In April of 2018 we visited Iceland for the first time and, to be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. The first thing that came to mind were the geysers. And that it would be cold… freezing cold. So, I packed a lot of warm sweaters and even thermal underwear, shivery as I am. I bought a new camera and I was ready to go.
We arrived at Kevlavik Airport, picked up our rental car and drove to our first apartment. We saw some nice views on our way there, but nothing spectacular until the next day… and every other day of our vacation, actually. My husband had planned the whole trip ahead of time and each day we visited some of Iceland’s highlights. I have to say, I have never seen such beauty of nature. Iceland is magical. Just magical.
Before I share the 10 things you really should see or do, let me tell you this. If you’re thinking about going just a couple of days to Reykjavik, consider a change of plans. Reykjavik is a nice town (or city actually), but if you rent a car and go a few miles further afield, you’ll see Iceland’s true beauty, which is so much more impressive than its capital city. I’ll give 10 reasons why:
You have to see this Icelandic phenomenon when visiting the country. Watching the geyser burst is really nice to see and the colors beneath the water are beautiful. They don’t smell as nice as they look (it smells of sulphur because of the geothermal origins of the warm water), but you’ll easily forget that while watching it erupt.
‘Foss’ is Icelandic for ‘waterfall’ and there are many of them. The first ‘foss’ I’ll recommend is Gullfoss. It’s massive. It’s ruthless. A true beauty. You’ll hear the force of the water as it pours down into the river. Better said, it smashes down. That’s why you also have to be careful. You can stand really close to the edge, but must stay behind the fences. In the last couple of years a few people have fallen down it and their bodies never showed up again…
The second waterfall that you definitely wouldn’t want to miss is Haifoss. It’s one of the tallest waterfalls of Iceland (122 meters). The thing that made it unforgettable for us was the fact that we were all alone. There was no one there for miles. While enjoying the view and trying to catch it on camera it started to snow… As I said, it’s magical.
4. Fjallsárlón Ice Lagoon
There are two ice lagoons at the glacier Vatnajökull. One of them is Fjallsárlón. We went on a guided boat tour to see the floating icebergs that cleave from the edge of the glacier. Although it’s expensive, it’s very impressive and the natural scenery is beautiful. The water in this glacier lake is brown-coloured, because it’s not directly connected to the ocean.
5. Jökulsárlón Ice Lagoon
The other ice lagoon is Jökulsárlón. This one is bigger and maybe slightly more beautiful than Fjallsárlón because of the blue water. We went here twice: on a rainy day and on a sunny day. Both times it was magnificent. The lagoon flows into the sea and takes chunks of ice with it. You can do a boat tour here as well, but it books up fast. We did a boat tour on Fjallsárlón instead, because those tours are on a Zodiac. We preferred that over a big boat. Also the prices are a lot higher for a trip on the Jökulsárlón ice lagoon.
6. Diamond Beach
This place took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. I’ve never experienced that before, but Diamond Beach managed it. It was a rainy day, so there weren’t many people around and we walked upon a black beach full of ice. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The big chunks of ice from Jökulsárlón end up on the beach. The water of the sea washes them, so they are really clear and shiny – just like diamonds. The next day it was sunny and it was just as spectacular, the ‘diamonds’ glistering in the sun. They looked like ice sculptures of animals, as you can see in the picture.
7. DC3 Plain Wreck (Vík)
A few weeks before we were set to leave for Iceland, I saw a video by Peter McKinnon. He was walking on a plane wreck somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Iceland. I knew instantly I wanted to see it myself. Well, not just see it, but also stand on it. It’s not a natural phenomenon, but it truly is an extraordinary sight. You have to walk approximately 45 minutes in what looks like a black dessert, but eventually you’ll find it. Be a little cheeky and ask people to get away from the plane for a second and you’ll get your picture on the plane as if you’re all alone.
Dyrhólaey is a cliff located on the south coast of Iceland, not far from the village Vík. Inside the cliff there’s a 120 meter high hole, where the water goes through. On top of the cliff there’s a lighthouse. The view up there is just epic, especially at the end of the day while the sun sets. You’ll see miles of black sand beaches, all totally isolated and seagulls flying right next to rock wall. It’s so beautiful. Take your time and enjoy this view.
9. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
I know I’ve used this word a couple of times before, but I have to use it again. This beach is magical. It truly is. It’s breathtaking and once again I was touched. We arrived while the last rays of sun disappeared and then out of the blue, as is common in Iceland, it started to rain and eventually it started to hail. Everybody left and suddenly we were the only ones left on an empty beach. The sea was brutal as it crashed on the black rocks of the beach. It’s a must-see when you’re visiting Iceland.
10. Whale watching
On the last day we went whale watching. Unfortunately, the weather was really bad that day and only a few boats set sail for the ocean, but we managed to get a ticket and went. It was freezing cold (we got a suit to keep us warm), it hailed, it snowed and we were sailing into a storm; it was an unforgettable experience. And last but not least: we saw Minke Whales. Truly magnificent and the best end to our vacation. If you have the chance, book this trip. You won’t regret it.
Check out the travel vlogs by Orange83 (PART 1 – PART 2) on YouTube for more footage and practical information on all the places I mentioned. We only visited the southwest of Iceland, so no doubt that there are so many more spectacular and magical places that are worth a visit. Next year we’ll visit Iceland again and we will explore the west and north part. I’m sure I’ll write about that too, so stay tuned!
Check out the Iceland Stock Footage captured on this trip on Videvo!