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??

 

What It’s Really Like Driving Around Iceland

Here’s what you need to know before embarking on an Iceland road trip:

(here’s a vlog of our whole trip on YouTube)

It’s a good idea for everyone. Iceland is a great destination for basically any type of traveler. It’s great for experienced travelers because it has so much to offer that you just can’t find in other places. It’s perfect for less experienced travelers because it’s really easy to navigate (they speak English, have lots of wifi available, and it’s really safe). It works for couples, groups of friends, families, and solo travelers. They even have handicap access at most of their popular sights!

Gas is expensive. Iceland in general is expensive, so the budget travelers out there will have to do some extra planning and research to cut down on costs anywhere possible. Gas costs will be unavoidable on a self-drive tour so factor accordingly. We rented an eco 4WD car and spent AT LEAST $30 per day on gas. We were driving about 4-5 hours each day.

Rent a car you feel comfortable driving. Icelanders typically drive manual cars, so if you require an automatic make sure you specify with your rental company ahead of time. I also highly recommend getting a car with 4WD because the weather can be so unpredictable and powerful. We went in May and just barely missed a snowstorm that led to a major road closure. You don’t want to get stuck in a bad situation, especially in the more remote areas. Also, you will be driving on a lot of gravel roads, so 4WD helps.

The max speed limit ANYWHERE is 90 km/hr. That’s right, you aren’t allowed to go faster than 56 mph. Anywhere. Even though there’s hardly any cars on the road. It might be tempting to speed, but beware– there are speed cameras out to get you. The limit also makes sense because the roads hardly ever have guard rails, and they quite often turn into one-lane bridges.

They drive on the right side of the road and have lots of roundabouts. Just FYI.

Drinking and driving is not allowed at all. No one drink exception. You can’t drive at all after having any drinks. So plan accordingly.

Your car will get messy. Thanks to all the gravel roads and crazy weather. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the dirt, most gas stations have a washing station if you know what to look for (brooms with water shooting out of them).

Get a Garmin or navigation system with Icelandic letters. Unless you’re comfortable using a map, Garmin will be your best friend. Our rental company included one in our package which we used religiously. Even though everyone speaks English, the signs are all in Icelandic, and Garmin can’t find locations using just the English alphabet.

It’s the best way to explore at your own pace. We loved having the freedom to make random stops and to stay somewhere as long as we wanted. It was also nice to be able to wait until the hoards of tour buses left the scene at the popular stops. We were on our own schedule, which is one of the best feelings you can have while being on vacation.

The scenery is incredible. We drove for 10 days and not one day looked the same as another. Even my wildest imagination couldn’t have dreamed up the combinations of landscapes we saw. Iceland, you are so strange and beautiful!

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Have you ever road tripped around Iceland??

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