Let me start off by saying, this post is strictly my opinion. I loved every single thing I saw in Iceland, and everything was absolutely beautiful! However, some things were a little overrated in my opinion while others were underrated.
First things first - Iceland has A LOT of tourist attractions. This is one of them. Strokkur, also known as the Great Geyser, is one of the three major attractions off of the Golden Circle. For those of you who don’t know, the Golden Circle (also known as the Ring Road) is the road that takes you all the way around Iceland.
Strokkur erupts very frequently (every 5 - 10 minutes), and its blasts can reach up to 50 - 65 feet! The record is around 130 feet. It’s very impressive, I know, but at the end of the day… YOU ARE IN ICELAND!! There are much cooler things to see, trust me. This is so touristy and parking is a nightmare. It’s just… not worth it in my opinion. I have never seen a geyser, so it was cool seeing one for the first time, but still. Go around the corner from here and find Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park. Those are attractions worth stopping for.
I’m not saying don’t see Strokkur, so don’t yell at me!! I’m just saying you shouldn’t make time to stop here if you don’t have it. If you are in the area and parking isn’t bad, by all means, go ahead and watch the blistering hot water burst out of the Earth.
The second tallest waterfall in Iceland?! Sounds SO cool right? TAKE ME THERE!! ………………………
Not that cool. “But it’s the second tallest waterfall, how can it NOT be cool?” Well my friends, you can BARELY see the waterfall, and it is not as epic as other waterfalls. However, the hike to Glymur and the views at the top are way cooler in my opinion. If you decide see Glymur, because let’s be honest, you probably will, do it for the hike and don’t have expectations of the waterfall. The waterfall is pretty, don’t get me wrong! But as I said, you can barely see it.
Let’s talk about the hike though because it is AWESOME! The hike to Glymur is about 5 miles round trip and will take you roughly 3 hours to complete. During the hike, you will come across A CAVE (!!!), steeeeep inclines, and two river crossings. The first river crossing is fun! There is a log you cross while holding onto rope! I recommend taking your shoes off and holding them while walking across because you will need all of the traction your shoes can provide later on.
Once you are over the river and feel exhilarated, it is time to climb!! This hike is steeper than you would think it to be, and you climb all of the elevation in 10 minutes. Luckily, there is rope you can hold on to. And by “can” hold on to, I mean “have to” hold on to, or you won’t make it up. Don’t worry though, once you finish the climb, you get to go down a steep decline just to go back up! I was scared for my life only a few times. All part of the hike though, so you have to enjoy it.
Once you make it to the waterfall, turn around. Trust me and turn around. Because the view behind you is BEAUTIFUL! You have an incredible view of the canyon. Once you soak in the beautiful views and glance at the waterfall, you have two options - go back down the way you came or head up higher and hike down the opposite side. If you go back the way you came, it will be difficult once you get to the steep sections because it’s more of a single file path. If you head down the other side, you have to cross another river at the top. We decided to go down the other way, so I can let you in on our experience.
Heading up to the top of the waterfall was fun and the views were awesome! If you haven’t gotten that point yet, this hike is so much fun! Until… we found the second river crossing. Womp womp. The water was ICE COLD. Like… your toes fall off from being in the water for 5 seconds cold. We tried to find a shallow spot with large rocks but found nothing. We tried to cross the river barefoot, but I couldn’t feel my feet or legs the moment they touched the water. Awesome. So what did we have to do? Cross in our hiking boots. Which worked great! Except for the 2-mile hike down to our cars in wet boots. Luckily the hike down wasn’t as steep, so our wet shoes didn’t provide for a slippery descent. However, the trail was not well marked. Alex and I got lost and ended up on someone’s farmland. Have no fear though! We made it to our car in record time because we were running across this person’s yard hoping they wouldn’t see us.
Overall, the hike was really fun, but as I reiterated a million times, the waterfall just… wasn’t cool.
3. Hot Springs You Have to Pay For
Alright team, time for the last overrated thing in Iceland: hot springs you have to pay for. Alex and I didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon, so I can’t give feedback on that, but all of the locals we met told us not to. They said it’s cool but very, very touristy. Alex and I considered going but found MUCH cooler hot springs that were free.
A few years ago, there were a lot of free hot springs, but now that Iceland has become more popular, they began charging for most of them :(. And these are the hot springs that are easy to find because they are well known or right off the Ring Road. As you can tell, I don’t enjoy overly touristy spots, so we avoided these. Why would you want to be in a hot spring with a bunch of other people when you can have one all to yourself?
Now, if you want to find free hot springs, you have to do some internet digging, keep an eye out while driving, and talk to locals. Alex and I had our eyes on a few, but the one we went to was actually not on our list! I’ll talk about this one and keep the others a secret.
Alex and I took a day to hike around the mountains in Landmannalaugar. If you haven’t heard of Landmannalaugar, do yourself a favor and look it up. It’s B-E-A-Utiful. It takes a while to get there because it is only accessible via F roads but well worth it! I talk more about the specific road to take in my 7 Must-See Sights in Western Iceland post, so make sure to give that a read! Once you drive about an hour into Landmannalaugar, you will come across a parking lot with a river at the end. You can either park your car here and walk around the river, or you can drive through the river. The river was really deep, so we decided to walk around it.
Once across the river, you will see a campsite, hut, and bridge. GO TO THE BRIDGE! You will see the steam coming up from the hot spring, so run to the bridge, get naked, and go in! We wore bathing suits, but it’s totally acceptable to wear nothing. Once you are enjoying the spring, take a look around. This was one of our favorite spots because you are in the middle of multi-colored mountains! It’s such a beautiful location for a hot spring. There weren’t too many people here, but it was big enough that if there were a lot of people, you could find a secluded spot.
These are the types of hot springs you want to venture to. Yes, the Blue Lagoon is beautiful and cool, and we probably would have gone if we made time for it, but nothing beats the free, off-the-beaten-path hot springs. Some hot springs are on people’s properties, but you can ask if they would allow you to take a dip! Most of the time, they will say yes as long as you are respectful. So before you pay $60 to go to the Blue Lagoon, do an internet scavenger hunt for free, secluded hot springs. You won’t regret it!!
In Iceland, there are more sheep and horses than people. I’m not kidding! Once you get out of the city, you barely see anyone. The towns are few and far between, and there is a lot of farmland. It’s beautiful! With all of the farmland comes HORSES! There are over 80,000 horses in Iceland!
These horses have acres of land to roam on but for some reason, most will be near the street. When you drive by them, which you will do a lot, stop by and say hi! They are super friendly and will come right up to you. I’m pretty sure Alex and I said hello to all of the horses. Be careful though - some of the fences are electric. The last thing you want to do is get you or the horse zapped.
Many might believe Icelandic horses are bred for their meat! They actually are used more for companionship and riding. I wish I had 80,000 horses to keep me company!
You will notice Icelandic horses are smaller than most horses. Because of the colder weather and a few other factors, they don’t grow as large as other horses. BUT don’t let that fool you! They are still very strong!
Icelandic horses can perform five gaits while most horses can only perform three or four! One of the gaits is called Tölt, which pretty much only Icelandic horses can perform. I had to look up what this was when someone referenced it. It is a fast walk where the horse brings their legs up high and only touches one foot to the ground at a time. YouTube it. It’s pretty cool!
We all know of the church in Reykjavik called Hallgrimskirkja. Even if you don’t know the name, you definitely have seen pictures of it. It’s the largest church in Iceland! And it’s absolutely beautiful from the outside to inside. However, this is not the church I am talking about. The churches I am talking about may have names, but I don’t know them lol. They are the abandoned churches around the country!
Every town regardless of its size has a church somewhere. We even found churches in the middle of nowhere! Find all of them. When you see one, stop by and take a pic. Even though most are abandoned or look abandoned, they are beautiful! These churches are very small compared to Hallgrimskirkja; they have about five pews on each side. You can’t go into them because they are most likely being preserved, but you can see the inside from large windows. And as I said, they are beautiful! Just take a look at the photos! How can you not stop to take a pic of a church on a cliff or next to mountains?!
3. The Drive
The most underrated thing in Iceland, in my opinion, is the drive. So many people, including myself, go to Iceland on a mission to see every dang waterfall there is. What most people don’t realize is the most beautiful sights are unnamed along the road. We passed so many beautiful mountains, lava fields, and everything in between on our drive. And most of the things we passed weren’t on our list of things to see!
Once we arrived in Iceland, we were rushing to get to our first destination. We were overly excited to start exploring! We were so invested in looking at the GPS and maps to make sure we were going the right way that we were not paying attention to what we were driving past. Right before we got to our first destination, I looked in the rear view mirror and was like “WHAT DID WE JUST MISS?!”. We drove right by our first batch of multi-colored mountains and didn’t even realize it! After that moment, we took our time when driving and pulled over EVERYWHERE. I wanted to take a picture of everything. Seriously, I could not stop taking pictures. Iceland is unlike anything I had ever seen and was beyond beautiful.
There were a few days where we decided to go off-roading on F roads just for the fun of it, and those ended up being the best days! We had so much we wanted to see, but we also found so many beautiful things just by taking a look around us while driving.
Everyone is overwhelmed a bit when they travel to Iceland because there is so much to see. However, you must make sure to stop and smell the roses. Take your time when you drive and keep your eyes open! The drive was one of my favorite parts of our trip.
What is your opinion on these attractions? Do you agree some are overrated and others underrated?
Make sure to read my post about 7 Must-See Sights in Western Iceland!