Lately it seems as if Iceland is the go-to place to travel. Between the picturesque waterfalls and the insanely cool northern lights, everyone is buzzing about the hot new spot to visit. But how much do the pictures leave out? What's it really like? Luckily for you, I visited Iceland this past week and I'll tell you everything the photographs leave out.
Let's start with the touristy stuff first. If you know anything about Iceland, you've probably heard of the Blue Lagoon. For those of you who don't know, the Blue Lagoon is a thermal pool that's full of warm, sky blue water. I was lucky enough to go to the Blue Lagoon on my first day in Iceland, and honestly I'm really glad I went. Geographically, the Blue Lagoon lies between Reykjavík (the capital city of Iceland) and Keflavík (where the airport is). My family stopped by for a few hours on our way into the city, and it was a great decision. The flight from MCI to KEF is around 7 hours give or take, so soaking my stiff joints in the warm water felt absolutely amazing. Even if you don't go on your first day like I did, the water will still make you feel so relaxed. The water also contains silica, which ended up making my skin super soft and smooth for the next few days. I highly recommend going.
Similar in popularity to the Blue Lagoon are Iceland's black sand beaches. Almost every time I get on Pinterest for pictures of nature, I'll see a picture of the Icelandic beaches. While it's a bit of a drive if you're staying in Reykjavík (around two and a half hours), it's so worth it. The beach at Reynisfjara was my favorite part of the entire trip. Between the rocky cliffs to the turbulent ocean, it is absolutely gorgeous. While the water is too dangerous--and honestly way too cold--to be inviting to swim in, just standing on the beach overlooking the ocean is amazing. The rock faces that line the beach were created by the same volcanic activity that created the island itself, and the rock is extremely unique. While we visited the beaches, the indiginous birds (mainly Arctic terns) were nesting along the cliffs, and sheep grazed on the grassy fields nearby. The black sand beaches are truly unlike anything you can see in the US, and you should definitely go if you have the chance.
No matter where you go in iceland, you'll see lots and lots of waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls you'll come across will be along the mountains right next to the highways, too tiny to take much more than a few seconds to admire. However, there are several worth leaving your car to see. While there are many more waterfalls in Iceland, my family only visited three that really stood out: Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss. All three were incredible--and this is from someone who has seen quite a few waterfalls across the US and Canada. Seljalandsfoss isn't as large as the other two, but it offers a unique opportunity for guests to walk behind the rushing water. Any fan of waterfalls will love Iceland, and, for those staying close to Reykjavík, I recommend hitting all three if you can.
I could gush on and on about how beautiful Iceland is, but the truth is that parts of it aren't so pretty. It's similar to the US in that, while there are insanely gorgeous areas, there are also extremely rural areas which make your drive a little boring. I found there to be two different types of semi-dull scenery while driving around Southern Iceland: grassy fields with free roaming sheep and mossy rock covered earth that makes you feel as if you're on the moon. Now don't get me wrong, both are pretty in their own unusual way, but after an hour of the same thing, you get tired. Luckily the interesting scenery is anywhere from 15-45 minutes apart from one another, so you shouldn't get too bored on your car rides.
Now, if you're like my family--people who have never attempted to drive in a country outside of the US--then Iceland will be a huge wake up call for you. The stoplights are sometimes extremely close to where you're supposed to stop and there are next to no signs. What few signs they do have don't give you much reaction time and are sometimes too small to see until you're close to them. If you get lost, good luck to you. My biggest complaint about the country as a whole is that they definitely need to work on their road signs.
Overall, my trip to Iceland was an unforgettable experience. Never before in my life have I felt so adventurous as I did on this vacation. I got to see a new side of the Earth I hadn't seen before. Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice, and both sure did come together to create a unique and amazing island.