For our 5-year anniversary, Sean and I decided to take a trip to Iceland. It’s a country I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and we were both excited to see the gorgeous landscapes in person.
This is part 2 of 2 posts detailing the trip. Part 1 is about the more “touristy” things we did; although Iceland is so popular right now, it’s hard to do anything that isn’t touristy. Part 2 is about everything we did after renting a car and traveling on our own agenda.
Quick Tips for Iceland
- Pack at least one layer more than you think you’ll need. We were in near full ski gear by the end of the trip.
- Rent a car and travel at your own leisure.
- Learn road signs before you go.
- Make sure you have data on your mobile.
- Winter is white; spring is yellow; summer is green; autumn is orange. We went in mid-May, so our photos are very Wiz Khalifa – black and yellow, black and yellow.
- Bars stay open late, real late. If you’re in a busy part of town, expect it to be noisy late at night. Join in when you can!
- Everything in Iceland is expensive. Plan accordingly.
- Liquor, wine and any beer over 2% ABV are only sold in Liquor stores which close fairly early. Being from Utah, this felt like home!
- Everything smells like sulfur. You will be showering in the sulfur smell. You will be drinking sulfur tap water.
- Everyone speaks English.
- Iceland is crazy popular right now. You will almost never be more than 10 feet away from another tourist.
- Strike up random conversations and make friends with fellow travelers!
When we first rented a car, our plan was to drive down to the Black Beach of Reynisfjara Shore and hit up the site of a crashed DC-3. However, as it is with Iceland, our plans were derailed by scenery we saw along the way and couldn’t pass up.
(Quick note about the abandoned plane crash – the road is closed and you must walk an hour from the main road to the site of the crash. After visiting Reynisfjara, we decided it was entirely too cold to walk. I’m disappointed we missed out on this. Plan for a cold walk when you live out my dream of seeing this site!)
Our first distraction on the way to Reynisfjara was Seljalandfoss. We saw this waterfall from the road and had to pull in alongside the tour buses to check it out. It’s a really cool waterfall you can walk behind and was arguably where we saw the most green during our entire stay.
Reynisfjara – Black Beach
It was cold and miserable here; we hated it. I’m not kidding. If you’re coming down this way, hit up the site of the DC-3 crash and skip this Black Beach altogether. It’ll still be cold and windy but I believe the payoff is better.
There were some cool basalt columns that I couldn’t get a decent shot of because of the wind. And a neat cave where we spent the majority of our time … hiding from the wind. I promise you’ll see more basalt columns and more black beaches that we recommend instead of this place.
From pure Hell to absolute Heaven. Skogafoss is one of my most favorite places in this world. Do not skip this one, and give yourself plenty of time to climb up the stairs to the top and explore a bit beyond. We hit this waterfall around 9PM and didn’t leave until after 11PM. A good two hours of gorgeous golden light!
Giant basalt columns! I promised there’d be more.
Gerðuberg is located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula which we accessed through the Hvalfjörður tunnel. You can get to the peninsula by going around the tunnel and avoid the toll, but we really wanted to drive under a fjord.
These basalt columns are impressive and there weren’t very many people here. Two cars pulled up an hour after we arrived. We climbed up to the top of the columns and spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to get down after we lost track of where we started. Good times.
This gorge was created by a giant because Icelandic lore is epic. The trail is right off the main road, and you can hike into the gorge as far as you like. We didn’t go very far because 1) it was pretty busy and 2) we were wary of getting wet after cold experiences with waterfalls and wind. We recommend trying to hit this place early to avoid crowds and be prepared for wet feet if you want to go farther than most people do. Also, be sure to read the sign at the trailhead about the giant who made this ravine.
My second favorite place on our trip was Hellnar Beach – or, as Sean dubbed it, Bird-Shit Rock. It rocked.
The rock formations here are unbelievable and there is this incredible arch framing a clear pool of turquoise water. There are also a lot of birds. And a lot of bird shit.
Djúpalónssandur and Dritvik
This is the black beach not to miss!
A short drive from Hellnar brings you to Djúpalónssandur which you walk through to get to Dritvik. It’s kind of confusing, we just followed the map to Dritvik. There are giant stones here which were used to determine if a man was strong enough to be a sailor. Try lifting them up and see how you would have fared. We did not try to lift them up; instead, we just stared at them like “Yep. Those are big rocks.”
You’ll also find the ruins of an old shipwreck here. Fitting.
The sound of this beach is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I tried getting a video, which didn’t do it any justice. The surf sucks the water from the rocky beach creating this eerie white noise that builds and recedes. I loved it.
Kirkjufell and Olafsvik
Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. There are hundreds of better pics than the one I took! It photographs well, but we weren’t super impressed with it in person. Our advice here is to ignore what Google Maps tells you and drive toward Olafsvik, you’ll see Kirkjufell and find a place to pull off and explore. Google Maps takes you to a weird place with signs that firmly state you should turn around or be arrested. More good times.
Along the drive through this peninsula, we saw signs for Olafsvik everywhere. This made us believe it would be a thriving metropolis. It is far from that and we loved every minute we spent there. We stopped for fuel and grabbed lunch at the diner counter inside the gas station. Some of the best fish ‘n chips I’ve ever had and the gentleman that served us was super friendly.
The church in Olafsvik looks like a spaceship. We didn’t stay long enough to get a closer look at it. Leave yourself some time and energy to do so.
This fantasy fairyland was so hard to find that I can’t tell you how to get there because we went some crazy back-way and I’m pretty sure we drove on a hiking path? I don’t know, but you really should find your way to Gjain. It looks especially good during the summer when everything is green, but understand that you’ll be sacrificing some of the isolation during busier months. We had this entire place to ourselves for two hours before another couple showed up. It was our own magical playground and a great way to end our time in Iceland.
And that’s Iceland!
Are you headed there soon? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to share your own Icelandic experience with us.