Iceland Unraveled: Heading South
Sitting in a gorgeous, dark wooded restaurant on a picturesque marina in Keflavik, Iceland, I realized that after spending a week in a country unlike any other I had visited before, there was no way I could fit this story into one blog post.
So welcome to part one of the Iceland Unraveled stories! A guide and itinerary for travelers who are looking for a unique Icelandic experiences, from the best places to visit, eat, shop, to strategies on seeing the most, and spending the least, this is Iceland Unraveled: Heading South.
This trip was a gift to my Dad for his 50th birthday, from my Mom, sister and I; he'd been longing to see the northern lights for years, and Iceland has never been this accessible before. On March 15th, we departed from Newark Liberty Airport on our journey to the country of ice and fire.
We planned out a fairly rough itinerary before our departure, and I recommend any traveler do the same, but keep in mind that when you look back on your trip, the best moments will likely be the unknown and the unplanned. Don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path; Iceland is a friendly country, and as long as you're hiking safely, don't be afraid to take another few steps to get that unbelievable view. I promise you; it will be worth it. :)
Our itinerary was set out as follows:
Day 1: Travel Day
Day 2: Head South to the Reykjanes Peninsula
Day 3: Head East to Vik
Day 4: Head Northwest to the Snaefelles Peninsula
Day 5: Head to Reykjavik
(Day 6: Flight cancelled, stay another night in Keflavik... fortunately we ended up finding the best place to stay - but more on that later!)
We picked a direction, and a main location. Through each day we had a few things listed that we knew we want to see, but it was everything we found by accident that made the trip so worthwhile.
The Reykjanes Peninsula is the larger peninsula that also holds the Keflavik Peninsula; it's located in the very southwest corner of Iceland, and is the most common airport to fly into, based on its size and short distance from Reykjavik. Saying that there's 'a lot' to see here is a daring understatement; as I look back on our map of the peninsula, I can still see all kinds of stops we didn't make, and places we didn't get a chance to visit. Far outnumbering those, however, are all the places we stopped off at.
Our first destination was a little fishing village just south of Keflavik - just a quick little drive to make sure we were on the right path. We saw some horses playing - a personal goal of mine was to meet some and say hello, which, thankfully, we accomplished later in the trip - and this was our first look at the small town life that enveloped the majority of Iceland. Farmland, to fishing villages, more farmland, and more villages, this was the idyllic life that was advertised in every photo I'd seen of Iceland, and it was absolutely breathtaking.
Our next stop was well-advertised, and even though it wasn't on our long list of sights to see, I'd read about it before on a few other blogs. The Bridge Between Continents is a man-made bridge that spans a ridge between the European and North American tectonic plates. My Dad and I had never seen anything like it before - the Earth jutted out into the air, and I took some time to walk underneath the bridge, through the black sand, where the wind was cut out by the high ridges around me.
Once we finished up at the Bridge and got back on the road, it was only a few more minutes until we could spy our next destination cutting up into the sky. The Reykjanes Lighthouse towered over us on the road from where it sat atop a steep hill; as we drove in, a small parking lot with only one other car greeted us, so we parked and prepared for the steep climb.
All in all, the hike up was pretty quick, and we actually passed a little hut - a possible fairy house? - on the way up, picture above. As we rose higher above the ground level, we could see dark, jagged cliffs rising from the water - I can not stress how monumental these cliffs were, and as we reached the base of the lighthouse, the view only got better.
There was a small space to walk around the lighthouse, as well as steps that led up to the lighthouse door. The lighthouse keepers' house was red-roofed, quaint, and built into the side of the hill. Imagine taking care of a lighthouse like this - absolutely unreal!
The climb down was quite a bit more pleasant than the steep hike up! We hopped back in our car and trailed down the pothole-ladden path to the ridges jutting out of the water; we had arrived at the Valahnukamol cliffs, a popular but still uncrowded area to watch seabirds dive around the cliffs, and nest along the steep sides. We spent a good deal of time just enjoying the ocean breeze, and we found that, although most of the cliff-trails were closed because of harsh conditions, there were some beautiful trails that wound through the surrounding area.
My Dad and I ended up having our lunch there; Skyr, a rather popular Icelandic snack, protein bars, and an apple each (although secretly I had been hoping to offer mine to a horse, it was still delicious.) Every step we took was a new angle at the cliffs as they rose high above the sea. We were quite disappointed that some of the trails up the cliffs were closed, however I'm sure that in summer, when the weather is slightly less temperamental, we'll be returning to make the hike.
Our next stop was unexpected, but we literally could not ignore it, considering how much smoke was piling into the sky around us! Unbeknownst to my Dad and I, we had ended up right by the geothermal hot spring, Gunnuhver, named after the ghost that was supposed to be haunting it! Though neither of us saw any evidence of a spectre, seeing the smoke bellow out from such a small point of the ground was unbelievable. We hadn't personally planned to seek out any sight like this, but I could not be more glad that we stumbled upon it; we'd never seen anything like it!
After spending some time marveling at the bright, red clay and enjoying the peaceful air, we moved on to our next (unexpected) stop - Brimketill Lava Rock Pool. We didn't stay too long here, as we still had quite a drive left until we were back at our Airbnb, but it was still quite a sight to see. Brimketill was a natural occurring rock pool right along the southern tip of the peninsula. The waves were absolutely wondrous, and though thankfully we were spared the shower, some of the further tide crashed far above our heads. I'm sure in the summer it's far calmer, but we loved the drama and dance that the ocean provided.
The last leg of our journey back to the apartment took us through Reykjanesfolkvangur, a large national park that cuts through the center of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Although one of the main roads we were looking to take ended up being closed due to harsh conditions, the park was a miscellaneous bag of mountains straining to reach the sky, frozen crater lakes, babbling streams and cliffside views!
Ultimately, we ended up stopping off too many times to count; for most of the ride, the places we found to pull over were unmarked or unnamed. This was fine for us! Although the winter in Iceland is dark, it's certainly not dull, and some of the shades of blue we saw on this very first day can't be beat by any tropical beach or sky.
Soon enough, we found ourself out of the national park, and the endless green filtered away into suburban paradise. Though only our first day in Iceland, we had already fallen in love with the constant twisting, turning, surprising, and shifting landscape of this new country. Our adventure had just begun, and even though we were both jet-lagged and worn out from hiking, I could barely sleep from thinking about what was to come.
I hope this first chapter of my Iceland adventure captivated you as much as it did for us! I hope that for any that plan to visit this country - as we sincerely recomend - this was a useful guide to just one of small portion of a wide, explorable country. Stay tuned for more updates on what to see and experience in Iceland! Thank you!