After nearly a year hiatus, which included countless sleep deprived nights and many cities checked off my bucket list, I am looking back at 2016 feeling extremely fortunate to be a small recipient of this wondrous world. This year I intentionally decided to take some time away from writing as I settled into my new job, which at times has been highly demanding and time consuming, but nonetheless full of life-giving adventure. I cannot think of a better way to kick off my return then writing about the most prime adventure experienced this year; Iceland.
Iceland seems to be on everybody’s bucket list these days, and after visiting I can totally see why. I have had many people reach out to ask about my experience and suggestions for their upcoming trips, and all I can say is, get ready to be completely blown away.
Iceland was by far the most unbelievable place I have been to yet. It is truly a country that leaves you speechless with natural beauty every road you take. What amazed me the most was how you could be in two different climates all within an hours drive, you will experience all four seasons in a day. So incredible! One minute you’re driving through a snow blizzard and the next you’re seeing fields of greenery surrounding you. We picked Iceland particularly because it has been on my bucket list and it was a country I felt we could explore in just a few days, as we did not have a whole lot of time. Although now looking back I could have easily stayed another few days.
I spent a good amount of time researching different blogs and articles of top places to see, and found myself slightly overwhelmed by the long list of “must sees” (which all sound the same by the way.) Without an itinerary lying out which site is near what it can get pretty confusing. So, now hindsight my goal is to do my best in mapping out the best way to get the most out of your 7-8 hours of useful sunlight that you’ll have to explore. With that being said, I think it’s important to remember if your like me, at times we tend to get caught up in trying to plan everything that it can easily cause false expectation and unneeded stress to see and do it all. Truth is whether you take all these suggestions or create all your own, your trip will be a once of a lifetime experience!
Navigating Iceland was extremely easy, as almost all the major sights you can drive right up to. Most car rental companies offer a GPS rental, but we used Google Maps and it served perfectly fine. Depending on the time of year, if weather allows, you will do yourself a major disservice if you don’t rent a car. I tend to enjoy exploring at my own pace rather than paying for excursions with large groups of people. If you do rent a car, make sure you spend the extra dime on a 4-wheel drive, as conditions can be dangerous to drive around. We saw many broken down rental cars due to icy roads and extremely low-visibility at times. I highly recommend NU Rental car. They were the most inexpensive and efficient car rental company, and completely hassle free. Make sure you keep an eye on weather conditions, which you can easily access through the website: http://safetravel.is
Day one: Reykjavik & The Southern Region
Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church: We landed bright and early around 5 am. After a long day of travel and failed attempts of sleeping on both flights, we knew we had no time to waste so we started right away going into the city of Reykjavik to the top of the famous historic Lutheran church where you can get an amazing panoramic view of the entire city.
We chose not to spend much time in the city as most of the amazing sights Iceland has to offer are seen purely driving around. Although, we did end some evenings in the city grabbing dinner, and please do yourself a favor and try one of their hotdogs; their famous for them for a reason. Just driving was one of the best experiences we had while touring around the breathtaking country. Iceland is known for their sassy yet sweet Icelandic horses. These beauties were everywhere; it was absolutely surreal looking out the car window seeing countless majestic horses surrounding the fields. We pulled over a few times and they ran right up to us. We were even able to pet them and take some pictures. This was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. I still get all the feels thinking about how magical this experience was.
Seljalandfoss: This is one of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls and natural wonders, and was quite the way to start off our sightseeing tour for the day. You can even walk right behind the waterfall into a cave.
Skogafoss: Not even a ten-minute drive further you’ll find another of the most famous and largest waterfalls. This was one the most incredible experiences, as I was standing in the middle to catch a picture the sun hit just right and a full rainbow appeared, circling me from one side of the ground to the other. One of those moments where you truly feel how small you are in comparison to God’s great earth. If you can brave it, you can hike all the way to the top!
Reynisfjara & Dyrhólaey Peninsula (Vik): Both located right next to each other and easy to locate. This breathtaking black sand beach is a must see and exceeds all expectation of what you would imagine a black sand beach to be. The Basalt columns were impossible to capture through a lens and the oceans waves rolling up and icing-over upon the black sand was a memory I will never lose.
Day 2: The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is probably the route that is most commonly explored in Iceland, and for good reason. Thankfully it is super easy to navigate these sights; we found that most every significant attraction is well-marked with signs making it nearly impossible to get lost. This will easily be a days worth of sightseeing, you can probably drive around in about 3-4 hours, but we spent about 5-6 hours spending as much or as little time as we pleased at each site. Here are some of the best stops along the Golden Circle:
Geysir: the boiling hot spring Strokurr has been active for approximately 10,000 years. About every 10 minutes or so, after reaching a boiling point the geysir will erupt up to 70 meters in the air. Between the wind and the temperatures below freezing, this made for the longest 10 minutes of my life. But, I am alive to tell, it was well worth it!
Gullfoss: Go figure, another breathtaking waterfall that will leave you speechless at every angle.
Kerio Crater Lake: approximately 3,000 years old, it is composed of a red lather rock that was formed by a huge volcanic explosion.
Thingvellir: this historical, cultural, and geological site marks the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. If you can bear the frigid temperatures, you can scuba-dive or snorkel here.
Day 3: Blue Lagoon
Day three was my birthday and we celebrated by visiting the ever-infamous Blue Lagoon. All I can say, is this is one of the top 25 wonders of the world for a reason. After two full days of exploring we spent the entire day relaxing in this geothermal spa located in the center of a lava field where we silica-face masked hard and steamed like champs. Make sure you make reservations online beforehand, as they fill up fast. My suggestion, get there early, we made reservations right at opening as it was the only time slot available. I am glad we did, we watched the sunrise for about an hour in the beautiful spa and didn’t see much crowds appear until later in the day. This is also a site you can visit upon landing or departing, as it is only a short 20-minute drive from Reykjavík airport.
Where we stayed:
Last but not least, and by far our favorite part of our trip, we stayed in a cabin we found through Airbnb that was about an hour outside of the city but directly in the Golden Circle near a landslide. I cannot give our accommodations the deserved review it is worthy of, but I will give it a try. We were located right in front of a lake with not a house in sight. Every morning and evening were enjoyed by the fire or spent in the supreme jacuzzi overlooking the lake. The Northern lights even made an appearance the night of my birthday, which we were able to view right from the Jacuzzi. (Thanks for the best birthday gift!) I cannot recommend this cabin enough. Any couple, family, or even group of friends looking for a true Icelandic experience to top off their getaway, this cabin has your name all over it.
So there you have it.. Iceland in, well, really three short yet full days. Lastly, I will reiterate, I usually go somewhere and come back and have great memories and can say I checked a place off my list. However, Iceland has left me with such an unforgettable memory that I am already looking forward to the day I can experience its magic all over again!