Iceland with Cameron Hewitt | Rick Steves Travel Talks

Iceland with Cameron Hewitt | Rick Steves Travel Talks

(dramatic instrumental music) (audience clapping)
– Thank you. Hello, thank you very much for coming. My name is Cameron Hewitt. I have been working with Rick
Steves since the year 2000. I wear a lot of hats at the company, but mostly I’m a guidebook
researcher and writer, including being a contributing author on the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook. And I’ve got to say, I’ve
done work on guidebooks in 40 different countries all over Europe, Iceland is really a special place. This is an amazing place and it’s a place that’s incredibly popular right now. When you go to a place
that’s this popular, you almost expect it to be disappointing. You almost think it can’t be that great. And I have to say, working
on our guidebook here, every time I go here I just
keep thinking to myself, this is the real deal. This is an amazing place,
there’s things you can see in Iceland you can’t see anywhere else. So let me tell you a little bit about why, for starters, I think
Iceland is so amazing. Iceland has a very cozy, friendly, easy-to-navigate capital city, Reykjavik, that also has kind of a
colorful art and food scene. But the main reason that you go to Iceland is to get into the countryside. And when you do that, you get to see some beautiful small towns, humble towns, but beautiful towns in
spectacular natural settings. Just a beautiful, beautiful place. But the main reason, the number
one reason I think why most people go to Iceland is for the
spectacular natural scenery. This is kind of Europe’s Big Sky Country. This is an absolutely
astonishingly beautiful place. You’ve got all sorts of waterfalls, you’ve got fields of purple flowers, you’ve got waterfalls,
(audience laughing) you’ve got pastoral rolling countryside with horses munching on grass, you’ve got waterfalls,
(audience laughing) you’ve got jagged fjords. Did I mention they have
waterfalls in Iceland? (audience laughing) There’s a lot to see and
a lot to do in Iceland in the countryside and it’s
also a unique landscape. This is a very active
geothermal volcanic landscape. You’ll walk through
landscapes like you will never experience just about anywhere else. You’ll feel like you’re
walking on the surface of another planet, like you’re
in some sort of a sci-fi epic. The landscapes in Iceland I
like to describe as cinematic. There’s a reason why a lot of movies and TV shoes are filmed there. Game of Thrones, all the stuff north of The Wall was filmed in Iceland. And pretty much any time
you’re watching a movie and you’re in this otherworldly place, it was probably filmed in
Iceland, really majestic. And because of all this volcanic activity, you have really unique
and interesting landforms. And the Icelanders have
done an amazing job of harnessing the power of their country, all of this geothermal energy. You’ve got wonderful
thermal baths where you can settle in and relax and simmer in naturally heated water
in volcanic surroundings. It’s just an amazing place to travel. Iceland, though, is the
land of fire and ice. And another thing you can see in Iceland that’s hard to see in other
parts of Europe are glaciers. All along the South Coast you’ll see this dramatic icy wonderland, sometimes literally right
on top of a dormant volcano. That’s what you get in Iceland. All of the details I’m about
to talk about in this class are covered in great depth in our Rick Steves Iceland guidebook. And I wanted to give a shout
out and a special thank you to the co-author of that guidebook, and he’s the guy who wrote
most of it, Ian Watson. In addition to having
decades of guidebook writing experience, Ian actually lived
in Iceland for many years. He speaks fluent Icelandic,
he has Icelandic citizenship, his kids were raised in Iceland and he knows the country like a local. So we collaborated with Ian
because he’s the one who says not only Reykjavik has a dozen
geothermal swimming pools, but he can tell you how
they’re all different and which one is best for families and which one is best for
people hanging out after work. Ian knows which roads freeze
over first in the wintertime. So you can warn people
if you’re off season, be careful if you’re taking this road. So a big thanks to Ian, he
literally taught Rick and I everything we know about Iceland and we’re glad to be working with him. I want to start with a quick
introduction of Iceland, just so you get a better sense of this country, its history, its people. Then I’m going to talk
about some travel skills, practical skills for
traveling around Iceland. And then I’m going to be getting into some specific destinations. So that’s kind of where
we’re going to be going on this journey through Iceland. First of all, where is Iceland? Well, it’s sort of partway between Europe and the United States and Canada. And that’s the reason,
probably, why you’re here. Because Iceland Air, which
is based in Reykjavik, has really good deals
for traveling to Europe. Their hub, of course, is Reykjavik. So if you’re taking Iceland
air anywhere in Europe, you’re going to pass through Reykjavik. And they have a very clever marketing plan where if you want to stay for a few days on Iceland, up to a few days, they don’t charge you
extra for the airfare. So for that reason, you
can kind of get a bonus free vacation on your way over to Europe or on your way back home from Europe. And I think that’s a
big part of the reason why Iceland is so popular these days. They’ve made it really easy to do so. Let’s talk a little more about sort of the geography and the
placement of Iceland. It’s at the very far north
end of the North Atlantic, about halfway between
Norway and Greenland. You’ll notice it’s just
south of the Arctic Circle. The mainland of Iceland is
not in the Arctic Circle, but a few offshore islands to the north are technically across the Arctic Circle. Very remote, very rugged. Small country, it’s about the size of the state of Maine
in the United States. It only has about 340,000 people. So the whole population of Iceland is about like Corpus Christi, Texas. It’s about like Anaheim, California. It’s about like Honolulu, just to give you a sense,
for the whole country. So this is a very, very remote and very sparsely populated country. But given that, it’s
got a very rich culture and history that’s fun to explore. When Rick Steves goes to Iceland with his Norwegian ancestry,
he finds that he has these distant cousins all over the place. And that’s because most of
the people who live in Iceland today are descended from
early Scandinavians. Or you could think of the old
Norse culture, the Viking Age. The people who settled
Iceland weren’t Vikings because they weren’t pillaging
and raping and marauding. They were the cousins of the Vikings who instead wanted to settle
and create civilizations. Right? These are the folks that
we’re talking about. Around the ninth century, the
first Viking Age explorers from what is today Norway found their way across the North Atlantic
and decided to start building scattered farms around Iceland. When they got to Iceland, they discovered a basically uninhabited country. Which is interesting, most
of the stories of Europeans coming to the New World
involve colonization and dealing with native populations. There was no one living
in Iceland at that point, so they just built a country from scratch. There were also a few Celtic people, people from Ireland are also
part of the Icelandic mix. But the dominant culture was Scandinavian. It was a very sparsely populated
country and still is today, but for literally hundreds of
years from the settlement age, Iceland was basically a series of distantly located scattered farms. There’d be a farm here and then
50 miles away, another farm. It was never really any
city or town in Iceland until pretty much the 19th century. So there was a very
pioneer kind of a mentality that still shapes some of
what goes on in Iceland today. For reasons no one’s quite sure of though, Icelanders were very literate and they were great writers
and great chroniclers. So a lot of what we know
about the history of the early Scandinavians actually
came from the Icelanders. You can actually read
contemporary English translations of what’s called The Sagas,
The Sagas of the Icelanders. And these are sort of the partial fact and partial myth of the early stories of Scandinavia and of
Iceland specifically. Kind of like the Robin Hood
or King Arthur-type tales. And also, some historically
documented chronicles of the people who first settled Iceland. So there’s actually a really rich literary tradition in Iceland, despite how sparsely populated it was. But again, the Icelanders
kind of toiled on through the centuries in
this remote little outpost, kind of the poor country
backwater of the Scandinavians. There were really no cities or towns. It was part of Norway
for a few hundred years and then it became part of
Denmark for a few hundred years but it was always kind of an afterthought. And then in the middle
of the 19th century, about when there were a lot of independence movements
going across Europe, it happened in Iceland as well. And they said you know what,
we don’t want to have to go to university in Copenhagen just
because we’re from Iceland, which was the only option at that time, we want our own universities, we want to be considered our
own culture, our own entity. It was a gradual process but in 1943, finally officially Iceland
became an independent country. That gives you a sense of how young Iceland is as an independent country. Around that same time, World
War II was going on and the United States, the Allies
technically occupied Iceland. They weren’t invited there,
but they said you know, we need a base part way to Europe and they built a giant
airport there called Keflavik, which is still the international airport that you will arrive at when
you go to Iceland today. It was built by the U.S. military and that’s part of the
reason people go to Iceland, because there’s this big military airport that’s perfect for Iceland Air’s 747s and makes it viable as a stopover place for all of these transcontinental flights. You’ve heard a lot about Iceland
probably in recent years. All of a sudden, it’s
in the news everywhere. 2008, the global financial crisis you might know, wrecked
Iceland particularly hard. It just sent their currency,
the krona, plummeting. It was a really tough time in Iceland. They had done a lot of
very unwise speculating, a lot of the kinds of
investment that got us into trouble in the
United States were done sort of with a vengeance in Iceland. But it’s been really remarkable to see how well things have bounced back. The place is really in
recovery, more than in recovery, it’s doing great, which I think speaks to something about the Icelandic character. Icelanders are very can-do people. They’re sort of the Scandinavian nose to the grindstone
work ethic-type people. But also, they have
this pioneer mentality. You have to make it work, right? They live in this really
rugged remote place where they just have to
look out for themselves and they figure out a way to make it work. The other reason why you might have heard about Iceland recently is it’s incredibly popular with
tourists these days. If you want to know what
exponential looks like, this is what exponential looks like. This is visits of Americans
to Iceland starting in 2003. And around 2010, you can see
it just spikes like crazy. In 2016, more Americans visited Iceland than the people who live in Iceland. (audience laughing) Yeah, and that’s probably why you’re watching this class right now. For good reason, it’s
a great place to visit. I also think this is,
though, a good reminder that this is a place
that’s kind of grappling with this sudden very dramatic popularity. I am amazed at how well
they’re handling it. Again, this is sort of the
spirit of the Icelander, the pioneer spirit, we’re
going to make this work. Working on our guidebook, I’d drive around in the countryside and I’d
come to some farmhouse B&B and I’d go in and I’d say oh, I see you have five
rooms in your brochures. They’d say oh, well we had five rooms, we’re building 10 more in a
new building across the street. This is how Icelanders operate. They’re just saying you
know, roll up your sleeves and let’s make the most of it and let’s take care of these tourists. And so I would say be
thoughtful and respectful of the fact that they’re dealing with sort of this whole new culture of tourism. But they’re handling it very
well, that’s the good news. I find Icelanders, by
the way, just delightful. I really enjoy spending time with them. Most Icelanders in the tourist
trades speak great English. They’ve got a great personality. I would say this is one of the
treats of going to Iceland. And if you’re going to Iceland, it would be really easy
to go for a few days and never really talk to an Icelander because there’s so much tourism and a lot of it’s
concentrated in a few places. So I would challenge
you to actually get out and try to meet a few Icelandic people and learn a little bit
about what it’s like to live in this unique part of the world. They have a lifestyle
there that there’s really nothing like it anywhere else
and the landscape as well. A few things that might help
you in getting used to Iceland. They have basically the
same alphabet we do, but they have some different letters. And I will be honest, Icelandic
is difficult to pronounce. There’s very long words, they
have a way of stacking up words to create much longer words. It’s a Scandinavian language, okay? So if you are familiar or have heard Norwegian or Swedish or Danish, some of it might be a little bit familiar. But for someone visiting
for a of couple days, it can be a little overwhelming. Again, not too much of a language barrier but if you want to try
to sound things out, I’m going to give you a few clues, the key things that are big differences that most likely trip up a tourist. The first one are these two letters. Okay, these both are letters that would be translated as a TH in english. The first one is called a thorn. It looks like a P with a little
stick coming off the top. That would be an unvoiced TH
sound like the word breath, th. So it’s just a simple th sound. This is called the eth and it’s a D with a little cross on it. And that’s a voiced TH sound
like the, like breathe. So this is breath and this is
breathe, if that makes sense. To help you get your head around this, let’s talk about a couple
of sort of Icelandic figures that you’re probably familiar with. I mentioned that the Icelanders were part of the Old Norse tradition. Does anyone know who the Old
Norse god of thunder was? – [Audience] Thor. – Thor, right? Thor. We call him Thor in English. The Icelanders also call him Thor, Thor. That’s that letter, the thorn. It looks like a P but
it’s pronounced like a th. A soft, an unvoiced TH. Thor. Does anyone know who Thor’s father is? – [Audience] Odin. – Odin, okay, whom Icelanders call Odinn. Odinn. That’s the D with the cross,
which a voiced TH sound. Thor, th th th. Odin, th th th. These are probably the letters
that most trip up tourists. A couple other letters to be aware of in terms of pronunciation, and by the way, I could do a whole class just
on pronouncing Icelandic. But the other two I think
that are the most confusing, like in a lot of European languages, a J is pronounced like a Y. That’s pretty common, especially Scandinavian
or German languages. A double L is surprising,
it has kind of a TL sound. If you’re familiar with Welsh,
spoken in the United Kingdom, spoken in Wales, they
have a very similar sound. A double L is a TL sound, a tl, tl sound. As I go through the talk, I will point out situations where these
occur and give you a chance to sort of hear what they sound like. And let me say, I am far from an expert
at pronouncing Icelandic. I am just learning myself,
but I think sometimes it helps to kind of get your ears around
hearing a non-native speaker say some of these words
so you can start to train your brain for what
you’re supposed to do. Let’s talk about another famous Icelander, maybe the most famous Icelander, Bjork. International pop star,
idiosyncratic fashionista, and proud Icelander. There is that J, this is
the J that sounds like a Y. Bjork. Icelandic has the umlaut over
the O just like in German. So if you’re familiar with
German, that’s the same letter. You might not know this, but Bjork’s last name is Gudmundsdottir. Gudmundsdottir, that’s the
TH sound that’s a voiced TH. Gudmundsdottir, that’s
an interesting word. What’s interesting about the
way Icelanders form their names is they’re patronyms,
they’re not hereditary. In other words, you form your name using your father or
sometimes your mother’s first name followed by son or daughter. So Bjork’s last name,
last name or surname, is Bjork daughter of Gudmunds,
Gudmund’s daughter, okay? This is the same, not for all Icelanders, but for most Icelanders they
still follow this tradition. The other interesting
thing about Icelandic names is Icelanders are all
on a first name basis. It’s probably partly because
they don’t have these hereditary last names that
follow them through generations. So the last name is a
little less important. If you run into the president
on the streets of Reykjavik, you would say well hello, Bjarni. You wouldn’t say oh hello, Mr. President. To us, that seems kind of informal but that’s just the way Icelanders do it. Actually, using someone’s full first name is considered very formal,
everyone has a nickname that only their friends can use. So these are sort of these interesting little characteristics
of Icelandic culture. The Icelandic currency is the krona, which is similar to the currency in other Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden. In the case of Iceland, it’s
about 100 krona to the dollar and that makes it pretty easy to convert things in your mind,
you just sort of chop off two zeroes at the end, very roughly. It fluctuates, but
that’s the general idea. But by the way, you probably
are rarely going to see actual cash krona because Iceland is very much a credit card-based economy. You will pay for everything
with a credit card. You will pay for a pack of gum at a convenience store with a credit card. You will sometimes pay for using the bathroom with a credit card. You could very easily spend
several days in Iceland and never actually get out any local cash and you will probably be okay. I think it’s a good idea just
to get out maybe 10, 15, 20 dollars worth of Icelandic
cash when you arrive just so you have it for the
rare cases when you need it, which would be situations
like paying for a bathroom at a place that doesn’t take credit cards. It’s also helpful to know
that Icelanders don’t tip. So if you’re going to a restaurant, tipping is never part
of their custom there. You never have to tip at
all, which is another reason why you don’t need to be
carrying around a lot of cash. Now this is fortunate because
Iceland is very expensive. I’ll talk about that more in a minute, but probably the main thing
I would say as a warning, if there is any downside
to traveling to Iceland, it’s a little bit cold but
also it’s very expensive. So you just need to be prepared for that. Before I move on from this topic though, I wanted to point out Icelanders
use the chip and PIN system and more and more Americans
are comfortable with this, but occasionally American
chip and PIN cards don’t work in Icelandic pay points. I didn’t have this occur to
me very often in Iceland. Where it’s most likely to happen would be like an automated gas station. The only way that you can avoid this is don’t let your gas tank get too low. If you’re in the middle
of the countryside, you don’t want to wait too long to get gas in case the one gas station for 20 miles doesn’t take your kind of credit card. Other than that, I think
there’s not too many situations where this would trip you up. Most of the time, your
credit card will work fine. So let’s talk a little more about this very expensive aspect of going to Iceland. Compared to even the most
expensive parts of Europe, I’m thinking places like
Norway, maybe even Switzerland, Iceland is really at
the top of that scale. So a simple, not simple,
but a straightforward business class hotel room
in downtown Reykjavik is going to be about $300, $250-$300. Something you might expect to pay $150-$200 in most of Europe. If you want to stay in a
guesthouse with a shared bathroom, you can save a fair amount of money. That might be $100,
$150, maybe about half. So just be prepared when
you’re thinking about prices in Icelandic, it’s always going
to be a little bit higher. So there’s two options
that I just mentioned. There’s hotels, traditional
hotels like you have anywhere. There’s a big custom for guesthouses and very often guesthouses
have either partly or exclusively rooms
with shared bathrooms. That’s the way they keep the costs down. So if you’re looking at
a guesthouse in Iceland, be aware that there’s
very likely a non-bathroom option there and sometimes
that’s the only choice you have. For this reason, the
expensive accommodations, I find it works really well to use Airbnb and maybe some other apartment
rental sites of that type. This allows Icelanders who
own property to rent it out at prices to people like us tourists that aren’t breaking the
bank but also allow those local people to make a little
bit of income out of it. As a concrete example, on
a recent visit to Iceland I was in Reykjavik for quite awhile so I switched around and I
went to three different Airbnbs and each one was quite different. One of them was a downtown apartment right in the center of Reykjavik,
a big spacious one bedroom apartment with a living
room and a kitchen. Another one was a beautiful
little bottom floor of a family home, again a big
spacious one bedroom apartment on the suburban part of
Reykjavik facing the water, a long walk or a short
drive from downtown. And then the other one
was actually my own house in a little bedroom community about a half hour drive outside of Reykjavik. Each of these properties cost
me about $150, $160, okay. So that’s about the cost of a guesthouse downtown with a shared bathroom. You can get your own house
or your own apartment downtown with your own bathroom and so forth for about the same price. For that reason, I think
people who are thinking about budget when they’re looking at Iceland are finding that Airbnb is a great choice. Let’s talk a little bit
about Icelandic food. And of course, this is shaped
by this remote location of Iceland, the hardscrabble
pioneer lifestyle. Unfortunately, and I think
sort of unjustifiably, Iceland is mostly famous for its gross foods, its hardship foods, right? Because when you’re living
on an island in the middle of nowhere and it’s winter, you
just need to eat something. So you have things like fish jerky, you have things like the head of a lamb that’s just served right there on a plate so you can pick away at the cheek meat. And the most famous, the Greenland shark, sometimes called the rotted
shark which is actually a little chunk of shark
that’s been fermented, buried underground and allowed to ferment. And it kind of has a
fish and ammonia flavor. It’s really nice. (audience laughing) Icelanders who are watching
this are rolling their eyes and saying they’re talking
about the rotted shark again. We don’t ever eat rotted shark. And that’s why I say this is traditional, this is old school Icelandic. I’m here to tell you, today Iceland has a fantastic food scene. I consider myself something of a foodie and I have been really impressed by the quality of the food in Iceland. You have excellent lamb in Iceland. There are aficionados who
would say the best lamb you can get anywhere is in Iceland because they have the
countryside of rolling pastures and the lambs are grazing and
there’s just a certain flavor to the meat that people really
say is special in Iceland. And as you might imagine, they also have great seafood
in Iceland, great fish. They have great, they call them lobster, but it’s what we might call a langoustine, a kind of a smaller lobster
or a very large shrimp. Really delectable seafood. There’s a great variety of
restaurants all over Iceland. You’ve got trendy big eating halls, you’ve got inviting outdoor seating. It’s a very cold climate,
but when it’s nice everyone gets out and sits
out on the sidewalk to enjoy. So I’ve been talking about
the budgetary concerns. Iceland food is also very expensive. And this is the one
that could really hurt. You might think $150 for
an Airbnb, no big deal. To get a pretty basic sit
down restaurant dinner in Reykjavik, entrees
are going to be around $40 per person, $30, $40 a person. This might sound a little backwards, but when a basic dinner costs $40, you can get a really great
dinner for $50 or $60. So I find myself justifying going to nicer restaurants in Iceland. You can’t get a $20 dinner unless it’s groceries or a hot dog, okay? So if you want to go to a restaurant, you might as well kind of
go all out and do it great. I have a couple of
favorites that we mention in our Rick Steves Iceland guidebook. You can get a great dinner
here for $50, $60, $70 a person and it’s going to be a memorable dinner. Or you could pay $40
a person for a totally forgettable dinner, a
totally practical dinner. Now that assumes you want to
go and have a nice dinner. And of course, there’s other alternatives
as well in Iceland. My big tip here, if you want to save money and eat really well in Iceland, have your big special
restaurant meal at lunch. Even the nicest restaurants in Iceland have amazing lunch specials. They have a fish of the
day usually for $25, $30. Now that sounds like a
lot for lunch, but again, your alternative is a $15 hot dog. It’s not that tough to spend $25 on a plate of food like this. Have your big meal at lunch
and then you can do something a little more basic for dinner. You can go to get some
groceries and have a picnic, you can order a pizza, that sort of thing, which would be more in the $20 range if you wanted to order a pizza. So that’s my favorite budget tip for eating affordably in Iceland. Also, especially again at lunchtime, you look for soup and bread buffets. This is a custom all
over Iceland in the city, also throughout the countryside. Bakeries and cafes will have
an all-you-can-eat soup buffet with all the bread you can eat and all the water you can drink and all the coffee you can
drink usually for $15 or $20, which again sounds like a lot
for lunch but you can fill up, you can have six bowls of
soup and then you can graze on vegetables for dinner if you want. Again, this is a good budget tip. Look for the unlimited soup
and bread buffet at lunchtime. One other thing about Iceland food I feel like I have to talk about, Icelandic food is newly trendy
here in the United States. This is Skyr, which is sort
of similar to like a Greek yogurt but has a very
long tradition in Iceland. It’s an interesting way
that Iceland and sort of some of the foods that are
popular in Iceland are starting to spread out and become
popular here stateside as well. It’s one more way in which the world is becoming more aware of Iceland. Iceland also has a good drinking culture. They’ve got a really
good microbrew culture. So if you like to go to a microbrewery and taste what people are doing locally in terms of interesting brews, that’s really a trendy thing right now all over Iceland but
especially in Reykjavik. Alcohol prices, of course,
are very very high. One tip if you want to stock up on some booze before your trip to Iceland, you buy it at the duty free store when you arrive at the airport. It’s cheaper than anywhere
else in the country. My other tip for this is there
are some really fun bars. If you want to go out for a
drink of course that’s a must, some really fun bars with microbrews and with cocktails in Reykjavik. But bars tend to have a
really good happy hour. So if you’re willing to
go a little bit earlier, sometimes they cut the price even in half. If you go to this bar and
get this really nice glass of Icelandic microbrew in the evening, later on it might cost you $15 or $20. If you go for happy hour,
it might be $10 or $12. Okay, so that’s a good
tip for saving money while still enjoying Icelandic drinks. Because of Iceland’s unique
landscape and unique terrain, you have to take certain
things into consideration when you’re making an itinerary. And the first thing you
have to think about, do you want to go in the
summer or the winter? And there’s a huge difference between Iceland in the summer and
Iceland in the winter. This of course is the
land of the midnight sun. It’s at about the latitude
of Fairbanks, Alaska. I took this picture at 11:30
at night in early June. The sun technically sets, but
it doesn’t set for very long, it’s two or three hours and
it never really gets dark. I happen to love this because
I love to pack as much sightseeing as possible into a day. I love going in the summer
because you could spend a whole day sightseeing around Reykjavik and around four in the
afternoon get in your car, drive deep into the countryside, and have an eight hour road trip and come back to Reykjavik exhausted, but it’s still light outside. And especially because so many
people are going to Iceland for just a day or two, go in the summer if you want to really make the
most of your daylight hours. You can go to Iceland in the winter. In fact, the Icelandic tourist
board is trying to promote winter travel because the
summer is getting crowded. And by the way, when I say summer, I’m talking July and August. Iceland has a very short summer season because of its northern latitudes. It starts getting quite cold in September and even in early June
it can be quite frigid. It’s not exactly warm in July and August, but that has your highest chance of having a little bit better weather. Meanwhile, Iceland has a very long winter and the days are as short in the winter as they are long in the summer. The reason why people consider
going to Iceland in the winter is because they want
to see the Northern Lights. And that makes a lot of sense. I don’t want to be a total
cynic or a skeptic about this, I think it’s great if you want
to see the Northern Lights, but keep in mind you’re
making a lot of other trade-offs in order to see it. For one thing, you can never be guaranteed of seeing the Northern Lights. It can be very cloudy in Iceland. You could be there for days and it just never clears enough that you can see them. Second of all, any
picture you see like this of the Northern Lights,
these bright, vivid, glowing sort of swirling patterns in the sky was taken with a very special camera and was later manipulated
and when you go on your Northern Lights trip in December, you’re going to get a picture like this. (audience laughing) It’s still impressive
and the Northern Lights are still sort of a
majestic, amazing phenomenon. However, it’s not necessarily
going to look like this. The other thing I want to
point out in this picture, what do you notice in this picture? Icy roads. So if you go in the wintertime, you have a few hours of daylight. The sun rises in December at around 11, 11:30, it sets around 3:30. So you have very limited daylight and the roads may be
covered with snow and ice. If you’re going in the winter, don’t try to get ambitious and
go way into the countryside. You’re going to have to probably
stick closer to Reykjavik. But again, that said, if
you really want to see the Northern Lights,
that’s the only chance you’re going to get to see them. The sun never sets in the summer, so you will never see the
Northern Lights in the summer. Okay, so don’t go in July thinking well maybe we’ll catch a
look at the Northern Lights. Regardless of when you go to Iceland, (audience laughing) be prepared for cold weather. This is a billboard for an Icelandic, kind of Iceland’s version of REI, an Icelandic outfitter for the outdoors. And their slogan is waiting
for summer since 1926. (audience laughing) In July and August, you see people in parkas and winter hats and gloves. Don’t worry about bringing
a special winter coat in the summer but bring plenty of layers. If you have a lightweight hat or lightweight gloves, bring ’em. You might have beautiful sunshine and it might actually crack
60 degrees on some days. On other days, there
could be howling wind. In fact, my Icelandic friend Ian told me that Icelanders don’t
consider good weather sun, they consider good weather not windy. It’s really the wind when you’re on this island nation in the North Atlantic. The wind howling through
is what’s really frigid. So just be prepared
for chilly temperatures even if you’re going
in the peak of summer. In terms of your specific itinerary, I want to give you a
few ways of looking at how you plan your time
in Iceland depending on if you’re going short
or a little bit longer. A lot of people are going to Iceland on a very quick layover. People are going to Iceland for 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours. And I would say if that’s
all you have for Iceland, make the most of it. I wouldn’t discourage you from doing that. It’s really worth attempting it. But you want to be really well organized and prioritize things smartly. For a very short layover
of one to three days, here’s the kind of revolutionary tip. Don’t spend a lot of time in Reykjavik. Spend the night in Reykjavik,
it’s a fantastic home base, it’s got great restaurants,
great nightlife. If you’re there in summer,
it’s light out all the time anyway so you can come back
from a busy day of sightseeing at 10 PM and still be able to go for a nice sunny stroll outside. Spend the night in Reykjavik,
but you’re in Iceland not necessarily for Reykjavik,
you’re in Iceland for the natural wonders of the countryside. So if I had one day in Iceland, I would, let’s say for
example, arrive in the morning. I would go to the Blue Lagoon,
which is the famous spa, on the way from the
airport into Reykjavik. I would have lunch in Reykjavik. I might spend a couple
hours poking around. But mid-afternoon, if it’s
summer and it’s light, I would get in my car and spend several hours driving
into the countryside, collapse back at my
Reykjavik hotel at midnight, get a few hours sleep, wake up, go to the airport and fly
to my next destination. If that’s all you have, 24 hours, that’s a great way to spend it and you’ll get a nice variety of sights. If you have a little more time,
you can add more day trips. I’ll talk a little later
about the specifics. Favorite side trips are the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, and the South Coast. If you’re going for two
days, pick two of ’em. If you’re going for three
days, pick all three. And again, I’ll talk a little later about some of the details
of how this works. Reykjavik’s here, Blue
Lagoon is 45 minutes away, Golden Circle is in the
countryside to the east, South Coast is down here. On a shirt visit, I would
basically combine the Blue Lagoon with your airport arrival or departure, spend some time on the Golden
Circle, it takes about a day, spend some time on the South
Coast, it takes about a day. If you have a little bit
more time, four, six, seven, eight days, you can have time
for all of those side trips. You can add more side
trips, there’s a great spot I love called the Westman Islands. If you had a fourth day, that’s what I would spend my time on, Westman Islands. Then you have more time for
hanging out around Reykjavik. Okay, so if you’re got five
or six days, I would devote at least a good day of
sightseeing in Reykjavik. Maybe do a whale watching
trip, maybe take an excursion into the countryside for
some adventure sports, hiking across a glacier,
that sort of thing. If you have more time, if
you have at least nine days, now we’re really talking. Now we’re talking about the ultimate Icelandic road trip,
which is the Ring Road. The Ring Road is a road that
goes all the way around Iceland and lets you see all of
the dramatic landscapes in the distant corners of this country. You don’t want to attempt the Ring Road if you have less than about seven days, or eight days, let’s say. So if you’re just going
for three or four days, don’t try to squeeze it
in ’cause once you start halfway around, you really have to go all the rest of the way around. It’s not something that should be rushed. This is for somebody who’s not
just doing a quick layover. This is for somebody who
really wants to see Iceland. At the end of this talk, I’ll
narrate what you would see if you did the whole Ring Road trip. By the way, if you are just
going to Reykjavik for a day or two, one of my colleagues,
Kevin Williams, did a class like this one covering the
highlights of Reykjavik. So he offers sort of a
different perspective and really a bit more
of a focus on Reykjavik specifically than this talk has, so I encourage you to check that one out. Now that we’ve talked about
what we’re doing in Iceland, let’s talk about how
we’re going to get there. The short answer to this is you
probably want to rent a car. And the reason for that
is you might think well, it’d be cheaper to take
public transportation. If you’re only going to
Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon, public transportation is fine. It’s easy to get a
transfer from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, from
the Blue Lagoon downtown, and from downtown back to the airport. But if you want to get out
into these spectacular bits of countryside, the Golden
Circle, the South Coast, there is no public transportation
that really connects that. You’re going to have to
pay for an excursion, okay? And an excursion can cost $100, $150, $200 per person per excursion. When you start adding up those costs, pretty quickly it becomes
affordable to rent a car in Iceland when you might not
have thought for two days, oh of course we’re not
going to rent a car, we’re only there for two days. Well if you’re spending one of those days at the Golden Circle, one of
those days at the South Coast, a car rental split between two people is less expensive than
the total for excursions, two excursions for two people each. If you follow my logic here. So really think carefully
about driving in Iceland. And I would say Iceland is a
relatively easy place to drive. One important thing to think about when you imagine renting a car in Iceland, especially with some of
the pictures I’ll show you, you might think you need some sort of a monster truck, a 4×4 Jeep, right? To get to this landscape. Everything I’m going to
describe in this class, everything in the best two
weeks Iceland has to offer, can be done in a tiny
little car like this. There are a few gravel roads
where you’re going to have to slow down and be a little careful steering and some unique challenges
of driving in Iceland. But all of the roads in the summer are passable by a basic
two wheel drive car. So don’t invest in the
big 4×4 unless you are really doing some hiking
and camping and getting way off the beaten track into
the highlands of Iceland. So that’s my summary of
what I think every traveler needs to know logistically in terms of skills, sleeping, eating, transportation when they’re going to Iceland
and how to make an itinerary. For most people, the first
place you’re going to go is Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. And like Iceland itself, it’s a pretty small,
comfortable, compact place. There’s only about 120,000 in Reykjavik. The metro area is about double that. So about 2/3 of all Icelanders live in the metro area of Reykjavik. For comparison, that’s
about the population of Topeka, Kansas or
Charleston, South Carolina. So Reykjavik is an international capital, a national capital with a seat at the UN and a president who
goes to cocktail parties with the presidents of other nations. But it’s a really small community,
so let’s not forget that. One thing that surprises a
lot of people about Reykjavik is how small and compact it is and how kind of American it feels, okay? Technically, I think we
consider Iceland part of Europe but it really feels more
like an American city. That’s because it’s so young. Remember that there weren’t
really any cities or towns in Iceland until the late 19th century. Reykjavik is younger than
a lot of American cities, which means a very predictable grid plan. You’re not going to
find a cutesy, cobbled, half-timbered old town where
it’s impossible to drive, okay? It’s designed for suburbanites driving into town and finding parking. I love to just kind of
wander around Reykjavik. It doesn’t have a lot
of big league sights, but it’s extremely
charming just to explore. You can wander over to
the Parliament Square. Yes, this sweet little
two-story stone building is the Parliament of Iceland,
just to give you a sense of sort of the humility
of the Icelandic culture. And I said it wasn’t
really charming or cutesy or old world but that doesn’t
mean it’s not appealing. It has sort of its own
identity and its own charm. And they really love color in Reykjavik and in Iceland in general. I think when you have long gloomy winters where it barely gets sunny out, you just want to paint
everything in bright colors. As you walk around Reykjavik, tune into some of the details
that tell you a little bit about Icelandic culture more broadly. For example, a lot of the
buildings all over Iceland, especially Reykjavik, are brightly painted and they’re actually
kind of a steel siding, a corrugated steel siding
which is very practical given the harsh climate
that these people live in. And again, they love to
paint them beautiful colors. The other thing you might notice
wandering around Reykjavik, everyone has a little window that’s designed to prop open a few inches. The reason for this is really interesting. I’ll talk a little bit more later about how Iceland is a
very volcanic island. And the Icelanders have
figured out ingenious ways to dig bore holes deep
into the earth’s crust, harness naturally heated water,
and deliver it in pipelines all the way into Reykjavik to heat homes. It also comes out of your tap. So when you first get
to your Iceland hotel and you turn on the hot water, you’ll notice it’s pretty
scalding water, so be careful. You will also notice
a slight sulphur smell and that’s because the
hot water literally comes from deep below the earth’s
crust in the countryside. Because everyone has a radiator and heating costs are very
low, rather than worry about tinkering with their
radiator all the time, even in the winter when
it gets a little stuffy, they just prop open a window. So it’s kind of fun to
notice these little details that tell you about how Iceland is different from what you’re used to. If Reykjavik is a great
strolling city, and it really is, probably the best street to
stroll is this one, Laugavegur. This is sort of the main
walking, shopping, dining, and nightlife strip running
through the middle of Reykjavik. It’s just a delightful
place to window shop, drop into a cafe, maybe buy a parka if you forgot to pack warm
enough, go to a restaurant, look at menus for dinner later tonight. When I’m in Iceland, I like
to kind of develop a local routine where I really feel
like I’m part of the community. One of the things I do is
I find my favorite places to go for breakfast every morning. My favorite coffee shop,
which is just off of Laugavegur Street, is
called Reykjavik Roasters. Really top quality third
wave gourmet coffee that rivals anything that
you can get in Seattle. And then right across the
street in this wildly graffitied building is my favorite
bakery in Reykjavik. It’s called Braud &
Co., Bread and Company. And it has fantastic sort of
Scandinavian style sweet rolls, cinnamein buns, that sort of thing. So every morning I love
to go get my coffee at Reykjavik Roasters
and get my cinnamon bun and sit out and enjoy being
part of Reykjavik life. So I really try to become
part of the culture. Another thing that’s interesting
that you’ll really notice in Reykjavik is fantastic street art. And this is something you’ll see in other parts of Europe as well, which is that civic authorities
and homeowners have found if you give somebody a big
blank wall it’s only a matter of time before someone comes
and tags it with ugly graffiti. And so they actually
commission street artists to come and create
beautiful murals instead. Because if they don’t create
the art on these buildings, somebody else is going to come and mark it up however they see fit. And what they find is the
graffiti taggers respect that. If it’s been decorated by an artist, they’re not going to deface the art. So it’s really enjoyable,
especially to get off on the backstreets of Reykjavik and explore some of the great
street art that you find here. In general, Reykjavik is a
really colorful city to explore. And it’s a great place to go shopping, I’m not much of a shopper, but there are a few
interesting things to consider. One thing you might have heard about are the famous Icelandic sweaters. These are heavy woolen
sweaters with kind of a circular pattern that
radiates from the neck. If you’re interested in an
Icelandic sweater though, I will warn you they are very expensive. A quality Icelandic sweater
could be $250, $300. Here’s a budget tip, Salvation
Army and the Red Cross have thrift stores in downtown Reykjavik where you can buy some Icelander’s used Icelandic sweater for
about half that price. This sounds kind of silly,
but if you want a solid, well-loved but in good
quality Icelandic sweater for $100, $150, that’s a
good budget alternative. As you’re walking around
downtown Reykjavik, sometimes you’ll feel pulled up to this steeple that
kind of is on a hilltop. It marks the center of the town and exerts kind of a special magnetism. This is the main Lutheran
church of Reykjavik. It’s called the Hallgrimskirkja and it’s actually designed
to echo the basalt lava rock formations that you
see all over Iceland. I’ll show you some slides
later of the countryside where you’ll get a sense of how these are supposed to sort of echo
the Icelandic landscape. Built in the early 20th century
by Iceland’s state architect who actually built a lot of
the buildings around Iceland and especially around Reykjavik. It’s got a beautiful
serene Lutheran interior and you can actually take an
elevator up to the top of the steeple and get a beautiful
view over the Reykjavik skyline. But remember, this is a city
the size of Topeka, Kansas. This gives you a sense. This is not a thriving metropolis. It’s a great charming
town but it’s not bustling by any stretch of the imagination. Standing in front of the Hallgrimskirkja you have a statue of Leif Erikson. This was most likely the first European to set foot on the New World about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. And I find Icelandic history sort of insistently interesting. When you start to hear about
it, it’s very epic and dynamic. This is a case where his
father, Erik the Red, the famous Erik the
Red, he’s Leif Erikson. Typical Icelandic name, Leif Erikson. Erik the Red actually was an Icelander who was evicted and sent to Greenland and he created some
settlements in Greenland. And then his son, Leif Erikson,
decided to follow reports that there was some other
landform to the west. And they believed that
around the year 1000 or maybe the late 900s, he touched down in what is today Newfoundland, Canada. So very likely he preceded
Christopher Columbus by about 500 years, so
that tells you a little bit about the Icelandic seafaring spirit and their kind of navigational prowess. I would say Reykjavik is not a place that you want to do a lot of sightseeing. It’s not a place to spend
a lot of time in museums. That’s why I mentioned spending
some evenings in Reykjavik is fantastic for the restaurants and for the nightlife
and for going for walks. But if you’re in town
for two or three days, you don’t necessarily need to devote a whole day to sightsee Reykjavik. If you do have some time
to sightsee Reykjavik and especially if you’re
interested in Icelandic culture and history, there
are some things to do. This is the settlement exhibition where they have discovered and excavated a Viking Age longhouse
from around the year 1000. And they’ve got great exhibits. They kind of tell you how those original Icelandic settlers would
have lived way back then. There’s also an Icelandic National Museum which has an interesting collection of fairly modest artifacts
from Icelandic history. But they’re lovingly presented
and very well described and they help you kind of understand the story of Iceland a little bit better. Another place that’s fun to explore in Reykjavik is the harbor front area. There you’re going to find the landmark concert hall called Harpa. This I pretty new, it
was built in about 2011. And this was part of Iceland’s kind of trying to put itself
forward on the global stage. They wanted to kind of assert themselves as a serious capital like Oslo
with its famous opera house or Sydney with its famous opera house. They really wanted to feel like they were a world class city and they built this. And sure enough, the Harpa concert hall is getting a lot of
attention internationally. It’s kind of the main modern
landmark of Reykjavik. And the inside is really
fun to wander around. It’s free to go inside and just kind of explore the concert hall. They also have a lot of
great musical events. So if you’re going to be in
Reykjavik for a few nights and want to check out some
life theater, some live music, there’s a great lineup of options
at the Harpa concert hall. They have several venues
from large to small and usually a few selections every night. Another landmark of
Reykjavik that’s pretty new that’s just down the coastline
from the Harpa concert hall is this sculpture called The Sun Voyager. It’s relatively new but it’s
already been really embraced. It’s sort of the place to take a selfie when you’re in Reykjavik these days. It’s shaped sort of like a Viking Age ship kind of in an homage to
the original settlers who came across from
Norway to settle Iceland and it’s pointed towards the setting sun. So there’s sort of this
poetic inspiration behind it. If you really want to get
out on the water yourself, another popular pastime in Reykjavik are whale watching cruises. I would say not necessarily
don’t do whale watching cruises, but keep in mind for a
lot of people they find it’s a big investment of time,
a big investment of money. It can be rough, it can be windy. If you’re really into this,
it can be a fun experience. If you want to save a little
money and be more efficient and be guaranteed of seeing whales, there’s a really interesting exhibit called The Whales of Iceland. (audience laughing) Which is a five minute,
10 minute walk away from the whale watching cruises. And it’s actually a really cool thing, they filled a big warehouse
in a big box store zone with life-size models
of all the many whales that live off the coast of Iceland. And people can kind of walk
around and really feel like oh, this is what I would have seen except I would have seen this much of it if I had gone on that
whale watching cruise. It’s pretty expensive, but
I’d say this is worth doing if you’re interested in
the whales of Iceland. So you can see where
just in general Reykjavik is a great city, a great
place to spend time. And it’s a great place
to especially home base and spend a few nights and if
you have a few days to spare, there’s some great
sightseeing there as well. Reykjavik is a great city,
but for a lot of people what they really want to do in Iceland is get out into the countryside. And fortunately, some of the
most beautiful parts of Iceland are a short drive from downtown Reykjavik. So I want to go through I
would say the four most popular day trips from Reykjavik,
the things you might be able to fit in even if you’re only
in town for a day or two. These are the ones that
you’ll be choosing from if you’re going to have
two or three days to spend. Just to give you your bearings,
Reykjavik is right here. The Blue Lagoon, the famous spa, is right by the airport
about 45 minutes away. the Golden Circle is a countryside drive to the east of Reykjavik. The South Coast is
about an hour and a half southeast of Reykjavik. There are some great sights in this area. And the last one I’ll talk
about is a little less known, but I think it’s great,
the Westman Islands which are just off shore
from the South Coast. So I’m going to go
through each one of those so you can kind of consider your options depending on how much time you have. For a lot of people, maybe
one of the main reasons they go to Iceland is to
go to the Blue Lagoon. This is this very famous
beautiful thermal spa. Water is about 100 degrees, you’re surrounded by volcanic rock. In some cases, there’s
actually steam vents coming out of the volcanic rock. Because of the unique mineral
composition of the water, it’s got kind of a blue sheen. That’s where it gets its name. I’m not here to tell you not
to go to the Blue Lagoon. I love the Blue Lagoon
and I think it’s great, but I think it’s good to know
a little bit more about it and make an informed decision. The reason for that is it’s expensive. A ticket to the Blue Lagoon
starts at about $100 per person. If you go early in the
day or later in the day, you might get an $80 ticket
or even a $70 ticket, but plan on spending
about $100 per person. But let me tell you a little
bit about the experience and you can make the
decision for yourself. Icelanders think the Blue Lagoon is kind of a strange phenomenon. Most Icelanders wouldn’t go here. First of all, they’d never pay that much. They see it as kind of a tourist trap. They also think it’s kind of funny because the Blue Lagoon
started as sort of excess water from a geothermal plant, okay? They built this plant
here in the background. So they dug holes into the ground, they pulled up this water, they realized they couldn’t
use the water as it was but they could use that
water to heat other water, fresher water, purer
water that they could then send into communities for drinking water. But then they had to do something
with all the extra water that they had just
extracted this heat from. It was still pretty hot. So they would just dump
it in the lava plain next to the plant and suddenly
people started showing up in the middle of nowhere and swimming in this really warm beautiful water. And someone had the great idea, let’s turn this into a tourist attraction and now it’s the most popular
tourist attraction in Iceland. (audience laughing) And don’t be grossed out by
this, it’s all natural water. It was just used to heat other water, it wasn’t processed in any way. But just be aware that that’s
sort of the history of it. The Blue Lagoon is just a fun experience to bob around and enjoy swimming. You can see there’s kind of a white film that builds up on the
rocks of the Blue Lagoon. And you can swim up to this
stand in the Blue Lagoon and they’ll give you some white goop that you put on your
face and it’s supposed to have sort of exfoliant properties. I don’t know if it really works, but– (audience laughing) When you’re in Iceland, you’ve got to try putting
this stuff on your face. One interesting thing
about the Blue Lagoon logistically is it’s close to the airport. So the main international
airport where you’re arriving in Iceland is about 45
minutes from Reykjavik. The Blue Lagoon is about 10
minutes from that airport. So here’s a really good tip
for efficient sightseeing. If you’re arriving early in the day, go straight to the Blue
Lagoon, enjoy it there, and then continue from
there on into Reykjavik. If you’re flying out late in the day, you could do the opposite, you could leave Reykjavik mid-day, go to the Blue Lagoon, have an afternoon there and
then board your late flight. And that would be the
most relaxed flight you’ll probably ever have, coming
straight from the Blue Lagoon. So just be aware of that
logistical part of it. The other thing you really need to know about the Blue Lagoon,
it requires reservations. And it can book up, the best
slots, the most desirable slots can book up a couple weeks ahead even, or longer in peak season. So if you’re going to
go to the Blue Lagoon, and especially if you’re trying to coordinate it with your flight time, be sure to get your booking ahead of time. It’s very unlikely
you’ll be able to get in if you don’t have an advanced reservation. I mentioned earlier that
Icelanders are a little skeptical about the Blue Lagoon, partly
because of the expense. The reason why is, be
aware the Blue Lagoon is sort of the ultimate
example of the Icelandic thermal bathing culture but
it’s not the only example. There are about a dozen
municipal swimming pools around Reykjavik that
have water just as hot as the Blue Lagoon and a
ticket costs 1/10 as much. Now you might look at this and say why would I go to a municipal
swimming pool in Iceland? What you might not realize is the water in the main pool is about 85 degrees and the water in the smaller
pools is about 100 degrees. So it’s not just a normal swimming pool, and it’s all naturally heated water that comes straight from
underneath the earth. This is also a very Icelandic experience. As I mentioned, if you’re in
Iceland for just a few days you might find you’re on a tourist trail and you don’t really break out of that and have a truly Icelandic experience. If you go to a suburban
Reykjavik thermal swimming pool, that is an Icelandic experience. In Great Britain at the
end of a busy day of work, people gather their families
and they go down to the pub. Right? In Spain and Italy at the
end of a long day’s work, people take their families
wandering through the streets. The paseo in Spain, the
passeggiata in Italy. If there’s a comparable
situation to that in Iceland, it’s that at the end of a
school day or a work day, people gather their kids and take them down to the thermal swimming pool. So if you go to one of these, you’ll be surrounded by 90% Icelanders. If you go to the Blue Lagoon, you’ll be surrounded by 99% tourists. Doing both is a great option. And in fact, I become sort of a hot water aficionado when I’m in Iceland. It’s not just Reykjavik,
you see these signs all over the country in Iceland. I think every community with
at least a hundred people has somehow scraped together the resources to have a really top notch
municipal thermal swimming pool heated by natural thermal water. So if you’re driving around Iceland and you’re getting worn out and tired, look for one of these signs, stop in. There’s a very specific procedure for how you’re supposed to come and go. It sounds intimidating, but it’s really not if you know the rules. And in the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook, we have detailed instructions for how to do these thermal swimming pools. There’s also a variety of other, they call them premium thermal baths. So you’ve got the municipal swimming pool which is about $10 a person,
you’ve go the Blue Lagoon which is $100 a person, and
then there’s four or five of these premium thermal baths that are more like $40 or $50 a person that are a little more
catering to tourists but are not as inaccessible to locals. And they are a nice compromise. I’ll talk about a few of those as we go through the destinations. There are also some places you can go out in nature and be in thermal waters. This is a little bit riskier,
you have to really know what you’re doing and make sure you don’t accidentally get into
a pool that’s too hot. But if you have a good guidebook and get good information from locals, be aware that there’s opportunities to get in hot water all over Iceland. So we’ve talked about the Blue Lagoon. The second very popular day
trip itinerary, I would say the most popular day trip
itinerary is the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is about
a 150-mile loop drive going from Reykjavik into
the Icelandic interior, connecting three major
sights and lots of other smaller sights, if you
choose, along the way. I would say if there’s any
one kind of must-do sight, the quintessential Icelandic day trip, it would be the Golden Circle. I happen to like the South Coast which we’ll talk about next. I would say they’re, to me, equally appealing for different reasons. Let me tell you what you would do on the Golden Circle if
you decide to do this. This is 150 miles, it takes about a day. If you’re in a hurry, you could
do it in six, seven hours. If you want to linger and
have a meal along the way, it could be eight, nine, 10
hours just to give you a sense. The first of the three main stops on the Golden Circle is this place. Now let’s remember our
Icelandic language lessons. The big P with a stick on
the top is the TH sound and the two Ls are a TL sound. So this is pronounced Thingvellir. Thingvellir. It’s often spelled in English with the TH, but it’s not thing-vellir,
it’s Thingvellir, just to get you a little bit of a sense of the Icelandic language. Thingvellir is a great opportunity to learn a little bit more
about the geology of Iceland. We’ve talked about how Iceland is kind of in the middle of nowhere between
Europe and North America. However, it happens to sit right along the Mid-Atlantic Fault,
which is technically the biggest mountain range in the world. It just happens to be
under the Atlantic Ocean. This is where the North
American and the Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. And this is the reason why Iceland is so volcanically active. The fault between those
two tectonic plates actually cuts right up
through the middle of Iceland. So any time you talk about volcanoes or thermal springs in Iceland, you’re talking about something
that’s along this red line. Thingvellir is right here, for example. So one reason people
like to go to Thingvellir is there’s places where
you can walk through chasms where you have the impression that you’re literally walking
between continents. It’s a little more complicated than that, but essentially one side of this picture is North America, the other
side of this picture is Europe. So for geological reasons,
Thingvellir is very popular. It’s also very popular
for historical reasons. This is a very important
place for the Icelanders because where this flag is right here on this rock is where,
starting in the year 930, the Icelanders had a great assembly. So all the chieftains of all
these widely scattered farms all over the desolate country of Iceland would come together once a year, have a big meeting, make
the important decisions about the future of their
humble little country. It’s called the Althing,
the Althing gathering. For that reason, Thingvellir
is a very important national park and is sort of kind of the constitution hall for Icelanders. They consider it kind of the birthplace of their civilization. So if you’re interested
in the history of Iceland, that’s another reason why
this Thingvellir is great. Now we’re going to continue
along the Golden Circle. And by the way, I want
to say it’s not just the three big stops, it’s all of the beautiful countryside you see in between. What’s really remarkable
about traveling in Iceland is you could be a half
hour outside of Reykjavik and you’re in a landscape that looks like no human being has ever been there before. And the Golden Circle is
a great chance to get out and really experience the
Icelandic countryside. At one point, you’re
driving along a pipeline that’s bringing superheated
natural water from the plants out in the distant
countryside all the way into downtown Reykjavik to
come out of people’s taps. So this gives you a sense of
Iceland beyond the capital. And as you travel around, you’ll stop off at a beautiful little lakefront
and here’s another little geothermal plant just
sort of hissing away, you’ll see that all over
the Icelandic countryside. The second big stop for the Golden Circle is a place called Geysir. And this is where English and other languages got the word geyser. But this was the original
word in Icelandic to describe this sort of
steaming, bubbling plain where you have a lot of
hot water spurting around. And if you’re at the plain in Geysir, you’ll look over and you
see a bunch of people standing in a big circle looking at a big hole that’s kind of bubbling up. So you’ve decided there must
be something about to happen, so you wait and get your camera ready and sure enough, after about
10 minutes it starts to bubble and boil and the geyser shoots off. Now let me warn you,
Old Faithful this ain’t. It’s not exactly every 10 minutes. It’s about every 10 minutes. Here’s another tip, don’t blink. Okay, the geyser doesn’t
last for very long. Have your camera ready, make
sure it didn’t go to sleep while you were waiting ’cause otherwise you’re waiting another 10
minutes for the next one. I would say Geysir is
not the main attraction, it’s right on the way
to some other sights. It’s fun to stop off for 20 or 30 minutes and go for a walk and get a sense of this aspect of the
Icelandic countryside. One of the stops I think
that really is a highlight on the Golden Circle is
the third major stop. And it’s this waterfall, Gullfoss. Gullfoss, and I would say there
are three great waterfalls, my favorite three waterfalls in Iceland. This is the first one, Gullfoss. And as you can see from the parking lot, you walk down a trail
and you find yourself really immersed in this amazing landscape of the thundering
waterfall, you feel the mist coming up out of this gorge
and hitting you in the face. Really a dramatic waterfall experience. There are lots of other minor attractions also on the Golden Circle. So if you have a little bit more time, you can stop off and have a meal. You can stop off at a place
like this, it’s called Kerid. It’s a crater where you
can get our of your car and walk around the lip of
this really colorful crater. And there are also several thermal bathing opportunities as well
on the Golden Circle. So in our Rick Steves Iceland guidebook, we’ve outline four convenient
thermal bathing opportunities you can fit into your Golden Circle trip if you have a little bit of extra time. Okay, so that’s the second
of the four major day trips. Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle, now we’re going to head
down to the South Coast. The South Coast is
about an hour and a half to two hour drive from downtown Reykjavik. The reason you go to the South Coast is for really dramatic natural scenery, obviously coastal scenery,
and this is also a place with a lot of volcanic activity and a chance to look at some glaciers. The reason you would do this instead of the Golden Circle is if you
want to see the seashore, if you wanted to go for some
hikes there are a few more hiking opportunities
along the South Coast. It has an almost sort
of Celtic look to it. It has these kind of rugged green rolling hills and mountains. It also has my second
favorite waterfall in Iceland. This one is called Seljalandsfoss. It’s a beautiful waterfall to look at, but it’s also fun because there’s a trail that leads all the way
behind the waterfall. Take my word for it, you
want to wear waterproof shoes and a waterproof jacket
’cause you will be soaked by the time you’re done with it. But it is really delightful
to walk around behind this stunning thundering waterfall. Another highlight for people
visiting the South Coast is this glacier, Solheimajokull. Jokull is the word for glacier, so any time you see jokull in
Icelandic that means glacier. And this is the easiest
one closest to Reykjavik where you can actually go for
a little hike and actually, depending on conditions walk
up and touch the glacier, at least see it from a distance. Nearby you can go to Reynisfjara which is a beautiful
black sand volcanic beach which has some beautiful
basalt formations. Do you remember I showed
you the church in Reykjavik that had kind of this jagged skyline? This is a basalt formation that you see all over the country, that’s what he’s sort of trying to evoke with that. The other reason why the
South Coast is well known is this is the location
of the notorious volcano that went off in 2010
and halted air travel throughout Europe because of all the ash that it threw up into the atmosphere. This is a tough Icelandic
word, Eyjafjallajokull. Eyjafjallajokull. Some people call it E15, E and 15 letters because it’s too hard to say. (audience laughing) Eyjafjallajokull. This is one of many volcanoes
along the South Coast. Usually they’re dormant, but every few years
one of them does erupt. You’re not going to see
anything from Eyjafjallajokull except you’re going to faintly
see this sort of glacier covered mountain off in
the distance as you drive. But notice this is this
red line that shows where the two tectonic
plates are pulling apart. We’re talking about this area right here, so anywhere you have
volcanoes it’s going to be on this red line running
through the middle of Iceland. If you’re interested in volcanoes, there’s an interesting
sight along the South Coast in a little town called the Lava Center, a very new modern exhibit
where you can learn more about the history and the landscape that was shaped by Iceland’s volcanoes. Okay, our last of the four
key day trips from Reykjavik is in some ways my sentimental favorite. It’s the classic backdoor. If you know Rick Steves, we
love to talk about backdoors. The idea of a backdoor is
it’s a small, lesser known, less touristed alternative to the big popular touristy destinations. For me, that is the Westman Islands. It’s a little chain of islands just a 40-minute boat
ride from the South Coast or an easy 40-minute flight
from downtown Reykjavik. Let me tell you a little bit
about the Westman Islands. I love it because it’s
a beautiful landscape, it’s certainly Iceland
but it feels different from what you’re going
to find on the mainland. It’s less touristed partly
’cause it’s tricky to reach. We have all of the details in our Rick Steves Iceland guidebook,
but basically you can take a boat from the South Coast
or you can fly from Reykjavik. Both options are somewhat
weather dependent. So especially outside of summer, you might plan your day to
go to the Westman Islands and discover the boat’s not running today. So just be prepared for that. For that reason, I would recommend
if you’ve got a few days, spend a couple of nights
on the South Coast. And then as the trip approaches and you can look at weather forecasts, if one of the days looks
better than the other, that’s the day you go
to the Westman Islands. And if it’s canceled on the other day, you can still see the sights
around the South Coast. It’s a very flexible itinerary suggestion. Why would you go to the Westman Islands? Well first of all, it’s
really just one main inhabited island that you’re going to. And it’s a charming little rustic town with a dramatic setting. It’s a very popular fishing port. And there’s all these dramatic cliffs where they teach young kids to crawl up and harvest seabird eggs. There’s a really specific culture in the Westman Islands of training kids to free climb rock faces
to harvest seabird eggs. The main reason people are
interested in Westman Islands is because it was the site
of a very famous volcano. 1973, late at night one January all of a sudden all of
the natives were woken up by the eruption of a gigantic
volcano just over their heads. Fortunately, everybody
was able to be evacuated but the world watched
over the next few weeks as the lava flow very slowly
encroached on the town. It actually ended up
swallowing parts of the town. It even threatened briefly to seal off this perfect natural harbor. Fortunately, it stopped just shy of that. If you’re interested in
volcanoes in Iceland, this is a fascinating place to go. You can actually see some
of the houses that are partly swallowed up by the
lava from the 1973 eruption. And there’s a really beautiful
state-of-the-art museum that they’ve actually built
around one of those houses and it tells you the whole
story of that eruption. If you are interested in volcanoes, I would say this might be
the best site in Iceland other than if you happen to see an eruption while you’re there,
which is not that likely. And if you leave that museum and hike up on the bluff over the town,
you’re kind of strolling and it’s just sort of a
typical Icelandic rocky bluff. And suddenly you start
to realize that there are street signs and it’s marking
where the streets of that town one generation ago were, now
50 feet below you under this wall of lava that froze up
during that 1973 eruption. It’s really an amazing place. You can even hike up
to the volcano itself. It’s mostly dormant now, it’s not hot but it’s still warm up at the top so it’s kind of interesting to really have an experience like that. If I’m on the Westman
Islands, I like to get out a little bit into the countryside. You can either take your car on the ferry or you can hire, there’s a great
company that does day tours on the Westman Islands and
they’ll drive you around. You can drive from one end
to the other in 15 minutes. One reason people like to
get out into the countryside on the Westman Islands is
the great puffin populations. If you’ve been to Iceland,
you know the puffin is sort of the unofficial national mascot. You see puffins everywhere. And there’s a good reason,
Iceland has more puffins than anywhere else in the world. Keep in mind, puffins only come
to land in the early summer and they leave in the late summer. So you would only see them
from let’s say early June or late May through the end of August. The Westman Islands have the largest puffin population anywhere in the world. So if you’re there in the
summer and you want to see puffins, this is a
great place to see them. If you want to be guaranteed of seeing a puffin any time of the day or night, you can stop by the aquarium
at the Westman Islands. They rescued a little puffling who couldn’t quite take off
with the rest of his flock and they nursed him back to health. And now he just sort of
waddles around the halls of the aquarium and gets up and close and personal with the tourists. (audience laughing) It’s really fun to go to the
aquarium in the Westman Islands and meet Toti the puffin, that’s his name. So this is the only place in Iceland you can be guaranteed of seeing a puffin. So again, in sum you’ve got four popular day trips from Reykjavik. Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle,
South Coast, Westman Islands. If you have four days in Iceland, I would probably devote
a day to each of those and spend your nights divided between Reykjavik and the South Coast. If you have plenty of time for Iceland, and I’m talking at least
seven, eight, nine days, there is no experience quite
like driving the Ring Road. The Ring Road is Iceland’s
ultimate road trip. It’s an 800-mile highway
that goes all the way around the perimeter of the island of Iceland. And if you take the Ring
Road, you’re going to see pretty much the best that
Iceland has to offer. It’s a total of about 25
or 30 hours of driving when you factor in all of the little side trips and stopovers for views. So divide that by the
number of days you have. You can understand if
it’s 30 hours of driving and you have six days, you’re
driving five hours a day. So this is a real serious
commitment of time. If you have more time than that, you can slow down a little bit and drive a little bit less
or linger in a few places. Let me tell you a little bit about some of the logistics
of driving the Ring Road in case you’re intrigued by this. First of all, it’s a
pretty easy road to drive. Almost all of it is paved, there
are a few unpaved stretches but even a two wheel drive car can handle the unpaved stretches if you
go at a reasonable speed. It’s just a lot of miles. You’re putting on a lot of miles, but the nice thing is the scenery
changes everywhere you go. So as you drive around the
Ring Road, you’ll be amazed at the variety of Icelandic
landscapes that you have. Logistically, there’s
a couple of ways to go. If you’re going to go in the summer, which is the best time to
go because of the long hours of daylight and the roads
are going to be clear, you probably are wise to reserve
accommodations in advance. Which means that about
every five hours of driving you’re going to want to spend the night. There’s a limited number of
accommodations in Iceland and they fill up quickly
in the summertime. It’s a little frustrating sometimes to be tied into having to spend
the night in certain places so some people actually
like to rent a camper. And this is a popular option that lets you be a little bit more flexible and have a little bit more give and take as you go. In Iceland, you can basically camp not just about anywhere,
there are a few restrictions, but they’re generally pretty lenient about if there’s a rural
parking lot like this, you’re welcome to pull
up and spend the night. But check locally to make sure that you’re okay before you commit to it. The trick with the Ring
Road is because it involves so much driving it usually ends up being whether you’re in a camper
or whether you’re in hotels, a lot of one night stays and
that can get a little tedious. So you want to pace yourself and consider partway through maybe
taking a couple of nights to linger and catch your breath. Even if you have to do it quickly, it’s really well worth it. I’m going to narrate
the Ring Road itinerary going clockwise around the island. It works either way, you can do it the other way around as well. I like going clockwise
’cause the scenery here at the beginning is a
little less spectacular and by going clockwise it
just sort of gets better and better as you go the
rest of the way around. Notice that the Ring Road
actually passes along the South Coast, which
I’ve already described. It’s also pretty easy to tie the Ring Road into the Golden Circle. So a lot of the things
that I’ve already described can be sort of spliced into
the Ring Road itinerary. Alright, let’s take off. This is going to be a whirlwind trip around Iceland in about seven days. Heading north from Reykjavik,
first you pass through West Iceland which is a
really nice landscape. Not as dramatic as some
other parts of the country, but certainly a nice foretaste
of what you’re about to see. There’s a beautiful little
town called Borgarnes that has a really interesting museum about the settlement period. Also in West Iceland, there’s a lava tube you can tour called Vidgelmir. I mention this one, but there’s
a couple of others as well. If you’re interested in
volcanoes in Iceland, there’s about three place around Iceland where you can actually
go into a volcanic cave. And it’s interesting
compared to a limestone cave, which is what we usually see, because limestone caves
are formed over many eons. Volcanic caves are
formed almost overnight. It’s something where the
eruption happens and as soon as it cools, you’ve got
completely new rock formations. And it’s also brightly colorful. So I would say you don’t have to go to this one in West Iceland, Vidgelmir, but consider splicing a volcanic cave tour somewhere into your
explorations of Iceland. Also in West Iceland, for
example you can stop off at this crater called Grabrok
which has a trail around the top offering spectacular views
over the countryside. This is just bombarding you
with gorgeous views to get you a sense of what you’ll see
if you drive the Ring Road. The next stage of the Ring
Road is through North Iceland. And North Iceland actually
to me has some of my favorite little corners of the country. One of the best museums in
Iceland is this place, Glaumbær. This is an open air folk museum where you can see how traditionally Icelanders would live in
sod walled settlements, houses of interconnected sod tunnels connected to different rooms. And you can actually walk
through here and learn about the way traditional
Icelanders would have lived. You can step into the bedroom
where everybody in the house would live together
and learn little facts. For example, in a room like
this the women would often have the bunks closer to the windows because they did the fine
work spinning and knitting and the men would have the
bunks farther from the windows. They didn’t need the light quite so much. I love to find these little
off the beaten path museums where you can really learn a
lot about Icelandic culture. That’s one of my favorites. From Glaumbær, you could take a shortcut on the main Ring Road
but this is the place where I would take a detour
from the official Ring Road, devote a couple of extra hours to driving the Troll Peninsula. This is a dramatic road
that takes you as far north as you’re going to go in Iceland. You’re not quite at the Arctic Circle, but from the northernmost
parts of this road you’re actually able to
see the Arctic Circle. You’re really that close. The other reason I would do
the Troll Peninsula drive is that you get to see this
beautiful town, Siglufjordur. You’ll notice a lot of Icelandic
names end with fjordur. That’s the Norwegian word fjord, it’s just basically an inlet
and usually the inlet has a name and the town that’s on
the inlet has the same name. Siglufjordur. There’s a number of reasons
why I really enjoy this town. Obviously it has a spectacular setting and it’s just a charming town
to explore and spend time in. It also has an excellent
museum, The Herring Era Museum. And you know, I never
thought I would get excited about the herring
industry, but this museum actually achieved that
because it explains how in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this little tiny village
as far north as you can go on Iceland had a thriving herring industry that was so powerful that is
powered the entire Icelandic economy and actually helped
lead to the independence of Iceland because it let
Iceland be economically viable. And you can hike through these buildings and see some of the traditional ships and imagine how way back
when a hundred years ago there were thousands of cans of herring and dozens of docks sticking
out from Siglufjordur, each one with several ships. You can even go into the living quarters of the so-called herring girls. And these were the young women who would come in every
summer to salt and barrel up the herring on assembly lines out front. Again, it’s really fun to be
in these middle of nowhere places and find that there’s
a really interesting museum. In general, I would say
Icelandic museums are excellent. They do a really good job
of teaching their history, even in small towns like this. As you finish up the drive
around the Troll Peninsula, you come into Iceland’s
second city, Akureyri. I’m using the word city charitably. It’s a town of about 18,000 people. Just to give you a sense of
the sparsely populated nature of Iceland, the second biggest
city has 18,000 people. It looks and feels like a mini Reykjavik. It even has a church
by that same architect who did the famous church in Reykjavik. There’s a little bit of rivalry I think between this city and Reykjavik. But this is a great place just to catch your breath, stock up. It has a nice variety of restaurants. And then from there,
you’re going to head east to I think in some ways my
favorite part of Iceland. Unfortunately, it’s a six or
seven hour drive from Reykjavik so you only do this if
you’re doing the Ring Road. And that is a place called Myvatn. Myvatn is a beautiful lake in
a volcanic part of Iceland. I don’t like the lake so
much, it’s all of the amazing volcanic landscapes and
the variety of volcanic and geothermal landscapes
that surround the lake. If you remember this diagram of the line that runs through the middle
of Iceland between the North American plate
and the Eurasian plate, we’re talking about this
part of that line, Myvatn. And you can imagine that
this has always been a very geothermally and
volcanically active area. At a place called Skutustadir,
you can see pseudocraters. These aren’t craters,
they’re pseudocraters. They were formed when giant
bubbles of molten rock rose to the surface of
the lake and popped. So they’re not a traditional
crater, but a popped bubble. Literally a 10-minute drive away from that place, you come to Dimmuborgir. This is a name that
literally means dark castles. And this is a totally different
kind of volcanic landscape. This was a part that used
to be underneath the water of the lake and liquid magma
leaked up through the lake bed and solidified as it worked
its way up towards the surface. And there are some
beautiful hiking trails here where you can walk around and feel like you’re on another planet. Another one of my favorite
attractions in this part of Iceland is the
Myvatn Nature Baths. I mentioned earlier,
you have the Blue Lagoon which is the most famous, but
there are some other premium thermal baths that are
kind of a combination between a touristy-oriented
bath and a local bath. Myvatn is my favorite,
it’s about half the price of the Blue Lagoon and
a very similar concept. It’s a little bit smaller
but a great place to rest up and get your energy up before you continue on the rest of the Ring Road. Not far from all of these
places, still in the Myvatn area, you’ll see factories and geothermal plants hissing away in the countryside. This is one of my
favorite spots to get out and go for a stroll,
it’s called Namafjall. And you can get out
here and wander through. It’s sort of like Yellowstone
if you’ve been there. This incredible landscape,
this is called a fumarole. This is a vent for geothermal steam that’s being built up under the surface and it just hisses like a teakettle 24/7. Just a pile of rocks. It’s really an amazing
place just to walk through. And it’s just a two minute
drive off the side of the road. Very easy to get to,
easy to stroll through. Not too far from there, again,
this is all within about a half hour’s drive of each
other, is a valley called Krafla where you can actually
go to a visitor’s center at one of these geothermal power plants. And there’s lots of great hiking opportunities in this area as well. If you want to linger a little bit longer in this north part of Iceland, this is an area that’s
about 45 minutes away from the lake that I just talked about, a beautiful little town called Husavik which is known for its whale watching. I mentioned early in Reykjavik,
whale watching is popular and maybe isn’t the best
investment of your time and money. It’s pretty recent that they did whale watching trips in Reykjavik. Traditionally they would
do them here out of Husavik because it has better access to more exotic species of whales. So if you’re going to
be driving the Ring Road and you really want to
do a whale watching trip, I would skip Reykjavik
and do it here in Husavik. Even if you don’t do
a whale watching trip, there’s a beautiful
little museum in Husavik where they have a great
collection of skeletons of whales that have washed up on
beaches all over Iceland. And then the museum sends
somebody out to scavenge the bones and clean them and assemble them. And you can walk through and
see the bones of actual whales that have washed up around Iceland. Now we’re going to continue
east on the Ring Road. We’re going to go past
another dramatic waterfall. I said I had three favorite waterfalls, this is the third one, Dettifoss. And there’s not much to say about this other than you can
understand why this is just an epic, dramatic,
beautiful place to stop off. It’s about a half hour’s
drive off the main road, but well worth the detour. Now we’re going to head down. We’ve kind of circled
around the top of the ring. We’re going to head
back south and gradually work our way back towards Reykjavik. We’re on the East Coast of Iceland, an area called the Eastfjords. Now this is where you’ve been
on the road for a few days, you’re getting tired, I’ll
warn you this is sort of the most tedious part of
driving the Ring Road. It takes five or six hours
to go along these fjords. There are no bridges to cut the
corners, you enter the fjord and about a half hour
later you exit the fjord and then you round the bend,
oh and here’s another fjord. And you do this about 10 times. And I’m not saying it’s not beautiful, I’m saying after six or seven fjords they all do start to look the same. (audience laughing) But it’s beautiful. The saving grace, I
think, of the Eastfjords and a place that’s
really worth seeking out and spending the night for
sure is called Seydisfjordur. This is a surprisingly
cosmopolitan small town at the far far eastern end of Iceland, one of the most eastern towns of Iceland. This is the place where there’s an actual car ferry from Denmark that comes across the Atlantic Ocean and puts in here, the only boat connection
to anywhere from Iceland. So I think that’s part of why
it has this cosmopolitan feel. The other reason is there’s a
very popular art school here, so students not only from all over Iceland but from other parts of
the world come to this beautiful little town on
the fjord to study art. This is a great town to settle
in for at least a night, maybe two nights, catch a
break from the Ring Road. It has great restaurants, it’s got a great microbrew pub, a really neat place. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of civilization along the Eastfjords. So we’re going to turn the
corner and head towards home. We’ve just come down from the Eastfjords and now we’re going to go
through southeastern Iceland, working our way back towards
the South Coast sights. This is glacier country, this is the home of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. It literally means water glacier. It’s gigantic, it has as much water by volume as Lake Victoria in Africa. It’s as big as the
state of Delaware, okay? This is a gigantic glacier
and as you drive along the southeastern coast of Iceland, you’re going to see different
tongues as you go by. Here’s another tongue of this glacier, here’s another tongue of this
glacier as you coast around. One of my favorite sights
anywhere in Iceland, and I think this is the place
that might take my breath away more than anywhere else
in this amazing place, are the glacier lagoons
here in the southeast. There are a couple of places where tongues of that giant glacier touch down and giant icebergs calve
off the end of the glacier and go floating through the
still waters of a lagoon. It is absolutely majestic
and breathtaking. Now this is a good five hour
drive from downtown Reykjavik so it’s not really
suitable for a day trip. But if you’re doing the Ring
Road, this is really worth getting out, taking some
pictures, and just enjoying the majesty of the ice half of
the fire and ice of Iceland. That glacier lagoon is
connected to the open Atlantic by a short river and when the
glaciers get small enough, the icebergs from the
glacier get small enough, they get washed down this river and just before they
head out to the open sea they get washed up on a
beautiful black sand beach. It has the nickname Diamond Beach because it looks like so many diamonds that have been tumbled in
the waters of the river on its way down and on their
last stop on their way out towards melting in the Atlantic Ocean, they pause for a moment on this
silky sand of Diamond Beach. Just breathtaking. So I just showed you one
of the glacier lagoons, there’s a second one that’s
about 10 minutes away. Stop at both of them, this
second one is called Fjallsarlon. This is the one where I would recommend doing a glacier boat trip. This is really worth
investing some time in. You might need to
reserve a few days ahead, but there’s a great little company where they suit you up
in a really nice warm outerwear outfit, you hike
down to the glacier lake and you hop in a RIB, a
rigid inflatable boat, and they take you out
onto the glacier lagoon really close to where the glacier tongue comes down and touches the water. At one point, your boat
captain will reach over into the water and he’ll haul
up a chunk of 500-year-old ice and give you a chance
to touch and even taste a piece of this ice from the glacier. And this is where you’re going to see some of these beautiful blue colors that you’ll have come
to expect from glaciers. A lot of the glaciers
you’ll see in Iceland are white or even black or gray because they pick up a lot of dirt as they work their way towards
the tongue of the glacier. But when they first
come off of the glacier, an iceberg has this beautiful blue color. After just a few hours,
it’s exposed to the air and it starts to melt and it turns white. But if you see a beautiful
blue glacier like this, an iceberg like this, it
just came off the glacier and you can only see this
here in these glacier lagoons. If you’re interested in
all of this glacier stuff, you can actually go for a
hike across the glacier. Do not attempt this without
special gear or a guide, it’s very dangerous, very slippery. But a guide can outfit you
with crampons on your boots and they’ll tie you all together and lead you across the glacier. You can even go for a snowmobiling
trip across the glacier. You can go spelunking through
an ice cave in the glacier. If you’re interesting in any
of these glacier activities, I would devote probably a second night to this southeastern Iceland area. Give yourself a full
day, do some research, make some reservations ahead of time. It’s really worth doing. So we’ve almost completed
our Ring Road journey. We’ve gotten our way from the Eastfjords back down to southeast Iceland. From here on out, it’s a re-run. You’ve already seen
the South Coast, right? We’re going to drive backwards
through what we just saw a few minutes ago from the South Coast. Beautiful waterfalls, of course. And work our way back to
home base here in Reykjavik. Well folks, I hope this has
informed and inspired you that whether you have
24 hours or two weeks, Iceland is a fantastic place
to enjoy your next trip to Europe or on your way to
your next trip to Europe. So thank you very much and
enjoy your trip to Iceland. Thank you. (calming orchestral music)

28 thoughts on “Iceland with Cameron Hewitt | Rick Steves Travel Talks

  1. Great commentary, however there was some incorrect information about being able to camp anywhere in a campervan. From what I've been reading, it is now required that campervans camp at campsites. You could be fined for camping in parking lots.

  2. One correction – You mentioned you don't need four wheel drive for the roads. That is not in fact true – You need to have 4 wheel drive on any of the F roads. You will invalidate your rental car insurance if you use a 2WD on an F Road.

  3. i am glad you finally decided there IS something in iceland worthwhile. i remember a video of yours a few years ago where you said it was just not worth visiting as there was really nothing there to see. hmmmmmmm…..this was right before i made my first trip there. now planning my second trip in a few months.

  4. IF YOU PLAN ON GOING TO ICELAND, DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO ONCE… watch it at least twice. This single video was by far the most informative. We had 2 wonderful weeks there. Almost everything Cameron discussed, we checked off one by one. I could watch this again to re-live it all.

  5. Thank you so much Cameron this video on Iceland was profoundly detailed and impressive. Truly fantastic all around. I will have to see more of your videos now. Take care.

  6. Want more 🙂 great video! I will visit Iceland at begining of May, first day will be in Reykjavik, tnen 2,3,4,5 I will explore Nature with a car. 6. day flayung home. Will you recomend me those 4 days out of Reykjavik with some great spots? In 4 short centenses. Thanks!

  7. As an Icelander, I think this is a very informative video. Very well done. I think one spectacular place should have been mentioned near the end of the clockwise circle. This place is Skaftafell.

  8. I have worked almost 20 years as a guide in Iceland and from what I have seen, this is the best "informational" video about, Iceland I have seen. My utmost respect is deserved. Thank you! Pronunciations do not matter, if any lack of information is found,I would say it was about the highlands, Roughly 80% of Iceland's land-cap.

  9. A great talk! As an Icelander, I notice a few minor factual errors, but also some more major – which matter especially for such a burgeoning destination as ours. As a tourism worker, however, I'd like to point out that it is now a myth that "you don't tip" in Iceland. The reason for this myth is that you don't have to go farther back than about 10 years – the beginning of the tourist boom – to a time when you couldn't walk down the street, as a foreigner, without being yanked into someones home for complementary coffee and pancakes. Back then, not only wasn't tip expected, nor accepted, you almost weren't allowed to pay for anything as a VISITOR.
    Like most other tourist destinations, this has since changed. Not only have tourists become commonplace, but it is currently our single largest source of foreign earnings; in other words an ´industry´ and a driver of the economy.
    One result of this is that you, as a tourist, are now not only allowed to pay for things, but even tip!
    It's important to stress that it is not required or necessarily expected – but it is certainly appreciated!
    Therefore, it is an unfortunate misunderstanding, perpetuated in this – otherwise great talk on Iceland – that tipping is not the custom in Iceland. More accurately, it now is.

  10. ….further, as an Icelander and a resident of Reykjavík, I can not condone this promotion of Air BnB usage! The "Air BnB effect" has resulted in the displacement of many of the locals from the city center, much like what's happened in cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, etc., turning them into something more akin to a theme park than a thriving city center, where tourists end up seeing only other tourists and souvenir shops, in stead of locals and local culture. Just keep that in mind!
    AND, no camping outside designated camp sites!! That has now been banned as is severely frowned upon by the locals!

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