Iceland: the land of fire and ice. Just the nickname of the country is enough to inspire ideas of adventure and daring, and bring to mind gorgeous, endless landscapes. And Iceland more than lived up to the connotations of its name.
I visited Iceland on the tail end of a one month solo European journey. Have you ever heard a co-worker come back from a trip, even a one week trip, and look exhausted, and mutter, “I need a vacation from my vacation.” Traveling is tiring. Traveling by yourself is even more tiring because you constantly have to be aware of everything that is around you, it is up to you to ensure you don’t get lost, plan an itinerary in every city that you visit, worry about feeding yourself at least a couple of times a day, and adjust to different cultures on a bi-weekly basis.
By the time I arrived in Iceland, I was exhausted. I had spent the last two days in Glasgow, in bed, sick as a dog, trying to recuperate enough to enjoy Iceland. My clothes that I had been traveling with for the past month and washed over and over and over again had fallen apart, and I had to throw away my one and only pair of jeans. But, I couldn’t wait for Iceland.
Iceland was special because my little sister would be traveling with me. After traveling by yourself for a long time, it is always nice to have someone who has your back to help with trip planning. My vacation in Iceland with my sister was incredible in every way. We both share a love of traveling, but have never traveled abroad together. It was an amazing experience. Even though I was only in Iceland for three days (she was there for about six), I still got a taste of everything this fantastic country has to offer.
Iceland Day One: Reykjavik
As a graphic designer, my sister went wild over Reykjavik. Reykjavik has a very clean, minimalistic design style. The homes and buildings are very utilitarian, simple, and boxy. But they are dressed up in bold, bright colors. The advertising is the city caters to those who enjoy clean lines, and minimal clutter. As we walked around the city, my sister pointed out design advertisements, and special artwork. It is a funky, hip little city.
My favorite part of exploring any city is to walk. I like to meander down streets, stop in and grab coffee at a local cafe if I get far enough off the beaten track, wander into a few museums or restaurants or shops, sit on a park bench and eat a snack, people watch, take pictures. This is the only way to get to know a city.
There are a couple of places that I would absolutely not miss, including the very famous church, Hallgrimskirkja. You can go inside and climb the church if you wanted. I opted just to take pictures of the outside.
And of course the very famous landmark The Sun Voyager, or Sólfar in Icelandic. It sits on the bank of the river and celebrates undiscovered lands.
In addition to being very utilitarian and clean in its design, I also discovered Reykjavik to be a very safe, and clean place. My sister constantly left her purses and wallet in restaurants when she used the restroom or stepped outside. Mothers left their strollers with their shopping bags outside of restaurants. No one steals anything. I was a little skeptical about the whole thing, and refused to be parted with my valuables, but I did admit that it was refreshing to go to a place where I didn’t have to worry as much about pickpocketing.
Iceland, not only Reykjavik, is very environmentally friendly. Their infrastructure is built around their natural landscape. They do not destroy their natural landscape, but work with it to create their systems. There is no litter anywhere, and people recycle everything. Icelanders do not buy a lot of things, and keep the things that they do have for long periods of time. They place great value in objects, which sharply contrasts the American idea of buying newer and newer things every year.
During our time In Reykjavik we stayed at Reykjavik Backpackers Hostel, and I highly recommend it. The location is perfect, there is a bar/restaurant on the first floor, it is clean, and most importantly, the staff is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about the city and all of the excursions in Iceland.
Iceland Day Two: Golden Circle Tour
My sister was vehemently against any kind of group tour during our time in Iceland. I tend to favor short-term group tours because you can see a lot if you are short on time. And, they are way easier to plan. But she wanted something different, so we rented a car and decided to do our own Golden Circle tour.
We ended up having a blast, driving around Iceland, listening to music with the windows down, it was a good one-day road trip. Fun fact: the girl who picked us up at our hostel to drive us to the car rental store ended up being crowned Ms. Iceland later in the year. She talked about getting ready to enter the contest, even showing pictures of her finale dress to us. We quickly followed her on instagram and Facebook, and messaged her a few times when we got back to the states. And low and behold she won! (The guy in her picture is her boyfriend-who was the one who filled out the paperwork for me for my rent-a-car.)
The world that we live in is incredible. Anyway, thanks to many kind Icelanders, we had a map, GPS, and a plan of must-see sites for our Golden Circle road trip. If you’re wondering what you’ll be staring at as you hop around from site to site, here are some photos just from randomly stopping along the side of the road. Everything is so beautiful that sometimes we would just have to stop and drink in our surroundings. And of course snap some pictures.
Stop 1:Thingvellir National Park/Gullfoss Waterfall/GPS and no research sucks
I could kick myself for not doing more research on Iceland before I went. And, part of me is mad that I didn’t get to see some of the more famous sites of southern Iceland. I didn’t know what I was looking for when we entered in some of these places on the GPS. And, once we made it to these places, I didn’t have any picture in my head of a famous site to see. As a result, we completely missed the Gullfoss waterfall, and we made it only part way around Thingvellir. A word from experience, if you’re traveling on your own, make sure you know what you want to see, and then allow time for surprises along the way. The parts of Thingvellir we saw were still pretty beautiful.
Stop 2: Geysir
Every 4-8 minutes the geyser erupts, like clockwork. From someone who has always dreamed of going to yellowstone to see Old Faithful, this was a dream come true.
Stop 3: Secret Lagoon
Everyone who knows even a little bit about Iceland knows about the famous blue lagoon. What some may not know, is that there is a smaller, less crowded thermal pool on the Golden Circle itinerary. I could kiss the guide who told us about this place. It was a rainy day on the day of our road trip. It was cold and wet. We pulled over to this little trailer-looking house, and inquired if this was indeed the place with the thermal pools. It was. We put on our swimsuits, grabbed a couple of beers, and swam in the wonderfully warm water. Imagine being in a huge hot tub, floating around on noodles, on a cold rainy day, drinking beer. It was heaven.
Stop 4: Kerid Lake
Iceland Day Three: The Blue Lagoon and 4×4
On the final day in Iceland, we wanted to do something adventurous, and, something touristy, but absolutely necessary when visiting Iceland. So, we decided to book an atv tour combined with the blue lagoon and transport to and from the hostel with 4×4 Adventures Iceland. We were picked up at our hostel and driven about 45 minutes outside Reykjavik (close to the airport). During the atv trip we would be exploring two mountains, Húsafell and Fiskidalsfjall, and ride on lava and black sand. They provide you with a jumpsuit, and helmet.
I drove the atv while my sister captured some stunning imagery and video.
There are a couple of opportunities where the guide stops and allows for photo breaks.
After the atv ride, 4×4 adventures drives you to meet a bus, and the bus takes you to the blue lagoon. Buses run every hour or so back to Reykjavik, so we had a lot of freedom in how much time we wanted to spend at the lagoon.
The lagoon is amazing, the prettiest powder blue color, and very warm. When you arrive, they give you a band that can be used as payment around the spa. We easily spent some money on the swim up bar.
But the best part of the blue lagoon is the free skincare. We lathered up our whole bodies and swam around the different areas of the huge lagoon, sweated it out in the sauna, and hung out under a waterfall.
At the end of a fantastic day, a bus drove us right back to Reykjavik and our hostel.
Visiting Iceland was very easy due to Icelander. Icelander has a program where you can add on a trip to Iceland when flying to or from Europe to the US. Because of this, I plan on taking many more little trips to Iceland whenever I go to Europe; next time, I hope to explore more of south and east Iceland, maybe go during the winter to try and see the northern lights. It is an amazing country, with friendly people, and outstanding natural wonders. Add Iceland to your bucket list!