Iceland very quickly became our favourite country of the trip. Its clean and civilised ways, lovely people and natural beauty charmed us, and we found travelling there really easy. Everyone we met spoke perfect English, which is convenient as we couldn’t pronounce let alone speak many Icelandic words—normally featuring strange letters like Þ (pronounced ‘th’) and ð (also pronounced ‘th’, but differently to Þ). We hired a car for the week and based ourselves in Kopavogur (much more affordable) just outside Reykjavik with plans to day trip to the north and south of the capital, as well as doing the obligatory golden circle. Tourism is booming largely thanks to schemes made following the global financial meltdown in 2008 which saw the country almost bankrupt. Despite the tourism everything was very low key and free of charge, no Disneyland-esque places to be seen.
We passed the first couple of days in Reykjavik visiting the national museum; wandering the quiet streets filled with design shops and colourful houses; and trying not to spend all our money on some wonderful Icelandic jumpers and other knit ware. We did inadvertently spend a significant amount of cash on coffee during our first day—$15 for two…Iceland isn’t cheap! On our first nights we were incredibly lucky that the northern lights were making their first appearance of the season and the weather was perfect. The lights were spectacular and so easy to spot, right above our Airbnb but much harder to photograph, particularly when we were yet to work out shutter speed settings. We weren’t ever as lucky as we were the first night but did manage to get a glimpse of the aurora through cloud on a few other nights and got some decent photos, particularly with the help of Elle’s friend Kevin.
We started our day trips with an easy lap around the golden circle—a 300km long loop covering some geysers, waterfalls, hot springs and the site of the world’s first democratic parliament. It was very busy with tourists but that didn’t detract from the awesomeness of it all. We especially enjoyed floating in the natural hot springs of Secret Lagoon (the smell was a little potent but we got used to that, given our shower was also running volcanic hot water fragranced by sulphur) and watching the water of Strokkur geyser spray 20 metres into the air. All within and hour and a half of Reykjavik.
Our second day trip was to the Snaefellsnes peninsula to the north west of Reykjavik. The peninsula is packed with amazing sites like basalt columns, black sand beaches, fjords, waterfalls and mountains. We drove a lap of the peninsula stopping for lunch on the beautiful cliffs of Arnarstapi. The scenery on the drive was similarly impressive, changing from rolling green hills to mossy lava fields and a snow covered glacier. It took us a while to finish the drive because we stopped so often.
Our final day trip was an ambitious one—a nine hour return drive to the south east of Iceland to see the glacier lake at Jokulsarlon, where huge chunks of the glacier break off, before floating through the lagoon and out into the ocean. The drive took us past Eyjafjallajökull—better know as “the Icelandic volcano that grounded flights across Europe in 2010”. We made stops along the way at Svartifoss falls—an amazing basalt rock face that looks like a church organ with water cascading over it—as well as a black sand beach covered in bits of glacier, a naturally formed hexagon floor and a deep gorge. They were all really beautiful and unique and made the long drive and freezing temperatures totally worth it.
We can’t wait to go back to Iceland as soon as we can to hire a proper 4WD and drive the full ring road around the island and the Western Fjords. It’s become the number one place we want to return to. If you haven’t been, you must go!