Three days in Iceland, a popular baby boomer destination

BoomerCafé specializes in stories of, by, and for baby boomers. And that includes the kinds of vacations boomers like to take. That’s why our publisher and co-founder David Henderson stopped off in Iceland on his way to Europe. And why he thinks you deserve the straight scoop on a country that might not be quite ready for your visit.

Stepping off a flight from the U.S. at Iceland’s Keflavik Airport, we are greeted by a sea of tourists who seemingly have overwhelmed capacity at the not yet completed new international terminal. Hordes of tourists from all parts of the world, Russia to North America, are exploring Iceland. A good many appear to be graying baby boomers.

We are on our way to attend a wedding in England and have stopped in Iceland for a few days to learn what all the tourism excitement is about on this tiny and somewhat sparsely populated country that sits atop ancient former lava flows and amid snowcapped mountains.

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park

The best way to tour Iceland in a limited amount of time is via tour bus, jeep, or hired car … or, rent your own. We decided to do that, and drive ourselves.

Tip – if you rent a car in Iceland, make sure to add full insurance coverage. Sudden changes in weather can cause road problems and damage to vehicles.

Despite preparing in advance by ordering detailed Iceland tour books and maps online, little of the information on those maps seems to match up with the actual road signs that are only in Icelandic, a seemingly incomprehensible alphabet and language. There are 32 letters and characters with acute accent marks in the Icelandic alphabet … symbols I had never before seen … such as “jɔð̠” and “ʰjɛ.”

Downtown Reykjavik, fairly crowded with visitors who arrive by air and sea.

Downtown Reykjavik, fairly crowded with visitors who arrive by air and sea.

The first thing we learned was that the airport is on a remote peninsula about 40 miles from Reykjavik, the main city and nation’s capital. Once in Reykjavik, we could not determine how to reach the center of the city. No signs in English, no symbols, not even a giant puffin statue pointing the way.

Puffin_Latrabjarg_IcelandTip – Icelanders eat puffins, those cute little sea birds. Puffin is served in restaurants. Nothing personal toward Icelanders, but you gotta wonder about people who would eat those cute little photogenic birds.

Reykjavik is an old, small, and densely built city. Narrow streets, limited parking. We had booked an Airbnb accommodation at Ránargata 23 Street. We found the place on a small map but actually weaving our way through the maze of small streets was another story. It was by sheer luck that we drove by the address and my wife said, “That’s it!” We had one floor in a small old house, and it was not a good experience – the owner and her family were noisy.


The external was covered with corrugated sheet metal, perhaps remnants from World War II. The steps were wood, rotten though. The inside looked nothing like the photos on Airbnb. Actually, it looked more like a large storage shed. Our first Airbnb experience was not as advertised and will be our last.


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There are two things to see in Iceland during a short visit: Reykjavik and The Golden Circle. The city is worth no more than a half day of visiting stores that sell tourist items, key chains, and stuffed puffin dolls. The Golden Circle requires a full day and is not-to-be-missed.

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a series of two-lane roads that hit some of Iceland’s most-popular and scenic tourist attractions. Most places charge no admission although food and souvenirs are pricey. The drive takes about seven to eight hours including stops.

Gullfoss, an immense and thundering waterfall.

Gullfoss, an immense and thundering waterfall.

There is Gullfoss, an enormous waterfall that has been cut over centuries in a high meadow. Along the road is Geysir, a steaming geyser that erupts about 30 feet into the air every few minutes. The story is, every other geyser is so named because of this one in Iceland.

Tip – It rains often in Iceland and temperatures are cool-to-cold much of the year. Skies are frequently gray and overcast. Dress in layers to keep warm … at least a fleece and rain parka.

Best place during our tour, in our opinion, was Þingvellir National Park. The significance of Þingvellir is one of those “WOW” moments in life. It’s the place where the first parliament in recorded history met. That was the summer of 930. Island chieftains gathered – some walked for weeks to get there – to form their new commonwealth. Þingvellir has always been regarded as a spiritual place.

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There is a natural phenomena within Þingvellir National Park where the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge can be seen and touched. It is the only visible place on earth where the massive American plate of the earth’s crust meets the equally enormous Euro-Asian plate.

Tourists can walk between the giant continental plates that are constantly moving and shifting ever so slightly although not perceptibly. Movement is no more than a few millimeters a year.

Surrounding the Golden Circle drive are many volcanic steam vents, a constant reminder that Iceland sits atop a multitude of active volcanoes. In fact, a series of new and active eruptions started in 2014 and is continuing.


The continental plates between East and West nearly touch at this point at Þingvellir National Park.

A tour of The Golden Circle and a walk around Reykjavik were highlights of a three day visit. For far more active and conditioned outdoor enthusiasts, there are extensive drives around the island and hiking exploration of remote glaciers, fiords, and mountains, treks that require a couple of weeks.

Tip – Don’t take a good digital camera on a whale-watching ship. Rough seas and waves can quickly soak everyone and ruin cameras.

My impression is that Iceland is growing far too quickly as a tourist mecca. The island lacks the tourism infrastructure to handle the flood of visitors. An aggressive and glitzy advertising campaign unquestionably has captured global attention. An actual visit to Iceland is in some ways rewarding, but considerably less exotic.

We were happy to depart Iceland for England where they don’t eat puffin.

[All photos by Kit Bigelow and David Henderson.]


  1. Having just done the same stopover, I think your comments are spot on. We found the weather “stimulating.” The sun would be shining brightly and we were still pelted by ice crystals embedded in 50 mph horizontal rain, even though the ambient temperature was well above freezing. Using an umbrella is impossible. We were told that the high-speed rain is why many concrete buildings are clad in the corrugated steel you mentioned–it’s supposed to protect the concrete. I would add that we found Icelanders uniformly friendly and helpful, even if they do eat puffins.

    1. Tom,

      I appreciate you sharing your impression of a brief visit to Iceland. We, too, found Icelanders to be friendly with the exception of our Airbnb host who together with her children and a friend seemed busy making noise day and pretty much all night.

      Wonder whether Iceland compares to Alaska? I believe the latter is more dramatic.


  2. Great piece, David. While it doesn’t make me want to rush over to Airbnb’s website, you’ve told and shown me quite a few things about Iceland that intrigue me. I’ve put it back on my Places to See list, though a bit closer to the bottom than to the top. Thanks.

    1. Alan,

      All of the current hype over Iceland is curious. Probably the result of an extensive advertising campaign.

      FYI – Icelandair – which permits trans-Atlantic passengers to stop-over in Iceland at no cost – has competition from Iceland-based WOW Airlines. We also discovered easyJet which we really like.


  3. Great article, David. Having also read Greg’s account of Croatia, I think I may have to put Iceland on my must miss list. For a start they were much luckier with their Airbnb experience and the food sounded better. It’s alarming to think that there’s more than one way to stuff a puffin!!! Having said that, the pictures of the national parks and continental plates are spectacular and I would love to see them without hordes of tourists but maybe that’s just a wee bit selfish.

    1. Iceland’s popular sites without hordes of tourists … well, might be a challenge except in the dead of winter. Most of the island’s roads are two lanes, and they are getting destroyed by all of the tour buses and traffic.


  4. Having been to Iceland, I have to disagree a bit with you David. First of all, you did a stopover, not a full tour. Next, you stayed using Airbnb, which I never recommend. If you visit, stay in a proper hotel – you’ve taken a long journey, reward yourself in a hotel. Take away your aches and pains with a visit to the Blue Lagoon, it truly makes you feel better. Ride Icelandic horses – they are small and it’s really fun. To get a true Icelandic experience, contact, they will hook you up to dine with locals or be a farmer for a day. Then, of course, you need to spend more time and really tour the island. And, by the way, I ate a lot of salmon and never had to eat puffin!

  5. David your take on Iceland was very much an eye-opener for me. Not that we’d ever planned to head that way, but that in this day and age there are still places as well known and traveled to as places like Iceland that can’t seem to get their ‘touristy means and methods’ together. Surely the Icelanders(ics?) need a Tourist Czar to put things right and, in so doing, perhaps a write-in campaign about boiling the poor old Puffin in whatever they boil Puffins in could be added in as well.

  6. My third graders and I enjoyed Bruce McMillan’s Night of the Pufflings, the story of these beautiful birds, nicknamed Clowns of the Sea, for their beaks as colorful as the children’s Nordic sweaters.

    In August when the young puffins attempt their first flight, many don’t make it out onto the water. Enter the island children with their cardboard boxes who collect the stranded young birds to be released the next morning, and saved from becomjng prey to the neighborhood cats and dogs, and apparently the chefs.

    1. Yes. Puffin dishes are featured on menus of restaurants in Reykjavik. We, too, were disgusted at the thought. The odd thing is that puffins are featured to promote Iceland — puffin dolls, photos, etc.

  7. Amazing images! Iceland is quite popular these days, due largely to the ad campaign you spoke of but also because of Icelandic Air’s ridiculously cheap flights from the East coast of the US. You can get there in less time than it takes to fly from NY–>LA.

    Winter is a great time to visit for the northern lights and the ice hotel!

    If you’re looking for trips, check out Stride where you can search and compare itineraries from over 400 different tour companies:

  8. I appreciate your article, David, but I think you should not avoid Airbnb based on one unfortunate experience. I have had nothing but good experiences with Airbnb in my travels. Enjoy your future adventures!

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