one Ring Road to rule them all.

Just call me Céline Dion, because it’s all coming back to me now.

A friend of mine just got back from Iceland, and as she traversed the Golden Circle and posted similar pictures on her Instagram as I had a year before, the thrill of it began to hit me all over again.

Tourism has revitalized Iceland’s modern economy, so pretty much anywhere you go in the country, you have to share it with a bunch of other foreigners. But it’s not a big deal, really. If you’re always focused on places being crowded with travelers, you’ll miss out on the fact that other curious people are enjoying the experience of a place as much as you are.

I have to remind myself of this constantly, as someone who now takes up a bit of space in a metropolitan area that holds 8.5 million people. Living in New York City has taught me to walk as often as I can and to always look around, look around. This city is expansive, overwhelmingly so at times, but it has little pockets of beauty if you take time to notice them. I always try to Instagram the ones that stick with me most, like this gorgeous wall in my neighborhood and this little waterfall on 53rd Street in Midtown.

Reykjavík is like New York, not in size, but in substance. It’s a small city, but it’s charming and full of surprises. There’s unusual street art, colorful houses and a mix of cultural influences that make it pretty unforgettable and totally remarkable.


It welcomes you in when you arrive, with its ocean views, mountains in the distance and wide, winding streets that remind me of those in Paris. When it snows, everything is so still you can almost hear it fall.

Part of the fun of traveling is exploring the local cuisine, or drinking at the village pub. I try to make sure to do both, no matter where I am! The food in Iceland is pretty good: because of its coastal proximity, seafood is a prime ingredient in most dishes, so keep this in mind if you’re not a fan of fruit from the sea. However, my good friend is a vegetarian and she didn’t have any trouble eating when we went out, or finding things on the menu that are veggie-friendly.

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If you’re a beer aficionado, you won’t have to look too hard to find it. We spent an evening at MicroBar, named one of Reykjavík’s 11 coolest bars. As the name suggests, this place is Iceland’s newest microbrewery and supports small brewers, both local and foreign. I’m no expert, but my favorite is the Northern Lights beer. The name may seem cheesy, but don’t let it put you off. It’s delicious! If it’s not your thing, there are plenty of other obscure-sounding brews to try, like the Tactical Nuclear Penguin from Scotland. (I desperately wish I could have been in the room when they named this beer.) Or better yet, get a flight and try them all!

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The Frederiksen Ale House is also a fine place to have a drink or share a meal. It’s family-owned and operated, and the staff is super friendly and also amazing at guest photography. I mean, any place with an appetizer of JUST bacon is fine by us.

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After getting our fill of the city, we went back to our AirBnB and prepared for the next day’s road trip across Iceland’s southern coast. We’d booked a tour of a glacier four hours east of Reykjavík, so we had an itinerary of scenic locations to see along the Ring Road, the main route which connects all of the inhabited parts of the island.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Unlike other popular destinations, Iceland has left much of its natural land the way it is, withholding development. As such, it’s not like driving the coast in the States. There aren’t a lot of rest areas or restaurants along the way aside from gas stations, which don’t offer much by way of full meals, so make sure you pack some sandwiches, snacks and plenty of water if you’re going to make the drive. There are several supermarkets in the city where you can stock up the night before you go.

The trip to the east coast and back takes about eight hours total, and with four of us in our travel group, it divided up nicely into two-hour driving segments for each person. The stopping points are spaced out relatively evenly to coincide with this equation, too.

We left Reykjavík around 7am, and I still wasn’t quite awake as we piled into the rental car. The sun was just rising in the distance. It was cold, but the sky was slowly waking behind the snow-topped mountains. We had good music, interesting conversations and nothing but time and adventures ahead of us. And my thoughtful friends knew that as long as I had coffee, I could navigate the morning just fine.

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As you travel the Ring Road, it’s apparent that it was built for a reason: to conveniently link most of the tourist or scenic locations along Iceland’s coast, effectively in a neat circle that follows the shape of the island. It can get pretty snowy the further out you go, at least in winter. In my experience driving it, the snow makes visibility tough in some areas, because everything quickly turns into a blanket of white and the road disappears to blend in with its natural surroundings. There aren’t many dividers, guardrails or reflective surfaces to guide you through the weather. Additionally, sometimes the snow can cause road closures, and because there’s one lane in either direction and few other routes around, be sure to check the forecast as you’re mapping out this journey.

The first stop on this route is the stunning Seljalandsfoss, a small waterfall with a cave behind it. If you leave the city early enough, as the sun is just taking its place in the sky, it hits perfectly in the background to give you your first breathtaking view of the day, of which there will be many.

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You can get out and walk here. It’s freezing as you near the falls, but you can walk behind them, and that’s pretty rad. The falls originate from a river off the Eyjafjallajökull volcano glacier. It’s a popular spot for its panoramic beauty, having been featured in Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You” music video. I never exactly caught Bieber Fever, but I’ll give him points for showcasing this place. It makes for a lovely way to start a long and scenic journey.

Seljalandsfoss is a great photo op, but more waterfalls are ahead at Skógafoss. This is probably my favorite place in Iceland, simply for its majesty. The falls, named for their proximity to the Skógá River and the nearby village of Skógar, formed here when the original coastline receded, leaving sea cliffs behind. Because of the large drop and the volume of spray the falls produce, a rainbow is usually visible next to the falls on sunny days, which is inexplicably cool.

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This is the place that convinced me that Iceland is a magical planet we don’t deserve.

There’s a climbing path here, steep like a hiking trail. It’s a long way up, but it provides an overhead view of the falls, which are crowded with tourists down on the ground, making it hard to get a good photograph without a wayward head or hand in your shot. The upper view also provides a solid lookout point for the Icelandic countryside.

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One of my favorite things about driving the Ring Road is passing through valleys of scattered mountains and volcanoes, some of which are still active or have recently been active, as is the case with Eyjafjallajökull, near Skógafoss. It last erupted in 2010, disrupting air traffic over much of Europe for over a month. Seeing this grandeur outside the car windows right next to me was part of the amazing wonder of Iceland. It made me think about the people who live in the tiny villages below the mountains, far away from civilized life. It made me think about the land and how untouched it is and how it remakes itself with each new volcanic eruption or shift in the earth. It made me think about how much we, as humans, underestimate the natural capacity this world has, and how much we should appreciate it.

After the falls, it takes another couple of hours to reach Vík í Mýrdal, more commonly known as Vík, a town famed for its black sand beaches at Reynisfjara. This is the southernmost point in all of Iceland. The water here is surprisingly dangerous, known for its “sneaker” waves, an Icelandic term for what I can only equate to riptides. It was February when we were there, so we had no intention of even going near the water, but I desperately wanted to walk the beach. I’d never seen black sand before I got here. It’s strange, different in both color and texture than what I’m used to. There are also enormous basalt towers, naturally carved, much like those of the Giants’ Causeway in Northern Ireland, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and a tale for another day.

You don’t need more than 20 minutes or so at Vík; there isn’t much else around, and you have a schedule to keep. But take time to marvel at the ocean. I grew up in South Jersey, only ever an hour away from the shore, and so the ocean is a part of my being. Nothing lies due south of Iceland except Antarctica, so the view is pure sea, as far as the sightline goes.

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Back in the car once more! It’s time to go explore a GLACIER.

Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland, covering more than eight percent of the country, and it can be seen from space on satellite images of the island. Its name means “water glacier” in English, and the most remarkable thing about this place is that due to the way the water melts, new ice caves form as the seasons change, meaning the ice here is never the same. We had the great fortune of being guided inside, but it’s also stunning from the exterior. 

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It’s quite a famous location, having been used for the opening sequence of the James Bond film A View to a Kill, starring Roger Moore, in 1985, a year before I was born. More recently, it served as a filming location for Season 2 of one of my all-time favorite series, Game of Thrones. In Iceland, winter is always here.


If Jon Snow were here, he’d most likely agree with me when I say that winter hits you totally in the face in Iceland, but not in the ways you’re used to. For instance, it feels completely surreal to walk INSIDE OF A GLACIER. Like, here I am in an ice cave that Earth naturally made, which will melt and then refreeze next winter into something completely different. EXCUSE ME? HOWWWWWW.

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The tours here are guided, because you need to wear crampons over your boots to ensure you don’t slip on the ice, and you have to ride over the glacier in a van to get out to the ice cave you can walk through. But what an isolating, remarkable experience.

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Iceland is more than anyone bargained for, and I will stand by that statement until I die. It’s easily one of the coolest, most interesting and unexpected places I’ve ever visited in the world, and as I reminisce on this trip I took just over a year ago, I’m still marveling that I got to be there at all. What a beauty and a privilege.

Thanks for inviting me into your beautiful country. I hope I get the chance to go back someday.


Cheers. xx

why is everyone talking about Iceland?

I’m slow to believe the hype on a lot of things, but the Magical Unicornland called Iceland is not one of them.

This teeny country has been on my travel radar since that very first flight I took to Paris in 2007. We had a brief layover on the way, and as I was 20 at the time, I only vaguely remember random bits about the airport in Reykjavík: there were indoor smoking lounges full of Europeans who were significantly cooler than me, you could buy fresh fish fillets right from the shops, and “Cool Ranch” Doritos were called “Cool American” instead, but still tasted the same (I checked).

It seemed like a strange country, but I desperately wanted to know more about it.

Luckily for me, one of the best things to happen to modern travel is WOW! Air. (This post is not sponsored, I just really like them.)

It seems like a gimmick, and I get it. “Fly to Iceland for $100 each way!” These days, travel and airline sites seem to be flooded with DEALS DEALS DEALS to Iceland, which I’m pretty sure exists in everyone’s heads as this floating frozen enigma somewhere in the middle of the ocean.


It was only a few years ago that this place started becoming oh-so-popular among bloggers and adventure seekers, and people actually started going there and discovering its wonders. And then it exploded onto the travel scene as not only magical, but affordable.

Firsthand, I’m here to tell you that everyone in the world SHOULD be talking about Iceland. And you should pretty much be boarding a flight there tomorrow.

ON THE FLY: How is a place so beautiful so cheap to get to? Well, value airlines are pretty much the only way to fly these days. But it’s important to know what you’re getting, and also what you’re not getting. Value airlines are what they are, and they don’t claim to be anything else. The price of your flight includes the base fare and taxes, and that’s it. No baggage fees, no meals, no in-flight entertainment. I honestly don’t know why people are shocked by this. You get what you pay for! This isn’t Emirates, dahling.

Seriously, though, value airlines are your friend! Here’s how to combat everything you DON’T get when you fly with them:

  • Have a meal or, if you’re me, a few drinks in the airport before boarding. Make sure that tummy is full and that head is a little fuzzy!
  • Pack snacks to sustain you during the flight. Most airlines, even value ones, let you bring unopened food with you, although you may have to remove it from your bags for security screening. (Pro tip: Mini bottles of alcohol are TSA-approved!)
  • Bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated. Most airports now have water fountains installed for this purpose, anticipating travelers’ use of their own bottles. I take my S’well bottle wherever I go!
  • Make playlists on your phone or download Netflix shows to keep you entertained until you land. Portable chargers are a great thing to bring, too, in case the plane doesn’t have a charging outlet for you.
  • Challenge your mind with crossword puzzles or Sudoku, or write in your travel journal. Give your eyes a break from the screens they stare at all day.
  • Do the old flight standby: Take some Dramamine and knock the fuck out until you touch down.

In truth, WOW! Air is a fine way to fly. Everyone was friendly and the flight was on-time. No complaints here! If you can get me from New York to Iceland for less than a flight to Vegas, I don’t really care if you have to strap me to the roof of the damn plane. I’ll do it.

So suddenly there I was, in the first country I’d ever been to where I didn’t speak the native language. (As it turns out, EVERYONE in Iceland speaks English, so no worries there.) By sheer happenstance, the gentleman who owned the AirBnB my friends and I had booked in Reykjavík was working in New York at the time, so I met up with him the day before we left to pick his brain about the ins and outs of visiting Iceland. He was very kind, and with every word he said, I could feel the love he felt for his home country. He told me that tourism has 100% revitalized the country’s economy, hence the boom of travel sites offering discounts to go there. It all makes sense now!

Our lovely host also suggested we rent a car and visit areas of the country’s southern coast, where nature truly puts on a show.

He wasn’t wrong, y’all. LOOK AT THIS SHIT.

Are you freaking kidding me?! I had no idea what I was in for.

It was February when we arrived in Iceland, and winter was in full swing. It was cold. I can’t lie about that. But believe me when I say that everything else was so spectacular, I forgot how damn cold it was all the time. And I grew up in the Northeast, where winters are often unforgiving.

Reykjavík is a small city, but it’s lovely. Distinctly European, vaguely Scandinavian. It’s quiet, but subtly in-your-face with its mountainous backdrop and seaside air. You can walk the entire city in a day, but there’s plenty to do. The food is decent and the beer is flowing. It snowed our first night there, and everything was so soft and hushed that it felt like living inside of a snowglobe.

The day we arrived, we had a hot date with the Blue Lagoon. This is a first-rate tourist trap, and we all knew it, but we also knew that we’d regret not going. So despite the jet lag, we made the drive and stood in line for ages. It seemed so silly to be getting ready to strip down to our swimsuits and when there was an actual ICE STORM outside. I remember being so cold in that line that I took a picture of myself to remember how cold I felt.

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If you can put aside the fact that this place is crowded as fuck until you get into the pool, you’ll be fine. Europeans are notoriously better at being comfortable with public showers and changing rooms than Americans are, but just get over it and walk around in your Speedo. Everyone else is! Blue Lagoon rules stipulate that you need to shower once before you get into the pool (hooray, cleanliness!) and they provide special soaps and hair conditioners to counteract the minerals in the water. Just do as they say and get a little grimey. It’s all part of the experience.

And it’s worth it.

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this photo was taken by the lovely Chan Gupta.

How often do you get to drink alcohol in a geothermal pool under the stars while it snows?!

When I say I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life, I mean it. There’s nothing like being out in nature, even if it is man-made and even if it is with a few hundred strangers.

On the ride home that night, after in-the-water face masks and swim-up bars and showering a lot more than I usually do in one day, it was quite dark, and all of us were delirious with exhaustion but more relaxed than we’d ever been in our lives. With our eyes upturned, we were in dreamland.

And then the Northern Lights appeared.

I kid you not, we hadn’t even been in Iceland for 12 hours before the sky lit up green for us.

We were all literally screaming out of the windows as we stopped the car and ran into a field (A SUPER SAFE IDEA FOR A GROUP OF GIRLS IN A STRANGE COUNTRY AT NIGHT DON’T DO THIS OKAY), gazing skyward like idiots. It was faint, and not quite what you see in photographs online (a symptom of being pretty late in the season for ideal viewing), but unmistakable.

By the time we got back to our apartment that night, I felt like my trip was complete, and we’d just arrived. That first day felt like five whole days, but we were only getting started.

Following our host’s advice, we’d planned a few things to do outside of Reykjavík. We were excited to get out of the city and see what this country had to offer. Be sure to follow this sign.


The next day, we drove out into the snowy countryside to begin our adventures on the famed Golden Circle. This is Iceland’s most touristic route, and it loops out from Reykjavík to the southern uplands and back again, making for an easy day’s journey.

We first stopped to explore Þingveiller National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true wonder. It’s unlike any national park I’ve ever been to, in that it’s basically a wide open area of untouched land, full of mountains, rock structures and waterfalls. There are paths to walk through, but it isn’t confining or restricting. In fact, it’s expansive.

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thingvellir 3
more beauty.
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never leaving.

The place is like a postcard, and it’s truly a display of Earth’s magnitude. It sits in a rift valley, which is essentially a lowland formed by the action of a geologic rift or fault; the park lies where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. (I secretly love earth science.) It also partially houses Iceland’s largest natural lake, Þingvallavatn.

I’ve seen photos of the place in other seasons, and it’s a sea of green. I’m glad I visited in winter, though; the snowy overlay made everything appear so stunning, like it was jumping out at me, and I’m not sure I’d have appreciated it as much if I’d gone in warmer temperatures.

After spending a few hours walking through the park, chasing waterfalls and posing for #snowselfies, we got back in the car and headed for the second stop on the Golden Circle tour: the Geysir of Haukadalur.

There are actually two geysirs (geysers) here: The Great Geysir, simply referred to as Geysir, and its smaller companion, Strokkur. While Geysir has been dormant for some time, Strokkur is rather active, erupting at 10-15 minute intervals. Watching a geysir erupt is another thing about Iceland that I’ll never forget. Strokkur’s name is Icelandic for “churn,” which is exactly what the water does before it shoots up out of the earth. You can actually see it beginning to react before it fully erupts, which is terrifying when you realize that this naturally occurs from within the ground every few minutes of every day. Why is it terrifying? Oh, I don’t know. Just reminds me of volcanoes and stuff, spewing hot ash and scorching lava for miles, destroying everything and everyone in their path. Earth is awesome and also insane.


The last stop on the Golden Circle is Gullfoss. “Foss” is a word you’ll hear frequently if you explore Iceland; it means “falls,” and there are lots of them. (Just you wait.) This one, however, is the most famous. If you need an easy way to think of this place, just picture Niagara Falls, but lower to the ground. It takes some walking to see the falls, because the flow of the river drops sharply, making the edge of the actual waterfall hidden from view until you approach the cliffside. But God, how majestic.


You can hear the thundering water from the roadside, and as you take it in, this place will again make you marvel at the planet’s natural beauty.

The Golden Circle eventually brings you back around to the city, and the stops along the way, though popular among tourists, fill up the day nicely with scenes that don’t even seem real. You’ll probably even meet some Icelandic horses by the roadside, who will happily nibble up your apple cores for you. How sweet are my new friends?!

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I could talk for hours about this country! Literally, I’m only halfway done. I’ve still got to take you through Reykjavík in more detail, and show you what it looks like INSIDE of a glacier. Until then, mes amis, enjoy the adventure.