From Geysers to Glaciers: My Unforgettable Iceland Journey
Updated: 15 hours ago
Come along with me on an exciting adventure around Iceland! I spent time in Reykjavik, toured the Golden Circle, boarded a small ship called MS Seaventure, puffin-watched, whale-watched, and so much more!
After months of pandemic-related hurdles, my long-awaited Iceland journey finally took off. Excitement fueled my steps as I landed in Reykjavik, eager to explore this magical land. The first activity on my list was a rejuvenating dip in the legendary Blue Lagoon, a haven of thermal baths and deep-cleansing mud masks, offering the perfect remedy for post-flight fatigue. Amidst the crowd, I captured mesmerizing snapshots of the ethereal fog swirling above the volcanic waters.
After a refreshing soak in the toasty-warm waters, I headed into Reykjavik to Cafe Loki, a local gem, for a delectable lunch of mashed fish, salad, and rye bread. To my surprise, an Icelandic pony parade took place downtown, which added a special touch to the afternoon. (Who doesn't love Icelandic ponies?)
The day continued with a tour of Hallgrímskirkja church and a walk around the downtown area, which included shopping on Laugavegur, one of the oldest streets in Reykjavik. If you are searching for great restaurants, pubs, and nifty shops to purchase a few souvenirs, a visit here is a must.
To top off my day, I enjoyed a delightful dinner at the Food Cellar. The cod appetizer was fantastic, and the steak was well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. While I'm not a drinker, I love great entertainment, and the bartender was fun to observe. He was talented and put on an excellent show for the enthusiastic crowd. It was a fitting end to a day filled with excitement, new acquaintances, and cherished memories.
Today, our small group toured the Golden Circle route. Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park, where I read about the Silfur Fissure and then took a walk to explore. I wish I had more time at the park to learn how the tectonic plates under the island move apart, causing the fissure to widen. (I'm returning to Iceland next year and plan to spend more time here.)
One could easily fill up an entire afternoon walking in the park. As a side note, I was thrilled to travel in a small group. It allowed us to zip in and around the larger tour groups and visit the gift shops with fewer folks in line.
Our next stop was Gullfoss Waterfall (also known as the "Golden Waterfall.") It was a short five-minute walk from the parking area to the viewing platforms. After clicking off many pictures and enjoying the view, we hopped in the van and drove to the Geysir geothermal area. We marveled at the geysers, pronounced "gee sirs" in Iceland. The hydrothermal explosions, though fascinating, tested our patience with about 5-minute intervals between each eruption.
After witnessing two eruptions, we moved down the road to our lunch destination – the well-known Friðheimar. This charming country-style, family-run restaurant offered delightful tomato-based dishes from their onsite greenhouse.
The buffet showcased delicious soup accompanied by hearty loaves of bread. Try Friðheimar's green tomato and apple pie with whipped cream or tomato ice cream for dessert. Cherry tomato vines surround the dining table area adding to the restaurant's unique vibe. Bumblebees, imported from the Netherlands, aid in pollinating the tomato plants. The bees are unfazed by those eating a meal. And, of course, there is a gift shop and bar available to purchase tomato products like tomato jam and tomato beer.
Not only does Friðheimar have lovely tomato greenhouses, but they also own an Icelandic horse breeding farm. During our visit, we enjoyed a private presentation showing the talents of graceful Icelandic horses and their unique gaits. In the stable, a young lady taught our group about the breeding practices and requirements to be considered a true Icelandic horse.
Pro Tip: Stay a few days in Reykjavik, then move your explorations out of the city and into the countryside. I can make recommendations. I visited lots of fantastic turf lodges, hotels, and retreat centers. The lodging choices are excellent!
This morning, our group went to the Lava Show. This show is not only educational but very entertaining! Want to learn more about volcanoes, how lava is made, and see a lava flow? This show is for you! We were given VIP treatment by co-owner Ragga Agustsdottir, and I learned a great deal from her short talk before the show.
Later in the day, I boarded a ship named MS Seaventure to begin sailing around the rugged coastline of Iceland. I checked in quickly on the ship and settled into my Oceanview stateroom. After a satisfying meal in the dining room, all passengers gathered in the expedition lounge to meet the team and hear about the next day's activities.
Our journey began with an exhilarating ride in zodiacs, whisking us to the charming harbor of Arnarstapi before continuing our exploration aboard a small bus around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland.
Along the way, we made a fascinating stop at the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhofn farm, close to Stykkisholmur. We learned about the Icelandic tradition of fermenting Greenland sharks. After the presentation, the museum guide offered everyone a small piece of shark to taste. Yes, I succumbed to peer pressure. Bracing myself, I sampled the fermented shark paired with a chunk of rye bread. The rye bread helped soften the impact of the taste. Others indulged in a piece of shark followed by a gulp of schnapps. Sampling the shark is truly a local experience! The potent smell of rotting shark and ammonia lingered around the outdoor barn house where the fermenting shark meat hung. It is not a pleasant smell.
Driving around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula was quite an experience. The Snæfellsjökull Volcano, with its glacier, was a sight that led us to explore further into Snæfellsjökull National Park. We followed a well-trodden path through lava fields and arrived at Djúpalónssandur Beach, where we saw black sand and large basalt rock formations. It was interesting to learn that all of Iceland's sandy shores are made of basalt, which gives them their unique dark color. Another thing of interest happened while at the beach. A group of people walked toward the beach, accompanying a lovely bride in her wedding dress. She and the groom were taking their bridal pictures. What a memorable occasion!
Note: In June, the temperature in this region ranged from 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes dropping to 35 to 40 degrees. The wind made it feel colder, and the overcast skies and light rain made it feel almost winterlike. It is not unusual for there to be heavy cloud cover in Iceland with intermittent rain. Just be prepared with rain gear and enjoy the day anyway.
Today, we arrived in Ísafjörður, located in the Westfjords. We boarded a mini-bus and listened to our tour guide regaled us with tales relating to mystical trolls and giants that live in Iceland while making our way to Dynjandi Waterfall. This is the largest waterfall in the region. For those who may have accessibility needs, there are several areas in which to view the falls.
Choose the one best for you. It is beautiful no matter how close you get to the falls. I decided to go to the top. The water spray can make the unpaved walking path alongside the waterfall area slippery. I wanted photos from the top viewing area pointing toward the parking area below. I snapped great photos but paid a price for them. I took a tumble on the way down.
This afternoon, we continued our drive toward the Latrabjarg sea cliffs on the westernmost point of Iceland. This picturesque area is thought to be home to an estimated five million sea birds in summer. Today, the Arctic terns and puffins did not disappoint. Swarms of terns were zipping around the cliffs. Even more were nesting on the stone outcroppings. After this spectacle, it was time for snacks and back into the van for more folkloric stories.
Many onboard the ship were anxious to see puffins on the cruise. Our expedition team leader mentioned the isle of Grimsey would be another perfect place to see them. He was right! The small island of Grimsey straddles the Arctic Circle and is fairly remote.
It is home to approximately 50 people and over a million sea birds. Today, I could check off two vacation "must-do" activities - visit the Arctic Circle and see puffins in the wild. Our small ship dropped anchor and prepared to use the zodiacs to make our way toward shore.
While in the zodiac, we slowly circled a large rock formation. Puffins and arctic terns were seated on the massive stone watching us. Our boat delivered safely to shore and we clambered out to walk along the coastal path to see the island. Walking along the rocky coast, I noticed how the terns used the small gaps in the stone to form their nests, while the puffins burrowed through the thick, lush grass and into the soft earth to make their homes. Picnic tables were placed along the path, and I sat down to observe the funny little birds as they shuffled around.
The day was filled with marvels and surprises. Not only did I reach the Arctic Circle, but I also enjoyed several hours of observing the charming puffins in their natural habitat. Later, my group gathered for a scrumptious dinner of ribeye steak and a special birthday cake to celebrate. While dining, we spotted whales near our ship.
This evening, our fearless team leader summoned us to the expedition lounge. Our plans for tomorrow are changing. Weather forecasts and radar show winds will gust so high that we may not be able to sail into the fjord and dock as planned in Husvik. (As we are told, this happens in Iceland, so the ship's team always has a backup plan.)
Still, our enthusiasm remains high as we look forward to more adventures, including whale watching and an extensive 9-hour Diamond Circle tour when we wake up the next day.
In Iceland, the weather is unpredictable. Our small ship, MS Seaventure, swiftly changed its course, bypassing the Siglufjordur peninsula and docked in Akureyri. I woke up to see colossal-sized cruise ships like Celebrity, Hurtigruten, Viking, and Princess Cruises anchored across the bay. In contrast, MS Seaventure, with just 80 passengers aboard, offered a more intimate and adventurous experience. Our ship looked so tiny!
After a hearty breakfast, I eagerly hopped on a bus to Husavik, the Icelandic whale-watching capital. Since the ship's captain had to change our port from Husavik to Akureyri, this meant we needed to drive for a while to get to Husavik. I certainly didn't view this as a problem since I love to tour the countryside and see where the locals live.
Upon arrival in Husavik, we checked in with the boat company and went to the outfitters for gear. To prepare for whale-watching in the cold environment, we put on bib overalls and extra suits to protect ourselves from the frigid waters. Our Icelandic captain took us far out to sea on a rib boat. Within two hours, we spotted five or more humpback whales – a truly spectacular experience despite our wet faces and soaked boots.
Afterward, our group climbed onto the Mercedes van and set out for an extended 9-hour tour of the Diamond Circle in northern Iceland. Our first stop was at Goðafoss Waterfall or Waterfall of the Gods. It was a beautiful waterfall, and we saw a gleaming rainbow while snapping a photo.
Later, we entered the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon and stopped at the world-renowned Dettifoss Waterfall. Dettifoss is Iceland's most powerful waterfall. Upon arriving at the parking area, I immediately felt like I was on the moon. The landscape was stark, with ancient lava formations and sparse plant life. The walk to the first waterfall viewing area took about 10-15 minutes. As I approached the waterfall, I could feel the air pressure change, and the powerful spray filled the air. All the tourists were vying to get the best video of the waterfall. The mist covered my lens as I got closer to the viewing platform. There are no words to describe the electricity in the air. The sight of the waterfall was nothing short of mesmerizing.
Today, I was delighted to spend time touring the Akureyri area. This is the second-largest town in Iceland. Some say it is the second capital of the country. While it wasn't an extensive tour, the sun appeared, and the coastal area was lovely and green.
Another trip highlight was fulfilling my dream of seeing Iceland from above. I boarded an Icelandic air flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik, and the view was simply breathtaking. The vast, volcanic landscape unfolded before me.
In the last eight days, I had spent countless hours riding in a van and sailing around the coast of Iceland. Now I was able to view it from above, and it was astounding. As we flew over the island, one could see barren land, lush green grassy fields, blue ocean waters, black sand beaches - all in one flight. Experiencing Iceland from the air was fantastic, and I highly recommend taking a small plane or helicopter flight as it adds a whole new dimension to this adventure.
This Icelandic journey has exceeded my expectations, and I feel grateful for the opportunity to spend time in such a remarkable place. If you want to plan a trip to Iceland, let's connect. I'll happily share my experiences, especially when exploring by small ship. Don't forget to check my vlog about Iceland Vlog here!