With its ever-growing popularity, Iceland is anything but a hidden gem. It feels like visiting the country is on everyones bucket list these days; every time I scroll through Instagram, Iceland is one of those destinations that constantly pops up on my feed. I don’t remember when it became so popular as a travel destination, but I do remember when my own wanderlust began.
Thanks to the endless amount of information about Iceland on the internet, most travellers visit the country with high expectations. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a strong sense of wanderlust before! The land of fire and ice has an outstanding reputation, and plays host to wild and rugged landscapes, impressive glaciers, lagoons, ice caves, mountains, geysers, craters, waterfalls… so many waterfalls!
Well, that’s pretty much what we found during our 10 day road trip around Iceland. Our route took us all the way around the ring road, up into the westfjords and along the Snæfellsnes Peninsular. We were ambitious with what we wanted to see; we had early starts, lonnnnng drives and most nights didn’t get in until the late evening. Was it all worth it? Well, keep reading and find out!
Expectation #1: The Blue Lagoon is totally worth it
The Blue Lagoon is essentially one of those ‘bucket list’ activities when it comes to Iceland. It charges an extortionate amount because it’s something that is instantly associated with Iceland; when you tell your friends that you’re heading to the country, one of the first things they’ll probably ask is ‘are you going to the Blue Lagoon?’
Whilst I enjoyed our trip to The Blue Lagoon, I definitely wouldn’t pay to do it again. Despite what you might have heard, the Blue Lagoon isn’t a natural wonder, but is instead a direct result of the geothermal plant found next door! Whilst the waters are rich in minerals like silica, which are undoubtedly good for you, there are plenty of other hot springs around the country, which are both completely natural AND that allow entrance for no cost whatsoever! So if you’re road tripping around, my vote would be for natural hot springs. Use this website to find out their location.
Expectation #2: The Golden Circle is the best road trip from Reykjavik
One of the first things I ever heard about Iceland was the Golden Circle. This is the most popular route for tourists visiting Iceland; it’s nearby to Reykjavik, and showcases the diversity of landscapes that the country has to offer.
Although I was impressed with the main attractions along this route, when it comes to experiencing Iceland in a short-space of time, I wouldn’t underestimate the other areas nearby to the capital, such as the south of Iceland or the Snæfellsnes Peninsular. Offering incredible waterfalls, little towns and an impressive amount of rugged coastline, these areas shouldn’t be missed!
Expectation #3: It’s a country of diverse landscapes
As soon as we headed along the ring road to explore the rest of Iceland, we came across so many stunning landscapes. One moment we’d be driving through deserted lava fields, and the next we’d be picking up huge chunks of ice from a glacier lagoon!
Although many tourists don’t travel beyond Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, Iceland’s beauty lies in its snow-capped mountains and incredible fjords in the east, its impressive glaciers and rugged coastlines in the south and in the isolated, unspoiled beauty of the north and westfjords.
Expectation #4: You’ll want to stop every five minutes!
No matter which area of the country you’re in, there’ll be something that’ll amaze you. Whether it was to explore the powerful cascades of a waterfall, or the icy depths of a glacier lagoon, there were countless times that we’d quickly scramble out of the car in excitement, which really does highlight the beauty of a road trip!
Expectation #5: Icelandic animals & wildlife are fully co-operative models
I don’t know how people manage to get such incredible photos of the animals that reside in Iceland! It must be down to a huge amount of patience or good timing (or both), but I didn’t seem to have either of the two! Each time I’d leave the car and attempt a picture of sheep, they would all quickly disperse! We even spotted two whales near Hólmavík, but as soon as I took out my camera, they disappeared under the water!
In all fairness, the Icelandic horses were better in this aspect than the sheep and whales! What’s interesting to know is that Icelandic horses are one of the most purely bred horses in the world, and to ensure this is maintained, Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported, and exported animals aren’t allowed back in!
Expectation #6: Iceland is expensive
You’ve probably heard it countless times, and unfortunately it’s true… Iceland IS expensive. When it comes to supermarkets, there are a few ‘discount’ stores, such as Bonus, but even these can have extortionate prices. For example, certain food items such as cheese and meat can cost £10+. However, like with most countries you visit, you can always do things to make your money go further. Making pack lunch everyday, eating in for dinner and using food items that are cheap, such as pasta and rice, are all good ways of saving money.
Expectation #7: You should prepare yourself for all kinds of weather
We actually got really lucky with the weather during our 10 days around the country! Apart from the first day and the last day, it didn’t rain at all, and we were blessed with blue skies and temperatures as high as 19 degrees! Saying that, it is best to come prepared for all weather types, as the weather can change suddenly. As soon as the sun disappears behind the clouds, it can become very chilly!
Expectation #8: The waterfalls in Iceland are amongst the best in the world
It’s known as the land of fire and ice, but I’ve come to know Iceland as the land of fire and ice and waterfalls, lots and lots of waterfalls! When it comes these magnificent cascades, Iceland seems to have it all. There are waterfalls that you can hike to the top of, waterfalls that you can walk behind (remember to pack a raincoat… you WILL get soaked), those that are off the beaten track and those that appear as if out of nowhere as you’re driving along the ring road!
With so much variety on offer, Iceland gives a very unsubtle hint that you definitely should go chasing waterfalls.
Expectation #8: You’ll be blessed with extra hours of sunlight
If you’re travelling to Iceland in spring then don’t expect the sun to set until at least 11pm, and even when it does set, it still doesn’t go completely dark! This can either be seen as a blessing or a curse; whilst it allows you to fit a lot into a day, it also makes sleeping difficult, especially if your accommodation doesn’t have black-out curtains!
Expectation #9: It’s a country with charm and character
Iceland has a population of around 330,000, so everywhere you go (apart from Reykjavik) has the essence of a small town. The country undoubtedly exudes charm and character; driving along you’ll see an abundance of isolated houses and churches, the majority of which are painted white with the sweetest red-roofs! You’ll also spot the remains of abandoned old homes, which have been literally built into the mountainside to protect from harsh climates!
A trip to Iceland isn’t complete without learning a little about its folklore! You’ll undoubtedly come across the tiniest of houses built under rocks and hills, and piles of rocks carefully positioned during your travels. Whilst these all have a very logical meaning behind being there, many Icelandic people believe that these are the homes of two types of invisible people; the Álfar Elves, and Huldufólk ‘hidden people’.
Expectation #10: There’s plenty of opportunities to get off-the-beaten-track
Despite Iceland’s popularity, it’s not uncommon to be heading along the ring road and not see another car for quite some time! The north and westfjords are a lot quieter than the rest of the country, which means they’re the perfect location to find less-travelled destinations, such as Kolufossar, a waterfall named after a giant troll that we found after taking a slight de-tour from the ring road along a dirt track!
Does Iceland live up to its hype?
I imagine you’ve guessed the answer by now… YES! Iceland completely lives up to its hype. In fact, it exceeded all of my expectations! I fell head over heels for the snow-covered mountains, fascinating glacier lagoons, and, of course, the endless amount of waterfalls! I’d love to visit Iceland again one day. Maybe next time I’ll choose winter time, and hope for a sighting of the Northern Lights! And if you’re planning a trip to the country, I really hope you’ll consider venturing to the less-travelled areas!
Do YOU think Iceland lives up to its hype? I’d love to know. Let me know in the comment section below!
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