Day 1, Sept 17 2018: Departure from Honolulu
We were able to make a smooth departure from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines – the TSA checkpoints weren’t even that crowded! On to our overnight stopover in Seattle. The inflight meal (which very few domestic airlines have anymore) was simple but tasty – a BBQ chicken sandwich.
Day 2, Sept 18 2018: Seattle to Reykjavik
Thanks to our stopover we were able to get a full night’s rest before departing for the next leg of our journey. We had a late afternoon departure from Seattle, just enough time for a quick trip to Pike’s Place Market by the handy Link light rail.
Rachel the Piggy Bank
the famous Pike’s Place Market mascot
Day 3, Sept 19 2018: Arrive in Reykjavik
Our first day in the Land of Ice and Fire. Thanks to Icelandair, our direct flight from Seattle to Keflavik International Airport was only a little over seven hours. Some of our group members were able to see the Northern Lights out of the left side of the plane! Some others just spent the time sleeping on our overnight flight…
First stop was Viking World for a nice breakfast in a boat:
Overhead hangs the Viking ship Íslendingur (the Icelander), a replica of Leif Erikson’s ship built to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of Leif Erikson’s discovery of America. This ship actually sailed to New York from Reykjavik in the year 2,000 – you can go upstairs and get aboard the ship, too.
Arriving in New York – Oct 5 2000
Some folks enjoyed the Viking wear…
After breakfast our first stop was the Northern Lights Center, Aurora Reykjavik. Apparently this is where they keep the Northern Lights.
In addition to giving us some great information about the history and science of the aurora, they also helped us adjust our cameras to take the best pictures of the Northern Lights (more on the lights later!). Then, we were off to the National Museum of Iceland to get an overview of the history and culture of this unique country.
The inside of a traditional Icelandic home – two to a bed!
The dancing musician sculptures outside Perlan
After the museum we stopped at Perlan – the “pearl” for scenic views of the city and a light lunch. Then, our last stop of the day before heading back to the hotel was Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran church that dominates the landscape of Reykjavik with architecture resembling the famous basalt lava columns of Iceland. In front is a statue of the ever present Leif Erikson, the discoverer of America (as Icelanders are quick to remind you).
Many of the people in our group went out to experience Iceland’s more exotic foods for dinner – whale, horse, puffin, even the famous “rotten shark”.
Day 4, Sept 20 2018: The Golden Circle
Today we’re off to tour the “Golden Circle” – a tour through the most popular attractions near Reykjavik. Luckily, the weather seems to be with us!
Our first stop is Þingvellir National Park. The temperature is around 50 F, but with the wind it feels a LOT colder! Þingvellir appeared as the wildling’s camp in the popular “Game of Thrones” series. The pass to the Eyrie in season four was also filmed here, and the fight scene between Brienne and the Hound was filmed nearby.
That cliff in the background is the edge of the North American continental plate – in the distance is the edge of the Eurasian continental plate, so we’re actually standing between two continents. They’re pulling apart a little bit each year, so next year Iceland will be about an inch larger than it was this time.
Iceland is filled with natural hot springs that bubble right up out of the ground (don’t put your hands in the water!). Here at the Fontana Spa we stop to see them bake rye bread by burying it in the ground and using the natural heat of the hot springs to cook it overnight.
Refreshed with Icelandic rye bread we went on to Gullfoss, the “Golden Falls”, one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland. In danger of being used for electrical power generation in the early 20th Century, the falls were rescued through the efforts of Sigriður Tómasdóttir, Iceland’s first environmental activist.
Nearby Gullfoss is the active geothermal Geysir area, after which all geysers are named. Signs warn you not to touch the water, some of which comes right out of the ground at boiling temperature!
Strokkur erupts every five minutes or so with great regularity
On the way back we made a stop in Hveragerði, which features a building that is built over the continental rift between the North American and Eurasian continental plates – some of us took the opportunity to stand in two continents at once!
Our last stop of the day was the Blue Lagoon, the popular Icelandic hot spring which National Geographic listed as one of the “25 Wonders of the World”.
The mud from the Blue Lagoon is famous for it’s healing and cleaning powers – we all felt younger after giving it a try!
Day 5, Sept 21 2018: Southern Iceland
Today we left Reykjavik to start our trip on the ring road around Iceland.
In the morning we had a chance to get acquainted with the famous Icelandic horse at a local stable run by our tour guide’s uncle. Horses were originally brought to Iceland by the Vikings, and they take great efforts to make sure that the lines remain pure – once a horse leaves Iceland it can never return.
This year we had a chance to visit the newly built Lava Centre for some spectacular high-tech interactive displays explaining Iceland’s volcanoes.
Afterwards some of us discovered an Iceland delicacy – licorice ice cream!
Next stop was one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss – smaller than some of the others, but we could have the experience of following a path that goes behind the falls (guaranteed you get wet!).
At Skógafoss we got a chance for a nice group shot, but we didn’t find the chest of gold that’s supposed to be hidden behind the falls…
The nearby black sand beach, Reynisfjara, was one of the filming locations for the epic biblical drama Noah. The basalt columns here were once thought to be the remains of trolls.
And then back the hotel for some fresh caught local Icelandic trout!
Day 6, Sept 22 2018: Jökulsárlón and around the Eastern Fjords
Today we took a cruise on the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, created by the outflow from Iceland’s melting glaciers. Jökulsárlón has been a setting for four Hollywood movies: A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins, as well as the reality TV series Amazing Race.
We also got a chance to sample some of the glacial ice – 1,000 years old and absolutely clean and pure!
On our drive around the spectacular scenery of the eastern fjords we passed a lagoon filled with hundreds of swans – they’re a little hard to see in the photo, but the air was filled with their honking.
Then we got a chance to see the famous egg sculptures in the harbor of Djupivogur Village, one for every type of bird in Iceland.
And a chance to check out the frozen sheep’s heads in the local supermarket.
And then….we hit snow as we passed over the highland road! A bit of luck, snow on the ground is extremely rare at this time of year.
At our dinner buffet this evening we got a chance to sample a few of Iceland’s more exotic foods, like roast horse and smoked lamb hearts (there had many of the more usual selections as well!).
Day 7, Sept 23 2018: Through the Highlands
As we continue over the Icelandic highlands to day we made a stop at the Möðrudalur farm, the highest farm in Iceland, which features a small church built with the farmer’s own hands. Some folks also tried Iceland’s famous “happy marriage cake”.
Today we made our way to Dettifoss – the most powerful waterfall in Europe, which appeared in the 2012 science-fiction film Prometheus.
We even managed to catch a rainbow over the falls!
Next we passed through the active geothermal areas near Lake Myvatyn – the bubbling mud baths and sulfur vents in Hverarond – which were once mined for sulfur to make gunpowder. The mist from the vents was used to produce the “blizzard” in season three of “Game of Thrones”.
And viewed the “kissing trolls” lava formation in the Dimmuborgir lava field which was once said to be a gateway between Earth and the Infernal regions. Dimmuborgir was used as a filming location for “Game of Thrones”, where Mance Rayder sets up his camp in season three.
Then back to our hotel overlooking Lake Myvatn for a great dinner of lobster soup and arctic char! A few people saw the Northern Lights later on, but they were only out for a few minutes. This are was the filming location for many of the scenes “North of the Wall” in “Game of Thrones”.
Skyr (Icelandic yogurt) cake for dessert!
Day 8, Sept 24 2018: Northern Iceland
Today we depart for the Northernmost portion of our tour – we’ll actually be able to see the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees North as it passes through the island of Grimsey.
Our first stop was Ásbyrgi canyon – formed from the footprint of Odin’s eight-legged horse. Luckily the rain stopped just as we were walking into the canyon!
On the way out of the canyon we stopped to indulge in some Icelandic treats – Hákarl (“rotten shark”), Harðfiskur (dried fish) and Brennivín (the “wine that burns”, also sometimes called “black death”).
After a stop in the whaling town of Húsavík we went to see the pseudo craters at Skútustaðagígar on the shore of Lake Mývatn – but the wind was up!
Back to the hotel, a good steak dinner, and…the Northern Lights! All in all, we had three nights in Iceland where people saw the lights (plus a few glimpses from the plane on the flight over!).
The view outside our hotel
Molten chocolate cake with skyr (Icelandic yogurt)
Day 9, Sept 25 2018: Heading West
After a windy night outdoors watching the Northern Lights we departed for the Western end of Iceland, first with a stop at Goðafoss – the “waterfall of the Gods”.
After Iceland converted to Christianity around the year 999, the lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði threw the old pagan idols into the falls, earning it its name – here’s the story depicted in stained glass in the Cathedral of Akureyri:
We had a nice dinner of Icelandic lamb at our hotel in Bifröst.
Day 10, Sept 26 2018: Journey to the Center of the Earth
Our last full day of touring, to Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland. In the classic novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne, the heroes find the entrance to a passage leading to the center of the earth in the Snæfellsjökull volcano. We couldn’t find it though…
At lunch in the Primus Kaffi we are warned to avoid kidnapping (apparently the secret is dessert!).
Then we passed by Kirkjufell, called the “Church Mountain” because of its resemblance to a church steeple, said to be the most photographed mountains in Iceland. At the peak it’s so narrow that you can sit on the edge and put a leg over each side of the mountain! This mountain was used as the “arrowhead mountain” North of the Wall in the “Game of Thrones” television series.
Kirkjufell – the “Church Mountain”
Back at our hotel we had a farewell duck dinner by candlelight.
Day 11, Sept 27 2018: Heading for Seattle
Departure day! We head towards Reykjavik through the 3.5 mile Hvalfjörður Tunnel that runs 541 feet beneath the waters of the fjord.
First we make a quick photostop at Harpa, the iconic Reykjavik concert hall designed to look like the iconic Icelandic basalt columns.
Then, on to the Kringlan Mall, Reykjavik’s largest shopping mall, for last minute shopping and lunch before our flight back to Seattle.
Dunkin’ Donuts had Icelandic flag donuts! Something to snack on in the plane.
After a seven hour flight to Seattle we check into our hotel for a rest before our flight back to Hawaii the next day. Some folks went to try the soup dumplings at the nearby Din Tai Fung for dinner.
Day 12, Sept 28 2018: Home Again!
Just a short flight from Seattle to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines. We all made it back safely after a wonderful adventure in the Land of Ice and Fire – but it’s great to be home!
Posted by Chris Li
Please contact us anytime for information about future tours to Iceland, Japan or around the world!
⇒Search for Cheap Airfare to Japan with JTB USA
⇒Japan Rail Pass – The Best Way to Travel in Japan
⇒Explore Japan’s top destinations with the help of JTB Sunrise Tours