The Land of Fire and Ice
Iceland has quickly become one of the hottest destinations in the world, and it only takes a quick scroll through @InspiredByIceland’s Instagram feed to see why.
The country is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes on the globe: Dust swirls over red, sulfur-streaked deserts, steam boils off cloudy-blue geothermal pools and icy glacial streams rush over inky volcanic rock into pools of crystal-clear water.
There’s nowhere else in the world where these natural sights can be found in such proximity or on an equal scale.
"Our land of lakes forever fair, below blue mountain summits, of swans, of salmon leaping where the silver water plummets."
In August 2017, a friend and I took a long-awaited trip to Iceland. We had been planning the trip for years and had accumulated a lengthy list of places to see and things to do.
After our 10-day road trip around the Ring Road, following the leads and tips from tourists that had gone before us, I've named these three places *musts* to add to your list. Take my word for it – you won’t be disappointed!
Flatey Island remains my favorite part of Iceland. It’s located in the middle of the Breiðafjörður Bay, more than a 3-hour drive north of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. During the summer it has visitors, but there are only five people who live on the island all year.
It’s only accessible by ferry boat, and you can’t bring your car. You board the boat from the south at Stykkishólmur or from the north at Flókalundur. Our 2-hour boat ride was speckled with sightings of minke whales, dolphins and sharks.
You can also send your car across the sea and stop for the night on the island – which is what we did.
There’s only one hotel on the island: Hotel Flatey ($250), a 12-room bed-and-breakfast-style hotel that’s only open from June-August. The island has limited fresh water supply, so you share bathrooms with the other guests. They have toilets on the room floors and a room of showers in the basement; in our experience, we never had to wait for either. The rooms are larger than any of the other rooms we stayed in Iceland (which by American standards is still small), but they were clean, the beds were comfy, and the room windows opened up to an incredible view of the sea. Your stay includes breakfast, an amazing spread of puffed wheat porridge, warm-baked bread, skyr, fruit and plenty of juices and coffee.
There’s also only one place to eat on Flatey, and it’s the restaurant connected to the hotel. The seafood is caught fresh, and many of the vegetables are sourced from the island’s small garden.
While the herb-crusted lamb was incredible, you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten their blue mussels stewed in a ginger and white wine broth mixed with carrots, onion and cilantro. Hands down the best meal we had the entire trip.
One of the most beautiful experiences was watching the sunset over the bay. The sun cast a deep palette of purples, blues and oranges as it set behind the glacier peaked fjords across the bay.
There’s also a walking path that goes around the island. Not only is it uneven, it’s also littered with poop from the island’s sheep population, so it’s a bit more of an adventure than we anticipated. You’re able to hike out to see a statue that, ehm… is quite interesting (I won’t give it away), and you’re also able to visit the island’s church and library.
If you’re a big city lover who loves to party, Flatey Island isn’t the place for you. But if you’re interested in incredible food, amazing views and meeting warm hospitable Icelanders, then you’ll love this place.
There’s a reason why Seljalandsfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Not only does the water cascade 200-feet, you can also walk behind the falls for an up-close and personal view.
From the parking lot, it’s a short walk up to the waterfall path. While there have been attempts to create more accessible walking paths, the stairs and dirt paths are slick and dangerous, with limited railings to keep you from plunging into the pool below.
You’ll also get wet. The mist from the waterfall is unavoidable, and by the time we were done, my jeans and hiking boots were soaked.
But all that aside, it’s still an unreal experience to stand behind one of the largest waterfalls of its kind and hear the roar of the water as it charges over the ledge.
Its proximity to the capital region makes this an easily accessible destination – and a must-see for anyone going to Iceland.
The last spot on my list is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, located in the southern region of Iceland.
You’re driving along the Ring Road from the west when you see an unassuming rocky hill and a small parking lot. If you don’t know it’s there, you’ll miss it. After you get out of your car and brave the strong winds to the top of the small hill, and you’re met with the most amazing sight: Toilet-cleaner blue icebergs everywhere. So blue, that they almost look fake. And it’s free!
You can book boat tours to get up-close and personal, but I found them to be fantastic even from shore. Then, if you get back in your car and drive down the road a bit more, right before a bridge is a pull off to the beach on the right. Diamond Beach is named for the broken pieces of icebergs that have washed up on shore, giving the appearance of diamonds glittering on the black sand.
It’s a two-for-one stop that’ll make for excellent pictures and even better memories.