On our first day in Iceland last January, my husband and I visited the country's most-famous waterfall, Gulfoss, near the town of Geysir. We were so excited to see Gulfoss that we drove straight there from the airport upon arriving early in the morning (as in 2:00 a.m. local time early), then napped in the car from 5:00 a.m. until the sun came up at 10:00. We bundled up, braced ourselves for the morning cold, and started down the short trail to the waterfall. What we found at the trail's end took our breath away - and it wasn't just the blustery wind.
Not surprisingly, we were the only two people at Gulfoss that early in the morning, and being all alone in this frozen wonderland was amazing. On any winter trip to Iceland I definitely recommend a trip to the Gulfoss waterfall, and the earlier you can get there the better to explore before others get there.
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In January, my husband surprised me with a visit to the amazing Iceland to celebrate my 40th birthday. Our trip was eventful from the start, with mechanical problems delaying our flight out of JFK until the following day. We finally arrived in Reykjavik at around 2:00 a.m. local time, but we weren't tired because of the time difference so we decided to drive straight from the airport to our first destination, the town of Geysir about three hours away. We wanted to see Iceland's famous Gulfoss Waterfall in all its frozen splendor.
We arrived in Geysir just before 5:00 a.m. and it was still pitch black outside. I couldn't wait for the sun to come up so I could get my first look at what the frozen Icelandic landscape would look like. My husband and I napped in our car until 10:00 a.m. and awoke to the sun just popping above the horizon. This was the unbelievable scene that greeted us.
Iceland's landscape is unlike any I've seen. Most everything is a soft shade of pink or blue, which is especially striking against the black volcanic rock and white snow. Because the sun never rises far above the horizon in the winter months, soft light bathes Iceland's mountains in the most perfect alpenglow - ideal conditions for landscape photography.
Waking up that first morning at the Gulfoss Waterfall and feeling that I'd been dropped in the middle of a gorgeous, surreal moonscape isn't something I'll soon forget.
I was lucky enough to visit the amazing Iceland in January to celebrate my 40th birthday. As a birthday gift, Mother Nature arranged for a rare solar storm to hit while we were there, causing the already stunning Northern Lights to be even brighter and more active than usual. Not a sight I'll ever forget.
One of our favorite stops in Iceland was the aptly-named Geysir, home to a geyser that erupts every 3 minutes like clockwork and shoots boiling water up to 200 feet in the air. The English word "geyser" is said to have derived from the town of Geysir. The only down side of our stop: The sulfuric steam rising out of the geyser and surrounding hot springs smelled like rotten eggs.
I didn't know what to expect from Iceland in the winter but I absolutely loved it! I can't wait to return in the summer when the long hours of daylight will allow my husband and I to hike until 11:00 p.m. or later - not something we ever get to experience in the U.S.
Because of the high concentration of volcanoes covering Iceland, the country is well known for its abundant geothermal activity. Iceland has perfected ways to harness geothermal energy to generate electricity safely and cheaply, and almost 90% of Icelandic buildings have geothermal heating systems and hot water. Iceland is so dedicated to geothermal power, in fact, that it's announced formal plans to transform itself into a 100% fossil-fuel-free nation in the near future.
Our first stop in Iceland was the small town of Geysir, about a three-hour drive from Reykjavik. The town features a geyser that erupts very reliably every three minutes, shooting boiling, sulfuric water up to 200 feet into the air. Steaming mud pots and hot springs like this one surround the geyser, making for a surreal, otherworldly setting.
When in Iceland, a visit to the aptly-named town of Geysir to see the geyser and hot springs is well worth the trip.
One of the things I definitely wanted to see on my trip to Iceland this January was the famous Gulfoss Waterfall, located in Geysir about a 3-hour drive from Reykjavik. My husband and I were the first ones to arrive at the waterfall this morning, with the sun just popping above the horizon (although it was almost 10:00 a.m. - short winter days in Iceland).
We bundled up as best we could and hiked the short walk down to the waterfall and our mouths dropped open when we saw this. It was a winter wonderland - serene, dramatic, indescribably beautiful. The frozen waterfall was even better than I had expected; we were so glad we'd made the drive from Reykjavik. My husband and I almost didn't notice the frigid cold we were so entranced.
If you happen to visit Iceland in winter (an unexpectedly wonderful time to go), I highly recommend making a trip to the amazing Gulfoss Waterfall in Geysir - you won't be sorry you did!
One of my favorite things about Iceland in the winter is its long, dramatic sunrises and sunsets. As my husband and I planned our trip in January, I worried about the shortness of Iceland's days in the middle of winter. Everything I read said there was only 7 or 8 hours of daylight, and I pictured us sitting in our hotel room most of the time because it was dark outside.
Far from being a negative, the sunrises and sunsets we witnessed on our five days in Iceland were some of the most memorable ever. The sun rose fully above the horizon around 10:00 a.m., but starting at 8:30 or so it was light enough to easily move around outside. Similarly, sunsets began around 4:30 p.m. but lasted for more than an hour, the sky painted a gorgeous pink and baby blue the whole time.
I loved how these rock formations next to the Gulfoss Waterfall stood out so strikingly against the sunrise's serene colors. Winter is a magical time to visit Iceland, so don't be scared off by warnings of its short days.
There were two things in particular I was most looking forward to seeing on my trip to Iceland in January: the Northern Lights and Icelandic ponies. Luckily, both far exceeded what I had envisioned.
Iceland is known for its beautiful ponies. They're smaller than standard horses (maybe 3/4 the size or so), stand about 52-56 inches tall, and weigh in around 700-850 pounds. My husband and I were utterly charmed by their endearing curiosity and sweet disposition.
I especially liked the ponies like this one that had a striking blond mane and tail that contrasted with their dark-colored bodies. My husband gave this pony a nice long ear scratching that made him so relaxed he took a little nap.
I didn't know what to expect from Iceland, but from its rugged landscapes and unique geothermal activity to its brilliant Northern Lights and gorgeous ponies, the country certainly did not disappoint!
Driving from Geysir to Selfoss after having seen the stunning Gulfoss Waterfall, my husband and I stopped to chat with some of the beautiful Icelandic ponies we'd passed along the way. We figured this friendly guy had to be the chairman of the welcoming committee.
I was so impressed with the beautiful Icelandic ponies I'd heard so much about - they were one of the things I most wanted to see during the trip and they did not disappoint. The ponies were endearingly curious with a sweet, easy-going disposition, and they all loved my husband's great ear scratches. It's clear by this picture that he and the ponies were kindred spirits.
When in Iceland, make sure to take a minute to stop by the roadside for an up-close view of the famed Icelandic ponies.
If you're a horse lover, then Iceland is the place for you! In planning my January trip to Iceland, I was excited to see two things: the magical Northern Lights and the famed Icelandic ponies. Both exceeded my expectations.
The ponies were endearingly curious and friendly, and they loved a good ear scratching. More petite than a normal horses, the ponies weigh between 750-800 pounds and are about three-quarters the size of a standard horse - a lot less intimidating to someone like me who likes horses but isn't used to being around them.
My husband and I were a bit surprised to see that some Icelandic restaurants offered horse on their menu - a cultural difference we definitely weren't used to seeing.
When in Iceland, make sure to make a quick stop along the road to say hello to some friendly Icelandic ponies - they're sure to charm you.
Driving back from the amazing Gulfoss Waterfall in Geysir, my husband and I stopped by the side of the road to see one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing in Iceland: beautiful Icelandic ponies.
I felt badly for the ponies at first because it was a frigid, blustery January day and they didn't seem to have any structure they could get inside to get warm. But then when I felt their thick fur I realized they were made to live in Iceland's inhospitable conditions. They all seemed pretty happy and gladly received our pets and ear scratches.
Icelandic ponies are a bit smaller than standard horses, about three-quarters the size and between 750-800 pounds. That makes them a bit less intimidating for people like me who like horses but aren't necessarily comfortable around them.
On any trip to Iceland, a roadside stop to visit with some friendly ponies is a must.
Like most horses, Icelandic ponies come in all colors: black, white, multi-colored. But by far my favorites were the brown ones with golden manes and tails that seemed to glow when the soft Icelandic sun hit them.
Icelandic ponies are a bit smaller than standard horses, about three-quarters the size and between 750-800 pounds, making them a bit more approachable than standard large horses. They're a hearty breed, able to thrive in even the harshest of Iceland's frigid winters.
I knew Icelandic ponies would be beautiful but I didn't know just how beautiful until I saw them in person. They definitely exceeded my expectations.
Geysir is home to one of Iceland's most famous features, the jaw-dropping Gulfoss Waterfall, but its less popular attractions are worth a visit as well. The appropriately-named town has an interesting geyser that shoots boiling hot water up to 200 feet into the air very reliably every three minutes and is definitely worth seeing.
Surrounding the geyser are bubbling mud pots and steam vents like this one. Seen all together, the geothermal area gives Geysir an otherworldly look, like what I would picture the surface of the moon must look like.
On any trip to Iceland, a visit to Geysir to see the stunning Gulfoss Waterfall and the town's famous geothermal area is a worthwhile trip.
Aside from the amazing Northern Lights, which topped everything else for me, Iceland's famed ponies were my favorite thing on my January trip to this one-of-a-kind country. Only three-quarters the size of a standard horse and with a sweet, laid-back disposition, Icelandic ponies are a hearty breed able to live easily through harsh, frigid winters.
You'll find these endearing ponies everywhere in Iceland, so stop along the road and say hello. My favorites were the brown ponies with gorgeous blond manes and tails that glowed when the sun hit them.
Iceland is a magical place. From its brilliant Northern Lights and dramatic sunsets to its fascinating bubbling mud pots and stunning ponies, Iceland has something for everyone!
What a great experience this was. I had never seen a geyser before and this was just WOW. The day was not the best of day. It was very windy, cold, raining but people were still there waiting patiently for it to explode. And what an explosion, very loud. We were all waiting there with camera covered in plastic, ready to get the moment. It's happening so fast that a few times I missed it. We traveled with kids and we made sure they were stuck to us. Not a kid friendly place but not dangerous if you are paying attention. Across the street from it there is a restaurant, gift shop and a hotel.
On the same route as Gullfoss Waterfall and Thingvellir National Park, you'll find one of Iceland's premiere geysirs.
Be careful not to touch the waters, it won't be a good ending if so. I would suggest keeping children close to you, or even holding them while you view the geysir. The explotions happen every few minutes and are a sight to see.