ICELAND: Fire, Ice, and Everything Nice

January 11, 2019

by: Laura Faulkner

Waves crash on lava rock, kaleidoscope banks surround bubbling hot springs, columns of steam spiral skyward, waterfalls tumble down cliffs and canyons.  This is the Land of Fire and Ice—Iceland—the most breathtakingly beautiful, scenic, and diverse destination I have ever visited. A stunning location for my unforgettable, 10-day honeymoon road trip this past October!

Ring Road

Being our honeymoon, it seemed super appropriate to travel on what is commonly referred to as Ring Road, Iceland’s famous Route 1.  There wasn’t a single spot along this road that wasn’t interesting or beautiful.  I honestly don’t know how my husband didn’t drive off the road at every turn because the scenery is incredible, rugged, and distracting—Black sand beaches, quaint towns, rugged cliffs, volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, mountains, fjords, moss-covered lava fields, waterfalls, lambs roaming the countryside, and Icelandic horses frolicking in fields.

Must-See Places

These places are as stunning as their names are impossible to pronounce.  Here are our top spots to see in Iceland in the order we visited them.

Gunnuhver Hot Springs and Reykjanes Lighthouse

Where the North Atlantic Ridge rises from the ocean, you’ll find hundreds of craters, lava fields, and black sand beaches.  Be sure to visit the two gems of the Reykjanes Peninsula. At Gunnuhver Hot Springs, a light rain fell and steam rose from mud pools and steam vents as we watched the sunrise over this otherworldly landscape.  It was a beautiful and peaceful way to welcome our first morning.  Dominating a nearby hill, the famed white Reykjanes Lighthouse keeps watch over the rocky coast.  Watching the waves crash against the black lava rock shore and giant cliffs was incredible.

Krýsuvík

Sensory overload!  Bubbling mud pools.  The hiss and and splash of steam escaping vents in the rocky earth.  Banks in hues of red, yellow, and green surrounding these hot springs, contrasting with the crazy silver blue of the water.  You won’t be sure if the beauty or the thick smell of sulphur is taking your breath away. Every step along the wooden walkways is stunning.

Glymur Waterfall Hike

It was raining, very windy, and a fairly steep climb, but the views of this majestic waterfall plunging an incredible 650 feet down moss-covered, black canyon walls was worth every minute.  The main route on the east side of the falls was closed due to high water, but not to be deterred, we took the trail less traveled on the west. What an unbelievably mind-blowing view of the second-tallest waterfall in Iceland.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

Iceland is renowned for its natural beauty, so it’s no wonder that this incredible church in the heart of Reykjavik somehow resembles a towering cliff.  Inside, white columns stretch heavenward in gothic arches. We took the elevator to the top and took in the 360-degree view of Iceland’s picturesque capital city.

Seljalandsfoss

Ring Road holds a glittering jewel—Seljalandsfoss Falls.  The cliff’s edge above juts out far above the base making it possible to walk behind the waterfall underneath the rock and only get misted.  Majestic and striking, it is one of the most photographed features in all of Iceland for a reason.

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey Peninsula was one of our favorite spots.  Staggering views of Iceland’s South Coast, a historic lighthouse, and an incredible rock arch.  This place blew us away—literally. The wind was so powerful on top of Dyrhólaey there were times it was hard to walk.  But somehow that just added to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take in the views!

Reynisfjara Beach

Okay.  You may have to fight the crowds to see this one.  Black-sand beach, hauntingly beautiful sea stacks, hexagonal basalt columns stretching as high as the eye can see–It is no wonder National Geographic named Reynisfjara one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches in the world.  With roaring Atlantic waves and stunning panoramas, it’s easy to see why this spot is so popular.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

Completely unpronounceable, 100% captivating, this lesser known canyon in South Iceland was one of the spots we were most looking forward to seeing.  It sits back from the main road, so it’s not as well known or crowded as many of the places we visited…but it’s every bit as breathtaking! Hiking paths wind all along one side of this canyon, offering awe-inspiring views and leading to an immense waterfall.  Definitely one of my favorite spots in Iceland!

Skaftafell Nature Reserve: Skaftafellsjökull Glacier and Svartifoss Falls

We arrived late afternoon and hiked the easy mile out to Skaftafellsjökull glacier as the sun started to set.  It was our first up-close glacier experience in Iceland. Surprisingly quiet, the views of the glaciers, mountains, and lagoon were surreal.

Svartifoss, meaning Black Falls, gets its name from the basalt columns it tumbles over.  It is no wonder this captivating place was the inspiration for the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik.  It takes a little hike to earn this view of one of the most unique waterfalls in Iceland.   These two extraordinary features of the Skaftafell Nature Reserve can easily be seen in a day.

Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon) and Diamond Beach

These neighboring attractions are an absolute must-see!  Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon. The sheer magnitude of this place, the number of icebergs, and the enormous size of the glacier were truly astounding.  And to think this frigid lagoon is 800 feet at its deepest point. Nearby Diamond Beach is equally stunning. Dazzling shards of icebergs wash up on the contrasting black sand, looking like glittering diamonds along the shore.

Tips for Visiting Iceland

So many breathtaking places to visit in this awe-inspiring place.  This list could have been much longer, and we only visited half the island!  Here’s what you need to know before you go:

Travel Boom:

Iceland has seen a boom in visitors over the last decade, yet recent reports suggest the rate of visitors is finally leveling out.  While the country scrambles to provide infrastructure to accommodate the more than 2 million people (That’s more than six times the country’s population) who visit Iceland each year and to protect the pristine natural environment, it pays to plan your trip carefully.  Even in mid to late October, there were crowds to contend with.

Weather:

So this isn’t your typical vacation spot with palm trees and little drinks with umbrellas.  The weather in Iceland is constantly changing, especially around the coast. It can be cloudy and raining and then 10 minutes later calm and sunny and then 10 minutes after cloudy and drizzly again.  There was a good amount of wind at least 50% of the time—definitely the windiest destination I have ever visited. So be well-prepared with clothing and shoes for wind, rain, snow, hiking, and chilly weather (It averaged between 30-50 degrees while we were there).   

Food:

Anyone visiting HAS to try the Icelandic hot dogs.  They are AMAZING and cheap. We ate them for lunch a lot since you can get them at pretty much any gas station around the country.  Food in Iceland is on the more expensive side, but it’s worth it. Every single meal we had was fresh and delicious. I also recommend trying the Icelandic meat stew, typically made with local lamb, as well as trying Skyr—a traditional dairy product that is similar to yogurt but better.

Adventure Awaits

So maybe Iceland isn’t your typical honeymoon location, but it’s perfect for adventure addicts, intrepid nature lovers, hikers, hot dog eaters, and bucket-list checkers.  It’s rugged, astonishingly beautiful, and worth every effort to see. So grab your camera. The Land of Fire and Ice awaits!