Icelandic Winter Wonderland

Talk about the experience of a lifetime. I’ll start this post by saying, this trip was not a relaxing getaway. If you’re one to typically take time off work to go spend a week in an all-inclusive resort on a crowded beach, and consider that a dream vacation, well this ain’t the trip for you. If you know me, however, you know I constantly long for adventure and am infinitely curious. This was by far the most satisfying adventure of my life. Every corner of this beautiful and chilling island felt like an entirely different planet. I can’t imagine having possibly crammed a second more of exploring into this experience.

As we had a super time crunched trip, we did everything in just 4 days! If I could change my experience I would add in an extra day, mostly for the fact that with all that you’re doing you need to start off rested. We got in at 5 am and hadn’t slept on the plane due to excitement, then kicked off our first day with a tour bright and early! I really loved that we had tour guides the entire trip and didnt have to deal with navigating as it was next to impossible to even understand walking through the streets (and that’s coming from a New Yorker).

We used a company called Reykjavik Excursions for all our tours and they were amazing and super well priced! We got a bus ride from them straight from the airport, and even got to leave our luggage in the bus all day, which was super helpful as we didn’t go to our Airbnb till about 9pm that night. Our first day we did a Southern Shore Adventure, which was jam packed. We went to two waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. The first is amazing and in the summer you can actually walk behind the falls! The second is also famously in many movies, like Thor: The Dark World (I geeked out).

After the falls, we visited Vík, a small village on the edge of a cliff which we were told was 25 years overdue for a major earthquake, while we were standing in the middle of it. Not frightening at all. We then saw the southernmost beach on the island, Reynisfjara, which is famous for its black sands and rock formations. This was mind blowingly beautiful and I seriously felt like I was on Mars.

Next, we stopped at Sólheimajökull. Here we got to hike up to a small lake which has formed in front of the retreating glacier. We had the once in a lifetime chance to walk into 40 mph winds. We would take turns leaning into the wind and releasing all of our body weight hoping the gust wouldn’t stop and drop us to the ground, which made for many much needed laughs as we were fighting against the frigid winds. Not recommended for two incredibly clumsy humans (I’m not sure how either of us are still alive) as the walk is down a path of ice and rocks and at times too narrow to walk beside another person without falling down a very, very steep mountainside. Only a handful of people made the hike all the way down to the glacier as there were many warnings of how difficult it was, but it was so worth it. What an incredible feeling, though frozen to the bone, to stand at the bottom of that massive ice block and feel so tiny and so surrounded by surreal beauty.

That night, we got taken into Reykjavik by our bus, and wandered the streets to our Airbnb. We stayed in a tiny garden house right in the city center which was perfect as we just needed a central location and didn’t care at all about having a fancy place to sleep.

The next day, we slept in, which was much needed. We spent that day exploring the city and doing a bit of touristy shopping. Although it is insanely cheap to get to Iceland and to stay there, it is drastically overpriced to buy anything there as everything they have is imported. We had an adorable breakfast in the restaurant of a hotel, which was the next best thing to $20 burgers. We attempted to go out that night and were really looking forward to the great nightlife that we had heard so much about, but were gravely disappointed as it was all dead due to being off season and a weeknight.

Our third day was spent on a tour of the Golden Circle. This was a big one and was done all in enough time to get dropped back off in the city where we attempted to warm up and eat before heading out in search of The Northern Lights!!! We started the tour at Gullfoss waterfall which is absolutely massive and even though half frozen, it still looked as if it was falling into an abyss.

We also saw Geysir geothermal park. Geysir is the world’s most famous and first recognized geyser, and naturally where all others get there name from. It no longer erupts but it’s smaller neighbor erupts every 10-15 minutes and was incerdibly impressive. The park itself is stunning.

The last stop of the day is at Þingvellir which is a national park where you can see the only above ground spot on Earth where two tectonic plates touch. The North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates split creating a jaw drop worthy view. Hiking around to get views was a bit difficult with all the ice, but in summer you can even snorkel inbetween the plates! I’m told it’s still a bit cold, even in the warmer months.

That night, after bundling up as much as we physically could, we went and hopped on a bus back out towards Pingevillir in search of the Northern Lights. We chose the time of year that we went on the trip specifically with the goal of seeing the lights. They normally stop showing sometime in March and as it was the first week of the month, we were really praying we would still get our chance. The guide told our bus that it hadn’t been a good couple of weeks on his trips out looking for the lights, and we tried not to be too excited as to not let ourselves be overly disappointed. By some miracle, after hours of standing in the cold, someone yelled that they saw something green above the peaks ahead of us and then they came out. As I don’t have insane camera skills or a fancy camera, I didn’t even bother an attempt at a picture. The memory however, will never ever leave my mind. I can not put into words how amazing it was to see those streaks of color dancing through the sky. I danced and yelped and shed a few tears all at once. This was hands down the best part of Iceland in my eyes and one of the most amazing moments of my life. Perfect last night of the trip, and so so very lucky we only had to go out once to see them.

And last but certainly not least, we found a tiny warm oasis on our last day. The Blue Lagoon was a favorite stop of mine for sure. I can’t recommend enough, having this as your morning stop before leaving. As it will definitely resignate as one of the best moments from the trip, it’s a great last memory of the country to have. Not only that, but it’s so incredibly relaxing after all the exploring and before a flight back home. I am so so so happy we chose to come in the morning right around sunrise, because well, have you see that awesome pic?! (I actually don’t look awkward and seem kinda cool for once!!!) In addition to getting to float around in a giant naturally heated spring in the midst of subzero temps, you also get to treat yourself to a free adult beverage (or several if you’re up to buying more) and a naturally found face mask which leaves your skin feeling A M A Z I N G. Rub it everywhere. Don’t worry how silly you look, take advantage of this heavenly stuff. For an additional fee you can try some of there other masks at the swim up hut as well. This is definitely something you want to purchase well in advance, as time slots fill up quickly. Another thing to note is that you are required to shower before entering the lagoon and I would recommend lathering your hair in their conditioner and leaving it in when you go. DO NOT LET YOUR HAIR GET INTO THE LAGOON WATER. All the minerals may be great for your skin but they are killer for your hair. I read about so many people saying how terribly dry and destroyed their hair felt for weeks after the trip there because they didn’t follow this advice.

Such an amazing, adventure filled exploration! And so very thankful I got to do it with my very best friend. I hope this very long itinerary helps inspire your next journey!

Cheers! Mackenzie

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