01 Sep Flatlanders In Iceland – Day 2 – Hella to Höfn – Holy Cow!!
Welcome to the day 2 travel details for our recent nine-day trip to Iceland. We’re hopeful that this series of posts will assist you in the creation of your own unique Icelandic travel itinerary. This is the fourth article in our Iceland travel guide series, detailing the route we chose for our second day, the natural features that we observed, the lodging we selected, and a some of the food we sampled along the way.
Below are the links to the individual articles in the series.
Flatlanders Guide To Iceland Blog Post Index
- The Family Guide To Planning A Trip To Iceland
- Our Iceland Itinerary As A Starting Point For Your Trip
- Day 1 – Reykjavik and the Golden Circle
- Day 2 – Hella to Höfn – Holy Cow!!
- Day 3 – Hofn to Neskaupstadur – Scenic cliff drives along Eastern Iceland
- Day 4 – Neskaupstadur to Akureryi via Husavik – Mountains, fog, and scenic mineral baths
- Day 5 – A day in Akureyri watching whales
- Day 6 – Akureyri to Stykkishólmur – Gravel roads, remote waterfalls, and an amazing hamburger
- Day 7 – Stykkishólmur to Reykjavik – Seal Beach, A stop in Bifrost, and exploring Reykjavik
- Day 8 – A day in Reykjavik exploring the food, culture, and shopping
- Day 9 – Spend the morning in Reykjavik and then head home to Kansas City
- Packing and Preparing For Your Iceland Trip
NOTE: To “watch” the visual story of our trip, you can review all 100 photos in our Iceland 2019 Instagram highlight. The story progresses in the order of the nine-day itinerary as listed above.
At Flatlanders In, we sometimes include affiliate links in our blog posts. If you click the links and use the services or make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the sale. This helps us create new content and provide you great recommendations. We assure you that our reviews and recommendations are not impacted by these affiliate programs. We work hard to share with you our honest, unbiased experiences.
Sleeping In…And Waking Up To Iceland
Since day two was our first day waking up in Iceland, I thought it might be a good idea to share a few things that you might want to know about sleeping in Iceland. Sure, sleeping is the same everywhere, but what you sleep in and getting a good night’s sleep differ around the world.
For instance, if you are American you might be used to requesting a king-sized bed in your room. King-sized beds don’t really exist in Iceland (as far as we can tell). Sure, there might be some really posh hotels that offer them but they are nearly as difficult to find as the Icelandic trolls, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up for finding one.
In fact, queen-sized beds really aren’t that common either.
In every hotel or cabin we stayed at, we had the choice of two twin beds or one double bed. Deb and I always chose a double, but discovered that our “double” was simply two twin beds pushed together. The double bed even comes with two separate comforters and two extra blankets.
Honestly, I think this is a testament to Icelandic versatility. Two comforters is actually a brilliant concept. No more fighting over the comforter, tugging and pulling, or getting uncovered as your partner rolls over into a sleep burrito. Instead, you each get your own comforter and can move freely without disrupting the sleep of your partner.
Mattresses are something to consider in Iceland, as well. If you are used to sleeping at the Marriott on 12″ thick memory foam mattresses and eight cushy pillows…you’re going to be in for a bit of a surprise. Mattresses in Iceland are generally about 6″ thick and range from thick memory foam mattresses to traditional foam coil mattresses, depending on where you stay.
I have had two back surgeries and am a bit picky about my mattresses at home, but I really never had any issues with any of the beds in Iceland. It was likely because I was so exhausted each day that I basically passed out, but I didn’t wake up sore and I never had a night where the mattress was so uncomfortable I couldn’t sleep.
The other thing you probably need to know about sleeping in Iceland during the Summer is the sun doesn’t go down until around 2am. That means at 10pm, it’s still light out. If you try to go to bed at 10pm without the blackout shades drawn, you might run into some issues.
For that reason, be sure that the accommodations you choose specify that they have blackout shades. That way, you can get a great night’s sleep and be ready to explore the following day.
This is the typical setup of two twin beds in a room. Icelandic rooms are functional, rather than posh, but you’re not in Iceland to sleep, right? Also, notice the blackout shades that allow you to really block out the Sun.
The final note about waking up in Iceland is to be prepared for the temperature. When we left Kansas City in July the temperatures were 80 degrees F in the morning and around 100 degrees F in the afternoon. In Iceland, the temps were more like 45 degrees F in the morning and 60 degrees F in the afternoon…requiring a completely different set of clothing than at home.
Just be prepared, check the weather before your trip, pack accordingly, and enjoy the crisp, cool morning air that Iceland has to offer.
NOTE: For those that suffer from seasonal allergies like Hay Fever and Ragweed (something both Deb and I suffer from)…neither Deb or I experienced any allergy symptoms during our trip.
I’m not saying that Iceland is allergen-free, but neither of us had to take our daily allergy medicine and we both felt great while we were exploring Iceland.
Unfortunately, when we returned the allergies came right back.
The Day 2 Route – Hella to Hofn via waterfalls, glaciers, and lava fields
The day two travel itinerary for Iceland is one of the most jam-packed. We figured that we would be ready for a full day of adventure, so we planned this one to be a long day filled with amazing sights…and it didn’t disappoint.
This trip was the longest leg of our drive around the island and we had planned to stop quite a few times along the way. The planned stops included:
- The Skogafoss waterfall
- Dyrholaey National Park
- Black Sands Beach at Reynisfjara (the beach from Game of Thrones)
- Glacier lagoon at Jokulsarlon
- Our cabin for the night in Hofn
While that might seem like quite a few stops along the way, we ended up stopping quite a few more times just because we couldn’t resist.
What this meant was we left Hella around 8:30am and we didn’t get to Hofn until around 7:30pm and we were exhausted!
NOTE: This is going to be a long day. Eat a hearty breakfast, put on your hiking boots, grab your rain gear and be prepared to see some jaw-dropping scenery. Don’t forget your camera!!
Day 2, Stop # 1 – The Breakfast Buffet At The Stracta Hotel
Remember when I just said to eat a hearty breakfast before you leave for the day? The Stracta hotel delivered for us. As I mentioned in our day 1 post, the buffet breakfast that was included in our room rate was one of the best breakfasts we had on the island.
We filled up on eggs, bacon, fruit, cheeses, and even waffles. There was plenty of tea and coffee, as well as various fruit juices.
The common area where the breakfast was served was spacious and there was plenty of room to sit, so no one was fighting for tables.
A+ to the Stracta for filling our bellies before our journey.
Day 2, Stop # 2 – Seljalandfoss Waterfall- A Tall Waterfall That You Can Actually Walk Behind
If you read the bulleted list of our intended stops for the day, you might have noticed that Seljalandfoss wasn’t actually on our list. We had planned to head straight to Skogafoss because many of the travel guides and blogs indicated that Skogafoss was not only a great waterfall, but also offered great hiking.
As we drove near to Seljalandfoss, though, we just couldn’t pass it up.
This was our first “tall” falls in Iceland and I mean tall. With a drop of nearly 20 stories (200 feet), I dare you to see it and not want to stop.
So we stopped.
NOTE: Parking at Seljalandfoss is not free and there are parking monitors who will ticket your car if you don’t pay. There are several payment terminals in the parking lot, so just swipe your card and put the payment ticket in your windshield. Because this is a tourist destination, they aren’t messing around. Just pay, it’s better than a ticket.
Also…and this goes for EVERY tourist attraction in Iceland…park at the back of the lot and walk up. Don’t try to park as close as you possibly can because up close is where parking gets gamey, people get wonky in they way they behave with lots of pedestrians around. Just save yourself the grief and hassle and park at the back of the lot.
What makes Seljalandfoss really unique from other waterfalls we visited is the fact that you can walk all the way behind the falls. Be prepared, though, if you choose to make the walk you will get wet.
Take your time with photos as this one is a great photo opportunity. We spent about 45 minutes taking photos and walking around the falls. We knew we had a long trip ahead so we hit the road relatively quickly.
TIP: If you forgot to grab coffee in a to-go cup at the hotel, there is a coffee truck at Seljalandfoss, so you can grab a cup of coffee or tea (or a snack) for the road.
Also, for the photographers out there don’t forget a rain cover for your camera. If you didn’t realized that you needed it on day 1 at Geysir or Gullfoss, you’re GOING to need it today.
Day 2, Stop # 3 – Skogafoss Waterfall – Waterfalls, Steps, and Hiking
As we left Seljalandfoss, we were feeling pretty happy about our Iceland waterfalls thus far. Gullfoss on day 1 was an amazing wide waterfall that demonstrated the thunderous combination of water and gravity.
Seljalandfoss provided us with the tall, elegant beauty of a 200 ft tall waterfall that allowed us to see it from all angles.
…and then came Skogafoss.
Skogafoss is what happens when you combine Gullfoss and Seljalandfoss into a single waterall.
Tall, powerful, thunderous beauty that you can see from nearly every angle. You can walk below the falls to the plunge pool. You can climb the steps to the top of the falls and walk out to the top of the falls. You can hike above the falls and see the beautiful river and hills that feed the falls.
It’s an amazing experience and turned out to be my son’s favorite thing in all of Iceland. Check out the video we captured with our waterproof camcorder walking to the edge of the plunge pool. Sorry about the drops on the lens…it was pouring down water!!
Once you have explored the plunge pool and the beauty of Skogafoss from below, climb the steps (there are ~375 of them) to the top of the falls and be prepared to have your breath taken away…literally.
No, seriously. You’ll be out-of-breath from the climb and just as you get it back, you’ll look up and see this…and Iceland will steal it away again. From the top of Skogafoss, this is what you will see behind it.
…and then, as you turn around to hike up the path to explore the hills above Skogafoss, you are treated to even more falls and incredible mountain vistas.
I could write another 2000-3000 words about the beauty at Skogafoss, but there is much, much more to detail about day 2 of our Iceland trip, so we’ll move on.
I do, however, encourage you to include Skogafoss in your Iceland itinerary.
Day 2, Stop # 4 – Solheimajokull Glacier – Lava and Ice combine in natural beauty
After the majesty of Skogafoss, we were a bit overwhelmed and felt like little could top the beauty and excitement that we had just experienced. The power of Skogafoss can literally speed up your heart rate.
So, when we came across Solhemajokull, one of south Iceland’s easily-accessible glaciers, we thought it might be a good idea to slow things down a bit and check it out. Definitely worth the stop.
Solheimajokull is an easily accessible glacier for anyone willing to walk about 1/2 mile up a well-formed path. Parking is plentiful and is free and there are even guided glacier tours for those interested in buckling on some crampons, grabbing an ice axe, and hiking the glacier. Kayak tours are also available to see the glacier from the lake.
For us, it was enough to simply walk to the glacier and appreciate it up close. And I mean up close.
At Solheimajokull, you can feel the glacier-cold waters of the lake. You can walk up to the edge of the glacier and see where it is melting to form the lake water. You can see the black volcanic sand that coats the blue and white ice that forms the glacier. And all that is surrounded by the Summer green hills of Iceland.
As a photographer, I was having a difficult time deciding exactly where to point my camera. It was stunning.
In fact, one of my favorite photos from the entire trip was this one of Deb taking a photo of the glacier. The blues in the ice, the blacks in the sand…it all came together beautifully.
Solheimajokull was a perfect next stop after seeing Skogafoss. It was almost like Iceland got our hearts pounding and then dropped Solheimajokull in place to slow it back down and remind us that while nature can be overwhelming and powerful, it can also be slow and calming.
We spent about an hour at Solheimajokull and, unless you want to take a glacier or kayak tour, it’s just about right.
Day 2, Stop # 5 – Dyrholaey Nature Reserve
With our moods a little more serene, we got back on the road and headed toward our next scheduled stop, Dyrholaey. Dyrholaey is an extensive nature reserve on the south side of Iceland south of the town of Vik. From a mileage perspective, it’s just about 1/3 of the way between Hella and Hofn.
Dyrholaey is primarily known for the “hole in the arch” rock bridge, but it’s a lot more than that. In the nature reserve, there are scenic black sand beaches, high cliffs, and an abundance of wildlife to observe…including Puffins.
Our time in the park was short-lived because of heavy rains. Unfortunately, many of the roads around the reserve are not paved and are VERY steep, so our little VW Polo wasn’t going to take us into the more remote areas of the park.
Fortunately, before Thor let loose with thunder and pouring rain, we were able to park and hike up to the lighthouse and see some Puffins along the cliffs.
While there is a TON to explore at Dyrholaey, we didn’t really have the time or energy to wait out the storm, so we headed out of the park and added it to our places to come back and spend quite a bit of time exploring.
Day 2, Stop # 6 – The Black Sands Beach of Reynisfjara
With the rain pounding down and our energy levels running low, we decided to make one more stop before grabbing some lunch.
Deb and I are big Game of Thrones fans, so it made sense to stop at the black sands beach of Reynisfjara before we left the area. This beach is where scenes were filmed of East Watch, where the men in the Night’s Watch guard the wall.
The beach is beautiful. The black sands are amazing. The basalt columns are impressive and wondrous. The car traffic and tourists suck.
Remember that tip where I recommended that you park at the back of the lot? This is especially true here.
I don’t know if it was the rain, the volume of people, or what…but it was sad that this location was filled with irritated tourists. It’s as if they felt like everyone else was “spoiling their shot”.
Because it was cold and raining and we were tired, Deb and I left the kids in the car (they don’t watch GoT) and grabbed a selfie on the beach. From there, we headed out to re-fuel with some lunch in Vik.
I would recommend stopping at the beach and spending some time. It’s worthwhile and, even without the GoT fame, it’s an impressive natural wonder. Just be prepared for the tourism and hopefully you’ll meet some nicer tourists there.
Day 2, Stop # 7 – Lunch In Vik
At this point in the day, it was around 3:30pm and we and we were pretty hungry and ready for a break. We headed to downtown Vik and stopped at the Smiðjan Brugghús, a local microbrewery and burger joint.
One thing we learned about food in Iceland is that Icelandic people are serious about their burgers. Any time we ordered a burger, we were served a high-quality, well-prepared, good looking burger. And Smiðjan Brugghús didn’t disappoint for our first burger on the island.
The staff was friendly, the food was great, and we were ready to get going on the second half of the day-2 adventure.
NOTE ABOUT FOOD COST IN ICELAND: When we were planning our trip, one thing that we read everywhere was that food in Iceland was extremely expensive. In fact, one person told us that a large “everything” pizza cost them around $80 USD. Our experience is that, yes….food is more expensive than in the US, but for a couple of reasons.
First – You’re on an island. Just like food is more expensive in Hawaii, it’s more expensive in Iceland. This is because everything either has to be locally sourced or shipped in. Either way, it’s going to be more expensive.
Second – The quality of food on Iceland was much higher than in the US. There are NO McDonald’s on Iceland. They don’t want cheap food on the island and they want to support their local businesses. This means the food quality is higher and the cost is higher.
Third – There is no tipping in Iceland. Not for restaurant service, not for luggage service. There is no tipping in Iceland. We did observe an occasional coffee shop tip jar in Reykjavik, but nowhere else.
The reason I mention this is because our burgers and fries at Smiðjan Brugghús were about 2,500 ISK each. That’s about $19 USD as of the time of our trip. However, the meal also came with a large order of french fries. This means that for the four of us, we paid about $80 for a meal of high-quality burgers and fries (we all drank water because we were dehydrated).
If you went to your local, high-quality microbrewery and ordered a burger and fries, you would probably expect to pay about $16 for the meal. Add in 15% for the tip and you are now paying $18.40 for the meal.
Soooo…our experience wasn’t that food in Iceland was outrageously expensive. Instead, what we observed was that the food in Iceland was much higher quality, so we were expected to pay for it. Since the tip is included in the meal, it just wasn’t as expensive as we had heard.
Day 2, Stop # 8 – Eldhraun Lava Fields
With food in our bellies and a desire to keep moving and see more cool stuff, we headed out from Vik toward Hofn. One of the interesting, and frankly spooky, sights we saw along the way were the Eldhraun lava fields. Eldhruan, by the way, means “fire lava” which makes total sense.
The fields aren’t really something you stop to “see”, although I do recommend stopping to take photos if you are a photographer at one of the spots marked with a picnic table sign and a tree.
TIP: This sign does not mean it’s a picnic shelter, although it looks a lot like what we use for picnic shelters in the US. In Iceland, this sign basically means “cool stuff up ahead in 200m”.
It’s meant to alert you that there is a government-created pull-off area that is for scenic areas and usually offers some pretty amazing views! Pay attention to these signs, they are ways to find really cool things that aren’t on your itinerary.
Now, looking at an enormous lava flow might not sound like the sexiest tourism attraction in the world, but let me tell you…it’s pretty cool. It’s about as close to being on the moon as you might ever come. It’s barren, rocky, flat (yet bouldery), and downright creepy.
The lava flow is one of the largest on the planet and is about 50 feet deep. That’s 50 feet of molten lava that was traveling across Iceland from a volcanic eruption. When it cooled, it created this amazing moonscape which is why the Apollo 13 astronauts trained for the moon mission at Eldhraun.
When we were driving through Eldhraun, there were very few cars so we had a sense of being alone to observe this unique natural phenomena. Like I said, it was both spooky and somehow humbling at the same time.
It’s not a long drive across the lava fields, taking about 30 minutes to traverse the entire field, but it seems like it takes quite a while since it’s sooooo eerie.
Day 2, Stop # 9 – Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon – Breathtaking Beauty AND Sadness
While the lava fields can be a bit depressing to drive across, the reward on the other side is one of Iceland’s amazing attractions: The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon also sometimes called Iceberg lagoon.
We had read quite a few things about the glacier lagoon and, taking advice from another travel blogger, we actually stopped before the lagoon and pulled off into a scenic stop that had only one other car. The result was we got an entire beach at the glacier lagoon to ourselves.
In case you have never heard of it, Jokulsarlon is a glacial lake at the foot of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier is is consistently breaking off chunks of the glacier into the lake that then flow through a small river out to see.
The result is tons and tons of icebergs. Small icebergs, medium icebergs, large icebergs…icebergs everywhere!!
There are even small chunks of ice the size of your head that are just laying around the beach, looking like sparkling diamonds. It’s an absolutely breathtaking scene.
For those who don’t stop early, don’t worry. You can actually travel past the main Jokulsarlon pull off (you’ll know it because it’s packed with people and cars) and stop at the next lagoon and see just as many icebergs.
While it was incredible to stop and pick up chunks of ice and take beautiful photographs, it was also a time to reflect on the warmth that is causing these glaciers to melt. Sure, some might be natural, but one can’t stand at the foot of the glacier and see it coming apart and wonder how our activities have accelerated the process.
Jokulsarlon is a perfect place to understand that Iceland is living through climate change on a day-to-day basis. Some natural…some very man-made. It’s a bit sad and I’d encourage everyone who visits to think about their carbon footprint and find ways to help mother Earth.
Day 2, Stop # 10 – Aurora Cabins In Hofn
After a long day on the road, seeing amazing things, eating great food, and just enjoying the ride….we arrived at our cabin in Hofn.
We booked our cabin with Aurora Cabins, which is a small cluster of four little cabins on the edge of Hofn and what we got was way more than we expected.
Our cabin was a one-bedroom cabin with a full kitchenette, outdoor deck, and barbecue grill.
But wait…a one bedroom cabin for a family of four? Yep.
The bedroom had a double bed and a twin bed. Right outside the bedroom was another bed. The living room even had a couch if you had a small one. See the photos in the gallery below for interior photos of the cabin.
The cabin was really perfect for and I could see Deb and I coming back and spending a few days in these cozy, clean, and modern cabins.
The bonus, though, was the views.
There is a little hill next to the cabins that had a bench strategically placed to overlook the town of Hofn and the harbor. Turn around 180 degrees and you have a view of the mountains that was simply stunning.
Deb and I sat on the bench and talked about the great adventures from the day and then enjoyed the simplicity that an amazing view has to offer. After a while, we decided to head in to Hofn to poke around the town a bit. The kids were exhausted, so we drove in to town and got to see an Icelandic “sunset” around 9pm.
The funny thing about the Icelandic “sunset” in Hofn is it just stayed beautiful. The sun didn’t set because it doesn’t really go down until around 2am, so you could just stand there are marvel in the beauty.
Notice at the bottom of the photo all the sea-birds. They were feeding, so we could just stand there and revel in the beauty and watch nature at work. It was an amazing end to the day.
Deb and I would highly recommend the Aurora cabins for those who are looking for something a little different from the “hotel experience”. The cabins are clean, well-appointed, and comfortable. There was a stove, oven, coffee maker, and all the utensils you would need to make meals if you were staying for a few days.
Here are some photos of the cabin. Notice the blackout shades on the windows?
Reflections On Day 2 Of Our Nine-Day Icelandic Trip
So, that’s the summary of day two of our amazing nine-day family trip to Iceland. With regards to day 2 of the trip, the things we saw, and the hotel we chose, here are what Deb and I think:
From Deb – That was a LOT for one day! I’m not sure, though, that I would choose to not do something. Maybe if we had to cut something out, it would be the Nature Reserve because that almost deserves an entire day of hiking in itself. One a nice day, I can see how the walk across the arch would be a great opportunity and view. Otherwise, the Skogafoss hike above the falls and the beautiful, scenic views in Hofn were probably my favorite. I would like to spend more time exploring Hofn and the areas around this cute little harbor town.
From Sean – I agree…that was SO MUCH! Walking to the edge of the plunge pool of Skogafoss was incredible, I’m glad I brought our waterproof camera. I also agree that Hofn is a beautiful little town and I could see the Aurora cabin serving as a hiking home base for future trips. If I had to skip something on an exploratory trip like this, I agree that the Nature Reserve and even the black beach of Reynisfjara. Those areas deserve their own day.
There you have it…day 2 of our nine-day itinerary in Iceland. We hope this helps you in the planning of your trip and gives you some ideas as to what to explore.
See you on the road!