Welcome back to my Iceland posts! This is part two of our adventures, so if you haven’t read the first part, check it out here! In the first two days, we explored Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon. The next two days were full of excitement and even more adventure as we drove along the southeast coast of Iceland and the famous Golden Circle route.
D A Y 3
We woke up on Sunday morning, our third day in Iceland, at 5:30 am. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am not a morning person AT ALL. Why else would I stroll into work at 9:30 every morning, about 30 minutes to an hour after everyone else is already at work? Me and mornings just do not go together. This day though, it didn’t even matter to me. As soon as my alarm went off at 5:30, I woke up immediately, so excited to just get the day started. We left our hotel by 7am to hit the road, knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us as we made our way along the southeast coast of Iceland.
This day was the most exciting for me because we were finally going to visit Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon I had seen online that had first spawned by desire to even go to Iceland. The drive from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón is just under 5 hours. We planned to drive all the way to Jökulsárlón first since it was the most east we would be heading, and then stop at all the other places we wanted to see as we drove back. On our drive there, we passed several fields of horses and sheep (a herd was crossing the road right as I was making a turn, and I had to slam on my brakes as I almost didn’t see them!), as well as mountains on mountains covered in moss.
Just before noon, we finally made it to Jökulsárlón. Upon first seeing this magical place, I couldn’t even believe my eyes. How is it that a place so beautiful exists in the world? I literally thought I was in a dream. Jökulsárlón is surrounded by little icebergs, which have broken off from a nearby glacier. The lagoon developed after the glacier started receding from the Atlantic Ocean, and since then, has grown even more due to the melting of the glacier. If you are interested in exploring Jökulsárlón even more, they have several boat tours that you can book in advance that will take you out onto the water, allowing you to see the glaciers up close. For me though, it was enough to just stand back on the shore and look out over the lagoon, so you get a more full view of the beauty of this place.
Across from Jökulsárlón, you will find the Diamond beach. This is where the chunks of ice have washed up onto the shore. The ice “diamonds” glisten among the black sand of the beach, and is a beautiful sight to see. We had so much fun taking pictures here!
I never wanted to leave the beauty of Jökulsárlón and the Diamond beach, but when we finally did, I knew that we still had many other exciting things to see. Our next stop being Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.
Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is up to 100 m deep and 2 km long with a river running through it. It is believed that Fjaðrárgljúfur was formed at the end of the last Ice Age when the glacier retreated and a lake formed in the valley. The run-off from the lake is where the canyon is today. If you have seen Justin Bieber’s music video for I’ll Show You, which was shot in Iceland, there are scenes where he is running to the edges of this canyon. Fjaðrárgljúfur was a bit different when we went, as they’ve now put up a railing running along the canyon which prevents you from going out to the edge of it. Safety first I guess. Nonetheless, it was still really beautiful, and definitely a sight to see. Fjaðrárgljúfur is not as touristy as some of the other attractions, so you won’t see big crowds here. Just beware that there is quite a long uphill hike along the canyon to get to the top of it.
From Fjaðrárgljúfur, we went on our way to Reynisfjara, the most famous black sand beach in Iceland, located in the small town of Vik. Apparently Reynisfjara was ranked as one of the top 10 most beautiful non tropical beaches in the world, but you should be careful. The waves here are also some of the most dangerous. There’s even a warning sign before you go out onto the beach to never turn your back to the water because of how big and unpredictable the waves can be. And the sign wasn’t kidding – we witnessed firsthand how quick the waves are and how far up the shore they crash when my aunt had turned around for 2 second to take a picture, and the water instantly rushed up past her boots. So just be careful, especially if you’re with children!
All of the beaches in Iceland consist of black sand from the volcanoes, but what makes Reynisfjara special is the basalt columns and caves. And what actually surprised me about the black sand, is that it’s not actually black sand at all. It does not have the small grainy texture of traditional white sand beaches (and is definitely not a place where you would lounge around and tan in the summer, more of a viewing pleasure type of place), rather, the black sand is actually made up of black pebbles in all different sizes. I ended up picking up a few to take home as souvenirs (whereas the souvenir shops in downtown Reykjavik would actually charge you a bunch of money for the exact same thing you could get for free).
Following the black sand beach, we made our way to Sólheimasandur, a famous plane wreck on the beach. This is another place that was featured in Justin Bieber’s music video where you’ll see him skateboarding on top of the abandoned plane. The plane is a US Navy DC plane which crashed on the coast of Iceland in 1973 when the plane ran out of fuel. Later they realized that the pilot had switched to the wrong fuel tank. Thankfully, everyone on the plane survived the crash.
When we were looking for the plane wreck, there were no signs indicating where it was. There were a bunch of cars parked in the area and several people walking towards the beach, so we followed and assumed that this was where the plane wreck must be. What they also don’t tell you is how far you have to hike to get to the plane wreck. 15 minutes turned into half an hour, which turned into 45 min, and then about 50 min to an hour into our hike, we finally saw the plane wreck in the distance. When we first started our hike to get to the plane wreck, the sun was already starting to set and by the time we arrived, it was almost dark out. Needless to say, we spent way more time getting there than we expected (keep in mind we also had to hike another hour back!), and since it was dark out, we knew there was no way we would be able to visit everything else we had planned for that day. There were a few waterfalls that we unfortunately had to skip out on. (TIP: Always keep in mind the time of year that you are going to Iceland. Since we went in October, the days were already getting shorter and shorter so we did not have as much time to experience everything we had planned to on day trips like this. If you are going in the summer then you don’t have to worry about it. If you are going in the winter, a one day trip to Jökulsárlón and back would not be feasible, especially if you are planning to make other stops along the way.)
Sólheimasandur was really cool though, as you get to actually touch the abandoned plane and go inside of it too! This past summer we went snorkeling in Tobermory to see shipwrecks and because they were about 30 ft below the surface, we couldn’t see anything. So to finally get to see something up close and touch it was really cool!
By the time we hiked back to our car from the plane wreck, it was pitch black outside and time to drive the 2.5 hour drive back into Reykjavik. When we finally arrived back at our hotel, we were all so exhausted from our long and adventurous day that we decided to just make instant noodles in our room for dinner and call it a night (TIP: I mentioned last week that food is very expensive in Iceland. Make sure to pack your own dried foods from home so you can save money and make something quick and easy on long days. Things like instant noodles, granola bars and other snacks are ideal.) We headed to bed soon after because our next day was also going to be an adventurous one as we were set to drive the famous Golden Circle!
D A Y 4
Waking up on Monday morning was bittersweet – it was our last full day in Iceland so of course we were sad to be leaving the next day, but we were also so excited to be driving the Golden Circle. Unlike the day before, we knew this day wasn’t going to be quite as long and exhausting since the total drive time for the Golden Circle is just over 3 hours, versus 10 hours the previous day. Knowing that, we were also able to sleep in a bit more and wake up at a more decent hour (for me anyways), but still early enough to get a productive start to our day.
Before hitting the road, we made a quick pit stop for gas and food to bring on the road. Just like how food is quite pricey in Iceland (the gas station food was no exception), gas is also no exception. Expect to pay more than double what you would pay back home on gas. Still, there’s no way around it and I would definitely still recommend driving your way around Iceland over taking tours, just for the convenience and being able to see what you want on your own time.
About 45 minutes after departing the city, we made it to our first stop on the Golden Circle – Þingvellir National Park! The park is quite big, with signs pointing you in all different directions at the entrance based on what you want to see. We didn’t end up staying here too long and only saw some waterfalls. They were impressive, but not as impressive as what we would soon see later on in the day.
Before making it to the Geysir which was our next stop, we drove past a few horses quietly begging for our attention right off the road. Of course, we had to stop and say hi! This was definitely a highlight for me on this trip. If you know me, you know that I’m a huge animal lover, and back home in the city we don’t come across horses often, so this was so exciting for me! We had seen plenty of horses roaming around the fields in Iceland, but to see them so up close and approachable was more rare. These horses were so tame, sweet and friendly, I honestly think I could’ve just stayed there the entire day with them!
When we finally made it back on the road, it was just under an hour drive upon reaching the Geysir. The main Geysir erupts about every 10 minutes, so you will find lots and lots of tourists waiting around the Geysir with their cameras and phones out ready to capture the moment. I too was one of them, but I tried and failed. My reaction time must be very slow, for as soon as the geysir erupted, it was already over before I even had the chance to click the record button on my phone. The eruption only lasts a few seconds, so be ready and be quick! Unfortunately, it was too quick for me and I don’t have any cool pictures of the Geysir to share with you guys.
Our next stop on the Golden Circle was the famous Gullfoss waterfall. Gullfoss is very close to the Geysir – only about a 10 minute drive away. The falls reminded me of the one we saw earlier in our day at Þingvellir National Park, but on a much grander scale. Gullfoss is also not like the waterfalls you will see while driving the southeast coast of Iceland, like Seljalandsfoss or Skogafoss. While those waterfalls are taller and thinner, Gullfoss is very wide and only about half the height. It kind of reminds me of Niagara Falls in that sense (although Niagara is still much larger). The cool thing about Gullfoss is that you can walk along it and actually walk really close to the water!
Our last stop on the Golden Circle is not a usual stop that most people make. It is much less touristy, but as soon as I heard about it, I knew we had to go there – it’s the Reykjadalur hot spring river! I have to say, aside from Jökulsárlón, Reykjadalur was my favourite activity and one of the top highlights of this trip for me. Reykjadalur is a hiking trail located in a valley with steam flowing everywhere and a hot spring river at the top that you can bathe in! The geothermal activity that occurs here is actually in the roots of an extinct volcano that was active about 120,000 years ago and has now been carved out due to glacial erosion. The warmth in the Reykjadalur river is provided by the discharge from the many soda springs and warm springs in the area.
When I researched Reykjadalur, I knew that the hike was going to be tough as it’s mostly uphill, but I didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was. The hike going up is quite steep, and you are basically hiking up on this steep incline the entire time. There are a few areas that are more flat, but I would say for about 90% of it, you will be hiking uphill. It’s definitely a good idea to wear durable hiking boots for this (I wore my Docs and I was fine), especially if the weather is wet, you may slip on the hill. Along the hike, you will see lots of little rivers and pods of water, all either boiling or with steam coming out of them. There are signs everywhere warning you to be careful and not touch the water as it is 100 degrees Celsius!
It took us about an hour and a half and plenty of stop and water breaks to catch our breath, but when we finally made it to the hot spring river at the top, we knew the exhausting hike was all worth it. There aren’t any proper change rooms here, so make sure you’re wearing your bathing suit underneath your clothes so you can take them off and soak in the warm river! That’s exactly what we did, and we loved every moment of it. The water was warm and as we laid in the river looking up at the sky among the mountains, it was just so relaxing. (TIP: The more upstream on the river you go, the warmer the water actually is). Even though the air was cold and brisk, when we were soaking in the warm river, all we felt were our bodies warming up and we soon forgot about the cold. The worst part was when it was finally time to get out of the water!
All in all, I loved the entire Reykjadalur experience. I actually much preferred it over the Blue Lagooon. If you’re looking for a more natural, free of charge, and rewarding experience, then I definitely recommend Reykjadalur. Just be prepared for the uphill hike, but I promise you, it’s all worth it in the end! Thankfully, the hike going back is mostly downhill and not as strenuous, so you can probably make it back down in half the time.
Reykjadalur was an amazing and relaxing way to finish off our Golden Circle day. Afterwards, we drove about 40 minutes back into Reykjavik to get ready for our last dinner in Iceland. Since we are all seafood lovers and Iceland has some of the best, we decided to go for seafood on our last night. We stumbled upon a small little place called Salka Valka Fish and More on our first day in Iceland near the church, and the menu sounded so appetizing so we decided to check it out for dinner. The menu is very tiny (I believe only two main courses on the menu. One being their catch of the day and the other being their plokkfiskur), but what they do have, they make very well. I ordered the plokkfiskur, which is a traditional Icelandic fish stew. At Salka Valka, the plokkfiskur is a mix of cod and haddock cooked with onions and spices, served over rice and topped with a delicious sauce. Although I can’t say I had any bad meal in Iceland, the plokkfiskur at Salka Valka was definitely one of my favourites. The meal itself was delicious, giving off a home-cooked vibe that was full of flavour and very filling. It was great value for the amount of food you get compared to other restaurants. I would highly recommend Salka Valka if you are looking for a yummy, cozy meal.
This brings me to the end of my Iceland blog post. On our last day before catching our flight home, we didn’t do too much. We just walked around the city looking for last minute souvenirs to bring home. To be honest, everything in Reykjavik is overpriced, so you might as well just buy what you need to at the duty free shop in the airport. We ended up bringing back some Icelandic chocolate, dried fish snacks, and Icelandic vodka (I tried it, and is SO smooth!).
Before I finish off this post, I leave you with another Icelandic song recommendation. This one comes from the band Kaleo, whom you may have heard of already, as their hit song Down We Go has made radio airwaves a lot over the past year. I’m a big fan of Kaleo’s album A/B, but I actually had forgotten that they’re originally from Iceland until I saw their album in one of the gift shops in Reykjavik. Today I’m featuring a song off of that album called Save Yourself. You NEED to watch the music video for this below, where they’re playing on Fjallsárlón, a glacier lagoon in Iceland that’s less well-known than Jökulsárlón but just as beautiful. The song is absolutely beautiful, showing off a more subdued side to their usual bluesy/folk rock genre, and the music video is just as beautiful, truly showing off the natural beauty that is Iceland.
I hope you all enjoyed my Iceland blog posts – if you did, please give it a like so I know to do more posts like this when I travel next. If you were or are thinking about travelling to Iceland, I definitely recommend it. There is natural beauty everywhere you look and you will truly be amazed by it. I can confidently say that Iceland is hands down the most beautiful place that I have ever been to, and if you end up visiting this magical country as well, I hope you enjoy it just as much as I did.