I’m SO excited to finally share our trip to Iceland with you, partly because I get to relive the memories but also because (as I’m sure you’re already aware) it’s a beautiful country.
I’d organised the trip for James’ 30th birthday at the end of September and was impressed that I’d managed to keep it secret to the day we actually flew (almost 9 months!) It was pretty strange getting excited about somewhere when the other person can’t join in, but the control freak in me did enjoy all the planning sessions. With Iceland being so popular these days there’s plenty of information out there but Two Feet One World, Unlocking Kiki and Pinterest were my go-to sources.
I’m going to skip our first afternoon there and go straight to our first full day driving around the Golden Circle, a popular route of some of Iceland’s best natural attractions. We set out quite early in the hope that we’d possibly get ahead of some of the tour buses. The problem was wanting to stop to take photos enroute.
I restrained myself to just the one stop as I was pretty keen to get to our first destination – Þingvellir National Park. Just a 45 minute or so drive from Reyjavik.
Þingvellir not only offers spectacular views across a rift valley marking the boundary between North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, it also has historical and cultural significance for the country. The national parliament of Iceland was established there back in 930 and operated on this site until 1798.
It was unbelievable just how much history lay before us and how stunning it was as the seasons were beginning to change.
It’s not surprising why Þingvellir is such a popular place to visit as it’s a great place to understand a little more about Iceland’s culture, which I could have wandered around for hours.
It’s easy to see why the producers chose to film scenes for Game of Thrones around here.
As we were stood between the tectonic borders of two continents, I couldn’t quite believe we were actually in Iceland. (But I was surprisingly pretty excited about heading back in a couple of days to delve into its crystal clear glacial water.)
Iceland quickly makes you realise just how much nature dwarfs humanity and it’s pretty humbling.
I can’t remember how long we were there for, maybe an hour or so in the end as there was plenty to see. But with so much still to see we were quite conscious of time so we hopped back into the car.
The drive itself is pretty much as spectacular as each stop.
It reminded me of some of the perks of driving (and being a passenger.)
Naturally, I was keen to make the most of having a car and added some extra stops on to our trip. The first extra (our second stop of the day), was Kerið.
Kerið is a volcanic crater lake, unusually made of red rather than black volcanic rock. You pay a small entrance fee (about £4 I think) and simply walk in a circle around the crater. This picture doesn’t quite seem to do its sheer size justice. 560ft wide and 180ft deep, it’s hard to imagine until you see it.
It was quite a blustery day and with no barriers around the edges I honestly pictured either dropping my phone right into it or tripping and tumbling down. So we decided to walk about a quarter of the way round to the highest point above the crater and walk back to the car to make our way to the next stop.
We saw the Geysir Thermal Area before we got up close, both the jets of steam shooting into the air but it is one of the more built up natural attractions of the trip offering a place to eat (and warm up).
Little Geysir may not look impressive on first sight but it gives you a good idea of what’s bubbling under the surface.
Its big brother Strokkur Geysir is certainly the centre of attention. The fountain geyser erupts once every six to 10 minutes. This means you’re likely to stand there in anticipation of an eruption for about 20 minutes (because once is never enough).
It’s fascinating to watch it bubbling and it always caught me by surprise.
The rest of the area gives you this strange sense of other-worldliness I can’t quite explain.
But like every where in Iceland it offers a pretty epic backdrop.
Almost proof that you’ve visited somewhere that could be an alien planet.
I had added Bruarfoss and Faxi waterfall to our trip but not having a 4X4 or being brave enough to take a rental car on unknown gravel roads (which we might not have been allowed down anyway) meant we had to cut them out of our journey.
But our final sight-seeing spot made up for anything we might have missed. Gulfoss is one of the largest waterfalls in Europe.
With Iceland being one of the most popular destinations to visit right now I was a bit worried that the Golden Circle would be crowded. But overall it wasn’t too bad and everyone appeared to respect their surroundings. I quite enjoyed how other visitors looked tiny against this epic waterfall.
The power of that rushing water was unforgettable.
After being mesmerised by nature for a good while, we hopped back into the car again for just one more stop.
As you can imagine there’s a lot of thermal activity in Iceland, which means that you’ll find a few thermal pools you can actually swim in. I decided the Secret Lagoon would be the perfect end to our day and I was quite right.
It is thought to be the earliest swimming pool in Iceland dating back to 1891. What we found there was a simple rectangular pool, beautifully hot from the steaming springs right beside it.
It’s possibly one of the worst kept secrets in Iceland. But like everywhere else it wasn’t overcrowded and it was much less commerical than the Blue Lagoon.
We made our way home feeling wearily satisfied at having had such an epic day. I chose just one more stop, purely swap driving seats 😉
In case you’re planning to do the drive yourself, here’s a little map of all the places I’d bookmarked for it.
The drive itself took four hours in total (not including time at each site) and all of the roads we took were in good condition. You’ll need a 4X4 if you plan to go off road, but a normal car should be OK in good weather. I would take advice if you plan to travel in winter.
Have you been or are you planning a trip to Iceland?