In the middle of October, we left our sun-warmed lives in North Carolina behind for a week in Iceland. The trip was incredible, filled with so many memorable experiences. As we road-tripped from Reykjavik to the south of Iceland and back, we listened to a mix of Icelandic and American music (like this gem!) and marveled at the alien landscape. We wish we could name one highlight of the trip, but there were so many: getting to see the northern lights, making the trek to the abandoned DC-3 plane on the Solheimasandur beach, standing between two dividing tectonic plates, touching a piece of a glacier. More than half of the photos here were taken on film, and many of them are featured on Cottage Hill. We can’t recommend Iceland highly enough; we already want to travel again in the summer months to see the midnight sun and the eastern and northern parts of the country. If you’re planning a trip, read on to see some of the things we learned while there!
Travel Guide to Iceland
We finally decided to make Reykjavik our annual travel spot because we were captivated by its opposing extremes. Here volcanoes and glaciers co-exist (sometimes right next to each other!), and while water falls from great heights, steam rises out of the depths of the earth. During our trip, we saw the most beautiful of sights and learned the most unexpected of facts that we will absolutely keep in mind when we return!
Do rent a car.
Driving in Iceland is an absolute dream, and renting a car was, by far, one of the best decisions we made. Not only did it allow us to quickly get to and from our Airbnb to downtown Reykjavik, but allowed us to drive along the southern shore to Vik, home of black sand beaches, and on even farther to Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland. Route 1, better known as the Ring Road, is a two lane highway that circles around the entire country, leaving active volcanoes, glacial plains, and black sand deserts in its center. On our drives, we were able to see some of the most beautiful and popular stops: the Golden Circle, waterfalls, glaciers, and all of the moss-covered rocks our hearts could ever desire.
Don’t call them ponies.
The Icelandic countryside is dotted with all types of animals: we saw so many cows, sheep, and horses. We even explored some of the areas surrounding Reykjavik on horseback! The Icelandic horse is smaller than its American counterpart, and has a special gait called the tölt, but that didn’t make the rides any smoother! Cows produce the majority of the milk in Iceland, much of which is used to make skyr, a yogurt that tasted like a slightly more sour version of Greek yogurt. The sheep in Iceland produce wool that is used in all types of products, and Icelanders swear by its ability to keep them warm in the harsh winters; we bought a blanket. We cannot wait to use it when the temperatures drop!
Do enjoy grown-up kid food.
The meal we ate more than any other in Iceland? Hot dogs. In Iceland, hot dogs are made of mostly lamb meat, and they are delicious. If you are a big hot dog aficionado, that reason alone might be why you should plan a trip to Iceland! We didn’t only eat hot dogs, though. Iceland is also known for its amazing seafood, and in the rainy and windy weather, we enjoyed many a warm stew. It is safe to say that we left Iceland with our stomachs as full as our hearts!
Don’t mess with the moss.
Icelanders are serious about their environment, and it is clear why. From geysers to glaciers, there are so many stunning natural wonders there. While Icelanders are careful to protect all of these beautiful resources, even making sure to instruct tourists to not remove moss or build cairns, there is one human mark on their terrain that they actively embrace. The Sólheimasandur beach outside of Vik is home to a plane crash that has been left relatively untouched for the past four decades. This other-worldly site was equally haunting and beautiful. Since local landowners have closed the road to cars, we had to walk five miles to get there and back, but it was well worth it to see yet another of Iceland’s reminders about the fragility of life.
Do drink the water.
The water in Iceland, whether it came from a faucet or from the sky, was unexpected. We were not ready for the smell of sulfur in our shower or when we washed our hands, but we embraced the geothermal energy that powers Iceland anyway. As for the rain, though a constant guest on our travels, our Airbnb host quickly reframed our view of it when she asked us, “But isn’t it a refreshing change from the heat of North Carolina?” Undoubtedly, our favorite part of the trip was when the skies finally cooperated with us: on a clear night we drove out of Reykjavik to escape the city lights and watched as the aurora put on a quick but unforgettable show for us. As we cross one more item off of our bucket list, we feel thankful to have witnessed the breathtaking beauty of Iceland. We cannot wait for the day that we can return.
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