Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: Iceland (Page 1 of 2)

Entrance to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland - Is it worth visiting?

Should You Visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland?

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s top tourist attractions. Its stunning blue waters contrast beautifully against the surrounding black volcanic rock, but its immense popularity leaves many potential visitors wondering if it’s too touristy to bother with. There are numerous pros and cons for visiting the Blue Lagoon, and you should weigh them all before deciding to buy a ticket or skip it.

Should you visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland?

Why you should visit the Blue Lagoon

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Steaming geysers at Iceland's Geysir area

Iceland’s Golden Circle in Winter

The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s top tourist attractions. Easily accessible as a day trip from Reykjavik, it offers a taste of some of the truly incredible natural wonders the country has to offer. Encompassing three separate attractions, Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss, this well-trafficked area combines spectacular scenery, Icelandic history, and a chance to see geothermal action up close. Visiting the Golden Circle in winter not only helps avoid the crowds, but the snow-cover also lends an additional layer of beauty to already gorgeous landscapes.

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

When heading northeast from Reykjavik, Þingvellir National Park is the first place you’ll pass on your Golden Circle route. Steeped in both human and geologic history, this was my favorite stop. The broad rift valley central to the park is the result of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates separating. Ever so slowly, the two continental plates are pulling apart, widening this rift. Adventurous visitors can even scuba dive in the rift, though I didn’t get to try that on my visit.

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Viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Top Tips for Viewing the Northern Lights

Viewing the Northern Lights (or Southern!) is high on many bucket lists. One of my main goals on my recent trip to Iceland was to see them for the first time, and we had phenomenal luck, spotting them four out of our six nights there. There’s no sure-fire way to guarantee that you’ll see an aurora, but here are my top tips for spotting the Northern Lights.

Visit somewhere that experiences the Northern Lights regularly

Viewing the northern lights

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Diamond Beach in Iceland

15 Pictures to Put Diamond Beach on Your Iceland Bucket List

The Ring Road around Iceland’s perimeter is jam packed with stunning scenery. One of my most memorable stops was Diamond Beach, a spectacular black sand beach where icebergs from the famous Jökulsárlón lagoon wash up. As the ice chunks head out to sea, some of them are pushed back ashore by wind and waves, creating a landscape of ice boulders that is a virtual playground for photographers. It’s beautiful, and a must-see stop on your Ring Road trip. Keep reading for my fifteen favorite pictures that will inspire you to visit Diamond Beach in Iceland.

Ice boulders on Diamond Beach in Iceland

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Litli Geysir Hotel

The Geysir area is one of the most iconic stops on Iceland’s Golden Circle route. Imagine spending the night in a room where you can see its most active geyser, Strokkur, erupting right from your window. That’s exactly what we experienced at the Litli Geysir Hotel in Haukadalur. The hotel doesn’t look like much when you approach, but the interior is beautiful and the service was top-notch. It’s a fantastic choice when you’re looking for affordable hotels near Geysir.

View of geysers from the Litli Geysir Hotel in Iceland

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Viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland

The Amateur’s Guide to Photographing the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are one of nature’s greatest wonders. Taking pictures at night can be challenging, and it helps to have some decent equipment, but even a cell phone can capture them at their brightest. Here’s how I – with no formal training – took some pretty good pictures of one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena. Read on for my best tips for photographing the Northern Lights.

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Familiarize yourself with your camera settings

The beginner's guide to photographing the northern lights

You’ll need to practice adjusting your camera settings a bit first – you don’t want to spend the whole time flipping through unfamiliar menus – but even an amateur photographer can get some pictures worth sending home. The automatic modes that take great daylight shots aren’t going to cut it for shooting the Northern Lights. You don’t necessarily need a lot of technical knowledge, but you should dig through the menus and check out the different options available to you. Practice setting your camera on manual mode (usually the M on the dial if your camera has one) and following the tips in this article somewhere else in advance.

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Be prepared for the beauty of Jokulsarlon with this packing list for winter in Iceland

What to Pack for Winter in Iceland

Winter is an incredible time to visit Iceland, and offers the best chance to see the Northern Lights there. However, winter travel has its challenges and requires a bit more packing than a warm-weather beach vacation. Everything we found in Iceland was expensive, so you’ll want to bring everything you need to avoid making pricey purchases. Here’s my essential packing list for winter in Iceland. I left off the basics like underwear and a toothbrush because I have faith that you’ll know to bring things like that.

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Outer Wear

Waterproof winter coat

This is important. It’s going to be cold. When packing for winter in Iceland, it’s important to set yourself up to be warm and safe by bringing a good coat. I’ve always been partial to Columbia coats like these. Mine is a couple years old now and no longer on sale but I love the ability to separate the two layers in case it warms up a little – and it did on my trip. Columbias also have a metallic heat blanket-style lining that keeps you warm without a lot of bulk. Make sure the outer shell is waterproof, as you’ll likely be encountering snow, rain, or mist from waterfalls. My advice? Pick one of the pretty, bright colors that’ll stand out in pictures, because you’re going to be wearing your coat in most of them.

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25 Pictures to Put Iceland on Your Winter Bucket List

You’ve probably heard about the spectacular beauty of Iceland. After spending a week roadtripping around the country, I’m convinced that it’s the most condensed concentration on natural beauty that I’ll ever see. It’s a relatively small island, but every corner is crammed with swoon-worthy sights. 80% of the landscape doesn’t even look like it belongs on this planet. Here are my favorite 25 pictures that will put Iceland on your winter bucket list.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

We were incredibly lucky to have this ice cave in the Vatnajökull glacier to ourselves for a few short minutes. The blue light filtering through the ice was incredible. We visited as part of a snowmobiling and ice caving tour – read about our adventure here.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

This one looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Sunset over the fjords in Borgarnes, Iceland

Sunset over the water from Borgarnes was the perfect way to end a day. The pinks and purples on the snow-covered mountains were spectacular. Don’t miss the fjord region on your visit.

Northern lights in Iceland

Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for the longest time. We got incredibly lucky and saw them on four different nights on our trip. We relentlessly refreshed cloud tracking maps hoping and hoping for clear nights, and on this evening driving along the Ring Road, we appeared to be in the only pocket of clear sky in the whole country. Want tips to snap photos like this? Check out my Amateur’s Guide to Photographing the Northern Lights.

Northern lights in Iceland

A tripod and a slow exposure are key to getting good Northern Lights pictures, but don’t forget to enjoy the show yourself while snapping pictures.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

This zebra striped iceberg floating in the Jökulsárlón was my favorite. The black stripes come from volcanic ash deposited by long-ago eruptions.

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The mirror-like water of Jökulsárlón was thoroughly captivating.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

I could’ve spent an entire day just taking pictures of Jökulsárlón.

Dusk over Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is just as magical at dusk.

Ice boulders on Diamond Beach in Iceland

After the icebergs leave Jökulsárlón, some of them make it out to sea. Others get washed up on the shore at Diamond Beach. The black sand there is covered with ice boulders that have been pushed in by the relentless waves. It’s a stunning scene.

Entrance to an ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

The entrance to this ice cave looms at the base of the Vatnajökull glacier under the pink skies of sunset.

Entrance to the cavern hiding the Gljufrabui waterfall in Iceland

Gljúfrabúi, the “secret” waterfall hidden behind a rock ledge peeks out through the opening  carved out by the stream flowing away. In order to see the whole waterfall, you have to wade through the water to enter the cavern or climb up the front of the rock wall. Read about exploring it here.

Gljufrabui, the

Getting to see all of Gljúfrabúi is worth getting a little wet.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. You can walk behind it along the edge of the cavern in the rock wall during the warmer months.

DC-3 plane wreckage in Iceland

In 1973, a US Navy plane crash landed on this stretch of black lava desert – don’t worry, all crew members survived – and the wreckage has sat here exposed to the elements ever since. It’s about a 4km walk from the Ring Road, but it’s an eerily beautiful sight. This picture wasn’t black and white – it’s still in true color. The sky was perfectly grey that day.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s not the ultimate experience, but it’s still a lot of fun. I enjoyed the swim-up bar and the relaxing artificial cave. If you visit in the winter, make sure to explore the whole lagoon to find the warmer spots.

Northern lights over the Geysir area in Iceland

We stayed across the road from the famous Geysir area one night and were treated to some spectacular Northern Lights. The geyser Strokkur erupted several times as we watched the dazzling show in the sky. It was an incredible Iceland experience.

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

The adorable Icelandic horses can be spotted all over the country, and what better way to get up close and personal with them than by taking a horseback ride? I think we found the best spot possible  when we stumbled across riding stables in Vik. Trotting along the black sand beach with the iconic Reynisdrangar rock formations just offshore was incredible. Read about that experience here.

Northern Lights over the Foss á Síðu waterfall in Iceland

The Northern Lights weren’t as bright when we passed by this lesser-known, but still beautiful waterfall called Foss á Siðu, but they make for a perfect backdrop.

Steaming earth and an eruption of Strokkur geyser in the Geysir area, part of the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Geysir area is covered with steaming pools and geysers that give it an unearthly feel. Though the famous Geysir rarely erupts any more, the smaller geyser, Strokkur, right next to it shoots water into the air every few minutes.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter, part of the Golden Circle

The snow and ice surrounding Gullfoss make it somehow more beautiful.

Winding road through the Golden Circle during winter in Iceland

This road, part of the popular Golden Circle route winds through the Icelandic country side.

Waterfall in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This waterfall, found in the Þingvellir National Park tumbles down into the rift valley formed by the North American and Eurasian continental plates separating.

Rift valley in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This broad flat valley formed by the continental rift was also the site of the first Viking parliaments, giving it both geological and historical significance.

Icelandic horses in Iceland

Don’t pass up the opportunity to see the beautiful Icelandic horses while you’re visiting. You’ll want to spend hours photographing them.

What would you most like to see on a visit to Iceland?

Looking for an itinerary that encompasses all of these photo spots? Look no further. Here’s my perfect 6-day southern Iceland roadtrip itinerary.

Read more about Iceland here:

25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, an ice cave, and the Northern Lights

The Best Spot to Ride Icelandic Horses

Iceland is full of natural beauty, with landscapes that will take your breath away, but one of the highlights of any trip there is a chance to see the adorable Icelandic horses up close. They’re thoroughly adorable, and should not be missed. These small horses – not ponies – were brought to the island centuries ago and have been bred to live in the often harsh climate. In order to protect the integrity of the breed, strict rules are enforced. Once a horse leaves Iceland for any reason, it can never return, and no horses (or any other livestock) can be imported.

Going horseback riding is the perfect way to get up close to these miniature beauties, and the black sand beach at Vik provides a stunning backdrop for your excursion. It’s less famous than nearby Reynisfjara, but I liked the view of the rock formations from Vik better, and it was much less crowded.

An unexpected discovery

Our trip was completely unplanned, as we hadn’t even looked into going horseback riding prior to arriving in Vik. We were out taking pictures of the beach one morning when we saw a group trotting along on their horses. We immediately started looking online to figure out how we could book a trip of our own and found Vik Horse Adventure. We called that day and were lucky enough to get spots in the first group the next morning. This is definitely something you’d want to book ahead of time during busier seasons so you don’t miss out on the opportunity.

We met at the stables bright and early the next morning and got ready to go. They’re located right off of the beach in the main area of town. We had a beautiful, sunny day – probably the nicest weather of our trip – and we were eager to start our adventure.

Meet Von

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

My girl, Von

I got to ride a cute little chestnut horse named Von, which translates to “hope” in Icelandic. She’s evidently a show horse and a young girl rides her in competitions.

After mounting up, we had a chance to ride around on our own in the paddock for a few minutes to get the feel for controlling the horses. The way European style riders use the reins is a little bit different than the western style steering that I’ve always used. It’s not difficult to learn, but it is a slight adjustment if you’re used to only using one hand on the reins. Our guides showed us what we needed to do and gave us pointers throughout the ride, so don’t worry about not being able to get the hang of it.

Exploring the Beach

I’m not an experienced rider by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve gone on a few trail rides over the years at different locations in the US. I’m used to sort of walking slowly in a single-file line, but this was way more fun. We set off at a walk and circled around by the beach before heading back inland for a minute. We got to wade the horses through a stream, too. One of my boots got pretty wet from the splashing, but it was really fun.

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

For the grand finale, we headed back down near the water and our guides dismounted to snap some pictures of us, which was very nice. After that, they asked us if we’d be comfortable going a little faster, to which we enthusiastically said yes.

We took off at a fast trot, running across the beautiful black sand toward the craggy rock formations that sit just offshore. It was thrilling. Especially when Von got a bit too excited and galloped for a few steps. I was able to reign her in quickly though, and made sure we were keeping pace with the other horses for the rest of the way.

Once we crossed the beach, we continued at a walking pace along the bottom of the ridge and returned to the stable. After we dismounted, and their saddles were removed, the horses frolicked in their fenced in area and took the opportunity to roll in the sand in their pen.

Icelandic horse rolling on her back in black sand

There’s nothing like a roll in the sand (and manure) after a nice morning run.

Though we hadn’t even planned on doing it, going for a ride on the Icelandic horses was one of the more memorable activities we did on our trip. A ride with Vik Horse Adventure currently costs 9000 ISK per person, and there are plenty of other riding stables located around the country. If you want a top notch view for your ride, this is the place to do it.

Did you get to meet any Icelandic horses while visiting? Tell me about your favorite encounters in the comments.

Looking for other activities for your trip to Iceland? Check these posts out:

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Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik is the best way to get close to Iceland's famous and adorable Icelandic horses.Pin - Horses2Pin - Horses

Discovering Gljúfrabúi – Iceland’s Secret Waterfall

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, odds are you’ve seen pictures of the most famous waterfalls. You’ll be able to recognize Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss on sight. Far too many visitors overlook the “secret” waterfall, Gljúfrabúi aka Gljúfrafoss on their visit, though. You may have heard the phrase, “don’t go chasing waterfalls” before, but this is one occasion on which you should definitely ignore those words of wisdom.

Whereas Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are easy to spot as you approach from the Ring Road, Gljúfrabúi makes visitors work to experience its beauty. It’s well-worth the effort to get up close to this hidden gem.

If you’re driving the Ring Road, you can’t pass up a chance to take pictures of Seljalandsfoss and explore the cave behind it. However, far too many people end their visit there and miss Gljúfrabúi without even realizing how close they are to another beautiful sight.

If you cross the bridge over the stream beneath Seljalandsfoss and keep walking along the path along the cliff, you’ll be treated to several small cascades tumbling down from above. It will be tempting to turn back because it doesn’t look like there’s anything up ahead, but keep going, because Gljúfrabúi isn’t much further.

View of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

It doesn’t look like much from the outside. (Try to ignore all of the water on my lens)

It doesn’t look like much as you approach because you’ll only be able to see the top of it before it disappears behind a wall of rock. If you want to enjoy the full view – and it’s worth it – you’ll have to either wade into the cavern through the stream or climb the rock wall in front of it.

Wading Through the Stream

Walking through flowing water didn’t seem very appealing on the chilly winter day when we visited, but we were already thoroughly soaked from rain and mist from Seljalandsfoss, so we decided to go for it. You’ll definitely want to make sure you have waterproof boots for this adventure.

Opening leading to Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

Prepare to get wet

We followed another visitor in, and she did most of the hard work for us. She figured out that there were enough larger rocks that you could step from one to the other without having to put your feet all the way into the stream. Staying to the right allows you to hold onto the wall for balance. I managed to get in and out without getting my feet wet, but my sister slipped on the way out and took some water over the top of one of her boots. I wouldn’t attempt this if you’re afraid of falling.

The walk through the stream only lasted about 15 feet before we emerged into the cavern with a full view of Gljúfrabúi. Once you get back there, you’re on dry land again.

Well, solid land. Nothing back there is dry. The cavern is full of swirling mist from the waterfall and anything you bring back there will get wet. I had a protective plastic bag around my camera and it still got soaked. I didn’t even attempt to shoot any good pictures because I was afraid that I was going to ruin it.

Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

There was one other couple back there, so the five of us took turns snapping quick pictures of each other. It was a cool feeling to be back there enjoying the “secret” natural wonder roaring down in front of us.

The View From the Top

After we waded back out, we decided that it would be worth it to climb the rock wall to get the view from the top. It’s a slightly tough climb that was made a little treacherous by the mud caused by the constant rain that day, but we made it easily without any special equipment and less-than-ideal hiking boots.

We worked our way up about half way and then got to a spot where chains had been bolted into the rock face so you could hold on as you scooted along a narrow ledge. We were pretty high up by that point, so looking down below was a little intimidating.

View from the top of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

When we got to the top, we were faced with another rock wall. I had seen pictures of a small ladder there before, but it looked like it had been broken. Only one plank was still there, wedged up against the base of the bulging rock.

My sister tried to walk up it like a balance beam, but it was slippery from water and mud and her rain boots didn’t have the kind of traction needed, so she slipped off of it. We figured out that if one of us got a leg up on it and the other held their foot in place so it wouldn’t slide down, we could get up high enough to grab onto the rocks and make our way up to get a view.

View from the top of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

I’ve done some rock climbing on artificial walls, but this was my first time doing anything like bouldering in the real world. It was a lot of fun, but kind of stressful because 1. my boots did not have the kind of grip necessary for that 2. I was carrying a $1000 camera and 3. my American health insurance doesn’t cover me outside of the US.

After taking a few pictures, I determined that the best way down was just to lower myself as far as possible and then jump the last few feet. I passed my camera to my sister, felt my way backward down the face of the rock, and then took a leap into the snow-covered mud.

Bottom Line

This was a little adventure, but we had so much fun. It was by far my favorite out of the waterfalls we saw in Iceland, just because of the adventure involved in getting to it. I’m used to seeing sights like that safely behind railings and safety barriers, so getting to experience this waterfall up close and unrestrained felt wild and unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.

We were thoroughly soaked and covered with mud, so it’s a good idea to plan on changing clothes if you’re going to attempt this. Or wear those super cool rainproof pants that I chose not to buy for the trip. The good news is that there’s a bathroom – tiny and not exactly spotless, but functional – near the Seljalandsfoss parking lot, so you’ll be able to change if you need to. Guard any electronics you bring with you closely, as they can quickly become soaked. I wished I had brought the waterproof camera I had in my suitcase for this adventure because I came pretty close to ruining my good one trying to take pictures in the cavern.

Have you visited Gljúfrabúi? Have you had any other unique experiences in Iceland? Let me know in the comments.

Read more Iceland tips:

Discover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbingDiscover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbingDiscover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbing

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