Picturesque West Iceland

In this final throwback to memorable trips in 2018, I will be looking back on my trip to Iceland with my family right at the start of the year.

Iceland is a small Nordic country and is one of the least densely populated countries in the world with a population of over 350,000 inhabitants. Despite that, Iceland has been an increasingly popular tourist spot for the past number of years. Reykjavík is pretty much the only starting point for visiting Iceland. I don’t think any typical tourist would want to fly to other areas such as Akureyri in the north of Iceland.

Northern Lights (also known as aurora) are likely the top cited reason for visiting Iceland during the winter. They are aplenty from September to April and can even be seen near the capital Reykjavík, which is much more convenient then going to places like Tromsø in Norway or Abisko in Sweden to hunt for Northern Lights.

Other than the Northern lights, Iceland’s beautiful wilderness is another major attraction for tourists. Iceland has some of the most gorgeous and diverse landscapes you can find in Scandinavia; Glaciers, volcanoes, lava beds, fjords, waterfalls, hot springs and so on. What more can you ask for?

Despite the number of tourists here, Reykjavík itself is not the focal point since most of Iceland’s wonders are found outside the capital. The most iconic attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja church in downtown Reykjavík, and it is a really impressive architecture from the exterior and interior. Other popular attractions in Reykjavík are found along the harbour and include Harpa Concert Hall and Sun Voyager sculpture.

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Hallgrimskirkja church

Most of downtown Reykjavík is made up of shopping streets and eateries, so most of your time in the capital will likely be spent here. The city area is quite walkable and not that big. Thus, there is no need to use the public buses.

Sadly, for all the glory and wonders of Iceland, you might be shocked at how expensive Reykjavík is. The prices of food and drink in restaurants are especially laughable for budget travellers. Be mentally prepared; save money and get your meals from grocery stores.

I also heard a lot of talk on the need to rent a car in order to make the best out of your trip. Self-driving is probably a good way to save money, although fuel is expensive too. The weather in Iceland during the winter can also be quite unpredictable and suddenly bring about strong winds and snowstorms. That is not good news for inexperienced drivers.

I disagree wholly with the opinion that you need to drive in order to enjoy your stay here. Guided tours are very popular in Iceland and definitely a more relaxing way to explore this stunning country. There are loads of choices for guided tours. With slightly less than a week in Iceland, we decided to stick to exploring the west side of the country. Here are the few trips we made out of Reykjavík:

Northern Lights hunting

Why come to Iceland during the winter if you don’t try to catch the Northern Lights? Make sure to book this tour earlier in your trip because you can re-book the tour on another day for free if you didn’t see any lights.

Luckily, it took less than 2 hours for us to see the Northern Lights. It was a gorgeous sight indeed, although the lights you see live in front of your eyes are generally not as spectacular as the images on the Internet.

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Golden Circle

This is arguably Iceland’s most popular day tour. The Golden Circle is made up of 3 attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss and Geysir.

Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. You could choose to walk along both sides of the plates, but you won’t have time to do so if you are on a day tour.

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Thingvellir National Park

Gullfoss is Iceland’s most popular waterfall. And it is a really large site too.

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Gullfoss waterfall

Geysir geothermal area is most well-known for the Strokkur geyser, which sprouts hot water high into the air every few minutes.

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Strokkur geyser

Snaefellsnes

This was 2-day guided tour to visit the Snaefellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. Here we got to see a variety of landscapes like…

Waterfalls

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Hraunfossar waterfalls
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Hraunfossar waterfalls

Mountains

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Kirkjufell mountain
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Budir Church (The church in the middle of nowhere)

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even Icelandic horses from farmhouses

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Apparently they are a special breed of small horses

And dramatic coastal landscapes

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Djupalonssandur black sand beach (Sand made of volcanic and lava fragments)

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