think. As with any destination, you will want to see and experience as much as possible. But Iceland is unique in the sense that as popular as it is, much of it is still relatively undiscovered. Most visitors concentrate on the the grandest, popular waterfalls, sometimes missing other gems in plain sight. The best example is Skógafoss. Most people spend less than an hour seeing this magnificence, not realizing that the hike that begins on top of it, is one of the most beautiful easily accessible hikes you will ever do. And there’s another incredibly unique waterfall nearby. You can easily spend a glorious half a day here. Less sites often means richer experiences, and its especially true here.

Book a few tours. As usual, the tours we booked were the highlights. At some point during this adventure you feel ready for someone else to take your hand and navigate. And you really dont realize how much fun it is to hike with a group until you do.

Supermarkets open at 10. This caught us by surprise early on. As a tourist you normally start your adventures early in Iceland, so plan accordingly.

No one in Iceland is actually from Iceland. Iceland hospitality industry is booming and needs a lot of help especially in the summer. Most of the people we met, from tour guides, waiters, to hotel managers, were from other Europeans countries. I think we only met around four people from Iceland.

Iceland is expensive. I saved the worst for last. I can book a beautiful chateaux in Loire Valley for less than a simple motel in Iceland. That’s not a joke. On average we paid roughly $400 a night. And in order to afford the car for 10 days (Blue Car Rental – best service, highly recommend) I had to tell the kids that they would need to rely on grandparents for continuing education. At the very least book well ahead of time. Not only you will have options, but you are not risking the entire east coast of Iceland to be sold out. A common phenomenon in the summer.

I’m sure I missed much. In short, Go!

Categories: Iceland | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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