That was me, every couple of miles, as we zoomed past yet another Icelandic horse breeding farm or riding school. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that horses would be the highlight of my trip to Iceland, but here we are. I am a horse person now.
- The Icelandic horse is a small breed of horse that has evolved in isolation in Iceland. They descended from Norway, and belong to an ancient race that died out in other parts in Europe, but survived in Iceland for 1,100 years without crossbreeding.
- The horses tend to be small, weighing between 730 and 840 pounds, and standing an average of 52 to 56 inches high.
- They display two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering. The breed also performs a pace called a skeið, “flying pace”. It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth, with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour. It is not a gait for long-distance travel.
- In their native country they have few diseases; and as a result Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
- They have better hair than I’ll ever have.
We first saw these horses during our trip around the Golden Circle, where we pulled over multiple times to see the horses up close.
But it was during our stay in Akureyri that my obsession for the horses grew.
Where We Laid Our Heads To Sleep:
We stayed in Grenivik, a small town located about 35 minutes from Akureyri. Our Airbnb wasn’t the most luxurious, but it was located high up in the mountains, providing killer views of the stars above. Our host, who had hilariously enough been visiting Kissimmee and South Florida a few weeks before our trip, was nice enough to prepare the hot tub for us, were we hung out for a bit that night.
Because we were over 30 minutes from any restaurant or supermarket, we ate dinner and breakfast from our Kronan grocery stash. We did, however, visit Akureyri Fish & Chips where we shared, you guessed it, some fish and chips, as well as traditional plokkari. The dish is a traditional meal in Iceland and contains a combination of fish, potatoes, onions, and bechamel sauce. I also left the restaurant with a nice shiny burn along my index finger after touching a cast iron plate I was told to not touch.
- Búðakirkja, a tiny black church which we stopped at for pics on our way out of Reykjavik
- The Icelandic Seal Center, which we realized was closed right after we parked, but we still walked around and checked out the sunset
- Laufas Turf Houses, which we drove past because they were closed (sad face!)
- Christmas Garden, the cutest Christmas shop I’ve ever seen in my life
- Námafjall Geothermal Area, which we saw on our way out of Akureyri
And most importantly, our visit to Polar Hestar a horse riding tour company right next to our Airbnb. This was the moment I became a horse person.
We were greeted by our instructor, a young German woman who was in Iceland for the year, and were quickly led inside to sign waivers and put on our very cool riding outfits.
Just kidding. I’m completely aware that we look like traffic cones, but the outfits kept us warm throughout our ride. Our instructor led us down a path near the rest of their horses, some which had been born just weeks prior! We continued on along babbling brooks, and laughed the entire ride, as my horse decided to fart each time we picked up speed. When my horse wasn’t too busy farting, it was loudly snorting, which I learned was a sign she was happy. Well, that made two of us!
Our breathtaking ride took a turn for the weird when our instructor asked if we believed in elves. Being the most polite out of the both of us, Halston let her know that we did not believe in them, but that didn’t stop her from sharing with us that elves lived in the neighboring mountain and humans were not allowed to trespass. I continued petting my horse and silently laughing to myself as we made our way back to the riding school.
After peeling off our riding clothes, we were greeted by puppies, hot chocolate, coffee, pastries inside, where we warmed up and planned our drive to the next city.
The Next City:
The only reason we added the stop in the town of Egilsstaðir was because we needed to break up the drive, as driving from Akureyri to our next destination would’ve taken too long. We stayed in a hostel we found through Airbnb, and were pleasantly surprised at how clean it was, as this was our first hostel experience.
While searching for somewhere to have dinner, we quickly learned that our only nearby option was the Skalin Diner. I believe this 1950s-themed diner came to life after someone visited Las Vegas, Kissimmee, or International Drive and said to him or herself, “I must bring this kitschy concept back to Iceland. It will be a hit!”
As soon as we got our meals, we realized our patties were not thoroughly cooked. Needless to say, we scarfed down our fries, chugged our beers, and quickly left.
Jumping ahead a few days, on the last day of our trip we visited a gas station where I picked up a free travel guide (which, you know, would’ve come in handy at the beginning of our trip) mentioning places of interest in each city and town. I quickly searched Egilsstaðir, wondering if we missed anything while we were there, and the entry just mentioned that the town is the headquarters of the State Forestry Service, as well as the home to the country’s largest forest. As of January 2018, the population was 2,464. Guess we didn’t miss much.
See you at our next stop!