Bucket List: Iceland Road Trip With the Fam
Los Angeles family takes on Iceland's Ring Road in search of glaciers, waterfalls, geothermal spas and wide-open spaces (Ya, pretty much the opposite of LA)
Fermented shark meat, active volcanoes, a population that believes in elves and green countrysides that are completely devoid of trees. It’s no wonder that travelers find Iceland so fascinating. For Los Angeles-based Timothy and Laura Dahl, Iceland represented the unknown, a vast and unpredictable landscape, just waiting to be discovered. Together, with their four-year-old son Hunter, they set out for a summer vacation like no other—one filled with glacier-eating (yes, that's a thing), basalt column-climbing (yes, also a thing) and relaxing in one geothermal spa after the other.
Out of all the destinations in the world, what inspired you to travel to Iceland? Why was this a dream destination for you?
Natural beauty is what attracted us to Iceland. There are few places in the world that are as easily accessible but can provide an otherworldly experience. A nine-hour direct flight from Los Angeles can deliver you to a modern but raw country that is still virtually untouched by the hands of developers. Reykjavik is a small (slightly bustling) city, but once outside the city limits, you’ve got miles of two-lane highways to explore, with hardly a building or person in sight.
There’s a lot to see and do in Iceland. How did you go about exploring the Land of Fire and Ice?
We rented a four-wheel drive from Blue Car Rental for our trip as opposed to taking a bus tour. This gave us complete freedom to explore the country as we wished, and also take some side trips into the F-roads which are the extensive network of dirt roads that crisscross Iceland.
The popular Golden Circle route is a must-do for first-time visitors to Iceland, but it can get very crowded and touristy. On that route, Gullfoss is a spectacular step waterfall, unlike anything we have seen before. You can walk the length of the waterfall and experience the sound and fury up close, or observe it from dry distance atop various vantage points. You will get wet if you venture down toward the waterfall, so wear water-resistant jackets and pants. Thingvellir National Park and the Geysir are the other two major attractions along the Golden Circle and are well worth a visit.
We found that once we hit the Ring Road, which circles the entire country, we truly discovered the spirit of Iceland. We visited Iceland in July, which meant it never really got dark. This allowed us to maximize our time sightseeing and visit some locations during off-hours, with no one around. Sleeping with an eye mask at night was critical—and we missed seeing the Northern Lights—but we’d recommend traveling during the summer again. We only had two clear days in Iceland. It was cold and rainy the rest of the time, so we can only imagine how tough the winters must be there. We loved seeing how green the country was but strangely devoid of trees.
What were some of the highlights of your road trip?
Our highlights included seeing and tasting glacial icebergs at the Jökulsárlón Lagoon, taking a midnight walk behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, climbing the Reynisfjara basalt columns and, of course, bathing in the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.
What was it like driving around Iceland with a small child?
We traveled with our four-year-old son who absolutely loved the experience. He’s accustomed to road trips, so spending hours in the car in Iceland didn’t faze him. He doesn’t use an iPad or tablet during road trips, as we prefer he take in everything there is to see along the way—which in this case was a lot. Books, stickers and plenty of conversation were more than enough to keep him entertained.
Where did you stay and how did you find your accommodations?
We stayed in three different Airbnb locations throughout the country and all of them were superb.
In Reykjavik, we stayed in this Aribnb loft, which was located up a flight of stairs and above a restaurant. It was a very quiet and central location. Everything was in walking distance. We found street parking just a few blocks away. The natural light was great, but bring eye masks in the summer.
In the Selfoss area, we found a great home base for exploring the Golden Circle and the southern section of the Ring Road. We traveled as far as the Jokurlson Lagoon from there. We stayed in a nice A-frame lodge with a few others scattered around nearby. The geothermal hot tub was divine.
Borgarnes is a drive north from Reykjavik, so not as convenient for easy jaunts. Once there, we just wanted to hang out at our Airbnb rental for a few days. It was very peaceful and had a comfortable geothermal hot tub, a beautiful kitchen and comfy beds. It’s also located near an ice tunnel and a lava tube cave.
What advice do you have for first-time travelers?
Be prepared for a lot of time on the road by renting a vehicle that you will be comfortable in. Many of them are manual transmition, so make sure you specify an automatic if you want one. We weren’t overly impressed by the food options available in grocery stores. Items were expensive, and we didn’t come across as much fresh fish as we were hoping for. We did enjoy a few nice meals in restaurants which are scattered about in the most unusual places. We relied on Yelp throughout the country.
Iceland is known for being one of the most expensive countries in the world. What are some ways that you were able to add value?
We jumped on direct flights from LAX to Reykjavik from Wow Air. They are a budget airline, but if you don’t get caught up in all the add-ons, you can score a roundtrip flight for less than $500. Staying inAirbnbs was also much cheaper than hotels. The entire country doesn’t have that many rooms compared to the numbers of visitors. So in high season, the accommodation options can be sparse.
On our next visit, we plan on renting an RV and spending two weeks on the Ring Road. There would be no backtracking, and we wouldn’t have to search out accommodations every night.
Iceland is a gorgeous place filled with kind people, and we highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys nature and doesn’t mind feeling a bit on their own.