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!
Flying out of Reykjavik, Iceland, in January after a wonderful five day trip, this was the last sight I saw before falling asleep - the inhospitable arctic landscape of Greenland. The third-largest country in North America and the world's largest island, Greenland is home to fewer than 58,000 people, despite its enormous size. The country's towns and villages all are located along the west coast, which is largely free of ice and more habitable.
Iceland in the winter is a sight to behold - I would recommend it to any traveler who likes a bit of adventure. As much as I love summer, it almost makes me wish for winter to come again so I can return. If you're flying out of Reykjavik on your way home, be sure to take a peek at Greenland. While stunning from the air, it's guaranteed to make you glad to live where you do!
On our last morning in amazing Iceland, my husband and I awoke in Reykjavik to a coat of fresh snowfall blanketing the city. I had already fallen in love with Reykjavik when it wasn't covered in snow. I loved the quirky sense of humor in its artwork and architecture, its seeming obsession with hot dogs and dairy products, its cute boutiques and world-class restaurants. But when I woke on this morning and saw Reykjavik under a blanket of fresh, white snow, my love affair with the city moved to a whole new level.
We were the only people out walking on this morning as it was still early by Icelandic standards, around 9:30 or so with the sun just rising and hidden behind the moody storm clouds. My husband and I walked the streets for about an hour virtually without seeing another soul, enjoying the peace and quiet of this winter wonderland.
My husband and I lived in Manhattan for years,...
Strolling through beautiful Reykjavik with my husband on a chilly January night, I loved to watch the people tucked away in the town's many restaurants, warm and cozy and enjoying a delicious dinner.
One of the best restaurants we came across in Reykjavik was the impossible-to-pronounce Grillmarkaðurinn, or Grill Market (http://www.grillmarkadurinn.is/). Grillmarkaðurinn is a perfect example of farm-to-table cooking, working in tandem with local farmers to buy whatever produce is in season and incorporating it into their dishes each day.
While Icelandic cuisine likely conjures up images of rotten shark and pickled fish, Grillmarkaðurinn specializes in delicious meats, grilled to absolute perfection. If you're an adventurous eater, order the appetizer of three small burgers, one each of whale, puffin, and reindeer. You'll get a taste for traditional Icelandic cuisine, but with a modern...
On our second day in Iceland this January, my husband and I visited the spectacular Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, located on the Southern Ring Road between Selfoss and Skogafoss on the way to the quaint coastal village of Vik.
We were prepared for Iceland's frigid January temperatures and wore layers of clothes to stay warm, which worked most of the time. But just as we got out of the car to explore the waterfall on this morning a blustery wind picked up, plunging the already frigid temperatures even lower and dousing us with spray from the waterfall, where it froze on contact.
The up side of the temperature was that it made for some killer icicle formations! A short hiking trail runs to the top of the waterfall (great to take in the warmer months for a unique view of the falls), but we only got about half-way up before the snow and ice made the trail too slippery and dangerous to...
A stop at the impossible-to-pronounce Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is a must if you're on the Southern Ring Road between Selfoss and Skogafoss in beautiful Iceland. While the falls themselves are amazing to see, plunging about 200 feet into deep pool, the landscape around the falls is just as impressive. My husband agreed, here capturing a photo of the area's dramatic, moody landscape.
If you're driving to the quaint coastal villege of Vik from Selfoss, which I highly recommend, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is a worthwhile stop along the way. The landscape surrounding the falls is just as impressive, just in a different way.
Just outside Reykjavik, in the tiny coastal village of Gardur on the Reykjanes peninsula, lies the Gardskagi lighthouse, definitely worth a trip if you're visiting Iceland.
Two lighthouses sit on the Reykjanes peninsula, with Gardskagi being the taller of the two at around 90 feet tall. In fact, it's Iceland's tallest lighthouse, and recently Icelanders voted it their second-favorite in the whole country.
A shorter lighthouse was built in 1897 and was particularly good in foggy conditions because it sat below the fog and was unaffected by it. But because it was built right on the coastline, the ground under that shorter lighthouse eroded and left it unsafe to use, leading to the Gardskagi lighthouse being built in 1944 a safer distance from the coastline. Today Gardskagi is equipped with transponders that Iceland's weather service uses for storm tracking.
Although it was covered with...
As we did every day during our trip to Iceland this January, on our drive back to Selfoss from coastal Vik, my husband and I sought out a perfect place to watch the sun set. We sat at this roadside stop for over an hour watching the sun drop below the horizon, painting the sky all shades of pink and blue in the process.
Just as the sun went down, storm clouds rolled in and darkened the sky's cheerful pinks, transforming the coast into a moody blue scene. That's the best thing about Iceland's epic sunsets - they last for more than an hour in the winter, an ever-changing light show ranging from pastel pinks to dramatic blues.
Iceland's dazzling sunsets are sure to be one of the many special things you'll remember about this magical country long after you've returned home.
Driving back to Selfoss after a visit to the charming coastal town of Vik, Iceland's southernmost village, most of the landscape was like much of the rest we'd seen: flat and desolate. So we were surprised when we came across these interesting mounds running next to the road. They looked like a miniature mountain range.
I loved the contrast of the clean white snow against the sharp black peaks. The sun had just set and storm clouds were rolling in, creating a moody, dramatic scene that you could almost feel physically.
On any trip to Iceland, a visit to the beautiful Vik is a must. As an added bonus, you're sure to enjoy the area's unique geological features that you're not likely to see elsewhere in Iceland.
On our way from Selfoss to Vik, we passed this gorgeous waterfall called Skógafoss cascading over towering cliffs that used to make up Iceland's coastline. Long ago the coastline receded towards the sea about 3.1 miles but the former sea cliffs remained, combining with the mountains around them to form a natural dividing line between the coastal lowlands below and the rural highlands above.
Skógafoss Waterfall is one of Iceland's largest, over 80 feet wide and 200 feet tall. If you look closely, you can see from this photo how large the falls are by how tiny the people in the foreground look. Because of its size, the waterfall produces a lot of spray, and on sunny days you're often treated to at least a single rainbow, often a double one. But that same spray can be a shocking surprise when it hits your face on a frigid winter day.
If you feel like an added adventure, you can hike a...
My husband and I ended our first day in magical Iceland at the small coastal fishing village of Eyrarbakki, where we were treated to the first of many dazzling sunsets I came to associate with this amazing country. I caught my husband in this moment watching the sun set and wondering at the beauty of Iceland's coast.
Eyrarbakki is typical of what we found in most towns outside Reykjavik, very small with just over 550 residents. What set Eyrarbakki apart was the prison located there, the biggest in Iceland and by far the largest employer in the region. The village used to be home to an aluminum frying pan factory and fish processing plant, but both unfortunately have closed.
If you're looking for the best place in Iceland to watch the epic, 1.5-hour winter sunsets we enjoyed each day, I recommend heading for the beach in Eyrarbakki for a view that can't be beat.
I think Geysir's famed Gulfoss Waterfall is even more spectacular in the winter when the frigid Icelandic temperatures and blustery winds transform the waterfall into a jaw-dropping frozen wonderland.
Gulfoss Waterfall was the very first thing my husband and I went to see on our January trip to Iceland, and I knew as soon as I laid eyes on it that this wouldn't be a trip I'd soon forget. We managed to be at the waterfall just as the sun was popping above the horizon around 10:00 a.m. and we had the whole place to explore by ourselves before other tourists showed up.
On any trip to Iceland, definitely take the time to see the famed Gulfoss Waterfall, which I think is even more dramatic and beautiful if you can see it in the winter.
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.
The charming coastal town of Vik is a perfect destination on any trip to Iceland. Vik is the southernmost village in Iceland and happens to be the wettest spot in the country.
Arguably the best thing about Vik is its amazing beaches at Reynisdrangar. Made from coarse, midnight-black volcanic sand, Vik's beaches are especially beautiful when contrasted against fresh white snow and a pounding surf. The beaches feature unique basalt columns rising out of the sea that Icelandic folk lore says are former trolls who got caught outside at dawn when they should have been inside.
On any trip to Iceland, a stop in charming Vik for a walk on its beautiful black-sand beaches 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.
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.
By far, one of Iceland's best features, especially in the winter, is its amazing sunsets. When my husband and I visited in January, the short days meant that the sun fully rose above the horizon around 10:00 a.m. and dropped below it again at 6:00 p.m. or so. During the day, the sun sat just above the horizon and bathed the landscape in a soft alpenglow - magical lighting for photography.
My husband and I made it a point at around 4:30 each afternoon to be somewhere we could watch the sun setting, and we would sit there enjoying the sun paint the sky all shades of pink and blue before slipping below the horizon around 6:00. Then off we would go to find a delicious dinner, happy as could be.
Those amazing Icelandic sunsets - and the serene lighting throughout the day - were some of our best memories of this one-of-a-kind country. I can't wait to go back!
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.
Just outside Reykjavik, my husband and I happened upon an area called Seltun that was replete with geothermal activity - steaming vents, bubbling mud pots. The air was thick with sulfur that smelled like rotten eggs, and water and mud boiled in exposed pools, leaving behind interesting mineral deposits and formations.
When I first saw this mud pot I thought it looked like ice, which would make sense for Iceland in January. But these mud pots were actually boiling hot, and the holes in the top layer were caused by the very opposite of ice: hot water bubbling up and out of the pots.
Iceland is a country of amazing contrasts, in this case steaming hot mud on a cold winter's day.
Just outside Reykjavik, on our way to the one-of-a-kind Blue Lagoon, my husband and I noticed what looked like steam coming out of the ground not far off the road. Out curiosity piqued, we decided to check it out and turned onto a side road that dead-ended at an amazing geothermal area called Gunnuhver. A wonderful unexpected find!
The area had everything from bubbling mud pots to these otherworldly steaming vents. Once again I was reminded of the dramatic contrasts that I came to associate with Iceland: soft and hard, old and new, light and dark. In this case, the air was frigid as we walked on the boardwalk above the vents, but we could hear the water under the boardwalk bubbling as it boiled. The steam was a fun way to warm up (at least briefly) on a blustery January afternoon!
Driving through a remote stretch of Iceland near the fascinating Seltun geothermal area outside Reykjavik, I was struck by how self-sufficient and strong you have to be to live in Iceland, especially in the long, cold winter months. This was a farm in the countryside, and the next-closest neighbor had to be at least 15 miles away.
I knew that Iceland was very unpopulated, with just over 300,000 people living in the whole country with one-third of them in Reykjavik. But I was still surprised by how few people we saw once we got outside Reykjavik. We would literally drive for hours without passing another car.
Iceland is an amazing country, and I was thrilled to be able to visit in winter when the moody clouds and fresh snow added drama and mystery to everything.
Visiting Iceland in January, my husband and I decided we wanted to see some of Iceland's geothermal activity up close, so we drove to a little area outside Reykjavik, near the Blue Lagoon, called Seltun that's known for its geothermal pools, steam vents, and pots of bubbling mud. I loved the colorful minerals the sulfuric water left behind - shades of blue, gold, green.
I found Iceland to be a land of contrasts - light vs. dark, soft vs. hard, modern vs. traditional. The mud pots and bubbling pools introduced me to another stark contrast: frigid cold vs. boiling hot.
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.
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!
If I could pick one word to describe Reykjavik it definitely would be "quirky" - in a great way. Icelanders living in the capitol city have created a wonderful sense of whimsy throughout the town, and you'll see many blocks like this with eye-popping splashes of color and fanciful murals.
I don't know if it's to offset the gloomy winter days or for some other reason, but Reykjavik residents seem determined to fill their town with color, charm, and whimsy - sure to make you smile even on the most frigid, overcast day. They took the idea of painting the town red to a whole new level!
The impossible-to-pronounce Seljalandsfoss Waterfall in Iceland lies on the Southern Ring Road between the towns of Selfoss and Skogafoss on the way to the coastal town of Vik. The falls plunge about 200 feet into deep pool. Much of the waterfall is frozen during the frigid winter months, adding to its beauty and drama.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is popular with tourists, especially during the summer months when you can hike around the pool and go behind the falls for a one-of-a-kind view through the falling water.
If you're driving to Vik from Selfoss (which I definitely recommend), Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is a worthwhile stop along the way.
Visiting the tiny fishing village of Eyrarbakki on the southern coast of Icleand, home to only 570 people (not including the prisoners at the village's prison, Iceland's largest), I was struck once again by the dramatic contrasts I noticed all through Iceland: icy cold next to fiery hot, soft and fluffy against hard and sharp. In this case it was pitch black, jagged sand covered by pure white, soft foam.
I know now why they call Iceland "The Land of Fire and Ice." Such contrasts run throughout the country and make it a magical place unlike any I've ever seen.