In August I had the opportunity to go to Iceland for 10 days with my grandmother, who I have traveled with numerous times before throughout my adolescence. She’s a worldwide traveler and at 80 she still loves venturing to exciting places - she wanted to go to Dubai together but I wasn’t sold on a 24 hour flight, so we settled on Iceland.
Iceland is THE hot destination right now. I know a ton of people who went after graduating college and there were tourists everywhere throughout the island (but even so, still not as crazy as the Vatican or the Eiffel Tower!).
We went in a large group with a local guide because we didn’t feel comfortable scooting around the island on our own and renting a car, although if I was with a younger friend or two I definitely would have done the trip that way.
I was excited about this trip because it was a different pace + totally opposite scenery than my trip the month before to Eastern Europe (read more about my trip here!). The trip was slower paced with a decent amount of driving because everything on the island is spread out once you get outside Reykjavik.
I will spare you all the tiny details of my trip and just give a good overview of the highlights of Iceland and what to do if you’re ever there or stopping on a layover.
- Blue Lagoon: This is situated outside of Reykjavik and you can see it on your way to the capital. If you’re planning on going, make a reservation ahead of time because it does get crowded. Even though there were a lot of people milling around, it’s a vast space and so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. I went to the lagoon right after a red-eye flight over, so it felt incredible to relax in the lagoon as I was half-asleep, essentially feeling drunk. They offer mud masks too that you can put on in the water, which makes for a great photo opportunity + skin refresher.
- Glacier lagoon (Jökulsárlón): My absolute FAVORITE part of the trip. When you drive up the lagoon, you’re thinking “where the heck am I?” as you drive along the two way ‘highway’ that is more quiet than the street outside my apartment. But you cross over a small bridge and then the lagoon shows up out of nowhere, and it is stunning - words will never do it justice. The backdrop is a glacier the size of the mountain, which has been melting over thousands of years into this lagoon, which subsequently flows into the ocean. The water in the lagoon is a perfect shade of aqua. We took a boat tour around the lagoon, which has sections of glacier that have come off floating around. In addition, in the area near where the lagoon sees the ocean, you could see seals swimming up into the lagoon! Fun fact: a scene from Die Another Day, one of the James Bond movies, was filmed at the lagoon. They blocked off the entrance to the ocean so the water froze and drove 4 Aston Martins and 4 Jaguars around. The sad part about this is that the rate the glacier is melting at is alarmingly high, so this treasured piece of paradise won't be around for much longer.
- Black Sand Beach (Reynisfjara): I only made a short stop here due to inclement weather, but it was worth a visit! This is in the south side of the country and warrants a visit if in the area. The beach is comprised of black sand, which is actually lava. It’s not smooth like white beaches, but instead course and rugged. There are basalt columns that shoot up into the sky and turn into land masses - on these columns I even saw puffins! At first I didn’t even realize what they were, I simply assumed they were birds. But after a closer look, I recognized their unique beak shape and was super excited (I used to love puffins when I was in elementary school). Out in the ocean is Reynisdrangar, also known as the sea trolls. These are more basalt cliffs that stand up in the sea. Speaking of the sea, the current is so intense in this area that you can’t even go into the water due to high risk of death!
- Tectonic Plates (Þingvelli) : Iceland is one of the only places in the world where you can see above sea level the shifting of tectonic plates quite easily. We saw where the Eurasia met the North American tectonic plates, which translates to a beautiful valley with majestic cliffs. We were able to walk in between plates, and it was quite a beautiful walk. Lava fills the valley when the plates shift, as they move around 2.5 centimeters a year. A fun fact here, this is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Icelandic mainland.
Those are my top four favorite sites from my trip over the summer, but I’ll throw in that I also loved all of the waterfalls (especially the popular Gullfoss), my tour of a geothermal power plant, and seeing the geyser geothermal area. Considering how cheap it is to get to Iceland (although fair warning everything on the island is fairly expensive), and how unique the country looks and all that it has to offer, I would 100% recommend adding it to your bucket list!