Days can get dull and sleep-work-eat-repeat can wear the shine off life. The endless daily loops that come with desk jobs and homes in the suburbs leave little margin for pondering faraway adventure. In November Liz and I were able to visit Iceland for a few days and now, even months later, my eyes are still sparkling with the splendor of that place. The shine has yet to wear off. Landing in Iceland was like hitting the refresh button on existence. Iceland reminded me that we are spinning through a glittery universe on a wild green planet crafted by a fiercely creative and mysterious God.
Beaches with sand as fine as sugar but black as ash. Red and green and yellow cottages dotting the slope of a smoking volcano. Fissures in the earth bubbling with warm blue water, as opaque as porcelain in my hands. Fields of gold moss and stacks of lunar boulders and an expanse of cerulean glacier tumbling one into another. Speckled grey and cream-colored horses, manes whipping in the frigid wind as they gallop beside the single-lane highway.
Something about this place feels otherworldly
Or perhaps Iceland is exactly the opposite of otherworldly. Perhaps Iceland is the consummate example of Earth –brimming with strange beauty, dripping with paradox, and always incubating some fresh miracle. Iceland startled awake the sleeping and settled parts of my mind.There is wonder yet to be found, it said. None of us has seen it all.
(Keep reading for some of my recommendations for your trip to Iceland!
...because you WILL take one.)
Blue Lagoon: Blue Lagoon is a naturally occurring geothermal spa about twenty minutes drive from Kevflavik Airport. While some friends had warned me the lagoon was too toursity, I found it to be beautiful and relaxing and unmissable. I could not believe how gorgeously blue the water was. Plus, there's a counter in the water where you can order drinks... I got a blue slushie!
See wild horses: You're almost guaranteed to spot a pack of wild horses near the road within the first couple hours of your car trip. I'm probably not qualified to advise this, but I'm going to: GO PLAY WITH THE HORSES and bask in the their unbridled (heh, get it?) majesty.
Hike a glacier: Despite my forever crush on Iceland, I am a hot weather girl. The idea of spending hours on a glacier made me want to cry a little, so I wasn't convinced to book a glacier hike until the very last minute. This little adventure turned out to be one of my favorite bits of the trip. The views of electric blue ice dusted with the black ash from a nearby volcano were unlike anything I'd ever seen. Yes, it was frigid and wet and windy, but I climbed a glacier. I used an ICE AXE! Worth it.
Pull the car over: Whatever you do, leave yourself a margin to pull the car over several times an hour. Truly, you could pull over for some fabulous view every twenty yards if you wanted. The landscape often changes dramatically in a matter of minutes, so allow yourself to soak it in from the side of the road rather than whizzing by in the rearview mirror.
Window shop in Reykjavik: I'm not much of a souvenir collector, but Scandinavian design is my love language. I have a massive appreciation for a well-curated shop abroad, so we spent an entire day meandering the streets of Reykjavik and browsing the beautiful boutiques. Ceramics, wool goods, books, designer clothing, and artwork galore. Everything costs like a million dollars, so all I brought home were photos.
Hallgrímskirkja: This fascinating art deco church is the focal point of Reykjavik and its bell tower provides a stunning view of the entire rainbow-colored city.
Þingvellir National Park: The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet at a large rift, inside which can take a stroll during your free visit to this fantastic national park.
Sólheimasandur plane crash site: A plane crashed on a southern Icelandic beach in the 1970s and the wreckage has been left untouched. Since all the passengers survived, I have no guilt in saying I loved this SO much. Probably too much. Standing in a crashed plane on a black sand beach feels like inhabiting some hazy surrealist dream and you MUST do it. The crash site is a bit hard to find, so make sure to use the directions from the link above.
Geysir: While this isn't exactly Yellowstone, the Geysir geothermal area provides some up close views of beautiful geysers, the largest of which erupts every few minutes. Entry is free and there is a great cafe in the visitor's center.
Waterfalls: I'm thoroughly convinced Iceland's waterfalls outnumber its citizens, so you'll be able to see all the waterfalls your heart desires. My personal favorite was Seljalandsfoss because we were able to hike into the cave behind it. Watching the sun set through a wall of falling water is pretty unbeatable.
TO STAY + EAT
KEX: I've stayed in a few hostels in my day, and KEX in Reykjavik is hands down the best hostel experience I've ever had. The place is almost sickeningly hip, super clean, and feels really safe. We failed to realize KEX would be a venue for the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, so we were lulled to sleep each night by what I can only assume was an Icelandic screamo band.
Reykjavik Roasters: A great coffee shop with in-house roasting and a staff ready to talk about it.
Snaps: A super delicious bistro in the center of town. The atmosphere is beautiful and the pulled pork belly open sandwich is a 100 emoji.
Laundromat Cafe: As a bit of a Ron Swanson, I'm not easy to impress when it comes to breakfast food. And I didn't expect to be impressed by Iceland's cuisine at all. Laundromat Cafe blew me away with it's breakfast dishes and I'm scheming on how to return for some banana pancakes and avocado toast.