The Land of Fire & Ice

February 8, 2018

The Ultimate Winter Road-Trip

At least once a year, my two best friends, Greg and Nico, and I try to make a boys trip. Past destinations have included Highway 1 from SF to LA, Puerto Rico and Southwest Road Trip. We always try to choose a destination that fits our budget but pushes us out of our comfort zones. Having all grown up in New York City, we are all growing in appreciation for nature and the wonders outside of our urban oasis. Iceland was top of mind as an otherworldly winter getaway that would challenge us and have us returning home with a new mindset. Join me as I share our 5 day journey through the land of fire and ice.

Kirkjufell Mountain

Day 1: Arrival

We arrived in Reykjavik very early in the morning, and we hit the ground running. we first picked up our rent-a-car, which in my opinion is essential to enjoy Iceland on your own time and at your own pace. The joy of Iceland is the wild and free feeling of driving through the two lane road with nothing but the mountains in the distance. With a bit of time to spare before the late sunrise (10 AM in the winter!), we decided to grab breakfast and snacks for the long drives ahead as we knew there wouldn't be many options for food on the road. PB&J was our weapon of choice! We ate at Sandholt, which was this perfectly cute and modern bakery. 

After fueling up we headed towards Vik, a small southern coastal town, our ultimate destination for the night. As we headed toward our first stop, Seljalandsfoss, a beautiful and tall waterfall, the sunrise over the whiteout landscape in an unbelievable pink and orange. Any hint of tiredness we had was gone by the excitement that took over us as the breathtaking landscape revealed itself to us. A good playlist in hand, we arrived at Seljalandsfoss 2 hours later. The waterfall was a tall, skinny and stunning. We gathered for a few pictures and continued to explore the surrounding area, and we were glad we did as we discovered a second, hidden waterfall 10 minutes further - being inside the mountain under the waterfall was breathtaking in sight and temperature! 

We soon learned our first lesson in Iceland, conditions are rugged and harsh. Ice maintenance is non existent and added to the beautiful nature of the landscape. But our shoes were no match as we slipped almost every step. Any trip to Iceland in the winter is incomplete without boot crampons. 

We headed offf for our next stop, Skógafoss, just under an hour away. This waterfall was my favorite of the two, as you could virtually walk right up to the base. It was a much wider and powerful waterfall and a true marvel. There were also a long set of stairs that you could limb to the top to over look the waterfall which was worth the trek - again crampons are a MUST.

Our third and final stop for the day was to Reynisfjara Beach, just outside of Vik. It is rated as one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches and for good reason. The coarse black sand was sublime against the snowy back drop. This beach was something out of a film, with the rugged basalt columns rising out of the nearby cliffs. After snapping some pics - we headed back 15-20 minutes by car to find our way to a tall cliff that overlooked the run of the beach. This spot is a MUST see as it was an awe inspiring view looking over the beach and landscape from hundreds of feet up.

We headed towards Vik as the sunset to stay in our hostel for the night. We had a last minute plans change and booked the only available place, The Puffin Hostel. to be totally honest the Hostel was not that bad and was quite clean! In a pinch I would totally recommend it. 


Church near Reynisfjara Beach

Wild Horses near Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara Beach

Day 2: Further East

The next morning was an early start for us as we had a pre-planned Glacial Ice Cave tour at 9AM departing from Jökulsárlón, which was about 2.5 hours away. The night before there was a snow/rain storm so the driving conditions were not ideal. The ride was a bit treacherous but between the three of us we made it regardless. The rain was pounding down and he sun just barely rising as we pulled into the meeting point ready for our adventure.

We had the pleasure of joining GOECCO on their Ice Cave Tour. My friends and I waited in the small indoor meeting center enjoying our last warm beverage before braving into the conditions. Our tour guide, Anthony, was a native of Scotland but he had the passion and love for the Icelandic landscape as if he was a local. we hopped into the Land Rover and headed towards the Vatnajökull Glacier, the largest in all of Europe. We diverted off the main road and into the rugged snowy landscape. Tire tracks from previous journeys were our only reference points, as far as the eyes could see the conditions were whiteout and stunning. We drove for about 30 minutes up and down slopes and in and out of rivers until we arrived a large open field at the foot of a small mountain. We walked a few meters and into the mouth the cave. As we entered the icy blue cave our eyes adjusted to the darkness. And once they did, behold the sight of something otherworldly. We stood inside a turquoise cave, with what seemed like glass all around us. It was eerie and stunning at the same time. To be at the mercy of nature inside a cave was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I am forever grateful to GOECCO for sharing this incredible natural marvel with my friends and I.

After the tour was finished, we explored the nearby Black Diamond Beach. Another breathtaking sight of glacial chunks washed ashore a black sand beach. The true beauty of mother nature was in full affect so far during our time in Iceland. Had it not been for the incredibly strong winds we would've spent more time at the beach, But, we hoped back in the car and made our way back to Reykjavik.

We had two quick stops in mind for our journey back - the first was Fjaðrárgljúfur. a surreal canyon being cut open by a winding river. The location played host to part of the Lord of the Rings and a Justin Bieber music video. 

Our next and last stop was in the town of Vik, there is a stunning church perched a top the hill overlooking the whole town and surrounding coast. It made for an incredible last image of the day. Again Iceland revealing its otherworldyness to us with the eerie sunset along the rampant coast, with a simple and stunning Church overlooking it all. 

GOECCO Land Rover and Anthony

Inside Vatnajökull

Inside Vatnajökull

Black Diamond Beach

South Coast Ring Road towards Vik

Ring Road Views

Lava Fields near Vik

Church overlooking Vik

Day 3: Snaefellsnes Peninsula 

Our third and final day of long road tripping brought us two hours north to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, home to some of Icelands most iconic sights. Surprisingly it is not as touristy as the South Coast and Golden Circle, but well known to photographers which is a perfect combination. Any trip to Iceland, in my opinion, is incomplete without seeing the Peninsula. 

We drove through the late morning darkness to arrive just as day light creeped out, seemingly a trend of our trip. Looking back, that moment was consistently one of my favorite. Driving the complete darkness and slowly watching the mesmerizing landscape reveal itself as the layers of darkness were pulled back by the sun rise. The Peninsula is home to some of the largest mountains in Iceland, and these were the things that caught our eye as we arrived.

 This brought us to our first stop, Kirkjufell Mountain, one of the iconic Icelandic images. We walked up the small overlook besides two small waterfalls and set up shot to take pictures and admire as the cotton candy skies rolled behind the interesting arrowhead shaped mountain. It is famous for behind a filming destination in Game of Thrones. after bearing the cold for long enough (the Peninsula was insanely windy on the day) we jumped back in the car and continued our drive around the peninsula. 

We were quickly distracted by a long side road that went in and out of what seemed like an endless field of horses. we stopped at differing points to pet the horses. This is something I highly suggest doing while in Iceland. The horses are some of the most beautiful, and the serene backdrops make for memorable moments. The horses are beautiful shades of brown, black white and grey. 

We continued around the peninsula, next stopping at Ingjaldshólskirkja, another beautiful red and white church perched atop a hill overlooking the coastline. We snapped some pictures again and headed to the Svörtuloft Lighthouse at the edge. We did drive off some challenging and rugged roads to get there so be warned! We actually only made it 3/4 of the way as the road was impassable. But it was still a sight to see being at the furthest western point of the island.

Along our ride we stumbled upon the Saxhólar Crater, the remains of a volcano that erpted 3-4,000 years ago. The never-ending stairs to the top was worth the breathtaking view of the surrounding lands and inside the crater! 

The final stop along the drive was at Búðakirkja, the infamous black church near Budhir. This was one of my favorite sights during my time in Iceland. The eerie black church, sits alone in an open lava field with crisp white mountains as a backdrop. It was truly any photo loving persons dream. 

From here we headed back to Reykjavik, making a stop for a much needed burger at Tommi's Burger Joint after eating PB&Js for 3 days. We rested up at the our Air B&B (which I highly recommend). We made our way out for the night, the details of which I will omit besides the recommendation to check out Kaffibarinn as a place to start and Prikið ehf as the place to end the night!
Kirkjufell Mountain

Horses on the Peninsula

Icelandic Horse

Open Roads on the Peninsula


Svörtuloft Lighthouse

Saxhólar Crater


Tommi's Burger Joint

 Day 4: A Day in the City

Our final full day was originally intended to be spent driving the popular Golden Circle, but varying factors ranging from our hangover to the rainy conditions convinced us to have a quiet day in the city taking in some sights and coffee shops. We had a late start to the morning, after making breakfast at home (eating out every meal is just not budget friendly), we made our way to Reykjavik Roasters. This is the perfect spot if you're looking to grab a great coffee with a cozy vibe. We found a table near the windows and talked as we watched the Icelandic rain torment outside. 

Our only main attraction for the day was to go to Hallgrimskirkja, the iconic odd-shaped church over looking all of Reykjavik. We paid the admission to go to the top, which is worth the quaint views over the smallest capital city in all of Europe. 

We walked the streets without an end goal, window shopping and admiring the interesting structures throughout the city. The rain was eventually too relentless, and we found ourselves to a pub to enjoy a soccer match. We then headed over to  Block Burger (our favorite in the city) for a quick bite and the end to a rainy, quite Sunday. 
Latte at Reykjavik Roasters

Inside Hallgrimskirkja

View of Reykjavik




Block Burger

 Day 5: The Final Morning

Our last day was short, due to our flight out at 3:15. We decided to save the infamous Blue Lagoon for the last day for two reason. first, it is very near to the airport in a part of the island that doesn't have much to offer so it is convenient to do before getting on the flight. Secondly, it was a relaxing way to spend our last day of what was mostly jam-packed and busy.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed our morning at the Lagoon. The turquoise blue waters amongst the snow drapped lava hill was truly a sight to see. I must admit, the whole experience can be a bit touristy but worthwhile. We bought the comfort package as it included towels (very necessary since getting out of the water was bone chilling) and a drink. We spent a few hours at the lagoon before making our way to the airport.

Car returned and checked in at the gate, my friends and I looked each other in silent agreement that the things we just witnessed were outstanding and otherworldly. We were blessed with the opportunity to travel to such an incredible place and definitely return home for better having taken it all in.  

Till next time Iceland!

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon


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