Iceland, a Nordic island nation, with unique landscapes and gorgeous views. As part of our Norway adventure in late May, we decided to add on a little side excursion to Iceland, since it seemed it would be a layover anyways… and totally worth it. During our two days (and two days within the almost-Midnight Sun period too), we got to explore so much of Iceland, although there’s so much more to see. This will definitely be a place to come back someday.
Here are my favorite 4 places we visited, observations from the trip, and a gallery of images from our excursions at the very end:
1) Walk the black sand at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach near Vík
This beach is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. In our little rented red car, we drove the southern coast of Iceland, making our way to Vík. As we walked up to the beach, it felt like you were on a different planet. The rich color of the sand was striking, especially against the white waves of the water and the bright blue sky. Bonus Folklore: the basalt stones in the ocean are believed to be trolls, who were wandering out too late in the night, and were turned to stone when the sun rose. This spot was in some of the scenes in HBO Game of Thrones too. The rising stone ridge reminded me a lot of Markarth in Skyrim (be prepared to see Elder Scrolls reference in these trip recaps).
2) Drive the Golden Circle just outside of Reykjavik
With our excursion to Iceland being so short, it was important to maximize our time and see as much as we could in 48 hours. The Golden Circle was a great route to see the landscapes of the country, and check out the “big 3” – Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park. Although Geysir felt like there were a lot of tourists circling around the base, it was eye opening how big the geyser really was compared to the size of people once it went off. As one point, my husband stood right under the geyser when it erupted and got SOAKED (picture evidence below). The colors to the springs were stunning too – a light pretty blue.
Gullfoss was beautiful too – unfortunately at that moment, it started raining and sleeting pretty hard, so it made it challenging to see the falls, but from what we saw, it was very dramatic. And Þingvellir National Park felt like a different world – this is where you can stand between two continental tectonic plates, and see how over time they’ve been pulling apart. This was another scene from Game of Thrones too. When we visited, it was around 9:30 PM (although it was still relatively bright) and we were the only people there. It was almost a little eery. This was probably my personal favorite from the 3 wonders of the Golden Circle, as you get to walk down onto the path. And there’s so much more to explore in the park, but since we were crunched for time, we really didn’t get to explore too much. Our Airbnb, which was this super cute greenhouse studio, was just outside the park which made it easy to drive to.
3) Hike the path to Myrdalsjokull Glacier
This glacier was very beautiful to see – a small hike from the parking lot, it was very scenic. There were very few people out – really just the two of us and another couple – so it was quiet and peaceful. The weather at this point in the trip was pretty sporadic… we were hiking back out, and it was clear & blue skies, and then next thing we know, I feel sharp pains on my face – realizing sleet is literally coming down sideways and stabbing me in the face. Did a crab walk for about 2 minutes before it cleared up again. Bizarre!
4) Climb the “thousand steps” of Skógafoss Falls
These falls were so eye catching, even from the road. Lots of power, and very wide. You could walk right up to the bottom of them. They had steps going along the side of the falls too, taking you to the top, as well as beyond to see another set of falls. Again, due to our time crunch, we walked the stairs (which I totally underestimated) – and my thighs were BURNING – and checked out the top of the falls… and got a little sense of vertigo too while we were at it. It was such a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape. We joked it was just like the thousand steps in Skyrim.
And our general observations…
TEMPERATURE: We knew it would be chilly. And since our trip was so short, we didn’t want to overpack with winter clothes, keeping luggage light. But my biggest regret: NOT PACKING GLOVES OR A HAT. On the plus side – we now have authentic Icelandic wool hats for souvenirs! My attire for both days consisted of a camisole, cotton sports pullover, thick wool sweater, a rain jacket, thick jeans, wool socks, hiking shoes, and a wool winter hat. So my advice: bring layers, pack your wool socks and hat, don’t forget gloves, and go for a rain jacket (leave the umbrella). It’s VERY windy in Iceland, so if it’s raining, that rain is going sideways. If you’re on the beach, be careful of strong gusts (especially with the sand and open car doors). And hang onto your stuff!
MINERAL WATER: The water is AH-MAZ-ING. It tasted great. It felt amazing on your skin when you were showering. It definitely had the strong smell, but I loved taking a shower during our stay here. The water is all geothermal with natural minerals – but be careful. In our Airbnb, it was important to test the temperature before hopping in, because it could get REALLY hot.
DRIVING: Loved driving here – roundabouts everywhere. I think traffic on sideroads would be so much better with roundabouts, so I was excited when I discovered it was mostly roundabouts throughout all of our drives. And within the city, the lights go RED-YELLOW-GREEN-YELLOW-RED. As in, turning yellow before they turn green, which makes so much sense and alleviates that stall time right when a light turns green. Now if only we can somehow bring that here to the States. Oh, and get the WiFi in your rental car. That helped not eat up as much battery and data trying to access cell service. Very helpful!
So, would I recommend doing an extended layover in Iceland? Absolutely. If you have 48-hours in Iceland, here’s my recommended itinerary to maximize your time and experience a handful of different places in a short period (dependent upon season of course):
Day 1 – Golden Circle & Reykjavik
Drive the Golden Circle in the morning to check out Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall. There’s a café at the waterfall lodge, so grab your lunch there. Then spend the rest of the afternoon at Þingvellir National Park – there’s so much to see there. Use this evening to check out downtown Reykjavik for dinner.
Day 2 – Coastal Trip
Get up early and hit the road heading south to the coast, ultimately toward Vík. Along the way there are many stopping points. I’d recommend stopping at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and Skógafoss Falls. You will also be able to see Eyjafjallajokull, which was the volcano that erupted in 2011 – you can see it after you leave Seljalandsfoss. Visit the small town of Vík, and swing by the black beach from the town-side first. Then head back, and go to the main area of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach where you can see the cave, stacked stones, and rocks. There is a café at the beach where you can eat dinner. Leave time for on your way back to the city to stop at Myrdalsjokull Glacier – either for a short hike to see it from afar, or a longer hike closer to the glacier.
And some highlight photos from our adventures in Iceland. Thanks for reading!