Summer in Iceland
I’m writing about our trip to Iceland! August was a really busy month for me because I went to Michigan from August 15-18, Washington D.C. from August 18-26, and then directly to Iceland August 26-September 5. Travis and I decided to rent a camper van for our time in Iceland and we drove around the entire country in 9 days! We saw A LOT and did A LOT and I am excited to tell you all about our adventures there.
First off, below is a map of Iceland. We drove around the entire country on the Ring road, the only major paved highway in Iceland. Our route is highlighted in black! Also below is a map with photos of Iceland highlights just so you guys know roughly where some of the things we saw are located on the map! (The second map I got online so we did not see all those things or drive that route)
Day 1: August 27 Exploring Reykjavik Iceland!
We landed at midnight August 26th, took a flybus directly to the Airbnb, and fell asleep! It was too bad we were so tired because I’ve read the nightlife in Reykjavik on weekends is crazy! I could have guessed because while we were riding the bus from the airport to the city, there were 4 guys who flew to Reykjavik for only 24 hours to party the entire night and then fly back to wherever they were from. They must have had a rough night because a few of them were already sleeping on the bus ride to the city!
We woke the next morning refreshed and ready to explore! Our Airbnb was very close to the city center, which made walking very easy. It was also a cold, rainy day in Reykjavik, something that took time to get used too after coming from D.C. the day before! The first thing we did was get breakfast at a place called Sandholt, which was super delicious as you can tell from Travis digging in immediately! 🙂
After we started walking down Laugavegur street, the main shopping street, and looked around in all the little shops. Travis knew I had to get a mug so that was the main reason for shopping around. The city is very colorful and the shops are cute, but they are VERY EXPENSIVE! All the clothing items we saw were more than 200 US dollars and some went up to 600 dollars! Man you could imagine my surprise when I saw something I liked but then looked at the price tag- Nope not today! 😮
After walking around a bit and realizing I could not afford anything we moved onto sightseeing! Our first stop was Reykjavik’s Phallological museum, which, for lack of a better term, is a penis museum. HAHAHA We had to go because it is the world’s ONLY penis museum! It was a small museum with various animal private parts and not really knowing what to expect it was kind of really gross. HAHA They stored the parts in liquid tubes, which kept them from decomposing I guess. Some of the exhibits were very large whale penises, which were taller than I am! And just for reference if some of you were wondering (which I know you are!) I am 5’7.
You can all imagine we both wanted to leave relatively soon after arriving (more so for Travis) and our next stop was Hallgrimskirkja, a unique church in Reykjavik.
The church is open for visitors when service is not in session and we bought tickets to go to the top, which offers a great view of the city. This was pretty awesome and shows just how colorful the city is!
We had lunch at a little brunch place and after decided to walk along the water to see Harpa (a music hall) and the Sun Voyager, an art piece on the waterfront. Harpa is one of Iceland’s most distinguished landmarks and I think it is a beautiful building! It is built out of glass tiles and at night they light up, which I can imagine is awesome but we did not get a chance to see it at night.
We had a really nice dinner and called it an early night because we had to pick up the camper van the next morning!
Day 2: August 28 Start of our road trip!
We picked up our home for the week at 9AM so we could get an early start! It was another cloudy day but no rain, which is always a good thing. We rented our van from RENT.IS, and let me tell you guys if you ever go to Iceland and want to rent use this company! Before renting I did a lot of research to find the best price/quality and the van we got was great! It was the cheapest price with insurance compared too all other companies. The van included a fridge, sheet, sleeping bags, pillows, storage, cookware, gas cards, and WIFI! We also had a new van because we needed it to be automatic. I would also suggest booking it well in advance if you plan on going during the summer time because Iceland is becoming more and more popular.
After loading up on groceries, we started going north around the country, which meant doing the Golden Circle (the most touristy part of Iceland) last. I thought this was one of the best decisions in planning this trip because most people start with the Golden Circle and head south but Travis and I went the opposite way. This ensured less people and less traffic! This coast really reminded us of Scotland highlands and the weather was also very similar.
Our first stop out of the city was Glýmur waterfall (#1). This is Iceland’s tallest waterfall (editor’s note: Glýmur is no longer the tallest waterfall. Now it’s a waterfall coming off Morsárjökull) and for some reason one of Iceland least popular waterfalls. It did call for a hike up to it for the best view which may be one of the reasons it is not super popular. Travis and I were super excited and grateful for this hike because it had been awhile since we exercised and we were getting restless! This hike involved going through a cave, crossing a river, and slowly hiking up up and up!
The river crossing was interesting! There was a wire that stretched across the water for people to hold onto while crossing and you had to be really strategic in foot placement not get wet because this was a legit water crossing! Tons of people decided to take their shoes off but Travis and I refused! Plus we had our waterproof boots on so we were confident! 🙂
We both did really well on the way up, but were not as successful on the way down and got squishy socks. 🙁
The waterfall itself was amazing! It was not the most powerful, but it dropped down into a canyon with cliffs on either side and it was like a scene straight out of lord of the rings or Jurassic park. There were birds flying everywhere in the canyon though you can’t see any in the photo.
We were on a waterfall kick after Glýmur so our next stop was Hraunfossar waterfall (#2).
We set up camp in Blöndós for the first night after a great first day in the camper van.
Day 3: August 29 Akureyri, Goðafoss, Lake Mývatn, Dimmuborgir
Day 3 started off cloudy and a bit rainy similar to the previous days. We packed up the camper van and headed to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest urban area (second to Reykjavik). We strolled around the shops and stopped for some coffee/tea. I feel like there is a general theme of highly colored roofs in Iceland- I think its because it makes the houses/buildings easier to spot in the snow during the winter time, but that is pure speculation on my end.
As we were leaving the city to our next stop, Goðafoss waterfall, the sun finally starting shining! WOOOOO!
The road to Goðafoss waterfall (#3) was a very rough dirt road and felt like we were dodging potholes forever! If I had my car I would have been all over that! HAHA But it was a rental so I had to be careful. This waterfall was worth it though! It was a very powerful and stunning waterfall! Throughout the trip we saw so many waterfalls Travis and I were just puzzled the whole time about where the water was coming from!
After Goðafoss, the scenery immediately changed and we went from waterfalls to lava fields and mud pools at and near Lake Mývatn. Before we set up camp at Lake Mývatn our last stop of the day was Dimmuborgir along the lake. Dimmuborgir is a large area with oddly shaped lava fields that you can stroll around. It was crazy to be surrounded by lava formations caused throughout the years.
One was even large enough for Travis and I to stand in and I LOVE THIS PICTURE!
After walking around the lava formations with wind that made us shiver, we headed out to the campsite and to my surprise we got to see and pet horses that were along the road! The entire trip so far I had seen tons of horses and was dying to pet them so this just made my entire day!
AHH I LOVE HORSES! Icelandic horses are different than horses I’ve seen in the U.S. They are shorter and broader and very very strong! Their hair is also very nappy. HAHA It is actually kind of creepy because most of the horses we saw just stand looking out at who knows what and I wonder what is going through their minds.
We set up camp and it was warm enough to pull out the table and chairs that came with the campervan while we cooked dinner.
Day 4: August 30 Grjótagja hot springs, Hverir mud pools, Krafla, Viti Crater, Dettifoss, Selfoss, Camp at Egilsstaðir
Today was a fun packed day with many sites to see! We finished seeing some sites along Lake Myvatn and then headed out to see more waterfalls!
Our first stop was Grjótagjá hot springs near Lake Mývatn. Grjótagjá is in a cave and has clear blue steaming pools. It was crazy to go down and see the clearest water with steam coming from it. But apparently it is too hot to soak in so no spa for me.
Next we dared to see Hverir, sulfur smelling belching mud pools. For those who do not know what sulfur smells like it smells like farts. Straight up farts and its not pleasant. But we braved the smell and saw the mud pools, which besides the smell was pretty cool. They looked like bubbling cement and reminded me a lot of the landscape in Yellowstone National Park.
After we were tired of the smell we headed to Viti crater. Viti crater was formed when Krafla volcano’s west side exploded in 1724 forming a crater. Viti crater now has the most blue water I have ever seen presumably from rainfall because I don’t know how else water could have gotten into the crater. It really is a sight to see. I imagine it is like crater lake in Oregon though I have not been. The drive up to the crater was also interesting because this area of Iceland is full of steaming hills so they built a geothermal plant to harvest that energy. So all you see is brown scenery and huge smoke stacks from the geothermal plant.
This was the last sight we saw around Mývatn lake and we continued forward to more waterfalls! Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls (#4 and #5) to be exact! These waterfalls were probably my favorite this entire trip! They were both really powerful and surrounded by cliffs. Travis and I were able to walk right up to the waterfall and I may have made him nervous every now and then by stepping close to the waters edge, but it was all fine! HEHE And too top it off we saw a double rainbow!
The sun was shining and the weather was pleasant so after our small hike we ate lunch on a picnic bench on the cliffs near the waterfalls before driving a few hours to our camp site at Egilsstaðir.
Day 5: August 31 Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon boat tour, Black Sand Beach, & camping near Skaftafell
There were only a few things I actually bought tickets for and today’s event was one of those days so we were on a tight schedule. We woke pretty early to start driving to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon where I bought tickets for a 2:30 PM boat tour. It took us approximately 3 hours to drive from our campsite to the lagoon, but with all the beautiful scenery around us it didn’t feel like 3 hrs.
This was one of my favorite days and thankfully we had pretty good weather! Before going out onto the tiny boat, they had us suit up and when I say suit up I mean SUIT UP! HAHA These suits were neon yellow and were actually floating devices on their own in case anyone fell out of the boat into the freezing water. Thankfully no one did! HAHA
This particular lagoon has large glacier pieces that broke off from the main glacier and man it was amazing! I had never seen anything like it before. The glaciers were aqua blue and massive! Really there are no words to describe it so I am just going to show you all!
There are just too many awesome pictures to choose from!!
After the hour boat ride we headed directly across the street to go to one of Iceland’s Black Sand Beaches! I was really excited about this because come on its black sand! Like what in the world- how does that even happen! Its a mystery to me!
Next we headed to Skaftafell National Park where we set up camp 10 mins outside of the park early in preparation for tomorrows activities! 🙂
Day 6: Sept 1 Vatnajökull glacier hike, camp at Vík
Yup! The title says it all! Today was another bought activity- a glacier hike! This gave us a chance to see a glacier from another prospective. Yesterday we saw it from a boat on the water, but today we got to actually walk on it! This was probably the thing Travis was most excited about too! And just as a disclaimer: I am a planner! So Travis had no idea what I had planned for Iceland months ago until the day we got to Iceland so he was nervous at first for this hike, but then excited!
This was a half day affair and man were we lucky! This was the sunniest and warmest day we had experienced and apparently that is very rare in Iceland because our tour guide kept saying how lucky we were that the weather was cooperative. This is what made our trip worth it because out of all days this is the day I had really hoped for good weather!
The hike started at 9AM and we got back around 3 PM. This particular hike was booked through glacier guides and was the glacier explorer tour- and it meant just that, we did not have a set path to walk but really we were able to explore with our guide leading us. I thought that was pretty cool because I most tours have the same route for everyone. Travis and I can both agree that this was our favorite activity out of everything we saw and did in Iceland.
Our guide, Kyle, equipped us with crampons, a harness, an ice axe, and helmet though to be honest the only thing we really needed were the crampons- the rest were just for show.
It was neat because Kyle had us go around and tell everyone in our group where we were coming from and there were couples from California and North Carolina! Travis’s face always lights up a little when he hears someone is from North Carolina.
Kyle explained to use what a glacier actually is and how it forms as well as some of the background on the glacier that we were hiking on. That particular glacier was at least 200 years old, though the exact age is unknown. We learned all about crevasses and moulins. A moulin is essentially the “plumbing” system of a glacier where there are tunnels or caves where the melted ice flows down and eventually exits the glacier. You definitely do NOT want to fall into one of those because no one will come down looking for you. 😮
We were able to drink fresh glacier water and walk in a small crevasse.
I didn’t know what to expect going into this- for some reason I had in my head that we were going be walking on more of a snow like surface but it was nothing like snow. It was straight ice, kind of like the packs of ice you buy from the gas station.
Our group (the couple in the front with me were the ones from Raleigh)!
Day 7: Sept 2 Reynisdrangar, Reynisfjara, Dýrholaey, Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Camp at Selfoss
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOMMA! LOVE YOU!
Since we are now on the south coast, the most popular coast to travel for tourists, we did a lot less driving and more sightseeing because everything was pretty close together. But that also meant more people. Typically our days started later and ended earlier.
We had amazing weather for the glacier hike the day before so Iceland decided to curse us and brought in the worse weather of the trip so far- it was cold, rainy, and windy! The cold was mostly caused by the wind, which is usually the case. Thank god we were sleeping in our camper van because it would have been miserable in a tent! But unlike in Scotland we were prepared for rain with our rain pants and waterproof jackets (thanks Wilson!) so bring it on!
Our first stops were Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjara. Reynisdrangar are 3 tall spires known as the troll rocks on Reynisfjara, an another black sand beach. The troll rocks are said to be petrified trolls caught by the sun as they were trying to drag a boat ashore, which is kinda bizarre. Unfortunately I didn’t get very good photos of the spires because of the weather so here is the best one I have:
The black sand beach was really different than the previous one we had been too because of the crazy cool rock formations.
You guys can imagine we did not want to stay out there for too long so we quickly moved on to Dýrhólaey, a beautiful place to watch the sea and basalt cliffs. It is also a seabird reserve.
Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss were our next waterfalls (#6 and #7). Seljalandsfoss was really cool because there was a path that let you walk behind the waterfall! In both cases we were prepared to get wet because if you walked close enough you were going get wet from the mist of the falls!
Day 8: Sept 3 The Golden Circle!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SISTER!!!! LOVE YOU! Don’t worry I got you something from Iceland! 🙂
Today was our last day of sightseeing and we ended with the Golden Circle! This is the MOST touristy thing in Iceland and most people take tour buses for one day trips to the Golden Circle. It is so popular because its close the Reykjavik and if you have limited time it covers many of Iceland’s best known features. So you can imagine that there was a ton more people than what we were used too- Travis did not really like that, but we powered through!
First stop on the Golden Circle was Kerið crater, a collapsed scoria cone with red gravel. It is pretty cool, but it cost money! This was the only nature site that actually cost money! So if you are on the fence about seeing this one I would suggest skipping it because Viti crater was similar, prettier, and free!
Stop number 2: Gullfoss waterfall (# 8). I thought this waterfall was similar to Goðafoss, in that you can walk close to it and it is surrounded by cliffs. This was definitely worth seeing.
Stop 3: Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir does not often explode, but Strokkur fires off pretty consistently!
The second picture on the right gives a pretty good idea of how many people were there!
Oh and I cant forget that we saw more horses! But this time younger ones!
Finally we stopped by Þingvellir National Park and went to Silfra, a rift valley marking where North American and Eurasian continental plates are physically tearing apart. This rift is the most evident here where it is 4 km wide and 40m deep. The water is also really really clear!
The picture shows people who are going to snorkel in the rift valley. I really wanted to do this but couldn’t because Travis and I wear glasses and we could not have worn them with the goggles.
Day 9: Sept 4 The Blue Lagoon & last full day in Iceland!
Today was bitter sweet because Travis and I were ready to sleep in a real bed, but also sad that this vacation was coming to an end. We ended the trip on a high note and soaked in the warm water at the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is near the airport and it is common for people with layovers in Iceland go to the lagoon for a few hours and then head back to the airport. It is kind of expensive but it was also amazing and completely worth it!!! The warm super blue water felt amazing after being cold and sore! If any of you are thinking about having a stop over in Iceland DO IT and go to the Blue Lagoon. You can also have a layover in Iceland up to 7 days at no additional airfare!
Travis and I got the comfort experience that gave us a towel, one free drink at the bar in the lagoon, and silica face masks! I made Travis get the silica face mask but I don’t think he was very excited about it! HAHA
We soaked in the warm water for about 2.5 hours and then headed out to drop the camper van off and check into our last Airbnb! Dropping the van off was super easy near their airport and we had no trouble at all!
Day 10: Sept 5 FLY HOME!
All I gotta say is it was a long long day!
Read more: An Icelandic celebration
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