ICELAND - ONE YEAR LATER
I have had this blog on my to-do list for about a year now, but somehow it worked out in such a different way. Why? COVID.
Traveling when life was 'normal' was a treat and something I valued. This trip was one of my favorite adventures to date, with current life being limited, travel being restricted, and a lot of unknown I have a different lens looking back on our adventure.
I took this trip to Iceland in later September 2019 with my boyfriend Troy and four of our friends. Let me take this moment to thank the amazing and talented Maddy for planning this adventure!
HERE WE GO
I, after many attempts, am finalizing this blog post - love it or hate it - one year from when we arrived in Iceland. OH MY how I wish I could go back right now! Please make sure to take the time to travel in life, if you make it a priority and plan as needed it can happen. Okay... before I go off on a motivational speaker tangent let's jump into this virtual tour of Iceland.
Here is a general look at where we toured around Iceland, starting on the West coast, then making our way South to stay in Vik, driving to the East, and venturing back to Reykjavik and ending inland at the Buubble Hotel. We arrived on Monday September 23rd, 2019 and returned home on September 28th, 2019.
If you will see anything in Iceland I can guarantee you it will be a lot of waterfalls! Our group had a joke about it by the end of the trip - 'Oh look a waterfall!' The landscape just spits them out everywhere you look and it's beautiful. I'll still daydream about the lonely houses on the Iceland tundra with a gushing waterfall in the backyard.
My favorite waterfall was one we stumbled upon during our first day. We stopped at a lookout point and some fellow tourists suggested we take a stroll to see the falls - I appreciated this stop because it kicked off our trip right away and was one of two waterfalls we were able to enjoy without a crowd
Kirkjufell Waterfall and Mountain
If you are planning a trip to Iceland you have probably seen some photos of Kirkjufell Waterfall and the nearby mountain. It is right on the main road and easy to walk around to enjoy. I pulled out my 24-70mm Canon Lens, tripod, and a neutral density filter to snap some photos with the painted water effect. It took some post editing to get rid of tourists, guide ropes, and some other distractions for the end result below.
Let me say I am not a landscape photographer and tried to get some practice in before this excursion. I wish I had done some more research but Iceland wasn't a bad place to play around!
Another well known spot for tourists (check the music video by the Beibs!), again it was just off the road and another popular spot for visitors and photographers. Make sure to get your rain jackets ready because you can walk behind the waterfall! Something we chatted about was the fact that all these beautiful places were free to enter. The Seljalandsfoss was the only parking area that had pay stations, but no one seemed to use them.
The pictures of this fall do not do it justice. It was massive! We had a windy visit but took a look from the bottom of the falls and then walked the steps to the top for another perspective. There was a trail that continued through the mountain but it was chilly and we had a bit too much to drink the night before. Oops!
Svartifoss Waterfall Hike
We definitely overindulged ourselves on this trip and when we found this hike it was a little exercise we very much needed. We first took a short walk to a beautiful waterfall. From here we continued on a moderate trail up to Svartifoss Waterfall and crossed the river to finish off the hike.
Fjaorarglufur Canyon and Falls
Luckily we were able to sneak in this fall before sunset. It worked out to be great timing as only a few other tourists were there. We found a place to park up top for a short walk to the lookout deck but you can also park at the bottom of the canyon and hike up.
THINGS TO DO & SEE
Rent a Van
Please, when you plan your trip, RENT A VAN! With a van you can see so much more, go at your own pace, and stop for pictures as you please. Throughout the trip we chatted with other tourists who did bus tours to see Iceland, it was clear they did not get to see as much as they had hoped to. We had six people in our group and rotated driving, it was a fantastic way to get the most out of our trip.
A friend of mine had visited Iceland before we went so I got some tips from her and one of them was to look out for the Icelandic horses! They are a unique breed to the island, so much so that if they leave for any reason they cannot return due to fear of foreign breeding or disease. We were lucky to run into some on our first day - they were already waiting to be pet and fed! I'll pass along the tip that my friend gave me; buy sugar cubes (or grab them from your hotel) and the horses will be waiting to enjoy.
Into the Glacier
We visited the Langokull Glacier Tour out of Husafell during our trip. It was a unique and interesting experience, definitely not something you have the option to do everyday. We met at their main location, hopped on a private bus, then moved to a snow friendly bus, and they took us to the mouth of the glacier. The glacier was manmade, included a concert room, chapel, and a bar - there was even a Spanish TV show being filmed while we were inside the glacier. The tour company has extra gear on hand if you aren't dressed accordingly and they provide shoe chains for walking on the ice. It is literally freezing inside so be ready! I'd recommend bringing some Jaeger to keep you warm in the glacier - it sure helped us!
For the photographers out there let me tell you about my photographer fail in the glacier... as we toured at the end of summer it was melting and raining inside. I thought I was doing an ok job at covering my camera, but later that night when I went to take photos of some Northern Lights it froze up and wouldn't function. Luckily I was able to turn it off, pull everything out, and in the morning she was good to go! Luckily I didn't miss any Northern Light action as it was a false alarm, BUT I would recommend investing in a camera cover for the overall unpredictable weather of Iceland.
Krauma Geothermal Spa
Our first geothermal spa visit was to Krauma Geothermal Spa in Deildartguhver. I LOVED this spa. Not only did we visit after a chilly experience inside the glacier but everything about it was truly enjoyable. They offer pools at different temperatures, drinks while you soak, locker rooms with everything you need, and a gorgeous view.
The Blue Lagoon
Our second geothermal spa visit was to the well-known Blue Lagoon. Let me tell you this is the go to spa in Iceland but this is the spa I will never go to again. It is one of those bucket list items but in reality we found crowded dressing rooms, a little 'Disneyland-ish' feel, a feeling of discomfort while you soak, overpriced everything but checkmark - we did it! And yes, it is incredibly easy to make it look like you are the ONLY people there (as you see on Instagram) but that's just not true! In conclusion we dubbed it the Poo Lagoon.
Solheimasadur Plane Wreck
The wreck was visually interesting to photograph - again you will need to sneak a shot without other tourists or edit them out later. Getting to the wreck is about a 45-60 minute walk each direction or you can pay to get shuttled there and back. There's actually not much Icelandic history about the crash but it has become a place for tourists to visit, again, thanks to the Biebs.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Basalt Columns
Yet another stunning spot with landscape I have never seen before. However, it was the worst weather we had of the entire trip! I left my camera behind due to the wind, rain, and crowds. I was happy just snapping some memories with my phone.
The Elf Museum
Weirdest pit stop of the trip award goes to the elf museum! I have to say this trip just wouldn't have been the same if we didn't go. It was in a small town, the museum was actually closed but the entire building seemed to be managed by one guy so he opened it up. The time spent to create this place and the walking story tour was truly impressive - water fountain inside, full scenes set up, movie screening area, and it begins and ends in a gift shop. This would be a 'whatever floats your boat' moment but we sure had a good laugh about it!
The Glacier Lagoon and Glacier Tongue
We drove to the East coast of Iceland to visit the glacier lagoon. It was a few hours from Vik but when we arrived it was windy, raining, and very cold. The lagoon was a very cool site to see but we didn't stay or explore for very long. I snapped some photos and we grabbed some coffee to warm up in the nearby gift shop/cafe. From the lagoon we made our way back towards Vik and stopped at the glacier tongue. Be ready for some dirt road driving but the scenery is definitely worth it. You can hike around to check out the glacier within the mountains but step cautiously.
The Golden Circle Tour
This tour was included in our stay at the Bubble Hotel. The tour took us to Thingvellir National Park, a geyser, Gullfoss Falls (one of my favorites from the trip), and Secret Lagoon hot spring. We were still turned off by the Blue Lagoon but this location had a nice pool and looked like a great hot spring option.
The Penis Museum
Yes, you read that correctly. In Reykjavik they have a well-known penis museum. We figured when in Iceland why not check it out? So I'll just leave this little note here.
The Northern Lights
At our last hotel we all settled in our bubble rooms and then joined up to enjoy the last night together. As we were drinking, laughing and just enjoying the end of this adventure we noticed that the sky was starting to light up. We layered up, I grabbed my camera gear, and we went to the road to find the Northern Lights dancing, truly dancing, in the sky. An unbelievable experience that just can't quite be explained or captured . I broke out the tripod, my Canon 5D Mark III with my canon 24-70mm lens, and had a remote shutter release with a 2 second delay. To say the least we had some fun taking photos in the lights.
I'm still missing the food in Iceland! You'll find a lot of delicious and filling comfort food - soups, bread, lamb, and dairy. To date, Icelandic butter is the best butter I have ever enjoyed! Across the board we had an amazing food experience during our stay.
On a few nights we ate at our hotels, all with great menus, notably at the Vik Cottages where the food was pricey but an absolute treat! Otherwise we stopped along the road, only running into unfavorable options a few times but for the majority of the trip it was fine dining. I recommend Hofnin Restaurant in the Reykjavik Harbor - pricey menu but well worth it.
In Reykjavik we went on the Reykjavik Walking Food Tour - which included some history of Iceland served alongside of some tasty meals. We enjoyed vegetable soup, shark (I couldn't get passed the smell), ice cream, sea food, hot dogs (wasn't a fan of the Icelandic dogs), and more desserts! You can see the names of the restaurants and items we enjoyed below alongside some street shots of the city.
WHERE WE STAYED
Kast Guesthouse was our first stop. It was a great place to stay - everything we needed, beautiful landscape, delicious food, overall an easy stop. I will say that when you first drive up to it you may get that 'this is the beginning of a scary movie' feeling because it is really in the middle of nowhere. You pass by another guesthouse but other than that you are out on a large property alone.
We had one night at the Foss Hotel Reykholt in Borgarnes - you will see many Foss hotels around Iceland. They were very accommodating, had a restaurant, and offered a call if any Northern Light activity happened.
For two nights we were at Vik Cottages in Vik. They were small cottages that were part of a hotel just a short walk away. We had fun hanging out as a group and the main hotel had amazing food. The cottages were a great base spot to drive to different scenic areas of Iceland.
We landed in Reykjavik for two nights of the trip, staying at Center Hotel Plaza, it was a beautiful hotel and well located in the city.
And again please applaud for Maddy as we ended the trip at the Bubble Hotel!!! What an experience! A driver picked us up in Reykjavik, took us on the Golden Circle Tour, we grabbed some more delicious grub, and then he dropped us off at our bubbles for the night. What you see is what you get - a plastic bubble complete with a bed, bench, light, and heather. I'll tell you it was a cold stroll to get to the bathrooms.
THINGS TO KNOW
From researching the trip Maddy found the end of September was the sweet spot - good weather and a chance at Northern Light activity. Nonetheless the weather is definitely unpredictable and each day was different. We all layered up daily and had our waterproof outer layers on deck at all times.
As you can imagine most things are imported to Iceland and because of this certain items are at a much higher cost. Notably food and gas were the main expenses we accounted for when we were there. Also, if you plan to drink even the locals say to grab your booze at duty free!
Again, from researching, Maddy found the Northern Lights activity starts up again in late September once the temperatures begin to drop. If you stay in Reykjavik they drop all the tourists off at the lighthouse to try and see the lights. We went and only saw dull grey streaks, nothing like what we saw at the bubble. Do some research or download a Northern Light activity app for your best chance to see them during your visit!
Most of our stay was out in low populated areas. Reykjavik was the only populated area we stayed (and it exceeded my expectations on size) so this was our chance at some nightlife. By the end of our bar hopping outing we realized we were very underdressed and nightlife doesn't really get going until about 2am.
Here's a list of the main gear I brought for photography
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 24-70mm lens
- Neutral density filter
- Mindshift Camera Pack with Rain Cover
- Extra Batteries and SD Cards
I am already ready and waiting to go back to Iceland. The group, the adventures, the experiences are something to be cherished. We had such a well rounded trip and it was definitely one of my favorite travels. So again, let me thank Maddy for her planning skills, my boo Troy for being my adventure buddy, and our friends Zac, Tanya, and Rick for always being up to explore the world.