Winter Adventure in Iceland
Day 1 – The Golden Circle
We decided that once we landed (at 6am Icelandic Time) we would drive the Golden Circle and stay awake in order to get our bodies on the Icelandic time schedule.
- Visit to Geyser
- Visit Gullfoss, eat at the cafeteria, use free wifi
- Soak in Fontana Hot Springs, shower, eat some bread cooked using thermal energy
- Drive around Lake Thingvallavatn
- Head back to the Noodle Station
Visit Hallgrímskirkja (Lutheran Church of Iceland)
The church is beautiful regardless of your beliefs. When we were there two women were singing and playing the pipe organs. For 1000 Kr (~$8 USD) you can take a lift to the top to get a 360 view of the capitol. It is 73 meters tall and it is the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland. Hallgrímskirkja was designed to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. The observation room on the top of the church has open windows and on a windy day you will feel it more here than anywhere else in the city (except maybe the docks). The city has several museums including history, art, whales and yes a phallological exhibit but I found the church to be the best experience. If you are debating on whether to visit the Phallological Museum or another historical site in Iceland I highly recommend this phallic landmark. TIP: You can purchase a city day pass that will grant you access to all of the museums and hot spring pools within Reykjavik for 24, 48 or 72 hours.
The Golden Circle can and should be driven as an out and back if you are planning on returning to Reykjavik. If you are traveling highway 1 to do the ring road I would recommend following this route to Gullfoss and then to Vik. Your first stop should be Geyser which erupts approximately every 3 minutes. Continue up 35 to Gullfoss and get out of your car/sprinter/yaris. This is Iceland. On the return trip stop at Laugarvatn Fontana hot spring. For an amazing soak and lake/mountain views. If you come in the afternoon you can enjoy a sample of rye bread that is cooked under ground using the heat from the springs. On your way back to Reykjavik take 361 to Þingvellir and drive around the largest lake in Iceland, this is also an excellent location to hunt for Northern Lights!
Snorkel or Dive in the Silfra Fissure
The Silfra Fissure is between the European and North American tectonic plates. There are only two locations on earth where the fissure exist above the sea, one in Portugal and one in Iceland. The water in Silfra is filter through lava rock from Gullfos falls and is clean and clear. Our guide even encouraged us to take a sip! Water in the fissure is 33 degrees year round so dry suites are required and provided when you book your tour. We used dive.is and they were wonderful! The suits are tight and restrictive and the almost ice water causes your face and index fingers to go numb; that said, this was probably one of our favorite Iceland experiences.
Find a Hot Pot
There are over a hundred hot springs/hot pots in Iceland. hotpoticeland.com has a google maps interface and coordinates for hundreds of natural hot springs and thermal baths. Some of our favorites commercial baths include the popular Blue Lagoon, Fontana and Secret Lagoon and natural hot pots like Seljavallalaug. You really can’t go wrong, just pick some that are on your route and check them out. Do keep in mind that these natural pots range in temperature from 20 – 40 degrees Celsius and some require a bit of a hike. I highly recommend bringing warm layers, extra socks, snacks and water (and wine). Probably the best tip I got for hot pots, especially in the winter, was from a local from Vik. Bring a trashbag or two to put your pack and cloths in. The steam from the springs will soak anything near it and in winter it will freeze.
Explore the cliffs and basalt beaches of Snæfellsjökull
Snæfellsjökull National Park is located in western Iceland a few hours north of Reykjavik. Like all national parks in Iceland admission is free. There are several pull offs and none of them are as crowded as the cliffs and beaches in Vik. They are still frequented by tour shuttles but you can find and empty beach like the one above. The road circles around Snæfellsjökull, a 4745 foot glacier caped volcano where glacier walk and snow mobile tours are offered year round. There are several areas with basalt column cliffs, birds and massive waves. I’m sorry to say, puffins are only present on these geometric cliffs during the summer months. Be extremely cautious on the beach and near the cliffs, several deaths have been recorded in recent years of a wave breaking the cliff edge or tide line and pulling a person in.
Go off road on the Reykjanes Peninsula
Just outside of Keflavik is the Reykjanes Peninusla, home to the Blue Lagoon, Miðlína (a bridge between the North American and European tectonic plates) and a network of gravel roads and beaches around Sandvik. If you are planning to go off road or are traveling in the winter keep an eye on Iceland road conditions and you might consider renting a 4×4 vehicle. Gas is extremely pricey (~$60 for a half tank in the Jeep) but the cost of getting unstuck is way more. Other considerations include insurance, basic insurance is usually included with your rental and you can opt for rock and chip insurance or black sand and ash insurance. Most rentals offer 4g wifi for ~$20 per day and this might be worth it especially if you don’t have a dedicated GPS (also offered for ~$20 per day). We rented from Iceland 4×4 and I would rate them 3 out of 5 stars. The Jeep was discounted and cheaper than any other company, studded snow tires were included and the staff was extremely friendly. Like other reviews I’ve read, we were supposed to receive one vehicle and were “upgraded” to a different vehicle. We were both fine with this upgrade but I could see this being a problem for someone expecting a fuel efficient Duster and being “upgraded” to a gas thirsty Laredo. If you decide to venture off road, go with another knowledgeable capable driver and bring a tow strap.
Get a permanent souvenir.
Chelsey and I want to get tattoos from each new country we travel to together. We opted not to in Jaco, CR last year because we got sick on the last day but we decided to commit to the plan in Iceland. Reykjavik is home to several very talented tattoo artist including one of the few who does machine-less tattoo work. We did some research and emailed a few artist our reference material and we were referred to Boff Konkerz at Íslenzka Húðflúrstofan for rune tattoos. We chose to get the zodiac runes for Leo and Pisces on our forearms in a staggered placement so we can build onto them in the future. Boff did an excellent job working with the contours of our arms and the process was almost painless. Machine-less tattooing does not damage the skin as much as a machine and heals very quickly. If you want to get inked in Reykjavik as around as the community is small and happy to refer you to the best artist for the style you are seeking.
What about the Northern Lights?
Ahh yes, the elusive Northern Lights. We were fortunate enough to see two 20 minute light shows this trip and it was the most amazing phenomena I’ve ever witnessed. Two years ago when I came to Iceland with my cousin we drove outside of town several times and waited hours with clear skies but no Northern Lights. It really is hit or miss. They can only be seen close to the poles (Iceland will do), at night (there isn’t enough night during the summer months in Iceland), with clear sky (have you heard weather in Iceland is unpredictable?), away from light pollution (although faint lights can be seen from Reykjavik) and when a solar flare illuminates gases in the earth’s atmosphere. So check the aurora forecast, get out of town and come home late!