Have you ever wanted to just get away for a weekend but weren’t quite sure where to go? It turns out that Iceland can be a great choice.
In 2016 we were looking to escape the typical weekend of grocery shopping, Netflix watching, and catching up on sleep. Instead, we wanted to find a place that was out of the ordinary where we could take in some new sights and experiences. So… where to? Luckily a metro ad answered me on the way home: Iceland.
Trips to Iceland from the Washington, DC. area are surprisingly abundant, and relatively cheap if you’re willing to sacrifice some of the luxuries of high-end flying. We booked a non-stop flight through WOW Air, a low-cost Icelandic airline that flies out of BWI. If you’re the kind of traveler that understands budget airlines, I think WOW Air should top your list. If you’re not aware, budget airlines are significantly less expensive than other airlines, but the trade-off is that you pay extra for anything and everything. We ended up paying for a single large bag and kept our carry-on bags under the 5kg limit so they would be free.
Our journey started around 7pm when we flew out of Baltimore Washington International on a red-eye flight direct to Keflavik International. After a 6 hour flight on which we got no sleep due to excitement we arrived bleary-eyed, but ready to explore. We picked up our rental car and immediately set out on our ride to the Golden Circle. We drove through 90 kilometers of what I can only describe as the most desolate and strange, but absolutely stunning landscape I have ever seen. We could see miles upon miles of flat, moss-covered lava rock until snow-covered mountains jutted out of the ground, creating impenetrable walls.
The first stop on our trip was Þingvellir National Park, anglicized as Thingvellir, a 57 square kilometer park that houses the original parliament buildings of Iceland. Established in 930, with continual use until 1798, the Alþing general assembly is one of the oldest extant parliamentary institutions in the world. The park also houses some fascinating natural occurrences, including tectonic plate shifting, waterfalls, and fissures. We hiked a few kilometers, paid respects to the graves, and took in the sights while the sun still rose.
“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.”
Stephen Markley, Tales of Iceland
From Thingvellir we drove to the Geysir Hot Springs, a field of geysers home to the first geyser described in a printed source: Geysir, The Great Geysir. Though Geysir itself is no longer active, there are many others within the field that make it a worthwhile stop on your trip. The waters that feed the geyser field can reach 125°C and you’re free to walk through much of the field. There are many spouts, and you’re likely to see Strokkur, or The Churn, go off every few minutes.
Our next Golden Circle stop was Gulfoss, a magnificent waterfall in the southwest of Iceland. While you travel around Iceland, keep in mind that anything ending in “-foss” will be a waterfall, and you should certainly check them out. Gulfoss is gigantic, and there are a number of overlooks that let you take in the enormity. If you feel like getting in the thick of it, there’s a cliff path that brings you up to an area where you can be up close and personal with the water. I’d recommend a jacket, as the spray from the water is all-encompassing, and a tad bit chilly.
From Gulfoss we began the journey to Reykjavik, our home for the next few days. At this point we hadn’t slept in 40 hours or so and it was getting hard to keep those feet moving at each stop. Even so, on our drive we found Kerið, a volcanic crater that’s definitely worth your stop. It costs only a few Isk (Icelandic Kroner) as a donation to help finish the renovations. If the name sounds familiar, it’s where Björk performed a free concert on a floating raft at the center of the lake inside the crater. You’re free to wander around the area, and if you climb to the top you can get a great view of the area.
Once we arrived at our hotel in Reykjavik we passed out completely for a few hours, it turns out combining a lack of sleep with miles of hiking will take its toll on the body. We awoke and wandered the area near our hotel, out in the northern part of the city. I suggest you take a walk by the water, it’s rather relaxing and off in the distance you can still see the ice walls formed by the mountains.
The water leading up to the Blue Lagoon
Photograph by Daniel Malgran
I should point out that we’re still talking about Day 1. After a nice walk through the city and grabbing dinner at our hotel, we passed out for good. The next morning we got up early and drove straight to the Blue Lagoon for a morning appointment with an in-water massage. A lot of people may tell you that the Blue Lagoon is a tourist trap, and they may well be right, but take it from me: it’s one you should visit. Now, let me add a stipulation to that. They offer a number of packages, and I will admit we decided to do the full luxury package where you get your own room to shower and change, and a private entrance to the lagoon. If you’re willing to throw down a little bit extra, this upgrade was 200% worth it. There’s no rushing, there are no other people bothering you, and you can go back in to freshen up at any time.
Why do I have so few pictures from the Blue Lagoon? Because I’m a moron, that’s why. I forgot to charge up the battery for the camera we brought with us, and didn’t find out until we were already in the lagoon where I tried to take a picture and it immediately died on me. We, of course, left our phones in the car so we wouldn’t lose them in the lagoon or forget them in the shower. I have very few regrets, and not charging the batteries is one of them.
Iceland was one of the best trips we have ever taken. We loved the country and the people so much we spent some time looking for jobs so we could live there for a year or two. If you’re looking for a trip off the beaten path and can handle a bit of cold, book your trip to Iceland. We only spent a few days, but there is so much more to see. Travel the Ring Road and see the black sand beaches of Vik. Go hike the glaciers. Stand in awe of the Skógafoss waterfall.
Iceland is calling, get out there and explore.
Some Visitation Suggestions
Technology to Bring
- Americans should be sure to bring an adapter for the outlets. Iceland uses 220 volts at 50Hz. We purchased and brought this travel adapter from BESTEK and it worked well, though is a bit loud.
- If you’re not planning to buy a Sim card or a phone while there but still want to know where you’re headed, download Maps.Me and make sure to download offline maps for Iceland. We had no problem finding our way.
- Don’t forget your camera, you’re going to see some great sights.
Clothes to Bring
- People in Iceland are incredibly nice, and they’re almost all at least bi-lingual. We found conversing with people was no problem whatsoever.
- Driving in Iceland is just like driving in the States. The signs may be in Icelandic, but you’ll have no problem figuring them out.
- There are very few police on your drive, but there are a million cameras. Slow down and enjoy your surroundings.