With Iceland being a relatively small country in size (40,000 square miles, in fact), many people who visit tend to stay in Reykjavik for the entirety of their stay, only venturing out of the city to visit the Golden Circle.
But if you explore just a little further afield, you’ll find some exceptionally beautiful sights that will take your breath away.
Now, I’m not saying you need to do a month-long intensive roadtrip around the island nation (although that sounds like an incredible time to me!), but I would implore you, even if you stay in accommodation in Reykjavik for your entire travels (as we did, for this trip), take more than just the one day trip outside of Reykjavik for the usual sights of the Blue Lagoon, Gulfoss, Pingvellir, Kerid and Geysir.
We chose to do a day trip to the southern coast to see the stunning waterfalls that can be found there, as well as the popular Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.
We certainly weren’t disappointed by this choice.
As with the day before, the weather wasn’t the best, but once again, we didn’t let that ruin our day.
It would have been a tough feat to do, considering the beauty that assaulted our eyes through the bus windows as soon as we left behind the city limits.
I spent the many hours on the bus that day staring out in awe, wondering how on earth one country could hold so much natural beauty.
One thing I noted down was the intriguing landscape of Iceland – it’s not like anywhere else I’ve visited before, except perhaps some areas reminding me of the gorgeous landscape of Peru, but covered in a layer of heavy white snow.
There’s such a ruggedness to it, and such stark contrasts between the sweeping, flat valleys and the jagged mountains and cliffs.
I imagine seeing Iceland outside of winter would be a very different, but just as aesthetically pleasing experience – seeing what lies under all that snow, and watching the mountains blossoming with specks of green from under the white.
One such natural wonder which looks completely different outside of winter, as I’ve seen documented, is Skogafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 15m and a drop of 60m.
You may have spotted this waterfall in films like Thor: The Dark World, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, as well as in Season 5 of Vikings, and even Justin Bieber’s music video for ‘I’ll Show You’.
Yep, this waterfall is one of the most photographed in the country – which is high praise considering the amount of waterfalls that exist in Iceland.
Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days.
Evidently, I was not there on a sunny day, so I did not witness this sight. But I sure got an incredible glimpse at how it looks in the winter – and man, is that a pretty sight!
Another southern coast sight you may recognise from film and TV is Reynisfjara black sand beach, near Vik.
Also shown in Vikings Season 5, as well as ‘Eastwatch’ in Game of Thrones, the 2014 film Noah, and Star Trek: Into the Darkness, Reynisfjara is another popular sight on the southern coast of Iceland.
The beach not only features the picturesque black sand – which contrasted so gorgeously with the white snow at the time of our visit – but also the Reynisdrangar, basalt sea stacks underneath the cliff facing the beach.
Please keep in mind when visiting, however, as the beach is home to some of the most dangerous waves around, having taken the lives of multiple people in the last ten years, mainly visiting tourists.
Known as “sneaker waves”, the waves can come creeping up on you and suck you in if you are standing too close.
In the case of this happening, nothing can be done to save the victims.
This video shows a near-drowning by the same type of waves that occur at Reynisfjara (See the horror from the minute two mark when the seemingly normal beach and waves all of a sudden turn into a killer situation.
Please heed the warnings of the guides at the beach to not get too close to the waters edge, and NEVER turn your back to the sea and the waves.
In fact, part of Reynisfjara beach, the section known as Kirkjufjara, was closed by The Environment Agency of Iceland in January of 2017 after yet another fatality.
Another danger also lurks at Reynisfjara: Back in 2013, about 100 tonnes of column basalt collapsed in the Halsanefshellir cave on the east side of the beach. Fortunately, nobody was in the cave at the time.
I actually had no idea about the collapse until I returned home from my travels, but am glad now that my “irrational” fear of caves stopped me from stepping under the cave for a photo.
I’m actually surprised our guide didn’t say anything about the collapse to us, as many tourists were going underneath the cave awning, right where the collapse happened, in order to get a nice photo.
In my eyes, they could have been in great danger.
Now, getting back to a lighter topic: I can’t be the only one who turns into a playful little kid at the first sign of snow?
Being quite a snowy and windy day, it was the perfect opportunity for me to have a play in the snow (and for Dan to snap some silly photos of me doing it).
It would be remiss of me to not include a mention of our visit to another picturesque waterfall during this day: Seljalandsfoss, even if (due to the blizzard that began to hit at that time of the day), my shots of it turned out like this:
On a clear day, the 60m high waterfall is a sight for sore eyes – you may also recognise it from Justin Bieber’s ‘I’ll Show You’ music video.
In good weather, visitors can climb to a viewpoint over the waterfall, and also walk behind the falls into a small cave.
Alas, that wasn’t going to happen for us – but that’s just another excuse for Dan and I to head back to Iceland in summer!
Round of applause to Dan though, who managed to get some better shots than I did at Seljalandsfoss!