I’m so excited to finally start sharing posts from our incredible trip to Iceland. It was easily one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been to, but also one of the most challenging. We went through just about every kind of weather difficulty you can imagine- rain, wind, hail, snow, sand and cold, but it was completely worth it in the end. One of the most difficult elements was the amount of sunlight, about 5.5 hours of sun above the horizon in the North and an hour more in the South. This was all a sacrifice we are glad that we made in order to experience the beauty of Iceland during this time of the year. The Northern Lights, waist deep snow, beautiful landscapes, amazing winter activities and delicious food, Iceland rewarded us with everything we wanted in this trip. We felt a bit spoiled to be honest.
Our very first activity in Iceland was the Blue Lagoon. We had a not too long flight (4.5 hours from JFK) but it was a red-eye. This was the perfect thing to do right after arriving in Iceland since it’s right next to the airport and it’s a nice way to relieve some of the jet lag. If you are planning on going to the Blue Lagoon, and most people do, make sure to buy your tickets in advance. We saw some people showing up and trying to buy tickets there and couldn’t get in. We booked ours in advance and got the ‘premium package’ that comes with a towel, slippers, robe and a few other amenities. It was worth it for just the robe and towels. It was still pitch black outside when we arrived around 8:30am. Once in, we changed and headed straight for the Lagoon. The short walk from inside to get to the water seemed like an eternity since it was 0 degrees with a strong wind and we were wearing nothing but swimsuits. The water was surprisingly not as hot (mind you, it was freezing out) than anticipated. But, in the lagoon there were pockets of warmer water, which we hovered around until deciding to explore the lagoon further.
During the almost two hours we were in the lagoon it rained, hailed and snowed, not in that order. Then crazy wind picked up and there were actual waves in the water, we took refuge behind the mask bar. Before we came to Iceland, I had received recommendations to skip the Blue Lagoon. I can see why some would say that as it definitely was crowded, even before sunrise. I’m sure it can get unbearably crowded, but as with any places that get super touristy, we always recommend visiting in off hours. It was definitely much quieter when we arrived vs the amount of people showing up as we were leaving. It was also really cool to arrive in complete darkness and watch the sunrise from the Lagoon. I’m so glad we did it though because it was such a relaxing way to ease into the trip! If you go, make sure to put up your hair and not get it wet, or rinse it multiple times with the provided conditioner. The silica (which turns the water blue) in the water also makes your hair stiff if you don’t wash it out. Of course, we learned the hard way and then found out that conditioner wasn’t in the first couple hotels we stayed in. (my hair felt like cardboard, luckily we found a gas station and I bought a giant thing of conditioner!)
After the Blue Lagoon, we made a stop in Reykjavik for lunch and a hot drink to warm us up. We had an awesome vegetarian meal at Gló, a recommendation we picked up from a few readers. Afterwards we strolled to the top of the hill where we found the towering Hallgrímskirkja church. We took the opportunity to take the elevator to the top to witness the 360 degree view over Iceland’s largest city. Before getting back in the car to head to our hotel, we stopped for one more coffee and some pastries at Reykjavik Roasters.
For our first two nights in Iceland we stayed at Ion. This seems to be a very popular hotel as I’ve seen it around on Instagram a lot. It was in a great location for the route we were taking around Iceland. Not too far out of Reykjavik and on the path to our next destination. The hotel itself feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere with just wide open space all around. It was a bit tricky getting there as the main road we were suppose to take was closed due to the snow storm (this seemed to be the theme of our trip!) but we somehow powered through it and warmed up with a cocktail in the beautiful Northern Lights Bar.
The following day, we woke up and had a slow morning. Since the sun isn’t up until almost 10am, we slept in and had a longer breakfast. We had a bit of driving to do as we were heading to Gullfoss and then getting picked up to go snowmobiling. Gullfoss is one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland due to its proximity to Reykjavik and is strikingly massive! We didn’t have much time to check it out as we were hopping on a bus to go up to a glacier for our activity, but we did get a chance to see a rainbow pop up over the waterfall.
One of the activities we were most excited to book was snowmobiling. While the actual 50 minutes we spent on a snowmobile was a blast it actually took up more than 6 hours of the day considering the distance the tour operator had to drive from the meeting point. They offer the snowmobiling all year round since the tour is at the top of a glacier, but only once the wintertime arrives with more snow are you able to explore more. We cruised around until we reached a point overlooking a glacier fed lake (which is the source of water for the Gullfoss waterfall). It was so much fun and we only wish it had been longer! (although I’m not sure our faces could have made it through- we were thoroughly frozen when we got back).
The next day we had big plans and a lot of driving ahead of us. We checked out of the hotel while it was still pitch black out and hit the road. We headed south toward the Ring Road which is the main highway circling Iceland. Along the way, we witnessed an incredible sunrise that looked like the sky was on fire. It was completely mesmerizing!
Our first stop was at Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall is famous because you can actually walk behind the waterfall. This was something we weren’t able to do since it was so cold that the ground was frozen anywhere near the waterfall and would have been really dangerous to walk because it was so slippery. People were falling left and right just walking on flat ground, so there was no way I was going to walk on a little ledge on the side of a waterfall. Even if you can’t see it from behind, the waterfall is magnificent from the front. Really, I’d never seen waterfalls like Iceland has. We climbed up to a ledge on the left side of it, where you can get a great vantage point from above.
Our second stop was at Skogafoss. This waterfall was our personal favorite of all of the waterfalls we visited in Iceland. It honestly took our breath away. It’s so beautiful that it doesn’t even look real! It was also crazy windy when we got there! So much so that people could barely open their car doors. If you’re visiting Iceland during this time of year, I definitely recommend having a great pair of snow boots. I wore my Sorel Caribou Boots pretty much every single day. They’re waterproof, lined with fleece and have a great grip on the sole. I also doubled up my socks underneath.
If there’s one thing that we learned while visiting Iceland, it’s that you have to be willing to be flexible. Weather can change and grow extremely intense. After visiting waterfalls, Vik (where we had a delicious meal at the restaurant above, Halldorskaffi) and driving all day, we were an hour away from our hotel near the Glacier Lagoon when the wind started picking up. Thomas said that driving was more similar to sailing, he had to steer into the wind in order to go straight. We approached a stopped Super Jeep with it’s hazard lights on. As we pulled up slowly we saw a road official attempting to walk towards our car but he nearly got swept away by the strong winds. We were forced to turn around as the winds were so strong that the road was closed. We found the first hotel we could and we booked a room for the night, luckily we got there right when the road was closed when they still had rooms available. We quickly learned to follow our path on road.is about every hour to check for any updates on our route. It was super helpful so we could find backup routes or plan ahead if we knew a road would be closed. It was all an adventure and we little did we know that the amazing experiences had only just begun! Stay tuned for part 2 & 3 of our Itinerary…