This was a super random trip for me. I got a call one day from a friend I hadn’t seen in about two years asking if I was interested in planning a trip to Iceland. Well, duh. I knew a few people that had been already, including my own parents, and heard great things. Also having never have been to a Scandinavian country, I was excited to experience a new culture. My initial thoughts were that I should probably invest in a proper jacket and get ready to drink a lot of vodka.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik (which means “smoky bay”) is a quaint, colorful city that also just happens to be the capital and largest city in the country. For most, this is where the bulk of your Icelandic journey will take place and begin. The city has an immensely rich history, and it’s believed to be where the first permanent settlement in Iceland was established way back in 874 AD.

We got an Airbnb here for a few nights and basically drank and ate for two days straight with a bit of shopping here and there. One of the more surprising facts about the town was the nightlife, which it is quickly becoming known for. A few of our favorite restaurants and pubs include The Viking, Dillon and Simon Bistro.

Driving

Honestly my number one favorite thing we did was just driving around the landscape. We started in Reykjavik and went west. Driving in this country is so pretty and there is something gorgeous, a rock, a lava field, a waterfall, every 20 minutes. A two-hour drive could take you five because you simply want to stop so much. I think I yelled “watch the damn road” about 20 times to our driver because she couldn’t focus on driving with everything happening around us. An absolute must-do is to rent a car and drive about the island. We only did the southwest loop, and even then, we saw so much.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

On our drive from Reykjavik to Vik, the first waterfall we stopped at was Seljalandsfoss. It was about 10 degrees outside with the wind chill so although it was gorgeous, we didn’t spend too much time there because our Floridian bones couldn’t handle it. This one has a cool setup with a little cafe and shop where you can buy wool sweaters or gloves, which I needed because my hands were literally frozen, so frozen, I spent $50 on a pair of gloves …

Skogafoss Waterfall

Our next major stop was Skogafoss Waterfall. This one is much bigger than Seljalandsfoss and actually has a steep walk up to a platform above the waterfall so you can look down on it. During our time here, the wind was blowing so hard that you had to cling on for dear life walking up and it was slightly sketchy (much like our Floridian thunderstorms, winds on the island just randomly pick up to hurricane force speeds and then are gone like that). If you’re hungover from too much Icelandic vodka, I would not recommend climbing up the stairs.

Vik

The southernmost village, Vik is a small, beautiful coastal town that is situated close to a lot of iconic landmarks for the country, including Black Sand Beach, Dyrhólaey Arch, etc. If there’s one requirement for foodies here, it’s that you have to eat at Halldorskaffi Restaurant. This little hole-in-the-wall restaurant ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. The food and service was a 10/10. It was so good in fact, that we went back three separate times. It’s also worth noting that the town is home to less than 400 people, despite being the most populated area in the region, which gives an interesting local flair to the small municipality.

Fjadrargljufur Canyon

This landmark in southeast Iceland is one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen. The canyon was created over millennia by the slow erosion of glaciers and the Fjaðrá river, which flows through it to this day. Fun fact — Justin Bieber’s music video “I’ll Show You” was filmed here.

Northern Lights, Horseback Riding and Blue Lagoon

One our way to Hekla we stopped to watch the Northern Lights. We saw them at a level 4, so it wasn’t super lit up, but still very cool to see. You can basically see them anywhere outside of the city lights, so if you are roadtripping, you’re good to go!

Riding Icelandic horses was a must-do for me since I grew up riding. This was a big highlight for me. Especially since the landscape we were riding on was like something out of Lord of the Rings.

Another must-do a lot of people talk about is Blue Lagoon. My experience was the opposite of relaxing because of the weather. There were 50 mph winds and it was 20 degrees outside, so getting in the lagoon was basically torture and we paid a non-refundable $100 to experience it (which isn’t uncommon in Iceland, the weather is extremely unpredictable after all). I personally wouldn’t highly recommend the Blue Lagoon over everything else we did, because it was super touristy and overrated. But it is one of those things people feel like they need to see when they go to Iceland. I can imagine with sunny skies, it is much more enjoyable, but still crawling with hundreds of tourists.

Overall, I would highly recommend for anyone to take a trip to Iceland. For us Floridians, it isn’t every day we can drive through a countryside of majestic, mountainous landscapes or be in a pub with people from 10 different countries. There was so much new culture on this trip, and that was definitely my favorite part. My biggest takeaway from this trip was not stressing about having a schedule when you travel. I’m not a planner by any means, but even this trip made me feel laid back. With the weather being so unpredictable and an infinite number of things to see, going with the flow is a must if you’re planning a trip to Iceland. We just stopped when we wanted and did what we wanted without much of a plan minus where we were sleeping that night — and that made for a more authentic experience of this highly popular destination.

By Casey Bagby | Contributor