Earlier this year Sarah and I were at our friends’ house and they mentioned they were planning a trip to Iceland. Upon hearing this we half-jokingly invited ourselves to go with them, but what started as a half-joke quickly turned into a plan and before we knew it we had booked flights and a string of Airbnb rentals throughout the Western half of Iceland, and in April we left for a whirlwind road trip through the land of fire and ice.
Sarah, testing out Denny’s new, and over the top, travel pillow in the LAX Admirals Club lounge. One of the perks of travel hacking and owning various credit cards is access to airline lounges. I hadn’t spent much time in lounges before this year, and I was impressed at how much nicer traveling is when you can spend layovers in comfy lounge chairs drinking free alcohol, munching on snacks and showering after a long overnight flight. Our itinerary to Iceland was LAX – London – Reykjavik with a 6 hour stop in London, but the 6 hours went by quickly in the luxurious United Airlines Lounge.
After arriving late at night in Iceland, we got some sleep in a cozy bed and breakfast type lodging before Chris and Claire picked us up in the rental car the next morning to begin our trip.
Rainbows are a dime a dozen in Iceland with their rapidly changing weather of intermittent mist, rain and sunshine.
The first stop of our trip was one of the most visited attraction in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa with the most unique blueish-white colored water. It was wonderful to shake off the weariness of travel in the warm, otherworldly waters. Chris, feeling refreshed and ready to lead our expedition onwards. | After our time in the spa we spent the rest of the day in the capital city, Reykjavik, and checked out Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church with a great lookout point over the city. Unfortunately it was closed for a private event so we weren’t able to go up in the tower that day.
Leifr Eiríksson stands in the plaza in front of the church, looking down the hill towards the sea.
After the church we wandered aimlessly around the town, taking it all in.
Traveling isn’t all exciting new views and exhilarating experiences, and some of my favorite travel photos are the ones depicting ordinary in-between times like these.
Chris, holding a sheep’s head in the grocery store.
Later, we checked into our first Airbnb, where the Nansons promptly passed out on the couch.
On Day 2 we hit the road early and set off for a full day of sightseeing. Iceland is full of many well-known sights, but even the nameless mountains and landscapes along the way are beautiful in their own right.
Our first stop was at Seljalandsfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls to visit in Iceland.
The heavy mist from the waterfall coated the grassy slopes around the base of the falls and nearly each blade of grass was incapsulated in ice.
One of the coolest aspects of Seljalandsfoss is that the cliff wall behind the waterfall is concave and hollowed out, and you’re able to walk behind the curtain of water.
Another cool waterfall next to Seljalandsfoss tucked away in a crack in the hillside.
After enduring the freezing temperatures and misty conditions around Seljalandsfoss, we got back in the car, cranked up the heater, and headed further south to Vik, the southernmost town in Iceland.
Vik is known for its expansive black sand beaches.
From Vik, we turned back northward towards Gulfoss, another major waterfall. Along the way we came across a group of beautiful Icelandic horses.
One horse was particularly friendly, and Sarah was overjoyed to be able to pet it.
Claire, photobombing with an excellently timed jump.
After our stop at Gulfoss, we drove to Geysir to check out the geothermal activity. There are two main geysers in the area, the Great Geysir and Strokkur. The Great Geyser can blast higher than 200 feet in the air, about twice the size of Strokkur, but it only erupts a few times each day. Strokkur on the other hand erupts about every 8 minutes like clockwork.
After a very full day we arrived in Selfoss where we spent the night in a wonderful little cabin with a porch overlooking the vast valley floor.
Chris, grimacing over his first bite of fish jerky. And yes, it does taste as bad as it sounds.
Back on the road, Day 3.
Our first stop on Day 3 was Thingvellir National Park (spelled Þingvellir in Icelandic). Þingvellir is in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and is essentially spread across the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The continental drift between the two plates has created some amazing geographical features and there are places where you can literally see the divide created by the movement of the plates.
Fun fact: some scenes in Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 1 were filmed in this area.
To make up for the extremely high food cost in Iceland, many of our meals consisted of gas station hot dogs. Hot dogs are a big deal in Iceland, and they load them up with different sauces and delicious crunchy fried onions.
On the road again, heading for Kirkjufell Mountain.
Kirkjufell, as seen from across the bay.
Kirkjufellsfoss (the waterfall in the foreground) with Kirkjufell in the background. Standing in this particular spot creates a stunning panoramic view. What you can’t tell in the photos is that the wind was howling here, so fiercely that you could feel the resistance as you walked into it.
To end the day, we drove to the cabin in Búðardalur where we would be spending the night. The house was situated on a hillside overlooking a beautiful lake and had a great hot tub.
Chris, throwing some fierce Blue Steel from the kitchen.
In the morning we awoke to a fresh coat of snowfall covering everything in sight.
The view of the still, quiet lake in the valley as the sun rose through the clouds was spectacular.
Later in the morning the wind picked up and the snow started falling heavily. Though wonderful to watch from inside the cabin, the snow storm created a challenge for us as we had been planning on driving that day to a remote town where the roads aren’t well maintained. We worried if the snow kept falling we could potentially get stuck for a few days in Middle-of-Nowhere, Iceland.
After some deliberation, we changed plans and booked a reservation at a hotel in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest town, located along the coast of northern Iceland. We would still be forced to drive through questionable conditions, but our new route would only take us on regularly maintained roadways.
The road to Akureyri passed through a magnificent mountain range, and as we approached the mountains, they appeared like a formidable and impassable wall in the distance.
At times the snow fluttered down rapidly in thick flakes.
Many quaint cottages and farms dot the valley below the mountains.
The land grew steadily whiter as we drove North.
At the highest pass in the mountains, there wasn’t a speck of color in the landscape, other than the single strip of pavement winding through the middle of the valley.
After a long drive we arrived in Akureyri, checked in at our hotel, and then went out for dinner. In just an hour or so during dinner, our car was quickly coated in snow.
Passing the time while the storm raged outside.
In the morning we woke to one of the most beautiful mornings we’ve seen. During the night the storm had dumped about a foot of powder on the ground, but the storm had passed and the morning sun broke bright and brilliant though the clouds, lighting up a perfect winter wonderland.
After having some fun stomping around in the fresh snow and enjoying breakfast at the hotel, we got back in the car for our final day of driving, heading all the way back to Reykjavik, where we all would fly out the following day.
After around 5 hours of driving we arrived back in the capital city and decided to check if the church tower was open.
The tower was open and we enjoyed the views from the top, overlooking the many-colored rooftops of Reykjavik below.
After visiting the church, we went in a nearby restaurant to try out some traditional Icelandic food. The only memorable food was the little cubes of fermented shark we ordered. They were chewy with a repulsive flavor and even more puke-worthy aftertaste. When in Iceland, never order the fermented shark.
The next day, we woke early to catch our flight back to San Diego, while the Nansons travelled on to Washington DC for the second leg of their trip. Overall, our Iceland trip was a wonderful mishmash of breathtaking sights, good times with friends, and road tripping to hip hop classics, emo throwback, and greatest hits of the 2000’s. All in all, an excellent trip.
Previous Post: An Overdue Update
Up Next: Paris and Central France
P.S. if you’d like to be emailed whenever we post new things, enter your email below.