We recently got back from a pretty amazing trip to Iceland! I’m excited to share the highlights in today’s post along with a meal inspired by our time there. While the food outside of the city was not that diverse (LOTS of burgers and pizzas!), we did enjoy delicious steak and lamb several times, and it always seemed to be paired with a yummy Bearnaise sauce. Even the burgers sometimes came with a side of Bearnaise.
We are big-time sauce people in this family, and it made me come home wanting to whip up some homemade Bearnaise myself. So I’m going to share just how easy it is to make with a new recipe, along with some details and pics (all taken with my non-pro iPhone 11) from our trip!
What You’ll Find in This Post
- Why Iceland?
- What We Did in Iceland!
- South Iceland
- Breathtaking Waterfalls Everywhere!
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula
- Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, and the (active) Volcano!!
- Easy Oven Roasted Steak with Blender Béarnaise
It’s no secret that our family loves going on a big adventure almost every summer. Well, except for last summer of course due to COVID! And with things still being a little touch and go right now, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to go anywhere this summer either. Traveling is one of my biggest passions so I REALLY wanted it to happen, and Iceland has been high on the list for some time now. So back in May I literally googled “where can Americans travel” to come up with a short list of options and was excited to see Iceland as one of them! And with hardly any COVID cases there (this whole time really), it seemed like a fabulous place to safely test the waters.
But, since restrictions were lifted just weeks before the only big opening in our summer schedule, I ended up booking our trip with about 10 days notice! Absolutely not my style!! But, hey, nothing wrong with the planner in me going out of my comfort zone, right? And it all worked out in the end. :)
One of the benefits of going on this trip right now is since Iceland just recently opened back up, there were hardly any tourists there. From what we were told, it had been getting almost overrun with tourists the last few years (before COVID), and having all these amazing sights almost to ourselves was definitely a silver lining that we did not take for granted. It was an incredibly special experience!
What We Did in Iceland!
My husband and I kind of knew what to expect in Iceland, but our kids really had very little idea (where the heck is Iceland? LOL), especially since it was all so last minute. All that aside, the four of us were absolutely blown away by the experience!
One thing I’ve learned from all our travels is if you have little or no expectations you can end up having a pretty amazing time (because you can’t be let down by “what should’ve been”)! And mainly due to my lack of time to do research I didn’t quite know exactly what we were getting ourselves into, but everything we did was honestly even better than I could have imagined!
We first stayed in Vik (highly recommend!), and here’s some of what we did and saw…
The Plane Wreck
It just so happened to be very foggy (and cold! It’s Iceland after all) when we went on the long trek to see the famed 1973 plane wreck. With the foggy vibe, the black volcanic rock, and the lack of trees (there are hardly any trees in Iceland), we honestly felt like we were walking on the moon down this path. My kids thought it was so cool and that walk, along with actually being able to climb on and get inside the old wreckage, was a fabulous start to our trip!
Town of Vik
I was secretly worried it would rain our entire trip (especially after looking at the forecast and arriving on a very rainy day), so I was absolutely DELIGHTED when the sun came out after a late dinner on our very first night. The scenery that suddenly appeared around us literally took our breath away. The fact that the sun hardly sets there this time of year certainly helped with allowing ample opportunity for the sky to clear up during daylight!
This is on one side of the famed Black Beach right by the town Vik. Almost all the beaches in Iceland are black from all the volcanic rock!
A nice stranger snapped this picture of us that’ll likely reappear on our holiday card. Always a goal of mine to get pics for our card when we travel! Haha. This was our first day, and we were just so excited to be there and to see the sun.
Just above the town of Vik we stopped to see these Icelandic horses … they were everywhere there! And we got to ride some on a little tour later in the trip. :)
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Dyrhólaey Lookout
The next day we went to the other side of the Black Beach where the Basalt Columns are … this was our first time ever seeing something like this and it was so cool. Oh, and the sun came out again making my day! The weather is very erratic there.
Snowmobiling on the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier
We’d never been snowmobiling before and it was something my husband had always wanted to try. The conditions honestly could have been better, but we still had fun. I let my 16-year-old drive me around on ours so I was mostly just holding on for dear life, LOL.
Ice Cave Tour
We weren’t quite sure if we should sign up for an ice cave tour; it’s not really the season for it (there are more cave options in the winter), but we are so glad we did! Just the drive through the lava fields to get there and the knowledge of our tour guide would have been tour enough without even checking out the caves. We did the FastTrack Ice Cave Tour through Katlatrack Adventure Tours and thought it was very cool!
Drive to the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach (with lots of unexpected sights along the way!)
After the ice cave tour, we were planning to head straight west to our next stop until our tour guide talked us into going in the complete opposite direction first before leaving the area. We ended up not getting to our VRBO rental until 2 AM (it was still light out!!), but it was worth it. The weather was fairly good that day, a big factor in our decision, and we saw so many amazing things…
First, as we were driving along we noticed miles and MILES of these mossy mound-covered rocks. We had to get out of the car to check them out … they were so squishy and bouncy my girls were just running and bouncing all over the place! Okay, all of us were, haha.
Then we stopped at Diamond Beach and Glacier Lagoon … next time I’d love to kayak around the Glacier Lagoon. I did not realize how spectacular it is, and to think, we almost missed seeing it if it weren’t for our guide talking us into going!
And then we spotted so many rainbows (one of the benefits of all that rain, I guess!) that we repeatedly stopped our car … lots of stopping and running out of the car to see super cool unexpected things on this trip! You never know what you’re going to encounter.
Breathtaking Waterfalls Everywhere!
We were laughing to ourselves because we’d be driving around Iceland seeing amazing waterfalls even taller and more spectacular than Multnomah Falls (a major tourist attraction in Oregon) and no one even cared or was stopping to see them. This is because there are SO MANY waterfalls everywhere, including a pretty big one you can walk behind! Nature is really amazing.
After we finally made it to Hellnar, a town on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we used it as a jumping off point to explore this quieter side of the country.
Town of Hellnar
I remembered our VRBO host saying something about a nice walk/hike to the next town, but it was of course Iceland-style WAY MORE AMAZING than we were expecting! We were wowed even before the views near the next town appeared. And the icing on the cake was that right in Hellnar we discovered this amazing little cafe in an old fishing cottage with a spectacular overlook that served yummy coffees, drinks, quiche, waffles, etc. It was literally the only thing open in this tiny town (which was really just a collection of buildings), and we went there twice in one day … the whole afternoon turned out to be a trip highlight for me!
Snæfellsjökull National Park
We literally had this whole national park to ourselves; I’m trying to remember if we even saw any other people. We had trouble finding the “white sand beach” (a rare phenomenon in Iceland) but were so glad we persisted because it was (shocker) more amazing than we were expecting! The black volcanic rock against the lighter sand with the sun attempting to set in the background was a sight to see.
Quaint Little Churches
Both of these were on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, although I know there are similar churches all over the country.
Driving around Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We took our time leaving the peninsula and stopped at interesting places along the way, including this pretty spectacular canyon that my husband enjoyed hiking into a pretty good distance.
Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, and the (active) Volcano!!
Our last stop was Reykjavík and the surrounding area.
Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure (Þingvellir National Park)
We all four braved the 36 degree F temps to snorkel in some of the clearest water on the planet located between two (actively separating) tectonic plates that divide North America and Eurasia. I was actually not too cold in my drysuit floating on the surface whereas the rest of my crazy family chose wetsuits so they could dive down to get a better look. Let’s just say they were coooold and finally fully recovered after a couple hours LOL!
Our final stay was in a VRBO apartment in the funky city of Reykjavík, which was fun to explore (while also providing a wider variety of tasty food options that we enjoyed)!
The Erupting Fagradalsfjall Volcano!
Okay, so this was another trip highlight for sure. We just happened to be in Iceland shortly after a volcano unexpectedly started erupting there. What’s special about this volcano (and I know VERY little about volcanos!) is that it is relatively small/calm for a volcano so you can walk almost right up to it and its lava (it was hot!). It started as a completely flat piece of ground and the mountain you see has been forming from its lava since it started erupting back in March/April!
The conditions and weather were constantly changing so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get a good view, but we got very lucky! It was quite a trek (a 45-minute moderate hike) to get to the viewpoint, and we chose to do it from 11 PM – 2 AM for the best viewing against a darkened sky. This particular evening it was erupting every 10 minutes or so, and our 14-year-old did not want to leave! I was like, “It’s 1:30 AM now and I’ve got to go to bed at some point,” haha. I’m usually very strict about my bedtime, but I guess you could call this a special occasion!! An unforgettable evening for sure.
The Blue Lagoon
After all the late-night excitement from the big hike to the volcano, we had the perfect chill day at the Blue Lagoon. I know it’s a very touristy stop, but we had to do it!
The snorkeling we did in the fissure was actually on the Golden Circle as well, but we went back on our last day to check out a few things we didn’t have time to see before.
And that was our trip for summer 2021! I know this was a LONG post with A LOT of pictures, but I honestly narrowed it down so much. I can’t believe how many pictures there are on this post after cutting so many great ones. Iceland was just amazing and so picturesque! We are thrilled to be back to traveling again as a family and hope this inspires you to get “back on the horse” as well. Lucky for you if it’s an Icelandic trip! :)
Easy Oven Roasted Steak with Blender Béarnaise
Now here’s that recipe! Turns out Bearnaise is one of my husband’s favorite sauces (I did not realize this), so I’m glad the trip inspired us to make it at home. It was served with steak, lamb, and even burgers in Iceland … and would be great on potatoes or veggies, too! It’s very versatile and a great way to kick a standard dinner up a few notches.