You know the beginning of that song “Miracles Happen” from the classic movie “The Princess Diaries?” The little riff that sounds magical and is used at the end of the movie when Mia Thermopolis finally accepts her role as princess of Genovia?

That’s what driving through Iceland feels like. I know because that song played right as the sun started coming up over the cloudy mountains while we drove through the dark green, rocky landscape, exploring the Golden Circle.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First things first: Andi and I were so nervous after being dropped off at the airport in Chicago. The trip we’d talked about for so long was finally happening and we were so excited, but couldn’t help asking questions like, “What if we run out of money?” or “What if we get kidnapped like in the movie ‘Taken?'” Or “What if we just get homesick?” Luckily, those feeling passed. The moment we landed, we felt a weird sense of tranquility come over us. And today, we keep being like, “Can you believe we just got here yesterday?! It feels like we’ve been traveling for weeks!”

Iceland: A Recap

Andi and I lucked out with a direct flight from Chicago to Reykjavik, Iceland, that left at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and got here around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. The flight was only about five hours and neither of us slept very well, so we were exhausted but full of adrenaline when we landed.

We had a few hours to kill before we could check into our airbnb, so we picked up a rental car and started exploring. (Side note: Our rental came with a discount card for gas that also allows us to get free coffee at gas stations, sustenance I desperately needed. Score!) We drove around for a bit and decided to go to Hallgrimskirkja Church. It’s different than any church I’ve seen before and we were able to go to the top of the tower and get an aerial view of the city. I always think that’s a great way to start a trip to a new place – get a good look at the entire thing from above.

That night, we went to Blue Lagoon, which will probably be one of the most memorable experiences of this entire trip. The Blue Lagoon is a pool of geothermal seawater. It’s technically a spa experience – you can get a massage or other treatments and it comes with a complimentary face mask. The pool itself is absolutely gorgeous, warm, and soothing to the skin (but it makes your hair as rough as a rag). We didn’t want to leave! It was the perfect start to our trip.

On Thursday, we took on the Golden Circle, which is basically a drive through Iceland that has a bunch of different sites like hikes, lakes, waterfalls, churches, museums, and other fun pit stops. Planning this reminded me of a family vacation we took to Maui; we did the Road to Hana, which is a route up a mountain that also has various stops. What’s nice about both the Golden Circle and the Road to Hana is you can do them either on a guided tour or in a rental car. If you rent a car, you can go at your own pace – which means you could spend up to a week exploring everything it has to offer or just a day, like we did.

The Golden Circle route itself is only about three and a half hours, but with stops it took us closer to nine. We got to see a variety of sites and even though we were only here two days, we’re leaving feeling like we’ve seen a lot of it. Here’s a look at what we saw:

About Iceland

I lost track of the amount of times we started a sentence with “I wonder if…” in regards to this country. We’ve been fascinated by it since we decided to start our trip here.

“I wonder how much of the country is made up of national parks.”

20 percent. Compare that to 3.5 percent of the United States. This place is Leslie Knope’s dream.

“I wonder how long this country has been a country.”

The Vikings settled here in the 900s, but the country wasn’t independent until shortly after World War II. It was ruled by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark off and on for a while.

“I wonder if the water is good to drink here.”

You betcha. In fact, it’s encouraged to drink. The tap water is straight from the lakes and creeks, and the natural minerals are incredibly good for you.

“I wonder what’s on Netflix here.”

All of “Downton Abbey.” And “No Strings Attached.”

“I wonder what typical Icelandic food is.”

Seafood, potatoes, lamb.

“I wonder what kind of crops they grow here.”

Potatoes, barley, rhubarb, kale, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, rapeseed, rutabaga, leeks.

“I wonder what time the sun sets here.”

10:45 p.m. And it rises at 4 a.m.

In other news, I decided to start keeping a “When I Return” list — some things I didn’t get to or wish I would’ve planned for this time around that I definitely want to do next time around (because I’m always looking for reasons to come back). I’ll share it on my blog. And for those of you wanting to follow along, I put our itinerary up on my website! Up next: London.

Things I’ve Learned

  • Sometimes, airbnb is cheaper than staying in a hostel. (A surprise to me.)
  • Luton and London are two different places. Oops – I booked a flight to Luton thinking that was the Icelandic word for London. We laughed about that one for a while (I’m talking abs hurting, rolling on the floor, cackling about it.) Luckily, it was a quick fix – we’re grabbing a bus to London and meeting a friend there.
  • Google photos is a lifesaver when you’re low on phone space and want to capture every moment.
  • Having a long day is a beautiful thing because it makes you sleep like a freaking rock.
  • Geysers are cool but they smell funny.

Tips for Travel in Iceland

  • Rent a car, but brace yourself because it’s expensive. It’s totally worth it, though, and honestly — it’s really the only way to get around.
  • Expect it to be colder than you think (and pack accordingly).
  • Take some time to explore the Golden Circle and do some research on where you want to go. The must-sees are Geysir, Gulfoss Waterfall, and Kerid Crater Lake. Here’s a blog we used to guide our experience.
  • Blue Lagoon is expensive, but worth the splurge. If you’re in Reykjavik, you NEED to go.
  • Reykjavik is cool, but you should venture out of the city to get a real feel for the culture and see some of the beautiful landscapes.
  • And finally, my When I Return list for those of you who might be spending more time here in the future: Spend time hiking, go to Budir Church, visit Reynisfjara Beach and Vik Beach, see the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón, and spend more time driving through the Golden Circle.

Before this blog is over, I have to express how much this country has stolen our hearts. It was the perfect place to start our summer — and a huge check off of both our bucket lists! We plan on coming back someday and spending more time here. I highly recommend that you, dear reader, make it out here at some point, too.

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