I spent the end of May and most of June in Europe, traveling around to different countries and soaking everything in. It was a great trip, one that I probably can’t do justice in simple words and pictures, but I’ll certainly try!
The trip started in Iceland, where we stayed in Reykjavik and spent three days there: one day exploring Reykjavik, one day driving around the Golden Circle, and one day driving to the South Shore. It was perfect little sample of Iceland, and here are my favorite 16 things I did while I was there! It’s a mix of the more common touristy spots and a few off-the-beaten-path places.
1. Try svið at Myrin Mathus
Svið is an Icelandic dish of a boiled sheep’s head split on its side and served with mashed vegetables. It looks like a scary dish, but it was definitely on my to-try list. If you like meat with tendons and ligaments (like I do), then this is the dish for you. Myrin Mathus, a restaurant located in Reykjavik’s BSI Bus Terminal, is the place to go for this meal.
2. Take a soak in a local geothermal pool
Skip the touristy Blue Lagoon and visit one of the city’s local pools instead. I went to Sundhollin, which had a regular pool as well as two outside hot tubs. It was lightly raining when I visited – sitting outside in steaming hot water with cool rain falling all around me was an amazing feeling. After coming off of a plane with jet lag, this is just what I needed.
3. Admire the view from the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church
It costs about five dollars to get to the top of this church, but the view is worth it! You can see Reykjavik from four different angles. From up here, the colorful rooftops of the houses can be seen like a pretty rainbow city.
4. Snack on freshly baked breads from BRAUD
I found this place on a whim while walking down the streets of Reykjavik. It’s a tiny little bakery where you can watch the bakers knead and proof bread in these giant plastic containers. As a home baker, I loved seeing how they made their pastries. I bought a delicious cinnamon roll to try but everything looked tasty too!
5. Take a selfie with the Sun Voyager
This iconic sculpture by the water front is a must see. On a clear day, the sun shining off the metal with the water and the distant shorelines is a truly beautiful sight. You might have to wait awhile as everyone take turns getting their pictures, but it’s actually not too crowded of a tourist spot.
6. Drive through Þingvellir National Park
This is one of the stops on the Golden Circle. In history, it used be the site of Iceland’s outdoor parliaments. There’s lots to see here, either by walking or driving, including a beautiful blue waterfall, Öxarárfoss. It was pouring rain the day that we went, but despite the wet and cold, it was still worth all the views.
7. Stop for lunch at Efstidalur
This farm/restaurant is a good spot for a lunch stop along the Golden Circle. We got hamburgers, which are made from the cow on the farm, plus ice cream for dessert, made from the milk from these cows. Everything was very fresh and I loved seeing all of the baby farm animals.
8. Pat and play with Icelandic ponies
As we drove along the Golden Circle, I kept seeing Icelandic ponies along the side of the road. These horses are usually very fluffy during the winters. In the summer months, their coats are shorter, but they are still very cute. I made my friends pull over (when it was safe to do so), so I could pat and play with the horses. They are very friendly and will come running right over to you.
9. Take in the beautiful waterfall views at Gullfoss and Faxi
Waterfalls are famous in Iceland, due to how majestic and vast they are. They look beautiful in pictures, but they don’t do the real thing justice – it’s something you just have to see in person. Gullfoss on the Golden Circle is a great example, where you can view the waterfall from both the bottom and the top. If you are looking for a quieter, less tourist-fill waterfall, Faxi is just as impressive as Gullfoss but much less crowded.
10. Walk behind a waterfall at Seljalandsfoss
For a really intense waterfall experience, stop by this waterfall on the way to the South Shore. It’s thinner waterfall, but you can actually climb up and walk behind it. Make sure to throw your phones and cameras in a plastic bag to grab this wet but amazing shot behind the waterfall!
11. Hike through the caves below Glufrafoss to see the waterfall from below
Next to Seljalandsfoss is this smaller waterfall, where you can climb up the rocks (at your own risk) and see it from above. Alternatively, you can splash through the water below, under a cavern, to see the waterfall up close from the bottom.
12. Touch a real life glacier at Sólheimajökull Glacier
To actually walk on the glacier, you’ll have to book a tour, but if you are just on your own, you can hike right up to the side of the glacier and take your pictures there. This whole place, with the volcanic rock juxtaposed with the stark white ice felt like something out of an alien world.
13. Walk along the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and admire the rock formations
As the name suggests, this beach on the South Shore is covered in black sand and rocks. The rock formations are especially impressive – I think they were even in the trailers for the recent Game of Thrones season (probably the Iron Islands). If you get hungry, the little town of Vik nearby has some good food options!
14. Climb to the top of Skogafoss and get lost in the beautiful views
Yet another waterfall – this one is just amazing due to its size. There are stairs letting you climb to the top, but it isn’t just the waterfall that you can see from the top. We ended up hiking upstream of the waterfall because the further we got, we kept discovering hidden pockets of mini-waterfalls.
15. Enjoy a bowl of soup in a bread bowl at Svarta Kaffid
For food back in Reykjavik, I loved this little cafe. They only serve one thing: soup in bread bowls. The two soup options change every day, and it’s a really filling meal, bread and all. Food in Iceland it pretty expensive, but this cafe is a pretty good value for the food!
16. Drink a beer at Skúli Craft Bar
Iceland isn’t really known for their beer, but all of the good ones can be sampled here at this bar. My favorite was an Icelandic Stout called Garún. There are other beers from other countries here too. (Unfortunately, since most things have to be imported to Iceland, beer is also pricey here as well.)
I definitely want to come back to Iceland and see the rest of the country. I only saw a little circle of it, but want to do the entire Ring Road one day!
Next up, London!