Iceland Tour


For my birthday I wanted to do a memorable trip. Unfortunately it being the middle of summer, and Covid still being a thing, my ideal exotic destinations were not options that were going to work. However there was one destination that would have cool weather, not be beset by biting insects, within easy travel reach, and long on my list to visit: Iceland. I had once, last millenium, been there for a long layover that allowed me to take bus to Reykjavik and visit Perlan. It was a surreal and very brief experience, and I had always wanted to see the country properly.

I am used to traveling alone on my own schedule and whims, but I wanted a guided tour — to take away the stress of researching and reserving hotels, parks, cars and restaurants, opening hours, where to park and all that, but also to get insider knowledge of what is worth seeing, and to get a more educational narrated experience.

I ended up booking a 9 day tour (the first and last days are “arrival” and “departure” so there were actually 7 activity days). Due to a Covid outbreak on the tour it was cut one day short, and less fortunate participants had to drop off in the middle of the tour.

In summary, the tour was expensive, but worth it. Having all the practicals planned out took a huge amount of hassle out of the trip and the hotels and eateries were all excellent, the activities and sights were a good mix and generally great as well.

Iceland Travel Tips / Lessons Learned


Summer in Iceland still means 10 Celsius and rain. Summer means very long days and almost 24-hour daylight, so especially if you’re on your own you can fit a lot of outdoor activities into a day. There are some activities such as ice caves which you cannot do in the summer.

Winter, I was told, tends to be pretty mild, so temperatures often don’t fall too much below freezing. You will have very limited daylight. Ice caves, northern lights etc. are winter activities.

No matter which season you pick, be prepared for constant strong and gusty winds and rain. For summer travel, waterproof shoes, pants, and jackets are a must, and be prepared to have a dry change of clothes available. Even if you don’t get caught in a rain, if you want to get a proper experience from some of the waterfalls the spray will soak you thoroughly.

Even in the summer, even with constant rain, inside air tended to be very dry and this is only worse in the winter. Bring plenty of moisturizer and chapstick.

Long days and glacier visits mean that you should not forget your sunscreen, even during overcast days.


Iceland is all about nature. Once you leave Reykjavik, especially once you get a bit further along the ring road, fancy spas, restaurants or shopping are no longer a thing.

There are no biting insects in Iceland, no bears, wolves or other particularly dangerous animals.


During peak tourist season you may start to run into issues with some parking lots filling up, another benefit of a guided tour. That said, this was the busiest season since the start of the pandemic, and we just about managed to find parking at all locations.

Food / Services

The signature foods are arctic char, cod and lamb. All three were fantastic in all of the restaurants we tried them in. Burgers are popular and good as well. Restaurants generously serve free tap water. Good restaurants were popular, and it’s highly advisable to make reservations ahead of time to get a seat.

Hotels typically don’t have room service, and they may also not offer laundry service.

If you get further from Reykjavik, plan your meals and fuel, as there may be very limited options to fill up or buy food or provisions.

Keflavik Transfers

The Keflavik airport (which used to be a US/British airbase) is a good distance from Reykjavik. You can either get a taxi, which is quite expensive, or book a bus transfer from various private companies. For hotels on the outskirts of Reykjavik the bus drops you off / picks you up right from the hotel. For hotels in central Reykjavik buses aren’t allowed to drive to the hotels directly, and instead drop-off and pick-up happens from specific points.


Sneaker Waves

Wikipedia: A sneaker wave, also known as a sleeper wave, or in Australia as a king wave, is a disproportionately large coastal wave that can sometimes appear in a wave train without warning.

Reynisfjara black sand beach near Vik

I’ve lived near and visited many oceans and seas; Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Baltic to name some. I’ve never seen wave patterns or capriciousness like that in Iceland. There are some great black sand beaches, which absolutely are worth a visit, with very different grain structures. Near Jökulsárlón you get the Diamond Beach with chunks of ice from the calving glacier beaching on the black sand; there’s one reachable from the souvenir mecca in Vik, and there’s Reynisfjara with basalt columns. All, but especially Reynisfjara can have these unexpected major waves. The depth increases rapidly right off the beach, so if a large wave knocks you off your feet and pulls you into the sea, you’re toast. The water is freezing and there are brutal rip currents, and you will have expired by the time any search and rescue can reach you. Even if you see others stand near the sea or go past outcroppings, and even if the waterline seems safe, please stay at least 20m from the water.

Wind Gusts

Less of an issue when driving a small rental, but on the coastal roads the wind gusts can be brutal, and having vans  and SUVs blown off the road, especially in wet and icy conditions is a disturbingly common occurrence. Be prepared for the long drives to require quite a bit of attention, especially when passing mountains.


As part of the tour we did a glacier walk. It was a bit of a production, with us getting fitted with crampons, helmets, rescue harnesses and ice picks and a specialized guide. As a tourist, you could just drive to the parking lot and go have a hike on the glacier. Please don’t, though. The crampons were absolutely necessary, and there most certainly are dangers on even small glacier tongues.

Falljökull glacier tongue

Cliff Edges

I’m afraid of heights so I think I generally am pretty good about this anyways, but Iceland is not a safe amusement park, and many of the dramatic coastal and waterfall cliffs have nothing to prevent you from taking a close look and falling to your death.


Iceland is very pretty, absurdly full of waterfalls, pictoresque roaming horses, amazing coastlines, mountains and glaciers. It’s definitely a photographer’s paradise if the weather happens to cooperate, which isn’t at all a given.

The below are some of the highlights from my trip, not in chronological or geographical order, but hopefully can be inspiration for further research and pinning on a map.

Jökulsárlón lagoon.

The ice lagoon Jökulsárlón was a very touristy, but still nice stop, and the patterns and colors on the icebergs were fascinating. It’s right off the ring road and if you don’t take a boat tour or kayak,  and can be a quick stop. Diamond Beach is right on the other side of the road. Depending on the wind conditions you should visit one side of the outlet or the other, wherever the wind is pushing the ice.


Not being used to a volcanic landscape, the hexagonal basalt formations, lava fields, and other volcanic features were amazing and exotic. The beaches, whether black sand or white sand with volcanic rocks, were worth a stop. Diamond Beach, Reynisfjara, Djúpalónssandur, Búða beach.


All the waterfalls were great in their own right. Seljalandsfoss is easily reachable, and allows you to walk behind the waterfall. A short walk away is a second waterfall in a gorge; if you didn’t get soaked by Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi will certainly take care of it. Waterproof boots or ability to hop over rocks (or willingness to get your feet wet) required.


Svartifoss is an easy climb/hike from the Vatnajökull national park parking lot and distinctive with very cool rock formations, and there’s another waterfall (Hundafoss) along the way for a bonus. There are several ~1 hour walks / hikes you can do from the park parking lot, so it’s a great place to stop.


Having visited Yellowstone, the Geysir park wasn’t particularly impressive. It has a big parking lot, is a leisurely stroll, has a mountain lookout you can climb to, and while Geysir itself is dormant these days, a smaller geyser named Strokkur erupts every 5-20 minutes in various scales of grandness. And if you’ve never been to a geothermal pool / geyser park, it’s definitely worth a stop. The park is right by the Gulfoss falls and a short distance from the Friðheimar tomato farm if you want tomato soup, great bread, and all the tomato dishes you’d like. There are likely a myriad more sights worth seeing around the park, but those were the only stops we made.


Skógafoss was another great waterfall, near the Skóga museum which is a strange mix of everything and the kitchen sink. It has some turf houses an an open-air museum, and the largest amateur and communications radio collection I’ve seen. Something to put on the list for rainy-day activities, or to learn more about the harshness of life before our modern conveniences.


For photographers, the black Búðakirkja is a worthwhile stop. There are actually some other houses and developments in the background and a parking lot right next to it, so some careful framing or being able to shoot it from the land side goes a long way. A few minutes from the church there’s a cute little beach that’s worth a visit if you’re already there. The history of the church is interesting as well.

Stone arch by Arnarstapi

Finally, the village of Arnarstapi has a lovely coastal walking route with fantastic coastal features and a great stone arch.

The 7 days of the trip were filled with half a dozen to a dozen stops each, so this is only scratching the surface, but it hopefully goes to show that Iceland, despite its small population, has more than enough things to see.

Visit to Munich

This past weekend I made a quick visit to Munich. It’s one of my favorite cities, and it’s within reasonably easy reach from me (about four hours per train). I do need to find a way to find discount train tickets, though!

The first thing I meant to do after I dropped off my bag at the hotel was to find an electronics store I had been to as a child and see what they were selling these days — assuming they were open. Instead I stepped out of the local train into a mass demonstration against the new police powers act. I have to say that seeing such civic involvement to defend people’s privacy and rights was quite emotional. Good for you, Munich!

Eventually I moved towards a late lunch to the nearby Zum Dürnbräu restaurant. Talk about history; the location has been serving travelers food for over 500 years in the same place. It’s currently asparagus season (here in Switzerland the headquarters cafeteria has asparagus weeks, the super market restaurant has asparagus specials, asparagus everywhere!) Consequently the seasonal menu here also offered asparagus dishes. I opted for a chicken dish, which was indeed very good, combining two kinds of asparagus in a cream sauce. Entrees came with complimentary pretzels, and I added a radler to stay hydrated walking around the city, and since it seemed appropriate for the setting.

Chicken with pepper sauce; white and green asparagus in cream sauce; served with red cabbage, onion, mashed potatoes, fried onions, chives, parsley and assorted other spices.
Complimentary pretzels.
Refreshing radler.


The next day was mostly spent at Deutsches Museum.

In short, it’s the world’s best science museum. There may be others that have a bigger collection of a specific thing, but considering the breadth of their collection — aviation, trains, ships, astronomy, chemistry, biology, mining, machinery, computing, mathematics, physics, ceramics and so forth — they’re unrivaled. They have a staggering collection of historic instruments and specimens of a wide variety.

One particular favorite of mine are the classic physics and chemistry hands-on experiments. They haven’t changed much in half a century, but as great experiments that allow you to grasp concepts of physics they’re fantastic. Things like capacitors where you can vary the distance of the plates and insert dielectric materials between them, all the while observing changes to the inter-plate voltage, complete with an explanation of how things are related. Unfortunately many of the classic sections still have rather lacking English translations.

Another favorite are the guided tours. A few of them require registration and an additional fee, but most are free of charge. They range from playing around with liquid nitrogen or microscopy to more detailed walks through specific departments. This time I was one of only two people taking the mining tour through their extensive staged mining section (showing history of mining, and various types of mines); the tour was led by a former miner, and to my surprise many of the exhibits turned out to be operational, as the tour guide operated wagon lifts, water pumps, and excavators. Once more, the tours are usually limited to German.

The second tour was geodesy; here I was the only person who showed up, so I got a pretty personal tour through a number of the items on display, and discussion about local history as it related to mapping and cartography in the middle ages.

The final guided event for me was the microscopy presentation. This had a lot less to do with actual technology, and was mostly about showing interesting things imaged with the museums scanning electron microscope. The presenter was funny and interactive, he took questions and adjusted what he showed based on the interest of the audience. We did get a brief demonstration of the live view and capabilities of the electron microscope with samples in real time, and ended things by preparing a piece of dried moss in an optical microscope, finding a tardigrade, and waking it up. Overall the session was supposed to take less than an hour, but we spent closer to two hours at it, and I was convinced to buy the museum’s book on the topic, as they are actively involved in using their instrument to do research with other organizations in the region, and independent research on their own. It turns out there is an amazing amount of stuff we do not know about sub-millimeter animals.

For dinner I stopped at a recommended vegan kebab joint, Erbil’s. Most of the fare was what you’d expect in your average kebab restaurant, except meat dishes were made with seitan; it’s even cooked on a vertical rotisserie. In addition there were other delicacies, vegan lasagne, desserts etc. 

Falafel at Erbils.

For my final day I visited the Deutsches Museum’s new traffic annex. While new and offering a fair bit more space, I was not quite as impressed by it. Showcased were old trains, subway cars, trucks, cars, and motorcycles, but I felt like there was not as much information on some of the topics as I would have liked. Their selection of bicycles, I have to mention, was quite impressive, from the earliest to modern, including a reproduction of a traditional bicycle workshop. As the main museum is undergoing renovations, expected to finish in 2020, some of the exhibits were being moved around; there were a few rocket-powered cars from the rocketry exhibit in the traffic annex, though with next to no additional information. They also had a section of train signals, but with no good explanation on what they meant or signaled. On the other hand, they did have interactive exhibits on hydraulic torque converters, different types of transmissions, differentials and brake systems. The star there was a full-sized 6×6 truck drivetrain with cleverly placed plexiglass windows which allowed visibility into the operation of all the components from engine to wheels.

After the museum visit, I had the good fortune of meeting up with some friends at the Hungriges Herz bistro, followed by ice cream at True & 12.

Overall a great way to spend a few days.

Marienplatz in Munich.