Adventures in Iceland: A Week Exploring the Magical Island

Posted by David Young, Contributor | 08.03.2022




As the plane touched down on the outskirts of Reykjavik, Iceland, the clouds were so thick it was hard to tell where the sky ended and the earth began. The seven-hour direct flight on Icelandair from Denver transported us to this island in the far north reaches of the globe.


We debarked into the soupy weather for a week-long journey exploring the southern coastline, an area famously known as the “Golden Circle,” and beyond, hiking and exploring the landscape of Iceland. Before arriving in Iceland I was largely unfamiliar with what it had to offer. I had only seen pictures of what looked like otherworldly landscapes filled with volcanoes, glaciers, and spectacular waterfalls.


Iceland’s weather is as varied as its landscape. We encountered snow, sleet, rain, sun, and wind on our week-long tour. Considering the country is so far north and the North Atlantic Sea slams into the coast, the weather can change frequently, going from nice to terrible at a moment’s notice.



From Keflavik to Reykjavik


We flew into Keflavik International Airport before heading into Reykjavik for the first day. Reykjavik is the capital and largest town in Iceland. With a population of around 131,000 people, it seems small by US standards. The city is primarily located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula.


We parked near the famed Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church, which is the largest church in the country with unique architecture resembling the jagged landscape of the countryside.  We enjoyed some fantastic fish and chips at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant with some local Gull Beer.


The fare in Iceland is varied, but some of the local favorites are fish, yogurt, pastries, and lamb, which are staples on the island. One of the local delicacies is Hákarl, or fermented shark, and gas stations across the island serve some great food for travelers including Pylsa, or Icelandic hotdogs, prepared fresh and which are nothing like American gas station hot dogs. While Reykjavik is a great initial stop, to see what Iceland really has to offer we wanted to get out into the countryside, so we headed south along the coast of the island along Highway 1.



A World of Waterfalls


Dont doze off on this road trip. Every turn reveals a new amazing scene. From snow-capped mountain ranges, sprawling glaciers, hanging glacier valleys, endless waterfalls, and black sand volcanic beaches, the drive alone is truly breathtaking. One of our first stops was the Reykjanes, a southern peninsula with giant rocks jetting out into the angry sea and cliff bands lining the ocean. The iconic location is used in films and television such as Will Ferrell’s Eurovision and Game of Thrones.


Iceland seems to have just as many if not more waterfalls than Switzerland. The melting snow and ice from the center of the island make their way downhill towards the coast, especially in the spring, tumbling over rocks and cliff bands. There are endless waterfalls to enjoy here, each with their special characteristics and views. Gullfoss Falls, or Golden Falls, is a must. It’s a massive waterfall that produces multiple rainbows and clouds of mist as the water rumbles over several different falls.


Legend has it that a rich local threw his gold into the waterfall so no one else could get it when he died, thus the name — Golden Falls. Others say its simply the golden aura the falls have near sunset. The tallest waterfall in Iceland is Skogafoss standing at nearly 200 feet tall and creating multiple massive rainbows and mist from both the bottom and top.


We hiked the long staircase to the top of the falls to look down and enjoy the view back towards the sea. We then followed the Skoga River at the top of the falls upstream inland for about five miles and were rewarded with dozens more scenic waterfalls cascading downhill towards the ocean. The relatively easy hike is well worth the reward of some spectacular falls.



Glaciers as Far as the Eye Can See


At the furthest point on our partial journey around the island, we came to Jokulsarlon - Glacier Lagoon and Diamond beach. Here, the geological wonder of a glacier breaking apart as it meets the ocean is on full display. Glacier Lagoon is exactly as the name indicates, a bay full of floating icebergs of all different colors bobbing about slowly in the clear water.


Some chunks of ice are aqua blue and others are dirty brown from dirt and volcanic ash. The icebergs breaking off the Breidamerkurjokull glacier, which started retreating in 1934 leaving the lagoon, are all different shapes and sizes. The lagoon is 814 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in Iceland and it covers more than 11 miles. The icebergs slowly make their way towards the North Atlantic sea - the terminus of a thousand-year journey. We even spotted some seals playing in the lagoon.


While they offer boat tours of the bay and you can kayak through the icebergs to get an up-close view of the bay, we admired it from the shoreline before making our way along the narrow outlet to the beach where small chunks of icebergs attempt to float out to sea. The harsh waves hammer the chunks of ice back to shore where they create natural sculptures of all different sizes and shapes. The black volcanic sand beach combined with the punishing waves mold the ice into little ice chunks that litter the beach and look like diamonds, hence the name Diamond Beach.


Its truly a natural wonder and work of art, unlike anything I’d ever seen.



The Bluest Hot Springs


Filled with bubbling hot springs and geysers, most too hot to get into, Iceland is as hot as it is cold. On our final day, we visited The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa to soak our tired muscles. The natural hot spring is so blue its almost blinding.


The luxurious resort lets visitors float through the hot spring paradise, enjoy a beer or wine and even get a facial scrub. The therapeutic waters are rich in silica and sulfur. And there is no obnoxious sulfur smell that accompanies most hot springs. We partook in the natural saunas, steam room, and small waterfall that acts as a natural massager. These were so hot that we could only stand them for minutes at a time.


Close to Reykjavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula, this is one of the attractions that Iceland is most famous for. And floating through the 102-degree azure hydrothermal water, its easy to see why. The relaxing resort hit the spot as a way to loosen up before boarding our flight back to America.


While we only scratched the surface of what Iceland has to offer, it was enough to ensure our return someday. A mix between the landscapes of Alaska, Greenland, and Scotland, Iceland is truly a rich destination for any outdoor enthusiast to explore.

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