A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to be able to spend 3 days visiting Iceland with my husband and middle daughter. My daughter is consumed by wander lust and Iceland was towards the top of her bucket list. I had never really considered Iceland as a place I would want to visit before I agreed to this trip – in my head it was a bleak place that I had somewhat confused with Alaska, reindeer and igloos. I knew that it is currently a very cool destination, but I was worried about how I would cope with the cold and the language, what we would eat (dried fish perhaps) and whether there would be any toilets and petrol on our long drives. In the end three days was just not enough and an around the island road trip is now on my bucket list!!
We flew into Iceland late on a Saturday evening and checked into our Airbnb apartment shortly before midnight. Iceland gave nothing up on our dark drive from the airport into Reykjavík and having found our accommodation we fell into bed not knowing what to expect from the morning.
We woke to bright blue skies and a very nordic street view. For our first day we decided to stay reasonably close to Reykjavík and so headed out to ‘do the Golden Circle’ – a well trodden tourist route. Our first stop was a volcanic crater lake known as the Kerid Crater Lake – a lake surrounded by red volcanic rock. On a sunny day this much photographed lake is pure blue – as we visited under cloud cover the colours did not pop quite as much as the many promotional photos suggest but the calm and reflective waters were still awe inspiring.
After a quick hike around the top of the crater and a walk down to stand by the waters edge we set off on the next leg of our drive. My daughter had told me about the legendary Icelandic horses which are the size of a pony and very hardy. They are unique in that they have a fifth gear so to speak over other horses – they can walk, trot, canter and gallop as normal but they are also capable of trotting with front and back feet in line as opposed to on the diagonal which makes them very sure footed. We saw many groups of these horses standing by fences close to the road and could not resist a stop to stroke some and take a few photos.
Our next stop was the Geysir Geothermal Area, also know as The Great Geysir – a landscape of volcanic rock and steam with a burst from the main geyser every 5 minutes or so. Although it looks desolate in this photo it was actually packed with tourists and the stop had a very developed visitors centre with varied food choices (between the three of us we choose fish soup and bread, pepperoni pizza and Icelandic lamb with mashed potatoes and vegetables and there were lovely puddings for anyone who was still hungry), toilet facilities, petrol and of course a shop! We spent about 45 minutes wandering around the geysers and watched the large one erupt several times.
Fortified by our lovely lunch It was then on to our third stop of the day, the incredible Gulfoss waterfall. This body of water is truly breathtaking – a thunderess river plunging 105 feet down rocks and along a canyon.
The light was fading fast by the time we reached our last stop, Pingvellir National Park where you can literally walk between two continents. Iceland is divided by the Mid Atlantic Rift, with part falling on the North American tectonic plate and part on the Eurasian plate. These two plates can be seen clearly running through this national park. As well as the geographical phenomenon, Pingvellir is a very important site in Icelandic history. It was here that Icelanders abandoned their Old Norse pagan belief system in favour of christianity in 1000 AD and in 1944 AD it was the place where Iceland declared independence from Denmark and appointed their own President. For us it was a very quick visit as we wanted to return to Reykjavík in daylight and with time to spare to enjoy dinner in the city.
The next day we were up early and back on the road, this time heading out to the south coast. This was a longer drive with plenty of time to admire the volcanic landscape and our first stop was the dramatic Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It is possible to walk right behind this waterfall although the path is very wet and slippery so care is needed. I am not known for my adventurous nature, so was very proud of myself when I emerged on the other side of the waterfall a little wet but otherwise unscathed.
It was then onto what was for me the highlight of the trip – Vik, the Black Sand Beach. The combination of black sand, grey skies and black volcanic rocks emerging from the water gave this beach an ominous brooding feel. You might think the photo below was shot in black and white but this is the unedited colour version. Whilst walking along the beach we came across the outline of a heart made from the smooth black pebbles that populated the beach – an incongruous sight in this moody place.
On our way back we made a final stop at another magnificent waterfall, Skogafoss – a vision of thundering water falling from the Icelandic cliffs that surround it. Icelandic folklore is full of tales of ghosts, elves and trolls and it is at these majestic waterfalls that the idea of a giant troll does not seem quite as far fetched as it might in the comfort of a Reykjavík restaurant. Trolls can only come out after dark because they turn into stone if they are touched by the sun. The Icelandic landscape is littered with lava formations that are believed to be the petrified bodies of trolls that got caught out in the sun and I had a sense in this place that perhaps there was a grain of truth in these many stories. The final photo in this trio is not actually a real wedding – that poor girl had been at every stop of our day wearing very little whilst standing in extremely cold and damp conditions in the name of wedding photography. Whilst I am sure they got some very atmospheric shots in a variety of beautiful dresses I couldn’t help but think that she could do with a hot chocolate and a warm vest!
On our final day we set off to visit the west coast but after a bright start the weather closed in and thick fog and heavy rain meant we had to turn back and seek the comfort of our apartment for the afternoon. We drove through what appeared to be magnificent lava fields, overflowing with petrified trolls but it was too wet to stop and enjoy the scenery. This drive was much more remote than our previous two days, but just as I was beginning to despair of finding any refreshments we came across this lovely cosy cafe where we ate a delicious lunch (more Icelandic lamb) and sheltered from the weather.
Our little Airbnb apartment was a perfect retreat for a cold afternoon and we headed out in the evening to enjoy a truly delicious Indian meal. If you are ever in Reykjavik I can wholeheartedly recommend the Ghandi Indian Restaurant – it was so good we ate there twice!
The one disappointment of our trip was that we did not see the Northern Lights as clouds covered the skies every evening. On the plus side though that means that we need to go back. Next time I would stay longer, only spend 1 or 2 nights in Reykjavík and instead drive the whole way around the island, staying in accommodation en route. I would particularly like to visit Akureyri, which is known as the northern capital of Iceland and also arrange to ride an Icelandic horse. A view of the northern lights would be very welcome but their absence would not spoil the trip.
My fears about Iceland were unfounded – the Icelandic people were very friendly and spoke very good english, the food was varied and delicious, the temperature in October was only a cooler than in the UK (although I can see that it is now snowing and very cold) and we were never stuck for petrol, although we did make a point of filling up each evening in Reykjavik just in case. On top of that the scenery was like nothing I had ever seen before and I am very happy that I decided to be brave and join in with this adventure.