A weekend trip to Iceland

We present a 2-day route around the southwest region of Iceland. The itinerary that we follow is a modified version of the route known as "Golden Circle". Iceland is a unique destination where you can enjoy amazing landscapes and natural formations, such as glaciers, impressive waterfalls and geisers, in addition to seeing the northern lights.

Days: 2

Budget: $$$

Category: Nature

We travelled to Iceland in October, when there is still quite a few hours of sunlight and it is possible to witness the northern lights. In order to get into Iceland, we took a direct flight from London Gatwick to Keflavík airport (in Reykjavík  with WOW air (the airline ceased operations unfortunately). We landed on Friday night, and left early on Monday morning.

Transportation

The most efficient way to get around Iceland is by renting a car, as many of the point of interest cannot be reached by public transport. In addition, going by car allows you to stop at will to enjoy any of the abundant and spectacular landscapes, not necessarily highlighted in travel guides but that you will surely find along the way.

We rented the car with Procar, a local company that offered the best prices and amenities when reserving the car. They even gave us the GPS for free.

It is possible to rent the car with a European driving license, without the need for an international one. It should also be noted that storms and strong winds are relatively frequent. Therefore, it is advisable to purchase an insurance package that covers even minor scratches on the car.

Lodging

Our choice for the first night was an Airbnb in Reykjavík, as we landed quite late. Besides being a fairly inexpensive option, it allowed us to see the city at night.

We spent the second night at Hotel Katla, near Vík í Mýrdal, the southernmost town in Iceland. This area is somewhat more expensive than the capital, but we recommend staying here to take make the most out of the route. You can also enjoy a more relaxed and traditional atmosphere by staying around this area.

Finally, on the last night we stayed at an Airbnb near Keflavík airport, as our flight was scheduled to depart very early Monday morning.

Day 1

We started the day by visiting Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, and whose name means “smoking bay” in Icelandic.

Our first stop was an early visit to the Sun Voyager (Sófar, in Icelandic), one of the most famous monuments in the city. Next, we visited Lake Tjörnin, on whose shore you can see traditional houses with colored roofs. From there we walked towards the city center, finally arriving at the church known as Hallgrimskirkja.

The Sun Voyager
Lake Tjörnin
Hallgrimskirkja

As you can see, the architecture of the church is very characteristic. This construction was inspired by natural formations of Iceland such as basalt rocks, mountains or glaciers. We recommend visiting the inside of the church, as you can climb to the top of the bell tower and enjoy incredible views of Reykjavík and its surroundings.

After finishing the visit to Hallgrimskirkja, we headed towards Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir). Along the way we stopped at places with especially striking landscapes, such as the surroundings of the Laxness museum and the Leirvogsvatn and Þingvalavatn lakes. One of the best points to appreciate the latter is the Þingvalavatn Panorama viewpoint.

Upon reaching the Þingvellir National Park, we started our walking tour around it. Inside the park is located the Althing, the former Assembly of Iceland. It is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and it includes a continental fault in its territory. During the tour you will be able to enjoy a great variety of landscapes, including waterfalls, volcanic rocks, impressive stone formations and wetlands.

Next, we head towards The Great Geysir, one of the most impressive geysers in the world and from whose name derives the word “geyser”. In addition to the main geyser, other smaller ones can be seen in the area, such as the Litli Geysir (“little Geysir”), and fumaroles. There is also a nearby café where you can buy souvenirs and have a snack.

The last stop of the day were the famous Gullfoss Falls (“golden waterfall”). The waterfalls, ranked consistently among the most spectacular in the country, are located in the bed of the Hvítá River and consist of two main falls. By following the footpath it is possible to get quite close to the falls, which is ideal for lovers of photography.

Finally, we headed to our accommodation in Vík í Mýrdal, Hotel Katla. As the route of day one ends quite far to the south, it is convenient to spend the night here to make the most of the hours of sunshine. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, where the food, although somewhat expensive, is very good. The wooden rooms are spacious and comfortable and the hotel has a sauna.

Day 2

We started the day by having breakfast at the excellent buffet offered at the hotel. There was a wide variety of options for all tastes. We would like to highlight the waffles, which we could prepare ourselves on spot, and the freshly baked bread. Afterwards, we visited the nearby Reynisfjara Beach, also known as Black Sand Beach, famous for its black sand made of basalt pebbles and volcanic sand. A small amount of the characteristic sand of this beach can be a good memory of your trip to Iceland.

We first visited the eastern side of the beach, from where you can get a good view of the nearby basalt formations called Reynisdrangar. According to Icelandic folklore, these basalt columns were formerly trolls trying to wreck nearby ships at night. However, on one occasion they failed to drag a very large ship, and at dawn they were petrified when hit by the sunlight.

Next we visited the west side of the beach. Here we could observe another interesting basalt formation consisting of hexagonal columns called Hálsanef. These columns are part of the Hálsanefshellir caves, small caves in the mountainside whose walls are lined with basalt formations. Also, by walking along the beach it is possible to get a closer view of the Reynisdrangar.

Our next destination was the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, the fourth largest in the country. Along the way we were able to enjoy spectacular landscapes once again. Our recommendation is to stop at those that you find the most impressive. At the entrance of the trail leading to the glacier there was a small reception with a cafeteria, so we took the chance to have a delicious and warm mushrooms cream.

We then continued towards the glacier, whose lower layers can be accessed without special equipment. We even dared to attempt walking a bit over the glacier, but we do not recommend venturing beyond a few meters without the necessary equipment or with a guide.

After having visited the glacier, we started our way back towards the capital. We made a stop at the Skógafoss waterfall, which is on the way to Reykjavík. With a drop of 60 meters, it is not only one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, but also one of the largest.

To complete our extended Golden Circle route, we decided to relax at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with waters of a characteristic light blue color caused by its high silica content. In fact, it is possible to take silica from the bottom of the lagoon and apply it to the skin. After two intense days of driving and hiking, it was the best way to recharge energies. We arrived at around 6 pm (when there was some sunlight left), and we were lucky to be able to buy the ticket on the spot. However, we recommend booking in advance if possible through their website, as it is frequently completely full. The entrance fee includes a towel rental and a drink.

Finally, to culminate this great trip, we went for dinner to Fiskmarkðurinn, considered as one of the best restaurants in Iceland. It offers a fusion of traditional Icelandic ingredients and recipes with influences from other countries, such as Japan. The restaurant is quite expensive, but since it was Lara’s birthday, we decided to celebrate it with an excellent dinner. We ordered the tasting menu, which costs approximately €70 per person. The menu includes a large number of very varied dishes, all of them excellent. You will certainly not be left hungry.

Summary of visited places

Day 1:
  • Sun Voyager
  • Lake Tjörnin
  • Hallgrimskirkja
  • Surroundings of the Laxness museum
  • Lake Leirvogsvatn
  • Lake Þingvalavatn
  • Þingvellir National Park
  • Great Geysir
  • Gullfoss Falls
  • Vík í Mýrdal 
Day 2:
  • Reynisfjara Beach
  • Reynisdrangar
  • Hálsanef
  • Mýrdalsjökull Glacier
  • Skógafoss Falls
  • Blue Lagoon

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Lara and Rafa

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