A month ago, I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. After months of planning, my high school best friend, Kara, and I spent week in Iceland, “the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun, where the hot springs blow.” I’ve been back for a while now, but the culture and sights have been imprinted on my mind.
So why Iceland? I have to admit, at first it was because it was relatively cheap–we’re recent college grads after all. Kara and I wanted to go on a grand adventure, somewhere not a lot of people go. No cruise or a beach in the Caribbean; a place with sights you couldn’t see anywhere else. After some investigation, we realized that Iceland fit all of our requirements. Due to WOW Airlines, expanding to the United States, we were able to take a flight right out of our home city of Boston for under $100! And we got there in less time than it would’ve taken to fly cross-country. Taking advantage of Reykjavik’s many hostels also helped us save some dough. Even though food and drink can be kind of pricey there, and we went on a many guided tours, I was very pleased with how much I spent overall.
Iceland is also known for being one of the best destinations for solo female travelers. Granted I wasn’t traveling completely solo, but this would be our first trip where “adults” weren’t arranging everything. The country is known for its very low crime rate and how easy it is to get around; perfect for us! And since their number one industry is tourism, it caters to those who don’t speak the language.
Then there’s the fact that there is so much to do there! Those with an adventurous spirit can will never be bored exploring Iceland’s gorgeous terrain. And if you don’t feel like venturing too far, Reykjavik is a creative Mecca, home to musicians, artists, and a population that goes to more movies than any other country in the world. Our schedule was packed to the brim, but we didn’t care; we couldn’t wait to see everything!
So do I have you convinced to book your own trip to Iceland? If so, here’s Part 1 of my 10 Favorite Adventures from my trip to help you plan yours! Please check back next week to see Part 2!
1) South Coast Tour
By far the most exciting adventure of the trip was the all-day tour of the South Coast. We boarded our small coach bus bright and early in the morning and headed out to see waterfalls, glaciers, and volcanoes. Rain clouds loomed overhead, but as typical Icelandic weather would dictate, that wouldn’t last for long.
Our first stop was Skógafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in the country. The sun broke through as we approached it, creating a rainbow in the mist.
If you plan on visiting it, make sure you’ve been working out, because the trails to the top are painfully steep. We didn’t make it to the top, but had a great view from both the base and the half-way lookout point.
After checking out the falls, we headed towards the village of Vik and the black sand beach Reynisfjara. I’ve never seen anything like this place! The sand’s color is caused by the ash of the nearby volcanoes and the icy waves carve basalt columns into the rock. These natural wonders have inspired art all over Reykjavik, including the windows of Harpa Concert Hall. Reynisfjara is also one of two locations where you can see puffins! Unfortunately, they only return to their nests during the morning and evening, so we missed them.
We also got to take in the beach from multiple vantage points.
For a complete change of scenery, we traveled inland to see the Sólheimajökull Glacier. Traveling down the trail, past the glacial lagoon, we got to go all the way up to the glacial tongue. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, some tour groups take you on actual glacier hikes! If you want to get up close and personal with it, they provide the necessary equipment in which you wouldn’t be able to climb without.
At the suggestion of our tour guide, we made a brief pit stop at a small roadside museum chronicling the struggles of a farm at the base of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and affected people as far away as mainland Europe. It was devastating to see the destruction it caused; they were forced out of their home, hoping their livestock would survive, and returned to mountains of ash smothering their property. I’m glad our eyes were opened to it.
Our final stop was probably the most fun! We concluded with another waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, where not only did we take in its sublime beauty, but could walk behind it! The water was freezing and the wind was whipping it in our face, but we soldiered on up the rocky path to go behind it.
Good thing our trip was over, because our pants were soaking wet and plastered to our legs.
It was a crazy exhausting day, but so worth it in the end. The South Coast had the most breathtaking scenery and really showcased the diversity of Iceland.
2) Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon may be Iceland’s most popular tourist attraction, but it’s totally deserving. I’ve never felt so fancy or pampered in my whole life! Being over a volcanic hotspot, Iceland is known for its geothermal water, which is harnessed for sustainable energy and most importantly (priorities), relaxing hot spring spas. Ahhhhh…
It’s so close to the airport, that as soon as Kara and I landed we took a shuttle bus over to the spa. Depending on what entry package you buy, you not only get entry, but you can get a wonderfully plush robe and complimentary drinks.
Once you’re in the lagoon, you feel like you’re in a giant hot tub! It’s fantastic! You can sit and relax, sign up for a in-water massage, or swim up to the bar for a drink. Geothermal is also made up of silica, algae, and minerals, which you can put on your skin to cleanse and hydrate. There’s even a guy who’s sole job is to pass out facial mud! It’s hilarious!
After hours of bathing in 100 degree (fahrenheit) water, we visited the LAVA Restaurant for a delicious multicourse meal. It was delicious and the meat literally melted in my mouth.
The Blue Lagoon is certainly an unforgettable experience!
3) Horseback Riding
The Icelandic horse is the unofficial celebrity of Iceland. Short and stocky with a long, warm coat and shaggy mane, these horses know they’re adorable. We decided to get to know them better by embarking on a three-hour ride at Laxnes Farm.
My horse was a total diva. He couldn’t stand when the other horses passed him on the trail, so he would go off the path and kick up the speed to be number one. And he needed to constantly be pet. If I wasn’t scratching his neck, he’d nudge me with his head to get attention. What a goof!
But at least he wasn’t afraid of water like Kara’s horse!
It wouldn’t be a day in Iceland if we didn’t see some spectacular scenery! Despite being only a half hour from Reykjavik, we rode into beautiful, isolated highlands, and followed a river to a raging waterfall. On the way, we saw the strength of these little horses while crossing rivers, walking along narrow, rocky ledges, and running a tolt–a smooth trotting gait special to the Icelandic horse.
Horseback riding is a must in Iceland, especially to see what an important role they play in Icelandic heritage!
4) Icelandic Phallological Museum
Well, you know what they say, “when in Reykjavik…” I don’t know if they actually say that, but when in Iceland, you have to visit this, uhh, one of a kind museum. Located in downtown Reykjavik, the Icelandic Phallological Museum is the largest collection of its kind in the world. When you first enter, it’s a bit overwhelming and you can’t stop laughing, but after a bit, it’s just plain fascinating!
Seriously though, take some time to visit this collection. You’ll return home with a great story to tell your friends.
5) Take in the beauty of Reykjavik
There are literally hundreds of things to do in Reykjavik, but while you’re hustling and bustling on your way to do them, make sure you stop and admire all the fantastic art and architecture in the city. One of the gems is the new Harpa Concert Hall. Not only does it house music, theatre, and cultural events, but it is a spectacular structure!
As you might recognize, the building is inspired by the basalt columns from Reynisfjara. Once inside, you can’t help but stare, jaw agape, at the ceiling. Hopefully, you’ll have time to stop and enjoy a show. Unfortunately, it didn’t line up with our schedule, but that would’ve been so awesome!
The streets are also littered with cool statues. You never know when one might pop up for some fun photo opportunities. The Sun Voyager was right across from out hostel, so Kara and I staked out until we got the perfect sunset pics.
I was also surprised that there was so much street art! With so many artists per capita, buildings have been painted with murals and clever visual jokes.
So those were my Top 5 out of 10 Favorite Adventures from Iceland. Tune in again to see the back half of the list for more Icelandic inspiration!