Strange in the Best Way: Iceland Through Stories and Photos

I knew Iceland would be an adventure. That’s why traveling there captured my attention in college and remained a priority years later. When that dream became a reality and I stepped off the plane, despite exhaustion and jet lag, that excitement was palpable. What epicness would the next 10 days bring? What would we discover as we drove around the whole country? I met my friend Jasna at the airport and we set off into the unknown.

Day 1: Mom leaves baby outside coffeeshop like dog

If we had any fears about traveling as a female pair with no scary, strong man to fend off imaginary predators, they were quickly silenced within hours of arrival. We were in search of caffeine and carbs and stopped at the closest option. As we approached, we saw a mom park her stroller by the door so she could leave her baby and its baggage outside while she went in for a coffee. Jasna and I exchanged a knowing look. This country is safe enough to leave your most prized possession unattended. Everyone must be honest and trustworthy.

After fueling up and verifying the baby was indeed not stolen, we started walking around Reykjavik towards the church with a stop along the way at the Sun Voyager statue. The view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja is breathtaking and should not be missed. We wandered some more, high on the feeling of being in a brand new country and culture, and ended up in the Laundromat Cafe–so cute.

We had an evening session booked at the Blue Lagoon, so we made our way there, ready to relax after a long day of walking. The Blue Lagoon is expensive but definitely worth the splurge. We swam around and soaked for FOUR HOURS. I’ve never been so pruny in my life but felt amazing afterwords.

Day 1 Highlights and Photos

  • Sun Voyager
  • Hallgrimskirkja
  • Laundromat Cafe
  • Blue Lagoon

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Day 2: That time Jasna walked in on FuckJerry’s friend taking a slash

This day was jam-packed! It was the day we did “the golden circle” (possibly the most famous tourist route in the country), connecting Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Strokkur geysir. But more importantly, we went to lunch at an amazing greenhouse called Fridheimar, and FuckJerry (Instagram celeb) was at the next table over with his huge bro squad. We kept it low key and didn’t pay them much attention, but when Jasna went to use the bathroom, she accidentally walked in on one of the guys because he forgot to lock the door. After making what I assume to be extremely awkward eye contact, he apologized to her! We couldn’t stop laughing.

There was also a girl riding around on an Icelandic horse looking very professional in her outfit while sophisticatedly controlling the horse lap after lap. The next thing we know she directs the horse to the barn, gets off, walks inside, comes out with a glass of beer, mounts the horse, and keeps riding beer in hand! The laughs kept coming. “Only in Iceland” became a phrase we would say again and again to put language to the quirky and strange things we kept experiencing.

Day 2 Highlights and Photos

  • Thingvellir National Park–the place where law was first made
  • Strokkur
  • Gullfoss
  • Fridheimar
  • Kerio Crater
  • Seljalandsfoss
  • Skogafoss

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Day 3: Are we on another planet?

The landscapes we saw on day 3 were epic. We just kept asking ourselves how is this possible? We literally had to google how everything formed and came to be. It was just so unlike anything we’d ever seen. Later in the evening we had quite an embarrassing run in with some locals…I shared the story on Instagram if you’d like to read about what happened. 🙂

Day 3 Highlights and Photos

  • Vik’s black sand beach and basalt columns
  • driving through a lava desert to Skaftafell National Park
  • Fjadrargljufur Canyon
  • Svartifoss waterfall hike
  • Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
  • Hoffell hot pots
  • tasting our first Gull

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Day 4: Losing our fjord virginity

Jasna and I had both never seen a fjord before, which is “a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs,” and they are freaking magical. Needless to say we drove around the east coast with jaws dropped full of disbelief at what we were seeing.

Day 4 Highlights and Photos

  • east coast fjord views
  • small villages that used to be trading posts
  • Seydisfjordur

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Day 5: Hearing the next gas station is 60 km away when you’re almost on empty

How isolated we were began to sink in. At this point in the itinerary we were pretty much as far from Reykjavik as you can get, and we definitely noticed. We spent the day exploring the capital of Elves’ world (many Icelanders believe in elves), drinking kaffis at the most isolated and high up farm in the country, plugging our noses at a smelly, sulphurous geothermal area, and marveling at lava formations near Lake Myvatn.

Day 5 Highlights and Photos

  • Alfaborg, where the Queen of the Elves lives
  • Modrudalur Farm
  • Namaskard geothermal area
  • Dimmuborgir lava formations

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Day 6: We’re heading to the big city!…kind of.

We were so excited after spending days in the countryside to be headed towards the second largest city in Iceland–with a population of just 17,000. Along the way we stopped at a couple of amazing waterfalls. It felt like there were amazing waterfalls everywhere during this trip!

Day 6 Highlights and Photos

  • Dettifoss
  • Husavik
  • Godafoss
  • Akureyri

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Day 7-8: I basically have a PhD in geology now

After a week in this fascinating country, we thought we’d for sure seen it all, but we were blown away (literally) yet again by the peninsula. This was one of my favorite days despite being the windiest place I’ve ever been. We now had more geology terms under our belt and felt pretty badass coming up with explanations without the help of google when we saw something crazy. The cliffs of Arnarstapi were breathtaking (and kind of gave me Cliffs of Moher vibes). We also tasted mineral water straight from the earth which is supposed to have a ton of health benefits, and it was the nastiest thing I’ve ever drank (see my absolute disgust in the photo below).

Day 7-8 Highlights and Photos

  • basalt column wall
  • Olkelda mineral water
  • Budir
  • Arnarstapi
  • Djupalonssandur
  • Ondverdarnes
  • Stykkisholmur

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Day 9-10: Iceland, I hope to see you again one day although never in my life will I be able to pronounce any words in your language

It was official. After 10 days driving all over the country we still couldn’t pronounce anything…have you seen the names of these places?? Our last couple days were perfect, slowly roaming around Reykjavik and really getting a sense for its quirkiness and artistic influence. The trip ended in the best possible way for me. Going to Iceland in itself was on my bucket list, but snorkeling the silfra fissure in freezing water between tectonic plates separating two continents was something I couldn’t believe I was able to do. An epic trip with an epic ending.

Day 9-10 Highlights and Photos

  • shopping in Reykjavik
  • stumbling upon street art
  • snorkeling the Silfra fissure

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See all the highlights on my YouTube video HERE 🙂

Jasna and I decided to book a self-drive tour and couldn’t have been happier with that decision. There are a lot of blogs out there sharing what to do in Iceland which is why I didn’t feel the need to write a post like that. Instead I wanted to share the stories and impressions that resulted from having 10 days of freedom to explore this beautiful country. I cannot recommend doing a self-drive tour enough. It was the perfect way to experience whatever we wanted at our own pace (and we didn’t have to deal with the hassle of booking accommodation, car rental, insurance, etc.–it was all handled for us). If you want to read a bit more about what it’s really like driving around Iceland, I didn’t find much covering those details, so I shared my thought and advice here.

Where’s the most unique place you’ve been??