Literally everyone we know that has been to Iceland has raved on about it - imploring us to add it to the top of our bucket list! With very high expectations, we finally booked our flights to the land of fire and ice.
This is going to be an un-popular opinion: Iceland - we didn't love it. Thaaaat much. Let us explain.
You have so much expectations that you forget how beautiful the country is and only seek out to see the "best waterfall" or the "best mountain hike". When you are driving around, not one blog we read told us that we'll see 100s of cars parked at every "must see water-fall" or "tourist attraction".
For us, and you would know this if you have been following us for a while, that we love off-beat experiences. Trying to search for adventures outside of the tourist traps. That's one reason why we absolutely LOVED our Scotland road trip (blog post coming soon) or our Slovenia adventure. As we drove around these countries, the natural beauty compelled us to stop and jump out to take photos.
But not Iceland. As you drive along the ring road, you know exactly where to stop as you see the car parks and the tourist buses pulling up, taking away from the raw natural beauty Iceland has to offer. We were stopping at waterfalls we were told were the best, completely zooming past the other thousand waterfalls along the way.
Most blogs will crop the cars out - but the above image shows the reality. It does get less like this up in the north though!
Perhaps, that was our fault for trying to cover the entire ring-road in 9 days. And that's another thing. It's a LOT OF DRIVING! It's stretches and stretches of long albeit gorgeous drives - if you want to cover ground. Decent accommodation options are few and spread out especially in the North & East. Of course, you can take it slow and take a month's holiday, but realistically getting more than 10 days of leave from work is not that easy for us :)
But despite all of the above, Iceland is unlike any other terrain we've ever seen! On one side of the road, you will be greeted with lush green mountains with deep echoing valleys and on the other side - it will be barren dirt, flat, with molten clay bubbling away.
1. Don't have expectations! You'll enjoy your experience a lot more.
2. Be okay with not "ticking" everything off your must-see Iceland list. If you are ok with skipping a few touristy spots, you can literally stop anywhere else on the way and we guarantee it to be just as stunning! Plus, you will have the place to yourselves :)
3. Iceland is a photographer's dream! We recommend a tripod if you want to capture the soft gush of the waterfall. Drone - not so much though. Most places are "no-drone" zones and if you follow us on Instagram, you'll know from our stories that we lost our drone (R.I.P Drone Draper) to the high winds in Iceland.
We won't say these are the must-see spots as we would want you guys to discover this majestic land on your own and not just follow a set itinerary, so instead here's: Our favourite experiences of Iceland:
1. Chilling above Skogafoss
Can you spot Shankar perched up on that cliff above the 60m high waterfall? :) You can climb right to the top of this waterfall to get a completely different perspective. The climb is steep and a bit tiring (almost 500 steps) but totally worth it!
Approx time spent here: 1.5 hours.
2. Drive from Hofn to Egilsstaðir (South to East) - avoiding the f-road, via Thingmúli.
This drive is littered with waterfalls. Little streams pouring through tiny crevices in the mountains - honestly you'll see more than 50 waterfalls on this drive! It was so untouched!
You don't need a 4x4 for this drive.
3. The drive from Egilsstaðir to Akyureri
To be honest, we loved this drive because of the perfect weather conditions. A thick grey cloud was following us the whole way through, but out there in the distance - peering through the gaps in the cloud, the sun was shining as bright as a neon light. Coupled with the Game of Thrones soundtrack in the car, all we could exclaim was "THIS IS EPIC!". Landscapes in this region are flat and barren - and you can see nothingness all the way to the horizon.
4. Hverir geo-thermals
This place is literally Mars on Earth. Hot mud pools and pink sulfuric acid smoke against the backdrop of that orangish - red mountain. This place without a doubt was our most favourite - simply because how different it looked to anything we've seen on Earth!
The sulphuric smoke creates a very pungent smell and we'd recommend you have a small napkin with you to cover your nose and mouth. Approx time spent here: 40 mins
5. Climbing inside Rauðfeldsgjá gorge
On the West peninsula, there's a narrow gorge (essentially a small rift in between two mountains). From the road, you can hardly see the crevice but as you hike closer to the mountain, you see the gorge opening. A small stream of water trickles out and you can actually go all the way inside the gorge! Please be careful as the surface is very slippery and you will need good water-proof boots to go all the way inside. Approx time spent here: 1 hour
6. Kirkjufell mountain (Arrowhead, for Game of Thrones fans)
At this point of the trip, we must have seen over 15 different mountains and 100s of waterfalls but there was still something quite magnificent about Kirkjufell. The day was beautiful - sunny and warm and it felt like a great picnic spot! It's also apparently the most photographed mountain in Iceland. Approx time spent here: 40 mins
7. Speaking of Game of Thrones, trying to find landscapes from the TV show ;)
Here's Dip our friend with Drogon! ;) A lot of Game of Thrones was shot in Iceland and its not surprising why. You’ll only get such varied landscapes in Iceland. For GoT fans there are a lot of tour companies taking you on different shooting location tours. (Or you can just Google it and make your own way there :) )
8. Snorkeling in the middle of two continental plates
We need to thank our friend Neeru for pushing us to do this. Snorkeling at the Silfra Fissure gives you a chance to float between the two continental plates while enjoying the crystal clarity of the water. Absolute once in a lifetime experience but not gonna lie - the water is 2 deg cold and if you guys know Vruchi - it took a LOT of convincing! ;) We recommend Dive.is with their combined Horse riding combo. Approx time spent here: Half a day
9. Getting to know and ride Icelandic horses
Icelandic horses are unique to the country. These small, almost pony like horses can only be found in Iceland. The horse riding experience was so calming as we trotted through the mountains with pin-drop silence around us and only the click-clack of the horses to keep us company. You can book a Silfra dive & Horse riding experience here (not sponsored). Approx time spent here: Half a day
10. Going behind the Seljalandfoss waterfall
It's one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland - so expect a lot of tourists but we just couldn't resist the temptation of being able to go behind the waterfall! You will really feel your own humanity as you face off against this giant of nature. Approx time spent here: 1.5 hours
11. And lastly, Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is extremely commercial and touristy, overcrowded as the day goes on and over-priced for what it is. But, it is such a relaxing way to end your 9 day strenuous road trip! It was the perfect way to pamper ourselves a little bit before we headed back home and back to work :)
And there you have it. Our honest review of Iceland!
Hopefully - this blog post will manage your expectations a little bit and allow you to truly love this magnificent country!
You can also check out our other blog posts here and reach us on Instagram here (opens in new windows).
Lots of love
V & S