You guys … that picture doesn’t even look REAL! It looks like I’m digitally placed in some postcard or standing in front of a green screen or something! But that Icelandic landscape is very much real. I was just there. And my genuine expression of pure joy says it all. ; )
I am (obviously) not a travel blogger, but after sharing snippets of our trip to Iceland on Facebook and Instagram (especially in the stories) and hearing from so many of you that now Iceland is on your bucket list … today I’m a travel blogger. Ha! I’m not going to lay out our exact itinerary and tell you what you “should” and “shouldn’t” do because everyone’s travel “style” is different. The purpose of this blog post is to simply share a list of all the things we did / the places we visited … and if that’s helpful in your own planning, great. If you never make it to Iceland, please enjoy the pictures.
CONTEXT. Iceland has been on David’s bucket list for quite some time. I hadn’t really put much thought into it, personally. I didn’t know much about the country and never really spent time researching it or anything. Our friends called us at 11pm on a Sunday night a few weeks ago and told us about crazy affordable airfare from Los Angeles to Reykjavík … well, I guess you could say we made an impulsive decision and said, “WE’RE IN! Let’s do this!”
The airline with these cheap flights? WOW. That’s the name of the airline. Never heard of them before. Didn’t know a thing about them. And you know what? We were thoroughly impressed. Yes, you’re limited with luggage. David and I shared one suitcase and it was 44 lbs. maximum for the weight. But they have the classiest-looking flight attendants I’ve ever seen. Their aircraft was clean and modern and roomy. Zero complaints from us!
This is a good time to be sure you understand that not one bit of this trip was sponsored in any way. The links I’m sharing are all random from the World Wide Web, just so you can have a place to start with your own research. This was 100% a personal trip … just for fun … with our friends … and there is no kickback of any kind for me sharing all of this with you. This is just what I do, and what I’ve always done. I share! : )
how the trip was organized
This is my favorite part! You guys. I pretty much can take ZERO credit for the incredible things we did. There were 4 of us couples that traveled together and it just so happens that all 4 of the guys (our husbands) love to travel and plan. I mean … we had a planning meeting complete with a white board (I’m totally serious) and just a few days before the trip a spreadsheet was circulated among the group of our complete itinerary! I mean … I’m organized, guys. You likely know this about me. But our friends were taking travel organization to a whole new level! Amazing. And I’m so grateful! The timing of this trip was super tricky for me because of other commitments and responsibilities so to not even have to think about the planning part? To just basically show up and be taken to all the places? Well, our friends were (are) the dreamiest travel companions, that’s for sure.
PS — We shared a rental van and that’s how we got around the whole island. It was awesome. And we stayed in Storm Hotel in Reykjavík. We were in Iceland for 3.5 days, which felt like the right amount of time for us. We packed in SO much, minimized our sleep each night for the sake of packing more in each day, and felt really content with how much we did and saw in a relatively short period of time. Iceland is roughly the size of Colorado so it’s not overwhelmingly huge.
Okay. In no particular order … here we go! Things we did. Places we visited. Stuff we saw.
all the things
Blue Lagoon Spa
This was actually the first thing we did when we got to Iceland, which was the perfect way to shake off the 9-hour flight from LAX. Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is just as tranquil and incredible as it looks. This is the actual color of the water. The temperature? Like a warm bath. And all of that is natural! We heard this was the most “touristy” thing to do in Iceland (and it probably is), which had me feeling a little hesitant because those really touristy things aren’t usually my favorites … but it wasn’t terribly crowded. And it was such a cool experience to hang out in the geothermal pools for a good few hours before moving on. Totally worth it.
Kerið is a volcanic crater lake located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland, along the Golden Circle. It is one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone. We loved hiking around this area.
Most of us in the group would agree that this was probably THE coolest thing we did on the whole trip. You really get more of a sense of that experience in the stories (videos) I shared. Link below for that. The tour agency we ended up using was Katlatrack. Our superjeep tour took us through some of the coolest glacial fields until we arrived to the actual glacier. I think this one was called Mýrdalsjökull. We got to hike and explore inside the glacier which was truly other-worldly. The second picture below shows how the ice is naturally illuminated from inside.
We visited Gulfoss Falls at like 11pm so it was pretty dark (and cold!) but really quite the site to see! No one else around. Just the 8 of us hiking around and exploring and taking pictures and laughing and just taking it all in. So cool.
Geysir Hot Spring Area
Have you ever been to Old Faithful in Yellowstone? Water blows out of the ground with impressive force. It’s awesome. It’s also (in my experience) really crowded; you have to wait a while, and there’s a whole shop of touristy retail product. The Geysir Hot Spring Area in Iceland is a bit more up my alley. We drove up, parked across the street, walked around. No other people (granted it was late at night), and the geyser blows every few minutes.
Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skoga River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. After the coastline had receded seaward (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skogar village), the former sea cliffs remained. Skógafoss is unique because the waterfall comes directly from two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull. Just like everywhere else we went, we hiked around and our favorite part was going behind this particular waterfall. This is a good time to let you know that you will want head-to-toe waterproof gear if you’re adventuring in these kinds of ways. Or even if you’re not! Iceland is wet!
The abandoned plane on Sólheimasandur
In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived. The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea. This blog post explains a bit more detail that is helpful if you plan to visit there. What’s worth noting is that we hiked a good couple of hours to see this. It’s a huge black sand field that ultimately ends up at the beach.
We found ourselves in Vík when we were meeting our tour guide for the glacier walk, and holy charming! This is off the coast, but the town itself is truly beautiful. This place is the southernmost village in Iceland, located on the main ring road around the island, around 180 km (110 mi) by road southeast of Reykjavík. In retrospect, we even possibly wished that we stayed here instead of in Reykjavík.
Icelandic Mountain Biking
First of all, one look at the website for Icebike Adventures (that’s who we went with for this adventure) and you’ll be pretty impressed with our mountain biking skills. Don’t be fooled, friends. We didn’t do the super advanced stuff. We stuck with a level that made the most sense for our group. This was another awesome adventure for sure. For me personally, I reconnected with mountain biking, which I had forgotten about. I LOVED it!
Snorkeling in Silfra
They say this is the clearest water on earth. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true. We went with a tour agency called Adventure Vikings. And we pretty much felt like vikings — ha! Silfra is a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park. The rift was formed in 1789 by the earthquakes accompanying the divergent movement of the two tectonic plates. The diving and snorkeling site at Silfra is right where the two continents meet and drift apart about 2 cm per year. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly in a crack between two tectonic plates so … that’s pretty cool. On a personal note, I was pretty much terrified going into this. I have NOT had positive snorkeling experiences. I was afraid of being freezing cold. And the depths alone? Yeah, that scared me too. This was something I would have been completely content watching a documentary about on TV. Alas, my friends weren’t letting me back out of it and I’m so glad I did it. The dry suit kept me dry (and floating!). The water temperature (in the 30’s Fahrenheit) didn’t freeze me. The subtle current kept me slow moving at a comfortable pace. And I calmed down enough to breathe and enjoy what I was seeing. This is a still frame from some GoPro video that our friend Taylor shot.
Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths
Just in case snorkeling through those nearly freezing waters wasn’t gutsy enough … we visited Laugarvatn Fontana, which is located in the center of the most popular tourist route in Iceland, the Golden Circle. More geothermal springs because … that’s what you do in Iceland! We soaked in natural pools (which were as hot as a bubbling hot tub!), enjoyed the steam rooms, and our husbands even took a dip in the “refreshing” lake. David loves doing the whole hot-and-cold thing, so this was right up his alley. Nothing like a good shock to your system, right boys?
So many stops along the road
Iceland features breathtaking views just about everywhere. The natural landscape, the residential areas … there is just so. much. charm. It’s everywhere! One of our very favorite things about the trip were the (FREE!) stops along the side of the road. Icelandic landscape will forever have a special place in my heart now.
To be perfectly honest, food wasn’t the part of this trip that we had high expectations about. We had heard that it’s really, REALLY expensive in Iceland and … that is really, REALLY true! Even grabbing an Icelandic hotdog at the gas station a few times had sticker shock for us. That said, here are a few restaurants we visited that are worth mentioning.
Íslenska Flatbakan in Kópavogur
Papas’ Restaurant in Grindarvík
Lindin Restaurant in Laugarvatn
documenting iceland with video
Filming a time lapse of departing California, and later when we were landing in Iceland, which is a 60-second video I stitched together in the iMovie app on my iPhone and shared on social media.
Back to those Instagram stories I mentioned. That was my way of video-documenting the trip and because documenting IS my jam … I’d love to touch on what went through my mind as I decided to do that. You have to know that I’m “that person” that has believed for a long time (ever since we could all film video on our phones) that ALL video should be shot in horizontal format. The main reason? When you watch video on say, a TV, those huge black blocks of nothingness on both sides of the vertical video are just unattractive and a waste of space! Who’s with me??
That said … Instagram (my personal favorite social media platform to date) introduced stories and I LOVE doing stories. Such a great way to share 15-second video clips. Well … those videos have to be vertical. That’s just what it is. So that is the ONLY reason that I now have a mix of “proper” horizontal video footage for most of my video documentation and vertical footage from anything that was for the stories.
What I’m trying to say is that there are two major factors that went into my decision to film in vertical format while in Iceland (because, guys, that was a big decision for me as a documenter!): First of all, convenience. I knew that if I filmed in horizontal format (the “proper” way), then I would definitely HAVE (want) to put a movie together, which I love to do. The thing is … that takes time. The editing, finding the right music, etc. I didn’t want to be in my iMovie app the whole time we were traveling around because I wanted to be present with our friends and present in this amazing place and watch all the things out the window during those long drives! I was realistic to know that I’d be sleeping for most of that 9-hour flight home because of how exhausted we were going to be from doing all the things … and I was also realistic enough to know what I was going to face being back at home, based on what’s on my plate right now … So I knew that sharing the clips in Instagram stories would result in the compiled videos and that would be my “trip movie”. And I am okay with that!
And the second main reason: YOU! I’ve learned over the years what my sharing means to some of you. Many of you have reached out with personal explanations about why or how my sharing has been helpful in some way and I’ve been delightfully surprised that even my TRAVEL sharing has really been a bright spot in your day / week / whatever … for various reasons. The best way for me to share the Iceland experience with you, in a way that didn’t consume my time or take me away from being truly present while I was there? Instagram stories. For sure.
All that said, I saved each day’s worth of Instagram stories (that expire after 24 hours so they’re gone from Instagram now) onto YouTube. You can find those video clips all packaged together in this one video.
documenting iceland with pictures
As for my picture-taking documentation and what that looks like … well … I took pictures! *wink* I mean … talk about a photogenic destination! Seriously, Iceland. You nailed it. And the lighting?? Incredible. A photographer’s dream. There were little things I did in taking and editing my pictures that made them turn out just a little more yummy and I can’t wait to share all of my picture-taking tips & tricks in my upcoming online course about photo tips. If you don’t want miss out on that, be sure you’re getting our newsletter. It takes about 7 seconds to subscribe HERE.
So what am I DOING with those pictures?? I incorporated a few highlights in our regular, ongoing family yearbook. Iceland is only a two-page layout in that book, if you can believe that. But that’s how I do it. That’s my approach to family yearbooks and I still love it. Here’s the layout, which is basically Week 19 in the family yearbook.
That said, this trip of a lifetime was just so incredible … so special … that I’m really feeling the inclination to make a photo book in the Project Life® App, all about our Iceland trip. I’m not jumping on it straight away (like I said, lots on my plate right now, including a heavy workload to pull together that online course for you guys) … but I’m going to let that idea simmer and if perhaps this summer if it’s still a “burning idea,” I’m totally going to do it.
Also regarding the pictures … I am absolutely going to be printing enlargements of some of these for our home (that we’re building right now). I don’t know exactly where or what that end result looks like yet. I want to move in and “feel that out” for sure … but it’s absolutely going to happen in some way.