Hey guys! As most of you know, my husband and I just got back from an amazing vacation abroad. During our 8 day trip across the pond, we visited 2 countries, Iceland and Scotland. Today, I’m going to let you in on some of the fun we had while traveling near the North Pole! Our time in Iceland consisted of touring the Golden Circle, road tripping to the southern most point of the island and soaking in the geothermal pools of the Blue Lagoon. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us and I am excited to share this guide and the fun we had on our adventure! If you’re thinking about heading far north, I have provided a bunch of tips and tricks to make the most of your time while exploring the last true frontier!
We arrived bright and early, courtesy of Iceland’s up and coming airline, WOW air. Upon our arrival in Keflavik, we immediately headed to pick up our rental car. We chose to rent through SADcars. Days before our arrival, Reykjavik was hit with the biggest blizzard since 1952. We were worried about what the road conditions would be like considering that we had planned on driving during most of our stay. Though our Subaru Forester was a little rusty and the check engine light was on, I must admit, this little car got us where we needed to go.
Our first stop was The Blue Lagoon. This spa is located in Grindavik, Iceland, about 20 minutes away from Keflavik International. We arrived shortly before sunrise. After checking in, we jumped into our swimsuits and headed into the geothermal pool. Our favorite parts of the Lagoon included sipping on raspberry ICEES, heading into the steaming grotto and basking in the waters with our silica and algae masks. If you’re questioning on whether or not to splurge on this luxury, trust me, it’s worth it. This was a great way to relax as soon as we got off the plane and an even better way to explore the Reykjanes peninsula!
Located just south of Reykjavik on the Atlantic coast, Kalfatjarnarkirkja church boasts fantastic views of the Gerdistangi Lighthouse. Founded in 1891, Kalfatjarnarkirkja is the largest rural church in all of Iceland. If you are looking for a picturesque way to explore the coast on your way to Reykjavik, this is the perfect pitstop. We strolled behind the property to find a famous whale bone and admired the nearby golf course.
After our pitstop on the coast, we began our journey into downtown Reykjavik. I had booked us a room in Heida’s Home. It was a lovely hostel located just south of the main drag, Laugavegur. We were within walking distance of the bars, restaurants and all the major attractions in Reykjavik. To boot, Heida was the best. She gave us great advice on where to park to avoid crazy fees, where to check out the best street art and our room had a quaint balcony for us to enjoy our coffee in the morning.
By 3 pm that day, we were pooped but hell bent on staying awake so as to adjust to the time change. After checking in, we decided to walk around downtown and check out some of the attractions on our “Must See” List. Our first stop was Hallgrimskirkja Church. This establishment is the tallest building in Iceland and for around 8 bucks, you can take the elevator to the top floor and check out the views from the North, East, South and West! The massive organ, located just inside the entrance, consists of 5275 pipes and was designed by Johannes Klais of Bonn. Construction of the church began in 1945 and was not completed until 1986. This architectural feat and the statue of Leifur Erriksson, the first person to discover America, is a labor of love come to life.
After snapping a few photos from the tower above Hallgrimskirkja, we decided to head downtown and find a bite to eat. After getting a little lost, we managed to walk right into the famous hot dog stand, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur! Everyone raved about these so we made sure to snag a few to munch on while we walked around. I was told beforehand to order them the Icelandic way “ein meo ollu“, which means everything on it! After grabbing a Gull beer at a local bar, we made our way down to the harbor for some dinner at Saegriffin or “Seabaron” to try the humarsupa, lobster soup, with some fresh bread and butter. No joke, there was a whole half a lobster in my soup and it was just spicy enough to warm me up for the walk back to our hostel.
After dinner, we managed to walk past the Harpa, Reykjavik’s Opera House and then on down to the Viking Sculpture, Solfario, to watch the sunset. Dubbed the Sun Voyager, Jon Gunnar Arnason completed this sculpture in 1990! The mountains in the backdrop make this site a perfect photo opportunity.
Day Two was all about road tripping the Golden Circle Tour. Though there many companies offering bus tours of this particular part of the country, we decided to make the trek ourselves so we could make the most of our day. After stopping at Mokka Kaffi for a café Americano and their famous waffles and jam, we started out on our adventure. The first sight would be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir National Park. This park is special because it is said to have been the site of the first Alping, a parliamentary meeting place. Though covered in a fresh blanket of snow, the blue skies reflected beautifully off the Thingvallavatn Lake.
The next thing on our must-see list was the great geysir, Stokkur. Located in the Haukadalur valley, this famous geysir erupts about every 5-6 minutes and boy is it a site to see! I will warn you though, the temperature of the water is around 484 degrees so keep your distance and make sure to bring durable shoes. The geothermal activity will melt the bottom of your shoes if you don’t watch where you are stepping.
Located about 10-15 minutes away is the incomparable Gullfoss Falls. After viewing the immensity of the falls from the southern entrance, we climbed the stairs to the overlook. From there, you can see the mouth of the river flowing into the staircase of falls that form the colorful display in the Hvita canyon. There were literally too many rainbows to count though I kept my eye on the looney tune who dared to surpass the barriers and climb down onto the side of a massive cliff. One thing is for sure, there are no shortages of daredevils in this unknown land.
On our way back into Reykjavik, we decided to stop for lunch. Before traveling to Iceland, I had read about Fridheimar, a greenhouse where we could purchase tomato soup and bread. I know, it doesn’t sound like much but this was most definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip. Imagine walking into a huge greenhouse, tomato plants are everywhere, from floor to ceiling. While bumble bees fly above you pollinating the plants, you can start snipping the fresh basil from the plant that adorns the table. Add a little bit of the cucumber slaw or sour cream to your endless bowl of soup and throw in some bread that was baked in the geothermal ground and you’ve got the recipe for the perfect dish. Give the Bloody Mary a try too while you’re at it. You can thank me later.
Our last stop on our road trip was the Wall. For those of living under a rock, this WALL is the WALL, the Game of Thrones, “we are watchers on the wall”….wall. Or it’s at least where they’ve shot a few scenes. It was immense and beautiful and I turned into a total fangirl in search of Jon Snow while we were there.
That night, we headed out on a Northern Lights tour with Reykjavik Excursions. I loaded up all my camera gear (TRIPOD is a MUST) and headed out with high hopes of capturing the aurora borealis. Our tour was heading just south of Selfoss, the 2nd largest town in Iceland. Shortly after we departed the capital, we noticed the green hue dancing across the sky out of the bus window. For an hour, we drove in unison with them. I even cried. It was beautiful but to my dismay, when the bus stopped so did the lights. So sorry to disappoint you guys but I don’t have any amazing Northern Lights pictures to show you. But, I will forever have that memory of watching them dance their way along the sky.
**This picture was taken from a Google Image Search!**
Day Three was all about driving down the Southern Coast. After indulging in a typical Icelandic breakfast of smoked salmon at Grai Kotturin, we set out on the ring road!
Our first stop was around sunrise to check out the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Even from far off in the distance, this waterfall would be hard to miss. This massive fall juts out and descends 166 feet from the cliff above. Another thing to mention is that when it isn’t layered with icicles, you can actually climb behind the fall for a really amazing photo. Unfortunately, the day we went would have required krampons. I was nowhere near brave enough to attempt the slippery slide behind the falls. I did manage to have a good laugh watching others attempt it though!
Just a few minutes down the road lies the Skogafoss Waterfall. We managed to beat the bus crowds which made for the perfect photo opportunity. The full rainbow glistening above us and the birds nesting in the sea caves as we trekked through the waters was something out of a movie. Check out the Secret Life of Walter Mitty to catch the Skogafoss cameo. I had to keep my distance in order to protect my camera otherwise we would have been soaked! Dropping 200 feet from the massive plateau above, this place is magical and a must-see if you are traveling along the southern rim.
Our next stop on our trip was to Seljavellalaug, a “Secret Swimming Pool” located near the Eyjafjoll Mountains. A 15 minute hike through an iced over rocky stream will lead you to this small geothermal pool built into the mountainside. The water is piped in by a hot spring so make sure to bring your swimsuit and don’t worry, there are changing rooms.
The next stop on our journey was Numero Uno on my list. Dyrholaey Lighthouse is a tough spot to get to if you don’t have a 4×4 vehicle. After climbing the side of something that slightly resembled a mountain, we arrived at the most magical of places. To the west, black sand beaches and glacial mountains adorn the coastline.
To the east, Reynisdrangar, a set of exquisitely shaped basalt sea stacks, ornament the southern most point of Iceland. We spent the majority of our time here watching the birds nesting along the cliffs and the waves crashing below. I loved every single minute of this peaceful oasis. Word of advice, skip the bus tour and drive it yourself so you can soak up the sun and spend some quality time with the Atlantic Ocean.
Our last stop was Vik. Located at the southernmost point of Iceland, this quaint small town plays host to the black sand beaches and the feat that is Reynisdrangar. According to folklore, the stacks were once trolls who were dragging a treasure to shore but when the sun rose, they froze in their place. Though I highly doubt any of it happened, the stepping stone formation of the basalt stacks and the cave nearby add an enchanting element to the landscape. The beach was crowded and we were exhausted so we stuck around long enough to take a mental note of its beauty but then we hit the road to head back to Reykjavik. Watching the sun set during our 3 hour drive back to Reykjavik was the perfect ending to this amazing vacation.
Why Iceland? Literally, everyone has asked me this question and truth be told, I was not even sure until we got there. Forbes named Iceland one of the top 10 places to see in 2017 and as a photographer, I knew I would have an opportunity to see the Northern Lights if I traveled during the low season but I could not have imagined how much I would fall in love with this country. After all, it is not very often that you can see glaciers and volcanoes in the same day.
I have always said that I would never visit the same place twice but I am already ready to break that rule. Iceland gave me major Fernweh, Wanderlust, whatever you call it. I want to see more. I want to see the Highlands and the West Fjords and the Snaefellsness Peninsula and Kirkjufell. I want to see Jokulsarlon, a glacier that comprises 30% of the entire island. The list goes on and on and I hope I get to share more of our adventures in Iceland with you in the future. Until then, stay tuned for Part II of our trip. We jetted out of Iceland and straight into the United Kingdom. Scotland is up on the Blog next week! Check back in!
HOW I GOT THE ITCH FOR TRAVEL JOURNALISM & WHERE ARE WE HEADED TO NEXT:
In the spring of 2016, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Carolyn Anderson, a landscape photographer based out of New Alexandria, Pennsylvania. After our chat, I made it a point to try my hand at capturing the highlights of our adventures. We traveled so much in 2016. Our East Coast Girl’s Trip was my first attempt at Travel Journalism and since then, we’ve traveled around and through the state of Colorado, through the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania and to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Mr. Norris and I just got back from Reykjavik, Iceland and Edinburg, Scotland so keep an eye out for our Travel Guides for those trips in 2017!
IS THERE SOMEWHERE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE RUSTIE NAIL TRAVEL TO? LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS/SUGGESTIONS BELOW!
If any of you out there have more questions about our trip, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.