As our annual family tradition goes, we visit one country a year to spend too much time with each other. Of course, as it also happens, we get to explore the world as well as ourselves. Last time it was Ecuador; this year – Iceland.
Iceland is not for the casual traveler. As I learned upon stepping off the plane, even in September, this place is COLD. Like always have a waterproof jacket, boots, scarf, gloves, hat, and a beer cold. That said, with the right gear, attitude, and appetite, it is an amazing place to visit and I cannot recommend it more.
Upon first arriving, Iceland seemed foreign and familiar at the same time. There were elements I quickly recognized from traveling through Europe – the staccato accent, cobblestone streets, quirky street art. And then there was the brand new – casual glaciers in the landscape, miles of lava fields with black soil, and a steadfast belief of elves (not only do 75% of Icelanders believe in elves, 50% said they’ve actually spoken to one! I only wonder how those conversations correlate with blood alcohol levels).
Some quick facts about Iceland: The capital city, Reykjavik, houses 2/3 of the country’s population but is still only about a quarter of the population of San Francisco. The real beauty lies outside the city, so renting a city is an absolute must. Nowhere in the world have I seen a landscape like Iceland, and you can easily spend 4-5 days driving along the peninsula as well as inland to see what the country showcases.
Obviously, food plays a huge role in anywhere I travel to, and that’s what tomorrow’s post is for. Here, I’d like to share my recommendations on what to explore within Reykjavik and while driving around. Follow along with the customized Google Map below to see my favorite spots!
Only in Iceland can you casually walk on a glacier like it ain’t no thang. Well, it is a bit of a thang – you aren’t actually allowed to do the hike alone due to crevasses and ice caves that can swallow you under. To stay safe, we booked a tour and spent an afternoon learning about ice formations while looking badass with our pick axes and cramp-on shoes. The best part – drinking the fresh glacier water and realizing that THIS is where all that expensive Evian comes from.
This iconic day trip includes the 3 most deservedly popular sites of Iceland: Thingvellir National Park, Strokkur Geyser, and Gullfoss.
Thingvellir is a massive stretch of land full of rolling hills, rivers, and fields. It’s also where the first Viking Parliament was formed and so serves as a historical site.
Although I was fresh off of seeing geysers in Yellowstone, it was still awe-inspiring to walk through the geothermic fields and witness the eruption of Strokkur Geyser. Fun Fact: the word “geyser” is actually an Icelandic/Viking word!
Gullfoss, which translates to Golden Waterfall, is exactly that. On a sunny day, you can see rainbows and glittering diamonds reflected in the water. On a rainy day (like when we went), you get extremely wet but take in the enormous beauty of the landmark.
Lighthouses of Iceland
No coastal landscape is complete without a couple lighthouses to guide the way forward. There are two I highly recommend. The first – Grotta – is right at the tip of Reykjavik. If the tide is low, you can walk across the rocks to the island where the lighthouse is located. Be careful though – the tides turn quickly, and in the rush of getting back in time, I nearly dropped my camera!
The second lighthouse – Gardskagavegur, is along the southwest peninsula. Helmed by local fishermen, stop by and eat lunch there – whatever they caught that morning. Then you can climb to the top and see how creepy lighthouses really are from the inside.
Other Sites to Explore:
- Shops of Reykavik: Handknitting Association of Iceland, Fótógrafí, and 12 Tónar
- Harpa Concert Hall: Book tickets to see “How to be Icelandic in 60 Minutes”
- Blue Lagoon: A touristy but essential experience for your last day in Iceland
- Icelandic Phallological Museum: The best $10 you’ve ever spent.
Food of Iceland comes tomorrow!