How do we celebrate our last kiddo heading off to college? A trip to Iceland! Last month we returned from a trip that dreams are made of. We spent five days in the land of fire and ice, followed by three days in Amsterdam. What an experience! More and more people are heading to Iceland these days, so if you’ve ever considered a visit, I thought I’d share my top 5 favorite things, and a few tips that might come in useful if you decide to go yourself.
(*TIP*) First of all, we did something a little different on this trip in an effort to see as much of the sights as possible – we stayed four nights in four different locations, so essentially we lived out of our rental car. It allowed us to see much more and I highly recommend this if you don’t mind being on the go.
Ferry to the Westman Islands & staying in a barrel! We spent one night on a tiny island off the southern coast, in the town of Heimaey (population approx 4K). The 35 minute ferry ride out was gorgeous, but the island itself was amazing and our accommodations were definitely a highlight. We stayed at a place called Glamping & Camping, in a barrel. No wifi, no bathroom or showers (we had to walk about 100 feet to them). It’s located in the bottom of a volcano crater and the hike to the rim is incredible, as is the view on the other side of the rim. The hike up took us face to face with sheep (who have amazing balancing abilities on the side of the hill) and Iceland’s famous puffin birds.
Waterfalls! So. Many. Waterfalls. One of the most amazing was Gullfoss, which is Europe’s largest waterfall, and they say its power is greater than Niagara Falls. Different than in the US, you can literally walk right up to it – no big fences or blockades to block the view. Lots of other waterfalls too – it was nothing to come upon a 200 foot waterfall in the middle of nowhere! The top two pics are of Gullfoss where seeing all the people next to it, you can get a sense of the scale. The others are random waterfalls – one inside a cave, and one we could actually walk behind.(*TIP) Take waterproof clothes, shoes, everything. No joke, you will need it. It’s wet everywhere.
Random countryside scenery. It’s truly like another planet – the terrain is bizarre from the colorful bands of lakes, fields, sky, and especially the lava fields.
Most of the country has seen lava at some point, and some has begun growing little bits of green, but some is still very barren. Lots of pretty little churches dotting the hillsides, lakes everywhere, and hiking trail road signs back in the hills. It’s very much an outdoors-y country.
(*TIP*) Go off road. If you drive the Golden Circle, there is an alternate route you can take back to Reykjavik that has much more interesting landscape – it’s the route from Nesjavalllaleið back to Reykjavík. Here’s a great blog on the Iceland that has really good maps of the Golden Circle.
Exploring Reykjavik. The capital city is not very big – only a little bigger than Lawrence KS. There’s honestly not a lot to see, but what you do find there is beautiful. The rooftops are colorful and you can get a great view of them from the top of Hallgrímskirkja, the tallest church in the city. The rooftops are gorgeous against the backdrop of the sea and mountains. There are great little cafés in Reyk, and wandering the pier at night in desperate search of seeing the northern lights is worth it even if you don’t find them.
(*TIP*) We didn’t find a lot to do in Reyk that took more than a day. One night was plenty for us.
Geothermal lagoons! Oh my, these are delightful. Ice blue water and steam everywhere! We visited the famous Blue Lagoon and stayed one night at the (very) small resort next door called Solara. The pools are heated from a mile down in the earth, and are so relaxing. The Blue Lagoon itself is huge and definitely a huge tourist stop, but it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. The Solara had its own lagoon which was much smaller and more private, so we used that a lot. The silica mud that is natural to the area is everywhere and they have buckets of it along the edge of the lagoons where you can swim up and give yourself a quick face mask, and just let it rinse off in the lagoon. Surrounded by barren lava, it really feels like you’re on a different plant. Definitely recommended!
(*LAST TIP*) If you want to save some money, fly round trip to Reykjavik out of the east coast. We flew out of Boston, then booked a Southwest round trip from KC to Boston. You add a little risk that way by not having a contiguous flight reservation, so allow at least 3 hours between landing and departing out of the east coast city. We save about $800 on flights by doing it that way.
If you’re considering Iceland and have any questions, I’m always happy to talk about our travels and share whatever tips I can to help make yours better!