This is a long overdue and a very long post because I get to share all about my week in Iceland over my spring break! J and I have been looking for locations that allow us to meet somewhat in the middle between France and the United States and apparently, we have a thing for I-destinations…Italy, Ireland, Iceland, you get the drift. We planned this vacation in January and read all about how Iceland is a wonderful place to visit in March and how the weather can be soooo nice. Even the venerated Rick Steves recommended Iceland in March so how could we go wrong? It turns out we could, but we had a wonderful trip despite all the challenges. So, with a warning on the length, I will recount our Icelandic adventures!
I flew in on February 27th because there are regular flights from Paris to Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, twice a day and both get in during the afternoon. Because J would be getting in early on the following Monday, I decided to get there a day early to check things out. I flew in around 2 in the afternoon and was able to take a bus from the Keflavik airport to Reykjavik proper. The two cities are a forty-minute drive apart and you need to have a rental car or purchase a bus ticket for 25 euros to get into the capital. I had been warned ahead of time by online research so once I landed, I got out my ticket and hopped on the bus. Once I made it into the city, I walked from the bus station to my hostel, which was no easy feat. A weird phenomenon that J and I experienced throughout our time in Iceland was that the streets and sidewalks outside of very well trafficked areas were barely ever properly cleared of snow or ice. Perhaps they don’t salt the roads for environmental reasons, but they don’t seem to do anything at all to clear sidewalks in parts of the city and roads in the rest of the country. It was occasionally extremely irritating and inconvenient so I’m glad I brought a pair of something like cramp-ons that I could strap to my feet. I forgot my yaktrax that I had in Baltimore, so I bought another pair at Decathlon, the popular chain of sports equipment stores here in France. I had also forgotten heavy boots and I’m really glad that I found a pair of tough, water proof boots with thick rubber soles at the thrift store. They were a lifesaver, and I would not recommend going to Iceland without a solid pair of boots, at least in the winter months. Once reaching the hostel, I spent most of my afternoon exploring Reykjavik, before grabbing a quick dinner at the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog stand which is by the cheapest eat in the city. I had been forewarned about the high price of food and groceries, but it was still a shock. Iceland is an island nation that imports most products sold and that includes food. The hotdog stand was a comparative steal, costing under 10 euro for 2 hotdogs which were delicious. I ate them with everything on it and extra fried onions which was the move. After, I went back to the hostel and called it a night. The wind and the cold really wore me out so I’m glad I just rested.
The next day had some pretty horrific weather. We had planned on renting a car at the airport which J had arranged online when we booked everything. The rental place didn’t open until 8 in the morning, so he had to wait a couple hours after landing. At first, it was looking hopeless because the driving conditions were terrible, and they couldn’t even get the car out of the rental lot…not a good sign. The driving conditions that day ended up being some of the worst that either of us had to face and I am really glad that J made it through the white out in one piece. He got to Reykjavik around 10:30 and I was busy having a pastry at a café I had found the night before called Sandholt. The pastries were divine, and I wished I had been able to eat there another time before leaving. However, to give you an idea of prices, we each had a pastry and a coffee, and the bill was almost 28 euros. I joke a lot with J about this one time that he paid almost twenty dollars for two lattes and a pastry, but this really blew that out of the water. So, this past month I really went from the extreme Icelandic prices to the deliciously cheap Venetian ones! Fun times for my wallet! After breakfast, we wandered around Reykjavik in the bitter cold and wind but tried to make the most of it. We couldn’t check into our guesthouse until 3pm so we had to fill the time before we could rest and get warm. We visited the famous Lutheran church, the Hallgrímskirkja which was very cool and very big! We also walked down the “rainbow road”, which is the main tourist street. Once 3pm rolled around, we headed to the guesthouse to rest up for our very busy week of driving around the south coast of Iceland.
The next day was a bit tricky. We had plans to drive down the south coast to our next place to stay, a little cabin in Vík, but the night before the online road guide was showing all the roads to Vík as closed which was not reassuring. We decided to head out anyway and try driving the Golden Circle which is a ring of tourist sites closer to Reykjavik. However, once we got there, the road was covered in snow and we were able to four wheel drive over it until we got to a section that was backed up because someone else got stuck. We decided to cut our losses, turn around, and head towards Vík and see how far we could go. Surprise, surprise we made it all the way! We stopped for many sites on the way such as Seljalandsfoss, a famous waterfall. It was here where we got to experience the terror that is Icelandic tourist site parking in the winter. The parking lot had more potholes than the whole city of Baltimore and the areas where tourists walked to see the falls were covered in ice. I was happy for my crampons, but it was still a rather precarious experience. The sites are all cool but it’s not cool to have to risk life and limb to get to see them. Perhaps this is where we should have learned our lesson about visiting Iceland in the winter months. We also decided to go further than initially planned because the weather for the next day was looking really rough. We ended up seeing every single site on our itinerary but had to make some significant adjustments to make that happen. We drove all the way to Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon which was wayyy further than we had planned on driving that day. From the Golden Circle spot where we turned around to there was a five-hour drive which we had not planned on. However, we made a last-minute change and were able to go see it! We saw both the glacier lagoon and the diamond beach right before the sun set which was magical. From there, we had a long drive back to Vík on the dark and somewhat twisty Icelandic roads but thanks to my superior driving skills, we made it back in one piece!
The next day was more relaxed. We ended up driving around a bit in the afternoon because of the high winds in the morning. It was shocking to both of us that from our cabin, we could see people in tiny cars and tour buses just zooming down the road at upwards of 80 kilometers with really strong winds. I guess the Icelandic people don’t mind as much but we were worried about being flipped over on the road!! We left the cabin after lunch and headed to Skógafoss, a nearby waterfall. From Skógafoss, we drove to Dyrhólaey which overlooked the black sand beaches and the very fierce ocean. From there, we drove back to Reynisfjara or the black sand beach. It was an otherworldly site and I think one of my favorite places we visited. Both J and I stood transfixed just looking at the waves pounding the volcanic beach. It felt like we had left earth and we wondered what could have possibly made people think that settling in Iceland was a good idea. From there, we just drove for a bit past Vík and once I was too cold to stand being in the car anymore, we drove back to Vík and got soup for dinner from The Soup Company. 10/10 would recommend the lava soup and if you stay in the restaurant to eat, you can get as many soup refills as you want which is nifty. From there, we went back to our cabin for the night.
Thursday was our last full day of driving. We had accommodations near the Keflavik airport for that evening and we had to get back to there eventually for our mid-afternoon flights on Friday. We decided to try our luck with the Golden Circle and were much more successful this time. We were able to see all the sites, from the Kerið crater to the geysers and then to Þingvellir National Park. I loved Þingvellir because of the waterfalls and pleasant hiking. I also let my Game of Thones fan out and made Jason hike through part of Þingvellir that was used as the entrance to the Eyrie in the show. It was definitely the day of the our adventure where we ran into the most tourists, but the sites were worth it. We wrapped up by heading to our hotel for an early dinner.
I still have mixed feelings about this trip. It was both super neat and it tested me like nothing else. The weather was unpredictable and impacted our plans a lot. If I did this again, I would do it in a much warmer month like July. The country is also absolutely overrun with tourists which was super disappointing to me. I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect but I felt like the country was being used as this outdoorsy Disneyland for tourists who did not respect the land they were visiting. It was saddening and I don’t think I would come back because of it. I have heard similar comments about Venice but when I contrast the two experiences, I felt like Venice retained some character that Iceland may have lost along the way. I’m glad I visited but I think I’ll steer clear of Iceland in the near future. I would also say that overpacking helped a lot. I brought a ton of snacks that I purchased ahead of time as well as a ton of outdoorsy gear. I felt that I was prepared for the weather but even I ended up asking Jason to buy an additional neck scarf for me before he hopped on his flight. And that’s all I have to say about Iceland! And for now, that’s a wrap on Iceland. Happy travels!