Iceland is unlike any place I’ve ever seen. It’s an island made up of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, caves, volcanoes, lava rocks, moss, and more, all within the same amount of space that covers Kentucky. By now, you’ve heard about this amazing country and island; especially if you’re from Kansas City with Icelandair’s launch of non-stop service in 2018.1 If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, see the footnotes and my Itineraries page for more specific details. A lot of planning went into making this trip a success. Fortunately, I had several friends also visit Iceland earlier this year who were kind enough to share their itineraries that morphed into my 7-day road trip across the country.2
The first thing many people think of in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. You should make a reservation in advance, as we did, but due to flight delays, my friend Lisa and I missed our shuttle from the Keflavík (KEF) Airport to the Blue Lagoon and our hour entry time frame.3 Though I was able to capture this shot from outside when I dropped my friends Taylor and Ty off for their reservation on our last day in Iceland. Lisa and I visited a pool in Reykjavík later in the week. I like to think we had a more authentic and local experience. 😉
Though flight delays resulted in extended time at the airport and missing our Blue Lagoon reservation was a difficult way to start the trip, we had to shake it off. We took a shuttle into Reykjavík (pronounced ray-key-a-vik) and got situated at our guesthouse, where we would be staying the whole time while in Iceland.3 Our first night in Reykjavík, we visited Hallgrímskirkja which is the largest church in Iceland. It was beautiful both inside and out. There’s a great 360° view of the city from the top.
Other notable points of interest in Reykjavík include the Harpa concert hall, the rainbow road down the street from Hallgrímskirkja, Solfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture, etc. There are many bars and restaurants to drink and dine. The group’s favorite restaurant was Smakk Barinn, an Icelandic tapas bistro. That’s right! We tried small portions of hákarl (fermented shark), grilled and marinated whale, smoked haddock, traditional Icelandic meat soup, and skyr (a dairy product similar to yogurt) for dessert. Reactions to us trying hákarl are below… 4/4 would not recommend.
While we spent several evenings wondering and exploring Reykjavík, I would suggest spending a full day in the city and then staying in different towns and villages as you make your way across Iceland. There is so many sights to be seen in Iceland. Over the course of 7 days, we saw many backdrops of the island. Let’s start with some of my favorites and work our way through the many, many waterfalls of Iceland, each offering their own experience and beauty.
Cliffs and Beaches
One of my favorite places I saw on the trip were the cliffs and beach at Djúpalónssandur. We must have spent a couple hours here exploring the awe worthy scenery. It all started as we drove through Snæfellsjökull National Park, located on a peninsula nearly 3 hours north of Reykjavík. The road cut through lava rocks that has accumulated layers of moss over the years. The texture of the landscape was something I had never seen before and it took my breath away. It was like I had left Earth and gone to another planet without realizing it.
From one body of water on to another, but more than that because this lake happens to be located at the bottom of a crater. It’s known as Kerið. Many places in Iceland don’t necessarily have an address, but we were fortunate enough to have GPS navigation in the car to find our destinations. When the GPS said we had arrived at Kerið, I was initially confused because I didn’t see a crater or a lake. We parked and paid a small entry fee at a shed next to a mound. Once we walked upwards on the mound, Kerið came into view…
Incredible. Stunning. Rich in color. As you can see, we were able to walk both the outside and inside edges of Kerið. It was a nice walk, especially when you have friends who can save you from slipping down into the lake at a moments notice. Thanks Tay!
Now on to a different form of water…glaciers! The most eastern point I made it in Iceland was to see the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, an almost a 5-hour drive from Reykjavík. Was it worth it? Yes. Since I visited in August, the temperature in Iceland most days ranged from the low 40s to high 50s. As you would expect, different weather conditions (cloud coverage, sun exposure, and rain or waterfall mist) impacted the temperature hour to hour. As we walked closer to the glacier, you could feel the air temperature dropping. You may have heard of this glacier for the large diamond shaped icebergs that wash up onto the beach. But you’d have better luck in the winter. It was warm enough during my trip that we didn’t get to see that.
A few days later, we came across Sólheimajökull. The suffix -jökull itself means glacier. The winding road to get to the glacier was probably the most fun stretch of road to drive in our rented Honda CR-V!
We actually got to walk on Sólheimajökull. It was surreal to think we were walking on a glacier. While the glacier looked solid and stable, you could tell that it was sweating and melting ever so slightly.
The Golden Circle is probably the most popular area people visit when in Iceland. The Golden Circle is made up of three main attractions: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss.
1) Þingvellir National Park is one place where you can see where the exposed North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and walk alongside it (or in our case, have a photo shoot since it was 6 AM and there was nobody else around). At this point I should mention, ♥ Pro tip: Get an early start when visiting the Golden Circle to avoid a lot large tour bus groups. Nearby are also Oxararfoss and Flosagjá fissure. (Turns out you can get to the fissure without ignoring “do not enter” signs. We’ll keep that in mind for next time. ;))
2) Here’s the funny thing about the Geysir. My friends and I were making our way down the highway looking for Brauerfoss (which now sits on inaccessible private property) when we passed Geysir and wondered if it was a hot spring based on the way it looked and smelled. We wondered for so long that we passed it and had to turn around, so don’t miss it although I’m not sure how we did! This thing erupts every 4-8 minutes and is fun to watch and anticipate.
3) Finally, Gullfoss, or the Golden Waterfall, finishes up the formal Golden Circle. It’s basically a waterfall on top of a waterfall! This is what I image Niagara Falls looks like, but Gullfoss is probably smaller.
Not too far down the road from Sólheimajökull is a parking lot for the popular airplane wreckage sight. Once you park, it is about a 45 minute fast-paced walk to the airplane itself. While it was sunny in the photo below, don’t be fooled, it definitely was sprinkling on our walk to the plane and pouring rain on the walk back to the car. In the middle of nowhere, there was nowhere to go! It was miserable. My advice? Skip the airplane wreckage… At the end of the day, it’s a broken down plane that won’t take you anywhere so don’t commit an hour and half to see it.
You read that right. Horses, not ponies. While they are shorter and smaller in stature they are still considered horses and they are special. Icelandic horses are the only type of horses you’ll find on the island. It’s true that if a horse leaves the country it’s never welcome back. The reason? Iceland does not vaccinate their horses. Therefore, if a horse were to return, the others could be susceptible to diseases. I had two really neat experiences with the horses while in Iceland.
On the way back from trying to find a way to Eyjafjallajökull or better known as E15, the volcano that erupted in 2010, I noticed something in the middle of the road ahead. As we got closer, the subjects came to life. There were nearly 50 horses trotting down the road and spilling off to the sides as well. You can see this moment in the video above at minute 3:20. Shout out to Taylor G. for the “what the hay?” comment.
Also, what better place to ride a horse for the first time than in Iceland? That’s exactly what I did. I was really excited but got nervous as we were saddling up. I was partnered with a brown beauty named, Ups. She was well-behaved until we hit the trail. Ups tried, every chance she could, to munch on the greenery as we rode. In fact, at one point (remember first time rider here) she took us into the bushes off the trail… Still, I can’t wait to ride another horse!
Go chasing waterfalls because they are beautiful and each are truly unique in its own way. The waterfalls we made it to are listed below, in order of my favorites.
- Seljalandsfoss: you can walk behind this waterfall (but make sure you’re prepared for the mist!)
- Gljúfrabúi: a short walk from Seljalandsfoss; it’s a waterfall in a cave
- Glymur: tallest waterfall in Iceland and my favorite hike in Iceland because there is a walk through cave, river crossing, and steep inclines and steep declines to get to different viewing points of Glymur
- Skógafoss: you can walk right up to this waterfall and climb over 300 stairs to get to the top and see above the cliff
- Hraunfossar: the water here was colored so teal
- Barnafoss: known as the children’s waterfall and as legend had it, there was once a natural bridge across this waterfall that collapsed and took the life of two children
- Svartifoss: located within Skaftafell national park and classified as an “easy” hike, although it was a bit challenging due to the incline
- Faxi: this waterfall is located off the beaten path near Gullfoss
- Kirkjufellsfoss: said to be most beautiful at sunrise or sunset
As you can see, Iceland is truly a sight to be seen and a place to experience. I’m glad to have been able to experience it first hand and share my journey with you. I hope that you’ll consider visiting Iceland during your lifetime and share in my joy of exploring the country.
Stay tuned, as my journey continued to Prague and Berlin. As an English woman told us in Prague, Americans don’t visit just one country when they go to Europe. 🙂
P.S. Congrats on making it this far! See below for more specific details and feel free to contact me if you still have any questions.
1 Icelandair offers seasonal non-stop service from Kansas City to Reykjavík, with connections available to Europe. With a successful first year, Icelandair is already taking reservations for 2019. It’s never too early to start planning your trip! 😉 In my experience, Icelandair offers sales frequently so it’s reasonable to pay less than $500 for a round trip flight. ♥ Pro tip: Sign up for Icelandair emails to be notified of sales. ♥ Pro tip: Sign up for KCI email alerts to receive flight deals specifically applicable to Kansas City.
2 The best decision you’ll make is renting a car! Or better yet a camper (we didn’t know that was an option until we saw them all around Iceland). Since it was summer, it wasn’t difficult to drive but I wouldn’t know for the winter. Icelanders drive on the right side of the road, like in the United States. Recognizing that it might seem like a big expense up front, it was fantastic to have the mobility and freedom of a car so we could go wherever our hearts desired and on our own schedule.
Finally, what’s the deal with gas in Iceland? First, you’d be lucky to have a credit card with a pin associated with it, like I did, but many U.S. credit cards don’t have pins. (Note: in general, credit cards are widely accepted so no need to bring much cash.) An alternative is getting a prepaid gas card to use. If you use a credit card, note that many gas stations will put a hold on you card of several hundred of dollars. This is similar to using a debit card in the U.S. Most cars take diesel or a hybrid.
3 Consider making your reservation for the Blue Lagoon on a travel day since it’s located 15 minutes down the road from the KEF Airport and 45 minutes from Reykjavik. But account for travel delays, significant or not.
4 I would highly recommend staying at Frejya Guesthouse and Suites if rooms are available. Conveniently located a block from Hallgrímskirkja, the guesthouse has eight rooms and is was very welcoming and homey. The owners were extremely hospitable and even drove us to the store! Breakfast is available each morning. They even have free bike rentals.