After months of planning, moving and rescheduling, we finally took our trip to Iceland. What an amazing country, full of unimaginable beauty, friendly people and tasty entrées. Our plan was to spend ten days driving the Ring Road and seeing everything this country has to offer, but I can admit that ten days wasn't enough. We started out in Iceland's largest city, Reykjavík, which has a population of 121,000 and is located on the southwest side of the island. Our three days in Reykajvík were amazing. We spent time at the famous Blue Lagoon Spa, took a whaling tour and drove around the Golden Circle. The day trip around the Golden Circle will always have special meaning to me, because that's where I proposed to my fiancé. After three days of good food, great shopping and new chapters, our plan was to head north to the city of Akureyri, Iceland's "Second City," as it's more commonly called. Akureyri is the largest fishing port in the country and has a populace of around 17,000 Icelanders.
During our five hour drive to Akureyri, we encountered a snow storm that lasted for the rest of the trip. Once we arrived, we stayed in the heart of the city at Hotel Kea. The snow continued throughout the day and into the evening as we left to have dinner at Strikið, an authentic, local Icelandic restaurant. Dinner was delicious. It was my first time to try whale and an Icelandic dessert called, Skyr, which is a cold strained yogurt, covered with sugar, cream and fresh fruit. If you ever have the chance to try this delicious dessert, I highly suggest that you do. Knowing that we had another long drive ahead of us, we returned to the hotel after dinner to warm up and get a good night's rest.
The next morning we had breakfast and headed to see Akureyrarkirkja, or The Church of Akureyri as it's commonly called. The church is located in the center of the city and overlooks the port of Akureyri. After visiting the church we stopped by the Art Museum before getting on the road to head east. The last place we hit on the way out of town was Jólagarðurinn, the Christmas Garden. The downside of traveling outside of tourist season is that certain places like the Christmas Garden were closed during this time of year, but we were able to get out and take a few pictures of the garden before hitting the Ring Road.
Our next stop on the Ring Road was the Goðafoss waterfalls, which is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Iceland. It received it's name, Waterfall of the Gods, when in 999, the Lawspeaker of Iceland declared Christianity the official religion of Iceland and he threw the statues of the Norse Gods into the waterfall. Goðafoss was an amazing sight, and even though the valley was covered in snow, I could only imagine what the falls looked like with lush green fields and no ice. After taking some photos and admiring the natural beauty of these falls, we jumped back in the car and headed towards the town of Reyðarfjörður and the Tærgesen Guest House.
This is when the weather started getting worse as we drove across the north eastern part of Iceland. If you watch HBO's Game of Thrones, then you've seen the area that we drove through. In season two of Game of Thrones, everything north of the Great Wall was filmed here and just like the show, all we could see was white. We drove almost five hours through a "White Out" and eventually made it to Reyðarfjörður.
Reyðarfjörður is a small town on the eastern part of Iceland with a population of about 1,100 people. It's located at the bottom of the Eponymous Fjord and is surrounded by beautiful snowcapped mountains. The Tærgesen Guest House is a family run hostel that is located close to the harbor and is the town's only restaurant and pub. The lodging dates back to the 1870's and was used as the Officer's Club for the Allies during World War II.
We unpacked, warmed up and had dinner while planning for our next day's drive. Our southern drive was going to be our longest drive of the trip and we wanted to make sure we had it all mapped out. After dinner, we were both exhausted from the drive, so we returned to our room, watched Life of Pi and went to sleep. The next morning we awoke to blue skies and warmer weather. We grabbed breakfast, loaded up the car and hit the road for a six hour trek to Vík, the southern most town in Iceland.
Our first stop on the southern part of the Ring Road was the small town of Höfn. It was a quick pitstop. We ate lunch at Kaffi Hornid and filled the gas tank up before heading to our next destination. About an hour west of Höfn is Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lagoon, located outside of Vatnajökull National Park. It evolved into a lagoon after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and is a major attraction for tourists. After enjoying the beauty of floating icebergs and clear blue skies we got on the road headed to Skaftafell National Park. Skaftafell National Park is located in the south and contains the Vatnajökull Glacier. We hiked through the park and finally made our way to the breathtakingly beautiful Svartifoss (Black Waterfall) waterfall. Svartifoss is known for it's amazing basalt columns that look like pipe organs. These columns provided inspiration for the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík and are pretty amazing to see in person.
After an amazing hike to the Svartifoss waterfalls, we continued on our six hour road trip towards Vík. We arrived in Vík around dinner time and headed straight to Reynisfjara Beach. Reynisfjara is a black pebble beach and features an amazing cliff of regular basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid. It's also known for a great lagoon that at low tide allows you to walk along the black beach and into a hidden lagoon. After capturing a few beautiful sunset photos we decided to have dinner in Vík before heading to our final place of residency. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Hotel Lundi before driving to Hotel Anna.
Hotel Anna is a quaint family run hotel which is located about forty-five minutes west of Vík. We visited with the horses on the ranch, had a late dessert and then settled in for a good nights rest. The next morning we caught a ferry boat ride over to the Westman Islands. The Westman Islands is one of the best kept secrets in Iceland. They were first inhabited by Irish slaves who escaped their Norsemen captors and fled to the volcanic islands seen off the southern coast of Iceland. Now the Westman Islands have a population of about four thousand inhabitants and is the largest fishing port in all of Iceland.
The main island, Heimaey is more commonly known as "Pompeii of the North," because in 1973 the Eldfell volcano erupted and covered almost half of the city. We spent the day exploring the ruins, walking around the town and hiking up to the top of the volcano. We caught the last ferry off the island and headed back to the mainland. Once back on dry land we returned to the hotel for dinner and a Northern Lights excursion. One of the things that we regret missing the most were the Northern Lights. Due to inclement weather, the evening skies were never clear enough to see the lights. If there is anything about this trip that I would love to change, it would have been to book a Northern Lights tour instead of trying to see them ourselves.
On our last day of the trip we had an hour drive to the airport. Along the way we stopped of at the Seljalandfoss waterfall, which is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It was seen on season six of The Amazing Race and the only waterfall in Iceland that you can walk behind. Seljalandfoss was an amazing site, but while reading the Frommer's Guide, we discovered a much lesser known and more intriguing waterfall called, Gljúfurárfoss. The waterfall is surrounded by a narrow slot canyon and can't be seen from the road. In order to get a view, you have to wade up a frozen stream and into the canyon. The creek was too cold to enter, but we were able to see the top of the waterfall before it disappeared behind the canyon. After enjoying the scenery and taking photos we finished our last stretch of the Ring Road and headed towards the airport.
As we sat at the airport, eating our last Icelandic hot dogs, I couldn't help but realize how incredible this trip has been. Not only can I mark it off my bucket list of Lands, but I also proposed to the love of my life. I couldn't have asked for a better way to start a new chapter in my life than beginning it in Iceland.