A long time ago, some people found out that Iceland is amazing and tourism to Iceland started to pick up speed. But until a few decades ago, Iceland was a tripster destination. Now that everyone knows about it and it’s extremely popular, many travelers are discouraged from going due to large crowds. In my opinion, no matter how engulfed you are in flocks of people trying to take pictures, Iceland is not to be missed. It was a beautiful country from the moment I saw its landmass out of the plane window. Fields of lush grass and moss are dotted with modern huts and boulders. Some parts are flatter than Kansas, while others resemble the Himalaya mountains. Reykjavik is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. Almost all the buildings have modern designs, and the streets are cobblestone. There are not many cars, as most people go by foot, and some streets actually ban cars, which makes the whole scene more pleasant. The suburbs have an amazingly high number of parks. As far as I saw, there are no bad parts of town. There is a lot of rain, which I personally enjoy, and of course it snows in the winter. There is a cool ocean breeze year-round that helps to negate the displeasure induced by occasional hot days. Our first day of the trip took place directly after a 9-hour night flight that I was not able to sleep through, but I managed to greatly enjoy the day anyway. We walked around Reykjavik, went to the Icelandic Punk Museum, and ate dinner at a place called Icelandic Street Food. I had a delicious seafood soup in a bread bowl. We also had Icelandic chocolate. I previously believed chocolate was too simple to be improved, but as it turns out, Icelandic chocolate is significantly better than American chocolate.
On the second day, we began our journey on the ring road. The ring road, also known as Route 1, is a highway encircling most of Iceland, that happens to be a very convenient way to see most of the sights in the country. An Icelandic band called Sigur Rós (probably the most popular Icelandic musical act aside from Björk) created an album titled Route One, in which the name of every song is a coordinate on the ring road. A ways down the road, we decided to type in the coordinates on Google Maps and try to listen to every track at its respective location. We managed to do 4 out of the 8 songs on the album, which was a pretty cool experience. We spent much of day two at Þingvellir, a nature area with a gorgeous plant-filled canyon, and the home of the ancient Icelandic parliament meetings. Also at Þingvellir is the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, so I was able to stand on North America and Eurasia at the same time (from a geological perspective, at least). On that same day, we also managed to visit an ecological information museum, a giant crater with a lake in the middle, and an indoor tomato farm. It’s worth noting that although Iceland’s natural climate is not suitable for most plant growth, greenhouses are frequently used to grow most fruits and vegetables. Iceland has the world’s northernmost banana farms. The tomato farm had a restaurant with amazing meals made with their tomatoes. We spent the night at a nice house next to some fields with horses. Another side note: Icelandic horses are a special breed that the locals feel must be preserved at all costs, so it is illegal to bring any kind of horse into Iceland, which might create discrepencies in the breed. This includes Icelandic horses because if they have left the country, they may come back pregnant with another breed’s children.
Before we continue, here’s a brief explanation of the Icelandic characters that few outsiders are familiar with. The most prevalent one is ð (uppercase is Ð), and it maked the “th” sound. þ (or Þ) makes the same sound, but appears less often. æ (or Æ) makes an I sound (like the ‘ie’ in ‘pie’), and ö (or Ö) makes the sound of the ‘oo’ in ‘wood’. The J makes a Y sound, just like every other Germanic language except English. There are a few other pronunciation differences, but they are circumstantial, whereas the ones I displayed are always true. Okay, so day three began with a trip to a geothermal “park” where you can look at bubbling sulphuric pools and boil an egg using steam from a geothermal vent. You can then bring your egg inside and eat it with Icelandic rye bread, which is far different from normal rye bread and is widely popular in Iceland. We proceeded to visit a majestic waterfall that was probably the best waterfall I’ve ever been to. We then went to a small algae-filled swimming pool about a kilometer past the opening of a valley. The valley was beautiful, but the swimming pool was a little dissapointing (although it was cool that it was mildly warm due to geothermal heat from beneath the surface). Next, we went to black sands beach, which unsurprisingly, is a beach with black sand. It was also tremendously windy there; standing up successfully was a bit of a struggle. We ended at a remote cabin adjacent to a sheep farm.
I woke up on day four with a sheep doing sheep things outside my window. For those who are unfamiliar, sheep things primarily consist of eating grass, yelling, and being cool. We then went on an incredible hike, and were treated to a great view of the only glacier I’ve ever seen in person. It was a crazy experience to stand before something so vast, and so icy. The glacier was my favorite thing we saw the whole trip. The hike also featured some pretty spicy nonglacial views. On the way to our next dwelling, we stopped by a river with some sizeable icebergs in it, which was also one of the coordinates from the Sigur Rós album (64°02’44.1”N 16°10’48.5”W). I found this to be the best track in the album.
The fifth day began with random sightseeing in a town called Djopivogur, including a really cool sculpture garden run by some artistic old dude. On a hike that day, we explored the ruins of some stone buildings from long ago. Iceland was first settled in 874 C.E., and I wouldn’t be surprised if the buildings dated back to near then. Other than that, day five was not too eventful.
However, the sixth day proved to carry a much higher level of piquancy, as it involved investigation of giant angry cesspools. Some of them look extremely alien. We also visited some small caves that people used to swim in, but the water is now too hot to swim.
The seventh day was confined to a great town on the north coast called Akureyri. We went to a giant botanical garden, then to a cattle farm / café called Kaffi Ku (literally meaning “coffee cow”) We had awesome sandwiches, waffles, and milkshakes, then got to go to the barn and chill with the cows. They tried to eat our clothes mulitple times. I never realized that cows were like goats in that respect. A woman who works there gave us a detailed explanation of their operation. First, it’s worth noting that they are very ethical. The cows get a decent bit of space in the barn and are always allowed to go out in the fields. The barn is equipped with a cow massage machine as well. But the coolest part is the milking device. The cows line up in front of the machine, and when they enter, it actually scans them and figures out when the cow was milked last. If it is less than six hours since their last milking, they are rejected, as it is not healthy for them to be milked too often. While they are being milked, they have access to a trough full of cow treats in order to make them enjoy the process more. That day, we also passed a public park full of ducks. These ducks posed for me nicely.
Day eight was occupied almost completely by traveling (we traveled about a third of the country’s circumference in one day). We also saw some cool basalt columns (Iceland is famous for these). We made it back to Reykjavik by the evening, and went on a nice walk through some moss-covered volcanic rock hills. The ring road was complete, but we had a couple more days in the capital.
On day nine, we went to the National Gallery of Iceland, a large art museum with many pieces that I enjoyed. We also went to the Museum of Design and Applied Arts, which was an art museum of arguably lower quality than the former. Nonetheless, it had some cool info plaques about famous designers, which the other museum did not have. After the museums, I took a nice walk through Reykjavik and came to truly love the city. I would be happy to live there.
On our final full day, we took a boat tour to see puffins on some islands off the coast of Reykjavik. I was surprised to see how small puffins are, because I had always imagined them as relatively large birds. In truth, they are close in size to a pigeon. We took another hike that day, in a valley with wind speeds so insane that my mom, along with some other hikers who parked near us, retreated to the car. My father and I took our delicious ham and cheese sandwiches to the top of a hill and ate them next to a large cairn.
And that brings us to the last day, in which we packed up and headed to the Blue Lagoon for one last hurrah before our plane trip home. So remember when I mentioned earlier how touristy Iceland is now? The Blue Lagoon is the apex of extreme tourism. A giant pool sitting atop a hot spring and coated with white mud is filled 24/7 with visitors from all around the world. They all have the right idea. It was very nice, but according to my dad, who’s been here before, it is much nicer at night, when the steam from the pool creates a serene mist that makes it impossible to see more than a few meters (in a good way). A couple hours later, we got on the plane, and a nine hour flight took us back to where we came from.
So that was basically the trip. I highly recommend going to Iceland. I promise you won’t regret it. For more trip photos (at higher res), visit my Instagram.