Earlier this year I traveled to Iceland with two of my closest friends (s/o Nat + Mahmoud!), but seeing as I’ve only just now launched this forum to share some tales of adventure, I’m retroactively posting about all of the amazingness that is this Nordic island.
The places we visited are all pretty popular spots, but given that we were there in a less busy season – everything felt like a hidden gem. Definitely make sure you add these spots to your hit-list, beyond the Golden Circle.
1. Snorkeling in Silfra
Let me preface this by saying we were traveling in March, which meant just enough hours of daylight, but temperatures were brisk! So this. was. cold. But worth it.
I booked through Iceland Adventure Tours and they were amazing. Quick to respond, fun-loving guides and comfortable transportation (with hot chocolate to warm up afterwards which is always the way to my heart).
The coolest part of this adventure goes beyond the crystal clear blue/green glacier melt waters that carry you through the 30-minute drift. Silfra is a fissure between North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, so you’re literally drifting between two continents. It’s the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly in the crack of tectonic plates, which feels really special when you’re in it.
I think Vik is a place that could be easily overlooked, but if you’re driving East, take a moment and stop at Vikurfjara (black sand beach). Battle the winds and make your way towards the basalt rock formations – it is absolutely breathtaking.
The wind was fierce, and the waves were wild when I ventured out, but I had some time here to myself, and despite the elements, it was the most peaceful I had felt in a long time. What I wouldn’t give to be breathing in that salty air right now.
Icelandic language is in no way intuitive, but it’s actually somewhat simple once you start to recognize a few basics. Jökull, meaning glacier, and Sárlón, meaning lagoon combines to quite literally the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I spent the entire day awestruck with every turn we took and elevation we climbed.
Waking up in our HI hostel east of Jökulsárlón, we were greeted by the property’s sheep that morning, and later passed a herd of Caribou on our drive to the lagoon. The whole site was just magic.
We did an Ice Cave exploration from the base of the lagoon, but honestly even without that, just go here and take in the stunning beauty that exists before it’s gone. Sadly it is melting at a rapid pace and it’s unknown how much longer it will exist in it’s current state.
That being said, your visit here is incomplete with a stopover to Diamond Beach – a black sand beach on the south side of the road with jutting icebergs that sparkle in their reflections of the sun. Aptly named, of course.
As soon as I heard that the Blue Lagoon was over $100USD for access, I knew it wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t justify spending so much money to enjoy a natural occurrence!
Thankfully my trusty friend, Natalie, was doing some great research along the way and came across a blog post that led us to a beautiful hike up a mountainside, with a natural hot springs for us to bask in FOR FREE.
Okay, so the price to pay was the hike along an incredibly icy path, but again – worth it.
We did this hike on the morning of our last day before heading straight to the airport, and it was the most perfect ending to our short stay in Iceland. The sun was just rising over the mountain top as we set out to find the hot springs, casting the most beautiful light.
To cap it off, there were only 3 other people in the swimming hole while we were there which, let’s be honest is always ideal as us tourists are always on a mission to get away from other tourists.
That being said, although this place might have been a hidden gem a few years ago (and for us given the season), the secret’s out! So go early to beat the inevitable crowds that I’m sure are much more dominant in the warmer months.
5. Chasing Waterfalls
Do it – chase them! They’re everywhere, and they’re stunning. There were a few occasions where I ventured off on my own to get views from on top/behind/or even underneath (!) the waterfalls we were admiring and it was simply the best.
There are many along the Golden Circle, but there are many off the beaten path as well so get your maps out, do some investigating based on which area you’re in, and you won’t be let down.
TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT TRIP!
When to go: Personally, I love winter getaways. The fresh air and brisk temperatures don’t bother me so long as I’m keeping active – which in Iceland is kind of the whole point. Traveling in the shoulder seasons is always nice as well (less busy and you don’t have to contend with so many line-ups at the popular spots). So, I think March was perfect with the only downside being the Fjords and waterways were mostly closed as they were frozen over, and the major hiking routes weren’t accessible so I’ll go back for that.
How to get around: Rent a car. I really don’t see any other way that would provide as much comfort and freedom. Iceland is not cheap – so don’t plan on this being a budget trip, and do it right! We were lucky in that one of us could drive standard (thanks Mahmoud!), so that really helps save costs because automatic vehicles are both really hard to come by, and veryyy expensive.
Overall recommendation: Believe the hype. This place stole my heart, and I’ll certainly go back to discover more of the North, Western + interior parts of the island at some point, hopefully sooner than later.