Last week I went to Iceland with five awesome friends of mine—Maura, Michelle, Kate, Forrest, and Ryan. Right now, Iceland’s seeing a huge increase in tourism to strengthen their economy, and they’re doing a ton to cater to foreign visitors. For example, Icelandair offers a Stopover Buddy to show you around, since Iceland is a common layover destination between North America and Europe.
We found super cheap tickets to Iceland, but the flight was departing from Baltimore on a Friday at 7pm. So, we rented a cool-mom minivan, and woke up at 2am to drive the 10 hours to Maryland in time for liftoff. Everyone took turns sleeping and driving—here’s me playing copilot after a little too much coffee.
Our goal for the trip was to rent a camper van and drive the perimeter of Iceland in a week—the whole country is about the size of Kentucky, and the whole perimeter can be driven in about 17 hours.
For what it’s worth, Wowair does something pretty genius when they board a flight—they board from back to front! It seemed to take no time at all, and we were off.
When we arrived in the Reykjavik airport, we actually got super lost in the terminal trying to get out. Everyone speaks English, so they were able to help, but we had to wander for a bit. We got money out of the ATM and exchanged it for Icelandic Krona (not Swedish Krona). The rate when we went was about 1 USD to 125 ISK. That means, a $5 coffee in the airport was about 600 ISK! Imagine the look on my jetlagged face when the fellow said “that’ll be six hundred, please.”
This church in Reykjavik can be seen from almost any spot in the city. It’s huge and magnificent. There was some kind of kids’ art project going on nearby, with tons of adorable renditions of the iconic building.
We spent our first day in Reykjavik, wandering around the city. They love their American Kitsch—there’s a Chuck Norris bar, a Big Lebowski bar, and tons of Subways (advertising Icelandic Spinach)! We asked our AirBNB host which restaurant was his favorite, and he said it was “American Bar.” Yes, really.
At a flea market, we came across what seems to be a delicacy—cliff bird’s eggs! All throughout our week, we saw tons and tons of cliff birds flying around canyons and waterfalls, nesting in the nooks and crannies. I can’t imagine how you might go get them. One guy told us he had a grappling hook.
Around midnight, we went to grab dinner at a local hostel + restaurant. Yes—this is midnight in Iceland! Our AirBNB host also told us that there’s a popular golf tournament that happens in the summer here, and they begin play at midnight. Visitors get such a kick of the sun never going down, but I’m sure it’s a bummer in winter when the sun never comes up.
We picked up our camper Sunday morning and headed out. It was way bigger than we were expecting, and everywhere we went we saw people laughing and taking pictures of the van.
A secret lagoon in the mountains. We had to hike about twenty minutes through a windy, ice cold valley to get there.
A black sand beach, made with basalt.
This geyser is called “geysir.” It’s literally where the word for geyser comes from. It blasted out every 5-7 minutes, and I made the group wait so I could get the perfect slow motion video of it.
The first campsite we stayed at for the evening featured two soccer goals and a big trampoline.
The second campsite was only a stone’s throw away from a massive waterfall. It was so cool to wake up next to it!
We visited the Secret Lagoon—a geothermal-fed hot spring. The pool noodles were a nice touch, we were able to grab some Icelandic beers from the counter inside and soak away all of our troubles.
Went to another waterfall that spilled out into a canyon. It was really dang cold and my glasses kept fogging up—my glasses were probably fogged up for 60% of this trip.
One of the hot springs we tried to visit (above) has been around since the 1200s. A famous Icelandic historian and poet (Snorri) used to bathe in this spring, and the little wooden door covers the tunnel he took to his house. This one wasn’t hot anymore, unfortunately.
One of the hikes we did had a public restroom by the parking lot—there was some commotion, and we walked up on a bird that was hiding in there and wouldn’t get out! I can’t blame him, it was so cold. Every time the girls threw him out, he’d waddle back in and try to hide. Maura named him Percy.
This was a crazy hike—I’d never seen lava flow-patterned rocks before. Even better, the springs here flowed underneath the lava rock and spewed out as a hundred tiny waterfalls into a river.
We visited a restaurant at the base of what is called Church Mountain—we heard that they have their own private boat that only fishes for them, and they’re able to serve fresh fish from nearby every day. I can’t decide what I loved more: my dinner, or the amazing hand-drawn menu!
Towards the end of the trip, we woke up at our campsite one morning to an incredibly flat tire. Not a low tire, a so-flat-you’ll-break-the-wheel flat. Maura and Kate ran across the street to the gas station to ask for help. The cashier said something to a man near her eating breakfast, and he turned around and introduced himself as Viknik, the town mechanic. He used a hydraulic jack to lift the van, took the tire, plugged it and replaced it for only $30. We also gave him a 6-pack of some of our beer.
One gas station we stopped in was selling some kind of award-winning salmon, made by a guy nearby. It was a huuuuge single piece, vacuum sealed, for only $15. We ate lunch like kings. Honestly, we ate well every meal—well done to Forrest, Maura and Kate there for being such awesome cooks on a tiny crappy camper stove in windy, frigid weather.
Tried to take a shortcut from one town to another and ended up on a really intense piece of road—one lane, covered in gravel. One side was a dead drop down a cliff, and the other side was a snow bank, piled high. Not only that, but it was so curvy. Ryan had to accelerate to make it up the steep incline, turning at the last minute and trying not to slide on the gravel down the cliff. No one was wearing seatbelts, but honestly, it might not’ve helped if he hadn’t done such an excellent job navigating.
Came upon a glacial lake while we were driving—no signs, someone just yelled out from the back of the camper to pull over so we could go check it out. That was my favorite part about driving instead of being in a tour bus. We could stop anywhere, go anywhere.
We hiked to this waterfall, which is the spot that inspired the famous church in Reykavik.
There was a long stretch where, for miles and miles, there was only black basalt. It felt like we were on another planet. So much of this trip felt like we weren’t even on earth anymore.
Every bridge was a single lane—there were spots to pull off and wait for other cars to get out of the way, and mostly we were the only people on the roads and didn’t need to worry about it.
You can tell from my photos near cliffs that I wasn’t going anywhere near the edge. The only cliff edge I got close to was on my belly, gripping the rocks for dear life.
The last hike we did of the week was the most intense one. It was to a waterfall called Glymur, and it took nearly two hours to get to the top. We climbed through caves (caves!) over creeks, followed a log across a river, and had to use ropes and posts to pull ourselves up the steep, steep inclines. I started to get a little dizzy near the top, but it was so worth it.
The view from the top was gorgeous.
On our last day, we visited the super cool Blue Lagoon. Definitely pricey, I think it cost $60 and was easily the priciest thing we did but I’d still say it was worth it.