I’m not sure what it is with us and going to colder places in the middle of winter but it seems as though it was becoming a trend. February 2018 we went to Iceland and let me tell you if it isn’t on your list add it RIGHT NOW! Going in winter let us see her in all of her glory and to be honest the “cold” wasn’t as cold as it feels here in Boston. For a small country this place has so much to offer – hot springs, geysers, volcanoes, waterfalls, food, culture, and so much more.
Upon arriving in Iceland at a bright and early 5:45 am – we headed to pick our rental and to set out on what lied ahead. In February the sun doesn’t rise until about 9/9:30 and set around 4/4:30. We drove straight into the capital of Iceland – Reykjavík; which of course was basically a ghost town at 7 am, but the city was slowly waking up and we were right in the middle to see it. Our first goal was: breakfast. We parked who knows where and started wandering the streets seeing what there was around; right off the bat we were immersed with the culture. Shortly into our journey we found a small (literally hole in the wall) cafe – it was delicious!
After our stomachs were full we set out to explore the downtown scene a bit more. First stop the famous church: Hallgrímskirkja. This was quite the site as we walked up to it, the sun was rising and it began to snow (allowing me to get this pretty awesome shot). Some quick facts about the church: it is the tallest structure in Reykjavík (244 ft to be exact), it took 41 years to build (construction began in 1945), the design was inspired by the Icelandic nature (meant to resemble volcanic basalt formations). You can go all the way to the top of it and get a 360 degree few of the city (we didn’t do this, line was WAY to long). Anyways, after heading inside and exploring the church itself (one of the most beautiful churches I have seen the other being Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ); the organ has over 5000 pipes!
So something I should mention about this trip is we sort of got there with absolutely zero plan – we had no hostels or hotels booked, we decided to completely wing it from the start, we figured if we book things in advance then we might not be able to do everything we want to do. This was probably one of the best decisions ever made and since this trip we never book anything in advance, everything we do is on the fly and we book when we decide “this is where we want to stay tonight.” We knew when we had to be back in Reykjavík in order to catch our flight so we set out and drove around the country as much as we could in order to see and experience as much as possible. I mention this because most people book their stay in the Reykjavík and then leave from there every morning and return every night – don’t be that person stay all over the place so you can see & do more!
Mentioning this because where our day led us next. Of course we did not stay in the capital but instead drove north leading us to a small peninsula of the island and into the village of Akranes – to get here we drove through a surprising long tunnel that was completely under water. We opted to find a place to stay for the night here and happen to stumble upon a super quaint guesthouse (fancy name for a nicer hostel). Once we checked in Aj of course decided to nap while I decided to go walk around and see what this place had to offer. Well, not much or at least not much in the general area of where we were staying- I did get to see local kids outside playing in the snow. Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world so these tiny kids were out by themselves having the time of their lives.
Our first night was fun we ate dinner at a restaurant in town – delicious food! We got most daring here and tried Mink Whale as an appetizer which may sound unappetizing but it was exactly like Ahi Tuna. After dinner we drove back down to Reykjavík to see what the night life was like. Now neither Aj nor I are drinkers but we headed into a bar and grabbed a few beers, tried a famous Icelandic hot dog, basically got caught in a blizzard while walking back to our car – you know standard stuff. While driving back to the guesthouse we got our first (tiny) glimpse of the Northern Lights!!!!
Our morning started slow, you know body trying to figure out what is going on with this 5 hour time difference. Before we drove to our next destination we stopped by the Akranes lighthouse. The sun had just risen so it was quite the site. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse – still not sure if we were allowed to do that but whatever – got to look out over the ocean and see the surrounding mountains in the distance. But we quickly headed back to the car and headed to our next destination: Kirkjufellsfoss (aka North of the Wall). Driving alone offers so many views its insane. We stopped at a small Inn for some lunch and it was just as good as dinner – we both got traditional Icelandic fish stew:
I think I could go back just to eat the food – literally everything we ate was so fresh and delicious!
While driving I booked our next hostel – Grundarfjordur Youth Hostel (highly recommend). As we were driving we pulled over to a small inlet to see what there was, followed a group of people to where they were going: led us straight to a hidden waterfall with some seriously breath taking fews. Trying to take pictures I manager to fall knee deep in snow but it was well worth it!
For all of you Game of Thrones fans out there pretty much anything that is north of the wall was filmed in Iceland, so naturally being a huge fan I had to find something significant to GoT. (!!!!)
Our hostel had a pretty direct view of this making the stay all the more better ;). This is a super tiny village, there is definitely no more than a few hundred people (if even) living here. So, Iceland is actually super expensive (once your there) meaning eating out everyday was not an option – instead staying at a hostel or guesthouse allows you to cook your own food. We hit up the local food store and got ourselves dinner, breakfast, & lunch for the next day. Not much to do in this secluded village but we made the most of it walked around and took a drive to a town close by all to conclude the night with ….. The Northern Lights!!!!
Unfortunately, February is the end of the season for their visibility, but the way I see it is we still got to see them! So that’s one thing checked off my bucket list!
We started pretty slow this morning and had to make the decision whether or not to drive inland or keep moving north. We decided to head inward towards the Golden Circle which offers multiple locations to check out. Our first stop (and only stop of the day) was Þingvellir National Park – this is where Iceland is physically ripping in half. You are walking between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates:
It is also where Iceland’s parliament first ever met, and continued to meet for hundreds of years. This was definitely the coldest day we experienced while we were here – perhaps its because we were higher up and this entire path was a giant wind tunnel. Unfortunately, due to a snow storm that had recently passed basically the entire park was blocked off with ropes stating it was too dangerous for people to pass. Of course if we had spikes we would have 100% not listened and headed down further but we didn’t. In the summer your can scuba dive between the plates which is awesome and now on my list!
So after adventuring and freezing our butts we headed back to the car to figure out our next destination … little did we know we would get caught in the middle of a blizzard and almost get stranded in the middle road. My advice if you are visiting Iceland in the winter and want to cram as much as possible into your trip get yourself a 4 wheel drive car. It was a legit WHITEOUT at one point and our little car didn’t seem like it was going to make it on the very unplowed road, or perhaps we would get hit as the cars that didn’t appear to even exist around us tried to slip & slide their way up the road. Needless to say we did make it out alive and into a small town where we decided, after our driving fiasco, to stay for the night. We found a hostel checked in and made ourselves cozy for the night.
(^^^ well deserved after our scary journey through a blizzard)
We got ourselves a good night sleep, ate breakfast, and hit the road to find our next destination: Geysir & Gullfoss. This day was our most packed day we spent a decent amount of time at the Geysir and basically no time at Gullfoss.
Aj isn’t so impressed by waterfalls – I say chase them as often as possible! Also these two particular places were super crowded with people so it was a bit difficult to fully enjoy them. We quickly decided to make the drive down south and see the Black Sand Beach. Of course along the way we were able to see some sights too.
Also along the way – of course we had to stop and see the horses! You will drive and see them everywhere – literally. Now we finally stopped and got to meet some of them:
If there is no snow you can actually walk behind Seljalandsfoss, but generally in winter it is blocked off.
The one place I wish we had stopped by along the Golden Circle was Diamond Beach – it is where a bunch of ice chunks wash ashore. However by the time we left the Black Sand beach we were unable to find it (it was pitch black).
The waves here were CRAZY big – like surfers dream. The basalt columns from the volcanic eruptions were breathtaking, but my favorite were the 2 large basalt formations out in the water. There is an old Icelandic folk tale about them:
“According to Icelandic folklore, these large basalt columns were once trolls engaged in trying to pull ships from the ocean. However, as bad luck would have it, the dawn quickly arose, turning the trolls into solid stone.”
As we walked and explored the beach we worked up an appetite and decided to head to the small cafe at the end of the beach, we got fish & chips and a meat stew. The fish was definitely caught like right outside because it was the freshest I’ve ever had.
Anyways after this we hit the road to try and find our next destination (a place to crash for the night!). After driving for quite some time we began our search. This was the only night we struggled to find a place to sleep so we ended up staying at a fancy hotel, not our ideal but whatever. We checked in and headed to the restaurant for some much needed dinner. The next day we were going to set out to see & hopefully hike a glacier!
Day 5 (Our Last Full Day):
Vatnajokull National Park!
What a beautiful day to hike into an ancient glacier! The sun was shining, the weather was gorgeous & we were ready to head out. They offer guided tours that will take you back into the ice caves and to hike a different section of the glacier but of course we are adventurers who prefer not to be told what to do and where to go.
In the summer this turns into a glacial lake making it difficult to walk up to the ice from this point – there are also warning signs telling you not to walk on the glacier but nobody was listening (nor was any else).
****One thing I am all about is always take an adventure that will help me work on my bucket list – hike a glacier, northern lights, swim in the blue lagoon all on it and all checked! I’ll do a post on my entire. bucket list later on.****
Anyways, back to the real thing… After spending a good amount of time here, exploring as much as we could (bring crampons or micro-spikes with you if you want to head up it even further!), Aj decided to head out onto the frozen lagoon. Had it not been warm this day perhaps I would have gone out there with him but people were already putting their feet through random sections of ice so I wasn’t in the mood to get wet – especially with freezing cold water. But he headed to the middle and back without falling through. As we walked back to the parking area we knew we needed to start our journey back towards Reykjavík, we were heading to the Blue Lagoon tonight! Along the way we booked a hostel in the capital and prepared to swim.
Going to the Blue Lagoon at night sort of sucks because, well its dark and I feel like you don’t get the full experience. It is definitely a whole lot bigger than I ever imagined and the smell of sulfur is a lot stronger than expected as well. They offer swim up mask bars and a swim up bar, bar (lol); there was also a guy in the lagoon with a bowl of a mask you could do. We put on our masks and headed over to the bar to get a drink. The water is super warm – close to hot tub temperature – and highly relaxing. If it wasn’t one of the most popular destinations and less tourists were there you could totally spend your entire day floating around relaxing. I will say that I am happy we saved this for the last thing we did because it was the perfect way to relax us for our journey home.
Knowing we were leaving today was super depressing! We totally fell in love with everything about Iceland; the people, the culture, the nature, everything! I highly recommend heading here (even in the winter time), we can’t wait to go back and explore the eastern side of the country! We will most likely bring the kids with us next time and head in the summer so we can see & do everything that is difficult in the winter.