After an 8 hour flight, we landed in Reykjavik, rented a car and headed east. Our circumnavigation of the island began immediately, with a two hour drive and two epic waterfalls before we checked in to the Icelandair Hotel in Vík.
When we arrived in Iceland, I was delirious from the travel (being a vegetarian is tough sometimes!). The only restaurants open when we got in were gas stations, and even then, my snacks didn't satiate my hungry appetite. However, when we made our first stop at Seljalandsfoss that all disappeared. Walking behind a beautiful waterfall filled me with so much excitement, my priority for eating completely went away. At our next stop, Skógafoss, I was so impressed by how close you can get to the waterfall. A double rainbow nearby didn't hurt either!
By the time we set out for our hotel, my hunger pangs kicked in so we made a beeline to the closest restaurant in Vík, Halldorskaffi. We then reset - freshened up, took a long nap, had an early dinner at Berg Restaurant and continued our exploration of the town. After sunset, we returned back to our hotel with celebratory drinks at the bar for a successful first day of our 10-day journey.
Photos .by Alex Cornell
As you round the southeast corner of the country, you don't want to miss these attractions: the abandoned plane in Sólheimasandur, the basalt sea stacks called Reynisdrangar, the black sand beach Reynisfjara, the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, and Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell. A few are off the beaten path so make sure your vehicle is a 4x4 and bring a spirit for off-roading. We had a flat-tire that we were not prepared for, but fortunately we were still in Vík and close enough to an auto repair shop that patched it up quickly. After, we still had our sense of our adventure but that definitely cautioned us to drive slower on gravel roads. Overall, our car served us well and luckily that incident was the only hiccup we had on the trip.
I'm still trying to find out the name of this beach, but it's basically between Höfn and Djúpivogur. I mentioned it already, but we really enjoyed driving along the eastern region of Iceland. The stretches between each stop were much shorter and during this portion of our trip, the weather was perfect.
You'll find Icelandic horses everywhere along the Ring Road so here are a few fun facts I learned about them: 1. No horse has been imported to Iceland for over 1000 years / 2. Once a horse leaves Iceland, it can never go back to keep the breed pure / 3. Horses were brought to Iceland by the Vikings!
When I first arrived at Jökulsárlón, I declared it my favorite place in all of Iceland. I had seen pictures from Alex's previous trip and knew immediately I would fall in love, though it was even more incredible in person. I loved it enough to spend an entire day there; it just kept getting prettier as the sun was setting. The pure colors of the peaceful ice created a really captivating visual I had never seen before. To top it off, there were a bunch of playful seals floating around, almost as content as I was!
I was excited I got to walk in the water, thanks to my trusted wellington boots! The lagoon is deep but I was able to get closer than any other tourist (and think I made some jealous). A few of the smaller ice blocks had broken off icebergs and were just within my reach. I could've stayed there forever and didn't want to leave, but it was getting dark and time to head back to our next stop: Smyrlabjorg County Hotel to have dinner and sleep.
On our way up to Egilsstaðir, we decided to take a shortcut from the Ring Road to Route 939. Here, we discovered this unexpected, hidden waterfall that's tucked inside these flat mountains. Not only did we save time driving, we had a wonderful photo op, and got to enjoy the warm weather. After, we checked in at the Icelandair Hotel Herad, had an early dinner at Salt, then chased the sunset on a beautiful drive to Seyðisfjörður. Driving anywhere in Eastern Iceland, really, will take your breath away.
I'm happy we were able to make it up to Northern Iceland since the volcano eruption almost detoured the remainder of our road trip. With the possibility of a bridge closure (and the only road to pass to the next region, Myvatn), we fortunately got so lucky with timing and that made our stay there much more special.
After a quick visit to Akureyri for lunch at Backpackers Cafe, a cute coffee stop at Blaa Kannan Cafe, and some window shopping around town, we headed towards our next hotel at Vogafjós Guesthouse. On the way, you will see many interesting sights that will make you feel like you're literally on another planet. We checked out the Krafla Lava Fields, Viti Crater, Hverarondor Hverir, along with Jardbodin vid Myvatn. Oh and brace yourself for the smell of sulphur -- it's basically the equivalent to rotten eggs and will take some time getting used to.
People call Myvatn Nature Baths the Blue Lagoon of the North -- although it's much smaller, less crowded, and not filled with as many tourists. I had never been in a thermal bath before so it was a real treat dipping in for the first time. It felt so nice soaking in the hot temperatures of the milky-glowing-blue waters, though it was tricky transferring out of the pool since the bite of the wind was intense! Regardless, it's definitely worth a visit and it prepared me on what to expect for our visit to the Blue Lagoon.
Goðafoss is my favorite waterfall in Iceland. It's located up north, between Myvatn and Akureyri, and we were so excited to see it since the eruption of the Bárðarbunga Volcano closed off many roads to other attractions -- like the Dettifoss waterfall.
Anyway, this outfit was pretty much on repeat throughout the trip and kept me very warm. In colder conditions, I basically added this Aether jacket, some Arcteryx gloves, and a beanie to complete my adventure uniform. The weather changes very quickly in Iceland, so it's useful to dress in layers and be prepared for strong winds or rain.
I have talked nonstop about the Westfjords, so here are a few pictures of fun things we encountered while we were there: 1. Lopapeysa - these Icelandic woolen sweaters are itchy but will keep you super warm as the temperature drops and when the winds try to swallow you/ 2. Hvammstangi Cottages - this was such a cute cabin and one of our favorite accommodations. It’s a good resting point after Myvatn to break up the long drive to the Fjords/ 3. Geitafell - It took a lot of faith searching for this restaurant, dressed in a castle. Driving on gravel, along the coast, for over 30 minutes as a storm was about to hit made it quite the trek, but it was definitely worth it and the food (vegetable soup and skyr) did not disappoint/ 4. Puffins at the Latrabarg Cliffs - this is THE place for for sightseeing puffins/ 5. Garðar at Patreksfjörður - an old steel shipwreck in Iceland/ 6. Icelandic Horses/ 7. Iceland Churches - white churches with red roofs are peppered everywhere on the island/ 8. Heydalur Guesthouse - this is where we stayed in the Westfjords, and at the time I wasn't a major fan, but it was really such a unique experience. The restaurant was excellent and I'll never forget what it was like to travel there/ 9. Arctic Fox - definitely one of our highlights from the trip/ 10. Hiking in the Westfjords - this is one of the most pleasant hikes I've done. If you're searching for adventure and solitude, you will enjoy exploring the pristine surroundings.
The ION Luxury Adventure Hotel is hands down, the coolest place you can stay in Iceland. We experienced all sorts of hotels, guesthouses, cottages, and the ION was by far our favorite. You get the best of both worlds: rugged scenery, a feeling of solitude, both without sacrificing the comfort and amenities a sophisticated hotel like this can offer. It's nestled in Thingvellir and is a good place to get revitalized if you’re coming from the Westfjords as we were.
The ION is the perfect escape, with easy access to the plenty adventures of Iceland. While at the hotel, be sure to check out the restaurant Silfra, the award winning Northern Lights Bar, and the amazing Lava Spa and Pool, filled directly from the nearby hot springs. The ION oozes style and you don't have to take my word for it -- check the feature in Porter Magazine!
After touring the entire island, we ended up in Reykjavík, the capital and largest city in Iceland. It was bittersweet making our way back to civilization because the peace and quiet had really grown on us. I've never felt so far removed and isolated; we encountered more sheep than people as we explored the uninhabited spaces, took serene hikes, and experienced a certain type of silence you can only find in the Westfjords.
On the way, I had romanticized about how amazing Reykjavík would be. It was all I could think about every time I felt out of my element in the wilderness; and what was interesting was when we got to the city, I immediately missed the countryside. But I was definitely happy to have more options to eat, more reasons to dress up, and it was really nice to walk around such a quaint and charming area.
When we arrived, we walked around the colorful town and checked out the Hallgrímskirkja Church. We had lunch at the Laundromat Cafe, took a helicopter tour, then had dinner at Grillmarkaðinn (The Grill Market). We stayed at the perfectly located CenterHotel Thingholt, next to the main shopping street, Laugavegur. There were a ton of cafes, restaurants and shops. I really wish I could tell you how crazy the nightlife is in Reykjavík but the truth is, we were too exhausted to make it out. We were told the parties don't start till midnight and we didn't want to miss our early call time for the Blue Lagoon the next morning! I had been daydreaming about that on my Pinterest for months so we called it a night, but it was a full day well spent.
The Essential Iceland helicopter tour was the perfect way to spend the last day of our trip. At that point, we had been traveling for 9 days, driving around the Ring Road, so it was refreshing to experience the views from up top. Seeing the island over the course of an extensive road trip was so much fun, with the best guide ever (Alex)! But there are places a helicopter can reach that a car cannot...
We retraced our steps, flying over Thingvellir (and our hotel Ion Luxury Adventure), the geothermal power plants, both Gulfoss and Háifoss waterfalls, Strokkur, Geysir, Mt. Hekla, and a breathtaking view of the rhyolite mountains of Landmannalaugar. This quick overview of the Golden Circle was an overwhelming conclusion to our week exploring the epic Icelandic landscape. My top highlight from the journey was our stop after Thórsmörk Valley and Eyjafjallajökull glacier where we landed for a picnic lunch by Gígjökull. It was one of the the most extraordinary meals I've had and can taste the Skyr just thinking about it.
Photos by Alex Cornell
Finally back home from Iceland! It was my first time visiting the country, and after this trip, it's safe to say it's one of the most incredible places I've ever been -- probably one of my favorites in the entire world. There really isn't anywhere else remotely like it. My mind is still blown by the beauty and intrigue of the landscape that constantly changed every minute.
10 days driving around the Ring Road will fill you with more than enough inspiration, not to mention appreciation for nature. We spent every second combing the island for the best photo ops -- whether we were chasing waterfalls, sunsets, arctic foxes, or in this case above, geothermal pools -- aka the Blue Lagoon. It's hard to convey how amazing it was to be there; I'll just let all the pictures do the talking and mark one check off my Bucket List!