We spent six days exploring the island and it's capital city, Reykjavik, with volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, and waterfalls at every turn. I have truly never been so amazed at our planet as I was in Iceland. Each day was more beautiful and more awe-inspiring than the next and Adam and I were so grateful to share this experience with our wonderful friends Kathryn and Justin Sparks.
DAY ONE // WELCOME TO REYKJAVIK
After a quick five hour red-eye from DC to Reykjavík, we hopped in our rental car and headed to the first item on our itinerary, an I Heart Reykjavik Walking Tour. Kathryn and I had been stalking following Auður Ösp and her awesome travel blog since booking our trip in August. And while we were disappointed not to meet Auður due to a last minute schedule conflict, her boyfriend stepped in and provided the perfect introduction to Reykjavík.
ICELAND // FIRST IMPRESSIONS:
- The architecture is colorful yet utilitarian.
- There are adorable cats roaming the city (our favorite calls a vintage clothing store home)!
- Five hours of daylight is difficult to adjust to.
- It's like being on a different planet—and it's awesome.
The tour ended with a trip to the famed Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand. We quickly learned Icelanders are obsessed with hot dogs, and serve them two ways: The Everything, which includes raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, special Icelandic hot dog mustard and remulade and The Clinton, named after President Bill Clinton, who ordered a plain hot dog with mustard. I tried one of each. They were delicious!
After our walking tour, we checked in and warmed up at the Radison Blue 1919. We found the hotel to be in the perfect location. We also quickly realized Reykjavik to be extremely walkable, safe, and easy to navigate.
Next up was lunch at The Laundromat Cafe, just around the corner from our hotel. Laundromat, an adorable and comfortable cafe (with an actual laundromat downstairs) quickly became one our favorite spots—particularly for a delicious and filling breakfast. We explored downtown Reykjavik the rest of the afternoon, stopping in at several of the shops we had seen on our walking tour that morning.
We ended the day watching the sunset over Reykjavik. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I've certainly seen my fair share of beautiful sunsets, but this sunset was so breathtaking—the colors, if you can believe it, were even more vivid in person.
DAY TWO // GLACIER HIKE & NORTHERN LIGHTS
We started day two with a quick breakfast at Laundromat Cafe before heading out on a full-day glacier hike and northern lights tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides.
On our way to the Sólheimajökull glacier, we stopped at the powerful Skógafoss waterfall. Skógafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in the country, measuring 82 feet across with a 200 foot drop. The climb up the 300+ steps to the top left our lungs burning, but the view was spectacular, and certainly worth the effort.
After Skógafoss, we packed up and continued on to Sólheimajökull. I was anxious about the glacier hike—worried I was going to be the weakest link of our group. I got increasingly nervous as our guides strapped crampons to my shoes and handed me an icepick. I should note both our guides were awesome, and made certain our group was always safe. We had about a 20-30 minute hike to the glacier itself and I'm happy to report I was not the weakest link and actually did quite well. Once out on the ice, we explored water cauldrons, crevasses, ridges and waterways as our guides taught us about the Icelandic glaciers. It was my favorite part of the entire trip.
After the glacier hike we enjoyed a traditional Icelandic dinner before heading out into the night searching for the Northern Lights and stopping at the lit up Seljalandsfoss waterfall along the way. Kathryn and I had been praying to see the Northern Lights all day. Our guide let us know you need four things: 1) a clear sky 2) solar activity 3) darkness and 4) luck!
We didn't have a particularly clear sky that night, but we must have had extra luck because after some searching, our guides helped us spot the elusive Northern Lights! And while they weren't nearly as vivid as seen in pictures/movies, we were happy to see them light up the night sky shades of green and orange. We also discovered our camera could capture them much better than the naked eye and Kathryn was able to snap this awesome photo of Adam and I gazing at the Northern Lights.
DAY THREE // ADAM'S BIRTHDAY!
Day three was a special one—Adam's 26th birthday and a trip to Iceland's famed Blue Lagoon. The man-made geothermal spa, located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, and unlike anything we'd ever seen (a reoccurring theme in Iceland).
We'd heard mixed reviews about the Lagoon, but in our opinion it certainly didn't disappoint (excluding the run from the locker rooms to the water—that part was freezing) and is well worth the money. The milky white water is rich in minerals and said to have healing properties. It was the perfect way to relax after a day of exploring.
On our way back from the Blue Lagoon, we stopped to tour one of Reykjavík's most prominent landmarks, the Hallgrímskirkja Church. We had tried to go earlier in the week, but the elevator to the top was out of service. We went just before sunset and the view from the top of the tower (240 ft.) was spectacular. You really get a sense for Reykjavik's impressively colorful architecture and natural beauty. This is one tourist attraction not to be missed.
For Adam's birthday dinner we headed to Snaps—which came highly recommended. In fact, we found Reykjavík to be full of great dining and food options, something I don't think any of us were expecting. The menu at Snap is a mix of French, Danish and Icelandic cuisine. The service was friendly and informal and it's clearly a popular spot amongst tourists and locals alike.
After dinner, we surprised Adam with a trip to Micro Bar. This funky microbrewery supports small brewers from around the country—a beer lover's paradise. We opted for the 10-beer tasting menu. Adam's favorite: Einstok; my favorite: Jola Christmas ale. We ended the evening with celebratory milkshakes at the Laundromat. I’d say this birthday will be hard to top!
On a related note—we discovered Icelanders love Christmas, and because they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, start decorating in early November. Kathryn and I, Christmas enthusiasts, were in heaven. Icelanders also have some strange Christmas traditions—including 13 Santas.
DAY FOUR // GOLDEN CIRCLE
On day four, we planned to tackle the Golden Circle, Iceland's ultimate tourist route including the main attractions: Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir. We had opted to rent a car for the week (something I would highly recommend) and set out early for our first stop at Þingvellir National Park. The drive was particularly beautiful and we stopped to watch the sun rise over Thingvallavatn lake, one of the largest lakes in Iceland.
Not only beautiful, Þingvellir National Park is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the North American and Eurasian continents. The tectonic plates are actually visible above ground and drifting apart 2 cm. a year. We got out and walked around, exploring the area and taking it all in. We also watched a small tourist group snorkel in the Silfra. It looked fun, but cold.
Our next stop was the iconic Gullfoss Waterfall. Known for it's power and beauty, Gullfoss is located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second largest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets 105 feet, in two stages, into a rugged canyon, 230 feet deep. It was beautiful, but also cold, windy and wet.
Our next stop was the Geysir geothermal area where the Strokkur geyser erupts every 4-8 minutes. We all waited patiently to see the 100 foot eruption. It is a very popular tourist spot, but well worth the visit.
Next up was an Icelandic horse riding tour—it was a jam packed day. We made it to Ölfus, located in the southern part of Iceland, just in time for our 2:00 p.m. tour with Sólhestar horse rentals.
We had all ridden horses several times before, but were excited to ride through the countryside on the island's famed horses. Brought to Iceland by the first Viking settlers, Icelandic horses are one of the oldest breeds in the world. Famous for their amazing strength, sure-footedness, and endurance, they are also one of the purest and healthiest, as no other breeds are allowed into the country.
Excited, we bundled up in our cold-weather riding gear and headed out to meet our guide and horses. The four of us were the only ones on the 2 p.m. tour. We must have looked like professionals, because there was a quick intro and then we were off. The ride started easy enough, all of us taking in the beautiful scenery with our new friends and snapping pictures left and right. I'm thinking our guide (who was wonderful and very knowledgeable) thought we needed a bit more adventure and about halfway in, the tour went from novice to advanced. Our horses took off and no hee-hoing I did could stop them. We literally raced the last quarter mile to the stable. It was 90 percent terrifying and 10 percent fun—although I think Adam, Justin and Kathryn enjoyed it a bit more than I did. I was mostly thankful to be back on solid ground—but it was certainly a tour none of us will soon forget.
After the tour we were able to meet some of the other farm animals, including the most adorable Icelandic sheep I had ever seen. I wanted to take them all home—I was in heaven.
DAY FIVE // JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Our last full day in Iceland, we set out for a journey to the center of the earth, the Vatnshellir Cave Tour. 8,000 years old, the cave is located in Snæfellsjökull National Park, about 10 minute drive from Hellnar. The 45-minute tour was fascinating. We followed the path of the lava flow 650 feet into the cave and 100 feet below the surface of the earth. At one point we turned off all of our flashlights and headlamps and stood in silence in the total darkness. It was a truly unique experience.
After the cave tour, we stopped for lunch at Hotel Búðir, which is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The food was delicious, and the view breathtaking. If we ever go back to Iceland, Hotel Búðir would definitely be on my wish list.
After lunch we set out for Reykjavík but stopped several times along the way to see wild Icelandic horses and watch the sunset. We all agreed it was fun to get outside of southern Iceland and explore a new part of the island.
Once back in Reykjavík, we opted for dinner at "Hirv Street Pizza." Our I Heart Reykjavík guide had pointed it out on our walking tour the first day. He praised their delicious and creative pizzas. We were a little uncertain at first, as the restaurant itself is very nondescript, but it was another delicious meal.
Afterwards, we headed across the street to Hotel 101, a hip hotel/bar in downtown Reykjavík. Reykjavík is infamous for its vibrant nightlife—although since we were there during the week, we hadn't yet seen anything extraordinarily vibrant.
DAY SIX // HARPA HALL
Our last day in Iceland we paid a visit to Reykjavik's Harpa Concert Hall. Located by the harbor, the Harpa Hall stands out as a unique landmark in downtown Reykjavík. Its glass facade is unmistakable and the view from the inside is even more beautiful. While we were there we visited an Icelandic food market. It was such a treat to walk around tasting all the Icelandic delicacies.
After exploring the Harpa Hall, we walked a short distance to the Sun Voyager, designed by Jón Gunnar Árnason. The unique sculpture is set against the beautiful snow-capped mountains in the distance and made for a perfect photo opportunity.
After a week in Iceland, we realized there are few places on earth more beautiful or fascinating. The people are wonderful, kind, and just down right cool. Most of all Adam and I were so glad to experience this wonderland with our good friends Kathryn and Justin.