Iceland

  • Date: April 2017
  • Duration: 1.5 weeks
  • Currency: Icelandic Króna
  • Lasting impressions:
    • Natural wonders! This country is all jaw-dropping views with a wide variety of features: mountains, lava beds, craters, lakes, waterfalls, geysers, beaches. They don’t have many trees, but that’s fine because all you’ll want to see are the geological formations.
    • I loved learning the history of the settlement of this remote, rocky, and cold island in the middle of the ocean, initially by Irish monks and then by the Vikings. It’s no surprise that Icelandic people today are hearty and strong, they come from a long line of ancestors that persevered despite the harsh living conditions (freezing temperatures, regular volcanic eruptions, food shortages).
    • So sparsely populated… it was heaven for a agoraphobe like me. “Cities” on the map were usually only a few houses collected together on a hillside. Make sure you fill up on gas regularly if driving around.
    • Expensive! I’d read this before visiting, but it was even more expensive than I thought. Make sure to save up and mentally prepare to spend a few extra (hundreds of) dollars. Luckily though most of the natural wonder sights are free to visit!
    • The food! We ate a lot of seafood: fried fish, pickled fish, grilled fish, shellfish, fish jerky, you name it, we ate it. If you have to pay $40+ for a meal, you might as well feast on fish and lobster rather than a salad. Lamb is also a specialty, and their yogurt is to die for!

Itinerary

  • Reykjavik – 1 day
  • Golden Circle – 1 day
  • Snaefellsnes Peninsula – 1 day
  • Vik – 1 day
  • Jokulsarlon – 2 days
  • Reykjavik – 2 days

iceland-map.001

Reykjavik

Getting there: Airplane, direct flight from Portland, OR

Highlights:

  • Relatively small city with Scandinavian vibes. Colorful houses, narrow streets, bustling harbor. The city center is very walkable and there are plenty of lanes and side streets to wander. We stayed in an AirBnB near Hallgrimskirkja and walked all over the city.
  • Tjornin Pond, a large pond near the city center, surrounded by classical buildings and a charming white church. Ráðhús ReykjavíkurAlþingishúsiðFríkirkjan í Reykjavík.
  • Laugavegur Street, shopping galore! Lots of local artisans and shops selling Scandinavian design wares.
  • Hallgrimskirkja, a stunning tall white church with sloping sides. You can pay to climb the tower, and the view of the colorful buildings below is certainly worth it.
  • Reykjavik Art Museum, a mix of modern and mid-century pieces. My favorite were the cubic portraits (pictured below).
  • Harpa concert hall, a monumental glass trapezoid, with slanted surfaces and tessellated design details. Make sure to visit the second floor and descend via the sloped staircase.
  • National Museum of Iceland, a collection ranging from old historical artifacts of the Viking age into the 20th century cultural items.
  • Old Harbor, hosting a variety of water crafts, from small fishing boats to yachts to military vessels.

Golden Circle

Getting there: 3-4 hours by car from Reykjavik, traversing a circular route

Highlights:

  • Thingvellir National Park, where the Viking government convened! Walk amongst the black lava rock formations and rivers, lava beds, streams, and waterfalls. Mountains and lakes loom on the horizon in all directions.
  • Geysir, the namesake of all geysers! A collection of geysers and hot pots bubbling and steaming. Many signs advise to not touch the water unless you want a severe burn.
  • Gullfloss, a broad waterfall of striking royal blue color, beautiful in both summer and winter seasons.
  • Kerid Crater, the smallest attraction on the Golden Circle, and surprisingly the only site you have to pay for, but worth a visit. The crater’s side is a striking deep maroon color that strikingly complements the deeply teal water inside.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Getting there: 5 hours by car from Reykjavik, traversing a circular route

Highlights:

  • Kirkjufell, purportedly the most-photographed landmark in Iceland. It’s not as big as it looks in pictures, but it does make for a stunning photograph. You might recognize it from a few Game of Thrones scenes!
  • Saxholl Crater, a stairway leads up and around to the rim of the crater. The crater itself is a rocky pit, but the view of the sprawling green moss-covered lava field below is remarkable.
  • DjúpalónssandurDritvík, Lóndrangar: three sites of coastal rock formations, black sand and stone beaches, and cobalt ocean waves.
  • Ondverdarnes, requires a stressful two-mile (seemingly endless) drive on a rough gravel road, reaching a rock field along the coast. A lone orange lighthouse is evidence that civilization has been here (and left).

Vik

Getting there: 2.5 hours by car from Reykjavik, with extra time for landmark sightseeing along the way

Highlights:

  • Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui, two of three waterfalls situated together just off the Ring Road en route to Vik. You’ll notice a sharp drop in temperatures near the falls, as the often fierce wind blows off the icy water, so make sure to bundle up when visiting.
  • Skogafoss, our favorite waterfall, tucked away in a cove and glittering with rainbows at all angles. You can climb stairs to the top to see the water’s drop-off point too.
  • Sólheimajökull, a short half-mile walk ends at a glacier spilling down from the mountains into a lake. The headwinds are strong and biting, make sure to wear a scarf to protect your face. Ice melt creates beautiful white ridges and mounds of varying colors.
  • Dyrholaey, a stunning arch rock formation, requiring a drive on an exciting, steeply sloped and curvy gravel road that is narrow in places. Brave driving required and all-wheel drive recommended.
  • Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, home to the famously picturesque basalt columns. The towering cliffs alongside the beach are equally impressive.
  • Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, I’m never one to remember hotels, but we splurged on this one and it was more than worth it. A striking modern black building, with comfortable rooms and a great (though spendy) in-house restaurant.

Jokulsarlon

Getting there: 2 hours by car from Vik

Highlights:

  • Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, a large lake teeming with floating icebergs of various sizes. The bergs break off the glacier and shrink in size as they float down the river towards the ocean. We spent a few hours walking the perimeter of the lake marveling at the various ice shapes and seals swimming.
  • Skaftafell and Svartifoss, I wish we had more time to explore Skaftafell, as there are a variety of hikes to do, but we did see the major attraction Svartifoss, and gorgeous waterfall surrounded by stunning basalt columns.

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