Iceland is a truly an amazing Country, there is so much to see and most of it is pretty easily accessible. My friend, Melissa, and I spent 7 days driving around the Country on the Ring Road and Golden Circle, stopping and exploring anything and everything we could see. Honestly sometimes there was too much to see! So in this week's post, I'm going to share our top spots to help you narrow down your adventure stops. The list includes our ultimate list of destinations, everything from favorite waterfalls and swimming wholes to or choice places to eat and stay.
Best Waterfall - Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss
Iceland is full of waterfalls, I swear everywhere you look there is a new waterfall. I never imagined one place could have so many waterfalls, during our one week trip we saw multiple waterfalls a day, each one having it's unique size, landscape, and shape. Now Melissa and I different on which one is or favorite so we have two top waterfall is in this category.
First we will start with Melissa's favorite, Gullfoss, translated to Golden Falls. This one is cool because it is huge, probably one of the biggest we saw, and you can walk right up to the top of it. Also Gullfoss is nice because it is along the Ring Road, a popular route right outside of the capital city Reykjavík.
My favorite waterfall was Seljalandsfoss this is the only waterfall we were able to really interact with by being able to walk fully behind it; but be prepared to get drenched.
Best Hot Spring - Mývatn Nature Baths
Iceland is located over two continental plates, which makes it full of volcanoes, about 30 active volcanoes exist on the small island. Iceland has been extremely forward thinking and harnesses the geothermal activity produced by these volcanoes to do everything from heating their homes, to baking bread in the ground, to creating amazing hot-spring pools. Hot springs are literally everywhere in Iceland, you could go to multiple in a day, some range from high end spas, like the Blue Lagoon, to random pools in the middle of the backcountry. Some are hot, as hot as a hot tub, and some are only luke-warm.
We visited 4 hot springs on our 7 day trip to Iceland, and we passed multiple a day. Nothing is better than a soak in a hot spring after a long hike, this is the combo is what makes Iceland so great.
Our favorite hot spring was the Myvatn Nature Baths. We really liked this hot spring because it was more affordable, wayyyy less crowded, and probably even more beautiful than the Blue Lagoon. However, the Blue Lagoon did come in a close second, it's larger and has more amenities (including a swim up bar, swim up face mask bar, multiple steam rooms and saunas) so I would still recommend you visit if it is within your budget, just make sure you go early (we checked in at 10AM and left around 2PM, it was starting to get pretty crowded by noon).
We also visited the Hot River, which got our best overall experience below, and Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool, which was probably our least favorite, it's cool looking but the water is only luke-warm and kind of gross with lots of algae growing in the pool. But definitely a fun adventure as it is off the beaten path and a short hike in.
Best Hike - Vatnajökull National Park
If you follow this blog, you know saying I hike a lot may be a little bit of an understatement, so I do not take it lightly in saying the glacier hike in Vatnajökull National Park we went on is probably in my top 5 hikes of all time. I loved this hike and could have spent multiple days just exploring this area.
We were turned onto this hike from a girl we spoke to in our hostel in Reykjavik (shout out to Carolyn from Oregon, your the bomb). So although it wasn't even on our original itinerary and we knew very little about it, except that it was a spot on a paper map, we decided to check it out. About 8 kilometers in on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and seeing no one yet I was starting to second guess our decision to follow this random strangers advice. But, we eventually got to a trailhead, but to be honest I have no clue if we ended up in the spot she recommended, and started out adventure.
This hike is awesome because you literally get to see a glacier up close and personal. Also the landscape is so different, you feel like your a space women exploring Mars or some distant ice planet. We only had time for a short hike, but I image if you keep going there is a lot to explore.
Best Town - Vik
Our top two towns were Vik and Borganes. Vik got one of the top because we discovered an amazing burger and beer joint (described below in best food) also we stayed at one of our favorite hostels there (described below under best hostel). There is also an excellent black sand beach and a really cool cliff hike in which you can get up close and personal with puffins. We actually didn't end up having enough time to go on the puffin hike, but a guy we met on our hostel did and he said it was strenuous but awesome (if you have 4 wheel drive you can also just drive up there).
Our other favorite town was Borganes, now this town was small but had a lot of character. A scene from the Secret Life of Walter Mitty was shot here (when he eats at a Papa John's in Iceland, and no there are no Papa John's in Iceland, they converted a cafe for three days for the shoot). Also located in the town is a charming park, Skallagrímsgarður, this is the site of a viking settler of Iceland and as I have read plays an important role in Egil's Saga, as the burial mound of Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, Egil's father, is situated there. lastly there is a charming trail that follows along the water, it's quite nice to eat some lamb soup at the Settlement Center (see below) and take a stroll on the path while the sun sets, well depending on the time of year, kinda sets.
Best Foods - Friðheimar Farms
Ok I was totally blown away by the food in Iceland, I mean I was not expecting much since I heard they like to chase their vodka with dried shark and eat all sorts of weird stuff, like horse and whale. Although you definitely will see these items on the menu, and if you try them, good for you, your more adventurous than I, there are tons of awesome authentic options. I learned that each region had there own deliciously, and it's kind of fun to try each one out. We had great food all along our journey, it was hard to narrow it down. But I would probably have to say Friðheimar farm was my favorite destination. A little off the beaten path from the Golden Circle, Friðheimar farm is a tomato farm, that serves fresh baked bread and tomato soup set in a greenhouse. Its just so bright and inviting, a definite must stop.
A close second was Kaffi Hornið in Hofn, everything on the menu was amazing. I had salmon and my friend had lamb, but I wish I would have tried some of the fresh mini lobster here (couldn't pull the trigger because it was a little pricey). Also a must try is the lamb soup at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes.
Best Hostel - Vik Hostelling International (HI) Hostel
All the hostels we stayed at in Iceland were definitely clean and we had no problem with safety, making me think Iceland would be a good place for a first time solo adventurer. Although most offered just the basics and very few had any kind of amenities or perks. The HI hostel in Vik, stands out from the rest because it is located on a cute, quaint farm from which they provide a free breakfast with fresh eggs, homemade jams, skyr (Icelandic yogurt), and more. Out of all the places we stayed, this was the only that provided a free breakfast. Also it is located on a hill overlooking Vik, so the views are nice and it just has a cool vibe.
Best Overall - Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
This was a hard one to choose, there was so much to see and explore in Iceland and all of it was truly breathtaking. But my must see of Iceland, my top destination, was the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River, or the Hot River as we like to call it. The reason I loved this destination so much is it combined all the things that are intrinsic and special to Iceland to make one quintessential Iceland experience, beautiful scenery, hiking and hot springs.
Again, we came across the Hot River on a whim, a recommendation by a fellow hostel roommate, and this outing was actually not even on our original agenda. We parked in the lot thinking the river was going to be right there only to find out we actually had to hike to the river, our roommate forgot to mention that. So we started off on our hike, for which we had no clue how long it was going to be, or honestly what we were in store for at the end. I definitely had second thoughts a few miles in with no end in sight and the wind howling. However, my fellow travel buddy encouraged me to push on and we were rewarded with cute playing sheep and waterfalls along the way.
Eventually made it, to what turned out to be, hands down, the best hot springs I have ever been to (and believe me I have checked out a few). The Hot River was absolutely gorgeous, set in the rolling hills in the backcountry of Iceland, you step into the river and it is as hot as a hot tub. Another thing that makes this not only my top destination in Iceland, but my favorite hot spring of all time, is that it is set in a river (duh), but my point is the water is flowing and feels so much cleaner and fresher. None of that stinky sulfur smell or gross stagnant water that many hot springs have, I have been in other river hot springs before but never as hot as this one.
Since it is somewhat of a hike to get to the river was not too crowded when we were there. Also it was later in the day so the majestic afternoon glow of the low sun reflected off the green hills and yellow flowers, making me feel extremely lucky and grateful to experience such an awesome adventure.