Iceland: Photos, Stories & Travel Advice
This post comes to you from the skies over Nuuk, Greenland. I’m returning to America after 4 luxurious days in Iceland.
I have a lot of feelings about the country I call home. They’ve been building up inside of me from the moment that I touched down at Keflavík late on November 8 and the astonishing election results started rolling in. Watching everything unfold from thousands of miles away has been simultaneously heartbreaking and refreshing. In restaurants across Reykjavík, I’ve watched residents and travelers alike having the same stunned, concerned exchanges that Alex and I have had. Suffice it to say that people around the world are as baffled and apprehensive as we are, albeit from a distance.
In the midst of this existential anxiety, I want to share some of the beauty that has kept me sane over the last week. I’m including all of the advice that I can think of for your future adventure to Iceland—I hope that you get the chance to see this incredible place with your own eyes one day.
Where to Go
We spent one day exploring Reykjavík itself, two days on all-day tours that took us outside of the city, and each night sampling restaurants around the city.
Day 1: Reykjavík
Sights we saw:
- Hallgrímskirkja: The often-photographed modern church
- Laugavegur: The Newbury Street of Reykjavík
- A beautiful view of the mountains on the island Engey from the harbor by Harpa Concert Hall
- …and I took a million pictures of the Scandinavian architecture I’ve fallen in love with
Day 2: The Golden Circle tour
Sights we saw:
- Friðheimar: A greenhouse where many of Iceland’s tomatoes are grown, which are then shipped to grocery stores and restaurants to be eaten on the same day
- Geysir & Strokkur: Two of Iceland’s major geysers, and also the origin of the word “geyser”
- Gullfoss: One of Iceland’s most stunning waterfalls
- Þingvellir National Park: My personal favorite spot of those that we visited
Day 3: The South Coast tour
Sights we saw:
- Skógafoss: Another of Iceland’s renowned waterfalls
- Vík & Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach): Now #1 on my list of sites to return to in the summer for a completely different experience
- Skógar Folk Museum: The culmination of one man’s lifetime spent collecting over 15,000 artifacts from Iceland’s history
- Seljalandsfoss: Another stunning waterfall, which you can actually walk behind (I hope to do this someday!)
- Plus, views of the volcanos Eyjafjallajökull & Grímsvötn from the bus, responsible for eruptions that grounded flights throughout Europe in 2010 & 2011
Fun Facts & Things to Know
If you happen to be blessed with a day of nice weather, take advantage of it! Visit all of the places at the top of your list and take all of the pictures you can, because the unpredictable weather can change in minutes. When it started to rain on our first day, we cut our exploration short and vowed to return later in the trip… but once the rain began, it didn’t stop!
99.5% of Iceland residents speak English—likely better than some Americans! If you feel anxious or guilty about visiting a country without knowing a single word of the language (like I often do), that’s not a concern here at all.
Go on tours around the country! I was worried that tours would be restrictive or gimmicky… I was wrong. They’re essentially like public transportation that takes you right from your doorstep to all of the sights you could ever want to visit. You’ll hear fascinating stories about the country’s natural and cultural history as you travel between destinations, and you’ll get to see in one day what other people might see in a week for just $100-200 per person (which is more than worth it!). I recommend Reykjavik Excursions, which the locals echoed because it’s the longest-running tour company (and they’re also the same buses that take you to and from the airport).
Visiting Iceland gives you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience unparalleled geological phenomena. Hot springs and geysers are geothermally-heated water rising up from the center of the Earth. The waterfalls and mountains were formed by the continual collision of the North American and European continental plates, which may eventually divide Iceland in half. All around you, you’ll see the evidence of ongoing changes in the Earth’s crust, and it’s something you simply can’t miss.
A short trip isn’t wasted in Iceland. Reykjavík is a surprisingly tiny city, both in terms of its population and its physical size, and you’ll have seen it all in 1-2 days. In addition, much of the island is largely uninhabited. If you spend two or three days on tours around the country, you’ll leave feeling like you truly experienced so much more than you would in a larger country. If you don’t have time for lengthy vacation, Iceland is the perfect destination. (Also, the flight is under five hours!)
It’ll be difficult to return to the United States in a few short hours, but I feel fortunate to have carved out a few days to visit such an incredible place after a stressful whirlwind of a year. It’s hard to not feel rejuvenated after looking at our transient, ever-changing world from far away for a few days—I hope you’ll all get the same chance.