I recently spent a week in Iceland with my wife. Unofficially, it was our honeymoon, but she wanted to shoot a lookbook for her clothing brand, Muttonhead, and I brought my surfboards. The wife don’t surf.
Iceland is a pretty cool place, but everyone already knows that. I’m not going to preach about how awesome it is and tell everyone that they need to go before they die or else their lives will be worthless because who the hell am I? I went to Iceland for one week, so I barely know shit about it.
So, here is some amazing insight that will hopefully encourage you to visit the wonderful arctic island nation and debatably help you out if you happen to be on a honeymoon/work trip/surf trip of your own.
You’re gonna need a rental car. Busses are for tourists in tour groups and they run tight itineraries on someone else’s schedule. Fuck that. We’re travellers, not vacationers. Iceland ain’t cheap, so cut corners when you can. Someone from Sad will pick you up at the airport with your name on a sign so you feel important. The name of the company says it all: the cars are a little sad. We rented a ’99 Corolla with 284,000 kilometers on it. The engine light was on, the seats were stained, and the timing belt whistled when it started. But it got us everywhere we needed to go, covering 1,400 kms in a week at half the price of a new Yaris with Avis or Europcar. I should mention that I ripped the muffler off when I bottomed it out driving on the beach, but let’s keep that between you and I. When I called the boys at Sad with some lame ass story, they showed up 20 minutes later and swapped our ride for a new(er) one. No questions asked.
The Blue Lagoon
It’s wildly overpriced, a major hub for those busses full of tourists, and doesn’t offer anything cultural or authentic to Iceland. That being said, it’s fucking awesome and you need to go. Embrace your tourist self and get in the pool! Bring your lady, or your man, or your pals. Just bring someone so you feel alienated from the older chubbier guests filling up the massage pool with their white hair and wrinkled skin spilling out of their Speedos. Gross. Accept the fact that you’re going to blow a lot of cash. Upgrade to get a bathrobe and flip-flops, hit the wet bar and down some 20-dollar piña coladas. Do all of this immediately after you arrive in Iceland on a red-eye flight. Bask in sulfuric pools and rub silica mud all over yourself so you look ridiculous. Get into it! Sure, it’ll be a $500 day and you’ll never go back, but the laughs will stay with you forever and the rotten egg smell in your hair will stay with you for at least a week.
One morning, I walked out of our AirBNB rental apartment in Reykjavik and noticed a large dent in the driver’s side door of our Sad Car. There was a note tucked under the windshield wiper. Of course it was in Icelandic and I couldn’t read a damn word, but a nice girl at the coffee shop translated it for me: “Hello! My name is Heidor and I backed into your car! I am sorry! Please phone me at 663-1920.” And that is a metaphor for the locals of Iceland. Another metaphor is that many people in Reykjavik ride fancy bicycles around town and don’t lock them up. And lastly, I bitched about wanting to ride a pony for a week and it never happened, but on the day we left, some lady we met drove us to her private stable in the ‘burbs and let us ride her ponies. It was totally free. She just wanted to hang out with us and show us her ponies. Fucking cool locals in Iceland.
Reykjanes Peninsula is more of an area than a spot. I know better than to name specific waves or give directions on the Internet because I’d like to go back to Iceland. I met some local surfers (very friendly folks) who said that many foreign surfers have visited Iceland only to return home and blow out their secret spots in the media. The locals were bummed. It was good juicy gossip and I’d love to drop names of the surfers and photographers they claim are banned from their surf zones, but that’s sorta the same as blowing out spots with a big gossipy mouth. Another advantage of being with the wife is that I’m not a threat to the surf scene. I’m just an average dude in a shitty car looking for a wave on our vacay. Surfing is not popular in Iceland, but there are waves. Oh, buddy, how there are waves. And Reykjanes is all I’ll say about that.
Bonus is the name of the franchise grocery store with a big pink pig as the logo. Get accommodation that has a kitchen, so you can cook some meals at home. You will save hundreds of dollars (for real) and have more down time to relax and prepare for road trips. Set aside a few special outings to go to the really good restaurants, rather than doing the half-ass restaurants every night. Bonus has everything you need at friendlier prices than what you’ve heard about Iceland. But they don’t sell beer, which is dumb.
You’ll hear about raw seal meat, Puffin, and Minke whale before you arrive in Iceland and that’s all good and proper if you want to localize in a touristy way. In my opinion, if you didn’t start eating that shit as a grommet, you’re not going to acquire a taste for it in your thirties. Any and all seafood is legit in Iceland, plus the local snacks, like Skyr yoghurt, dried and salted cod, kleina doughnuts, and noodles. There are hotdog stands all over the place for some fucked up reason and they boast long queues on snow-stricken sidewalks at all hours of the day, but we live in New York. Hotdogs in Iceland is about as intriguing as sushi in Mexico.
It’s OK if you’re not into waterfalls. I wasn’t either until we went to Iceland. Drive Highway 1 down the southern coast and you will have your mind exploded by the scenic waterfalls. Like, big ass fucking waterfalls, with power and rainbows! Put on some Bjork or Sigur Ros when you’re behind the wheel and really take it in. Study a roadmap and ask around if you want to find some back road waterfalls. They’re all over the place. You’ll return home and tell everyone that you’re really into waterfalls these days.
Also known as “hot pots.” Icelandic culture is big on swimming pools. Locals don’t do the Blue Lagoon (too lame and expensive), but they’ll hit the public pools in town for a daily soak. And they’re cheap. Go for an hour or two and bounce between an array of outdoor tubs at various temperatures. Some of them are fed straight with seawater and naturally heated with geothermic juice. Another treat is that you’re allowed to run on the pool deck, like nowhere else in the developed world.
Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland. It’s actually the only city, yet it’s more of a town if you come from a real city. Drinking can cripple your bank account if you’re careless in the bars, but the good vibes and friendly atmosphere seem to open your wallet a lot easier. If you’re bummed about paying $12 USD on a pint, consider that it’s the most delicious pint you’ll ever taste and was brewed with glacial spring water on the northern coast of Iceland. Or compare it to the price of your piña colada that came in a plastic cup at the Blue Lagoon wet bar. Note that the party starts late in Reykjavik. Take a nap, have a late dinner, walk it off around town, and hit a watering hole around midnight at the earliest if you want to last for the real action. The live music scene in Reykjavik is better than almost anywhere. If you have trouble staying up late, drugs are easy to find, but again—expensive.
Happy wife, happy life
You can’t not have a good time in Iceland. We had some horrendous weather, but it changes every 20 minutes, so you can’t be discouraged by a savage blizzard when the sun and rainbows follow it up. I’m happy to death-grip the steering wheel through a whiteout while scanning the coast for waves and the wife can focus on her Kindle instead of the imminent danger. In seven full, yet easy-going days, we shot her lookbook, I caught a lot of empty arctic waves, and we saw a shit load of sweet waterfalls—just enough to make it painful to leave and start booking a return trip before we even left. Go to Iceland. Bring your lady, or you man, or your pals. But be careful of its disease. It will set its hooks in you and you can never break away. The island nation is infectious. Nobody goes to Iceland once.
Words and photography by Eric Greene