ICE, ICE-LAND BABY

A place that had been on my bucket list for quite some time, but truth be told, I was intimidated to make the trip to Iceland for a few reasons: it's cold, it's very cold, and it's extremely cold. My biggest fear is being cold and driving in windy conditions, both of which I had to face while there. I got over that fear pretty quickly by preparing myself for such conditions. To see how I layered to stay warm, be sure to read this post.

When my dear friend Sarah asked if I wanted to go to Iceland, without hesitation, my answer was YES! Within a matter of hours, flights were booked and the trip planning begun. Our trip took place in March, which is the tail end of their winter season. We were able to enjoy ample daylight (sunrise at 7-8AM, sunset at 8PM), but also experience some things that are exclusive to winter (more on that later).

 

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Upon landing in Kevflavik, we rented a car from Hertz Europe to start the trip. They had a vast selection of cars and we opted for an SUV, a Toyota Land Cruiser to be exact. We knew that the road and weather conditions are unpredictable and wanted to prepare for the worst. I highly recommend spending the extra money to rent a car that's sturdy with 4WD. Most roads are paved, but there were a few occasions where we needed to go off the beaten path so our 4WD definitely came in handy. Also, be sure to get a GPS and not rely on your phone. Our trusty GPS was able to recognize the Icelandic alphabet and streets that regular Google Maps couldn't find. You can also rent a wifi hotspot through Hertz Europe so you can be connected while on-the-go. And insurance... if there's one thing you take away from this, it's to get full coverage insurance. Again, with unpredictable conditions, better to be safe than sorry. The full coverage insurance package covers everything, from theft, to accidents, to gravel damage, etc. It really helped give us a peace of mind during our entire trip. Thank you Hertz Europe for being the real MVP of this trip and keeping us safe on the road!

Once we hit the road after jumping into our Land Cruiser, we headed southeast toward Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, the farthest point of our trip. Along the way, we made various stops are some incredible places and then back tracked slightly to Skaftatell. We were able to witness the Northern Lights (!!!) on our first night, which is only visible during the winter months. I also saw them from the plane en route to Iceland - be sure to book a window seat on the left side of the plane if you are flying through the night.

 Seljalandsfoss Waterfall - the infamous waterfall that you can walk behind, except in the winter when it's too icy.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall - the infamous waterfall that you can walk behind, except in the winter when it's too icy.

 Skogafoss Waterfall - there's a viewing deck atop that requires quite a climb via stairs that I could've done without.

Skogafoss Waterfall - there's a viewing deck atop that requires quite a climb via stairs that I could've done without.

 Black Sand Beach

Black Sand Beach

 Basalt Columns

Basalt Columns

 A random pit stop along the highway toward Jökulsárlón. Note: it's illegal to walk on the fluffy green moss, but we didn't know this until the damage was done.

A random pit stop along the highway toward Jökulsárlón. Note: it's illegal to walk on the fluffy green moss, but we didn't know this until the damage was done.

 Svinafellsjokull Glacier - we saw the bright blue glacier from afar and although it wasn't on our itinerary (why didn't anyone tell us about this?), we made a left turn onto a dirt road and came across one of my favorite places of our entire trip.

Svinafellsjokull Glacier - we saw the bright blue glacier from afar and although it wasn't on our itinerary (why didn't anyone tell us about this?), we made a left turn onto a dirt road and came across one of my favorite places of our entire trip.

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 Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

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 The Northern Lights aka Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights aka Aurora Borealis

 

The next day, we woke up bright and early to head back down to Jökulsárlón to meet our tour guide for a private ice cave tour. You can read more about it here. We booked our tour through Go Ecco and it's an experience that I'll never forget and one that I can't recommend enough. The ice caves are only open during during the winter months. After hanging out in an ice cave, we went to another black sand beach, known as Diamond Beach to see the gorgeous icebergs that have washed up on shore.

 

 Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach

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 Black Sand Beach Overlook - it was stormy and windy which made for a gorgeous, moody photo.

Black Sand Beach Overlook - it was stormy and windy which made for a gorgeous, moody photo.

 

We made our way back up to Reykjavik, got settled into our Airbnb and had our first Icelandic hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Just to note, we had many hot dogs during this trip and they were so delicious!

 

 Icelandic hotdogs galore

Icelandic hotdogs galore

 

On day 3, we headed east to visit Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park and saw the Tectonic Rift, which is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates split. Afterwards, we drove the Golden Circle which included the infamous Geysir and Gullfoss, along with lots of pit stops to say hi to the friendly Icelandic horses.

 

 Oxararfoss Waterfall at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

Oxararfoss Waterfall at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

 Tectonic Rift at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

Tectonic Rift at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

 Geysir

Geysir

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 Gullfoss

Gullfoss

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 Drive back to Reykjavik

Drive back to Reykjavik

 

We were able to get back to Reykjavik in time for dinner and made a reservation at the Grill Market. This restaurant was recommended by a few people and confirmed by a local so we knew it was a must. We were able to try local delicacies (including whale and puffin) and all the dishes were so delicious.

 

 Grill Market - whale (left) and rack of lamb (right).

Grill Market - whale (left) and rack of lamb (right).

 

On the 4th day in Iceland, we drove up north and was slammed with rain, wind and almost zero visibility on the road. We did a quick stop at Kirkjufell, but the rain got the best of us. It was beautiful nonetheless, but difficult to enjoy because of the torrential downpour. We left and headed over the mountain and due to the thick fog, could not see anything ahead of us. Luckily, we made it down to Búðir Black Church, and it was worth the craziness to get there.

 

 Pit stop on the mountain with zero visibility

Pit stop on the mountain with zero visibility

 Búðir Black Church

Búðir Black Church

 Bales of hay - these were wrapped in all different colors, but of course I was drawn to the pink ones.

Bales of hay - these were wrapped in all different colors, but of course I was drawn to the pink ones.

 View of downtown Reykjavik from Hallgrímskirkja

View of downtown Reykjavik from Hallgrímskirkja

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We treated ourselves to the Blue Lagoon on our last day before we headed to the airport. It was a much needed treat after a whirlwind trip. And oh my goodness, it was as stunning in real life as in photos. I recommend going there early (buy tickets in advance) to avoid lines and enjoy a few quite moments before the crowd arrives. By the time we left, the line was 3-4x as long. It was the perfect way to end the trip.

 

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