Iceland is one of those out-of-this-world destinations where adventure is found around every corner. A country that is becoming an increasingly popular destination for people who are looking for different and diverse experiences. I soon realized that although this volcanic island is small, there is so much natural beauty packed in that you could spend a lifetime exploring its nooks and crevices without seeing it all. Whether you want to see glaciers, volcanoes, or the Northern Lights, there is certainly no shortage of attractions and interesting experiences that you can enjoy.
Before I get into exploring the Island, I want to mention, it is very important that you rent a car in Iceland! While the flights there from the US are super reasonable, taxis and transportation (and gas and food) are super expensive! We arrived at 5 am, and being the unprepared traveler and spontaneous person I usually am, we had not made reservations to rent a car. We soon found out that it would be $200 for a cab from the airport to downtown Reykjavik (for some context, it’s like going from Manhattan to JFK). Needless to say, we found ourselves in the cold waiting for the car rental agencies to open, going door to door until we found a reasonably priced rental! So if you take anything from this blog, be more prepared than we were, and rent a car before you arrive!
Now that we have that sorted out, lets move onto the good stuff. Our seat belts fastened, we set off to the Hotel Ranga. A two hour drive from the Reykjavik Airport, Hotel Ranga is a luxury hotel on the Southern coast of Iceland located off the main Ring Road between the towns of Hella and Hvolsvöllur. Surrounded by the active volcano Mt. Helka, a range of mountains and glaciers, and the Atlantic Ocean, it is also said to be one of the best places to see the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights, should you be so lucky.
As you drive down the main path leading into Hotel Ranga, you notice the beautiful log-cabin style fits perfectly with the idyllic landscape, and the hotel greeted us with welcome drinks on our arrival. After landing at 5am and then driving for two hours, we wanted our beds. Enveloped by comfort like a cocoon in my down comforter bed, we took a quick nap and then set out to explore Southern Iceland, which again is why it’s nice to have a car! We decided to take it easy the first day, which at that point was like 3 days wrapped into one with the time change and travel (I found myself not even knowing what day it was truly!). We set out to see some of the local waterfalls and the drive is beautiful. Don’t be surprised when you see horses roaming around the streets, and you don’t need to worry if they are cold as these are Nordic horses, indigenous to Iceland.
Coming back to Hotel Ranga, is like your home away from home, (if your home boasts a Michelin star restaurant on site). The restaurant is beautiful with floor to ceiling glass windows offering a panoramic view of the scenery outside. The restaurant only uses local ingredients of the highest quality and freshness, including fresh salmon right out of the Ranga river straight to the kitchen. They bake different breads fresh on site every day and offer it at every meal (I found myself asking the staff to please take the bread away from me before I ate entire baskets – this girl is getting married and wants to fit into her wedding dress, but the bread was just too good!). Also try to save room for dessert with the locally picked blueberry pancakes!
The second day, we decided to do a guided tour with Hidden Iceland. I was a little hesitant, as I have a short attention span and this was a twelve hour tour, but the day flew by! We did the Fire and Ice Tour, but it could also fittingly be named the Game of Thrones tour, as we saw many locations where the mega hit show was filmed. The tour picked us up at Hotel Ranga by van, and our guide Ryan and founder of company was amazing, not a boring tour guide just spewing out facts, you could tell he truly had a passion for Iceland and its natural phenomena. Also, the van had wifi, which was amazing. As you can imagine, it is sometimes hard for me to disconnect. We arrived at the Sólheimajökull Glacier, put on all our gear including cleats, and an Ice pick, and set up to hike the glacier. At one point I saw a crow fly above, and found my self saying, “look, theres the three-eyed raven.”
The second day, we decided to do a guided tour with Hidden Iceland. I was a little hesitant, as I have a short attention span and this was a twelve hour tour, but the day flew by! We did the Fire and Ice Tour, but it could also fittingly be named the Game of Thrones tour, as we saw many locations where the mega hit show was filmed. The tour picked us up at Hotel Ranga by van, and our guide Ryan and founder of company was amazing, not a boring tour guide just spewing out facts, you could tell he truly had a passion for Iceland and its natural phenomena. Also, the van had wifi, which was amazing. As you can imagine, it is sometimes hard for me to disconnect. We arrived at the Sólheimajökull Glacier, put on all our gear including cleats, and an Ice pick, and set up to hike the glacier. At one point I saw a crow fly above, and found my self saying, “look, theres the three-eyed raven.”
Our next location, was the famous black sand beach, name Reynisfjara, one of the most dangerous beaches, as the waves are truly huge, and if visiting in winter please make sure to bundle up, as it was cold!!! We returned to the van, and after hiking all day, and while renting a car is a must, at that moment, it was so nice to have a break from driving for the day. On the way back we saw two amazing waterfalls (Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss) and then finished off with a tour of the Lava Center, a museum dedicated to the Volcanoes in the area. Fun fact – I learned that Iceland has more active volcanoes than any other location in the world.
We could have spent much more time exploring Southern Iceland, but it was time to head towards Reykjavik the next morning. We decided to go see the Golden Circle (it should be mentioned, if traveling with me, never let me enter the destination in google maps). I ended up taking us on a detour, which took us all the way to the other end of the Golden Circle. But, Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle is an amazing experience, and can be explored in as little as a few hours- (although I would recommend going for as long as possible). The circular route covers about 300 kilometers and loops from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back.The route takes you through some of the most amazing sights in central Iceland, with scenery ranging from natural sites to historic buildings, and gives visitors the chance to experience the diversity of Iceland in a relatively short trip.The Golden Circle in total is a 2 hour drive, and with my map mishap, we ended up driving the whole circle, but it sure was a beautiful drive. While driving through Iceland, so much natural beauty is literally everywhere you look. You will often find yourself wanting to pull over and take a picture (again, its great to have a car!!) We pulled over, as I wanted to get one of those instagram worthy street shots (see below), and, after returning to the car, we were stuck! This was definitely an adventure. I told my friend to get out and push, but each of us only being 110 pounds and 5’3 on a good day, we were not moving anywhere fast. We ended up flagging down a car, and shortly after, in what appeared to be like dominoes, we had four cars stopped and seven men trying to push our car out. This is a perfect example of the type of people we encountered in Iceland. While winters are certainly cold there, the people have such warmth and are welcoming and helpful. Anyway, we eventually got free, and then continued our drive to Reykjavik.
We arrived at the Tower Suites Reykjavik, which was just the luxury we needed after a long days drive. Set on the twentieth floor of the building with floor to ceiling windows, our room was like a studio apartment people dream of in New York, but I definitely could not afford. Equipped with a telescope, Nespresso machine, complimentary refreshments stocked in our mini bar, it was exactly what we needed. The bathroom was equipped with a beautiful tub, heated floors, and a separate shower with two shower heads (give me all the shower heads). Every morning a beautiful breakfast spread was delivered to our door, and with our floor to ceiling windows, we arose to the breathtaking sight of the sun rising over Reykjavik each morning. Parking is also right out in front of the building, which is great because the less you have to be outdoors in the cold is nice, as it was freezing!
On our last day, we went to the Blue Lagoon, which seems obligatory when visiting Iceland. It’s safe to say that visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland is on just about everyone’s bucket list. It’s milky blue water and otherworldly appearance is like something out of a dream, and definitely a great spot to get an epic picture, but to me it seemed like more of a tourist trap. While I am happy I saw it, in hindsight, I would have rather of experienced one of the many smaller geo thermal pools located in Iceland that are not as publicized. Unless you can afford the hefty cost of $650 a person for the Retreat at Blue Lagoon, you will find yourself in a mass of people with white faces (Silicon masks for your skin). Despite all of that, it was a good way to end our trip soaking, in the blue waters is a wonderful way to de-stress and say goodbye to any worries you may have, all while keeping you warm in the weird Iceland weather, doing wonders for your skin!
All in all, I have to say that Iceland is amazing. Amazing is a word used all too often (I’m a frequent offender of its overuse), but in this instance, words like amazing, awesome and incredible truly apply. The island, which sits directly over the Mid Atlantic Rift (the longest chain of volcanoes in the world), has some of the most diverse and awe inspiring geographical and natural wonders in the world. This is one of those places that you can go back to and find new wonders to behold each time. The Summer is vastly different from the Winter, and both are beyond explanation. It’s no accident that so many movies and TV shows use Iceland as a location to film – much of it feels unreal (in the most amazing way).
#travel #iceland #tour #northernlights #tripadvisor #glacier #mthekla #hiddeniceland

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