Travel Diary: Reykjavík & Golden Circle Iceland / by Sarah Park

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Reykjavík & Golden Circle, IS

Discovering the magic of Iceland one waterfall and swimming hole at a time.

Iceland has been all the rage in the last few years but it doesn’t seem like the craze has simmered down just yet. If you’ve ever been to Iceland with a proper chance to experience the undistrubed beauty of its nature, then you’d totally understand why people fall in love. I know I did.

This island nation situated between the United Kingdom and Greenland was a hidden gem the tourism industry is loving right now. The landscape created by volcanic activity, geothermal pools, and moss covered mounds spanning as far as the eye can see is unique. I had the opportunity to visit back in May 2016 with a group of women I had never met before and absolutely fell in love. Iceland has this magic about the land, that makes you almost feel like you’ve traveled to another universe. You feel a sense of calm and ease, the stress of constantly being “on-the-go” in busy cities just melt away and you’re left with feelings of gratitude and wonder. Since then I’ve returned once again in May 2017 for our engagement photoshoot with my dear friend and amazing photographer Hana Noguchi.

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For the rest of our trip, I was led through an intinerary of stops around the famous Golden Circle for my first time in Iceland. I flew in a few days early to enjoy some alone time and explore through the capital city of Reykjavík. This trip was a spontaneous decision I made, while coming across an Instagram post by the wonder architect, Kym Pham. She’s a magical woman creating unforgettable experiences with soul sisters across the globe, one hidden gem at a time.

There’s a lot you can see on foot in the city-center of Reykjavík. Of course, I did some research to find good, local restaurants like Matur og Drykkur, Noodle Station, and Grillmarkaðurinn (grillmarket). Matur of Drykkur is conveniently located next to the Saga Museum which makes it easy for you to tie an activity with a classic meal. This restaurant features traditional Icelandic dishes such as Cod Head and Roast Lamb with a modern flair. Noodle stations is honestly one of my favorite places to eat because it’s located right by all the shops and price is affordable; it makes a good resting spot admist your sight-seeing activities. It’s run by a Thai family, so you can bet that the flavors in the broth have familiar Asian elements modified to accommdate an Icelandic palate. Lastly, Grillmarkaðurinn is an upscale dining experience, I highly recommend getting a reservation to make sure you have a seat. The dishes are on the higher end of the spectrum but worth the experience!

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You can find lots of cute, Scadinavian home decor shops, restaurants, and cafes along Laugavegur and the surrounding area. One memorable experience was stepping into Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church, named after an Icelandic poet. The church is one of the tallest buildings in the country and the architecture was inspired by the landscape. You can pay a small fee to ride the elevator to the very top for an amazing 360 view of the city with colorful buildings and the bay. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch the organist playing the pipe organ.

There are plenty of hostels, hotels, and Airbnbs to choose from in the capital city, just make sure you read the reviews to make sure you know what you’re getting into. The most affordable options in a hostel usually has just a bed and a locker for you to store your things, bring your own lock to be safe! They also have commnual showers and a dining area so you can make your own meals. If you’re looking for more privacy, a hotel is also a good option. However, if you’re traveling in a group of four or more, I suggest getting an Airbnb. Eating out can get expensive so we went grocery shopping at popular store called Bonus.

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Kym guided us through a mix of locations from both very popular to uncommonly known corners of the Golden Circle. We stopped by iconic waterfalls like Gulfoss and Skogafoss but also ones tucked away like Hjálparfoss and Kvernufoss. It’s such a precious learning experience being guided by someone who knows the island so well. We learned that Hjálparfoss is made up of two converging waterwalls with a boulder that resembles a roaring bear on the top left corner. When we arrived at this waterfall, the sky had turned gray and started to drizzle. This did not put a damper on our visit, if anything, we embraced the fickle tendency of nature. We belted out our anxieties and worries into the air, our shouting voices masked by the roaring waterfalls to free ourselves of the negative thoughts weighing us down.

Also, making our way to find Kvernufoss was a bit of a trek, made you feel like you were truly an explorer walking through the vast unknown (which is not true since there are plenty of other explorers who have spent time by this waterfall, but it’s the feeling that counts). We made it a point to bring some snacks and drinks to stop for a mini picnic and a meditation session. Our trip was filled with spontaneous conversations, allowing our hearts to speak without judgment.

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Another thing I love about Iceland is the countless hot pots (hot springs) you can find around the country. You’re probably familiar with Blue Lagoon, which is located between Keflavík Airport and Reykjavík. It’s a one-of-a-kind spa experience where you get to soak in a milky blue, geothermal pool and pamper yourself with a silica facemask for that baby-bottom smooth skin. There are other free or low-key hot pots like Gamla Laugin (Secret Lagoon) in the village of Fluðir. It’s a short car ride from the city but worth the trip if you’re looking for a more intimate experience.

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If you want more information to help you plan for your trip to Iceland, check out my video below for more tips!