Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Hello friends, @samanthajane_d here. We can't wait to tell you all about our adventures in Iceland, the beautiful country of fire and ice.
While we love traveling as a couple we also enjoy trips with our friends. We value our time together but we also value spending time with the people we love. During August of 2016, two of my best friends and I went to Iceland for 5 days. One of the coolest parts of this trip was Iceland’s summer sun. Iceland in the summer has daylight for almost 24 hours! This meant we had even more time to explore the island. A few of the nights we were rushing to find somewhere to eat because we would forget to eat dinner with the sun still up and shining at 9pm. We rented an Airbnb which we found both affordable and adorable with a fantastic location near the center of Reykjavik. Another great part of our Airbnb was the blackout drapes. These helped us sleep since the sun was still up when we would go to bed and would rise again far before we would wake up. For reference, we got maybe 2-3 hours of darkness a night.
I flew from Chicago, IL to Reykjavík, Iceland, with a connection through Minneapolis, MN on Delta, but it was 100% worth the long flight I met my friends in Reykjavík after they had already been in town for a day. They picked me up with the car we rented to allow us to travel around independently. Without renting a car you are reliant on signing up and paying for a bus or tours to transport you around the island. We preferred to set our own schedule and explore off the beaten path.
On our first day in Iceland, we went to Thingvellir National Park. It took us about 45 minutes to drive to Thingvellir. Thingvellir is one of the most visited destinations in Iceland and if you get a chance to go you’ll understand why. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This means it is the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Make sure you go to Everyman’s Gorge! There you can actually walk between two different continents!
After visiting Everyman’s Gorge you should go to Geysir. Geysir is a famous hot spring in a geothermal area where you can see a geyser shoot boiling water 70 meters into the air. After that, it’s just a short 9 minute drive to Gullfoss Waterfall. Let me tell you, this is an impressive waterfall. The Hvita River flows through the canyon to create this masterpiece. The waterfall is a three-step “staircase”.
After Gullfoss we drove about 45 minutes to the Kerio Crater. Kerio Crater is a volcanic crater lake. This volcanic crater is famous because it is over 3,000 years old! The land owners do charge a small entrance fee. Travel Tip: One cultural difference for me was paying to use public bathrooms, so make sure to keep cash on you.
This was an adventure day! This was the only day we relied on tours for our exploration. We started by being picked up in Reykjavík and were driven out to a ranch. Here we were given all of the horseback riding equipment we could need and an Icelandic Horse! Icelandic horses are shorter and stouter because they need stronger legs to help them navigate such tough terrain. The tour we took was through the volcanic landscape. The tour was suitable for beginners but they did offer tours for more advanced riders. The tour took approximately 3 hours from start to finish and none of us fell off our horses! We booked through Ishestar and we would recommend using them.
Next we went scuba diving in the Silfra Fissure. The water here is between 2–4° C (36–39° F) so you will need a drysuit when you scuba. We used the company DIVE.IS and I would definitely recommend them. They provided us with a guide, scuba gear, a wet & drysuit, along with gloves and boots to protect your hands and feet from the cold temperatures. The Silfra Fissure is considered one of the best places in the world to scuba dive because the water is so clear you can see up to 70–80 metres (230–260 ft). The water is also so clean you can drink it (which we did while scuba diving) because it is being fed from Iceland’s second largest glacier. Another fun fact is when you scuba dive here you are swimming between two tectonic plates (the North American and Eurasian plates).
On Day 3 we took to the road and explored the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. There are many nature attractions along this route and endless options. We started our day by stopping at the Londrangar Pillars. The pillars have existed since the island was settled about twelve hundred years ago. These two towers are believed to be ancient volcanic plugs that have endured the force of nature of countless years. The highest pillar stands at 76 metres (246 feet) tall and the shortest one is 61 metres (200 feet) tall. The pillars are located along the shoreline, letting the Atlantic Ocean provide gorgeous views.
Next we drove 20 minutes and stopped at Skarðsvík Beach. This beach is one of the only golden beaches in Iceland. While we here we, of course, enjoyed the beach, but we also climbed up to Saxhólsbjarg Cliff. This provided sweeping views of our surroundings. After this we drove another 20 minutes to Djúpalónssandur, also known as the Black Lava Pearl Beach. The whole beach is made of small, smooth black pebbles called Djúpalónsperlur. or the Pearls of Djúpalón.
After enjoying the beaches and hiking, we began our drive home. We stopped along the way as we saw fit to check out waterfalls, mountains, and stunning scenery. We stopped in the small seafront village of Vík í Mýrdal to grab a bite to eat at Suður-Vík. It had a beautiful view of the water and a cozy vibe. We happily let this drive take up our entire day before returning to Reykjavík to enjoy a bit of the nightlife.
On Day 4 we spent the first half of our day exploring Reykjavík. Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland and its largest town. We found Reykjavík to be charming and the locals were very friendly. There were plenty of places to eat, grab coffee, and shop. From the quaint and colorful homes to the adorable shops and street art it’s worth your time to walk around and explore.
We visited Hallgrimskirkja, which is an impressive structure at 74.5 metres high (244.5 feet). Hallgrimskirkja is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. It also provides phenomenal view of the city. After Hallgrimskirkja, we made our way over to Harpan Tónlistarhús, which is a concert hall and conference center. The building’s unique design features a distinctive colored glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland, so naturally we did a little photo shoot. For lunch we went to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur for a famous Icelandic hot dog (although their hot dogs are made of sheep…so sheepdogs?). The hot dogs in Iceland come with ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onions, raw onion and remolaði (a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish). The food was so good we ended up going back to get another before our trip was over.
After lunch, we drove 3.5 hours to Herjolfur (the ferry) that took us to Vestmanneayjar, which is an archipelago off of Iceland. We were able to pay and leave our car in the ferry lot, which was for the best because the island is small enough to get around on foot. We rented another Airbnb for the one night we stayed here. One of the main attractions of this island is seeing puffins! Puffins are adorable, this is a known fact. Unfortunately, those pesky little birds did not show themselves until we left the following morning as we were on the ferry back to the main island. They prefer to stay on the cliff tops so they can swoop down and scoop up fish to eat. Another unique feature of this archipelago is that one of its volcanoes, Eldfell, erupted in 1973, causing all of its inhabitants to evacuate. The eruption destroyed ⅕ of the island and the lava spreading was only stopped by 6.8 liters of cold sea water. Vestmannaeyjar was actually formed by volcanic eruptions over the past 10,000-12,000 years and the archipelago consists of 70-80 volcanos below sea level.
We started our last full day in Iceland by taking the ferry back to the main island. We then drove directly to Grafarkirkja, Vestur-Skaftafellssysla. Here we enjoyed hiking and a natural hot spring. We also got to see sheep (one of the few animals that live in Iceland). The drive was tough because much of the path was not paved and was very narrow. However, this meant competing with less people for outstanding views and a spot in the springs. At the base of the mountain there is a tiny building where you can pay a small fee to use the springs before or after hiking around the volcanic area.
After our soak, we drove back to Reykjavík for our final night, where we again stayed at an Airbnb. This was the night we decided to go the the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located just outside Reykjavík, in Grindavík. Keep in mind, you cannot show up at the Blue Lagoon without booking a reservation. Time slots do fill up quickly so, if you know you want to go, book it sooner rather than later. The warm waters are rich with sulfer and silica, which are great for your skin (but not amazing for your hair). Do your best to keep your hair out of the water or be prepared to deal with dry, stiff hair afterward. Some people apply conditioner or hair masks to their hair before going in to help lessen any damage. I had to condition my hair a few times before getting it back to normal. One part of the lagoon we enjoyed was using the silica mud from the lagoon to apply to our faces as a mask. My skin never felt so good! We thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere and the beautiful views.
Overall Iceland was incredible experience with once in a lifetime adventures, unique and breathtaking nature, and great friends. I cannot wait to go back and recommend you add this to your bucket list.
Until next time keep exploring! -- @samanthajane_d