My husband and I just spent a week in Iceland for our honeymoon. It was exhausting. Amazing, beautiful, fun, all that good stuff, but so exhausting (according to my Fitbit, we walked over 70 miles and climbed over 500 floors of elevation). Which is good because that’s what we wanted out of our honeymoon trip. We aren’t the type to sit at a beach for a week, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we chose Iceland as our destination.
I could write a nearly infinite amount of content on this country, but to start off as my first post, I’ll make it easy for any readers of mine who are planning a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice. Here are the 10 best things I did in Iceland (in no particular order). I hope they help y’all in your travel planning!
1. Finding the hidden Gljúfurárfoss
Seljalandsfoss is in all the top 10 lists when it comes to waterfalls, and while it’s accurate, it kind of stinks because it takes attention away from the other series of waterfalls that are right next to it. So, go look at Seljalandsfoss, take your pictures, go behind the waterfall, get soaked, get muddy, and walk down the trail next to the waterfall to see [what I think is] the coolest waterfall in Iceland. There are a few smaller ones you can see on the way, but once you get to Gljúfurárfoss you have one of two options to see it. You can go up or you go in. We went up first. It was a little perilous, and now that I look back on it, I can’t believe that we were allowed to climb up that hill and get the view we did. In the U.S. we would never be allowed to, it would be too much of a liability issue. There were no steps, just rocks and dirt clumps where you had to strategically place yourself and at one point a very sketchy edge you had to shimmy around with only a dinky chain to hold on to.
So once you get to the top, you can climb a sketchy ladder propped against the dirt wall, and kind of perch yourself to look over the edge and down the waterfall. I did not do this, but the hubs did and it was honestly pretty scary to watch him do it.
Once you make your way back down, you can now go in to see the waterfall. Gljúfurárfoss is hidden in a kind of cave-like structure. You have to strategically hop down some rocks in the river (hope you’re wearing hiking boots) to make your way in. Prepare to get soaked.
There’s an awesome boulder you can hop on for a photo op, and it feels like you are in the waterfall. You don’t get dumped on by the water, but the splash and the mist will have you soaked all the same.
This was, without a doubt, my favorite waterfall in Iceland. Probably even in the world. It’s truly a hidden gem since most people just stop to see Seljalandsfoss and then move on. Don’t make that mistake!
2. Reykjavik CityWalk
We decided to do this walking tour on our last full day in Iceland, and I was blown away by the quality! The tour is two hours long, but the walk itself is only about 2km/1.25miles. The guides are native Icelandic history majors, so they are very knowledgeable in their field! You get the chance to learn about the history of Reykjavik and the culture of the people who live in the city. At the end of the tour, you can give them your email address and they will send you an awesome email of useful links to tips for traveling in Iceland, cool websites, fun news stories, and all kinds of additional reading.
The CityWalk tours are led twice a day (10 AM and 2PM), and are FREE! But you are encouraged to leave a donation (which we definitely did because these guys give a great tour). Check their website for more info.
3. Climbing to the top of Skogafoss
I won’t lie, I did not enjoy this while I was doing it, but when I reached the top I was so glad that I quit my complaining and did it. It was a moderately steep, 20 minute walk up the stairs to the top of the waterfall. About halfway up there’s a cool little spot to stop at and take a few pictures.
Now keep on climbin’ to the top! Once you get there, the views are breathtaking. You can see the river that spills out over the cliff to become the waterfall of Skogafoss and out over the farmland to the ocean. There are some lovely little fields where you can lay out, have a snack, listen to the sound of the waterfall, and soak it all in.
4. Talking to locals about life in Iceland
We stayed in Airbnbs the whole trip because we wanted to “live like locals.” And it was cheaper than staying in hotels… But anyways. Some of my favorite memories of Iceland are just talking to our hosts about what it’s like to live in Iceland. We stayed in a private cabin at a chicken farm on the Golden Circle one night and the host was so friendly, we sat and talked to her for what seemed like hours. She answered all our questions, showed us all her farm animals, and gave us advice about our travels. Another host of ours, a Venezuelan girl living in Reykjavik, talked with us about the politics of our countries. These conversations were wonderful and enriching, just as much as any other activity we could have experienced in Iceland.
5. Chowing down at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
We ate a lot of hot dogs in Iceland. And we’re ok with that. What people don’t tell you about Iceland is how expensive everything is. Meals that we are used to paying $10-15 for in the U.S. can easily run you about $30-40 in Iceland. So your best bet for budget eating is A) buying food at the local grocery store, B) sharing a pizza with your adventure buddy ($25-30 for one pizza, so split between two people it’s decent), or C) eating hot dogs at the local gas station.
But before you say “ew hot dogs, why?” Let me preface with a little analogy. Hot dogs (or “pylsur”) are to Iceland as tacos are to Austin, or as cheesesteaks are to Philly, as deep dish pizza is to Chicago. The hot dogs are no ordinary hot dogs. Icelandic gas stations and hot dog stands top them with crunchy fried onions, raw onions, and special mustard and remoulade sauces that are delicious. Even if you don’t like hot dogs, you need to give the pylsur a try!
6. Boating aroung the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
The glacier lagoon is free to visit, but the boat rides are about $30 per person and so worth it! You get the chance to taste glacial ice that is pure, delicious, and over 1000 years old.
You get the coolest views of the icebergs that float around the lagoon, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of some adorable seals.
This was one of the activities I was looking forward to the most, and it definitely did not disappoint.
7. Hiking in Þingvellir
We were told that a hike around Þingvellir to see all the main attractions would take 1-2 hours but somehow we managed to stretch them out to about 5 hours. Typical of us. We honestly could have spent an entire day here, just hiking around. You can see where the continental plates split between Eurasia and North America AKA where Game of Thrones filmed the path to the Eyrie.
There’s Öxarárfoss, a waterfall where you can admire the beautiful, blue Icelandic water.
Then you can continue down the path towards the Law Rock, the Þingvellir church, and the Silfra Fissure (which is a little off the beaten path, but worth seeing). If you are brave enough, and willing to spend the money, you can scuba dive in the Silfra’s refreshingly cool 35 degree water. We settled for climbing down the stairs, dipping our hands in, and taking a sip.
8. Glacier hiking in Skaftafell
It was a spur of the moment decision to do a glacier hike at Skaftafell, but it ended up being my favorite activity of the entire trip. We did a guided hike through Icelandic Mountain Guides, which was about $85 per person but included use of crampons, ice axe, shuttle, and of course, an experienced guide. Skaftafell was my fourth glacier hike, but it was so different from any other I’d ever seen. The glacial ice is streaked with volcanic ash, which gives it an otherworldly look. So otherworldly, that Interstellar was actually filmed on the glacier.
9. Wandering aimlessly around Reykjavik
My personal travel philosophy: the best way to experience a city is to get lost in it. My parents are the champions of this philosophy. We used to spend days wandering around cities like Venice and Prague, with no particular plans or destination. Those days are some of my fondest travel experiences. Reykjavik is no exception. Matt and I found our way down to the water’s edge to watch the sun setting at midnight on our first day if wandering. It was the best sight of the city. Get out there and wander, travelers!
10. Renting our own car
Probably the best decision of this trip. We rented a car through Sixt, which had very mixed reviews but was by far the cheapest option. What we got was a brand new Chevy Spark, which was too small to fit our suitcase anywhere but the backseat, had no cruise control, approximately 2 horsepower, but got 50 MPG.
I can’t express how great it was to just have the freedom to go wherever we pleased on our own schedule during this trip instead of having to book bus tours and expeditions. Plus I just love being in the car with hubs. We’ve done two roadtrips, coast to coast in the U.S. Roadtripping along the southern coast of Iceland was another awesome experience we loved.
If you have the means and are brave enough, rent a car for yourself in Iceland. You will not regret it.