If you’re a Vikings Fan you’ve no doubt been encouraged by the outstanding footage of Norway and Iceland. When I first saw Floki land on the volcanic shores, I felt the same excitement and majesty of such a severe terrain.
Iceland is not a country to veer off the beaten path, the well-trodden routes are there for your safety as well as the preservation of a unique ecosystem who needs her space. This is especially true due to the sharp increase of tourism in Iceland over the last ten years. Whether the country will be able to sustain a responsible model for tourism is yet to be seen, however, all tourists should do their own research and come well prepared to visit with care. For this reason, it’s crucial to visit with a tour company who understands the impact of tourists, the dangers of mass tourism, and how to walk the delicate line of a respectful yet inquisitive guest.
Getting Around on The Ring Road
The ring road which follows a giant circle around the edges of the island is over 1400 kilometers long. Driving time is less than two days behind the wheel, but as is the case with traveling in many places, less is more. Give yourself time to immerse in the landscape and soak it all in: where else are you going to have nature at its most aggressive, gentle, and playful in one place?
My recommendation is to rent a complete camper van or kitted out Mercedes Sprinter so you’re not bound by destination points on a day’s journey. Even in the midst of so much technology in travel planning, there are plenty of ways to ensure the wildness and adventure of travel stays alive. One of those is certainly by giving yourself the leeway to explore and linger as you please, with no pressing check-in time on your mind.
In my opinion, ten days is the bare minimum you’d need to do this journey justice. If you’re pressed for time on your Icelandic vacation I’d recommend staying on the south coast with a major highlight trip being the stunning Blue Lagoon.
Eating Out as a Vegan
If you’re trying to avoid having a whale or puffin wind up on your plate (and you should be!) advance planning is your friend. This vegan guide to eating Iceland by Ragnar Freyr is very detailed and complete. As you see, there are only two vegan restaurants on the entire island: Kaffi Vinyl and Veganæs, so visiting those is a given. However, Happy Cow lists at least 20 vegan-friendly restaurants, so while you won’t be spoiled for choice, there will be at least some options for you.
But if you don’t fancy planning your entire trip around where you can get some vegetables, self-catering is another great option. The grocery chain Bonus, with yellow banners and a pink piggy bank, appear all over the island (though less so in some parts) so you can easily plan your own meals from the aisles of the market, too. Keep an eye out for items like nuts, seeds, dried fruits and preserves which don’t need refrigeration, travel well, and are less likely to spill all over the car. Taken from experience, of course. It’s always enthralling to visit supermarkets while traveling, looking at the different items locals have in their cart, and hoping Google translate will offer a solid description so you know what you’re buying! Just in case of emergencies, I’d definitely recommend coming to Iceland with a supply of emergency protein bars, for those times when towns are few and far between.
Try a Tour, Maybe
Even die-hard DIY travelers can benefit from knowledgeable tour guides. Whether you’re interested in photography tours to Iceland, or Vegan cruises around the fjords there is no shortage of tour companies which have sprouted up in recent years to cater to the boom of travelers visiting the land of fire and ice. For example, even self-drive tours can be booked online! Though, when you book pre-packaged you are oftentimes paying someone to do the legwork for you, so if part of your adventure and entertainment is in the planning (like me) you may want to spreadsheet the whole thing yourself!
One of my favorite parts of planning a trip to anywhere is getting into the literature and culture of the country. Imagine the surprise and delight of locals when they find out you’re up to date and well informed on their media: it makes a big difference in not only how you experience the country, but how you’re received by its people. Even if digging into old Norse poems is not your cup of tea, there’s plenty of Icelandic films which can be watched on the flight over, and leave you with just enough talking points and insight to enrich your visit.