Destination Snapshot: Iceland

I usually like to pick warm, sunny locations (usually with palm trees and super blue water) when I travel, however this time, some friends had planted the idea of Iceland in my head. As I was doing research, I noted more and more reviews talking about the scenery and the sheer beauty of the country. Many people also mentioned the weather too! Finally, it was decided! My husband, oldest son and I headed off to Iceland in July.

On my Facebook page, I posted pictures of the unique city of Reykjavik, the beautiful buildings, the incredible terrain, the break-taking waterfalls and the serene Blue Lagoon. Many people were connecting to where I was, or commenting that they wanted to visit while others were asking for tips and recommendations for the trip they already planned. This post is for all those who are inspired to put Iceland on their bucket list!

First the weather, then…WHAT TO PACK?!?!

After reading so many blogs and articles online regarding “summer” weather in Iceland; it was clear that the only thing they all agreed upon was to dress in layers.  Only snow and the sun determine when it is summer and when it is winter! In the summer, we experienced about 22 hours of daylight and the highest temperature while we were there was 51 degrees.  When the sun isn’t out (and it really wasn’t for 5 of the 6 days we were there) it felt cooler. There was a wind that you can feel through your jeans or leggings. Most days it was cloudy and overcast. We had rain on and off throughout the day – everyday except one!

With this in mind, I began packing taking into account what I would need for the specific excursions we planned.  I packed long johns, leggings, and jeans. I either wore two leggings or long johns under my jeans. The wind definitely can go through you.  I also wore long sleeved t-shirts, flannel shirt, and sweatshirts under a waterproof jacket. This jacket is a must!! It helps block the wind as well as not get your clothes soaking wet!  My son wore his North Face three-in-one ski jacket, which he didn’t take off throughout the trip. The base layers help keep your heat in. I switched between gym shoes and Timberland waterproof hiking shoes.  The hiking shoes were great for…well hiking, of course but also for excursions to the glaciers and waterfalls. I used the gym shoes for walking around the city and local sightseeing. In addition, I had a hat and thin gloves.  

Location, Location, Location

We stayed in an apartment located outside the main hub-bub of Reykjavik but easily walk-able to the main part of the city.  It was a one-bedroom condo with a pullout sofa, one bathroom and small kitchen. There was plenty of room for the three of us.  It was clean and spacious (as spacious as European accommodations can be!) This is a great place for those that want to cook or eat-in.  One thing to note is the sulfur smell or more accurately, “rotten eggs” smell. The odor is gas hydrogen sulphide (note, NOT sulphite!). This is usually present in geothermal waters, and is often associated with volcanic eruptions. The human nose is very sensitive to this gas and detects minute quantities. There is NO sulphur in the cold drinking water, anywhere in Iceland and there are two completely different sources for hot and cold water. The Icelandic cold water is probably the cleanest drinking water in the world, and there is no way that there is any slight trace of sulphur in any food or drinking product in Iceland. You can smell it while taking a shower or brushing your teeth.  In no way did this smell cling to us but it was something to get used it.  When I return to Iceland, I think I would rather stay in a hotel closer to the center of the city.  I like the idea of someone cleaning the room everyday even though the room may not be as big as an apartment may be.  And in most hotels, I believe they are able to control the “rotten eggs” smell.

There are so many great restaurants to try! Location is key!

There are so many great restaurants to try! Location is key!

So much to see and do!

Day 1 – Reykjavik Tour

We arrived into Keflavík International Airport in the morning but by the time we picked up the rental car and drove to our apartment in Reykjavik, it was 2:30 in the afternoon.  For us it was naptime! However, by late afternoon, we were ready to explore Reykjavik. This truly is a beautiful city. With so much character and quirks, beautiful sights and crazy weather. It doesn’t get very bright, or very warm, but that all adds to the charm of the city. It was magical with the hills in the distance. 

Hallgrimskirkja is a stunning cathedral at the top of the hill when you walk through the city that is a great spot for photos, especially when you go to the very top to see the sights from above. We all went up together on a day when the sky was partly clear.  The images were beautiful!

This is a city of food. There are cafes, bars and restaurants at every turn, and you’re sure to just walk out of your apartment or hotel and find exactly what you’re looking for, no matter what ethnic food you’re in the mood for.  There are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans as well.

Day 2 – Snowmobile Adventure & Ice Cave tour on Langjokull Glacier

Using Google Maps, we made our way to Husafell meeting point but not without stopping along the way to really just enjoy the break taking views.  You see more sheep on the hills than cars! Iceland is a country that is easy to navigate and drive in the summer, with the beautiful roads unclogged and seemingly police-free. Seriously, I rarely saw law enforcement in Iceland at any time during my trip. No crime I guess. Don't speed though - they have radar set up along the major roads and will send you a speeding ticket in the mail if you go too fast

For this I wore long johns with waterproof pants and my Timberlands.  You will get wet so if you want to stay comfortable, wear the right gear!  

We are able to drive the snowmobile right up to the entrance of the ice cave.  Did you know you can get married in the ice cave?

Day 3 – Golden Circle

This was a full, packed, long day for us! The Golden Circle is this cool 3ish hour drive out of Reykjavik that is actually a circle, but drops you at some of the most famous sites in Iceland.

Our first stop was Thingvillir (Þingvellir) National Park.  Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift; some parts of it, such as the Westfjords and Reyjavík, are on the North American tectonic plate, while others, such as Vatnajökull glacier and the East Fjords, are on the Eurasian plate. Iceland is the only place in the world where this rift is above sea-level, and nowhere can you see the edges of both plates as clearly as in Þingvellir.  Here is where we went snorkeling. We were in the crack between the two plates called Silfa. We can touch both plates at the same time and see some of the clearest water on earth.

All I can say is WOW!  The most amazingly clear water and incredible views!  A must try for anyone who loves to snorkel. I’m in the pink goggles!  Then we moved on to Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir. The geyser is a natural wonder of the world, and the water bubbles up into the air reliably every 8 minutes or so. 

On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped by Kerid Crater.  The Kerid volcano is thought to have formed when the magma in the center simply depleted itself, and the empty chamber beneath caved in. Regardless of the geological history that led to the lake’s creation, its bright rainbow of colors look unearthly.

Absolutely stunning!

Absolutely stunning!

Day 4 – Blue Lagoon

The Lagoon is 45 minutes from Reykjavik but on the way to and from the airport.  Many make this their stop right after they land or before their flight to leave.

Set aside at least 2 hours for pure relaxation and tranquility.  I would recommend going either early or just a bit later in the day to avoid the heavy crowds but frankly, the lagoon is big enough that you really don’t notice the people too much.  We did not purchase the robe or flip flops because you can enter and exit from the locker rooms and we brought ours from home. They provide towels. I also recommend that the ladies with long hair to put it up and make sure you put the conditioner they provide in your hair.  The water can make your hair a bit rough afterwards and the conditioner helps. A complimentary silica mud mask was great at tightening the skin and giving it a smooth feeling. Caution – my son decided to put the mask on three separate times (just because he’s 15 and thinks he knows it all), and his face ended up drying out so much for the next 4 days that he had white flakes peeling off of his skin. Once is enough! Enjoy the swim-up bar, enjoy a drink or two and just relax!

Day 5 – Ring Road – Southern Iceland

Seljalandsofss Waterfall is a powerful waterfall that you can walk behind.  Again, dress the part if you want to get close to the falls.  Next, Skogafoss Waterfall.  The stairs nearly did me in but so worth the views!  Once you get to the top, keep hiking up the paths. The landscape is incredible!Lastly, we went into the city of Vik to eat some fantastic pizza.  This quaint little town is on the way to Reynisfjara Beach or Black Beach.  We were on Black Beach at 11:30pm and left after midnight. Still light outside! If you have a 4x4 vehicle, you can drive up to Dyrholaey Lighthouse, which is on the way back to Reykjavik. Unfortunately, we did not and there was a clear sign telling you not to attempt to drive without a 4x4. Next time!

Final Thoughts!

  1. If you want to drink while there, buy your liquor at the duty free shop in the airport before you get in your rental car.  Everything in Iceland is REALLY EXPENSIVE (like, $15 US for a beer) so take advantage of that duty-free liquor store.

  2. If you rent a car, take pictures/video of the car with the sale representative there.  I’ve heard horror stories with companies adding additional damage fees once the car has been turned in.  We used Enterprise with no problems.

  3. Take note of what kind of gas your rental car takes.  We meet two women who were stuck at Seljalandsofss Waterfall when their car wouldn’t turn on.  The mechanic told them it was because they used regular gas instead of diesel.

  4. There are speed cameras EVERYWHERE!  Just because you are the only one on the road doesn’t mean it’s the Autobahn.  Mind their speed limits!

  5. Our credit card did not work at the gas station.  The machine kept asking for a pin number. Luckily we had our debit card on us so we were able to get gas.  A credit card will work everywhere except at the gas pumps.

  6. If you choose not to rent a car, all tour companies will pick you up from most hotels in Reykjavik.   

  7. The midnight sun will mess with your sleep cycle.  Even though hotels/apartments have dark curtains, light is still filters through.  Bring an eye mask to help you get your zzzz’s.

Iceland is one of the cleanest, most pristine places I’ve visited.  The people are incredibly friendly and the landscape is something so unique! 

If Iceland has been on your bucket list, but just haven't known where to start, contact me to help you plan a trip to this beautiful & unique destination.  You won't be disappointed!

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