ICELAND: Our Journey Around Ring Road pt1 // Waterfalls, Ponies, Planes, and the Southern Coast

We're back! And we're SO ready to share all of the amazing imagery we've brought back from Iceland with you all.

We'll dive into all of the details in just a moment, but the bottom line is this: if you have the opportunity to go in your lifetime, and if you're not afraid of the cold, I urge you to go — at least once! Even better, try to see as much of the country as you can. Don't limit yourself to only what the tour groups will sell you on, even if that may seem like the easiest option. We did a road trip all around Ring Road (aka Þjóðvegur), which is the main road that takes you around the entire country of Iceland. We spent approximately 2 nights in each city or little town, and spent our days exploring. This allowed us the freedom and flexibility of planning and rearranging our own sightseeing spots as we saw fit, and as the weather permitted (because the weather in Iceland changes on a dime!).

And even if you are afraid of the cold, the last blog post in this series will have some tips and tricks I utilized to help ensure I was definitely comfortable, even as we braved those orange alert Icelandic storms (and yes, we went out and braved the tail end of them!). So the first few posts in this series will highlight all of the things we saw and did and how absolutely beautiful Iceland as a whole was, and the last post will summarize all of the gear we felt was essential for our trip and all of the tools we utilized to ensure we had a safe and comfortable journey... and I'll throw in any other travel-related tips/tricks/hacks I can think of, so if you ever plan a trip there, you can be as prepared as possible. All the practical stuff, ya know.

So we've been back for almost 10 days and I've realized now as I'm finally unloading our hard drive for editing, that I went pretty snap-happy. There's definitely no lack of photographs to document our journey, thus the issue I'm currently running into is 1) not enough memory on my aging macbook to hold all of the raw files so I can edit them and 2) not enough time and brain capacity to go through and edit the masses of them in one sitting. So apologies in advance for the delay, but a combination of a sinus infection and lowkey sinus congestion-induced headache is definitely hindering my blogging capabilities at the current moment. I'm just appreciative of the time we were able to take off from work to travel, the health we were able to afford for (the majority of) our trip, and a final huge tip of the hat to all of you who contributed to our adventure/honeymoon fund for helping make this possible. ♡ Thanks for following along.



Day 1 + 2 // Flights, Northern Lights, Coffee, and Champagne

We're combining days 1 + 2 together because our early 7am departure from San Diego Saturday morning eventually resulted in an early 6:30am arrival in Keflavík on Sunday morning... and we didn't go to sleep until 6:30pm Icelandic time to get our bodies adjusted to the time difference. So in reality, we were awake for an actual 31.5 hours, and we seriously felt delirious that entire day — it was a big blur! Our first flight was to Seattle, where we then had a 3 hour layover. Then, our flight to Iceland via Icelandair was another 8 hours, where we'd be landing bright and early. For anyone flying Icelandair, definitely pack some snacks with you because they won't be providing you with any! No pretzels, chips, peanuts, Biscoff - nada. They do, uniquely enough, offer Icelandic sodas, so I'd take advantage of this since Icelandic foods and drinks tend to be more costly when you're actually there. I opted for Appelsín, which is just their popular brand of orange soda. It's surprisingly sweeter than I thought it'd be, and slightly less carbonated also. Unfortunately, they only made rounds for drinks once the entire 8 hours. Super sad face.

And if you're trying to beat the jet lag, this is also when you'd ideally doze off if to try to catch your full night's rest before landing, but part of my strategy in choosing our north-facing window seats was to catch some aurora borealis action! And that strategy definitely payed off. I noticed a lot of other passengers had their blinds down most of the night and were sleeping, so don't forget about the northern lights when you fly there! Your view is essentially unobstructed at this point, and you have such little light pollution from the cities below you. They're visible to the eye, and you can even watch them dance and move. It was pretty spectacular!

Long flights are one thing, but totally resetting your clock upon touchdown and starting the day all over again with coffee and a loaded itinerary ahead just adds to the craziness. We initially planned a morning of sightseeing in Reykjavík, but news of an incoming storm and just being flat out tired AF just caused our bodies to basically succumb to exhaustion. With the suggestion of our hotel receptionist, we walked a block to a nearby food hall, called Hlemmur Mathöll, where we found a small cafe that was one of the only storefronts open on the main shopping streets of Reykjavík, called Laugavegur. The cafe, called Te + Kaffi, saved my life with a latte (barista read my mind and asked if I wanted it with 2 shots - I must have looked messed up!) and a croissaint. This little recharge set us back a little over $11, just so you can start to get an idea of the food costs in Iceland. Drinks, surprisingly, aren't far off from what we're used to, but food is where your eyes will open up a little wider.

After being resurrected by caffeine, we walked to a nearby grocery store, Krónan, for some dinnertime grub, then headed back to our hotel and cozied up in the lobby until our room was ready. Luckily, our hotel was super chic and the scandinavian decor was totally up our alley (if you've been to our home, you'll understand why!). Of all our hotels, this was probably the second nicest hotel we stayed in, but for the price, it was definitely the nicest! Everything was clean, pristine, comfortable, and our upgraded room even had a balcony with view (albeit a shared balcony). They even surprised us with a bottle of champagne and box of chocolates in our room, which we definitely enjoyed after a long, long day.



Day 3 // Waterfalls, Geysers, a Volcanic Crater, and a Hot Dog

It was nothing but early mornings for us our entire 2 week trip - 6:30am alarms, and we were out the door by 7am for breakfast! If you're lucky (or plan well enough), your hotel will be equipped with free daily breakfast buffet. And if it is, by all means, make sure you take full advantage of it — don't be shy! Everyone knows the food in Iceland is ridiculously expensive, and with a full day of activities planned ahead, you'll thank yourself later for loading yourself up with all the energy you'll need to expend later in the day. Cover all your bases: protein, carbs, and fats. I made sure to grab some croissants, eggs (whether the hotel had soft boiled, hard boiled, scrambled, or the fried variety), toast with butter or pate, a few slices of cheese, pancakes or waffles if available, half a cup of coffee and a few cups of orange juice. I was careful, however, to limit my coffee intake, since I knew we'd be out on the road all morning and afternoon. Bathrooms are hard to come by when you're on the road sightseeing, so make sure you aren't filling yourself up with too much liquid! With that being said, don't take too long to eat either - you want to get out on the road quickly before all of the tourists load up on those buses right?! It almost feels like you're on the Amazing Race jumping from one spot to another, trying to beat the crowds - there are that many tourists in Iceland!



First up on our list was a waterfall called Brúarfoss, which translates to "bridge waterfall". It's probably my most favorite spot during our whole trip because we had it all to ourselves! This blue waterfall is also relatively hidden from the public eye, and requires a bit of a hike through a snow-covered trail and traversing over some barbed wire. You'll hike over a bridge and through some bushes until you can hear the roaring waters which will point you towards the direction of the falls themselves. While it's not entirely unmarked, it certainly wasn't well traveled when we arrived early in the morning when the sun was coming up, which made finding the falls themselves a mystery in itself and all the more magical. On the way back to the car, however, several couples were headed in our direction, some even asking which way Brúarfoss was. If you're looking for a tourist-free attraction in Iceland, this may be it if you're able to get out there early enough!



One of the most popular tourist stops along the Golden Circle — Strokkur Geysir and all of the surrounding geysir hot spring area. I highly underestimated this location, actually, and despite how crazy crowded this particular spot was, there was actually a lot more to see here than I thought there was. I thought we were just going to see one hot spring and wait around for it to shoot water into the air every 5 minutes or so, but the surroundings were actually filled with other smaller hot springs and geysirs which spewed off steam and made the hills look almost storybook-like. Parking across the street for this spectacle can also be a hassle, with tons of tour buses going in and out - this was probably the most difficult tourist stop to find parking in, even though we were able to snag a spot quickly on a less-crowded side of the lot. Strokkur itself looked mostly like a huge puff of steam when it finally did let off though, probably because it was so cold out. We didn't spend much time staring at that, but rather the surrounding features instead.


Icelandic Ponies

On our way to our next stop, we saw some ponies on the side of the road. Now, everyone heading to Iceland should know that Icelandic ponies are a thing and that they're basically everywhere... we drove around the entire country, and we can verify that this is indeed a fact. But a few things here: the weather isn't always ideal, and the ponies aren't always going to be right next to the road ready for you within arm's reach. SO, when the opportunity strikes, GO FOR IT! We quickly pulled over and I kid you not, I ran down the snow covered hill with camera in hand and just began gently petting the horses on the head. They sort of thought my arm was food for a second, but they were the friendliest, most gentle animals ever! They behaved almost like dogs! After I began petting one, 3 more ponies walked up, so obviously, I pet all of them. Pets to the forehead, pets to the side of the face, pets to their fluffy bangs. Pets all around. And then one took a dump and I remembered I needed to get some pictures of the magnificent things, so here they are in all of their glory. I didn't have a very wide lens on, and was within arm's reach of most of the ponies so unfortunately some of the shots were pretty close in, but the encounter was great and something I'll probably remember for the rest of my life. (Fun fact: I was totally obsessed with horses in second grade).



Our second waterfall, Gullfoss, which translates to "golden falls", was the most popular and crowded waterfall stop along the Golden Circle. While parking wasn't an issue here, the crowds were a little intimidating, and we just weren't feeling the vibe. People were waving selfie sticks around, not really respecting our personal space, SMOKING, and as I was standing there looking around for things to take pictures of, I saw trash and cigarettes littered all over the ground around me. It definitely appeared to be the most disrespected tourist spot we'd seen throughout our entire trip, unfortunately, and we only spent a couple minutes here before leaving to continue the rest of our journey before another impending rain storm blew in.




Our next waterfall was thankfully less populated, but still offered a great view. The winter white covered almost everything in sight and the winds were beginning to pick up in the valley, but it still looked beautiful and we were able to get a few quiet moments to ourselves.

Here's the thing with sightseeing and "top" tourist spots - I feel like a lot of the time you'll find some of the best moments and some of the greatest hidden treasures in the places where you least expect it. Yes, you won't want to miss those "must-see" attractions wherever you go, but don't overlook the smaller, lesser known locations that seem to be a little bit further out of the way, or seem to be left off of most tour group's to-do lists. For instance, Brúarfoss and Faxi were great little gems, and they ended up being some of the most beautiful places we saw. Just something to keep in mind when you're planning your itinerary for any future travels!




How's a trip to a volcanic crater lake sound? Well we had to make it snappy because the storm was coming in fast! The rain had already started coming down when we arrived to Kerið, and this was the only stop on our entire trip that required an entrance fee of a mere 400 Krona (essentially $4 USD) per person - but it was totally worth it! The crater itself is about 180 ft high, and spans 890 ft across. It was beginning to get pretty windy and the trails were all icy so we chose not to hike down to the lake itself or to the other edge of the crater, but the  views we had were stunning nonetheless.



Back to Reykjavík for some Icelandic Hot Dogs

We were done with sight seeing for the day, since our last pre-planned spot was just a "maybe" and would require a pretty long hike in the snow. And since the rain was coming and the storm was bound to arrive any moment, we decided it was a good time to head back to the city and to grab some dinner before heading back to the hotel.

One of the most well-known eateries in Reykjavík is a little hot dog cart called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, made popular by visits from the likes of Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain. We waited in the wind and rain in a short line to order two dogs with everything on it. They load it with some fresh onions, fried onions, their special mustard, ketchup, and maybe a few other things. We ate it in a few bites, backs to the wind and rain, and I have to admit, it was pretty messy. The sauce got everywhere! We luckily had napkins stashed away in our backpack, and after about a minute or so, the dogs were gone. Amazing? Not really, but it was warm food and we were content. I wouldn't wait in a hail storm for them, but worth a try if the struggle isn't too real to get them!



Day 4 // More Waterfalls and a Plane Crash

Another early morning, and an early drive ensues. This time, we're headed out to 2 more popular waterfalls and one more hidden one. We weren't planning on driving down and making the trek out to the DC-3 plane crash initially, but with news of an orange alert storm coming in the following day when we originally planned to make the hike, we decided to pull the trigger and make use of our good weather while we could. Speaking of weather, it's just so crazy how quickly the weather changes in Iceland. Just on our drive out, we had clear skies, sleet, rain, and snow, then clear skies when we got to the falls - but it was all beautiful!



Our first waterfall of the day was Seljalandsfoss, which stands 197 ft tall and is fed by the glacier-capped volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. Try using that in your next game of Scrabble or Words with Friends! In the summertime, you can walk up to and behind the falls, but doing so during the winter months is prohibited due to the risk of falling ice… and by the looks of those icicles, I don’t blame them! Just FYI, there are a series of smaller waterfalls to the left of Seljalandsfoss, so if you keep walking along the cliffside, you'll be able to spot them. There's even a really funky one that spurts water out and up like a fountain! 


We took a quick pit stop on our way out of Seljalandsfoss to get a better view of the mountain ridge as the sun was coming out behind the clouds because it was tooooo pretty. We happened to stop at this little hut which turns out to be a sort of Icelandic bus stop/storm shelter/milk jug hut kind of thing .. sort of interesting haha. Take a look!



Second waterfall of the day, and the rain and snow started to come down on us! Skógafoss is another well-known fall along the Golden Circle, and we happened to stumble upon the falls at a very opportune time because despite the weather, a photographer had somehow managed to hire some white Icelandic ponies for a shoot in the river in front of the falls. You better believe I took full advantage of this! I stood there and snapped/recorded away, through the wind, snow, rain, and all. Thanks to the mystery photographer for sponsoring the ponies :) they were excellent models.




Don't be so quick to leave Skógafoss, because Kvernufoss, a relatively hidden waterfall, is only a short distance away. Located just past the Skogar Museum, you'll find it by walking to the left of a metal gate towards some heavy duty farm equipment where you'll be able to climb over some barbed wire via a conveniently placed ladder. Round the corner, and follow the stream upwards to the falls and there you have it! Don't forget to stare at the ponies in awe as they stomp around and sip water from the stream, as if you're in a Disney movie *heart eyes*. Just like Seljalandsfoss, you'd normally be able to walk behind Kvernufoss during the warmer months, but we chose not to because it was cold and windy (it was just snowing and raining on us minutes earlier!) and the trails were heavily iced... We sent the drone in instead! Even the path to the viewpoint of Kvernufoss was iced over and narrow, and some older hikers needed some extra time traversing them because of the ice pack, but they are probably clearer and much more accessible during the warmer months. Otherwise, it's a great (short) little adventure to go out of your way to find, and the view was absolutely beautiful! Another favorite little stop of mine.



Sólheimasandur Beach (DC-3 Plane Crash)

We scrambled to reach our last and final stop of the day before the pending orange alert storm blew in for the next day and a half (!) since it would inevitably put a halt on some of our planned sightseeing for our days in Vík. To put it into perspective, in typical orange alerts, flights are oftentimes grounded and main roads (even the main Ring Road in and out of Reykjavík) are closed until the alert is reduced to yellow or lifted. So we drove down to Sólheimasandur Beach where the famed DC-3 plane crash resided and made the 50 minute hike out and back with haste! If you've never heard the backstory of the DC-3 plane crash, the plane is actually a US Navy plane that ran out of fuel in 1973 and needed to make a crash landing. The wreck remains on the beach to this day as a very popular tourist destination, and if you're wondering, everyone on the plane survived! 

We barely made it back from the plane untouched from the weather though — just as we finished our last few shots, we looked out into the ocean and a quickly approaching dark cloud and a huge opaque mass which could only be interpreted as rain, sleet, or snow. We knew it was time to go. We bega putting away our camera gear, but the wind had already began picking up, and the sleet began PELTING us! Oh my gosh, it hurt so bad and I couldn't see, even with my sunglasses protecting my face. Barely zipped up in time, we were walking almost blindly in the direction back to the trail and after a few more moments of insane winds and sleet, the clouds eventually lifted and things were okay again. Yikes. If that was only a taste of what the impending storm was bringing, thank goodness we were able to see the plane before it blew in! My cheeks and nose were numb from the impaling wind and sleet, and I have to admit the hour walk back ahead of us was a little miserable - I was ready for dinner at that point haha.


And that, folks, was the end of first 4 days in Iceland! We explored most of the Golden Circle (the most highly populated tourist destinations in Iceland), and we were now departing Reykjavík and headed to stay in Vík for a few nights to explore more of the Southern coast of Iceland. Our next blog post will detail the black sand beaches, glacier lagoons, diamond beach, and our drive through the East Fjords, so stay tuned!