For a considerable amount of time, Iceland had been a destination we’d been eager to visit. It wasn’t until December 2022 that we began to actively plan our trip. Through extensive research of travel blogs, we determined the ideal length of our stay, and the optimal time of year to visit, and constructed our itinerary accordingly. After careful planning, we successfully booked our flights, accommodations, and a rental car.
Day 1 – 21 April 2023
Our journey began with an early morning flight to Keflavik, Iceland, which arrived at 10 am. We had reserved a car rental through Sixt, which we conveniently picked up from the airport upon our arrival. As we journeyed towards Reykjavik, we decided to explore some attractions located in the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Our first stop was Reykjanestá Cliffs, a beautiful and rugged coastal area on the southern tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The cliffs are made up of dramatic volcanic rock formations that jut out of the sea and rise to around 40 meters (130 feet) above sea level. The cliffs are home to a large population of nesting seabirds. We could observe the birds from a distance without disturbing them. While admiring the cliffs, we also caught sight of Reykjanesviti, Iceland’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1878 and towering at a height of 31 meters (102 feet). We enjoyed the spectacular view from this location during our first encounter with Iceland.
Our next stop was the Fagradalsfjall Volcano, an active shield volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula that had its first eruption in over 800 years in March 2021. The eruption lasted for six months and occurred close to the small fishing town of Grindavík. Another swarm of earthquakes on August 3rd, 2022, led to the opening of a long fissure in the nearby Meradalir Valley. This eruption lasted until August 21st, 2022, and resulted in a lava-filled valley. The volcanic eruption at Fagradalsfjall was relatively small and non-explosive, with lava flows that resembled fountains rather than violent eruptions. The basaltic magma that flowed from the volcano created a new and unique landscape in the area, covering several hectares with lava. The low silica content of the magma made it more fluid and easier to flow, leaving behind a vast area covered in lava. Even though Fagradalsfjall volcano is no longer active it was definitely still worth visiting. We hiked to one of the viewpoints to look out over the expansive lava fields. There were very few places where we could see steam coming out from the lava fields that were still cooling. We also walked on the cool lava fields, which was an unforgettable experience. The sight of the lava rock’s folds and wrinkles was exactly what we had imagined lava would look like.
Next, we went to Seltún Hot Spring also known as Krýsuvík, a geothermal area located on the Reykjanes Peninsula. We explored the area on a wooden boardwalk that was designed to protect the delicate environment. The boardwalk led us past numerous bubbling mud pools, steam vents, and small hot springs, all surrounded by brilliant hues of yellow, red, green, and blue. The colours were the result of high concentrations of sulfur, iron, and other minerals reacting with the volcanic soil. The area had a distinctive odour of sulfur due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas. It was fascinating to see the boiling mud pots that made bubbling noises. This was our first experience of a geothermal area, and the sulfur smell was an unforgettable aspect of the visit.
We then made our way to Kleifarvatn Lake, which is a beautiful lake situated on the Reykjanes Peninsula. This lake is known for its pristine and clear waters that sparkle in the sunlight. Its rocky and rugged surroundings are complemented by cliffs that rise from the water’s edge. Additionally, the lake is encircled by various volcanic craters, such as the Krýsuvík volcanic system and the Sveifluhals volcanic ridge. This lake spans an area of 9 square kilometres and is nearly 97 meters deep. There is something mystical and peaceful about the lake, making it a great place to unwind while admiring Iceland’s spectacular scenery. We relished the view of the lake from atop one of the cliffs situated close to Seltún Hot Spring.
On our way to Reykjavik, we made a stop at a grocery store to stock up on essential food items like onions, rice, salt, sugar, and more for our future dinners and snacks during the trip. With our provisions in hand, we proceeded to check into our room at Hostel B47. Our dormitory featured two bunk beds, providing us with the convenience of not having to share the space with other guests. Additionally, we were delighted to discover that one of the shared washrooms was conveniently located near our room, adding to our convenience. The hostel’s kitchen surpassed our expectations and proved to be one of the best-equipped facilities throughout our trip. With two microwaves and an air fryer, it left us pleasantly surprised. This discovery sparked an idea – we decided to grab some chicken nuggets for our journey, which would make for a convenient and enjoyable lunch option on the road.
After resting, we set out for a stroll around our hostel in Reykjavik. Our destination was the remarkable Hallgrímskirkja church, a captivating structure that dominates the city skyline. This magnificent church is named after the esteemed Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson, and it is renowned for its unique architecture and imposing presence. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the church’s design draws inspiration from the natural basalt lava formations that grace Iceland’s landscape. Its exterior echoes the shape of volcanic columns, featuring a stepped facade that gradually narrows towards the pinnacle. Rising to a height of 74.5 meters (244 feet), Hallgrímskirkja stands as one of the tallest structures in Iceland, commanding attention and admiration. As we approached the church, we were captivated by its beauty. To ensure uninterrupted photo opportunities, we patiently waited, aiming to capture pictures without any photo bombers. However, despite our efforts, a few individuals can still be seen in the background of our shots.
Afterwards, we made our way back to the hostel to enjoy a satisfying dinner. Throughout our trip, we established a consistent dinner routine. Our meal preparation involved slicing onions and green chillies, frying them, and combining them with the ready-to-eat vegetarian Indian curry that we had packed in our checked luggage. Pairing it with rice, we enjoyed a flavorful and familiar meal.
After reading various blogs about the Northern Lights in April, we didn’t hold out much hope of seeing them ourselves. However, I couldn’t completely let go of the possibility and decided to install two different Aurora apps on my phone. Before retiring for the night, I opened one of the apps and noticed indications of potential aurora activity. Encouraged by this possibility, we embarked on a quest to find a nearby location with minimal light pollution that would offer a better chance of spotting the elusive auroras. Ultimately, we opted to drive to Grotta Lighthouse, where we discovered a multitude of cars already gathered along the coastline in anticipation. We patiently waited until 12:30 am, eagerly scanning the sky for any signs of the dancing lights. However, our anticipation was met with disappointment as the cloudy weather obstructed our view. Although our first day of aurora chasing proved fruitless, it only fueled our determination to continue the pursuit in the days to come.
Day 2 – 22 April 2023
Due to a slight case of jetlag, we found ourselves waking up earlier than most of the other guests at the hostel. This fortunate circumstance spared us from having to wait for access to the bathrooms and were able to get ready promptly. Taking advantage of the extra time, we prepared a hearty breakfast and packed a lunch. With everything in order, we checked out of the hostel, ready to embark on our journey to the northern region of Iceland.
We had dedicated an entire day to exploring the captivating Snæfellsnes Peninsula before reaching our accommodation for the night. Situated on Iceland’s western coast, this region is renowned for its varied landscapes, featuring a glacier-capped volcano, enchanting cliffs, stunning black sand beaches, and delightful fishing villages.
As we were travelling to one of our destinations, we came across the breathtaking Bjarnarfoss waterfall and could not resist stopping to admire it. The waterfall presents a mesmerizing sight as the water elegantly cascades down in multiple tiers, creating a stunning display of natural beauty. The lush green surroundings and rocky landscape add to its allure, forming a picturesque backdrop. What makes Bjarnarfoss even more special is its lesser-known status compared to Iceland’s more famous waterfalls, making it a hidden gem that provided us with a serene and captivating experience.
Our next destination from our list was Budakirkja, also known as Búðakirkja, a captivating black church situated on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With its unique black wooden exterior, the church stood out dramatically against the surrounding landscape. The area surrounding Budakirkja boasted breathtaking natural beauty, including expansive lava fields, picturesque coastal vistas, and majestic mountains. The church’s design showcased simplicity and rustic charm, highlighted by its traditional Icelandic turf roof. Its remote location further enhanced the atmosphere of tranquillity and serenity. We took the opportunity to capture some memorable photographs, admiring the church’s striking contrast with the stunning surroundings. Afterwards, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch just outside the premises, savouring the picturesque views that accompanied our meal.
We then proceeded to Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, an impressive ravine characterized by its deep and narrow structure that cuts through the rugged cliffs, creating a truly unique and dramatic landscape. The gorge takes its name from the Norse mythological figures Rauðfeldur and Sölvi, adding a fascinating historical and cultural element to the site. Though Sree decided to stay behind and I was feeling tired, my fear of missing out prompted me to join Rishi and Shikher in exploring the gorge. As we approached, the sight of towering cliffs adorned with vibrant green moss greeted us, forming a striking contrast against the dark rocks. To venture into Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge, we followed a rocky path that led us deeper into the narrow opening. Inside, we were surrounded by towering walls of volcanic rock, creating a natural canyon-like formation and immersing us in a cool and shadowy environment. As we continued our journey through the gorge, we discovered hidden waterfalls cascading down the mossy cliffs, adding an enchanting touch to the already awe-inspiring scenery. The exploration of Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge offered a sense of adventure and discovery as we navigated the narrow passageways, marvelling at the stunning geological formations up close. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction that my fear of missing out had led me to such a breathtaking place. Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge was truly a sight not to be missed, and I was grateful for the opportunity to experience its beauty firsthand.
Next, we went to visit Arnarstapi, a delightful coastal village known for its scenic beauty. Taking our time, we strolled along the coastline, admiring the distinctive rock formations that adorned the shore. The highlight of Arnarstapi was undoubtedly the majestic Gatklettur Arch, an imposing basalt arch that proudly emerged from the sea, creating a truly mesmerizing sight. Additionally, we had the opportunity to explore the sculpture park, where we admired artworks inspired by Icelandic folklore and mythology.
After our stroll in Arnarstapi, we were feeling quite tired. We reassessed our itinerary and decided to skip a beach since we knew we would be visiting a stunning black-sand beach later in the trip. With that in mind, we headed straight to our final destination for the day: Kirkjufell Mountain. This iconic mountain is famous for its unique shape, often referred to as “Church Mountain” due to its resemblance to a church steeple. Standing at an impressive height of approximately 463 meters (1,519 feet), Kirkjufell is surrounded by awe-inspiring natural beauty. Adding to its allure, there is a nearby waterfall called Kirkjufellsfoss that further enhances the charm of the area. It was interesting to note that Kirkjufell Mountain had gained recognition for being featured in an episode of Game of Thrones, causing excitement among my companions who were fans of the show.
Finally, we embarked on our journey to reach our accommodation for the day, which turned out to be the most exhausting drive of our entire trip. The roads were extremely rough and bumpy, making the two-hour drive a challenging experience. However, we persevered and eventually arrived at Hvammstangi Cottages, a collection of cosy and charming accommodations nestled in the town of Hvammstangi, Iceland. Initially, we thought that we had only booked one cottage and started contemplating our sleeping arrangements. With a bunk bed and a sofa bed available, we decided to opt for the sofa. However, as we checked the messages from the cottage on the Booking app, we discovered that we had booked two cottages, providing each couple with their own private space. It was a relief, as we would no longer have to squeeze into a small cabin and could enjoy the comfort of our cottage. After settling in, we prepared and enjoyed a delicious dinner.
As night fell, we couldn’t resist checking the Aurora app, which indicated some activity in the sky. Occasionally looking up at the sky, we hoped to catch a glimpse of the mesmerizing Northern Lights. To increase our chances, we devised a plan to take turns waking up every hour and alerting the other couple if any aurora activity was spotted from their window. At around midnight, Sree shared a picture on our group chat, capturing a faint glimpse of the aurora light she had managed to capture on her phone. Unfortunately, despite our efforts to observe the night sky through our phones, we were unable to spot any aurora activity that night.
Day 3 – 23 April 2023
In the morning, we enjoyed our breakfast and proceeded to check out of the cottage. Before leaving, we took the opportunity to capture a few photographs of the charming surroundings.
While on our way out of Hvammstangi, we were pleasantly surprised to encounter a herd of Icelandic Horses. These horses are highly regarded for their beauty, resilience, and friendly demeanour. They hold a significant place in Icelandic culture and have distinct features such as a sturdy build, thick manes, and exquisite coats available in various colours like chestnut, bay, black, and grey. Renowned for their surefootedness and adaptability, these horses can traverse challenging terrains and endure harsh weather conditions. We couldn’t resist taking photographs of these majestic animals and even offered them gentle strokes and grass to feed them.
Afterwards, we proceeded to Glaumbær Museum, a captivating cultural site nestled in Iceland. The museum is renowned for its impeccably preserved turf houses, and traditional dwellings that were once widespread in rural areas. These unique houses, constructed using turf and timber, provided excellent insulation against the unforgiving Icelandic weather. Although the museum was closed, we had the opportunity to admire the turf houses from the outside, appreciating their architectural charm and historical significance. Following our visit, we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in the vicinity of the museum.
This day primarily involved driving through the northern region of Iceland. During our journey towards Akureyri, we were treated to breathtaking scenery at every turn. However, one particular view left us in awe. It was so captivating that we immediately seized the chance to pull over and fully immerse ourselves in the scene. The beauty of the surroundings was beyond belief, with snow-capped mountains towering above and a serene stream gracefully flowing at the mountain’s base. The landscape left us speechless, and we couldn’t resist capturing the moment through numerous photographs. The surroundings were so pristine that I even took a sip of water directly from the stream, and its pure taste added to the magic of the experience.
We continued our journey to Godafoss, an awe-inspiring waterfall renowned for its majestic presence and rich historical significance. Bearing the name “Waterfall of the Gods,” it holds a special place in Icelandic folklore and culture. According to ancient tales, the waterfall played a pivotal role in the country’s conversion to Christianity during the 10th century. Legend has it that a chieftain named Þorgeir Þorkelsson, upon embracing Christianity, cast his idols of the Norse gods into the tumultuous cascade, signifying the abandonment of the old beliefs. Approaching Godafoss, we were immediately captivated by its breathtaking beauty. The waterfall spans an impressive width of around 30 meters and plunges approximately 12 meters into a mesmerizing turquoise pool below. We were captivated by the thunderous roar created by the cascading water as we stood on the viewing platforms. Exploring the area, we followed the walking trail that led us to both sides of the falls, granting us panoramic view from various angles. To our surprise, a colourful rainbow could be seen decorating the cascades, adding a magical touch to the already stunning landscape.
We arrived at Akureyri Hotel and checked in for our overnight stay. The rooms provided us with all the necessary comforts, including cosy beds, sofa beds, private bathrooms, and essential kitchen equipment. Following our usual routine, we consulted our Aurora apps and discovered that the aurora activity was particularly high that night. Excited by the prospect, we set an alarm for midnight and settled down to rest. Upon waking up, we prepared and enjoyed a hearty dinner.
In our quest to find a spot with minimal light pollution for optimal aurora viewing, we came across a place called Gasir near Akureyri. As we stepped out of our hotel, we noticed several individuals scrambling on the streets, camera in hand. Intrigued, we snapped a quick picture on our phone and were delighted to observe a faint green aurora light in the photo. Hastening our journey to Gasir, we parked our car and eagerly waited. After just a few minutes, the aurora burst into an enchanting display, dancing across the night sky. Although our naked eyes perceived a subtle grey light, our photographs revealed intense shades of green and even hints of purple in the aurora strands. We remained at Gasir until 2:30 am, embracing the breathtaking view. The cold temperatures were chilling, but the experience was undeniably worthwhile. Finally, after three days of chasing the aurora, we were rewarded with a breathtaking display of its high intensity.
Day 4 – 24 April 2023
Fortunately, the day started at a relaxed pace, allowing us to catch up on some much-needed sleep after our late-night aurora chase. We woke up a bit later than usual and engaged in thought-provoking political discussions about the ongoing Ukraine war as we prepared breakfast and got ourselves ready for the day.
We embarked on a memorable Whale Watching tour in the charming town of Húsavík, which we had booked through Gentle Giants. Húsavík is renowned as the whale-watching capital of Europe, offering a unique opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Our tour took us out into the open seas, where we were fortunate to encounter two different species of whales: humpback whales and minke whales. The experienced guide shared fascinating insights into the behaviour and biology of these whales, deepening our appreciation for their existence. It was truly amazing to see the strength and grace of these magnificent marine mammals as they breached, dove, and swam next to our boat. It was an unforgettable experience.
We proceeded to Skutustadir Guesthouse, our accommodation for the day, which is a charming guesthouse that offered a cosy and comfortable stay surrounded by natural landscapes. The guesthouse boasted well-appointed rooms, and it provided a communal kitchen where we prepared our dinner.
Since it was only 5 pm when we arrived at the guesthouse, we decided to visit Myvatn Nature Bath. Initially, Sree had some hesitation and wanted to explore the area around our guesthouse, but we eventually convinced her that we could do that the next day before departing. So, we changed into our swimsuits and made our way to Myvatn Nature Bath. Situated in the Myvatn region of Iceland, this geothermal spa is renowned for its soothing and revitalizing hot springs, surrounded by awe-inspiring natural landscapes. The warm and mineral-rich waters of the bath provided a truly unique and rejuvenating bathing experience, imparting a sense of tranquillity and offering therapeutic benefits. As we immersed ourselves in the comforting waters, we were treated to breathtaking views of volcanic terrains and the serene Lake Myvatn. Despite the outside temperature being -5°C, we remained comfortably warm in the bath, thoroughly enjoying the entire experience. The sunset from the bath was truly magnificent, adding to the enchanting ambience. We only reluctantly left the bath when it was about to close, cherishing the memories we had made.