In case you haven't heard, Iceland is SO hot right now! Not literally (it's seriously freezing) but Iceland is THE travel destination of 2017. This weekend, my friends and I traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland's capital and the northernmost capital city in the world, for a chilly & adventurous vacation!
On our first full day in Reykjavik, we set out to explore the Golden Circle, which is a route that takes about 3 and a half hours to drive and includes four major landmarks: Þingvellir national park, a geyser park, a massive waterfall, and a crater! We managed to make it to every stop except for the crater due to time constraints, but it was an unbelievable journey! The cool thing about Iceland is that there are so many different climates in such a small amount of space, so you could see snow-covered mountains right next to a clear blue lake and an evergreen forest. One minute it would be sunny, then we would drive into a rainy spot, which would then turn into a snowstorm, and then five minutes later we'd be back in the sun!
At the start of our trip, the grass was green and the skies were cloudy!
By the end of the day, we were driving through snow-capped mountains!
There are very few places in the world where you can see geysers; almost all of them are in the US, New Zealand, Russia, and Iceland! This is due to the very specific conditions required for these structures to form. Perhaps the most famous geyser is Old Faithful, located in Yellowstone National Park in the US. The geysers we saw in Iceland were pretty similar, and just as spectacular! Every five minutes, they would erupt, much to the delight of the massive crowds waiting in anticipation. Strokkur, the largest geyser and the star of the show, erupts at a height of 50 to 65 feet! While the heavy stench of sulfur engulfed this geyser park with each eruption, it was a pretty magnificent sight!
These little pools of water were scattered all around the geysers! They are extremely hot (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit!)
One of the geysers in the middle of an eruption
Gullfoss waterfall, our final stop, was the highlight of the Golden Circle. I was not expecting the waterfall to be quite so beautiful! This waterfall is about 105 feet high, and its grandeur has made it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland.
We found these cute horses on the way home!
After our excursion around the Golden Circle, and a quick detour where we found ourselves in what felt and looked like the tundra, we arrived back in Reykjavik, ready for our evening adventure: Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous attractions in Iceland, as it is a naturally occurring geothermal body of water located in a lava field that has been converted into a luxury spa. Tickets to the Blue Lagoon are in high demand, so we were only able to get passes for an evening time slot, but even though we couldn't enjoy the lagoon in the sunlight, we still had a blast! With entrance to the Blue Lagoon, we each got a free drink at the in-pool bar (I had a glass of sparkling Prosecco!) and a rejuvenating algae and mud face mask treatment! Even though it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the pool naturally heats itself to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so you stay totally warm as long as you keep your shoulders in the water! It's a pretty surreal feeling to be wearing a bathing suit swimming in a giant hot tub in the middle of Iceland.
The water in the lagoon is filled with silica and sulfur, and it is believed that its abundance of minerals give it the ability to heal skin ailments, such as psoriasis. While these minerals do wonders for your skin, they wreak havoc on your hair! When I stepped out of the lagoon, my hair felt like straw, and I've been intensely conditioning it every day in an attempt to nurse it back to health.
After showering off and departing from The Blue Lagoon, we had some time to kill before making another go at finding the Northern Lights, so we went back to Reykjavik to check out Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a famous hot dog stand in the city. This place is known for having the "greatest hot dogs in the world," and unlike American hot dogs, theirs are 70% lamb meat (not sure what makes up the other 30%; your guess is as good as mine). An "everything" hot dog, their speciality, comes topped with fried onions, raw onions, ketchup, mustard, and aioli sauce (and spoiler alert, it's delicious!!!).
The photo doesn't do it justice. You'll just have to go to Iceland and try it for yourself!
Our second attempt at hunting down the Northern Lights proved to be unsuccessful, so yes, I left Iceland without seeing this magnificent light display with my own eyes. But, I went into the trip knowing how incredibly difficult it is to see the Lights, and that even when they are out, they look quite different to the naked eye than the pictures we're used to seeing on the internet. So while I was definitely bummed about this, it also gives me a perfect excuse to go back to Iceland soon!!!
On our final day in Reykjavik, we started off with a trendy brunch at the Coocoo's Nest! I had a delicious Egg Florentine Alla Coocoo's, which included toast with sautéed spinach, two poached eggs, and creamy blue cheese sauce (so yummy!!) I also had an obligatory mocha, which is now in the lead for most beautiful mocha yet!
We wanted to squeeze in one more outdoor excursion on our trip, so we drove about an hour outside of the city to hike to Glymur waterfall, the second tallest waterfall in the country! When we arrived at the hiking site, we were greeted by some discouraged tourists who informed us that the bridge to hike to Glymur is closed during the winter (luck was not always on our side on this trip, but that's okay because it made for even more adventure!)
We decided to continue on with the hike anyway to see what we might find. And it's a good thing we did, because we discovered some really stunning natural wonders, including surreal landscapes and a hidden cave! We reached the part of the hike that kept us from continuing onward to Glymur, a rapidly flowing river where in the summer months a bridge is placed to assist visitors in crossing. In the winter months, the bridge is removed and there is only a cable crossing the river. You would have to be a pretty daring or properly equipped tourist to make it to the other side (which unfortunately, we were not). While we were at the river, a couple of hikers did manage to crawl their way across! We opted instead to climb to the top of a nearby mountain and take in the views of multiple waterfalls from afar. It's hard to describe how breathtaking and beautiful the falls were in person, but it felt like being in Jurassic Park.
We came across this crevice, which turned out to be a massive cave!
This is where the bridge is normally located to allow hikers to cross the river. This ambitious kid did not crawl his way across (he gave up after about a minute of trying) but he gave it a good try!
HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THIS??!! Look closely to see all the waterfalls!
And believe it or not, I had cell service up there!!
After our hike, we went back to the city to do some shopping and grab dinner. I made a quick visit to Hallgrímskirkja Church, one of Reykjavik's most famous landmarks. The church can be seen from almost anywhere in the city as it stands at 244 feet. What I found most fascinating about this structure is that it took 41 years to build! Construction began in 1945 and was not completed until 1986. I walked inside of the church and, as luck would have it, an organ concert was in progress, so I really got the full experience!
My friend Alex and I had been determined to try some of the local Icelandic cuisine that evening, specifically whale and horse meat. After extensively searching for a restaurant with these food items on the menu at (somewhat) reasonable prices, we found Gamla vínhúsið, a nice restaurant serving a wide range of cuisine. Alex and I split a whale steak and a horse steak, both seasoned with pepper sauce. The consumption of whale meat in Iceland is clouded with controversy, but putting all of that aside, it was absolutely delicious! The horse was yummy too, but I was way more impressed by the whale because it was just so different than I anticipated it would be. Its taste was pretty similar to an ahi tuna steak, but with a little more flavor. We also split a warm chocolate cake with ice cream to top off the meal!
Not a cheap meal, but so worth it (3600 KR = about $30!)
Alex and our horse!!
And of course, a quick dessert!
Visiting to Iceland is something I've dreamt about for so long. It was the destination at the top of my list as soon as I decided to study in London, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to explore and make memories in this wonderful place!