My Epic Iceland Bucket List – A Four-Day Winter Itinerary
by Taylor Deer
Spend four days in Iceland with Taylor and learn her insider secrets to an amazing adventure.
Day 1: Road Trip to the Black Sand Beach
On Saturday, January 14, I boarded my overnight flight to Europe. When you travel to Iceland from the New York area, you leave around 5 or 6pm and arrive in Keflavík International Airport around 4 or 5am the next morning. (KEF is approximately 40 minutes south of Reykjavík – Iceland’s capital.) The flight to Iceland isn’t bad at all and while you are flying, you can catch some gorgeous aerial views of Greenland’s Artic landscape.
Once we landed, we checked into our hotel and then got on the road right away to begin our trip of a lifetime! During the wintertime in Iceland, the sun usually rises between 10 and 11 am. This worked out in our favor since we were tired from our flight and could take a nap during our 3-hour drive to the famous Icelandic black sand beach.
On our way to the black sand beach, we stopped at a beautiful waterfall right off of Iceland’s main highway (Route 1) called Seljalandsfoss (pronounced as sell-ya-lon-foss). When we got out of the car, the wind was very strong. That didn’t stop us from taking in all of the natural wonders around us. When we were there, the weather ranged from 25-40 degrees Fahrenheit. It felt cooler because of the wind chill, but it wasn’t unbearable since we were covered in layers.
At Seljalandsfoss, there are different hiking trails for you to view the waterfall. Unfortunately, since it was the middle of the winter, a lot of the trails were too icy to hike up. If you have crampons – a traction device that you attach to your shoes for ice climbing and hiking so you don’t slip and fall, then you can explore underneath the waterfall and head up the cliff. (I wish I would’ve known to buy crampons before I went on this trip because they would’ve been very helpful and I could’ve seen more.) We found a trail that wasn’t as icy and were then able to get a beautiful view of the water crashing down onto the Earth.
Vík í Mýrdal Village
After we explored Seljalandsfoss, we got back in the car and drove another 45 minutes to the southernmost village in Iceland called Vík í Mýrdal – also known as Vík (pronounced as veek). The drive was a little foggy, but when it cleared up, the views were unreal. If you watch the show Game of Thrones, then you will definitely get a déjà vu.
Vík is a beautiful and cozy seashore town filled with beautiful mountains, beach homes, cafes, churches and nature you can’t find anywhere else. The world-famous Reynisfjara Halsanefshellir shore in Vík is breathtaking. It is beautiful, historical, impressive and eerie. This shoreline consists of stacks of basalt rocks that, according to Icelandic folklore, are former trolls who tried to drag their boats out to sea only to be caught by the rising dawn. Another interesting fact about this shoreline is that there is no landmass between Vík and Antarctica. What makes this beach eerie is that it is considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Because of the shore’s high winds and rainy weather, the tides are always high and very rough. There is actually a monument dedicated in memory of drowned seamen.
Vík is south of the Mýrdalsjökull (pronounced as meer dal ya skull) glacier, which itself is on top of the Katla volcano. The volcano has not erupted in a while, but there has been speculation that an eruption may occur soon. If there was an eruption, the lava could melt enough ice to trigger an enormous flash flood in the entire area. The town’s local church is believed to be the only building that would survive. The people of Vík practice drills regularly and are trained to rush to the church in case of an eruption.
The black sand beach in Vík is a great place to take pictures, explore the beautiful cliffs overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean and collect sand you won’t find anywhere else. If you visit Vík in the summer, you can see adorable puffins flying around. Unfortunately, it is very rare to see one in the wintertime.
After our unforgettable time in Vík, we headed back west onto Route 1 and stopped at another beautiful waterfall on the south coast called Skógafoss (pronounced as sko ga foss). Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country. According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area buried a treasure behind the waterfall. Legend claims that locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grab a ring before the rest of it disappeared.The eastern side of the waterfall has a beautiful hiking trail and a staircase that takes you up to the top, between two glaciers. The hike is a pretty steep trail and can be very tiring, but the views make up for it!
After we headed back to our hotel, we then headed into downtown Reykjavík to grab a delicious local dinner and a well-deserved Icelandic beverage. My good friend Meaghan visited Iceland during the summer and recommended a wonderful and classic Scandinavian restaurant called Lækjarbrekka where you can get a delicious Viking dinner. Since my friends and I were all starving, we split the 4 Course Set Meal which consisted of citrus marinated smoked salmon, slow cooked dried cod, lamb fillet and hákarl – also known as “treated shark”.
Hákarl is a national dish of Iceland consisting of Greenlandic shark, which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung dry for a few months. This Icelandic delicacy has a strong ammonia-rich smell, but is delicious if you are a seafood lover like myself. It is served in a jar for preservation and is supposed to be washed down with a shot of Brennivín, which is Icelandic liquor that has a similar taste to vodka. In addition to our 4-course dinner, we all ordered the catch of the day, which was a delicious Icelandic white fish served in a scampi sauce with veggies on the side. This Viking dinner was the best way to end our first day.
Day 2: The Golden Circle Tour and Night Out In Downtown Reykjavík
On our second day, we explored Iceland’s Golden Circle through Reykjavik Excursions. The great thing about the Golden Circle Tour is that you can see Iceland’s most stunning and popular sights first-hand within an 8-hour time frame.
The majority of Iceland’s food is imported from other nearby countries. Luckily, that is soon changing due to the expansion of local greenhouses. Our first visit on the tour was to the Friðheimar greenhouse. I was so happy to be able to visit one while I was there and Friðheimar’s was awesome! When you enter the greenhouse, you can learn from Friðheimar’s owner about the magic behind growing delicious, pesticide-free tomatoes with the aid of Iceland’s geothermal heat. After the tour, you can purchase homemade tomato soup and freshly baked bread. In addition, Friðheimar’s also has beautiful Icelandic horses that you can pet outside.
Next, we headed to the Geysir geothermal area where the Strokkur geyser shoots water every 4-8 minutes. This is great because you will be sure to catch one while you are visiting. This was my first time ever seeing geysers in real life and let me tell you that these natural pools are so powerful! It was one of the coolest natural wonders I’ve ever seen. Our tour director informed us to stay on the manmade walking trails and respect the nature because you can accidentally fall into a boiling hot geyser if you start to venture off. Geysir does have a visitor center where you can get delicious homemade meat soup (made with lamb) and shop for souvenirs. I bought a warm Icelandic wool shall that I have been living in all winter.
After spending a few hours at Geysir, we hopped back on the bus and headed to Gullfoss waterfall, which is considered the Golden Falls of Iceland. The water plunges into a crevice that is 105 feet deep into the Earth. I have never been to Niagara Falls, but Gullfoss had to have been the best and most stunning waterfall I have ever seen in my life. Since I visited in the winter, we watched the beautiful falls flow into a winter wonderland, but if you go in the warmer months, you can feel like Dorothy in the Emerald City and catch beautiful rainbows.
We ended our Golden Circle Tour visiting the historical and geological Þingvellir National Park (pronounced as thing ve leer) where you can walk over the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimeters per year. I was so excited to tell everyone at home that I was in two continents at once!
At Þingvellir, you can walk up a trail that leads to an overlook where you are able to view gorgeous snow-covered mountains, a fresh-water lake, mini waterfalls and we even got a chance to view the sunset!
Later that night after the tour, we headed into downtown Reykjavík to explore the nightlife. Before we went to the bars, we stopped at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which translates to “best hot dogs in town”. It is the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland and they are made with mostly grass-fed lamb and are organic and hormone-free! They are even served with crispy fried onions and a remoulade sauce.
Although downtown Reykjavík does have a few nightclubs, they are mainly known for their great pubs that serve delicious Icelandic craft beer that you can enjoy with friends. We started the night at Gaukurinn, which is a two-story comedy club. The comedians were hilarious and I thought it was awesome how they knew so much about American culture.
After spending a couple of hours enjoying a few beers and laughing, we bar hopped around the area and met friendly locals. In Iceland, as well as a few other European countries, it isn’t surprising to see people bring their children and even puppies out to the bars. At one of the bars, we got to play with a cute German Shorthaired Pointer!
You don’t have to worry about slipping on ice when you bounce around Reykjavík because the streets are heated! Isn’t that so cool?
Day 3: Explore Reykjavík, Dog Sledding and The Northern Lights
After our fun night out in Reykjavík, I wanted to explore the city more the next day. After we woke up, we headed to Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran church. This iconic church is also known as Reykjavík’s main landmark and it can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. One of the many interesting facts about this church is that it is fairly new. The construction was completed in December 1992. In addition to exploring the church, you can take the elevator all the way up to the tower where you can access 360-degree views of beautiful Reykjavík. When we went, it was still dark out so you can even catch the sunrise from the tower if you stay long enough.
When we finished touring the church, we stopped at a cute café to eat some delicious Icelandic crepes and then toured Harpa – Reykjavík’s famous and iconic concert hall and convention center. The city also offers great shops and boutiques for all of my fellow fashion lovers! I fell in love with Reykjavík’s Scandinavian charm and architecture.
Holmasel Dog Sledding
Whenever I think of Artic countries like Iceland, I always get a cute picture of a husky dog in my head. My friends and I looked into places where we can go dog sledding, since none of us have ever done it before, and found Holmasel Dog Sledding a little over an hour south east of Reykjavík.
During this awesome experience, we got to play and take pictures with these beautiful Siberian, Alaskan and Greenlandic huskies. They were all super friendly and, even though I felt bad for them, they apparently love taking people around this beautiful coastal area. After our fun sledding adventure, we were able to pet the husky puppies and enjoy homemade hot chocolate.
After our fun day playing with the huskies, we stopped at Fjorubordid (Stokkseyri), a delicious seafood restaurant where we all enjoyed a nice bowl of homemade Icelandic lobster soup. We then ended our day visiting a hidden waterfall nearby called Urriðafoss (pronounced as your eda foss). It was so nice to be near a natural wonder without being stuck in a tourist trap. We stayed there for a little while because it was so relaxing and then headed back to our hotel.
Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights
One of the main reasons why I wanted to go to Iceland in the winter was to catch the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. You can catch the Northern Lights in places like Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada and Alaska. Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for many years and I wanted to make sure I saw them before my trip ended.
There are a ton of Aurora and weather apps that you can download on your mobile device to let you know when the skies are clear and the percentage of how likely you are to see the Northern Lights. That night, there was a high percentage of seeing the lights south east between the hours of 3am – 6:30am. We went to bed around 7:30/8pm at night; set our alarms for 1am; had some coffee; packed some snacks and then hit the road!
Our road trip to catch the Aurora Borealis was definitely one to remember. We all were in a great mood, listening to good music in the car and enjoying the nightly stars. I know we all have seen stars in our life on a clear night, but the stars on this specific night were the clearest I’ve ever seen them! We hung out at a few places hoping to catch the lights and around 6am, we started to faintly see them. They started out really light and then turned into their blue and green swirly colors. It was awesome!
Day 4: The Blue Lagoon
The best way to end my trip in Iceland was a spending a day at one of the 25 Wonders of The World – The Blue Lagoon.
My experience at the Blue Lagoon was definitely one to remember. It was snowing out while we were there, but the warm geothermal aqua waters made it seem like we were in paradise! I was there for a few hours because I had to catch my flight home, but I could have easily stayed the whole day. While enjoying the nature, I received a silica mud and algae mask and a refreshing alcoholic beverage from the bar located right in the blue lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is located 20 minutes from the airport, so it is definitely a great place to visit when you first arrive or when you are about to leave. I personally recommend ending your trip there and believe everyone deserves a relaxing and memorable day before they leave to go back to reality.
I hope you all enjoyed my first blog post on Iceland!
If you have any questions about my trip, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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