While it has been over a year since we visited Iceland, hardly a day goes by that I don’t reminisce about the sights we saw. And that’s not an exaggeration. Iceland was on the very top of my list of must-visit places and when we finally booked our 6-hour flight, I screamed with excitement. I could not wait to step foot on the land of fire and ice. Given my expectations were extremely high – I spent hours on Instagram and Google looking at photos and planning our route – I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe I would be underwhelmed. Would Iceland and all it has to offer actually perform? Would I actually become breathless over the winding Ring Road and all of its glory? The answer is yes. A whole-hearted yes. Iceland checked all the marks for me and more. Which is precisely why my daydreams still live there.
We had a plan, but we were flexible. I knew we’d be on the road (we opted for a rental car – highly recommend) and I wanted some free time in case things popped up that didn’t on my research.They definitely did. So we set out along the south coast, then the west coast and hit the Golden Circle. Really to find that all was worth it, but the infamous GC was the least exciting. Imagine that – all the adventure lies outside of what Google recommends. Dig deeper, fellow explorers. Based on our route, here are the 4 must-see sights in Iceland outside the Golden Circle.
4 Must-See Sights in Iceland Outside of the Golden Circle
Along our route to and from Vik along the south coast, we started seeing signs for Reynisfjara Beach. You may recognize the sprawling black sand, creepy black rock formations out at sea and the Game of Thrones-esque landscape from Google photos. We actually had no idea this little oasis (if you could even call it that) existed until we saw the signs. Black sand beaches are everywhere along the south coast. So are volcanoes, which makes sense. But this spot right outside of the cutest little town (that’s Vik!) is one to remember. The waves crash with such force, there are caution signs warning of possible death if you get too close. The rocky hills & columns shoot straight – and I mean straight – out of the beach into the sky. Furthermore, they’re formed by the most bizarre stone formations, you’d think it was a sculpture. By far one of the most memorable & unexpected mornings we had.
After reading about this mysterious glacier lagoon in a random travel article, I asked myself… should we go? Is it worth the four hour trek from Reykjavik? Regardless of my hesitations on the hours we’d spend on the road, something internal told me to just put it on the itinerary. And wow, am I glad we did. The bleak drive there (flat black sand plains accompanied by a lot of rain and fog) had me nervous the sight wouldn’t amount to much. Nonetheless, we eventually crossed a tiny one-lane bridge that lead to a few small rolling hills and out of nowhere sprang the most amazing sight. The glacier lagoon exists! And it’s incredible! And even more amazing-ness lies at the diamond beach across the road. Easily walkable after you park at the lagoon, you can watch the North Atlantic waves crash onto black sand sprinkled with glacier pieces so clear, you’d think they’re diamonds.
Both Kurkjufell and Budir (the black church) were excluded from our original list. Our waiter on the second night in Reykjavik suggested we drive up the west coast and around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula instead of spending so much time in the Golden Circle. To this day, I wish I could run back into that restaurant and give that man a hug. Because this was the Iceland I had dreamed of. Not only are Budir and Kurkjufell beautiful sights – the black church sitting cliffside all alone and Kurkjufell towering ominously over a neighboring fishing village – but the drive. Oh my word, the drive. And we didn’t even have a sunny day. It was rainy and so, so windy when we drove this route, but I have never been so blown away by nature’s scenery. The ocean meets steep cliffs that turn into sprawling plains where wild horses roam and from there, the mountains shoot straight towards the sky and disappear into the clouds. It’s otherworldly, and it’s spectacular.
I’ll say it over and over again – the Blue Lagoon is the biggest tourist trap in Iceland… but it’s 100% worth it. You’ve all seen the photos – that steaming, milky blue water surrounded by jet black volcanic rock. People wading around with clay on their faces and beers in their hands. The pictures do not lie. This is exactly what happens at the Blue Lagoon. Anyway, you’ll hear a lot of Iceland visitors mention they stopped by the lagoon right after their arrival or right before their departure. That’s because it’s situated really close to the airport & they have luggage storage. We chose to go on the last full day we had in the country and after all that exploring and time on the road, it felt so good to spend the afternoon soaking in the warm water. We opted for the package with robes and flip flops (worth every penny), kept our bags in the car and came out feeling beyond refreshed and relaxed.
My #1 Iceland Travel Tip
Talk to the locals! As I mentioned before, I am beyond thankful to our waiter for suggesting the west coast trip. Our AirBnB host also gave us directions, maps, and other useful tips before our first venture on the south coast. If we hadn’t been conversing with every Icelander we came across, our trip we wouldn’t have experienced some of these must-see sights in Iceland. The people of Iceland are so nice and are so graciously accommodating, it’d be a shame not to interact.
Iceland definitely stole a piece of my heart. I encourage every single person to visit these must-see sights in Iceland at least once in their life. The day we left, we vowed to return. And that day could not come soon enough.
Brittany is the writer and creator of Pointed North, a life + style blog based in Des Moines, Iowa. She writes about and shares her personal style, Midwest-inspired recipes, travel adventures and all the life in-between. The online space has grown from experimental writing to a natural extension of her daily life. She believes in creating a happy, fulfilling life and hopes to inspire those around her to do the same.