A couple of weeks ago, my favorite travel companion/husband Michael and I went on a dream trip for our 11th Anniversary (delayed 1 year from our 10th!) to Iceland. We planned it for almost a full year from our booking date, and debated many many times if we should take the trip amid so many travel questions, babysitting questions, and other life factors.
But I’m so so glad we decided to say yes and prioritize time together for 5 days!
My friend…if you love to travel, do outdoor active things, and can deal with cooler weather and some wind while doing those activities…Put Iceland on your trip list.
Honestly– we were blown away by the whole trip. I love trip planning, and really enjoyed picking out what we were going to do with some input from Michael- but just based on timing and how busy we have been, he didn’t really know much about what we were doing or what it would all look like- and it was SO much fun to experience it all together!
Beyond the immense beauty and multitude of different, fun outdoor experiences to have while enjoying all that beauty, my favorite thing about Iceland was just the space and the quiet. It is hard to believe that it’s about the size of Ohio…but there is SO MUCH vast untouched land, so much space, so many glaciers and mountains and waterfalls coming from nowhere right by the side of the road…it truly was breathtaking at every turn. A gorgeous lush green mountain with a huge glacier immediately behind it…I have been lucky to travel to a lot of beautiful places, but nothing has topped this for me.
Another thing I want to share is how accessible it is to get to! For a European destination that truly looks other worldly…it is relatively cheap to fly to (or stop over on your way to another European destination). Iceland also has a reputation for being super expensive once you are there but other than gas (which was close to $8/gallon!), we found the prices to be normal to what you would find dining in any large city- it didn’t shock us. The flight was 6 hours from Chicago, and was smooth and easy, it was easy to travel around in Iceland with a rental car, and everyone we met could speak some English– other than the endless roundabouts instead of stoplights, we found it all pretty easy!
The places we saw and experiences we had were totally unlike anywhere we have ever been (and reminded us a lot of our previously favorite destination, Alaska)! As I write, I am realizing I probably should have split this into multiple posts because this is already so long- but I just can’t wait any longer to share about it all, so here it is!
We flew Icelandair from Chicago, and it’s an overnight flight. That worked well for us- neither of us slept though so we had to take it super easy on day 1 (the flight gets in at 6 AM Iceland time so you get to start with your first full day)! Which we truly did take it easy, because our first stop after a pastry breakfast in a neighboring coastal town to the airport was the Blue Lagoon! It was beautiful, unusual, foggy and so warm…we LOVED it! I didn’t want to be super concerned about my phone in the water so while I would have loved to have more photos, I brought it out for this quick one in the beginning, and then threw it back in my locker to enjoy some unplugged time!
After that, we drove to our “home base” for our first 2 days in Reykjavik, Iceland’s biggest town (which has the same population as Springfield IL!). We did some driving around to get acquainted and grab lunch, and then checked into our hotel when we could and took a nap! I know some people advise against this with jetlag and suggest staying up and just going to bed early, but we were both on literally 0 hours of sleep and also respond well to our alarm clocks (I thank our 3 SUPER effective alarm-clock-children at home for that one!), so we went ahead and slept for a couple of hours and were exhausted when we woke up…but felt rested enough to go for pizza and had a delicious meal with Icelandic Pizza specialties (a pizza with potatoes on it, and another with Nutella!). We loved it!
Day 2 was our biggest adventure day because we were following the forecasts closely with our 2 flexible days to make sure we could get in everything we wanted, but that adventure started in the afternoon so we had a large yummy breakfast at our hotel, and went to do some more looking around Reykjavik, grabbing little gifts for the kids and seeing it’s unique but lovely Hallgrimskirkja church (pictured below) that is a major part of the “skyline”. Part of the fun of Iceland for us? Trying to say the names of…anything. There are just SO MANY CONSONANTS! Just wait for the list to go on!
The big adventure for the day was heading to the Geldingadalur Volcano. This Volcano is currently erupting and began in March, and has recently become the longest erupting volcano of the 21st century. The neatest part is that it isn’t erupting in a generally dangerous way, so you can hike to see it- even when it is spewing live lava- because the lava is slow moving. It wasn’t erupting new lava when we were there (google it to see what some other visitors have seen though!) but it was a huge hike that we LOVED, views that were out of this world, and the lava fields (with lava as recent as a couple of days) were also smoking- it was unlike anything we have ever seen. This is also when we learned that while we do fancy ourselves good at cooler weather outdoor adventures, Iceland’s definition is more intense than ours- we hiked on the “most ideal travel conditions” type of day, and were pushed back by wind most of our hike. Iceland is windy- I cannot overstate that! But just crazy beautiful. That black is a part of the lava field. The main active crater is to the left of the green sulfer you see behind me and to the left. It is possible the Lava path will take over Iceland’s main road at some point and cause a serious issue for travel, but in the mean time, it’s just so crazy beautiful.Iceland is known for it’s wild horses- there are as many horses as citizens in Iceland! They are beautiful and everywhere!!
Day 3 involved the start of our treck to the southern portion of Iceland. We drove about 6 hours total this day and saw such AMAZING things! First up: Reynisfjara Beach. We loved this beach– the “sand” is actually lava particles (more the size of rocks) and it was just a striking place to visit. There are these waves called “sneaker waves” that appear out of nowhere…and my pants and rainboots were certainly NOT prepared for them!
The end of that visit required an outfit change for me (thanks sneaker wave) before our next adventure: An Ice Caves tour at the Katla Volcano after lunch in Vik.
The mixture of green immediately next to ice (that you can actually SEE lava frozen into) just blew me away. This cave is a part of a huge glacier that the water has carved a path to while melting. The glacier changes are noticeable each year by the eye of everyone who lives there because they are melting at such a fast rate, which is so sad. Iceland will not look the same when we get to bring our kids back. That’s me in the cave on the right below, filling up our water bottle with glacier run-off water! It was the purest tasting water I have ever had (sorry to my old love, Fiji water!)! Behind us and to the right a larger part of the glacier will fall off soon, called “calving”. The reason why is sad (melting of the glaciers)– but it’s a beautiful process to see.
Our last stop of the day was a random, last minute stop and the windiest hike of our trip. But it was also maybe my favorite overall site. This is the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, and it is a MUST SEE. Below, you can see the view from the bottom, middle and top (though the “top” image is from the back instead of the front) of the Canyon– it was absolutely beautiful at every view.
This photo came from my phone and is one of my top favorites of the trip. It does not even look REAL, and was a million times more beautiful in person (like everything else we saw).
We had a GORGEOUS sunset to keep us company on our final hour of drive to our VRBO for the night (which was SUCH a fun stay- will share more about it later). Our weather was really lucky for our trip- Iceland is often rainy every day in the fall, and it was sunny every day except for a few moments here and there. Windy– but sunny and mild. The weather changes fast in Iceland, and we saw that as we drove– snow in the mountains to our left, rain to our right at the sea, and sunny above us. It’s amazing. Our next morning began early to drive another hour east to get to our first stop by sunrise (which ended up being cloudy). But the drive was beautiful (these waterfalls are just by the side of the road. Amazing!) and so worth it. First official stop: Diamond Beach at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. It was far from everything else we were doing– but do not skip this my friend. Especially if you go in the winter. The ice broken off from Iceland’s largest glacier sitting all over the black sand beach was as big as us. It was truly incredible. When we go back, we will do a tour of the Lagoon- we loved this place and wanted more time there!Happy 11 years to my love! We are so lucky to get a lot of time together thanks to parents who love to help- but this was our biggest adventure and only the second time we have flown to a trip together without the kids, and it was just so worth it. We are SO thankful to our family and close friends to stepped in to take the kids also and make it happen for us! We only said yes because one of my best friends just TOLD me she was taking the kids for the weekend (so Mike’s parents didn’t have them for 5 days straight)– and we are forever thankful (though my mom ended up taking them for some time too!)!Truly stunning. There were seals all over this lagoon too!
It was also our exact anniversary this day, so I of course took the time to carve it in the lava sand!
We spent the afternoon touring Iceland’s 2 more touristy waterfalls, and they were SO worth they hype (and hike at the first one!). First up: the majestic Skógafoss Waterfall!
When you got close enough to be under that rainbow (and braved the immense water spray from it!), there was a double rainbow. It was breathtaking. Next up was the beautiful Seljalandsfoss Waterfall that you can actually walk behind!
As much as we loved these waterfalls, we were anxious to get to our lodging for the night, something I have dreamed of for honestly most of my adult life. I found a Glass Cottage that did not break the bank for a night under the (hopefully!) stars and northern lights in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It was SO cute, had an outdoor hot tub, and the actual most “middle of nowhere” I have ever stayed. I totally loved it and highly recommend it as a once in a lifetime experience!
Part of the reason you go to Iceland in the fall or winter (instead of it’s most mild temperatured summer with it’s midnight sun) is for the dream of seeing the Northern Lights. They are very common in Iceland in comparison to America and with a much better viewing angle- but rare overall and you have to get lucky with a clear night (pretty rare in the fall there) and solar flare activity. After a trip of beautiful weather but no lights sightings, we had the experience of a lifetime on our last night, visible literally all night long from where we were sleeping above our heads. I could hardly fall asleep for excitement, and will try NEVER forget it. The colors of the Northern Lights are MORE visible through a camera (which you see below)- to our eyes they looked gray/white with a hint of green…but you could see them swirl and move by the moment. I have seen a faint hint of them one other time in my life for a brief moment only, and truly never seen so many stars. There is nothing like this to make you feel a part of something so much bigger. It was a top favorite travel (and life!) experience. Our last day involved a late afternoon flight home, which allowed us to drive the entire Golden Circle (a circle in Central Iceland with lots of it’s most famous sites). We had a lovely day (though were a little nervous about time). First stop was for us was Kerið Crater Lake, formed from a very old volcano.
We stopped at a very very old town with a beautiful church on the road.
Next was Strokkur Geysir. Neither of us have done Yellowstone, so this was a REALLY cool stop! There is an even bigger Geysir than the one we saw blow that only blows once every 50-60 years (with NO warning!).
Here she goes!
Next up was the impressive Gullfoss Waterfall-this was the wettest one, and the only one you START near the top of (vs hiking to the top for that view), which was welcomed!
We stopped for lunch and homemade icecream at Efstidalur Farm which I cannot highly enough recommend. The cheeseburger was the best of my life and it was such a beautiful, interesting stop right on the road! I think they have some rooms to stay too if you need somewhere along the route. Our final stop was Þingvellir National Park. This park sits on the continental divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. They move every year a few inches, and you can literally hike in between them in the gap that has formed. It was a very quick stop for us, but a very neat experience.
Well, there it is– my longest blog post of all time for a trip completely worthy of it! After the National Park stop, we returned our rental car and went to the airport to fly home. We were sad to leave, but excited to get back to our babies! I have so much more to share about tips for a trip like this, and will be back with another post about it all! But I literally could not recommend it enough if you have ever been interested in going!
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I'm Jill, a wedding and portrait photographer based out of Chicago and Central Illinois, and available world wide! I'm also a photography educator, wife to my favorite person on the planet, mama to 3 amazing kids and an energetic Aussie, and obsessed with statement jewelry and all desserts (especially fruit pies!).
As a past high school teacher, I have a major heart for education. After going full time in my business, I have built a business I love that gives me an almost 6 figure salary and allows me to be home part time with my kids. I dream for you to run a business that enhances your life and lights you up, and I believe I can help you learn how to do it with a little hustle and a lot of heart!
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You're in the right place! As a past high school teacher, educating others is my life's work and a HUGE part of my business! I have been teaching moms and hobbyists how to use their camera from first purchasing it all the way to coaching them into businesses of their own, and I'd love to help you as well, wherever you are (and whatever camera you have!).
I'm so glad you are here! Teaching Photographers and other small business owners how to run more joyful, successful, and profitable businesses is one of my favorite parts of my business! I specialize in working with photographers to make their goals a reality (or figure out what their goals should be in the first place!).