My curiosity about Iceland was piqued the first time I heard the gorgeous blonde girl in D2: The Mighty Ducks explain that “Greenland is covered in Ice but Iceland is actually very nice.” It took me 20ish years to get there, but by the time I did it was the coolest trip I have ever (ever ever ever ever) been on.
Three of my friends and I decided to meet in Reykjavik — the halfway-ish point between NYC, where they live, and Prague, where I’m currently living — and do a road trip all over the country. We packed a LOT into four days, which meant spending a million hours in the car and sleeping approximately 45 minutes every night. Still, it was absolutely worth it.
The days were suuuuuper long — the sun rose around 4am and set around 11pm — so we were able to do all of the things. The only issue was that we would lose track of time and the only places that were open for dinner past 10 o’clock were gas stations, so we subsisted primarily on bananas, cheese and crackers and Ramen Noodles.
Every time we did an activity throughout the trip, we would all stop and say “no wait, that was my favorite thing we did this trip,” and we generally meant it. It’s pretty much impossible to pick one “coolest” activity, because everything was so incredibly surreal. Even sitting in the car for hours on end was enjoyable, because no matter where we went the scenery was straight-up breathtaking. We got to see so many different things — from the terrain to the people to the activities themselves — and I can honestly say I feel like we did Iceland right.
Here are the coolest things (/all of the things) we did on our trip, all in the course of 96 hours. If you’re looking for help planning an itinerary, feel free to reach out!
Drove The South Coast
When we first arrived in Iceland, we were all simply AMPED. We piled into the car with more snacks than I would publicly like to admit to, blasted Carly Rae Jepsen and took off for the Southern Coast. Along the way, we stopped at Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Skogafoss waterfall and Vik black sand beach (and like, 15 times to pee on the side of the road). Everything we saw seemed more beautiful than the next. It was one of those car rides where you don’t even want to look at your phone to change the music because you’re afraid you’ll miss something. At one point, we hiked to the top of Skogafoss falls and sat on a hill looking out into the lush, green nothingness ahead of us. The farther we got from Reykjavik, the more remote things got, and by the time we got to our hotel near Sakftafell National Park we hadn’t seen so much as another car for two hours.
Hiked A Glacier
This was an insane experience. We bundled up in our warmest winter gear, casually grabbed our crampons and ice picks, and headed for the glacier. None of us had any idea what to expect (truthfully, I was confused about the difference between glaciers and icebergs before our excursion) so the adventure was even more spectacular than we could have imagined. The hike itself took two hours, and we learned a lot about how the glaciers were formed and how global warming is destroying them (more on that in another post). One of the guides also happened to look like Jaime Dornan, which was a definite plus.
Cruised Through A Lagoon
After the glacier hike, we drove another 45 minutes into a hardcore winter wonderland. The farther East into Iceland we got, the more snow-y and glacier-y the terrain became. By the time we reached the Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon, it felt like we were in an entirely different world than we had been the day before when it was 60 degrees and sunny and we were lying on a grassy hill. We suited up into matching thermal rain jackets, and were escorted onto a 6-person dingy that took us out into the lagoon. We cruised through glaciers and icebergs, with our jaws dropped the entire time.
Woke Up On A Horse Farm
We had some car troubles driving back from the South Coast to Selfoss, so we didn’t arrive at our AirBnB until well after 2am. It was pitch black and in the middle of nowhere, and when we pulled up all any of us could think was MURDER HOUSE (fun fact: There are only 2 murders per year in the entire nation of Iceland, so realistically there was no way all four of us would get killed at once). We got out of the car to check out what we thought was our cabin, but turned out to be a barn. FYI: There is nothing more terrifying than a horse winny-ing at you in the pitch black middle of the night. After another half an hour off-roading around the farm trying to figure out where we were supposed to sleep, we finally found it. It was adorable, and we crashed almost immediately. The next morning, we woke up at the crack of dawn (like I said, we didn’t sleep), and sat on our porch drinking coffee and watching the Icelandic horses graze. It was heaven.
Snorkeled Between Two Continents
As someone who has spent the last 7 months exclusively in hot weather, the idea of diving into a freezing cold lake to look at some rocks wasn’t exactly appealing. But I had heard good things about snorkeling the Silfra Fissure, so we decided to put it on the itinerary. We started out by being vacuumed into our dry suits, which basically made us look like human condoms (note: we COULD NOT stop laughing at how insane we looked and once again were the least popular members of the tour group. Lighten up, people.). The suits were these HUGE, uncomfortable things that covered our entire bodies and caused chafing pretty much everywhere, but only left our face exposed to the cold. We all miraculously made it into the water without tripping over our flippers, and hopped into the icy glacier water. The dive itself actually wasn’t as cold as any of us expected, though my lips and face were swollen for a full day and a half after the fact. We swam through the most incredible bright blue water, and looked at the (I never thought I’d say this) REALLY cool rocks underneath. The Silfra Fissure was formed when the North American and Eurasian continental plates separated, and when you’re in between them you can literally touch two continents at once. I felt like Mandy Moore and Shane West in A Walk to Remember, and I definitely didn’t hate it. The 45-minute snorkel sesh ended in a lagoon, and swimming through it made me feel like I was in the little mermaid. There was fluorescent green and light pink algae, and the bubbles that they breathe get trapped in between them (yeah, algae is alive apparently?) and it looks like a giant field of glistening pearls. It was THE COOLEST thing I have ever seen.
Drove The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We were all completely wiped after snorkeling, and hopped in the car for our loooong trek to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The entire drive was along the coast, so we had five straight hours of ocean on one side and mountains/horses/waterfalls on the other. At one point, we drove under 3.5 miles of water, which meant 10 minutes in the longest (and coolest) underground tunnel I’ve ever been in. We pulled over to pee about halfway to the peninsula, and stumbled upon a set of magical natural pools surrounded by lush, green flowers. I attempted to meditate, and it kind of almost worked. We got lost on the way to our hotel, and the re-route took us to what I can only describe as the end of the earth. It happened to be golden hour (which in Iceland happens at 9pm at this time of year…), and standing watching the sun glisten over the water was another magical moment. I also made a really good playlist called “Depressing Songs From 11th Grade” that we listened to throughout the car ride (think: songs you would have heard on The OC and Gray’s Anatomy) which was another pretty important highlight.
Watched The Sunset Over Kirkjufell
We stayed in Grundarfjordur when we were on the peninsula, which is teeeeeeny tiny but happens to be home to the famous Kirkjufell mountain. You’ve probably seen it before in photographs of the Northern Lights, because it’s the most photographed spot in Iceland. We had a quick dinner at the only restaurant in town that was still open past 9pm (a “house salad” garnished with Cool Ranch Doritos…), then grabbed a bottle (ok, three bottles) of wine and a blanket and parked it on the beach to watch the sunset. The sky looked like cotton candy, and if I hadn’t been there myself I genuinely wouldn’t believe it was real. It was the wrong time of year for us to see the Northern Lights (which apparently happen three times a week in this particular town), but this was a pretty legit consolation prize.
Rode Horses On The Beach
If I really had to pick a favorite activity, I would say this was it. My friends and I ended up on a private tour by sheer luck because no one else showed up in the rain, and since we’re all “experienced” riders (… I maybe exaggerated) we got to do pretty much whatever we wanted. There was one moment when we were cantering down a remote beach toward a waterfall where it was just us that I had to stop and actually pinch myself. I wish I could adequately describe the feeling of riding through the wind in the rain and just feeling so free, but I won’t even try because this is cheesy enough already. It was the most special thing I have ever experienced, and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Went Whale Watching
I had never been Whale Watching before, so the fact that the first time I got to do it was in Iceland was pretty awesome. We bundled up and got on the boat at harbor for our three our excursion with Olasvik tours. It was technically the wrong time of year to see whales, but we ended up seeing 4 or 5 Minke whales, which was really cool!
Swam In The Blue Lagoon
TBH, this was the only “touristy” thing I felt like we did in Iceland, and I still really loved it. When we walked in, it felt like some weird spa version of Disneyland because the lines were so long, but once we got out to the actual lagoon it was surprisingly relaxing. The Lagoon is actually manmade, which makes me feel like I’ve been living a lie, but the experience was #cool nonetheless. We bought the “Comfort” package, which afforded us a towel, an algae mask and a free drink. We lathered the masks all over our bodies and lounged around in the hot water sipping champagne for the better part of three hours. Even though there were a lot of people around, it didn’t feel gross or overly crowded. I ended up taking a bus back to Reykjavik which was shockingly easy, and my friends went straight to the airport which was only 20-minutes away. The whole next day, my skin was glowing — Iceland really has the whole “amazing skincare” thing down to a science. My only regret is that I didn’t try to bottle some of the water and take it home (and that I’m too poor to afford the Blue Lagoon Face Masks they sell at the airport).
Reykjavik Restaurants I Loved
Reykjavik Roasters: Delicious coffee (try the cappuccino!) and great, quick breakfast. There are two locations that are both super close to the city center, both of which have free Wi-Fi and are awesome places to do work.
The Laundromat Cafe: This is on pretty much everyone’s Reykjavik list, but it really is worth the hype. It’s super cozy and decorated with all kinds of brightly colored books and paintings, and the food was easily the best I had in Iceland.
Lemon Juice Bar: This is a great option for a quick sandwich (trust me — the food in Iceland is sOoOo expensive, a sandwich is all you’re going to want to pay for) and a juice. Their sammies and juices are delicious, and the closest we came to having “fresh” vegetables during out entire trip.