Iceland is a smoking hot tourist destination right now and we’re thrilled we had the chance to explore this magnificent island in September. Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland certainly lives up to its name. We spent 9 days driving to destinations along the ring road (check out our Iceland trip expense report here) and loved every minute of it. Iceland is home to 340,000 residents, yet close to 2 million tourists visited Iceland in 2017; 4 times more than just 10 years ago.
Our journey started with a late night flight into Keflavik, grabbing a rental car and arriving at our hotel after midnight. Despite the late night arrival and time zone change, we woke up bright and early the next day and headed straight to our first destination – a hike to the famous Glymur Waterfall, just outside Reykjavik. Falling over 190 meters, it is the second tallest waterfall in the country. The hike was a lot of fun – great views of the valley, a short passage through a cave, a rather precarious stream crossing and then a trek uphill for some magnificent views of the waterfall. Waterproof hiking boots are highly recommended!
We continued the drive north, visiting Grábrók Volcano and then staying near the village of Hvammstangi, located on the northern fjords.
The next day was a marathon drive across the northern part of Iceland, but we managed to fit several interesting stops. Goðafoss waterfall was spectacular and the Mývatn region offered a relaxing nature walk, Grjótagjá cave, geothermal lakes, bubbling mud pots and steam vents. The volcanic remnants all over the region are incredibly unique and it felt like we were exploring another planet.
We stayed in Egilsstaðir that night and spent the next two days exploring the Eastern Fjords. We had a fun hike from the quaint little town of Seyðisfjörður and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the town nestled in the fjord. There are several hiking options from town, so you may want to consider spending a little more time here. We then took a very scenic (and sometimes slow due to occasional dirt roads!) drive around the eastern fjords. The views were definitely worth it. Djúpivogur is one of the towns we stopped at – known for its extensive black sand beaches and bird viewing.
Next up, our favorite spot in Iceland, Jökulsárlón, the Glacier Lagoon! Sorry, but I have to say it… ICEBERG, RIGHT AHEAD!! 🙂 We spent hours wandering around the edge of the water, watching icebergs float through the lagoon and out to sea, watching seals play, heading over to the ocean side to see the melting icebergs wash up on the beach… It’s such a mystical and fascinating destination. We also signed up for a one-hour zodiac tour and got up close and personal with the glacier at the far end of the lagoon. Sadly, the glacier lagoon gets larger and larger each year as chunks of the glacier break off and melt away into the ocean.
We managed to tear ourselves away from the beauty of the Glacier Lagoon to continue our trek towards Southern Iceland. By happenstance, we stopped at a scenic viewpoint and hopped out for a “quick photo”… and an hour later we had hiked to the base of a glacier! Don’t wander too far though – it can be very dangerous walking onto the glacier itself.
We finished up the afternoon with a hike at Skaftafell, in Iceland’s Vatnajökull National Park. A well-groomed trail led us to Svartifoss waterfall, which is famous for its black basalt columns.
Continuing along the Southern Coast of Iceland, we discovered even more lava formations and waterfalls the following day. Dyrhólaey, near the small town of Vik, boasted amazing coastal views.
Skógafoss and its seemingly endless waterfall hike was another major highlight of our trip. Skógafoss itself is a great waterfall, but the real beauty of this location is once you hike to the top (~400 steps in case you were wondering!) and leave the crowds behind. There is a meandering path that follows the river upstream and at every turn there is a new, gorgeous waterfall to behold. We hiked about two hours upstream and saw at least a dozen waterfalls along the way. It was absolutely stunning. The hike continues onward for many miles and there are options for extended day hikes and overnight hikes. One day we hope to come back and explore the entire route.
During our last few days in Iceland, the weather turned a bit rainy as we visited the traditional Golden Circle attractions, explored Reykjavik and wandered the south-western peninsula region. We enjoyed our time there, but it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the other parts of the islands thanks to the weather and increasing crowds. But hey, we brought all of our rain gear, so we might as well use it!
And, of course, no trip to Iceland is complete without a Northern Lights viewing! We were lucky enough to catch a few glimpses of the Aurora Borealis on two evenings. It’s something else to see the lights dance around in the sky. The camera enhances the colors, but nothing compares to seeing them in person.
All in all, it was a fabulous trip. There were waterfalls (and sheep!) at every turn. The views never ceased to amaze us. The traditional Icelandic foods were tasty (and no, we did not try fermented shark… eek). The locals were very friendly and welcoming. The hikes were invigorating. And the weather mostly cooperated 🙂 Can’t wait to go back!