Flowing green pastures, dramatic lava fields, spectacular structures, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, fjords, incredible history, and yes, magic. These things all combine to make what could be an unforgettable adventure if you are willing to throw caution to the wind and hit the road. The people of Iceland are kind-hearted, helpful and generous. It makes traveling through this northern European nation effortless, as long as you are prepared for the journey.
Arriving in Reykjavik
Christina, and I packed our one and half-year-old into the car and hit the airport for a quick 5 hour red-eye from Toronto, aboard Icelandair. After getting C settled down on the plane, we dozed off for a quick nap before waking up on the ground. Clearing customs was a breeze and we caught a short cab ride to our Reykjavik hotel for a nap before hitting the town.
Reykjavik is very much a modern European city, full of excellent cafes, small shops, and high-end clothing stores, and like a lot of nations with a rich history, its Viking heritage is never far from sight. The buildings maintain the Nordic angles and chalet-style feel while integrating into modern, convenient settings. We wandered through town for the afternoon, checking out the beautiful downtown and tasting the local cuisine. Luckily, there are many things to do in Reykjavik on a budget.
Iceland’s Golden Circle
When you’re looking for what to do in Iceland, the main attraction is always a tour of the Golden Circle. We figured with the jet-lag, a guided tour of this incredible area would be a good introduction to Iceland before picking up our rental and exploring the country on our own. In fact, after completing our fourteen-day tour of the country, we decided it was worth it to go back and experience Iceland’s Golden Circle ourselves without the shackles of a tour group. The trip, with stops, will take you around 6-8 hours. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the country, or are experiencing Iceland as a stop-over on your way to the rest of Europe, it’s definitely worth your time.
Thingvellir National Park
The first major stop within the Golden circle is Thingvellir National Park. From 930-1780 AD, this was the heart of Icelandic politics. The capital then moved to Reykjavik. Icelanders from all over would flock to this breathtaking location for speeches, lawmaking, and celebrations. This area also marks where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly tearing the country apart a few centimeters each year. This tectonic activity creates deep fissures in the landscape, many of which fill with ice cold glacier water. Silfra, one of these features makes for a popular and unique snorkeling and diving day trip from Reykjavik.
The next big stop on the Golden Circle is Haukadalur, a hotbed of geothermal activity approximately 60 km north of Thingvellir National Park. Haukadalur is home to two famous geysers: Geysir and Strokkur. The term Geyser comes from this famous ancient feature. It no longer erupts due to an earthquake a number of years back.
Strokkur erupts nearly every 10 minutes, exploding with searing hot water that launches nearly 100 feet into the air. Many people take the time to watch the activity, and some are lucky enough to catch a shot of the brilliant blue bubble that forms for a brief second prior to the geyser shooting skyward. The geysers are located along a short walking path, just outside of Haukadalur’s restaurant and gift shop. This location gives you access to nice clean bathrooms for a civilized break as you wander the Icelandic interior. I highly recommend their pies.
Off the main road, you can access Gulfoss, probably the most famous Icelandic waterfall. The fast moving Hvítá river rounds a corner and drops 100 feet into a deep, narrow crevasse. It is not rare to be treated to thick mists and rainbows filling the sky amidst this dramatic landscape. To access this spectacular view, you will park and then descend the long staircase to a concrete walkway that allows you to walk along the river’s edge. Be careful here, due to the mist, the walkway can be slippery. Also, you will get wet close to the falls. So, bring a rain jacket and cover your camera equipment.
Kerid Crater Lake
The final stop in the Golden Circle tour is Kerid Crater Lake, a brilliant blue crater lake contrasting harshly with the red walls of the extinct Kerid volcano. The hike to the bottom of the crater takes about five minutes, and it’s not rare to see locals fishing for fun or dinner within the well-stocked lake.
On our last day in Iceland, we found ourselves with some time on our hands before our early afternoon flight. We figured that leaving Iceland without visiting the famous Blue Lagoon would be a big mistake. Located just minutes from the Keflavik International Airport, the Blue Lagoon makes for an easy addition to a trip to Reykjavik, and for us, it made for a relaxing end to an amazing adventure.
While the Blue Lagoon, like most of Iceland, is a must-see experience, my personal opinion is that it offers a corporate environment and lacks the intimate, natural touch of the local Icelandic baths and smaller hot springs, such as the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths. Nevertheless, we bathed in the beautiful blue waters and treated ourselves to a facial scrub. We got some much-needed relaxation. Although shortly, we left for the airport for our flight back to Toronto.
Iceland doesn’t have to be a long-term trip either. To see how Reykjavik can be done as a stopover, check out this post from Anna Everywhere.
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.