My Year in Review: The Outcome of my 2018 New Year Resolution

A little over a year ago, I made a New Year resolution (discussed in a post that can be read here) that I would succeed in taking twelve trips in one year. Well, 2018 has come to an end, and … I failed.

By the end of 2018, I only succeeded in making 11 journeys. Many were relatively short and others took me further than I had ever dreamed I’d go. Obviously, in this case, failure is relevant as 2018 was definitely anything but that and was a year filled with some of the most memorable and adrenaline-inducing memories.

So where in the world did 2018 take me?

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (January 2018)

IMG_1397A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg National Military ParkIMG_1397A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Gettysburg National Military Park

Read More about this trip:
A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg
The Haunted Orphanage of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania ft. Jennie Wade House

Iceland (February 2018)

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Read more about this trip:
6 Days in Iceland: A Self-Drive Itinerary
The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At In Iceland

Boston, Massachusetts (March 2018)

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Read more about this trip:
How to Spend St.Paddy’s Day Weekend in Boston, Massachusetts

Southampton, New York (April 2018)

Wining in Southampton: Paumanok Vineyards & Jamesport Vineyards | The Hamptons | Wine Travel | AGBHOW | A Great Big Hunk of WorldIMG_3506

Read more about this trip:
Wining in Southampton: Paumanok Vineyards & Jamesport Vineyards

Chicago, Illinois (May 2018)

IMG_4216How to Experience Chicago in Two Days | Weekend Trips | US Travel | Chicago, Illinois | AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Wrigley Field | Chicago Cubs

Read more about this trip:
How to Experience Chicago in Two Days
A Review of Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Suites Hotel

Providence, Rhode Island / Newport, Massachusetts (July 2018)

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Walt Disney World – Orlando, Florida (August 2018)

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Read more about this trip:
Dole Whip Alternatives At Walt Disney World

Niagara, Canada / Watkins Glen, NY (September 2018)

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The United Arab Emirates (September 2018)

ee8fc4e8-40d6-43a8-b738-3e32622573f6What to Do When Visiting Ras Al Khaimah | Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert, Falcon Show | United Arab Emirates | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World | #AGBHOWWhat to Do When Visiting Ras Al Khaimah | Al Wadi | United Arab Emirates | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | A Great Big Hunk of World | #AGBHOW

Read more about this trip:
What to Do When Visiting Ras Al Khaimah


Baltimore, Maryland (December 2018)

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Woodstock, Vermont (December 2018)

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Despite coming up one trip short of my set goal, 2018 definitely did not leave me short of experiences. I saw one of my favorite Irish rock bands at the House of Blues, ended up on an entirely unplanned, last-minute trip to a country I didn’t plan to get to anytime soon, spent time with my family at the “most happiest place on earth” and one of our favorite places, and rang in my 25th birthday with a few beers and my closest friends in a secluded cabin under the northern lights.

I’d like to thank all the three day weekends and my boss who let me occasionally leave a couple of hours early to catch a flight. And I’d like to apologize to my professor whose online class I fell asleep halfway through due to the five-hour time difference while I was in Iceland.

I’ll probably have to slow down a bit for 2019, but I’m pretty sure 2018 provided me enough experiences to last me a lifetime – or at least until I have enough time for a vacation.

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10 Must-Pack Items for a Winter Trip to Iceland

Visiting Iceland in the winter provides some of the most beautiful scenery and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. That being said, winter in Iceland can also be notoriously unpredictable and weather can change quicker than you can say, “wow, I should’ve brought that face mask.” During my recent trip to Iceland, I can honestly say that for the most part, I was prepared. But there were definitely a couple of items I wish I had thought about purchasing, that would’ve saved me from some missteps along the way.

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I may earn a commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

1. A Portable Charger

  • I’m personally super biased towards the EVOTech Labs 3-Port Charger. Not only does this charger hold 3-5 charges depending on the type of phone or device that you have, but since I was traveling with a group of six, being able to charge three phones at once was a huge time saver. I’d charge our EVOTech each night and by the next morning we were good to go on charge for most of our day. And since cold weather is the kryptonite of iPhones, this was one of the best items we purchased for our trip.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

2. A Wireless Travel Router

  • A Wireless Travel Router is a definite must-have – whether you’re a die-hard Instagrammer trying to not to use up a week’s worth of data in an hour, or you’re lost and in need of some Google maps. We had actually purchased a portable hotspot with our car rental, but ended up carrying the little pod in one of our pocket’s everywhere where we went, giving us access to wi-fi for the entirety of our trip.
  • 10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

3. A Balaclava

  • During high winds in Iceland, which you’ll most definitely experience especially if you head up north in the winter time, you’ll have to deal with what feels like a slap in the face from the wind if you don’t make an effort to keep it covered. On our day exploring most of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, my Self Pro Balaclava saved me from crazy wind burn and helped me power through the harsh weather. Since I frequently try to persuade those around me to visit cooler regions, I’m definitely going to put this to good use.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

4. Crampons

  • Let me start off by saying that I chose not to purchase crampons or shoe chains before my winter trip to Iceland. Let me follow up by saying that I was about a foot from falling off of the Londrangar cliffs after slipping on black ice that I was unable to see. We laughed it off later, but it was actually a scary experience knowing that I could’ve ended up in the rough, freezing oceans below. For something so cheap and so potentially useful – be sure to purchase these before you go. Check out these OuterStar Traction Grips, at recommendation from the friend who stopped me from falling over the side of a cliff.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

5. Under Layer Clothing

  • I did a decent size shopping at Uniqlo and Under Armour prior to our trip, and I’d definitely recommend these two brands for under-clothing when visiting any highly cold region. Uniqlo has some awesome thin but warm leggings for both men and women, that can fit under your pants without discomfort. I also grabbed some long sleeve shirts from both spots that were thin enough to go under all the sweaters I had packed without causing overheating. Since my go-to outwear in cold weather are my North Face Fleece and Spyder Jacket, I wanted something warm, but that was thin enough to put over my shirts – but would also fit comfortably under both jackets. I ended up coming across spotting the Under Armour Women’s Tech 1/2 Zip and ordered it in Carbon Heather. Pro Tip: Packing for Iceland is all about the layers.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

6. Tech Gloves

  • Aside from your face and ears, exposing your fingers for even a few seconds can be unnecessarily painful. A couple of my friends experienced agony every time they took off their gloves to take photos on their phone. To avoid this, tech gloves are a great purchase. They allow you to use any touch screen as they’re designed with touch pads on the tip of each finger. Having had less-than-expected experiences with tech gloves in the past, I was a bit wary when ordering a new pair, but the OZERO Touchscreen Gloves worked like a charm. They’re listed as for men, but gloves are gloves and these had better reviews than some of the unisex pairs I had seen. Though, a guy friend of mine who purchased the same gloves suggests men order a size up.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

7. Hot Hands

  • When you forget your gloves or when you need something warm to stick in your pockets, HotHands are the perfect little sack of warmth. Growing up in New York, it wasn’t uncommon for our parents to purchase value packs of HotHands for us to carry on cold winter mornings, and naturally I had to bring some with me. Plus, I was able to be the hero for any of my friends who forgot their tech gloves.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

8. Winter Boots

  • Please do not try to manage the winter snow of Iceland in a pair of Nike sneakers or leather boots that are made for appearance rather than practicality. If you only wear one pair of shoes your entire trip, and I actually did, you’ll want a pair of winter boots that are warm and that keep your feet dry. While the streets of Reykjavik weren’t much of a problem when we visited in February, we battled some semi-deep snow when hiking through Thingvellir National Park. My boots of choice were SOREL Women’s Winter Carnival Snow Boots, which managed to water out even when I was walking through slush puddles.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

9. Hand Lotion

In general, I cannot stand when my hands are too dry, and this only worsens in winter time. Combine that with the cold, dry air of Iceland and I’d have been complaining non-stop if it weren’t for J.R. Watkins Hand Cream. For starters, ingredients include cocoa butters, aloe, and green tea which from experience, are some of the best ingredients when it comes to natural beauty products. But unlike many other hand creams, this one also doesn’t leave that semi-greasy residue that can be more irritating than dry hands.

10 Must-Pack Items For a Winter Trip to Iceland | Iceland Packing List | Iceland Travel | #AGHBHOW | ww.agreatbighunkofworld.com

10. Protein Bars

  • You’ll find that when traveling Iceland, more commonly when you leave Reykjavik and the surrounding area, that many restaurants are closed for the winter. While we were able to find a couple of spots that kept their doors open, having a box of protein bars in my bag was a huge savior especially during those long stretches of road. At one point, when we had to pull over due to a sudden close-to-zero-visibility snowstorm for a couple of hours, everyone was glad I had some Special K Meal bars to go around. Plus, if we’re being honest, food in Iceland isn’t cheap. Some protein bars and a pack of Skyr can you a decent amount on breakfasts.

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6 Days in Iceland: A Self-Drive Itinerary

When it comes to planning a trip to Iceland, especially during the winter months, it’s best to accept prior to your trip that every day may not go exactly as planned. While going through security before our flight home, we heard numerous groups discussing their own trips to Iceland, complaining that all of their tours had been cancelled or that they hadn’t been able to experience every single thing they thought they would.

So before we continue, take a deep breath, and accept that your plans may perhaps fall through. Winter weather in Iceland is wildly unpredictable, but at the same time, winter there is so visually stunning. I would’ve been fine if we did nothing but drive around “oohing” and “ah-ing” at volcanic ranges. Secondly, if you or another person in your party has experience with harsh winter driving, rent a car. I’m not saying that it is necessarily a smart idea to drive into a blizzard despite all tours being cancelled, I’m just saying that on certain days we drove into a blizzard despite all tours being cancelled.

All joking aside, renting a car gives you a lot more flexibility when it comes to your schedule. Whereas booking a tour could result in a wasted day, driving gave us the option to change our plans at last minute notice if roads were closed or there was inclement weather in certain areas. We definitely left Iceland having missed out on a couple things we had originally wanted to see, but to be honest, we experienced so much that those things were barely a thought. Plus, that just means we have to go back.
Day 1: Reykjavik
Day 2: The Golden Circle
Day 3: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Day 4: The Langjökull Glacier
Day 5: The South Coast
Day 6: The Blue Lagoon

Day 1: Reykjavik

Coming from New York meant that a majority of flights we could’ve booked would get us to Reykjavik at approximately 4:30am-6:30am the following day. Personally, I always prefer earlier arrival flights because I’m able to run on adrenaline for almost twelve hours after landing; but also because it can often mean a whole extra added day to your trip.

First things first: get your rental car. When you exit the “arrivals” area of Keflavik, you’ll find various car rental depots for popular car rental companies, such as Budget, Hertz, Enterprise, etc. However, if you’re like us and booked your car through a company exclusive to Iceland, you’ll have to hop on a shuttle to the actual rental car office. This shuttle is a bright yellow bus that you can catch at the designated bus stop about a minute walk from Keflavik. I’d assume if it were summer and you had minimal luggage that you might be able to walk to the rental office, because Blue Car Rental was the second stop and we were there in what felt like three minutes.

    • While I highly recommend Blue Car, please be smarter than we were. Just because a car says “7-seater” does not mean it’s the type of 7-seater you may be used to. In fact, once we stored our luggage, it only really fit five of the six of us. Sitting awkwardly atop two of my friends while my head was bent in an a 90 degree angle, definitely did not make for the most comfortable 45 minute ride to Reykjavik. To make matters worse, even after we unpacked our luggage, we consistently rotated since the back two seats were suitable for people 4″11 and under. Long story short, if you’re more than five, get a second car.
    • We opted to have Wi-fi included with our car rental and it was the greatest choice we made. Your wi-fi comes in the form of a portable little egg shape device that one us kept in our pocket even when we left the car. Because what’s better than being able to Snapchat data-free virtually everywhere you go?
    • Purchase all the car insurance. It’s better to pay upfront than have to worry about a potential large payment later.

Next stop: Breakfast.

It had been a goal of mine to have breakfast at the Laundromat Cafe, and luckily that’s exactly where we ended up at 8:00am on our first morning in Iceland. The Dirty Breakfast which consists of eggs, bacon, potatoes, tomato, sausage, and yogurt is just as heavenly as it sound, and the ambiance is a liberals paradise.

 

 

Unfortunately, I found out a few days ago that the Laundromat Cafe shut its doors just a week after we left. But never fear! The owner insists they are currently seeking another Reykjavik venue to re-open. Until then there are a boatload of other great spots for breakfast in Reykjavik like Bergsson Mathús, Cafe Bablu, and C is for Cookie.

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After breakfast, head to the Saga Museum; but don’t forget to stop along the way and appreciate the beauty of Mount Esja, which isn’t actually a mountain at all, but an entire volcanic range. We spent a good fifteen minutes just gawking at its beauty – this was before we realized that the entire country is one giant scenic view.

The Saga Museum uses life-like figures to depict different moments in Iceland’s history, and is a great way to learn a bit more about the country you’re visiting before diving right in.

The Saga Museum is open daily, from 10:00am-6:00pm and entrance is 2100kr ($20).

 

 

The next two stops are quintessentially Reykjavik. First, stop by the Sun Voyager statue for a quick photo opportunity. Jón Gunnar Árnason, the sculpture of the statue has said its design was meant to convey, “the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom.” In a way, it reminds me of the meaning behind the Statue of Liberty back home.

When visiting you’ll also have an excellent view of both Thufa, an outdoor art piece by Ólöf Nordal; and Harpa, the majestic concert hall of Reykjavik.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

From here, head over to Hallgrimskirkja. This structure which took 41 years to build is not only the largest church in Iceland, but is also among one of the largest structures of Iceland in general. I guess that’s why most visitors can’t leave Iceland without heading to the top to take in the view of Iceland’s largest city. And once you’ve descended, don’t forget to check out the statue of Norse explorer, Lief Erikson who greets visitors as they enter.

Hallsgrimskirkja is open from 9:00am-5:00pm during the winter months, and 9:00am-9:00pm during the summer. Note that on Sundays, the tower is closed from 10:30am-12:15 due to mass. Admission to the tower is 1000 ISK.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

 

If you’re a history buff, your next stop should be the not-to-be-missed National Museum of Iceland, which is home to over 2,000 artifacts.

The National Museum of Iceland is open daily from 10:00am-5:00pm, though it is currently closed on Mondays. Admission is 2000 ISK, and free for anyone under 18.

At this point you may be getting smacked by hunger pangs and sleep deprivation. So run over to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur and order one (or two) with everything, and take a relaxing walk around pond Tjornin. Then when you’re done, do a quick grocery run at the closest Bonus, stock up Skyr, and head to your accommodations for a much deserved nap.

 

 

NOW WAKE UP, because you have to spend a night experiencing Reykjavik nightlife at least once. Literally, maybe just once, because the booze prices in this country are astronomical.

The first bar we stopped at was the Lebowski Bar, where we ordered White Russians all around. If you don’t get the reference, add watching the Big Lebowski to your list of post-Iceland activities. The Lebwoski Bar has a list of about a dozen different White Russians, though I prefer a classic.

If you’re feeling lucky, for 2500 ISK you can have the bartender spin a wheel which might leave you with 10 “free” beers. Our first friend to spin actually hit the jackpot and won 10 (really 8 if you subtract payment) free beers to start the night. But don’t get too cocky; the next two to spin both hit “gutterballs” and walked away 2500 ISK poorer.

Hopefully you didn’t spend all your money spinning the prize wheel, because Lebowski’s bar food is surprisingly delicious. After all, nothing goes down better with a White Russian than mozzarella sticks and a Honey Boo burger.

Side note – our bartender was beyond awesome! By the end of the night we felt like she was part of the gang.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

American Bar was next, which also had a spin-to-win wheel, but thankfully we had learned our lesson by then. One of the best parts of Reykjavik is that a majority of the bars are all in a five block range, so walking between them is super easy. Others worth checking out: The English Pub and The Dubliner.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com


Day 2: The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular sightseeing routes in Iceland and offers an array of different stops along the way. The weather was a bit back-and-forth on this day and due to the minimal light hours during the winter, we had to cut out some of our hidden gems off the itinerary. That being said, it’s definitely possible to hit more stops than we did depending on the weather and time of year, so definitely pick out your favorite gems to add to your own itinerary.

Stop one: Thingvellir National Park

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

How much you enjoy your time at this park is going to be based on how adventurous you are willing to be. At first glance, the park seems pretty barren, though even barren is stunning with the sun shining through. The deeper into Thingvellir you go, the more there is to see – from towering lava rock to a small church with adjacent buildings, which was apparently the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 960 AD.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Many of the paths had been snowed over but we, along with a few other visitors, trekked through the slush to experience as much as we could.

A Winter Weekend in Gettysburg Pennsylvania | Top Things to Do in Gettysburg | #AGBHOW | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com | Best Winter Boots for Travel

    • If you’re traveling in winter, make sure you have a pair of waterproof winter boots. There is nothing fun about attempting to make your way in sopping wet sneakers, or injuring yourself by slipping on an icy patch.

 

At one point on our adventure, we accidentally stumbled upon Öxarárfoss, a small waterfall that remains semi-frozen during the winter months. This ended up being one of those accidents we questioned not originally having on our itinerary; though it may be much smaller than some of the more popular Iceland falls, it’s slight seclusion and simplicity make it that much more beautiful.

 

 

After your excursion through Iceland’s only UNESCO Heritage Site, head over to Strokkur, Iceland’s most famous geysir that erupts every 6-10 minutes. Though on our trip it seemed a bit more frequent. Not every eruption is as dramatic, so it may be worth sticking around for a two or three.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

After freezing your fingers off trying to capture an image of Strokkur blowing its top, head over to Fridheimar for a late lunch/early dinner. I highly recommend making a reservation to be on the safe side, though we had made the latest reservation available and were dining with only four other groups.

Fridheimar is located inside one of Iceland’s geothermal tomato greenhouses, and hence every menu from the entrees to the desserts are tomato-based. This restaurant is more of an experience than a meal, and is worth every penny.

Fridheimar is open daily from 12:00pm-4:00pm.

 

 

Finally, it’s time to visit the majestic and popular, Gullfoss. Gullfoss is one of those natural wonders that leave you wondering why so many places to choose to pave over beauty for skyscrapers. Be sure to do some walking among the open space surrounding Gullfoss as you’ll be able to get a few differently angled views of the falls.

This is one of those rare occasions where I’ll suggest stopping at the visitor center gift shop before departing. Were some of the items overpriced? Of course, it’s Iceland. But I was able to grab some stunning post cards and prints that actually didn’t break the bank.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Other stops you may want to make during your Golden Circle self-drive tour:

Faxi Waterfall (64.2254° N, 20.3372° W)

Porufoss (64.260707, -21.369836)

Kerid Crater (64.0413° N, 20.8851° W)

Solheimar Eco-Village (64.0656° N, 20.6419° W)

Gamla Laugin Geothermal Pool (64.1377° N, 20.3097° W)


Day 3: The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Often called “Little Iceland” due to the varying landscapes that exist in one location, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula had been calling out to me from the initiation of our trip planning.

If you’re driving from Reykjavik, which is about 2.5 hours, this definitely requires an early start if you’re attempting to see much of the peninsula in the same day. So quickly down some of that Skyr you purchased at your local Bonus supermarket and hit the road.

 

  • Reminder: Though not quite as north as the Westfjords, in winter this area was approximately 8-10 degrees colder than Reykjavik. We also experienced some intense winds that at times were almost painful if your face wasn’t covered, so I’d recommend bringing along some extra layers and a ski-mask.

Stop 1: Búðir

You’ve probably seen snapshots of the Búðir or “the little black church” without even realizing, as it’s become a common stop for photographers visiting the peninsula. To many, this may seem an odd spot for church – secluded from much else. But this little hamlet provides an erie but stunning break from the snowy surroundings.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 2: Bárður Snæfellsás

Legend has it that Bárður Snæfellsás, half troll and half man, was the settler of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. In 1972, co-founder of the Icelandic Sculptors Society, Ragnar Kjartansson built a stone figure of Bárður, which now stands tall in the fishing-village of Arnarstapi watching over his land.

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If traveling in winter, don’t be surprised that Arnarstapi is almost completely deserted. It seems that this town is mostly utilized during the summer season, which makes sense considering how dramatic winters in the area can be.

Stop 3: Hellnar

Hellnar is an ancient fishing village one stop over from Arnarstapi, and is a great place to stop for the perfect view of Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000 year old glacier.

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Stop 4: The Londrangar Basalt Cliffs

  • Warning – If you think the rest of the peninsula is windy, just wait until you stroll along the Londrangar Cliffs. In the wintertime, there are also some difficult-to-see ice patches, and one almost sent me flying off of a ledge. So walk slowly, take your time, and pay attention to your surroundings.

The view, however, is completely worth it.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 5: Vatnshellir Cave

Vatnshellir is the cave that apparently inspired Jule’s Verne’s, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and with Summit Adventure Guides you can journey down into the 8,000 year old lava tube. We had a great tour guide who went by “Gummy” during our 45 minute tour, and his knowledge, jokes, and Marvel references really added to the experience.

At one point, once you’re two stairwells, a bridge, and a walk deep into the tube, everyone is asked to turn of their lights, leaving you absolute darkness. This is the level of darkness that your eyes will never be able to adjust to. Despite this proclamation, we all still attempted to stare at our own hand, thinking at some point we’d make out an outline. But nothing.

Summit Adventure Guides provides several tours including the Vatnshellir Cave Tour, which runs all year. Tours should be booked in advance and run 3750 ISK, roughly $37.

 

 

Stop 6: Djúpalónssandur & Dritvík

While Djúpalónssandur is known for being the “black-lava pearl beach”, Dritvík is known for something a bit more somber. In 1948, an English trawler ship slammed into the beach, killing 14 of the 19 crewman. The few iron remains of the ship remain in the same location out of respect and memory of those who passed.

Despite the snow covering much of both areas, these destinations are not to be missed.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 7: Feast in Ólafsvík

We had asked our Vatnshellir tour guide for some restaurant recommendations, considering a majority of businesses in West Iceland were closed for the winter. He eagerly suggested two spots over in his hometown of Ólafsvík, one he described as “a black house with a green roof”. This restaurant ended up being “Hraun”, which was not only run by some of the most accommodating staff, but also is home to some of the best tasting burgers you will ever eat.

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Stop 8: Hunt the Northern Lights

We had booked an Airbnb for one night alongside Kirkjufell to experience the countryside and hopefully catch a glimpse of the northern lights. We had accepted the day prior that we probably were going to leave Iceland without having seen them; after all, we had daily snow, almost complete cloudy skies, and on that night the aurora forecast was extremely low. But hey, at least the views from the cabin were stunning.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

While we hung inside, I made a point of running outside every twenty minutes or so to see if we could at least get a view of a dark starry night sky. But due to the weather, all I kept seeing was solid darkness. But luck was on our side. On my fourth time out, there finally seemed to be a gap in the cloud cover, and I was greeted by a strip of stars like I had rarely seen. If this was all we got, I’d have been happy. However, after calling my friends out, one pointed out what appeared to be a mild bright, white light from behind Kirkjufell.

Slowly these light patches lightened and began to spread out and few snaps of my camera proved we were finally getting a glimpse – a few green stripes were in fact streaking the sky. During the peak, there were even what appeared to be some vertical moving lines. But just as quick as they appeared, the cloud cover regained its position over West Iceland.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

 

 

We might not have experienced the most intense aurora borealis, but the experience was still memorable – and waiting it out was half of the fun.


Day 4: The Langjokull Glacier

We had originally planned to wake up early and drive the almost three hours to the Husafell Base Camp, where we would begin out Snowmobile Into the Glacier tour with Mountaineers of Iceland.

This tour would’ve taken us snowmobiling on the second largest glacier in Iceland, followed by a cave tour. However, there are only so many experiences that can be saved by self-driving in Iceland. And it is extremely dangerous and never okay to enter an ice cave or take part in activities like glacier hiking without certified professionals.

But if the weather wasn’t a deterrent, this would’ve been a great chance to take part in some action-packed activity on your way down from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

On the flip side, Mountaineers was great to work with and processed our refund in a timely manner with no issues. Be sure to check out their official site for other awesome Iceland tours.

The Snowmobile Into the Glacier Tour with Mountaineers of Iceland must be booked in advanced, and runs 29.900 ISK for two guests on one snowmobile. All drivers must have a valid driver’s license. 


Day 5: The South Coast

Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is the first of the two main waterfalls you will hit on your South Coast drive. Though it appears smaller in comparison to Skogafoss, it actually drops about 197 feet. During the summer months or when icy paths are no issue, guests can walk a path behind the falls for a unique view.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 2: Skógafoss

Skógafoss is one of the biggest and most accessible waterfalls in Iceland, making it a popular stop all year round. Pictures really don’t do this waterfall justice, as you really don’t understand its power or size until you’re there in person, walking right up to it.

  • If you’re traveling in winter and want to get up close and personal, make sure to bring a waterproof jacket or poncho. You do end up walking right into a thick wall of mist, and wet clothing isn’t a great combination with potentially strong winds.

6 Days in Iceland | Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary | Winter in Iceland | #agbhow | www.agreatbighunkofworld.com

Stop 3: Sólheimasandur Plane Wreckage

On November 24, 1973, a US Navy plane ran out of fuel and crash landed on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach. Later on it would be found that the pilot actually just switched to the wrong fuel tank. Fortunately, all onboard survived but the wreckage still remains on the beach as a popular tourist attraction.

Though driving to the wreckage used to be allowed, in order to preserve the beach it has since been prohibited. In order to reach the wreckage, you now have to walk approximately 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back. This walk, I’m sure, can be relaxing in the appropriate weather. We chose to do walk in an almost zero-visibility blizzard – and let’s just say, I would not ever recommend it. But in general, I do recommend taking the walk to the site. It’s really something.

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Stop 4: Reynisfjara Beach

Despite Iceland being home to primarily black sand beaches, Reynisfjara has always been the iconic black sand beach to visit. This is due in part to it’s unique features, like Hálsanefshellir Cave, basalt columns, and stunningly tall rock formations.

  • When exploring the beach, be sure to avoid walking to close to the shoreline. Reyinsfjara is home to sneaker waves, which can appear suddenly and are strong enough to pull you out to sea. Putting yourself in dangerous situations is not worth the photo op.

If you feel you didn’t take in enough of the sites on your drive, never fear, because you just might get a glance when you turn around to drive all the way back to Reykjavik!


Day 6: The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is the perfect last stop before your flight home, due in part to it being not too far from Keflavik Airport.

  • Be sure to look up sunrise time for the day you’re planning to visit when booking your tickets. Watching the sun come up behind the bridge of the lagoon was the highlight of our time there.

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Tickets for the Blue Lagoon run from 6990 ISK – 53000 ISK depending on your package. We went with the cheapest package, which ended up costing about $80 for our time slot, and have no regrets. Just a heads up: bring a towel, as the cheapest option does not include one.

While the Blue Lagoon can seem a bit pricy, the entire experience seemed worth the price of admission. The staff, premises, shower/changing rooms (which are even equipped with blowdryers) are clean, spacious, and top of the line. If you’re envisioning a giant swimming pool, yes, $80 is a bit steep. But if you appreciate the Blue Lagoon for the spa experience that it truly is, then it’s a steal.

Plus, when it begins to hit you that your spectacular Iceland trip that you spent months planning is finally coming to an end – you can drink your sadness in beer and Skyr smoothies at the pool bars.

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The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At In Iceland

There are certain trips that you expect to revolve around local cuisine: Italy, France, South Africa. Well, safe to say that when planning my trip to Iceland, I at no time envisioned myself in a week-long food coma. Yes, I had been urged to try the dairy products; and I’ll admit Icelandic yogurt and ice cream has ruined dairy products for me forever. Yes, I’d watched at least a dozen reaction videos of travelers tasting Hákarl or fermented shark, a taste that you really, really only need to experience once in your life.

But despite my lack of original enthusiasm, our series of delicious dining experiences definitely solidified Iceland in my mind, as a foodie mecca.

      1. Friðheimar
        Reykholt, Iceland
        Great Big Hunk of World Awards For: Most Unique Experience, Sustainability-Friendly Business
        Friðheimar was one of the first meals we had while in Iceland and it really set the bar high. Due to Icelands generally cold, and often unpredictable temperatures, much of the countries crops are grown within geothermal energy supplied greenhouses; and Friðheimar lets you dine right in the heart of one. The restaurant also holds a Vakinn certification, which is an Icelandic system that recognizes businesses that maintain high standards of business ethics and environmental service.

        Unsurprisingly, dining in a greenhouse that produces tomatoes all year round, means that the entire menu is tomato focused; yes, even the desserts. The entree portion of the menu is only three items long: Unlimited Friðheimar tomato soup, served buffet style with unlimited bread, sour cream, cucumber salsa, butter and fresh herbs; A spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with tomato sauce and served with a fresh tomato and cucumber slice; and a grilled tortilla with fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Naturally, I wanted two or all of these options; and my boyfriend and I actually ended up each getting an a entree and splitting the tomato soup. #NoRegrets

        The soup was delicious, but it was the olive bread that really stuck out to me; I won’t lie, we ended up refilling our soup bowl about three times. I’ll never turn down a good ravioli, and this time was no different. Though a spinach and ricotta filling isn’t anything too uncommon, it still managed to taste like something I hadn’t tasted before. The sauce, as expected, was very well seasoned and while I could’ve done without the cucumber garnish, that raw tomato on the side is one of the best tasting tomatoes I have ever had. Did I mention there is a basil plant and scissor on your table, so that you can add it to your dish as you please? While we’re at it, let’s say thanks for that portion size; no New York upscale, five-ravioli entrees here.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        Splitting a dessert for the table was so necessary; one, we were all way too full for our own; and two, because when do you have the opportunity to try tomato-based desserts? I was leaning towards the ice cream, which gives you a taste of two ice creams made from two different tomato varieties, but the vote landed us with the green tomato and apple pie. While the presentation gets an A+, the topping reminded me more of a granola than an apple pie crumble; but the filling was warm and paired perfectly with the whipped cream which tasted like it was just made that day.

        Friðheimar is a learning opportunity, experience, and meal in one; and I would go as far as to say that it was my all-time favorite meal of the trip.


        2. Hraun
        Ólafsvík, Iceland
        Awards For: Hit with the Locals, Best Burger, Most Accommodating Staff

        Word of advice: If you’re unsure of where to eat, ask a local. During our lava tube tour of Vatnshellier on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, we had an amazing tour guide. Aside from being witty, knowledgeable, and able to sneak Marvel references into his tour spiel, he also provided us with a few dining recommendations, about a half hour from us from his hometown of Ólafsvík. Originally, we had planned to stop there on our way to checking into our Airbnb cabin but found out it wouldn’t open for another hour and a half when we arrived. However, a nice women from the bakery across the way let us know that it was “definitely worth the wait.” Spoiler alert: It was most definitely worth the wait.

        Hraun has a pretty extensive menu, and includes items like freshly caught fish, fish and chips, pizza; and many, many burgers. I had heard that Iceland serves up a pretty mean burger, and decided on a burger that was topped with bbq sauce, bacon, and gouda. This burger didn’t last long before I inhaled it; and for someone who never really finds fries necessary, I gobbled those down too. I don’t know what it is that restaurants in Iceland season their fries with, but I would pay for the recipe. We had also gotten two orders of “Nacho Dip” which in my head was tortilla chips and cheese, but at Hraun, is tortilla chips with a combined mixture of cheese, cream cheese, and salsa – and it actually works.

        Props to the waitresses at Hraun who were also super accommodating, letting us sit in the restaurant and read the menu even ten minutes before they had officially opened.


        3. The Laundromat Cafe
        Reykjavik, Iceland
        Awards For: Best Atmosphere, Best for Breakfast

        Our first couple of hours in Iceland involved landing at 5:30AM, getting our rental car at 7:00AM and driving straight to the Laundromat Cafe at 7:30AM. The Laundromat Cafe gives off such a quirky, happy-go-lucky vibe, but I’d say avoid this spot if you’re one of those people who aren’t too fond of wonderful things like world peace, Bernie Sanders, and breast feeding. After all, this spot pretty much bleeds liberalism. Decorating the walls are various posters, maps, and photographs of laundromats all around the world.

        Despite being quite popular, we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves other than two smalls groups. I guess landing an hour earlier than scheduled has its perks.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        I could’ve ordered every item on the menu and been happy, but in the end we all went the same route – “Six dirty breakfasts and six coffees.” The dirty breakfast includes sausages, hand-cut bacon, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, a grilled tomato, and a honey, nut, and granola topped greek yogurt. So it’s essentially everything you could ever want in a breakfast. And to top it off, each dirty breakfast comes with a small bread basket which includes that delicious brown bread that they’ve come to be known for.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow


        4. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
        Reykjavik, Iceland
        Awards For: Most Affordable Icelandic Meal

        I know, this stand barely constitutes a restaurant, but you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of Bæjarins. Though hotdogs are a common quick food all over Reykjavik, these are apparently “the best hot dogs in town”; after all, it’s in the name. It also happens to the cheapest meal you’ll have while in Iceland. It’s no secret that food and alcohol prices are ridiculously steep in this country; and when I say steep, I mean they sell a six pack of Budweiser (aka beer water) for about 25 bucks.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        I’ve eaten many a dirty water dog while home in New York, but I’m actually pretty picky when it comes to hot dogs. Can you really be too safe when it comes to random combinations of meats? But there was nothing stopping me from getting my hands on one of the best hot dogs in Reykjavik. Little tip: When ordering, order “one with everything.” A friend of mine asked for one hot dog with just ketchup, and received a nod from the cashier before she handed him a hot dog…with everything. But you won’t regret trying the classic toppings- the ketchup like sauce, mustard like sauce; and fried onions make for a very tasty combination. I even went back for a second.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow


        5. Reykjavik Fish Restaurant
        Reykjavik, Iceland
        Awards For: Friendliest Staff, Minimalism

        We actually only ended up at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant after waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more at Reykjavik Fish & Chips before realizing that nobody was going to come assist us in ordering or seating. While Reykjavik Fish & Chips might need to take some pointers on service, we were greeted at Reykjavik Fish Restaurant by the most friendly employee who quickly gave us the run down – order at the counter and then grab a seat wherever we pleased.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

        The “menu” at this restaurant is a handful of items written on a blackboard and I was glad to finally come across a menu that wasn’t thirteen pages long. I had already had my heart set on fish and chips, and so barely glanced at the other options before ordering. While the breading of my fish and chips could’ve used a little a lot more salt, the fish was still perfectly flaky and the portion size was large enough that it filled you up, but not too large that you felt sick to your stomach.

        I also stole some of a friends salmon, which was came atop a mixture of roasted carrots and beets. While I don’t think I’d have ever thought to mix together those two particular vegetables, it actually makes for a delicious conversation.

        The 5 Best Restaurants I Ate At in Iceland | www.agreatbighunkofworld | Iceland Eats | #agbhow

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