Being intrigued about Iceland with all the ‘Hoopla’ it’s been getting lately, we opted to take advantage of the opportunity to have a one-day stopover in Iceland while traveling to Ireland. We are happy we did as we enjoyed our time in this remote and wild but beautiful country.
To make the most of our time in Iceland and see as much as possible in a few hours, we had to plan our itinerary carefully. First off, we concluded that we needed to rent a car; this had to be done before getting there. We saw folks showing up to the rental car counter without a reservation and leaving empty-handed and disappointed. We got sucked into buying the extra insurance in case of sand and ash storms. The clerk was very convincing, despite the great weather at the time she told us that the weather could change suddenly and take a turn for the worse. When we returned the car, the attendant told us that sand and ash storms are very rare.
Tip: Pass on the extra ash insurance and save a few dollars.
We visited in late July and at that time of the year the days are very long and warm. We had daylight when we landed at 4 in the morning as well as at 10 in the evening when we returned the car. In December there’s only about 4 hours of daylight! That’s not a lot of time for sightseeing! However, it’s a perfect time to see the Northern Lights.
When we headed out at 5:30 am, not much, well nothing was open! Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, which opens at 7:30 am, so we took our time getting there by exploring the area around Keflavik.
When planning our stopover we were trying to figure out how to include a tour of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the famous Blue Lagoon Spa. We opted to start with a visit to the geothermal spa.
Rejuvenating at Blue Lagoon
This marvel of nature is so unique and many come only for this experience. The water appears blue because it contains silica, minerals and algae giving it many healing properties. The water is self-cleaning and renews itself every 40 hours and is at a balmy 37-40°C (98-104°F). The experience was delightful and the perfect way to rejuvenate after a long overnight flight. Going early turned out to be an excellent idea, as the lagoon gets more crowded later on in the day. Also, it was the perfect place to enjoy a shower and change of clothes before heading out for a day of exploration.
Our Golden Circle Tour
With no real time schedule for the rest of the day we got on the road for our self-guided tour of the Golden Circle. Our first stop was the Thingvellir National Park where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge passes through, separating the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Most of it is deep down underwater but what can be seen is impressive! To be able to see and walk through a 24 million year old ridge is unusual to say the least!
The Silfra Tectonic Fissure is a prime spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. The fresh water is so clear that it has a visibility of more than 300 feet, a diver’s paradise. This time around it wasn’t an option for us, maybe one day if we can muster the courage to deal with the frigid, nearly freezing water!
Tip: The Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park is an excellent place for hiking and equipped with easy walking trails.
Our next stop was the Strokkur Geyser located in a geothermic area with boiling water streams and puddles as well as other smaller geysers. The main geyser erupts every 6-10 minutes into a gigantic steamy water column of near boiling water. It makes for a powerful but short-lived spectacle.
Next we visited the Gullfoss Waterfalls, a force of nature that is continuously carving the lay of the land. The mist of the falls creates rainbows from certain vantage points. During winter the falls freeze into a cascade of ice. A breathtaking site year-round!
One final stop on the Golden Circle, the Kerid Crater Lake (Kerið) is a uniquely beautiful site well worth the visit. Our favorite! The caldera is complete and walking around offers different and equally spectacular vistas. An aquamarine lake fills the bottom of the cone creating a stunning look that’s only enhanced by the colorful moss contrasting with the rust colored walls. One side allows a descent into the crater. Apparently is has great acoustics and concerts have been held at this spot.
A fascinating and mysterious land!
A few hours in Reyjavik
Even though the sun was high and shining, it was getting late and we wanted to have a quick look in Reykjavik , the capital of Iceland. We really wanted to see the famous Hallgrimskirkja church, the Harpa concert hall as well as the harbor area. Reykjavik is a charming city with lots of culture, restaurants and small shops. Also, very colorful!
After an excellent fish and chips dinner, it was time for us to head back toward the airport for a few hours of shut-eye before our early morning flight to Dublin, Ireland. For convenience we had booked a room at the hotel adjacent to Keflavik airport. Perhaps pricy for what it was, but everything is expensive in Iceland.
When we got to the airport for our 6 am flight we saw ‘bodies’ (young and old) lying down and sleeping everywhere – on the floor, under staircases, seats and even restaurant benches! One was snoring up a storm next to our breakfast table. Either they didn’t plan ahead or were too cheap to pay for a room, I’m not sure but I sure appreciated a comfy bed instead!
We loved Iceland, and maybe we will return one day for another stopover to visit the spa or see this spectacular scenery again. Iceland is also much bigger than what one can do in a day. To see more of this land, you’d need a few days or more. It must also be quite different in the winter and to marvel at the Aurora Borealis must be magical!
Related post: Rejuvenating at the Blue Lagoon Spa, Iceland