The Land of Fire and Ice
One of the most magical places I have ever visited (except for Disney World, but this is different – lol), you will find the island of Iceland. It is the land of fire and ice; and freaking amazing hot dogs….but we’ll get to that. A place that has all your outdoorsy bucket list items and much more. From dramatic views to black sand beaches, to volcanic ruins to glaciers…alright, I’ll just stop there. This post is to not only inspire you to book your flights within the next 5 minutes, but to help you plan your trip there…and maybe a second trip back.
Just a little background about the country….
Vikings discovered and settled in the country around 873. They named the countries, Iceland and Greenland, to trick intruders into thinking that Iceland was full of “ice” so that if and when they came to attack them, they would actually visit Greenland. However, Greenland is NOTHING but ice and Iceland has ice, but is also full of volcanos, surrounded by the ocean, greenery and mountains. All these things are completely viable to live in and around. This was a smart move for the Vikings, considering when the enemies came to attack….they all died in Greenland due to the frigid winter and lack of food.
The people of Iceland believe in many things; faith, ghosts, karma and trolls; all which bring magic to the island. It’s definitely a unique place to visit and here is why:
Places to see in Iceland
- Skógafoss – 60 meters tall and 25 meters wide, this waterfall is absolutely amazing. Legend has it that this waterfall has a hidden treasure behind it that was put there by a settler in 900. But if you are thinking about going close to the waterfall to find the treasure chest….well just prepare to be SOAKED. You can walk right up to the waterfall though, if you would like but even standing 30 feet away, you will still get wet from the mist. There is over 500 steps to the right of the waterfall, where you can walk to the top and see the views around. It is one of my favorite waterfalls in Iceland and in my top recommendations to see. Always look carefully, you will see a rainbow at some point.
- Another waterfall close by is Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall is not as predominant as Skógafoss, but it does have something unique about it. To the left of this waterfall, you will see a walking path. If you follow the crowd on this path, you will find a very tiny path between two rocks leading to a “secret” waterfall. Now, if you choose to follow this path, be prepared to not only get wet, but to walk across slippery rocks and water. But the view…..WOW. It’s unreal.
- Sólheimasandur plane wreckage – A few miles away, there is a pull off spot where you can park and hike back to the beach to see an abandon airplane left by the United States government. This plane landed in 1973 along the Icelandic beach by the US Navy, when they were on their way back to the US from Europe and ran out of gas. The US left it there and now it has became a huge tourist attraction in Iceland….thanks to Justin Bieber. Unfortunately, you are unable to drive and the hike to the beach is about 50 minutes on flat ground. Totally worth it in my opinion.
- Black Sand Beach – Ah, my absolute favorite part about Iceland. This beautiful piece of Earth is located in the city of Vík, just about a 30 minutes drive from the waterfalls we just discussed. The sand (which is more like pebbles) was formed when a volcano erupted, spilling the lava into the ocean that was cooled from the cold, icy water…causing black sand. Now this isn’t a beach where you go, lay out your beach towel and enjoy the sun. I mean, you can’t even get in the water….because of strong currents! There are signs posted that tourist deaths have occurred because the current is so strong, it will pull you in; initially drowning you. So please don’t attempt that. This beach is a beach just for enjoying the scenery. Surrounded by mountains, huge waves and black sand; you will fall in love with this small piece of heaven. There is also a little restaurant (with bathrooms) located on the beach, incase you get hungry or have to pee.
- Landbrotalaug Hot Spring – I think one of the most beautiful things about Iceland is it’s natural hot springs. They are ALL over the country. In West Iceland, you will find Landbrotalaug national hot spring. You can google to find the address, but it’s tricky to get too! It’s about a two hour drive from the city of Reykjavík.
- If you drive another 45 minutes, you will find Budhir Black Church. Now, I took this really cool picture of the Budhir Black Church by accident…then fell so in love with it that I had it printed onto a huge canvas. It is now a focal point in my dining room, lol. On one side of this gorgeous church, you have snowy mountain tops and then the other side you have the ocean. It’s gorgeous and a must see!
- Arnarstapi (15 minutes away) – This cool natural bridge stretches from one side of the rock to the other. You will come up to a little village like area, park and walk around what I would consider a park. You walk along the path and you really have to be looking to see it. You have to walk across some rocks to get to it, but once you reach it…you can walk all the way across the bridge. You will want to bring a friend to capture your moment of walking across a bridge that was made by the Earth.
- Londranger (10 minutes) – Once you see this, you’ll be looking for the cast of Game of Thrones….mainly because you will recognize this from many episodes. It is a very dramatic coastline with very high cliffs. If you have ever been to Ireland, it will remind you of the Cliffs of Moher.
- Djupalonssandur (8 minutes) – This Icelandic National Park is a must see. When driving through the park, you’ll first begin to feel like you are in Mars. Passing mossy lava rocks before getting to another coastline where you can walk along the ocean on the beach.
- Another 50 minutes drive you can visit Kirkjufellsfoss – this small series of 3 waterfalls has a dramatic mountain in the back. But the trick is to walk around it to get the best picture!
The Golden Circle
- Kerid – This is so cool to see in person. It is so space-like and the dark red clay mud and teal water is unreal. This lake was made from a volcanic crater. It does cost a few Icelandic Króna to get in.
- Geysir – Be prepared to smell rotten eggs when this thing blows. This Geysir, which reminds you of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, blows every few minutes about 100 feet into the air. But stand back, the hot steam and mist falls all around.
- Gullfoss Waterfall – This massive series of waterfalls is another must see, and only 10 minutes from the Geysir. Another point of walking steps and getting wet if it’s windy that day. Walk all the way to the top of the tourist path to see the best views. This is, also, another part of the trip where you can see a rainbow.
- Thingvellir National Park – Since you are already in the Golden Circle (about a 40 minute drive from the Geysir and Gullfoss), this is another park you can drive through and admire the views.
Things to Do In or Around Reykjavik
- Blue Lagoon – I think the building of this was what put Iceland at the top of the list for travel destinations in 2017-2019. Posts have circulated around social media, claiming that the Blue Lagoon was a tourist trap. Personally, I have visited the Blue Lagoon three times and each time has been remarkable. It is definitely a place you should add to your list if you plan to make a trip to Iceland. A tip I have for visiting the Blue Lagoon is booking a ticket through Reykjavik Excursions (RE), you can find tickets that include a Fly Bus voucher, we will get to that later and the importance of it. I think visiting the Blue Lagoon when you first arrive to Iceland or before you make your departure is smart. Plus with the Fly Bus ticket through RE, you can have either have a ticket from the airport to the Blue Lagoon then to the city or vice versus, city to Blue Lagoon to airport. This will save you a lot of money.
- Hallgrimskirkja – this church is located inside the city of Reykjavik. It’s one of the most famous for tourists and for good reasons. Not only is it gorgeous from the outside, but the inside of the church has unbelievably architecture. And for only a few Icelandic Króna, you can ride the elevator to the top of the church where the bell is located. Here you will find the best views of the city of Reykjavik.
- Harpa Concert Hall – While this place is mainly a place to visit for concerts or programs…it is cool to see in person. Be sure to walk inside and see the glass walls!
- Sun Voyager – Closely beside the Harpa Concert Hall, the well-known statue of the Sun Voyager sits beside of the ocean. Not only is this a cool photo opportunity, the ocean and snowy mountains in the background are a must see!
- The Northern Lights – booking an excursion is a great way to see the Northern Lights. They can be seen from September to March. Make sure to download apps for light predictions and weather forecast on your app store. Also be sure to learn how to capture the lights and sky by adjusting your camera settings!
- Islenski Hesturinn – Horseback riding an Icelandic horse in Iceland was one of the coolest experiences I have done in Iceland. Here is the link for the people I did the excursion with. They also will pick you up at your hotel or closest bus stop.
Food in Reykjavík
- Hot dogs….hot dogs….HOT DOGS! Everywhere! The airport, the gas stations, the small hot dog shops in the city and even the grocery stores…anywhere you see a hot dog; GET ONE. They are THAT good. Normally the buns are toasted and have crispy onions, sweet mustard and ketchup as the toppings.
- Sandholt Bakery – a cute little bakery/restaurant on the main street in Reykjavik. It was a favorite breakfast place of mine. The pancakes are TOO DIE FOR.
- Valdis – the yummiest little ice cream parlor. After a dinner, stop by for a scoop or two.
- Lebowski Bar – if you are homesick and missing some American bar & grill food….this is the place to come. I had a cheeseburger with spicy mayo and french fries and it was yummy!
- Chuck Norris Bar & Grill – I mean come on, nobody is better than Chuck Norris right? This is also a bar food type of restaurant.
- Gull og Silfur – This is a place you will want to put on your list, especially if you visit during the winter months. Everyday, two different homemade soups are prepared and placed into freshly baked bread bowls. I’ve had 3 different soups from there, all have been delicious!
Hotels or Overnight Accommodations
- Alda Hotel – During my first trip I did a lot of research. Going to a new country without a travel agent or group can be intimidating. However, Iceland is one of the easiest countries to navigate in. Reykjavik Excursions works closely with many hotels so you can catch the fly bus outside of your hotel. (This comes in VERY handy.) Alda Hotel is on their list. This place is VERY nice and clean. It is walking distance to all the food and sight seeing I have listed above. It is pricey, but most hotels are. If you are looking to stay in a hotel, I would choose this one. However, if you are looking for something in a better price range, try checking Reykjavik Excursions website, listed below, at the list of hotels that work with.
- Camp Easy Camper Van – Now, this was a lot of fun. When you chose to book a camper van and drive on your own, you are more in control of your time and itinerary. However, unless you book a rather large camper van; this is an option for couples or small group of friends. This can also become costly, as the camper vans run on diesel and that price fluctuates. But if you are an outdoorsy/camping person, this is definitely a really fun option because camp sites are usually free or up to $15 a person. The last night we camped in a camper van, we camped at Skógafoss waterfall. Camp Easy was very helpful and accommodating, giving us lots of tips for weather and locations.
- AirBnb – This last trip that I took to Iceland, it was more about getting away and relaxation. So after landing in Iceland, we took a fly bus to the Blue Lagoon, which included a ticket from the airport to the lagoon and then to the city. Once in the city and checked into our Airbnb, we walked everywhere. There are many good options for Airbnb’s, but the link below is for the one I stayed in.
- Reykjavik Excursions – One of the most helpful companies I worked with during all my trips to Iceland. This is the best place to book a fly bus ticket, excursion to many of the locations I liked above; like South Shore Adventure, which includes; Skogafoss and Black Sand Beach and the Golden Circle, which includes; the Geysir and Gullfoss Waterfall. They will pick you up at a bus stop or outside of your hotel, which comes in really helpful.
- Renting a car – I do believe that my next trip to Iceland, this will be my choice of route to go. AirBnb’s all over the island and I think choosing a car to go where ever you want, and booking AirBnb’s around the island is the best way to see Iceland. Commuting around Iceland is very easy. There is basically one road called The Ring Road, which you can drive on completely around the whole country of Iceland.
I have always flew through WOW Air, or better known as the “Purple Plane”, each time I have went to Iceland. They are low budget friendly and have many different places they fly out of. Unfortunately, they have pulled out of Pittsburgh International Airport, which is where I had been flying out of. But they are still in Washington, DC/Baltimore and New York. Rumor has it they will be back into Pittsburgh in 2020. Icelandic Air is another Icelandic owned airline that flies to Reykjavík.
Important Things to Pack
- warm raincoat (weather is iffy)
- water/snow proof boots
- thermals/warm clothing
- gloves, ear muffs, beanies & scarf
- camera gear
- outlet converter for electronics