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Our trip to Iceland was split into two parts: Our five days based in Reykjavík, which you’ve been reading about thus far, and our three days road-tripping around The Golden Circle and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. For us, this was the perfect combination of urban exploring and hitting the open road! Those three days in our little rental car would bring us from wild adventures like snowmobiling on a glacier to poignant ones like standing in front of the most dramatic vistas these eyes have ever seen.

Iceland Road TripHvalfjörður Fjord

After completing the Golden Circle route, on day one, we set off north of Reykjavík through the scenic Hvalfjörður Fjord. It was the perfect introduction to what would become a theme of the trip — staring silently, jaws slacked and slightly drooling at the views through the windshield until one of us would invariably state that it was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen.

I was most interested in this area because it is home to Iceland’s largest whaling station –  a site of great controversy — but security is apparently extremely tight because we couldn’t even find the place. Our consolation prize was this bizarre tiny “Whale Museum” attached to the side of a petrol station.

Hvalasafnid Whale Museum

We were passing many charming little towns and hike-able mounts, but it was for good reason. Don’t let the light in the photos below deceive you, it was nearly 9pm when they were taken! The twenty-four hour summer sun did benefit us in that we never had to worry about driving in the dark in an unfamiliar country.

Iceland Road Trip

Iceland Road Trip

Our destination for the night was the waterside town of Borgarnes, a convenient stopping point en route to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Borgarnes, Iceland

While we were overwhelmed with options for luxury accommodation in Reykjavík, finding hotels of the same standard outside the capital was more of a challenge. In Borgarnes we stayed at the Hotel Hamar, a very efficient and Scandinavian-feeling golf hotel. Golfers we are not but we did enjoy the lush views and the hot tubs — features ubiquitous at many Iceland hotels.

Hotel Hamar, Iceland

Hotel Hamar, Iceland

In the morning, we set off for the Settlement Center — a museum so raved about that it convinced us to make Borgarnes our stopping point for the night. We donned headsets that walked us through both of the center’s fantastic interactive exhibitions while obviously violating the no camera rule.

Borgarnes Settlement Center

The Settlement Center lived up to the hype. I left with both a better understanding of the history of Iceland and its Sagas as well as a major respect for whoever put together such a fantastic museum in a little town in West Iceland. Also, the restaurant served us one of the best meals we had in all of Iceland. Get thee to the Settlement Center!

Borgarnes Settlement Center

From Borgarnes we drove straight through to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We had chosen this area for our mini road-trip because it was small and close to Reykjavík, meaning we could spend just as much time out of the car as in it. With only a few days we did not have time to circle The Ring Road, one of the most famous road trips in the world. However, Lonely Planet Iceland assured us that Snæfellsnes would offer “a cross section of the best Iceland has to offer in a very compact region.”

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

And so our first stop was quaint Stykkishólmur, the largest town on the peninsula with a population of 1,100 residents. The hamlet was a charming combination of colorful maritime houses, a harbor surrounded by basalt islands, and a peculiar futuristic church.

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

This was certainly a different side of Iceland to the cosmopolitan lifestyle we had encountered in Reykjavík. Walking through this somewhat isolated and provincial town, we speculated what life was like for its residents.

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

One thing I was delighted to finally spot was a nod to Iceland’s elf culture. Polls of Icelanders are consistent in showing that the majority of citizens do in fact believe in the existence of elves, and roads and building projects are often adjusted so as not to disturb the supernatural beings. It’s a fascinating yet touchy subject that The New York Times did a fantastic job of writing about.

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

Eventually we wandered off the streets and into The Library of Water, a permanent exhibition by American artist Roni Horn. Housed in what was once the town’s actual library is an installation of 24 floor-t0-ceiling columns, each filled with water from 24 unique glaciers. Today the space is used not only as an exhibition space but also for small concerts, gatherings and even yoga classes.

Library of Water, Iceland

Library of Water, Iceland

The small room is filled with thousands of different viewpoints as the water reflects and refracts whatever is on the other side — people, views out the window, other columns. Each column is dedicated to a single glacial source, and a chart allowed us to find which columns held parts of glaciers we had seen or were going to see on our trip. Despite having a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, I’m often unimpressed by installation and conceptual art. But I felt the artist’s deep love for Iceland, and being here amongst parts of glaciers from all around the country was a truly unique experience.

Library of Water, Iceland

Library of Water, Iceland

Our next stop in Stykkishólmur was Noska Húsið, the oldest building in the area and home to the municipal museum. Built by local merchant Arni Thorlacius in 1832, this was the first two-story house in Iceland and for many decades it was the largest.

Noska Húsið

Noska Húsið

Because Iceland has almost no sources of natural timber, Arni personally traveled to Norway to fetch the building materials and also hired an architect from Copenhagen, both facts contributing to the nickname “The Nordic House”. Today, the building has been restored to show a typical upper-class home in 19th century Iceland.

Noska Húsið

Noska Húsið

I was eager to hop on one of Seatours‘ wildlife-spotting boat trips around the bay and its many islands. However my mom and sis were a bit boated out, so in the spirit of compromise we instead hiked up to Sugandisey, a basalt island that is home to the town’s lighthouse and great views of the by.

Sugandisey, Iceland

Sugandisey, Iceland

Sometimes compromise works out pretty well.

Sugandisey, Iceland

Sugandisey, Iceland

Eventually we tore ourselves away from Stykkishólmur, as we still had another drive before reaching our hotel for the night. In Iceland, even the shortest stretches of road are guaranteed to hold some sort of curiosity or adventure. Not ten minutes after getting back in the car I called for a photo-op when we passed some particularly punky-looking Icelandic horses, resulting in some of my favorite images from all of Iceland.

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses

Also along this route we drove through Bersekjahraunsvegur (not a typo), a moon-like landscape created by eerie lava fields.

Beserkjahraun

Beserkjahraun

At the far end of the Bersekjahraunsvegur we ran into the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum. This smelly attraction is where tourists go to learn more about the Icelandic tradition of consuming rotting shark flesh. Sorry, does that not sound appetizing to you? The museum owners would be happy to change your mind with a free sampling of hákarl!

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

The Icelandic delicacy of hákarl is Greenland shark, a species so inedible that is must rot underground for six months before it can be digested by humans. My mom, extremely sensitive to smell, wouldn’t even get out of the car. Olivia and I paid the entrance fee and wandered around inside, but there wasn’t really much to see. I think the real draw here is the free tasting — and for once I felt totally comfortable not getting my money’s worth.

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

As we pulled away from the smelly sharks and towards our destination of Grundarfjörður, I was again quieted by Iceland’s immense beauty.

Iceland Road Trip

In one day we had explored Iceland’s history, delved into its modern art scene, sighed at its natural beauty and learned about its elf-and-shark-loving quirks. I could only imagine what tomorrow would bring.

Iceland Road Trip

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26 comments… add one

  • Sarah Somewhere
    September 15 2012

    You really should be an equestrian photographer Alex, your photos of horses are always so unbelieveable! Looks magnificent, the image you took in the water museum are spectacular, they should definitely be buying them for their brochures :)
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..The Launch of The Rickshaw Run Diaries!

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Thank you so much Sarah! I love photographing animals but usually they are so darn uncooperative. These horses on the other hand were so laid back… they loved it!

  • Susan Braidwood
    September 15 2012

    This trip looks perfect and I love the idea of a few days urban experience and a few days outside of the city. I am seriously looking into Iceland for a trip next summer and 8 or 9 days is about all my husband wants to take in the summer. So it’s great to see that it can be done! Is there are anywhere in Iceland that you regret not seeing?

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Hi Susan! I hope you end up choosing Iceland, it’s such an amazing destination. My only regrets from our little road trip was that we passed tons of great hiking opportunities but we didn’t really have the time to take advantage of them. And in Reykjavik I wish we had had more time to check out the museums and galleries. We were so busy doing activities all the time we didn’t really have much time for the city’s sights! Hope that helps :)

  • Chrystal McKay
    September 15 2012

    I love that you wrote “Not a Typo”. So many of the Icelandic words I don’t even read – I just skim my eyes over because they befuddle my brain! haha Great article and it is always so hard to believe that the sun stays so bright all hours of the day! GREAT for sightseeing! Never limited to specific times!!
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..Windows of the World #FriFotos

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Oh my gosh I know what you mean about the names. I was so embarrassed of my pronunciation, anytime we were talking about the peninsula we were visiting I would refer to it as “Snay-fell-blah-blah!” People generally knew what I was referring to, ha.

  • Rickshaw Run Diaries
    September 15 2012

    Awesome road trip Alex!!! Though somehow I don’t think our upcoming road trip will be quite as glamourous (but can you come along and be our photographer?!) :)
    Rickshaw Run Diaries recently posted..The Beginning Of An Adventure

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Oh my gosh I would love to! I bet India is a photographer’s dream…

  • Dad
    September 15 2012

    I loved this post because of the variety. Couple of comments, I did not think the church was ‘peculiar’. It was a aspirational statement for the congregation. I found it very appealing. Second comment, you will see the same eerie lava landscape when you are on the big island in Hawaii. Finally, I liked the water exhibit which truly I doubt you would see anywhere else on our planet

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Good comments :) Iceland is known for its…. interesting churches plopped in the middle of very traditional towns. We loved spotting them! And I’m looking forward to seeing that lava landscape again on Big Island! It’s such a unique look.

  • Ashley
    September 15 2012

    I love your horse pictures! And I can’t imagine how bad the rotten shark smelled, haha. I don’t think I would’ve eaten it either.
    Ashley recently posted..5 Creative Ways to Plan a Kick-ass Itinerary

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Yeah I don’t eat seafood or especially shark to begin with (I don’t think we are meant to eat the world’s top predators!) but the whole rotting thing didn’t help either!

  • The horse pics? Amaaaaazing! Seriously they belong in a magazine!!! Your posts are making me want to return to Iceland so badly. PS Love your outfit!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..A Synchronistic Moment & A Friendly Reminder

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Thank you so much Andi! I’d love to get into selling my photos and prints but I just have no idea how to get started. And thanks for noticing my outfit! It was nice to feel put together while traveling… when I was in Asia with the same bag for a year I got SO sick of my clothes!

  • bristol
    September 16 2012

    Wow Iceland should be paying you for the amount of posts you are churning out haha. Love it!

    Also how exciting that you’re going to Hawaii soon (tomorrow?). Cant wait to read about it.

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      I know! I think at the end I’ll have written fourteen posts — for an eight day trip!

  • Amanda
    September 16 2012

    Does it ever get warm in Iceland?? You and your sister look so cute in your warm fall outfits but it’s crazy that that’s the summer wear there!

    • Alex
      September 16 2012

      Actually the day we left home, New York was in the middle of a heat wave so it felt GREAT to us! Ha. I think the look of my outfit might be a little deceiving, in reality both the leggings and the top were very thin. I was really concerned about the weather but on the warmest day it got into the 70s! Nights were chilly but a jacket was sufficient.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    September 16 2012

    Iceland looks so beautiful, Alex! The landscapes are not to be believed, they are so lush and gorgeous. Thank you for sharing all of these inspiring pictures with us!

    • Alex
      September 18 2012

      Aw, thank you so much Steph! Iceland was really inspiring for me photographically.

  • Hannah
    September 17 2012

    Wow Alex, your photos just get better and better. I absolutely LOVE all of these, especially the Library of Water shots – amazing :)
    Hannah recently posted..A very big announcement

    • Alex
      September 18 2012

      It was such an amazingly unique place! I love seeing what creative people are up to all over the globe.

  • MC
    March 13 2013

    Your photos are beautiful. What kind of camera do you use?

    • Alex
      March 14 2013

      Hey MC, you can find descriptions and reviews of all my camera equipment on the Gear and Products page… let me know if you have any other questions!

  • Susan Reed
    May 4 2013

    Hi Alex, You probably won”t remember me,but I took care of you and your sister as infants at Riverview Daycare.Seems like yesterday. I ran into your Mom today at a craft show I was doing.,and she said to drop you a line and check out your site.Wow! You can sure see your love for photography! My Youngest son shares the same intrest and going to school for that now.Well it was so nice to see your Mom and fine out about you and your Sister,be safe in your travels.Sincerly,Susan Reed

    • Alex
      May 9 2013

      Susan, thank you so much for taking the time to check out the site! I really appreciate that and your kind words. I’m sure it’s funny to compare the bratty toddler you last knew to the voice writing this blog :)

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