I was in Iceland for a week. I saw crazy street art, gorgeous mountains and lava fields, and I think over two dozen waterfalls large and small. I enjoyed two hot springs, climbed an old volcano crater (Saxholl) and ate some good food. Every time my friends and family ask me what I thought about Iceland, or what I did in Iceland, I almost freeze up because I did so much I don’t even know where to begin. I could honestly write like 5 pages about it all. But I want to leave it up to others to experience their own adventures, and I don’t want to talk your ear off, so I am going to just highlight my three favorite experiences.
When we asked our driver from the airport about the best hotspring he actually discouraged us from seeing Blue Lagoon and instead recommended Laugarvatan Fontona (We ended up doing both because we could). If you are the sort that shies away from tourism and wants a more ‘real’ experience while still experiencing nice facilities, then Laugarvatan Fontona is definitely the hot spring to pick. It is also a lot more affordable, costing close to just half of what the Blue Lagoon costs. And best of all, unlike the Secret Lagoon or Blue Lagooon, Laugarvatan Fontona does not require reservations so if you drag your feet or wing it you can still actually go. When we went there were about a dozen people in each of the four pools, but it was by no means crowded.
So where is Fontona? Well, it is right on the Golden Circle road (Route 37), between Thingvellir National Park and Geysir. However, I wouldn’t recommend stopping at it when you pass it the first time. I would recommend driving past it, doing Geysir and Gulfoss, then visiting Fontona at the end of the day as your last event. It was so incredibly relaxing to soak in the hot springs after running around all day. There is alcohol served through a window right by the pools and I can’t say there was anything more refreshing than sipping wine while soaking in 100*F waters and watching the sky fading to dark over the lake. Oh yea, did I mention the hot springs is right next to a lake? One of the pools even has windows so you can look out on the lake while soaking.
There are also 3 steam rooms and a sauna. I’ve never personally enjoyed saunas before, but it seemed appropriate to use one after soaking in the hot springs. For once I did enjoy it, just being warm and refreshed after such a cold day. The sauna also had a window so you could take in the gorgeous setting. Basically this whole hot spring just embraces the stunning views and nature, and was a thoroughly wonderful place to visit.
All in all, my group spent two and a half hours at the hot spring for just under $40 USD. This location rents towels for 800 krona and provides lockers. Like all Icelandic hot springs you are expected to wash before, but they weren’t too strict about doing it in the nude or not. It did have a cafe, but I cannot attest to the food. The facilities were clean, the staff was pleasant, and it was just a very relaxing time.
I don’t even recall who told our group about the Raudfeldsgja Gorge (A shop keeper, a pamphlet, I really don’t know), but I’m glad they did. It was one of the coolest things we experienced while in Iceland that was not part of any structured event. It was just a dot on the map. When you get there, there’s simply a gravel parking lot, a sign, and a well worn path towards the sheer cliff wall.
As you can see, it is completely snowed over, and this was in April where most other places were grassy or thawing out by now. In fact 3 days into our trip this was the first time I had stepped on snow since arriving in Iceland. So yea, the path was more than a little slippery and slick with ice, so unless you are there in the summer I would offer caution. Its a short walk (15 minutes), but once you reach the gorge it requires walking through the creek by crossing over the icy rocks. We went slow and used the walls for support. Actually, my boots are water resistant up to the ankle so I threw caution to the wind and walked in the water several times. There’s more than a few spots that are very shallow, so that actually worked well.
I know that makes it sound dangerous, but I’m just saying be cautious. Its so worth doing though. Inside there is a small area covered in moss with icicles dripping down the walls. It felt… otherwordly. Calm, separated and closed off from everything else. When my group got into the gorge it was just us, and we had a few moments of silence to just reflect. It was probably the coolest thing we found in that land of natural beauty, outside of the glacier ice cave.
The Glacier Hike
Speaking of the ice cave, I’ll get to that within this section. Because yea, the glacier had an ice cave inside it! The glacier that was huge and magnificent and needed special spikes strapped to our shoes in order to climb. It was a lot of fun. If you want an experience that screams ICELAND, this is the one to have. You’ll need to do a guided tour, as the glaciers are too dangerous to do solo and require equipment, but I thought that the $135 cost was worth it. The tour lasted about 3 hours and was filled with informative conversation about how glaciers work and how they are changing shape over time in Iceland.
In no particular order, here are some cool things we did while on the glacier:
- We ate fresh ice on the glacier. I’m not sure if you can call water/ ice delicious but it was certainly better tasting than most water. We only got to do this as it had snowed the night before and we were the first tour of the day. Later, it gets too dirty and isn’t advised.
- We climbed down into a bit of a ravine, complete with a waterfall and a stream, all inside the glacier. Glaciers are not bland, boring blocks of ice and snow. They have ridges and valleys, deep ravines and holes. There would be straight drop offs in the ice that we had to avoid while walking, but we got to climb down into one of them which was really cool. Also, seeing a waterfall inside a glacier is pretty crazy too. Apparently when the melt happens a lot of streams develop through the glacier itself. Tunnels and paths develop. Basically glaciers have a lot going on you don’t see at first glance.
- Oh, and the ICE CAVE. This thing was the coolest. Basically, water flowed through part of the glacier and hollowed it out, creating a tub through part of the glacier. Then we got to walk down into it. It started raining while we were down in there, but that was fine because there was an ice/glacier roof over our head. The colors in the walls down in this cave were incredible. So many shades of blue. I think it was one of my favorite things I saw in Iceland. Seriously, we only got to stay down there for ten minutes but I could have spent so much more time in that cave/ tunnel.
Iceland was a wonderful place and these were just a few of the stand out experiences we got to have. I mean there was one day we so saw many cool things that I almost forgot that we’d been to a beach that morning with a seal colony (Ytri-Tunga). That just shows how much there is to do in Iceland that I could forget something like that, considering I love animals. Even the driving, which usually isn’t fun at all, was enjoyable in Iceland as the landscapes are so fascinating. I come home from this trip with a greater appreciation of the natural beauty our planet has to offer, and a serious wunderlust to see more of it.
This was my first trip abroad and I do not think it will be my last. I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the amazing things Iceland has to offer. It is definitely worth visiting.