Updated: Apr 15, 2021
So I was crazy enough to book a long weekend trip to the "island of fire and ice" because why not? I've always wanted to go and was intrigued by the natural geothermal activity, volcanoes under a glacier that erupted to create a black lava beach. Crazy! So I packed my travel backpack, camera, and drone and set off for one hell of an impromptu adventure.
Day 1 - Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik.
I flew WOWair direct out of LAX (for only $310 USD RT) that got me to Iceland at 4:20 am local time. It was perfect! This allowed me to start my trip with a full day. Make sure you get some sleep on the plane.
The famous blue lagoon is located pretty close to the airport in Reykjavik so it's the perfect way to either start or end your trip to Iceland. Lots of buses go from the airport to the lagoon then to the city. However, I decided to rent a car for the trip so I had the freedom to explore on my own. Whatever you choose, grab a coffee and head on your way.
Travelers tip: you must have a reservation to go to the lagoon. So make sure you take care of this ahead of time.
Visiting the Blue Lagoon is a must do when you head to Iceland. Geothermal activity naturally heats water that would fill this small lake. It contains 9 million liters of water and has a hot tub level temperature around 38 Celsius. As you float around someone will apply a natural mud mask to your face. There is also a bar in the lagoon so soak and sip a cocktail, which is the perfect way to start your trip.
Go to your hotel, drop your bags off, depending on the weather (this is Iceland after all) grab your camera and start walking. The best way to enjoy a new city is to immerse in it. Some of my suggestions:
Hallgrímskirkja (Icelandic church near the city center)
Perlan (man-made ice cave that has an awesome observation deck for city/country views)
Kaffi-Vinyl - or food: fun little restaurant with records playing in the background
Any small café to grab a coffee
The Sun Voyager (a steel Viking ship sculpture next to the water)
· Ask the locals as well. Everyone speaks English very well and are super friendly, so communicating with the natives should be no issue. If you're looking for some nightlife, Reykjavík has you covered. Especially Thursday - Saturday some of the bars don't close until 5. You are also allowed to walk around the streets with your beer, the bouncer will pour whatever you have left into a plastic cup as you drift off to the next spot or back to your hotel.
Day 2 - Snorkel Silfra and do the golden circle.
· Silfra is located in Thingvellir National Park and you can book a snorkel or dive through dive.is. You might think this sounds crazy, but as long as the water isn't frozen then it's no colder than being outside. And if the winds are picking up, since you are in a drysuit, and never get wet it could feel almost nicer being in the water. Here you will snorkel through crystal clear water between the North American and Euro-Asian Intercontential plates. If you are dive certified, this is the only place in the world where you can touch two plates at the same time.
Tip: Before you take off, walk around in the area and head to 'The Law Rock." This is where the natives from Iceland would meet to discuss new laws before there was a written language.
Probably the most popular day trip in Iceland is the Golden Circle. Hopefully, you have rented a car and you can do this on at your own pace. This adventure goes through the Thingvellir National Park and you will see some amazing feats of nature. As you make your way from Silfa, you will come across some Geysers. There are multiple geysers at this location erupting ever 4 - 8 minutes, so have your video ready. The first thing you may notice is the smell of old eggs. That's the sulfur coming from the earth and you kind of get used to the smell pretty quick.
Next, you will head towards what for me was absolutely breathtaking, Gulfoss Waterfalls. There are 3 observation decks where you can view the power and beauty of this waterfall and I even saw some small planes flying over if you want to get an overhead view. Take your time as you are in no hurry!
As you drive through the park there will be many opportunities to stop and pet some Icelandic horses. This species of horses are native only to Iceland and although they're not the biggest horses in the world, they are super strong, with Rod Stewart type hair and are extremely friendly. Some places even have some food for sale to feed the horses, so bring some loose change.
Before heading back to Reykjavik for a night out on the town, make sure to visit Kerið Crater. This was a massive cone volcano which erupted 3000 years ago. What's unique here is the caldera (or volcanic rock) is red, whereas in the rest of Iceland it is typically black. Though frozen in the winter (people were walking across the frozen water in April), I was told it is an amazing blue color in the summer.
Day 3 - Trip down SE Iceland to Vik.
So the drive to Vik from Reykjavik is only supposed to be about 2.5 hours, this should literally take all day. The landscape is gorgeous and there will be so many times where you'll want to pull over to take some pictures and soak it in. On my voyage, there was some random mountain range that spoke to me. Nothing fancy about it, not on any tourist map as a must see but I found some small side road and hiked around it for 30-45 minutes. It was the best part of my drive.
There are 3 main waterfalls that you cannot miss nor should you. Seljalandfoss is the first one you'll see about 1.5 hours outside Reykjavik. But, there is a lesser known waterfall about 500m further down the trail (there is a small sign but it's easy to miss - luckily I met some people the night before and he gave me great directions). The smaller but equally amazing is called Gljúfrafoss. The waterfall is tucked behind some rocks and you will have to walk through the stream to get to it. Once you do, you'll feel like you're in another world. It is pretty cool! Skógafoss is the largest of the waterfalls which are only 30 minutes outside of Vik. There is a cool little trail off to the side where you can walk up to the top and get a different perspective of the waterfall and you will be able to see the ocean.
Before you get to Vik, there is the famous Sólheimasandur 'plane wreck beach' where an American plane crashed in the 70's. However, this is a 45 min to the beach from the parking lot. I didn't have time to make it on this trip, but it is on the list for my next visit.
Dyrhólaey peninsula has breathtaking views of the cliffs along the ocean from a volcano 1000's of years ago. Here you will also have a chance to see the home of Iceland's country bird, the Puffin. Just down the road, you will have to check out Reynisfjara beach (often referred to as Black Sand Beach). Amazing black lava rock beach with hexagonal basalt columns along the beach formed when lava hit the ocean and cooled.
Suggestion: If time permits, there is a man-made pool that is filled with natural hot spring water about 5 km off the main road called Seljavallalaug. Nothing very luxurious but it is pretty cool to be hanging out in a random pool in the middle of nowhere.
I recommend staying at the Icelandair Hotel Vik. It is the nicest hotel in the area and after a long day driving and going on some adventures, you will appreciate an amazing hotel with a brand new modern wing recently added. The décor is very chic with a sitting area in front of a fireplace by the lobby bar and a first class restaurant down the hall. They also utilize the older wing of the hotel with the rooms but much less if you are trying to travel on a bit of a budget.
Day 4 - Brand new experiences on the way back to Reykjavik.
While in Iceland, might as well do something you probably haven't done before or don't get a chance to do every day like hike a glacier that is over an active volcano! Book a three hike with Arctic Adventures to hike Sólheimajökull Glacier. This glacier is over the active volcano Eyjafjallajökull which erupts once every 70 years. As of April 2018, it was already 20 years behind an its "eruption schedule." Luckily it did not erupt while I was on it. This is about a 30-minute drive outside of Vik on your way back to Reykjavik.
Before you get back to town, book a tour to walk through a lava tunnel. This lava tunnel was formed from an eruption over 5000 years ago. You can do a 1-hour tour or if you are more into geology, they offer a 3-4 hour tour that takes you deeper into the cave and talks more about how the rock was formed. You will see lava rock that is rich in iron with a red hue dripped over layered lava rock as it cooled.
Have a nice dinner out in the city for your last night in Iceland. This may be the perfect time to get a nice hotel after all the adventures and outdoor activities over the last couple days. I recommend staying at The Grand Hotel. Probably Reykjavik's most modern and hotel at really reasonable prices. You are met with a 10 story high lobby, sleek décor throughout, a small waterfall fountain and a four-story painted mural on the window.
Day 5 - Last day in the country.
How are your legs feeling? Hopefully, you were able to get some great weather and could spend most of your time out in the nature exploring everything that the country has to offer. This is your last chance to go see anything you may have missed in or around the city. Depending on the time of your flight you could shoot up an hour north of Reykjavik and go to the Álafoss waterfall, or maybe you are going to spend your time at the Blue Lagoon before your trip. Either way, make sure that you get back to the airport 2-3 hours before your flight to get turn your car back and check in for your flight. One thing that I did, which was recommended by several locals, was to enjoy one of the swimming pools in the city.
Iceland was an amazing trip! The people were extremely nice, getting around was surprisingly a lot easier than I expected, and the landscape was breathtakingly beautiful! I have already started planning my trip back. To do the whole country loop I've been told will take about 6-7 days with all the stops you will undoubtedly take. I went in April and although I lucked out with great weather, the skies were not always clear so I missed the Nothern Lights. And if you go in the summer, not only will you experience nearly 24 hours of sunlight but most of the fields were still brown from the winter which will now be lush green. A couple things north of Vik that I would suggest are the glacier lagoons and Fjallsárlón. Góða ferð (Have a great trip!)