Europe

4 days in Iceland – Day 3 : Golden Circle

We changed our plans for day three, as originally we were meant to visit the black sand beach of Vik and its basalt formations, the picturesque Dyrhólaey peninsula, and the magnificent Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon, which were all fairly distant from Reykjavik and involved taking uncleared secondary roads. Having realised how difficult the roads were, we decided we’d be better off doing the Golden Circle instead, which we should have done the previous day if it wasn’t for the snowstorm. That’s one thing to prepare yourself for when you visit Iceland in winter, the weather can mess up with your plans.

So we set off on our Hyundai 4×4, heading to our first stop : Geysir. We quickly became rather worried, as the weather was still awful, visibility was really poor, there was barely anyone but us on the road, and the few vehicles we saw looked more like war machines than cars…

A clear view ahead of us…

We started thinking maybe the snowstorm alert hadn’t actually been lifted and we shouldn’t have been on the road… But eventually the weather got slightly better, and we could start admiring the Icelandic scenery around us. The silence, the snow, and the low amount of light made it all eerily beautiful.

Icelandic winter scenery

We finally got to our destination and saw loads of people there, which was a bit of a relief.

The geothermal area was quite wide, with loads of different geysers, the most famous two being Strokkur and Geysir. The latter gave its name to the word “geyser”. The frequency of eruptions varies, but Strokkur is the main attraction, as the eruptions are every 6 to 10 minutes, and can go as far as 40 metres high. I had dreamed of seeing this phenomenon for years, and it was fantastic to witness it with my own eyes.

Sometimes pictures are better than words, so here are a few (almost got frostbite to take the shots of Strokkur erupting so I hope you like them !) :

Strokkur about to erupt

Strokkur erupting – 1

Strokkur erupting – 2

Strokkur erupting – 3

 

Another Strokkur eruption

 

It’s amazing how clear the water is on this one…

 

Another geyser, with Strokkur erupting in the background

 

The area was really otherworldly, and we stayed there for a while before moving on to our next stop. Icelandic winter driving kept being interesting on the way there…

 

Who would want to read signs anyway ?

 

As we arrived at the Gullfoss waterfalls, our second stop, we couldn’t help but notice the typically Icelandic range of vehicles parked there.

4x4s in Iceland are on another level.

 

And so are buses !

 

We then had to walk down a set of slippery wooden stairs, and there they were, the majestic Gullfoss waterfalls. The photos don’t show the size well enough, but they are absolutely massive. There was fairly heavy snowfall when we were there, and this just added to the aura of sheer power the place has.

Gullfoss waterfalls

 

Gullfoss waterfalls.

 

The middle section is frozen !

 

Gullfoss waterfalls

 

One thing I realised the hard way whilst we were exploring the waterfalls, is that camera batteries die a lot faster in the cold. Hence why most of my pictures from the waterfalls and Þingvellir are a lower quality, taken with my old phone.

As much as the snowfall gave the experience quite a special feel, I must say I would be keen on seeing the waterfalls again without having strong winds savagely throwing snow at my face. Because of this we didn’t stay too long, and went on to our next stop.

 

As we drove to Þingvellir, we experienced various intensities in terms of the weather, going from heavy snowfall with zero visibility to calm, peaceful tranquility.

 

Clear view on the side of the road…

 

Once the weather got less intense we parked our 4×4 to pause and appreciate the white scenery.

 

Once we arrived at Þingvellir national park, it started to snow again…

Þingvellir is quite an awesome site, both historically and geologically. It is here that the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is located, and you can basically see the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates drifting apart, creating beautiful canyons. It is also here that the oldest and longest running parliement was originally located, from 930 to 1798. It was then discontinued and restored in 1844, although it was moved to Reykjavík. Now all that is left of it at Þingvellir is a big mast with an Icelandic flag where the parliament sessions used to be held. And… we completely missed it. We thought the visitor’s centre was the parliament building and we were very unimpressed ! Yes, sometimes you come back from a trip and realise you’ve been a complete idiot. Anyway, the canyons were really impressive so it was still a great visit !

Tectonic plates drifting apart.

 

A beautiful little stream at Þingvellir.

 

Towards the end of the day, we decided to head for a cool geothermal area called Krysuvik. Before I tell you more about this, let me explain the road system in Iceland. You basically have Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 roads. It goes as follows :

 

Type 1 are your normal tarmacked roads, that link the bigger cities and are regularly cleared of snow.

Type 2 roads are gravel/dirt roads that aren’t regularly cleared of snow.

Type 3 roads are harsh rocky roads that you’re not supposed to take unless you have a badass 4×4 like the ones pictured earlier.

 

So far we had only been on Type 1 roads, but to go to Krysuvik we’d have to venture on a Type 2 road. Well we were in for a treat ! As we started driving on the Type 2, the weather was rather clear, although the road was completely covered in snow. If it wasn’t for yellow bollards on either side, we would have had no clue where to drive. Progress was slow and we didn’t know how close we were getting, as for some reason we hadn’t been able to find Krysuvik on the GPS. All we knew was that it was about a 15 kilometre drive from the beginning of the Type 2. The drive was sometimes quite nerve racking, as the road was quite slippery and we didn’t always know what we’d find after a turn. We were kinda scared we’d slide off the road and get stranded ! We were advancing very slowly, without knowing how much longer we had to drive to reach our destination. We grew concerned that we’d have to come back after dark, which would have been almost suicidal. At one point it got really windy, and we saw wind carry snow in a spiral, forming some sort of little tornado ahead of us. We looked at each other and agreed we’d better turn back. And sure enough, just before we could get back on the Type 1, we missed the road and got stuck ! As we were struggling to get the car unstuck, we saw a car arriving behind us in the distance, which was quite a relief. We were confident we’d sort ourselves out, but it felt good to know someone would be there just in case we couldn’t. We were ashamed to notice that the Icelander who was coming to rescue us two idiots stuck with our 4×4 was driving a… Ford Focus. Anyway, we managed to get back on the road within a few minutes and laughed it off.

 

Where we got stranded, with our rescuer in his Ford Focus in the distance.

 

We got back to our hotel in Reykjavik, and by then the weather was quite decent so I went to take some more shots of the Hallgrímskirkja.

 

Hallgrímskirkja with a clear sky.

 

After this my friend Heny suggested going to a soup restaurant he had noticed, and I wasn’t too thrilled. “Soup ? How’s that gonna fill me up ?!” Well I was pleasantly surprised ! The place was awesome, with a really nice and warm atmosphere, and the soup (which was lamb and vegetables if I remember well) was actually served in a bowl of bread, and it was super tasty ! I definitely recommend you try this place out, it’s called Svarta Kaffi. Also, try the Gull beer, the best I’ve had in Iceland !

 

Soup in a bowl of bread and a pint of Gull at Svarta Kaffi.

 

After dinner we headed to the Lebowski bar, a bar themed after The Big Lebowski movie. They have regular movie quizzes in English, with beer prizes for the winners ! After a couple of White Russians, we headed back to the hotel and prepared for the next day, which would be our last in Iceland.

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Blue Lagoon, Iceland
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Tom Davidson

Tom Davidson

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