If anyone ever told me I would grow up to become a fan of cold weather trips, I would have told them they were lying. No sir, no ma’am. I loathe winter and find nothing enjoyable about it (except for the occasional days I’m snowed in and get to play hooky from work). I’ve spent 99.9% of my life as a resident of Chicago; a city that enjoys about 3 good months of hot summer weather per year. And couple that with the fact I was born just shy of the summer solstice, it would only make sense that I denounce all things cold. Well, I did until I traveled to Iceland back in April of 2016. Over the course of 4 days and 3 nights, I fell in love with a new territory.
Iceland is a destination that completely contradicts itself. At first glance, it’s cold, dreary, and melancholy on the surface. But once you start to peel back it’s intricate layers and immerse yourself into it’s culture, you will be pleasantly surprised by its beauty, warmth, art, and joy. When I visited last year, I KNEW I would return and did just that a few months ago. Coming back the second time offered me the opportunity to dig deeper into its beauty and gain an even greater appreciation for Icelander life. During my first visit (you can read about it here: Don’t sleep on Iceland), I explored the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, and the Northern Lights. The second time around, I added sightseeing in Reykjavik, whale watching, and South Coast to my itinerary.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a city that is very near and dear to my heart. Its art beauty, and culture captured my spirit the first time I came to visit last Spring. The city is adorned with eclectic street art and is home to significant landmarks, museums, and quaint restaurants and shops, collectively known as “city center”. Most tourists explore it by foot and it’s a short walking distance should you choose to stay at one the bordering large chain hotels. Reykjavik truly reflects the heart of urban Icelandic culture. For this reason, many tourists opt to stay at one of it’s many Airbnbs, as opposed to the large chain hotels located on the outskirts of city center.
Hallgrímskirkja church is one of Reykjavik’s best known landmarks and its tower is visible throughout the city. The structure was erected in 1986 and took almost 40 years to complete from start to finish. Entry into the church is free. However, there is an entry fee to enter the tower of the church (Adults: 900 ISK, Children: 100 ISK). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to capture a view from the tower as it closes promptly at 5 pm. But no worries, I have an excuse to visit next year!
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
Yes, you translated that correctly. Also known as “the penis museum”, The Icelandic Phallological Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to ahem…penises and houses more than 215 penis and penile parts from land and sea animals. Its collection also contains 4 human penile parts that were “gifted” by certified donors. Admission is 1500 ISK and the museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm. They also sell really cool penis related gifts. It’s located right in the heart of Reykjavik. I highly recommend a stop there during your visit. I mean, how cool is it the be the only person in your circle that has visited a penis museum? Not many people share those bragging rights.
If you want a break from land activities, Iceland offers activities by boat such as whale watching and the Northern Lights chase. I recommend the tour company Special Tours. They offer round trip pick up service at your hotel (or Airbnb) and the guides are very professional and informative. Exploring Iceland by sea offers captivating views of the Reykjavik city center district and the calm beauty of the Arctic ocean. The boat departs from Old Harbor (located in city center) and the tour lasts about 3 hours. The boat provides free wifi (gotta post those selfies on social media) and a has two lower cabins that sells souvenirs, refreshments, and coffee. The lower cabins also provide needed warmth if becomes too cold on the main deck. Actually, there is no ‘if”. It WILL become too cold. While floatable overalls to wear over your clothes are provided, I cannot stress the importance of dressing warmly. Warm hats, gloves, and footwear are your best friend. If you are prone to sea sickness (which 75% of us found we were by the time we made it out to sea), anti-sea sickness tablets are available free of charge. Sea sickness and the unpredictable (and sometimes low) probability of seeing any whales are the downside of this tour. We never saw any whales, but we did capture some amazing views of the dolphins. Overall, it was a great experience. The cost of the tour runs about 9.890 ISK.
The next five landmarks I will cover are located in South Iceland. For this tour, I utilized Geoiceland, the same tour company I did last year when I toured the Golden Circle. The tour costs about 13.900 ISK and lasts a full day, approximately 10 hours. Our first stop landed us at Skógafoss Waterfall. This waterfall is situated on the Skoga River and is about a 2 hour drive from Reykjavik. It is considered to be one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland and there is no entry fee.
Sólheimajökull Glacier Walk
Next, we made our way to Sólheimajökull (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either), one of Iceland’s most popular locations for glacial walking and ice climbing. There is no entry fee. The hike starts off moderate, but becomes challenging against the cold, strong winds. I mean, the wind literally takes your breath away. But the challenge and frost bitten face and fingertips are totally worth it once you reach to summit. It’s the most peaceful, yet coldest area I have ever visited. I never thought it was possible to feel both at the same time.
Due to inclement weather, our South Iceland tour was cut a little short. To make up for it, we made a stop to Eyjafjallajökul (nope, I can’t pronounce this one either). This glacier is actually the site on an active volcano. Its last major eruption occurred back in April of 2010. Seismic activity is common and it’s frequently monitored by the Icelandic Meterological Office.
Yep, you guessed it, another waterfall; but not just any waterfall. Seljalandsfoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland. What’s so special about it? Well, it’s one of the only large waterfalls in the world that you are able to stand behind. This landmark is popular for many tourists and offers breathtaking views year round.
Our final stop was an impromptu visit to Urridafoss Waterfall. Again, this stop was to make up for the portion of the tour that was cut short. This beauty contains the largest salmon stock in Iceland and is a popular site for fishing…I guess when it isn’t completely frozen?
This sums up my visit to South Iceland. Following the unexpected of death of my mom just a couple of months prior, this visit offered me a much needed retreat. I think that’s what connects my heart and soul to this destination: it’s my retreat from the outside world. As soon as I step off the plane, I feel a million miles away from all that plagues and stresses me at home. It’s the perfect destination to disconnect and regroup. It’s calm. It’s peaceful. It’s serene. Iceland is my sanctuary.