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The Earth Is Angry: Hverir and Grjótagjá

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Like an irritable old codger fed up with the neighbor kids trampling his flower bed, the Earth has posted “No Trespassing” signs all over Iceland. “Nothing says Stay Away better than a hissing pool of mud,” reasons the Earth. “And what’s more, I’ll make it stink of sulfur!” Makes sense, but what do we humans do? We turn it into a tourist attraction! Man, are we annoying.

Hverir Hot Springs

The Earth is at its boiling, steaming worst in the Hverir geothermal area. Pools of bubbling mud, strange rock piles like mini-volcanoes relentlessly belching steam, and a nearly unbearable stink of sulfur… just the kind of place we humans love! What’s wrong with us? Why should busloads of tourists seek out this seething little park near Mývatn?

It must be the novelty. Places like Hverir aren’t going to bring us to tears with their glorious beauty, but it’s fun to see another, darker side of our planet. And I suppose there’s a kind of beauty to be found here as well.

Grjótagjá Hot Springs

Nearby Hverir is Grjótagjá: another spot where the Earth once had a rage fit. Grjótagjá. The name even sounds like a growl. Here, the crust has simply cracked in two, creating a long, jagged fissure into which pools of geothermally-heated water have collected. Years ago, these cave pools were popular spot for bathing Icelanders, but after a series of eruptions that ended in 1984, the water became too hot.

Earth: “Growl, grumble, grjótagjá… Earth ANGRY!” [Cracks the crust]
Humans: “Oh hey, look everyone, a new swimming pool! Thank you, Earth!” [Jumps in pool]
Earth: “I said leave me alone!” [Erupts volcanoes]

We spend our whole existence polluting it, ripping up its forests, killing its atmosphere and dumping our garbage into its oceans… it can’t be any surprise that the Earth wants a little space to itself. A place free of our annoying and destructive behavior. But do we get the hint? Sorry, Earth, you’re just too fascinating to leave alone, even when you’re angry. Maybe especially then.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Hverir | Grjótagjá

Dimmuborgir Guesthouse

More Pics from the Hverir Hot Springs
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More Pics from the Grjótagjá Fissure
Grjótagjá Hot Springs
Grjótagjá Hot Springs
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Grjótagjá Hot Springs
Grjótagjá Hot Springs
Grjótagjá Hot Springs
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October 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm Comment (1)

The Jarðböðin Nature Baths

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While we enjoyed our visit to the Blue Lagoon, we did have a few complaints. It was too expensive, too crowded and although the landscape of black lava was striking, it could have benefited from more variety. Iceland was apparently listening to us and taking notes, because we found all our complaints improved upon at the “Blue Lagoon of the North”: the Jarðböðin Nature Baths.

The Jarðböðin Lagoon

Situated just a couple miles from Mývatn, the baths at Jarðböðin are the perfect way to end a day packed with activity. We visited after touring Viti, Leirhnjúkur, Hverir and Grjótagjá, and our bodies were in desperate need of rejuvenation. The water in the pool was at a perfect temperature, hot enough to be slightly alarming at first, and we soaked our tired bones for well over an hour.

In addition to the main pool, there’s a hot tub, steam rooms and a pool of refreshingly cool water. The Jarðböðin lagoon is artificial, with water provided from a nearby borehole owned by the National Power Company. Rich in minerals beneficial to the skin, the water also deters bacteria without the need for artificial cleaning agents.

Jarðböðin does suffer from the same problems as the Blue Lagoon, but to a lesser degree. At $20 per person, it’s still expensive to visit, but not outrageously so, and the pool is well-known enough to be crowded, but not to an unpleasant degree. We really enjoyed ourselves here and nearly returned the very next day.

Location on our Map

(Jarðböðin Protip: There are two sets of dressing rooms; one inside and the other just outside the main building. Almost everybody goes to the first room, so if you head to the back, you’ll usually find yourself alone.)

Cabins Right At Lake Myvatn

The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
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The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
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The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
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The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
The Jarðböðin Lagoon
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October 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm Comments (0)


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A village of just 800 inhabitants built around a natural bay of the same name, Ólafsfjörður was our base during the three days we spent exploring the eastern half of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula. The town itself doesn’t have a lot to distract tourists, but the surrounding landscape picks up the slack.


In Northern Iceland, September is “winter” and a lot of touristy sights close up shop. So we weren’t surprised to find Ólafsfjörður’s lone attraction, the Natural History Museum (Nátúrrugripsafnið), closed. And it didn’t really upset us; we were much more interested in driving around the fjord than spending a day in a museum. During our slow, leisurely tour, we saw quiet farms, geese and a lot of snow. We also cruised around the town and its harbor. Fishing remains integral to life here, despite the end of the herring boom which brought Ólafsfjörður into being in 1945.

We slept in a cabin operated by the Brimnes Hotel, right on top of the fjord and with a beautiful view of the mountains. On checking in, we were thrilled to discover a hot tub on the balcony. We ended each of our three Ólafsfjörður nights with an extended soak, watching dusk settle in and listening to ducks splash around in the water just below us.

Location on our Iceland Map
Brimnes Hotel – Website

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October 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm Comments (3)

Me and Mósa, My Icelandic Horse

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Our time together was short, but Mósa didn’t need long to work her way into my heart. I loved her soft coat, her short stature, her rich color, and how she farted with every other step. I loved her mane, and her mild countenance when I accidentally pulled some of it out. I loved how determined she was to speed past others when it came time to gallop. I loved her stubbornness. And most of all, I loved that she didn’t buck me off, although it would have been so very easy.

Me And My Horse

We were invited on a morning ride with Hestasport, based in Varmahlíð’s beautiful Skagafjörður Valley. Hestasport is among the oldest horse recreation companies in Iceland, with roots that go back to 1974. They offer tours to fit any level of interest or skill, ranging from an hour to a week.

After meeting our guides for the day, we were introduced to our horses. Perhaps because they’ve evolved to cope with the country’s rough nature, Icelandic horses are known for their lively characters. They’re wilder than their cousins on the continent, a bit more spirited. They’re also smaller (technically ponies), and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Mósa was charcoal gray with a black stripe running down her spine. She was, I assured her while stroking her mane, by far the prettiest horse in our group. “Even if you are a little farty”.

Another unique trait of Icelandic horses is their number of natural gaits. Other horses are born knowing how to walk, trot an gallop, but Icelandic horses can also tölt and skeið. This ability and their friendly demeanor have made them popular around the world. There are, in fact, more Icelandic horses in Germany than Iceland. But once a horse has left the island, they are never allowed to return. Strict laws on importation have kept Iceland’s stock exceptionally pure.

Our tour with Hestasport lasted for a couple hours. Mósa was well-behaved and only once disobeyed my command to continue moving. Because they’re smaller, Icelandic horses are more comfortable to ride than other breeds, and I was only partially incapacitated after two hours in the saddle. Riding an Icelandic horse is one of the country’s quintessential experiences, and Hestasport is a great place to do it.

We also had a wonderful night. In addition to the riding, Hestasport rents excellent cabins that have access to a large hot tub. Exactly what an aching body needs after a day atop a horse. The cabins themselves are nicely outfitted, with heating, good showers and fully-equipped kitchens. Very comfortable.

Location of the Hestasport Office
Hestasport – Website

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October 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm Comments (5)

Hveravellir: Halfway through the Highlands

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At the midway point of our journey along the Klöjur Road, we stayed overnight at Hveravellir. After hours of desolate lava fields and no signs of life (apart from the occasional shrub), we greeted this lonesome outpost like Bedouins stumbling upon an oasis in the desert.

Hveravellir Iceland Blog

Hveravellir is a lodge with the most basic of services: some food, a room to relax, beds, and most importantly, people to talk to. The Klöjur Road gets lonely! So, although I felt bad for the two girls working in the lodge, nothing was going to stop Jürgen and I from blabbing their ears off. I’m sure the tale of our harrowing journey through the highlands was fascinating to them. I’m sure they hadn’t heard the exact same story a million times before.

Once we got our fill of human companionship, we explored the area. Hveravellir is built around an active geothermal area, and a short path leads past a number of bubbling, sulfur-spewing holes in the earth, each with its own name and personality. Öskurhóll is a white volcano-shaped mound spitting out constant clouds of steam at high-pressure. Fagrihver is a beautiful light-blue pool with crystallized sulfur covering half its surface. Eyvindarhver is an evil, yellowish spring; in the infrequent moments when it isn’t belching smoke, you can see a horrific, moaning face in its depths.

Eyvindarhver was named after Eyvindar the Outlaw, a famous figure from Icelandic history who lived in exile with his wife, Hella. One of the harshest punishments in 17th-century Iceland was banishment to the country’s highlands. It was basically a death sentence, but in the unlikely event that the criminal should survive twenty years, he or she would be pardoned. Eyvindar and Hella were among the few to withstand the elements for so long, and they managed it by living part-time in Hveravellir. Here, they could stay warm, and even boil sheep in the hot springs.

Not all of the hot springs at Hveravellir clock in at a deadly, sheep-cooking temperature. In fact, the best thing about staying here is the perfectly-heated tub just outside the sleeping quarters. After a long day on the road, nothing could be better.

Location on our Iceland Map

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October 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm Comments (0)

The Hellisheiði Power Station

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Just outside the hot spring haven of Hveragerði is the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station. If you want to visit, don’t worry about accidentally driving past without spotting it. This is the world’s largest geothermal plant, spouting giant columns of steam high into the atmosphere, and it’s unmistakable.

Hellisheiði Power Station Iceland

The plant was completed in 2006, before the financial crash, when Iceland was still filthy rich, so no expense was spared. Hellisheiði is state of the art, and beautiful to behold. As a fan of industrial design, Jürgen was in heaven during our short visit. But even those of us less enthusiastic about power plants will find it worthwhile. Inside, there are interactive exhibits which describe the process of harnessing geothermal energy from the earth, and demonstrate exactly why Iceland has a practically endless supply of it.

We also spent time walking around the grounds outside the plant. With the Hengill Mountain Range in the immediate background and white clouds of pure steam shooting straight up into the air, incredible photo opportunities are not hard to find.

Location of Hellisheiði on our Map

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October 8, 2013 at 7:05 pm Comment (1)

The Hot Spring Town of Hveragerði

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Precariously situated in the middle of an active geothermal area southeast of Reykjavík, Hveragerði makes for an easy excursion from the capital. During our visit, we explored hot springs, ate an geothermally-cooked egg and treated our feet to a therapeutic mud bath.

Hveragerði Mudd Bath

Nowhere else in Iceland is geothermal power so intricately connected to everyday life as in Hveragerði. Here, you can visit geothermal bakeries, eat bread fresh from geothermal ovens, buy vegetables in geothermal greenhouses, play golf with geothermal vents blasting out of the ground around you, tour a nearby geothermal plant, walk around a geothermal park, and take a dip in geothermal waters.

With the Varmá River running through town and the Hengill Mountains providing the backdrop, Hveragerði is stunning. But I must question the sanity of anyone who says, “Yes, this is where we shall settle! Here, where scalding steam bursts forth from the earth. Where muddy pools of boiling water open up below unsuspecting feet. Where the earth quakes regularly. Here, the exact spot that nature is clearly trying to warn me away from, is where I shall make my home.”

Our first order of business in Hveragerði was a visit to the Geothermal Park, where a short trail leads around a number of bubbling, smelly hot springs. We bought an egg to boil in one of the pools and paid a little extra to take a footbath in hot mud. There might not be anything as weirdly pleasurable as the feeling of warm clay squishing between your toes. Afterwards, we stopped into one of the town’s bakeries for coffee and a delicious cinnamon roll fresh out of the oven.

Re-energized, we set out to explore the trails which lead from town into the foothills of Hengill. We saw the golf course and a number of steaming vents that had opened in the ground. These trails eventually lead to the wonderful hot spring rivers that we had visited a few weeks back, but for today we’d had our fill of geothermal-related activities and turned back toward town.

On almost any trip to Iceland, you’ll be passing right through Hveragerði on your way to or from Reykjavík. And while the town might not have enough to keep you entertained for days on end, the sheer strangeness of its sights definitely make it worth a stop.

Locations on our Map: Hveragerði Geothermal Park

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October 7, 2013 at 9:37 pm Comments (5)

Deildartunguhver and Hraunfoss

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On either side of Reykholt are two remarkable water-related sights. Measured by the volume of water produced, Deildartunguhver is the largest hot spring in Europe. And Hraunfoss, or the “Lava Field Waterfall”, is precisely as strange as its name implies.


At Deildartunguhver, a massive amount of water super-heated at 97°C (207°F) is continuously pumped out of a terrifying crack that has opened in the earth. The spring is powerful enough to supply the hot water needs of both Borgarnes (34 kilometers away) and Akranes (64 km).

We were visiting on an extremely windy morning, when the billows of steam produced by the springs were being blown straight across the ground. Half-expecting to have my face melted off, I stood briefly inside one of the steam clouds. Stinky and hot, but survivable. Deildartunguhver is not an especially beautiful sight, but witnessing the sheer, seething power of the earth is undeniably impressive. And a little scary.

Hraunfoss Wasserfall

We were touring the region without our own transport, which proved tricky since there’s only a single bus serving the area daily, but the friendly folks at the Fosshotel Reykholt helped us arrange a trip out to the Hraunfoss Waterfall. Here, the Hvitá River which comes thundering down from the glaciers is joined by countless tributaries hidden underneath the lava fields to the north.

The water streaming out of the porous walls of lava and crashing into the river makes for an oddly beautiful sight. Hraunfoss isn’t the most powerful waterfall we’d seen in Iceland, but is among the most unique.

Locations on our Map: Deildartunguhver | Hraunfoss

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September 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm Comment (1)

The Western Westfjords

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The Latrabjarg Cliffs are about five hours from Ísafjörður by car, but the drive takes most people a lot longer thanks to the abundance of entertaining stops along the way. We needed all day to amble along Route 60, stopping off in five villages before ending at the beach of Breiðavík.

Flateyri Mountain River

Most of the drive between Ísafjörður and the nearby fishing village of Flateyri is through a long tunnel. Trapped between a towering mountain and the Önundarfjörður Fjord, the tiny town is most famous for the tragic 1995 avalanche which destroyed many of its houses and killed twenty people, a good-sized percentage of the entire population. A documentary titled 66°23 North West describes the horror of that event (here’s the trailer).

Old Store Þingeyri

Our next stop was in the slightly larger town of Þingeyri. This was once the site of a Viking assembly (a “Þing”) and we had heard that there were Viking-era ruins behind the town’s church. We spent time looking for them among some grassy mounds, before realizing that the grassy mounds were the ruins. Kind of disappointing, but our spirits were restored by an excellent lunch of squash soup and homemade bread at Simbahöllin, a lovely cafe in the town’s former timber grocery store. And now it was time to get back on the road.

Hrafnseyri Church

Our route left the fjords and cut inland on a curvy gravel road, which ascended ever higher, producing increasingly dramatic views of the coast. Stopping the car every five minutes for another picture, our progress was slow, but eventually we made it to Hrafnseyri, a simple farm famous around Iceland as the birthplace of Jón Sigurðsson, one of the fathers of the country’s independence.

Today the farm has been converted into a museum celebrating the great man’s life. It sounded interesting, but we had limited time and were forced to make a choice. Either the Jón Sigurðsson Museum or the Sea Monsters Museum in nearby Bildudalur. Sorry Jón, but the Kraken wins.

Seamonster Museum

We made the wrong choice. The Sea Monsters Museum wasn’t nearly as fun as we had expected. It was just a single room, with trinkets, small sculptures and video interviews of locals who’ve claimed to have spotted monsters like the terrifying Shore Laddie in the Arnarfjörður Fjord. The museum is well-designed and creepily atmospheric, but we were done in minutes. Just not worth the cost of entrance.


Our last stop of the day was Patreksfjörður which, with 700 inhabitants, is the second-biggest town in the Westfjords. As far as I’m concerned, an Icelandic town qualifies as “large” if it has a Vínbúðin liquor store. Maddeningly, Patreksfjörður’s Vínbúðin was closed by the time we arrived, so we contented ourselves with a dip in the town’s wonderful outdoor pool. With a view over the fjord and the sun getting low in the sky, it was a great way to wind down after a very long day of driving. Almost as nice as whiskey would have been…

Locations: Flateyri | Þingeyri | Hrafnseyri | Bildudalur | Patreksfjörður

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Pictures of the drive from Flateyri to Þingeyri
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September 7, 2013 at 11:59 am Comments (6)

Socializing in Suðureyri

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It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like in tiny Suðureyri prior to 2001 and the completion of the tunnel connecting it to Ísafjörður. Today it’s just a twenty-minute drive, but before the tunnel, Suðureyri was connected to the outside world only by boat.

Suðureyri Tunnel

Driving through the tunnel to Suðureyri is quite an experience. It quickly narrows down to a single lane and there’s even an underground intersection at one point. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but the view which waits at the end is worth the stress. Suðureyri sits on the southern tip of the long and narrow Súgandafjörður fjord, and it’s a joy to drive down the smooth, curvy road into town, with such an astonishing and wholly Icelandic landscape laid out before you.

Only about 300 people live in Suðureyri and there’s not much to see in town, but we had come for relaxation, not tourism. We grabbed a beer at the bar to loosen inhibitions, and then walked over to the town’s popular geothermal pool. A couple minutes after settling into the hot tub, we had already made a dozen new friends. A German couple, a group of Finns, tourists on their way to Hornstrandir, and of course a bunch of Icelanders.

Even more than bars, swimming pools are Iceland’s real social hotspot. Alternating between the hot tub and the pool, we swam and drank coffee and chatted about everything under the sun, and ended up staying until closing time… which is not recommended by the way, as you’re then forced to shower naked with all your new friends before saying goodbye.

Location of Suðureyri on our Map

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September 6, 2013 at 5:56 pm Comment (1)

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The Earth Is Angry: Hverir and Grjtagj Like an irritable old codger fed up with the neighbor kids trampling his flower bed, the Earth has posted "No Trespassing" signs all over Iceland. "Nothing says Stay Away better than a hissing pool of mud," reasons the Earth. "And what's more, I'll make it stink of sulfur!" Makes sense, but what do we humans do? We turn it into a tourist attraction! Man, are we annoying.
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