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Iceland Recap: Golden Circle & Vik | Black Sand Beach

I haven't always known a lot about Iceland, but Josh and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in theaters around New Year's when it was released in theaters, and much of it was filmed in Iceland. Since then, the sense of adventure that movie gave me, and scenery that it showcased have stuck with me. Fast-forward a bit to us planning a trip for our 10-year wedding anniversary. We debated a few locations that were more relaxing and pampering, never really getting super excited about any of them. Josh turned to me one day and said, if you could go anywhere for this trip, where would you want to go? Without missing a beat, I just said Iceland. He liked the idea of doing something adventurous and before we knew it, we were planning to celebrate 10 years of marriage in the land of fire and ice. We booked the trip in December, and every night I would turn to Josh in bed as he was trying to fall asleep and say, "Babe, I can't sleep, I'm too excited for Iceland," to which he would respond, "You know it's February, right?" We were going in September.



One of my biggest takeaways from our first (yes, first, because I see myself going back at least once more in my life), was that I fully understand why Iceland tourism has boomed in the last few years. You could, of course, spend a month here and never get bored, but even if you spend 48 hours on the island, you'll see some amazing things in a reasonably short amount of time. It's very easy to get around, sites are able to accommodate large numbers of tourists, but yet, it somehow still feels like another universe. I can't even begin to explain how amazed we were on this trip.

For my Iceland recaps, I plan to break them up into a few parts (these will be linked as they're posted):

Days 1-2: Golden Circle & Vik
Days 3: Seydisfjordur, East Fjords & Glacier Lagoon
Day 4: Waterfalls, a Glacier & a Farm Stay
Day 5: The Blue Lagoon & Silica Hotel

I'm also planning an Iceland Overview post with all our packing tips, observations and suggestions for first-timers visiting Iceland. Many of the posts and recaps I read prior to leaving were from a few years ago just when tourism was beginning to take off, and I also had a hard time finding answers to some of the logistics I was curious about. I'm hoping that post will be able to recap those specifics for curious travelers.

And with that, let's begin!



In total, we spent 5 nights in Iceland, which is a pretty short amount of time considering everything we tackled. We visited Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, Vik, Seydisfjordur and the Eastern Fjords, Jokulsarlon and the Glacier Lagoon, a farm stay at Efstidalur and then drove through Thingvelier Park to get to the Blue Lagoon.


We visited in late September 2019, and thankfully, our anniversary coincided with our ideal timeframe for visiting Iceland. July and August are peak season because the summer months bring warmer weather, a little less rain and of course, the famous midnight sun through the month of July. September brings shorter days, but not any shorter than we experience here in New York, and also, fewer people. Reports we read online while planning this trip said that September tends to be rainy, so we prepared with all kinds of gear to be walking around outside in rain showers. But, we got so lucky because we only had rain during one afternoon. The rest of our days were either overcast or really bright and sunny.

Iceland showing off its autumn colors. 

I'll note that unless you want to avoid severe winter conditions, there's really no good time to visit Iceland. If you've researched visiting the country at all, you've probably heard that weather changes at the drop of a hat, and there's really no way to predict what will happen on your trip. You just have to know you should prepare for the worst and pack what you can to enjoy yourself regardless of what the weather brings you during your stay. Many have reported experiencing all four seasons in one day.

I will say, though, that as much as I would love to experience the super long days of Summer, I loved visiting in September. It tends to be my favorite month in general to travel because usually, it's a bit quieter with tourists and such staying home to get their kids back to school, but weather tends to still be really nice. One thing I was not expecting about Iceland in the fall season was so much stunning fall color. It blew my mind how beautiful it was and showed me that autumn hues are not just for New England.

Not the greatest picture, but look at all the colors! This was snapped somewhere around the Golden Circle. 



One of the main reasons we decided to make this trip happen was because we got an amazing deal on flights. I almost feel bad for sharing it because I haven't seen flight prices like this for Iceland since we booked, including the least popular times to visit. We flew United on a direct flight from Newark for $299, per person, RT. I know. And even though it was United, the flight were great. We got in 20 minutes early for both flights, and everything couldn't have gone more smoothly. Because I want to go back so badly, I keep checking prices to see if I can get a similar deal for a future trip, but everything recently has been starting in the $400's.

If flying from a major airport on the East Coast, direct flights are easy to come by, and the flight is usually 6 hours or less, making it such an easy destination to get to. We also did an overnight flight, and left Newark at 10:50p, and arrived in Iceland by 8a, so we had the whole first day to explore. We didn't sleep well on the plane despite coming prepared with all kinds of sleep accessories like melatonin, eye masks, foot rests and pillows. But we were so energized by being there we had no trouble staying awake our first day (well, until the sun went down).

Once you land at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik, you have a few ways you can get around. One is by group tour bus, one is by a private tour and the third is renting a car. We very much like to do our thing and be on our own schedule while traveling, so renting a car for us was a no-brainer. We used ProCar and had a great experience. They tend to be more affordable because they have to pick you up at the airport and shuttle you (for free) to their location a few kilometers away from the airport, but the process was pretty seamless, and the car was great. We had a small issue finding the guy with the shuttle once we landed because there are quite a few people holding placards with company names of tour guides and tours, and the ProCar guy actually waited in a slightly different area for passengers. But once we figured that out, it was such an easy process, and we were off with our car to explore Iceland.




The first thing we tackled was Reykjavik because we wanted to get a snack after our flight, and also, I didn't want to leave Iceland without getting an authentic hand-knitted sweater. We started by walking around the city for a bit, and then visited Braud & Co. for some of their well-known cinnamon croissants. We both inhaled them in seconds because they were amazing. Josh also visited Reykjavik Roasters for a pour-over coffee, and we had a great time wandering around the Handknitters Association for sweaters and accessories. I ended up with a sweater that I absolutely love, and Josh was able to find some mittens he really loved, too. It was the only souvenir I knew I wanted from our trip, so while they're a bit of an investment, it was worth the splurge. I wore it a few times during our trip and every time I wore it, it made me smile. You'll see it make an appearance in upcoming posts.

In front of Braud & Co. I wish we had gotten like 25 more of these croissant things. They were amazing.

Reykjavik was filled with brightly-colored houses.

Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik is an iconic landmark. For about $7USD you can go to the top of the church
and take in views of the city. Next time I hope to do that.


After a short visit to Reykjavik, we were off to the Golden Circle because we thought it would be a nice and easy way to get acquainted with the country. It's also very easy to do from the airport, and we figured if we did get tired, we could call it a day whenever we wanted from here and head to our hotel in Reykjavik to crash. We ended up exploring until about 5p that day and saw almost everything.

We started with Kerid Crater, which is the only site on the Golden Circle (or most of Iceland) you have to pay to see. It was 400ISK/$3USD per person, which is so reasonable, and you can pay with a credit card. They also have a water refill station here, so bring your water bottles! The Kerid Crater is a beautiful bright blue lake sitting in the middle of red volcanic rock. It was one of the sites I told Josh I was okay missing if we ran out of time, but I'm actually so glad we stopped. You can walk around the upper part of it, which offered incredible views, and also walk around the actual lake, and it was a great way to kick off our Icelandic adventure. We both loved it.








Icelandic horses were definitely on my list to see, and we saw so many right from the road. Many of them are very friendly, and quite a few of the farms have signs up that say you're allowed to pull over and approach the horses. So of course, we did.






After Kerid, we stopped for lunch at Fridheimer Restaurant, which has become really popular for good reason. The restaurant is inside a giant tomato greenhouse, and everything on the menu is tomato-based. The most popular option is the unlimited tomato soup buffet with home-baked bread, but they also have a variety of other things to choose from. Their website suggested making reservations, and I'm glad we did because the people ahead of us in line didn't, and they had a 30-minute wait. We arrived early, and sat at the bar so Josh could try their tomato beer (we both agreed it was good and unique, but not something we'd get again). The soup and breads were incredible, and really hit the spot after being outside in the chilly weather. We also got their cheesecake for dessert, which was topped with a tomato/cinnamon/lime jam and it was so delicious (I was certain I wouldn't be a fan of the jam, but I would have eaten it by the spoonful).

The bar inside Fridheimer.

The freshly-baked breads with the soup buffet were incredible. 

It's actually not that yellow inside, but the lights make it appear that way in photos. It was so a great
experience to sit and have lunch amongst the tomato vines.


Next, we visited Strokkur Geysir, which erupts every 5-10 minutes. There were lots of people standing around to capture it on camera, and because it's spontaneous, you can easily miss it. But we managed to get a few photos of it in action. Once you see it go off a few times, there is an option for a hike nearby to a lookout that offers a view from above, but we were getting tired so decided to head back to the car.

Strokkur Geysir was pretty powerful, and flew so high into the air. Definitely worth the wait. 


Our last stop of the day was Gullfoss waterfall. Compared to a lot of waterfalls Iceland is famous for that have a more dramatic vertical drop, this was is impressive because if its sheer size. You will get very wet here, so bring a rain jacket and waterproof boots!

It's a short and scenic walk to the waterfall.






Thingvelier National Park is also part of the Golden Circle, and if we hadn't been so tired, we would have visited. Adding to our list for next time!

For our first night, we stayed at the Reykjavik Lights hotel, which is outside the main town area. We chose this one because it was more affordable since the location wasn't ideal, but because we were pretty much only here to shower and crash for the night, it was perfect. They had a free breakfast buffet in the mornings, and it was also close by to a few restaurants for dinner. We ate at Vox Brasserie that night and loved it.



The next morning, we were up early and on our way to make the longest drive during our trip. This day, we planned to make our way to Vik, visit Black Sand Beach and walk around the town, and then make our way to Seydisfjordur.

Before getting to Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach), we made a quick stop at Dyrholaey Viewpoint to take in some views. This cliff overlooks the beach, and is also home to a beautiful lighthouse. The drive up the hill to get to the viewpoint is quite an experience. It's a gravel road riddled with bumps,  potholes and sharp turns, but it's worth it when you get to the top. This was the day we experienced some rain (and very, very strong winds), so unfortunately, we couldn't stay very long. We were there just long enough to see the lighthouse and take in some views of the arched cliff nearby, and then decided to head to the beach because the rain was hindering our views. But, on another day while passing through Vik again, we decided to stop once more on a bright and sunny day and got to really take it in, so more to come.



A foggy and rainy view from the top of the viewpoint, overlooking Black Sand Beach.

Then, we headed for the famous Reynisfjara beach. Be sure to type in Reynisfjara into your GPS, or you may end up at the smaller Black Sand Beach right in the town of Vik. Both are beautiful, but Reynisfjara, just outside town, is where you can see the basalt columns and take in better views of the iconic tall, jagged rocks coming up out of the water. This beach is known for having "sneaker" waves, named because they can come out of nowhere on the shore, and take people back to the ocean with them with their incredible strength. They have, very sadly, killed three people in the past 10 years. It's so important to be on-alert while visiting, and balance that out by also enjoying it in the moment because the scenery is awfully breath-taking.

The smaller Black Sand Beach right in town is also great (we ended up here first by accident, but it was smaller and quieter and still worth a stop if you have time).

Reynisfjara Beach.

The waves were incredibly powerful and in person, they went far over our heads. 


Because we were here for our 10th wedding anniversary, we also decided to seek out a photographer to snap a few photos of us so we had some really nice moments from our trip professionally captured. I found Evan on Instagram and immediately fell in love with his passion for Iceland and the way he really made the country the focus of his photos, while also still perfectly capturing the people in them in natural ways. And that's what we wanted. We decided to meet him at Reynisfjara and spend a couple of very windy hours having our photos taken, and we could not be happier with having these moments captured. Especially because there's no way we could set up a tripod in those winds to attempt to take photos ourselves. The winds were so strong that day at the beach that toward the end, we couldn't even stand without holding each other up. It was actually kind of amazing and an experience we'll never forget. I'm so grateful to Evan for capturing those moments. We don't have our photos back from him yet, but I will update once we do.

After photos at Reynisfjara, we walked around town to grab a quick lunch at Halldorskaffi, which was so homey and cozy. We both got homemade pizzas which tasted incredible after being out in the very cold winds for two hours. Then, we were on our way to make that really, really long drive. Stay tuned.

A complete packing list with links will be its own post. Coming soon!

Our trip to Iceland was the first time we used Booking.com, and it has quickly become my new favorite way to book accommodations for a trip. It consistently has the most competitive prices, and also shows you results for hostels, guesthouses and hotels in all ranges. Iceland hotels can be pricey, so having guesthouses as an option on Booking.com allowed us to compare prices for all different kinds of places and find the best place for us within our budget. I absolutely love this website and can't recommend it enough.






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