Iceland Travel Guide: Things to see and places to go
This past May, I spent an amazing week in Iceland. Iceland has always been on my bucket list of countries to visit just for it's famously beautiful landscape. Anyone that has watched Game of Thrones knows just how breathtaking it can be.... Or maybe not, because nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking beauty of Iceland in person. Literally every time you turn your head, there's something else to take your breath away. Pictures simply don't do this place justice. In preparing for my trip, I did my research and read a few reviews which, I can now say, contained a few prominent misconceptions I would like to personally debunk. So here is a travel guide based on my experience of things to see, places to go, what to eat, what to wear, and a few other tips that should help you prepare for your trip to Iceland. Because seriously, you have to go.
We flew in on WOW air (an airline native to Iceland) and had a very smooth experience. The flight lasted a bit over 5 hours which is only slightly longer than my flight to Vancouver from Ottawa (how crazy is that!?). We booked an Airbnb in downtown Reykjavik for the complete duration of our stay. When booking your accommodations, you want to consider distance relative to the places you plan on visiting and price. Although we had a place in Reykjavik, we spent most of our time travelling to other cities and booked a second Airbnb at Thykkvibaer Guesthouse in Kirkjubæjarklaustur because the drive back to the city would have taken over 3.5 hours. In hindsight, the best method may be to book a different Airbnb in each city to cut down on travel time. However, who really wants to lug around luggage all over Iceland?
We focussed our travel on the Southside of Iceland and I would definitely recommend renting a car for your trip -- a car with GPS navigation and some sturdy tires. At times, the terrain can be rough and difficult to navigate. Also, forget what you heard about there just being one road in Iceland. Not only are there several main roads, but also smaller roads that lead to the main attractions which are often not labelled or if they are, may be labelled with a different Icelandic name. Needless to say, we got lost multiple times even with the GPS, without which we may still be lost in some mountains up in Iceland.
TLC said don't go chasing waterfalls... unless you're in Iceland, and chase waterfalls we did. It was actually at the top of my to-do list and is a must see for your Iceland itinerary as well. There are so many breathtaking waterfalls, and just driving along the southern coast, there's almost a waterfall everywhere you look. Even in residents private backyards, it's amazing. We first set out to see Seljalandsfoss (try saying that 3 times in a row) which was absolutely majestic. One of the cool things about it is that you can actually go behind the waterfall and do a small hike. Just keep in mind you will get completely soaked and there's no safeguards in place so make sure you are wearing sturdy shoes with grip and try not to look down. After that we also visited another amazing waterfall called Skogafoss, just a short drive from Selijalandfoss.
We stumbled upon this waterfall just driving by the coast and it ended up being my favourite. We parked the car, hopped out and had an impromptu photoshoot. The fact that this was just on the side of the road... It's hard to believe this place is real.
Next up we visited the much talked about black sand beaches in Vik. We didn't know this at the time but there's actually 2 different sides to the beach. One with the rock formations and one without. I was so excited for the beach that I planned out my outfit while I was packing. I knew I wanted a pop of colour to contrast against the black sand so I opted for this cobalt blue sweater from Aritzia. The previous day we stumbled upon a driveway sale in Reykjavik which is where I picked up this cool white jacket for about $15 bucks. I was slightly disappointed to see it's more a grey sand beach than black, but nevertheless it's still pretty cool and I think deserves a spot on your Iceland itinerary. Keep in mind that since Vik is right by the water it's much colder so I was not dressed nearly warm enough. It was extremely windy and chilly, as you can see, the struggle was real.
Spent some quality time with my favourite animals. We did a horseback riding tour with Íshestarcompany which was another great experience. Fun facts: Icelandic horses are known to have very gentle temperament and there's about one horse for every four people in the country. They're also the purest breed of horse in the world.
Iceland's terrain is really something special. While driving I could see snow capped mountains in the distance, look to the side I'm seeing waterfalls, and on the other side may be seemingly endless fields or huge rock formations. We stopped to take some pictures of this beautiful scene only to drive about an hour further and end up at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. How crazy is that? It literally looks like we ended up in a different country.
Back in Reykjavik we had to check out the massive church at the center of the town, Hallgrimskirka. It's a must see and you also have the option to go inside, take a look around and head to the top where you get a stunning view of Reykjavik.
We spent our last few hours in Iceland at the Blue Lagoon which needs to be booked a bit in advance. We went pretty early in the morning which I would recommend because it started getting much more crowded in the afternoon. After that, we rushed to the airport to catch our flight back home.
5 more tips:
1. Pack warm clothes: Make sure to pack comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes as you'll most likely be doing some walking and/or hiking. Don't underestimate the cold even in Spring! I packed 2 fall coats thinking "I'm Canadian I know cold" which isn't false, we had 3 days of mild weather around 13 degrees. However, the last few days were windy and cold! A thicker jacket would have helped... and some mitts.
2. Prepare to eat lamb or fish: We mainly lived off a diet of hotdogs and subway in order to save money. Since Iceland has much more sheep than they do cows, the hotdogs are made of lamb. Being so close to the water, treat yourself and try out their really great fresh fish too.
3. Reykjavik nightlife: Icelanders know how to party! If you're into clubbing, make sure to check out the night life downtown Thursday - Saturday. They have a few really great clubs, and dress to impress (we were not prepared).
4. Talk to locals: A great way to get a genuine feel of anywhere you visit is to talk to the locals. Icelanders were always super nice and willing to help. And yes, they all speak English too.
5. Water -- don't buy it: This is where speaking to locals would have helped. Our first day in Reykjavik, we did some grocery shopping and picked up 6 big bottles of water to drink, only to find out a few hours later from our local tour guide that the tap water is exactly the same thing because Iceland is known for having very clean water. It's hard not to be put off my the smell of sulfur, just let the water run a few minutes and it'll be perfectly refreshing.
The next day we realized that the water we bought was carbonated... double fail.
So that's my week in Iceland summed up and all the tips I could think of. Hope you find them useful and I really hope anyone that hasn't visited this place yet is encouraged to do so. It's so amazing you just need to see it for yourself! :)
xoxo - B