I’ll be honest, Iceland was never a destination that I felt the urge to visit. I never even thought about it until my sister told me she wanted to go. I actually told her no at first! I like to spend my vacation days in warm, sunny places, preferably surrounded by palm trees… obviously, none of those are offered in Iceland. But here’s the thing- I don’t say no very often these days and after putting some thought into it, I decided to go. When else would I get the opportunity to do this?
If you’re usually the type of person who likes to sit on the beach and sip piña coladas on vacation, I’m going to do my best to change your mind about switching it up for your next trip because it ended up being the BEST vacation I’ve ever been on. Here are just a few of my favorite highlights from the trip:
Diamond Beach and Glacier Lagoon
This is a MUST SEE. Diamond Beach is one of the coolest (pun not intended) places I’ve ever visited. Not only do you get to see huge glaciers and icebergs up close, but some pieces of glacier will actually fall off and get washed up on the black sand beaches. You can walk right through the washed up icebergs. They really do look like huge diamonds on the sand. It’s incredible. Some are big enough to climb up on and others you can hold. I also ate one, of course! There are quite a few excursions you can sign up for including kayaking through the icebergs or taking a boat tour, but just visiting and checking out the sights was free and so incredible.
Snorkel the continental divide
Iceland actually sits on two continental plates and there is a national park smack dab on the continental divide. I found this excursion when I was googling things to do in Iceland and I loved it! The water is ice cold, but the clearest water you’ll ever see. Our guide told us that it’s so clear you can see up to 400 meters (technically the naked eye can only see up to 300 meters though). I think for this part of the adventure, pictures tell a thousand words so I’ll let you see why this is a must do activity for yourself:
Hike a glacier
How many times will you ever get the opportunity to do this?! The answer to that is actually a sad one. If you want to hike Solheimajokull, you’ll only have about 8 more years to do so. Our hiking guide told us that the glacier we trekked up is melting as such a rapid pace that climbing up it will soon be impossible and the only way to get to the top will be to take a helicopter. Climate change is the main cause of this, but the glacier is also covered in volcanic ash from the eruption that occurred back in 2010. The black volcanic ash helps to absorb heat from the sun and speed up the melting process even more. I’m glad I got to experience this hike while it’s still possible. They laced up our boots with crampons and our journey began. We did the 3 hour hike, but we regretted not doing the 6 hour hike because we felt like it went by so fast.
Visit the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is definitely a touristy spot and it gets really crowded, but it’s still something you just have to experience if you’re in Iceland. The water is so blue and warm. Added bonus: you get a free drink (either a smoothie, juice, beer or wine) with your ticket and two facial masks.
Take a dip in the natural hot springs
The Blue Lagoon is man made so you need to make it a point to check out a natural hot spring in Iceland. We visited the Secret Lagoon which is fed by a geyser right next to the spring we were swimming in. How cool is that?!
There was another hot spring that required a 45 minute hike to get to, but was also worth it. This one is called Reykjadalur. We went into the hot spring with goats hanging out right next to us which was quite the experience. Pro tip: Go early! This spot gets extremely crowded so we started our hike around 5 AM that day and ended up being the only people there!
Hang out on the black sand beaches
Seeing a black sand beach was pretty awesome all by itself, but Reynisfjara, a popular beach spot, also has some incredible caves and rock formations that make for great photos. Just be careful of something the locals call “sneaker waves.” They are large waves that have a history of pulling people into the water and fatalities have occurred due to their very strong rip currents. I was terrified of these, but as long as you stay alert, you’ll be safe!
Check out some waterfalls
There are countless waterfalls all over Iceland so you’ll see no shortage of them, but there are a few you can get a really cool experience from visiting. Gullfoss is a huge waterfall that you can get some cool views of. Bring the rain gear for this one because you will get wet from all the mist! You can get up close to the falls or view it from above after a short stair climb. We did both!
Seljalandsfoss is another incredible waterfall that you can actually walk behind. Pictures don’t do this one justice! This is another spot that gets really crowded though so I’d recommend going early in the day or very late at night. Believe it or not, this photo was a taken around 11 PM! Nobody else was there. In the summer, the sun never fully sets so we were still able to get the full experience and we got the waterfall all to ourselves!
Visit the beer spa!
I’ll admit, the beer spa wasn’t something I was all that excited about. It seemed tacky and gimmicky, but after being talked into going, it made it to my list of recommended spots to visit. I suggest booking this one in advance if you want to go. We didn’t, but got really lucky with a last minute cancellation that we were able to take. If you get there early, you can hang out in their outdoor hot tubs overlooking the north Iceland coast while you wait for your beer tub to get filled. When the tub is ready, you can head in to a private room to soak in beer, hops and yeast and you can go solo or as a pair. Heads up: the beer bath water isn’t drinkable, but each tub room comes with its own beer draught and you get unlimited beer while you soak!
See a geyser
There are a few geysers in Iceland, but I recommend checking out the Geysir and geothermal area in the Haukadalur Valley. The geyser goes off approximately every 3-10 minutes so you’ll have the chance to see it multiple times through your visit. I’ve never seen one in person before and it was such a cool experience!
Explore some Icelandic caves
We checked out a few during our trip, but the best one was Grjotogja. This is located in northern Iceland and although it is filled with warm geothermal water, people are forbidden from bathing in it because of how hot it can get. It’s definitely worth checking out though, just for the views alone!
Rent a camper!
Seriously, it’s so worth it. I went to Iceland with a group of people and the majority of the group chose to rent an Air BnB in Reykjavik. One other person and I really wanted to road trip the entire country so we rented a camper van instead. We got to see and experience so much more of Iceland because we could pull over and sleep just about anywhere as opposed to driving back to the Air BnB every night. There was a bed in the back of the van, a sink, a small propane stove, bedding, dish wear, just about everything you need to do some camping sans tent. There are plenty of companies that offer camper van rentals, but we chose to book through Cozy Campers. Pro tip: get a 4×4 so you aren’t limited to just the paved roads! Many roads are restricted to only 4 wheel drive vehicles in Iceland and that will limit what you’re able to see.
A few extra things to keep in mind:
- If you’re trying to see the Northern Lights, you need to go in winter. Remember, the summer months are full of sun and even at midnight, there is still a good deal of sunlight. The opposite is true during winter.
- Most places in Iceland charge for public bathroom usage (even some gas stations!). It’s not a lot of money and the restrooms are much cleaner than public toilets here in the states. Their bathrooms are called “water closets” and usually marked as “WC.”
- Icelandic currency is ISK or the Icelandic Krona. Don’t be alarmed if you see something marked as 2,000 ISK in a store. That only comes out to about $16 USD.
- There are sheep everywhere! Take caution when driving because they love to hang out in the middle of the road.
- Don’t step on the moss! The scenery in Iceland is incredible and the moss looks likes something from another planet, but stepping on it to get a picture causes damage to the environment that takes hundreds to thousands of years to repair!
- It is a very environmentally conscious country and they discourage the use of plastic. Avoid buying bottled water if you visit and buy a refillable bottle instead. Their water is so pure that you can drink it straight from the tap or even pull over and fill up from a glacial stream. It’s the best water I’ve ever had!
- A lot of people will say that eating out at restaurants is very expensive in Iceland, but they don’t tip so in my opinion, it really balanced out in the end.
- Just a head up, most things in Iceland need to be imported and taxes can be a bit high on some items, especially alcohol. Expect to pay about $8-$15 for a beer.
One last note…
A lot of people have asked me who I used to plan my trip. A friend of mine actually did all the planning and put together an entire itinerary. He added some great destinations into my trip that I didn’t even know existed. He told me he would be willing to plan Iceland trips for anyone who’s interested so if you’d like his contact info, just shoot me a message or leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to send it your way!
Thanks for reading about my trip and if there are any questions I left out, feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll get you an answer!
P.S. I’ve really been having so much fun getting back into blogging and if you’d like to follow along with my latest posts, you can subscribe below. You won’t get any spam or annoying daily emails. Just a notification when a new blog is up!