Nearly 15 months ago, we embarked on our first overseas trip since our RTW trip to Iceland, the land of fire and ice. In Iceland during the winter time, there is only 5 hours of daylight, which makes for an interesting trip. This forced us to relax, slow down, and really enjoy our time together. Iceland is known for their Viking Sagas, extremely long days in the summer, short days in the winter, hot springs, Icelandic horses, and being a proud, independent, northern island.
We will spare you the all the details of the shit show of our first day, but here are the highlights. Arrived at 6am in the pitch-dark morning, overtired, constantly searching for a bathroom, crazy wind, icy roads, closed grocery stores, and eating snacks for NYE dinner. Despite all of this, we had the most epic and magical evening viewing the Aurea Borealis (Northern Lights) on New Year’s Eve with fireworks in the distance from Reykjavik. The green streaks of light were visible from horizon to horizon, shifting and changing for nearly an hour. It was unbelievable and the most impressive natural phenomena we have ever experienced. Zane got some great shots.
We rented a car with studded tires but recommend getting all-wheel drive if you are visiting in the winter. The roads are terrible and are very narrow with no room to pull over. Renting a car gave us the freedom we like to travel with and the ability to avoid the large tour buses as much as possible. The Golden Circle was our focus and would love to go back in the summer time to drive the entire Ring Road and camp with 15+ hours of sunlight. Many people choose to stay in the capitol and do day trips but for us little time was spent in Reykjavik. We did a walking tour in the freezing wind to learn some history about the country and see the colorful buildings, which contrast the whiteness of the snow.
Our first few nights were at Lake Thingvellir Cottages, an hour outside of Reykjavik, near Thingvellir National Park. These cottages were newly built and right beside the lake. We would have stayed here a week if we could have. The owners were a sweet a family that lived next door if anything was needed. We enjoyed cold, icy hiking along a frozen river with small waterfalls. Thingvellir National Park lies at the junction of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and boast of magnificent volcanic landscape. There is a church in the park where Icelanders made the final decision to abandon their paganist ways and adopt Christianity.
As we continued along the Golden Circle we visited the Geysir Geothermal Area and one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Gullfoss. It was a dreary day at the waterfall, but that did not distract from the beauty of it. We were tempted to drive back the next day to view again in the sun as it is known for the rainbows from the spray on a sunny day. The visitor center was our first experience with Icelandic stew, which had free refills. They are also known for their decadent cakes. Daily cake and soup for us. Delicious.
The next destination was Vik, which is on the southern side of the island. It is famous for its black rock beaches and crazy rock formations. Along the journey there, large waterfalls were a must see. We stayed at the Mid Hvoll Cottages outside of Vik. They are in the middle of farmland, but you can hear the waves crashing on the beach, just a short walk away.
Jökulsárlón National Park was next on the list, and one of the most anticipated sites. Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon, where the icebergs make it across the lagoon, they either drift out to sea or wash up on the nearby shore. Because of storm that was rolling in, driving conditions, and timing, we decided to change our plans and make our way to Selfoss instead. We did a quick stop at Vatnajökull glacier, one of the largest glacier in Europe, on our way from Vik to Selfoss.
Selfoss is a small, unassuming town which we did not have much expectations for. Our accommodations were at the Gesthus Selfoss. The owners were lovely and told us about a large town celebration on their property on our first evening. To our surprise, it was amazing! It was the celebration of the 12th day of Christmas, also known as Epiphany day. 12 Santa Clauses carrying torches, led an entire town parade, to end at the property we were staying for the largest bon fire we had ever seen. Kids ran around in snow suits and clear glasses on while the crowd cheered in celebration with fireworks in the background. We viewed it as a celebration to start the year with good intentions and to release any bad energy from the previous year. It has now become a new tradition in our household to have a burning release party on Jan. 6th in honor of this magnificent experience we had in Selfoss.
One of our final adventures was riding Icelandic horses. Horses are all along the country side and are beautiful. They don’t vaccinate their horses, nor do they allow horses into the country from other countries. Enjoy the pics of their cute faces.
Visiting hot springs is a passion for us and there is no better place than Iceland to experience this. Since we visited in the winter, many were closed or unreachable because one needs to hike to them. We choose to not visit the most famous Blue Lagoon because of the cost and massive droves of people that visit on a daily basis. These factors did not deter us from finding some amazing hot springs and experiencing some unforgettable nights under the stars. Remember to shower before you enter as you may get scolded by a local if you do not.
Laugarvatn Fontana, https://www.fontana.is. Laugarvatn is a tiny village along route 1 on the golden circle about one hour from Reykjavik. They have a nice café that includes their famous bread ‘thunder’ bread, which is steam-cooked underground in a geothermal spring. There was also a beautiful hostel next door next to a lake, that would have been a great place to stay.
Secret Lagoon near Fludir, which is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, was our most magical hot springs experience, spiritual one could say. Getting here was a journey in and of itself. It was a blizzard and dark out, and as we approached the small town the clouds turned bright orange. This was from the reflection of the lights from the many greenhouses used to grow vegetables because of the extreme winter weather.
Culturally, they don’t drink much, which makes beer expensive. The liquor stores are state-run and hard to find. Most days we ate soups or stews topped off with cakes and coffee. Just outside of Selfoss is an amazing languoustine (lobster) restaurant on the seashore called Fijorubordid. A stop here is highly recommended and typically you need reservations as it is well-known. We showed up in off season before they even opened so we were the only ones in the restaurant as it rained and the waves crashed outside our window. Our favorite fish and ships was at Steakhouse Surf and Turf in Selfoss.
As mentioned, would love to go back in the summer time to drive the entire Ring Road with the ability to camp and experience all the places that were closed due to visiting in the winter. However, we would still recommend visiting in the winter. Iceland is a very special and magical country!
Enjoy all our photos from Iceland! Next up, our Ireland blog, which was 6 months ago, we are getting caught up on travel blogging!