The challenge of Iceland is being able to squeeze in as many cultural excursions as natural ones. The days were so jam-packed with activities that prioritization is important here - no matter how long you have there will always be another natural wonder you didn’t quite get to.
On Day 3, we headed out early from our Airbnb and made our first stop at Skogafoss waterfall. The drive to the falls was nothing short of spectacular. To the left a wall of cliffs lined the road, with seabirds diving through streams of water barreling off the top. To our right, the North Atlantic, grey and foggy.
Skogafoss waterfall (and Selfoss waterfall) are right off the Golden Circle Road. Take the time to climb the steps to the top for sweeping views over the falls and land beyond.
After, we drove to Vik, a sleepy coastal hamlet in South Iceland, for lunch and a visit to the famed Black Sand Beach. At the suggestion of the Visitor’s Center, we drove down to the aptly-named Black Beach Restaurant and ordered traditional turnip & salmon soup, fish & chips and beer while watching tourists flock down to the beach.
Reynisfjara Beach is perhaps the least relaxing beach in the world. Signs warning of “sneaker waves” are posted around the entrance (a sneaker wave is NOT what I assumed was a wave that came too close and got your sneakers wet - it’s one that sneaks up on you, washes you at to sea, and drowns you). Wind-chafed and chilled to the bone, we walked out as far as we could, taking cover in one of the many caves along the shore. Icelandic legend says that the three basalt sea stacks sticking out of the ocean at Reynisfjara Beach are said to be three trolls whose bodies turned to stone when they unsuccessfully tried to capture a Viking ship of the coast. (Troll folklore and legend is a predominant theme in Iceland).
We escaped the beach unscathed by sneaker waves and drove up to a vantage point for a panoramic view of Vik. The 15 extra minutes we spent doing this provided some of my favorite pictures from the trip.
We got to Skafatell National Park for our glacier hike and ice cave tour booked through Arctic Adventures. We were outfitted with crampons, ice picks, and helmets, and bussed out to the glacial tongue. After a precarious few days of slipping all over, the crampons were game-changers (the ice picks however were swung around far too carelessly for my liking). Our good-natured guide, Kuba, was a fount of information, leading us all over the glacier pointing out geological and historical facts.
Completely exhausted from the day, we ate dinner out and headed to Horgsland Cottages that makes up for it's no-frills accommodations with a large, free breakfast spread. We set out for Diamond Beach the following morning, a stretch of coast where bits of glaciers wash ashore, resembling giant diamond scattered across the black sands. From there we walked to Jökulsárlón lagoon, a baby-blue lagoon at the foot of a massive glacial tongue. Here we sat for over an hour in pin-drop silence, watching the water slowly move out to sea, seal heads popping above water before disappearing below the glassy surface.
Our last stop of Day 4 turned out to be one of my favorites - the ancient Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon boasts dramatic views and vertigo-inducing heights.
We stopped at a supermarket to get dinner ingredients and then retired to our last Airbnb, another homey cabin in the middle of nowhere where we sipped wine in the hot tub and enjoyed our last night of vacation.
On our final day, we got coffee and lunch at Glo, an amazing vegan restaurant in the heart of town that I heard recommended numerous times - it did not disappoint. We did one final run around the city, snapping pictures of charming storefronts and picturesque alleyways, before heading to the airport, sad to leave this moody, magical country.