Around the World: Iceland!
Waterfalls, lonely farmhouses and churches, Icelandic horses and baby sheep, massive glaciers, black beaches, ice, basalt rock columns. I could go on and on.
I have wanted to go to Iceland for the last couple years. I bought the Iceland Lonely Planet book when I was in the middle of grad school and 6 months pregnant. In the midst of the craziness of grad school and pregnancy, I was still dreaming of Iceland. And now having visited, I’m still dreaming of it!
Iceland was incredible. I’ll start with a few general things about Iceland that might be nice to know and then I’ll share our itinerary and some of our pictures!
When we arrived in Iceland, we immediately went to pick up our rental car. We chose to rent with Sixt because it was the cheapest option for us. We paid $35 a day for the rental car. (Our credit card, Chase Sapphire, covers rental car insurance. It is an awesome credit card to have for traveling.) Although the rental car was pretty cheap, gas prices were horrible. We had budgeted for high gas prices, but it became all too real the first time we filled our tank. $120. Luckily, our car got super good gas mileage. Ha! You can get around Iceland by bus, but we strongly recommend renting a car. The beautiful thing about driving around Iceland is that there are so many fun side roads that lead to really cool things that you would completely miss out on if you were on a bus. Even though the gas prices are daunting and paying for a rental car sounds a little rough, something that helped ease the pain for us was to remember that those costs were our entertainment costs as well. All the national parks, the waterfalls, the beaches, the glaciers, etc., are totally free. The only other “entertainment costs” we spent on our entire trip was a ferry ride out to the Westmann Islands and Blue Lagoon.
And while I’m talking about finances and costs, let’s just say this, “FOOD IS CRAZY EXPENSIVE.” We pretty much just starved. Haha! The cheapest thing on the menu was typically a burger and fries for around 17 dollars. We only ate out a few times. Luckily, we had looked into the food costs in Iceland before we left and had prepared by packing a few things that helped us reduce our food costs like granola bars, trail mix, peanut butter & jam packets. Austin and I have always tried to only eat out once a day when we travel. We love trying new foods and experiencing the culture, but limiting the money we spend on food is one of the easier ways for us to make traveling more affordable. To further help reduce our food costs, we also went to a grocery store our first day to stock up on some snacks, fruit, drinks, etc. Staying in Airbnb’s also helped, because it gave us a place to cook meals like eggs and noodles. And speaking of Airbnb’s, one of our Airbnb’s even had the fridge stocked with breakfast for us! Several of our Airbnbs had a crib set up and had put toys out for Addison. They are very baby friendly in Iceland!
Alright! Now I’ll give you a general idea of how we spent our 5 days in Iceland. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we feel grateful and content with how we spent our days there. We fit a lot in.
DAY 1 –
Gullfoss Waterfall – We are happy we decided to make the road trip from Reykjavik our first day to visit Gullfoss Waterfall. It exposed us to some beautiful country and it was a really cool waterfall. It was a great opening day for Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park – This is where the North American and Eurasian plates are drifting apart. It was a cool feeling to hike between the continental plates and to jump from the North American plate to the Eurasian plate!
Sleeping in the loft – Our Airbnb was memorable. It was a cute quirky loft in Reykjavik that we couldn’t stand up straight in. It was hilarious.
DAY 2 –
Snaefellsnes Peninsula – This was a fun driving day. In fact, we didn’t intend to drive around the entire peninsula, but after missing our turn and discovering that it would be further to go back the way we came, we circled the entire peninsula! Haha! It was easy and pleasant to get caught up in the moment!
Stykkisholmur – A very picturesque European town. This was our first stop of the day. We went on a short hike to the lighthouse that had an amazing view of the town and the ocean.
There are lots of beaches that you can stop at all along the Peninsula. Our favorite memory here was sitting at the beach eating bread and Duo Spread. Duo Spread is this chocolate and vanilla spread that Austin looks for every time we are in a European grocery store. He loves it. We stopped at a beach that was just south of the Arctic Circle and ate Duo Spread and banana sandwiches. It was a highlight for sure!
Snaefellsjokull National park – The visitor center was closed by the time we pulled up, however we were still able to explore, and it was a fun area! Beauty everywhere you look!
Like we mentioned, we didn’t mean to do as much driving as we did, but it ended up being awesome. We had booked an Airbnb in Selfoss – so we drove that way. This place was way out in the country, and we found ourselves laughing at how random it was that we were just driving on a straight road through the middle of Iceland.
DAY 3 –
Our Airbnb was really fun and had a cabin feel to it too. It was right next to a massive horse stable. As usual, the people were really nice and gave us a tour of the stable. Addison would wait until the horse wasn’t looking before she would attempt to pet them. It was cracking us up!
Skogafoss – If you have seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty then you may remember seeing this waterfall. This waterfall was our favorite of the day – and possibly our favorite of our trip!
Waterfalls - So many beautiful waterfalls in this part of the country! We had a lot of fun picking some and driving to them.
Black sand beach – There is a sign that says “black sand beach” only it doesn’t tell you that it is a 10 kilometer walk. The wind and distance was too much on Addi, we turned back early only to find a black sand beach in Vik where we played on the beach and had a lot of fun (only without the super long walk).
Glaciers – We took our little rental car off-roading because in the distance we could see this cool glacier; it was even better up close. We hiked right up next to it! It was a new experience seeing so many glaciers.
Glacier Lagoon Lookout – This is an AMAZING spot. It was a viewpoint that overlooks Glacier Lagoon. There are several pullouts before you get to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon that you can hike up to and get a great view. We took advantage of a few of these stops!
We slept in the coolest hotel near Hofn (as far East as we went). When we pulled up we were so confused because we only saw a barn and we didn’t know where our hotel was. BUT the barn was our HOTEL. We slept on the left and the animals were in the middle and on the right! We were laying in bed listening to the animals! Haha!
DAY 4 –
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon was one of our favorite places in Iceland. It truly was magical.
Diamond Beach – This was a HUGE highlight! Diamond Beach is just a few hundred meters away from the Glacier Lagoon. As the Glaciers break down and drift out to sea, the ocean waves push the glacier pieces back up on the beach. We got there first thing in the morning and we were mesmerized at the beautiful contrast of the thousands of sparkling ice chunks against the dark sand.
Skaftafell Waterfall - Another one of our favorite waterfalls and hikes!
Black Sand Beach – Addison enjoyed playing at this beach so much the day before, so we decided to stop for the second time. Part of the beach is just a bunch of smooth black rocks. Addi could play in those rocks all day long if we let her. Her first tantrum in Iceland was when we took her away from her rocks.
Ferry to Vestmannaeyjar – To wrap up day four, we took a ferry to our next destination, Vestmannaeyjar. It was a 30-minute ferry ride - just enough time to make your body consider puking out all of its insides. The wind and waves make it a rough ride. But, at the end of the ride the ferry pulls through these beautiful and tall rocks that surround the island’s port that makes you feel like a pirate. We stayed at an Airbnb called Gabriel’s Place. It was great for our visit!
DAY 5 –
Vestmannaeyjar Islands. It really is a must if you plan to visit Iceland. Even if it was just for the experience of arriving at the island on the ferry. We started our day here by driving around the whole island (it is tiny and doesn’t take very long to cover the whole island, but offers incredible views)!
There are pullouts that provide access to trails where you can hike up to bird watching towers around the island. We spotted at least 20 puffins!
We spent a few hours of our day hiking up to the highest point on the island to have a good view of the ten other uninhabited islands nearby. It was the STEEPEST hike. We were literally hiking next to mountain goats. Haha! But it was so worth it!
We caught the ferry back to the mainland around 4pm (we saw a WHALE on the way back - so watch out for those). We zipped straight on over to Blue Lagoon. Blue Lagoon was AMAZING, but not the greatest experience with kids! We knew Addison wasn’t technically allowed in since she was under 2, but hoped they’d be flexible on that. They weren’t. Haha! They let her swim with us for 15 minutes and that was it. Austin and I took turns for a bit, but we were bummed we couldn’t all enjoy it together. That aside, the Blue Lagoon really was incredible and is definitely a must if you travel to Iceland without kids.
Iceland far exceeded our expectations. It was such a peaceful country with constant beauty.