Small, vibrant and sophisticated as well as being rich in culture and history, Reykjavik is the gateway to Iceland and the natural starting point to any Iceland adventure. Unlike your conventional capital city, Reykjavik lacks the anticipated skyscrapers, traffic jams and the characteristic mad rush. This unconventional capital city along with its reasonable striking distances to many of Iceland’s gems, is what makes it an attractive base for visitors to settle into during their stay. Having the freedom of your own car to venture out of the city to some of the stunning attractions is a no brainer and Lagoon Car Rental, a local family business, was able to provide us with a great service and affordable prices for the week.
Up until the year 2000, Iceland was far from being considered a popular tourist destination, but a drop in value of the Icelandic Kroner saw a breakthrough in their tourism industry due to invitingly cheap holidays. However, it was not until 2010 when Iceland saw its greatest bit of PR with the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, better known to Europe as E15 which caused aviation chaos throughout the entirety of Europe. The media coverage which followed, exposed some of the countries dramatic landscapes and illustrated its extreme contrasts which has gained a lot of attention from across the globe as “The Land of Fire and Ice”.
- Gullfoss -
A spectacular waterfall which was nearly seen lost in the early 20th century when investors looked beyond its natural beauty and pushed to harness its ferocity and produce electricity. Considered as Iceland’s first environmentalist, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson who owned Gullfoss, made every sacrifice possible as well as going to the extremes of threating to throw herself into the waterfall in attempts to preserve Gullfoss. Despite her unsuccessful pleas in court, the lack of rent payments meant the project was dismissed. Fortunately, Gullfoss is today protected as a nature reserve and is a phenomenal sight which can be enjoyed from a number of platforms depending how close and wet you might want to get.
- Geysirs -
A Geyser is basically an opening in the earth’s surface which periodically ejects a fountain of hot water and steam due to the boiling of water below the ground. With this spectacular phenomenon being due to unusual geothermal activity, they are only found at a number of locations across the globe.
As can be seen from the slightest of variations in spelling, the word Geyser is derived from Geysir which in itself is derived from the Icelandic term Geysa which means "to gush". Geysir, the oldest of the Geysers known to man, lies in the geothermal fields in Haukadalur Valley along with it’s much younger but active friend Strokkur. Despite being an irregular event, Strokkur does erupt very frequently, about every 4-5 minutes, reaching heights up to about 30m.
- Thingvellir National Park -
A National shrine and UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is greatly significant in Icelandic history as the location where the oldest existing parliament in the world was established way back in 930AD. Its historical significance is not the only draw to this magnificent National park but rather it’s geological features such as its fissures and rifts which are literally drifting apart. The largest, known as Almannagja, provides the opportunity to walk through the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates which expands by 2cm every year. Situated on the shore of Thingvallavatn Lake, the largest lake in Iceland, its world renowned crystal clear waters also provide the opportunity to dive between these plates in waters which supposedly offer visibilities greater than human eye can possibly see (Visit our Silfra Blog). Its varied habitat and ecological features create the ideal habitat for fresh water marine life especially the Arctic Char and Brown Trout whose size is continually drawing attention to avid fishermen.
- Silfra Diving -
Located within the Thingvellir National Park, it is the only place on earth where you have the unique opportunity to dive between two tectonic plates (Eurasian and North American). The clarity and colours of these waters is mesmerizing and is difficult to put into words in order to do it any form of justice.
A snorkelling trip like no other, it was always a must on our list when in Iceland and going with Dive.IS just made it that all-round complete experience. Flexible in their arrangements, as we were in the area we chose to meet at the national park, but there is however their option of pick-up from Reykjavik. We do believe that on small guided trips your guide really does either make or break your experience as to whether they are passionate and enthusiastic or not. From a welcoming introduction to an in-depth background about the unique geology and cultural history of Silfra as well as the surrounding area of the UNESCO world heritage followed by the preparation process of getting into our gear, we could not have asked for anymore. With close to sub-zero temperatures out of the water, Dive.IS make sure you are comfortable when in the water and therefore provided us with the ideal diving suits which included a warm onesie which we wore beneath a complete dry suit which only left our faces exposed in order to fit our masks.
The snorkelling itself, the time we spent in the water was close to 40 minutes, however felt no longer than 5. From the second we stepped foot into the fissure to when we stepped out, we were both in complete awe and utter admiration into the beauty and geological significance of Silfra. From the Silfra Hall through to the Cathedral and in to the Lagoon, the variation in colours, depths, widths and formations within Silfra will no doubt leave you lost for words as well as forgetting the waters are only 2°C.
What makes the water so clear? The water that fills the lake originates from Langjokull clacier, approximately 50km away. With no direct route for melt water to reach Thingvallavatn Lake this water infiltrates through the lava rock which acts as a natural filter. With 50km to travel, a journey taking between 30 to 100 years and constantly being filtered along the way, Silfra is provided with possibly the clearest and most pristine waters on our planet and despite the cold winter temperatures, a light snowfall and waters at 2°C, Dive.IS equipped us so well that we forgot it was cold.
Having come out of the water to a light shower of snow, there was not a lot more we could have asked for, but to finish it off there were hot drinks and biscuits over our final goodbyes.
Always in search of that additional sense of adventure and excitement, Bessi (driver/owner) from Moonwalker Tours gave us the opportunity to go beyond the end of the road and venture out towards Langjokull Glacier. Icelandic for "long glacier" it is the second largest ice cap in the country at 50km long, 15-20km wide and with an area of 935km².
Faced with a late afternoon storm and a few days of heavy snow fall prior to our adventure, getting onto the glacier proved to be difficult even with the big wheels due to the thick snow and steep inclines. Despite being unable to physically get onto the glacier, we were however able to plough around the base in the snow getting stuck a few times. Able to experience the four seasons in one day, it is impossible for even the most of experienced drivers to predict the conditions and terrain for the day ahead. With this in mind no off-road adventures can be pre-determined but rather played out upon arrival. This however makes it the adventure that it is and venturing out not knowing what to expect and where you will end up.
Moonwalker’s wealth of experience and its fully equipped vehicles with all the right equipment for the roughest and most brutal terrain and conditions, heading out into Iceland’s wild is both exciting and safe.
< Click HERE for 'Exploring the Golden Circle with Moonwalker Tours' >
A unique experience like no other, Arcanum Glacier Tours took us up onto Myrdalsjokull Glacier, an icecap which covers one of Iceland’s largest volcanos, Katla and is today well over its due date for an eruption.
With a Caldera of 110km², the 250m thick glacier ice sits in the second largest caldera in Iceland. With a surface area of approximately 600km², the glacier’s thickness does vary reaching mindboggling depths of 750m.
As our first time on snowmobiles, touring the glacier through the thick powdered snow cover was great fun which was topped off with some spectacular views over southern Iceland.
Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest glacier in both Iceland and Europe, displays fascinating ice caves. Like GoEcco Eco Tours describes "It’s like standing under a frozen blue ocean or in a frozen cathedral surrounded by millions of shades of blue". Vatnajokull Glacier has a surface area of approximately 8000km² which covers 8% of the Island. It’s thickness is equally impressive as its average is between 400-600m but in certain areas does reach depths of almost 1000m!
"It’s like standing under a frozen blue ocean or in a frozen cathedral surrounded by millions of shades of blue"
Many tour companies provide daily guided tours into the cave. We chose GoEcco Eco Tours where we were picked up by Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and transported in their 4x4 truck through the harsh road conditions, where we were driven right up to the caves entrance. GoEcco provided the helmet and shoes and a very knowledgable friendly guide.
"depths of almost 1000m!"
Having formed over thousands of years on top of valleys, mountains and volcanoes, the constant movement and varying seasonal conditions create some astonishing Ice caves which are accessible to visitors. However, due to their unpredictable nature, there is a need to go with a guide who is able to ensure you are safe beneath the ice as well as being able to give you a detailed insight into the Glacier’s history and the formation of these natural marvels. Created and altered by the seasonal conditions, these caves are only accessible during the months of December through to March when the temperatures restrict melting and movement in the ice.
Unfortunately due to its confining size along with currently being one of Iceland’s top attractions, the cave does however get quite busy inside and can be slightly restricting.
However, all in all it was still extremely impressive and very interesting thanks to GoEcco Eco Tours.
What was once believed to be a stereotypical cone shaped volcano is now a beautiful volcanic caldera which homes a stunning dark blue crater lake. At 55m deep, 170m wide and 270m across, it resembles a huge ancient amphitheatre, however this Kerid Caldera is rich in a great spectrum of vivid colours which make it more than just a crater. Its rich red soil, large sporadic faces of varying colours of algae and partially frozen blues from the lake make it an impressive and rather photogenic stop before the home straight back to Reykjavik.
- hot springs-
Not too far off the Golden Circle are the natural hot springs of the Secret Lagoon or Gamla Lauugin, translated as Old Pool which is what it eventually became to be known as. Tucked away in the town of Fludir is what was once was Iceland’s first public swimming pool which was used up until 1947 until modern concrete pools began to take over. From this point on Gamla Laugin became virtually abandoned, forgotten about by most and solely used by its owner and friends giving it its name. It was not until 2014 that the secret lagoon reopened and has become a major hit with visitors keeping within its authentic arrangement and appearance but not being all that secret anymore.
Located in one of the geothermally rich regions of Iceland and surrounded by hot springs, the pool is constantly fed with clean water at temperatures between 38-39°C which rises up from beneath the earth’s surface. Not too hot and not too cold, the perfectly warm waters are incredibly relaxing especially in the winter months after say a mornings hike in the beautiful countryside.
Taking nothing away from the blue lagoon and its photogenic appearance, in contrast the traditional secret lagoon provides the true Icelandic experience in a very natural setting and all for a much more reasonable price.
- Waterfalls -
Undoubtedly the two most iconic waterfalls in southern Iceland and with every right to be so. With only 30km separating the waterfalls, it would be a great shame if you visited one without the other. Seljalandsfoss, a unique, narrow 65m high cascade, is the first of the two waterfalls you arrive at as you make your way away from Reykjavik. This picturesque waterfall, unlike most others gives you the opportunity to see from every angle as you are able to wonder behind the fall and get a little wet from its continuous spray. Illuminated at night really does highlight it’s beauty but does also poise for some terrific opportunities and unique moments for when the northern lights come out to dance on a clear night.
If getting a little spray from Seljalandsfoss was not enough, there is also the not-so famous Gljufrafoss which is found concealed within its own canyon only a short 10 minute walk away from Seljalandsfoss. Through a narrow crack in the rock face you are able to tip-toe though the short, shallow river into the canyon where before you know it you find yourself metres from the waterfall with magnificent sights of the water tumbling down and crashing off the rock face. Enclosed and surrounded by sheer rock faces as well as being metres from within the falls, if you spend any longer there than the shutter speed of your camera, you will leave absolutely soaked from the spray, but with some very fond enjoyable memories.
With a width of 25m and a height of 60m, Skogafoss is the much wider of the waterfalls but again another very impressive sight. Despite not being able to go behind this waterfall there is however an impressive alternative. To the side of the waterfall is a stairway which takes you to a vista which practically matches the height of the fall and gives impressive views of the prolific drop which sees thousands of litres drop every minute. There are quite a number of steps to conquer, but they soon become very insignificant when you are at the top.
- solheimasandur plane wreck -
Back in 1973 a US Navy DC-3 was forced to crash land on Solheimasandur's Black Sand Beach close to the town of Vik becoming one of Iceland's iconic photography locations and tourist attraction. Hardly surprisingly given its deserted location on a black beach. Unfortunately, was was an easy drive to the plane wreck is now a 4km walk but well worth it!
Over the 44 years of abandonment bits of the plane have broken off giving it and is looking a bit worse for wear, nevertheless being an awesome sight.
Getting there: Drive on from Skogafoss Waterfall towards the town of Vik on Route 1. You will find Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left side and keep driving for 2km more. It isn't hard to miss from all the parked vehicles and tourist buses parked on the right side of the road however it is not sign posted.
- Jokulsarlon & Crystal Beach -
From the South-West to the South-East and the furthest point along our southern road trip, Jokulsarlon is a breath-taking 18km² glacier lagoon which sits at the base of Vatnajokull glacier. Unfortunately it is slightly out of reach for a day trip from the capital but is most certainly worth venturing across to for a couple of days. Having rapidly increased in size over a short space of time, this impressive lake, filled with varying sized icebergs is one of Iceland’s crown jewels. Formed from and continually topped up by the glacier melt-water , the lagoon is a stunning sight for visitors all year round as it continues to grow with large chunks of ice constantly crumbling off the ever decreasing glacier.
Literally a stone throws away across the Route 1 ring road is also the ever more popular Diamond/ Crystal beach which is scattered with these significant icebergs which have left the lagoon crashing into the Atlantic waves and washed up onto the shore. The contrast between the jet black sands of the beach against the glowing blues from the ice is something pretty impressive and a very unique sight when you think of the hundreds of beaches you may have visited on your travels. As the sun reflects of the ice and flaunts their colours and irregularities against the contrasting dark sands, it is very obvious as to where the beach gets its name and how these uneven chunks of ice mimic large diamonds.
The small town of Vik, located 180km southeast from Reykjavik, is the most southern town in Iceland and only has around 290 inhabitants! Do not let its size deter you. Its Black Beach and church is worth the visit.
- traditional Icelandic churches -
Churches in Iceland are quite unique and modern in comparrison to churches in other countries of Europe. As you drive around Iceland you will come across many churches and chapels, all different in size, shape and form. No doubt, the most famous being Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík.
Vik I Mydral Church
Vik I Mydral Church, located on top of a hill overlooking the town of Vik, is also a great sight and believed to be the only structure that would survive a flood if ever the Katla Volcano erupted and melted the ice.
thingvalla kirkja church
Located in Thingvellir National Park in Southern Iceland, Thingvalla Kirkja Church was first built when Icelanders became Christians