Once it sank in that this was not going to be a “dress to impress” type of vacation but rather a “put your hair up everyday and don your best waterproof Eddie Bauer gear” adventure, my hair straightening addiction subsided. I left my most beloved electric device at home and embraced the whole reason I wanted to take this trip in the first place: get lost exploring an otherworldly place that feels a million miles from home. That I did!
In the seconds before we landed at the remote Keflavik airport, surrounded by absolute nothingness, I simultaneously thought to myself “Here we go! Let’s do it!” and “What did I get us into?” We were greeted by an alien-like jagged lava field, spurts of rain, and what had to be hurricane-force winds as we picked up our rental car. My fears quickly ebbed as we arrived at our home base, the CenterHotel Arnarhvoll along the waterfront in Reykjavik (4 stars on yelp for THE BEST continental breakfast I’ve ever had!)
We arrived bright and early at 9 am, wracked with jet lag. After a 5 hour nap, we set out to get the lay of the land in the world’s northernmost capital city: a trip to the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, a stroll down the touristy Laugavegur Street, and our first of what would be many stops for a famous Icelandic hot dog.
DAY 2: The Golden Circle
Iceland’s most popular road trip is comprised of three main destinations: Thingvellir (the rift of two tectonic plates and the site of the first Icelandic parliament), Geysir (the geyser for which all others are named), and Gullfoss (Iceland’s most popular waterfall, which cascades down two spectacular drops). Save your appetite for the famous lamb stew inside the Gullfoss gift shop.
I can’t find the words to describe the experience of soaking in a florescent blue, mineral-rich, geothermal lagoon (with sparkling wine in hand and a silica mud mask on my face) other than these: complete and utter zen. We spent six hours melting away the stress of home and work, and we definitely could have stayed longer. You can soak all day if you wish.
(Pro tip: be sure to book your trip ahead of time, and pick up a bottle of the silica mud mask in the gift shop. It’s pricey but your skin will thank you!)
Day 4: The South Coast
Cue the TLC, cuz we went chasing waterfalls today along the Iceland’s south coast. Have you seen that American Express Gold commercial where she talks about visiting the ‘seventh waterfall of the day’? It’s no joke. The waterfalls here are surrounded by other waterfalls.
There’s a ridge just off the Ring Road where a string of waterfalls cascade off the cliff. The largest is Seljalandsfoss. You can walk behind the falls for a spectacular 360 degree view.
The most breathtaking, in my opinion, is the farthest waterfall down the ridge. A sliver in the rock formation reveals a glimpse of the hidden waterfall known as Gljúfrafoss. Play Indiana Jones and enter the cave for a spine-tingling front row seat to this astonishing marvel.
We ended our day trip at the mammoth, post-card ready Skogafoss. How close will you dare to get to this thunderous waterfall?
With our trip coming to an end, it was time to learn more about Iceland’s culture and partake in one of my favorite vacation activities: souvenir shopping! We learned about Iceland’s first inhabitants at The Settlement Exhibition and the country’s viking history at The Saga Museum. Then we toured the Old Harbor restaurants and shops to buy traditional Icelandic wool hats and sweaters. They’re expensive, but it’s the ultimate souvenir.
Our five day adventure came to an end too soon. We left many, many sights unseen, which will only be motivation to go back again someday!