I literally just returned from a trip to Iceland hours ago. I don’t even know where to start… Words alone can not describe the dramatic and majestic splendor of the landscape I experienced, in conjunction with the inherent respect and awe for the smallest details of the nature. I have traveled to 20 countries so far, and Iceland- by far, is one of the most beautiful and inspirational places I have ever been to. I traveled with my husband and 5 other close friends around the Ring Road which circles the country. Albeit only a 10 day journey, a mere fraction of the lifetime you can spend in Iceland and still not see it all, we got to see and experience such a variety of what the country has to offer. I know one thing for sure as I try to process what I saw on this amazing trip…. Iceland- I will see you again soon. Ég mun sjá þig aftur fljótlega….. Here’s our 10 day journey around Iceland, aka Niceland…..
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Day 1- Reykjavik
Day 1, no doubt, was a long one! We flew in on an overnight flight on WOW airlines and arrived in Reykjavik at 5AM. Pretty tired from traveling, we headed right for one of Reykjavik’s amazing swimming pools, Seltjarnarneslaug, to freshen and wake up! The majority of towns in Iceland have at least 1 “sundlaug” which is a swimming pool and fitness center. Each swimming pool has a few geothermal or natural hot pools that are cultural and communal meeting places for locals to socialize and relax in. Usually, they have a steam bath and sometimes a sauna which is an added treat! What a great way to warm your bones and soak to relax! After, we spent the remainder of the day exploring around the city.
Sólfarið- Sun Voyager… An ode to the sun. Intrinsically, it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.
Hallgrimskirkja– The tallest church in the city mimicking the landscape of the country- columnar basalt. HUGE!
Nighttime in Iceland in the summer… Well, there really isn’t any. It is the land of the midnight sun! Bring your eyeshades if you need it to be really dark when you sleep. At the most, when the sun does “set”, it is as bright out as dawn or dusk in more southern areas. We never had an issue as all lodging but one place had some kind of blinds/ shades to darken the room at least a little bit. I was so tired from each day’s travels though, I didn’t have ANY trouble sleeping! 🙂 We rented an apartment at Stay Apartments in the middle of the city. Beautiful place, great location, and close to the grocery store to stock up on goods!
Day 2- The Golden Circle
The most frequently used word in this post is going to be “WOW”! WOW…. The Golden Circle. Appropriately named for the wonders found in this area. This route makes a bit of its own loop, keeping your eyes and other senses completely engaged. A day filled with seeing and experiencing countless waterfalls, mountains, fumaroles, hotpots, caves, and more…. Every single place we turned, there was something else that made us drop our jaws! þingvellir National Park and the surrounding area was absolutely stunning!
Silfra Fissure- The North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plate splitting apart. Amazing. Mike is a geologist so this was a REALLY cool place to be! We “continent hopped” while we were here. 🙂 This is one of two places on Earth you can walk (on land) between two plates.
Gullfoss- One of Iceland’s most popular waterfalls. There’s a reason why. Sigríður Tómasdóttir, was the daughter of Tómas Tómasson, who owned the waterfall in the first half of the 20th century. During this time, foreign investors wanted to use these falls for a hydroelectric plant that would drain the falls. Sigríður loved the falls so much that she walked barefoot 120km to Reykjavik to protest the construction of the plant. She gained public support and these falls were saved!
Geysir/ Strokkur- We spent some time around the area to experience some of Iceland’s most reliable and highest spouting fountains. Fumaroles and geothermal pools sprinkle the area. Strokkur regularly spouts every 10 minutes or so. We saw it reach about 25m up into the air!
Gamla Laugin (Secret Lagoon)– Not actually secret, but WELL worth the stop! Iceland’s first public swimming pool created in 1891. The water is natural and stays between 38-40°C. We soaked our sore bones until we were properly wrinkled and relaxed! 🙂
Mike and I stayed at Lax-á West Rangá Lodge in Hella. It was a perfect, small, simple, comfortable room with beautiful views!
Day 3- South Iceland/ Vik area
The drive through Southern Iceland was one that left our heads spinning in awe over some amazing things. The landscape in this area is one of the most dramatic, diverse, and awe-inspiring I have ever experienced. In one direction, you can see waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, black sand beaches, the ocean, horses, sheep, and more…. In the other, the same. Then there is the geologic history of the area too…. By day 3, we had seen hundreds of waterfalls already, so we just usually kept moving on after a quick glance. We stopped for a few pretty spectacular waterfalls on the way though- and experienced the fosses as they crashed on our heads! 🙂
Seljalandsfoss- We walked up to, under, and behind this 65m waterfall into a cave it had formed behind it.
Skógafoss- One of Iceland’s largest volume waterfalls. 15m wide and 60m tall moves SO much water! Unfortunately, it wasn’t sunny when we visited so we didn’t get to see the usual double rainbow. It was still impressive! We hiked up above and past the falls, and the expanse and amount of the water was just unbelievable.
Mýrdalsjökull- Definitely the highlight of my day! I don’t get to walk on glaciers often! After about 1/2 mile hike in, we reached a tiny tongue of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. We did not hire a guide or rent gear as we had Hillsounds- mini-crampons with us. (Please be advised that you should not just go hike around on the glacier if you have no traction or experience. There are many ways to get hurt, or worse, when exploring on a glacier. We are experienced and have done this many times before. Please respect the local guide services and their livelihood by not having them come save you if you have no experience!)
Vik area- An amazing stretch of coastline situated between glaciers and huge caves and sea stacks located on the black sand and pebble beach. Again, when we thought that things couldn’t get any more spectacular….
Reynisdrangar- Basalt sea stacks on the black pebble beach in Vik. A geologist’s dream… Dyrhólaey- A beautiful peninsula with an arch to put a close to our day. The sun came out and things cleared…
We stayed at Hvoll Guesthouse on Road 201, located in the region of Skaftárhreppur, just before the entrance to Vatnajökull National Park. They had a HUGE community kitchen where we cooked a meal before passing out in bunk beds! 🙂
Day 4- Vatnajökull National Park
So… remember when I thought day 3 was the highlight of my trip? Well, then there was day 4. Vatnajökull National Park is home to the largest glacier in Iceland, and in Europe- Vatnajökull. All we kept saying to each other while in the area was, “Is this real?” The sight of the most massive sheet of ice, floating on top of huge mountains, waterfalls and rivers surging out for all ends, just left our heads shaking in happy disbelief!
Skaftafell Hiking on Skaftafelljökull to Svartifoss- Wanting to really engage with the landscape as much as time allowed, we decided to hike about a 12 mile loop hike to see both the glacier, valley, and then Svartifoss… my favorite waterfall of the trip. It was a breathtaking hike. We took the S2, S3, and S5 trails which gave us an unobscured view of Skaftafelljökull, a spur of Vatnajökull.
Jökulsárlón- I almost lost my mind when we got to this glacial lagoon. This is where the icebergs coming from the Vatnajökull Glacier head off for their journey to the ocean. There were so many shades of blue between the sky, the baby icebergs, and the glacier. It was SO beautiful! I think the car started to pull away before I was in it…. I couldn’t stop taking pictures! We were lucky and saw a seal bobbing in the water saying hello to us!
Day 5- Mývatn Area
Mývatn, aka, the Diamond Circle, is a volcanic lake that is teeming with aquatic life and waterbirds. The area surrounding the lake is scattered with lava flows, cinder cones, caves, waterfalls, etc… What a peaceful way to spend the day!
Hverir – Coming into the Mývatn Area, we passed the Hverir geothermal wasteland that looks like the Mars landscape. The fumaroles, bubbling mud pots, and steaming mountains lured us in….
Hverfjall- a tephra cinder cone left over from an eruption 2300 years ago. It is the largest preserved crater in Europe that approximately 1km in diameter. I hiked the rim and had amazing views of the lava flows, Mývatn lake, and other volcanos in the area.
Dimmuborgir- The remnants of a lava flow that formed several (now) collapsed lava tubes and structures that according to folklore, are named as the place where Satan landed when cast out of the heavens. After the volcanic eruption 2300 years ago, the lava flowed over a lake boiling the water underneath. The steam from the boil formed pillars, lava tubes, and crazy ragged formations that are incredibly unique.
We stayed at Laxhús, in Laxamyri, which was a charming, small apartment on the northern coast. With floor to ceiling windows, the view of the mountains, birds, cows, and ocean in the distance was STUNNING!
Day 6- Drive to Akureyri
Today we decided to take our time getting up and relax a bit later than usual. The rest was welcomed and we recharged! We drove the west side of Dettifoss, where a RIDICULOUS amount of water falls about 44m. There is so much water falling, it looks like an optical illusion. Followed by a beautiful drive to Akureyri where the adventures continued!
Dettifoss- Reported to be the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. Again, it was not sunny on this day so we didn’t see a rainbow from the massive amount of spray, but it was still absolutely breathtaking. It is truly impossible to feel and see the strength of the water in these photos.
Goðafoss- Another MASSIVE waterfall…. At this point in the trip, we were just ignoring most of the 100’s of falls we were seeing along the route. Goðafoss though was one to stop for. The water was bright blue and the sheer power and sound of the rushing water lured us in. According to the modern myth, this is said to be the location where Christianity was adopted as Iceland’s official religion. Norse statues were thrown into the river Skjálfandafljót, and went over the falls. Hence the name…
The drive around the Eyjafjörður (fjord) was absolutely beautiful.
Our charming Airbnb rental, Alda– a converted cow barn, was such a cool place to stay just south of Akureyri.
Day 7- Akureyri
Known as the capital of Northern Iceland, it is the 2nd largest city in the country. It is WAY more touristy than Reykjavik. There is a bunch of shops, restaurants, and art galleries there if you are interested in those things. We just used the city to resupply, grab a bite to eat, and of course- soak in the hottubs at the sundlaug!
Súlur- We spent the first half of the day hiking Súlur Mountain that was just outside of Akureyri. It was a beautiful day with warm temperatures. The views were, once again, breathtaking!
Chrissy and I turned around just shy of the summit of Súlur. (I am kicking myself now, but I was dealing with some weird leg pains that wouldn’t let up 😢 ) The others continued ahead and summited Yrtisúla, the peak adjacent to Súlur. The pictures of the summit and the valley were even more stunning!
Before leaving Akureyri, we stopped at Akureyri Fish Restaurant and I thoroughly enjoyed Plokkfiskur, a traditional Icelandic dish.
Blönduos– Onward we drove…into the midnight sun. We stayed in the Tilraun Guesthouse in this small fishing town. The guest house was PERFECT! it was comfortable, had a beautiful full kitchen to use, and had a washer and dryer to use!!!! What a treat! 🙂 The town was so peaceful, beautiful, and has a playground to envy!
10:30PM Jumping session on the Jumping Pillow
Day 8- Drive to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We took Road 711 for a change in scenery (like we needed one! 🙂 I wanted to see the coast. We saw some amazing sea stacks, snow capped mountains, and had the BEST fish and chips I have ever had, in my entire life!!!!!
Hvítserkur- Hvítserkur is a 15 m high basalt stack along the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula, in northwest Iceland. The rock has two holes at the base, which give it the appearance of a dragon who is drinking. I LOVE Icelandic myths!!!!
Snæfellsnes Peninsula- We spent a very short time on the peninsula. We drove in from the north and cut through the middle to reach our hotel- Tradir Guesthouse. Once reaching our hotel, we had about a total of 11 hours to explore on the peninsula before we had to head back to Reykjavik, to head home. We were able to see/do a bunch of things before needing to sleep, and then some more on our way out….
Stykkishólmur- We had great weather in the north…
The BEST fish and chips I have EVER eaten was from a food truck in Stykkishólmur.
Lóndrangar– Sea Stacks in Snæfellsnes National Park. We hiked down to the beach and had a blast walking along the black pebble beach!
Day 9- Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Reykjavik
Unfortunately, it was really rainy and the mountains were completely engulfed in the clouds when we woke up. We were going to explore the area around Kirkjufell Mountain, but we wouldn’t have seen anything. Instead, we did something else that was just as spectacular! We hiked to an up the Eldborg Crater. The volcano was active 5000-7000 years ago. Today, the crater has a 60m ascent and has a 200m diameter. It is 50m deep which was thrilling to look down upon!
No trip to Iceland is complete without some contact with Icelandic horses. I do not ride horses, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching hundreds of them run, play, and wander during our journey. In the parking area for Eldborg, there were a few dozen horses just begging for me to photograph and rub their noses! They were beauties!
Day 10- Reykjavik
All good things must come to an end. My heart felt heavy as I knew that later in the day, I was leaving Iceland- a country that I have fell in love with! The plan was to go to the Blue Lagoon, as most tourists do, but we changed our destination to swim in the North Atlantic Ocean instead. How often does an American get to swim so close to the Arctic Circle?!?!?
Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach- Warm water from a geothermal borehole meets ocean water in a lagoon making it possible to swim in… for me! There were locals and small children that were swimming in the actual ocean – not the warmed lagoon- which was astounding to me! I chose to stay in the “warm” part of the lagoon, which was still pretty cold, and dunk up to my neck. The warm hot pool on the beach was just what I needed to unfurl and unclench my poor toes. 🙂 I am so glad I took the plunge!
I will be back Iceland! I saw and experienced a million different things in the short 10 days I was there. However, you can spend a lifetime in the country and still not see it all. Iceland, you have a special place in my heart. I look forward to the day we meet again!
Have you been to Iceland? What was your favorite part?
Things I found helpful on the trip: