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Icelandic landscape

A landscape hard to even imagine in wildest of dream - welcome to Iceland


Before the advent of Instagram and internet in general, the word ‘Iceland’ conjured up images of a place sleeping under a blanket of snow, cold winds blowing through vast open spaces, and people wrapped warm in animal fur, squinty eyes set deep on their rugged faces and lots of other whacky ideas!


This image also created the idea of the place being hard to get to, and therefore more desirable! And as travel opened up, and the ‘web’ made it easy to swing across the world in no time, Iceland was sure to creep up on people’s dream destination! More so, a geologist’s dream destination! A truly extraordinary country, though extraordinarily expensive, but worth every penny! From imposing serene white glaziers to red hot fiery calderas of raging volcanoes, welcome to Iceland - the Land of Fire and Ice! It also looks like the moon! May even be one reason why NASA used the Askja caldera (a part of central highlands of Iceland) as a training center for Lunar Expedition about 50 years ago.


black beach, Icelandic volcanic activity

Iceland is home is some of the spectacular bank sand beaches in the world


In reality though, Iceland is a place to be felt! Pictures can capture the magnificence of the place, words can describe what the eyes see, but there is something more about Iceland that needs to be felt. It is hard to put your finger on what it is, but there is something that connects you with the universe and if you pay attention and tune in, you get a mystical experience! How profound depends on how in sync you are with your inner self and the outer universe, how often you listen to your heart and stop and a place that pulls you, and linger in longer, much longer than you planned to. There is a magic and benefit in being spontaneous as well as in a reflective mode when you travel to Iceland. You will see the usual sights that so many people come to see, marvel at nature’s beauty, and take wonderful pictures, but in between those ‘tangible’ experiences, lies an endless possibility to experience something you will never forget. Amidst the mossy lava fields, dancing waterfalls, imposing mountains, rocky and black beaches, sparkling rainbows, spectacular fjords, turquoise glacial lagoons, blooming lupins, you will discover there are more feelings than you have experienced before, connecting to the universe is somehow easier and faster from nature’s ‘hotspot’!


Icelandic summer, wild Lupin blooming

In early summer wild lupin grows in abundance mainly in the south part of the Iceland


So, take the pictures, make those reels, but find the traveller and the seeker within you and let it guide you through your journey of Wonderland (the better name) Iceland!


A bit about geology

There is no escaping the geological drama than unfolds at every turn in Iceland! It is an extremely dynamic place which is continuing to change its shape and form every day. Geologically, it is a young island – about 25 million years old. Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland sits on the constantly active geologic border – the mid-Atlantic ridge (ridge being the boundary between two tectonic plates) – North American plate and Eurasian plate. So, Iceland literally sits between two continents. Being in the middle of a ridge means it is the centre of geological activity. The tectonic plates shift and collide and move away apparently at the rate of 2.5cm per year. When the tectonic plates move apart, the oldest rocks get pushed to the sides, and new rock gets formed in the middle. Eventually, these plates will end up splitting the whole island in two – right through its middle part. So, one day, Iceland will no longer be a single piece of land!


The fissure can be seen today at the Thingvellir National Park – you can see both sides of the plates and literally walk between two continents, or dive if you wish, between America and Europe. 


Icelandic horses

Iceland's breathtaking landscape was generated from volcanic eruption


Iceland's position means that it is a ‘hotspot’ for geologic activity, which means frequent volcanic eruptions and geysers (which provide Iceland with abundant geothermal energy). And by some strange co-incidence the more known ‘hotspot’ – the internet type is amazingly strong as well! Best we have ever experienced in any country – and incredibly amazing considering the ‘raw-ness’ of nature around and endless expanses of nothingness!

Well coming back to the geology ‘hotspot’ – this island nation has more than 200 volcanoes. This volcanic activity created Iceland 60-70 million years ago when masses of hot lava rose to the surface of the ocean, cooled and gradually piled up in enough quantities to make land. Evolution continues with volcanoes erupting and new fissures appearing along their slopes. Iceland today has its own baby island – the island of Surtsey, which rose above the ocean in a series of eruptions in the 1960s. 


Iceland is also one of the northernmost inhabited places on the planet! However, despite its closeness to the Arctic Circle (and the name!), Iceland has a surprisingly ‘mild’ climate, of course in ‘northern’ context, due to the Gulf Stream which bring warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northern Atlantic. Without the Gulf Stream the climate in Iceland would be like Greenland. Only about a quarter of the island is habitable, mostly along the south and eastern coasts. The northern parts of the island are dominated by widespread lava fields, cold deserts, and the tundra. With a population of over 300,000 people, Iceland is one of the least populated European countries, though it is the second largest Island in Europe. Most of the population of Iceland lives in the capital city – Reykjavik which is also the largest city in Iceland.


A bit of history

Iceland was settled by Vikings from Norway who came directly from Norway or via the British Isles about a thousand years ago. It is said that the island was largely uninhabited, with the exception of some Papars (monks from Ireland) who fled with the arrival of Vikings. It is believed that during the first years of settlement, 40% of Iceland was covered with trees. The Vikings quickly cut down the trees and used to build houses, ships, farmsteads and fire to stay warm in the harsh temperatures. Within a century, the trees were gone and Icelanders to this day are working hard to get their lost greenery.


A great of historical understanding of Iceland comes from a single book which describes in considerable detail the settlements of Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Landnamabok or "Book of Settlements", often shortened to Landnama, or ‘Icelander's sagas’ or ‘family sagas’, lists over 3000 individuals and 1400 settlements – believed to be passed on orally and then transcribed during the 12th and 14th centuries. It has been a subject of constant debate as to who created the sagas and for what purpose. Nonetheless, it is a central pillar of Icelandic literature and holds special value for Icelanders. The fact that the language has changed so little during the last centuries allows people to understand this even today – not something that can be said of many other languages. This and the oldest Icelandic history book, Ari Frooi's ‘Islendingabok’ from about 12th century indicate that the Iceland has one of the world's oldest democracy – Icelanders founded the world’s first parliament in 930 – Althingi or Althing originally in Pingvellir National Park (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park for this fact, found on the Golden Circle). It started off when around 30 clans of settlers decided they would rather talk out their issues than fight over them as Vikings! The assembly was open to everyone, and a large crowd usually attended them. There was no king or central executive power, the actual legislative and judicial power lay with the chieftains. The current Althingi holds at downtown Reykjavík, next to the city’s cathedral (not the much larger Hallgrímskirkja church). The system is now made up of 63 parliamentarians elected by proportional representation.


Icelandic church

Christianity took over old paganism during 10th century in Iceland


Around the 10th century, King Hakon Haraldsson of Norway introduced Christianity to Icelanders, but the new religion was not widely adopted. Icelanders by and large worshiped the old pagan gods of their ancestors. His successor King Olafur Tryggvason forcefully reintroduced the new religion to the Icelandic chieftains (gooar) which slowly started forming a Christian and a pagan state. As a comprise it was agreed that all Icelanders should be baptized and be Christian. Pagan sacrifice and worship could continue secretly, if desired, but would be penalised if witnesses came forward. So the compromise was being Christians outdoors and whatever they felt like indoors! This is a cool example of the length Icelanders would go to preserve law and order! In practice not much changed – the Chieftains retained their power but rather than being intermediaries to their old religion, became the intermediaries to the new church. They tore down their temples and built churches, sent their sons overseas to become priests and, ultimately, bishops of the church, though pagan ways of life like eating horse meat and other traditions continued. 


In the 13th century, following some major internal disputes among the most influential families in Iceland, it submits to the Norwegian crown. The old rule of chiefs was abolished, and part of the Icelandic upper class take its place. 


In the 14th century, Denmark and Norway were united under one king, which brings Iceland under Danish monarchy. Absolute monarchy was introduced in Denmark-Norway in the 17th century and followed in Iceland. In the coming centuries, Iceland was administered directly from Copenhagen as a fiefdom. The Althing, however, maintained a measure of authority independent of the Danish government, partly because of Iceland's remote location. In 18th century, the Althing was abolished due to the introduction of the Danish legal system, and instead a High Court in Reykjavík was established. The 18th century witnessed the loss of one-fifth of the island’s population due to famine caused by a volcanic eruption and subsequent years of cold weather. This fueled massive emigration to North America mainly to Canada. Icelanders continued to demand that executive power be transferred to Iceland. In 1901 rule by parliamentary majority was introduced in Denmark and the Liberals came into power. They were more aligned with the needs of the Icelanders and in 1904 Iceland got home rule, and the first Icelandic minister opened his office in Reykjavík. At the same time, rule by parliamentary majority was introduced. This kick started the transformation in Iceland, with the opening of more schools, establishment of university, freedom to move to fishing villages, which was previously restricted, and general industrialization and development. Iceland traversed its path through the Great Depression, and the impact of Spanish Civil War, World War II and finally Iceland was able to break free of all constitutional ties with Denmark and establish a republic!

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Updated: Feb 21

We travelled to Iceland during end of May with two of our friends. This blog is about our Iceland travel diary and places to visit in Iceland. This blog speaks about our experience of visiting the top attractions in Iceland as well as lesser known places we have visited during our Icelandic adventure. We landed at Keflavik international airport (close to Reykjavik), picked up our rental car from near the airport and stayed overnight at a hotel. After a nice basic breakfast we started our exploration of the Wonderland! 



Iceland travel map


During our trip to Iceland for the majority of our road trip we stick to the attractions near or next to the famous Ring Road that circles around the country and is 1,328 kilometres long (825 miles) – also called Route 1 and is Iceland’s main motorway. 


Day 1 – Arrival and picking up the rental car


Day 1 of our Icelandic adventure was not very exciting, our flight from London to Iceland was delayed by couple of hours and we reached Keflavic late in the evening. After completing immigration formalities at the airport we picked up our rental car. We checked into our hotel around midnight and went into the room to take some well deserved rest before starting our Icelandic road trip.


Day 2 – Drive by the South Costa


Seljalandsfoss


Iceland has an incredible number of waterfalls! Each unique and filled with their own personality! Seljalandsfoss or the curtain waterfall is perhaps one of the most photographed and the most popular waterfall. The name means ‘selling the land of waterfalls’- no clue why anybody would want to sell this! Foss in icelandic means waterfall.


Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

view of Seljalandsfoss from inside the waterfall


With an impressive 60 meters cascade Seljalandsfoss (also known as Seljalands) presents a sight that is hard to beat! The water that feeds this waterfall originates from the famous or infamous Eyjafjallajokull glacier-capped volcano. The impossible to pronounce name is a description of the volcano with Eyja meaning island; fjalla meaning mountain; and jokull meaning glacier. This is the same volcano that captured headlined in March and then in April 2010, powerful eruptions that caused substantial disruption to air traffic across Europe leading to cancellation of thousands of flights across Europe and somehow also put Iceland on the world travel destination map!


Us in front of Seljalandsfoss

In front of Seljalandsfoss


The gushing water creates a curtain and if you are fine with getting a bit sprayed then walk behind the curtain and experience the magic! May not be such a good idea during winter though! Unlike most other waterfalls,  Seljalandsfoss can be viewed from all angles!


There is a designated Seljalandsfoss Waterfall paid parking lot. It is lovely to hang around for a bit, we were totally drenched and the bright sunshine was an excuse to just sit around and relish a cup of coffee and sandwiches from the stalls in the area. 



Skogafoss


Also know as the ‘rainbow’ waterfall, Skogafoss is probably the most famous waterfall in Iecland. The name means the forest waterfall. The water comes from the Skógá River, which has its source in the nearby Mýrdalsjökull glacier and drops from a height of 60 meters into a deep pool below. The mist generated by the waterfall often creates a magical rainbow or rainbows, making it feel like a place out of a child’s imagination! Well Iceland has a lot of these and it is easy to get into a deep sense of awe for all the wonders of nature! 


Skogafoss

Panoramic view of Skogafoss



Dramatic view of Skogafoss

Rainbow formation in front of Skogafoss


Skógafoss is also a popular hiking destination to the right of the waterfall, there is a steep trail/ steps (around 500) that leads to the top of the waterfall, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding area. This trail is the beginning of a popular hiking trail called Fimmvörðuháls over to Þórsmörk



Reynisfjara Beach - Hálsanefshellir Column Beach


Reynisfjara is a long beach on the South coast of Iceland, near the town of Vik, the southernmost village on the mainland of Iceland. It is covered with black volcanic ash and dark rocks and one of the most popular black sand beaches in Iceland.  The black sand is crushed lava from the volcanoes. Reynisfjara also has abundant birdlife; and you are likely to spot some puffins in the summer. 


Reynisfjara beach, Iceland black sand beach

Panoramic view of Reynisfjara beach



View of Reynisdrangar from Reynisfjara beach

Pointy rock formations which are collectively called Reynisdrangar


From the ground rise massive basalt stacks and jutting out of the sea near the shore are impressive tall and pointy rock formations, the remains of sea cliffs and featured in Season 7 of Game of Thrones. They are called Landdrangur (largest and farthest away), Skessudrangur and Langsamur – collectively called Reynisdrangar - three trolls - not the social media types. In Nordic folklore trolls are monstrous creatures that live in isolated areas of rocks and mountains. Legend has it that these three trolls were trying to pull a ship to the shore but took too long and turned to stone with sunrise!


Basalt column formation at Reynisfjara beach

Basalt column formation at Reynisfjara beach


At the shore, basalt column have a cave called Hálsanefshellir. It doesn’t hurt to be careful when visiting the cave as rocks can fall down from the ceiling and landslides are relatively frequent in this area, plus massive tides can close up the cave. 



Vik i Myrdal Church


Vik í Myrdal, or just Vik, is the southernmost village on the Icelandic mainland, located 186 kilometres (110 miles) from the capital Reykjavík.

High on a hill in Vik is a pretty little wooden church - clean lines and minimalist design and wrapped by beautiful lupin fields. It offers great views down to the black sand beach. But in addition to its seemingly simple purpose of being the town’s church, it has another purpose for the residents. 


Wild lupin bloom and Vik í Myrdal church

Wild lupin bloom on the sloop of hill near Vik í Myrdal church


Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which is on top of the Katla volcano. The Katla Volcano has bene quite for more than is usual for dormant volcanos and it is thought that an eruption is imminent. The eruption will melt enough ice to trigger a flash flood and the church is expected to be the only building that may survive due to its high location.



Solheimasandur plane Wreck


Another iconic site in Iceland - created by a juxtaposition of man’s engineering (gone wrong) against the backdrop of the surreal Icelandic landscape - the images of the northern lights dancing in the sky and the rusting reck is a beautiful reminder of our insignificance against the might of nature! 


Where did this wreck come from? Iceland being a NATO member, the US Navy was routinely flying over Iceland. The wreckage was originally a US aircraft - there is some conflicting information on which one - most sources say it was a Navy transport aircraft - Douglas DC3 while few claim it be a converted Douglas C-117


Solheimasandur plane Wreck, Iceland

Douglas DC3 plane wreak at Solheimasandur (PC: Madhurima RG)


On 21-Nov-1972, the US Navy had delivered supplies at Hofn Hornafjördur Airport for the radar-station in Stokksnes, and encountered severe icing and the pilot was not able to maintain altitude and managed to land force parallel to the shore line on the southern coast, the frozen black sand beach acting as a bumpy runway. All the crew members survived and were rescued. The remains of the plane were abandoned by the US after all the parts that were worth something being stripped out during and soon after the rescue or put to better use later by the locals. The main fuselage remains now - a rusting wreck but a travel destination!


Tourist informtion at Solheimasandur plane Wreck

Notice board for tourist at Solheimasandur, pointing out to the safety rules


However, it must be remembered that it is around 7 kms walk through the volcanic beach to the wreck and back from the parking site. It should take around 1.5 hours to 2 hours for a round trip depending on your speed and weather conditions. Several tourists had to be rescued in the past years and two have even reported to have died. Iceland is a place of extremely dynamic weather and with little or no people around, it is best to take decisions based on safety. There is also a shuttle bus resvice that runs between the car park and plane wreck all 7 days a week between 10 am till 5 pm (from car park) and last bus from plane wreck leaves at 17:55 pm. And the shuttle service cost 2900 Islandic Korna which is around 17 GBP (December 2023 rate).


Solheimasandur plane Wreck shuttle bus time table

Bus time table between car park and plane wreak at Solheimasandur


The drive back from Solheimasandur to our accomodation was equally nerve wracking - with close to zero visibility due to fog, it just kept getting more and more surreal!


Reynisfjara though incredibly beautiful can also turn dangerous very quickly. Powerful waves from the unrestricted Atlantic Ocean build up into very tall ‘sneaker’ waves that have claimed lives in the past. 

We stayed overnight in a farmhouse turned hotel near Vik.


Day 3 – Drive by the South Coast to Further East



Gönguleið um Eldhraun


Situated along Iceland’s south coast, Eldhraun is the largest lava flow in the world. Vast expanses of land covered in years of lush thick moss, which hide beneath their surface rough and jagged edges of the volcanic rocks. It is one of the best examples of how unearthly Iceland can seem to the outsider! Well, you are not alone, in 1969, the Apollo 11 crew trained for their moonwalk for its similarity to the surface of the moon.


Eldhraun moss field

Eldhraun moss field


The surreal and stunning exterior, however, masks the darker story of its birth. The Eldhraun lava field was formed after the massive eruption of Laki volcanic system (The Skaftá River Fires) that took place over 8 months in the late 18th century. This was considered to be one of greatest recorded eruptions that produced millions of tons of sulphur dioxide and fluorine. It not only impacted Iceland, but also caused massive climate changes, the haze of dust and sulphur particles spewed up by the volcano was carried over much of the northern hemisphere, ranging from the United States to Japan. 


Eldhraun moss field

Tourist information about Eldhraun moss field


About 25% of Iceland's population died either from the eruption or the famine which followed. Also 85% of the livestock died from eating grass contaminated with fluorine. Culturally, it also meant loss of Icelandic dances, as the Icelanders stopped dancing in the grim years that followed which also led to mass migration to Denmark. 


In Britain, that summer is known as the Sand-Summer due to the fallout of ash, and the ensuing food poverty was a major factor in the build-up to the French revolution of 1789. Now it is also thought that the eruption had disrupted the Asian monsoon cycle, prompting famine in Egypt. 


So, as you stand and wonder at the delicate flora on the moss, appreciate the consequences this geological upheaval had on the history of so many economies. 



Fossálar Waterfall


This graceful and vivacious waterfall is a dream for photographers and an amazing place to stop and reflect and connect with nature. The sound of water, the winds, the rocks jutting out and standing undeterred by the constant flow of water, is truly marvellous. It is one of those places that tempt you to stay there for a bit longer and lose all sense of time. 


Fossálar Waterfall, Iceland

Panoramic view of Fossálar Waterfall


Fossálar Waterfall is not massively popular tourist attraction in south part of Iceland. The viewpoint of the waterfall is located on side the Ring Road. So all visitors need to do is park the car on by the side of the road safely and walk to the viewpoint which is located around 20-25 meters from the road.



Jökulsárlón - Glacier Lagoon


Jökulsárlón translates to “Glacier's River Lagoon” and is Iceland’s deepest lake. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon started forming from melted glacial water and continues to grow as ice blocks crumble from the ever-shrinking glacier. The lagoon connects with the ocean and is composed of seawater and freshwater which gives its unique color. The icebergs in Jokulsarlon are composed of ice that is over 1,000 years old. The icebergs that break away from the glacier and fall into the lagoon slowly melt and drift out to sea, where the North Atlantic. These are also then washed ashore on the nearby intense black beach- Breidamerkursandur which has earned the name Diamond Beach, as the glistening ice chunks lying resemble diamonds in the sun.


Jökulsárlón Glacier lake

Panoramic view of Jökulsárlón Glacier lake



Jökulsárlón Glacier lake

Jökulsárlón Glacier lake in the backdrop


Seals can be seen in Jokulsarlon year-round, but they flock to the lagoon’s mouth to catch fish in the winter.



Svínafellsjökull glacier


Though much smaller and much quieter than the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, Svínafellsjökull glacier is almost over 1000 years old. It is the glacial tongue of the massive Vatnajökull glacier. The electric blue ice structures with black lava veins are a sight to behold. The name can be decoded as - Svínafell refers to the pig mountain which can be seen as you leave Ring Road 1 and jökull means glacier.


Svínafellsjökull glacier

Svínafellsjökull glacier panoramic view, the small lagoon where the glacier ends



Hiking to Svínafellsjökull glacier

Walking path from car park that takes visitor to the edge of the Svínafellsjökull Glacier


This glacier lagoon is easy to reach from Ring Road 1 and just under 150km east of Vík. There is a big parking space at the start of the trails and the viewing point. The walk from car park to the glacier is around 15 minutes via a nicely laid flat gravel road through senic sarraounding.



Víkurfjara - Black Sand Beach of Vik


Víkurfjara beach is a senic black sand beach located in the town of Vik close to Ring Road 1. The sand of the beach is black in colour as commonly found in almost all beachs in south of Iceland. The beach is less than 5 minutes drive from the Ring Road through residential area with direction cleraly marked which directs to the beach car park situated very close to the beach.


Víkurfjara, Black Sand Beach of Vik

Víkurfjara beach - the black sand beach at Vik


The distinctive black colour of the sand comes from the most common volcanic rock basalt fragments which is formed when lava comes out during a volcanic eruption and meets the cold water of ocean.


Víkurfjara, Black Sand Beach of Vik

Picturesque Víkurfjara beach is a perfect spot for taking some awesome photos


Wild lupin flower grows in large numbers near Víkurfjara beach during late spring (end May, early June) creates a contrasting and breathtaking view of the beach. The rocks of Reynisdrangar can be seen at a distance from the beach as well. Víkurfjara beach is seperated from the Reynisfjara beach by a cliff that protrudes out into the oacen between two beaches. This cliff is also popular nesting sight for Puffins in summer and puffins in large number can be seen on the cliff near the beach from late spring and through out summer.


Overnight stay in Farmhouse in Hella


Cabin accommodation in Iceland

Our homestay in a cabin in the middle of vast open farm land near Hella



Day 4 – Golden Circle


Geyser


Geysir and Strokkur are located in the Geysir Geothermal Area, in the valley known as Haukadalur Valley in South Iceland, within which are located Great Geysir and Strokkur (the Churn), and boiling mud pits - a wonderful window into the hot and active world under the earth’s surface. It’s about 100 km or 1.5 hours from Reykjavik by road on Route 35 or Route 37 heading through Thingvellir.


Strokkur geyser eruption

Strokkur geyser eruption which reaches height of around 25 to 35 meters


The ‘Geysir’ is the forefather of all geysers and gives the name ‘geyser’ to all geyser as this was the first geyser seen and recorded by Europeans. The word geyser itself stems from the Old Norse word “geysa” which means “to gush” or “to rush forth.” There are around 20-30 geysers in Iceland. The most geysers in the world are in USA - Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming that has over 300 or them, other countries with some geysers are Siberia, Chile and New Zealand.


Geyser eruption mechanism

Board displayed at Geysir Geothermal Area explaining the mechanism behind geyser eruption



‘A geyser is a rare kind of hot spring that is under pressure and erupts, sending jets of water and steam into the air. Geysers are made from a tube-like hole in the Earth's surface that runs deep into the crust. The tube is filled with water. Near the bottom of the tube is molten rock called magma, which heats the water in the tube. Water in the lower part of the tube, close to the magma, becomes superhot. Gradually, it begins to boil. Some of the water is forced upward. The boiling water begins to steam or turn to gas. The steam jets toward the surface. Its powerful jet of steam ejects the column of water above it. The water rushes through the tube and into the air. The eruption will continue until all the water is forced out of the tube, or until the temperature inside the geyser drops below boiling (100 degrees Celsius, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit, at sea level). After the eruption, water slowly seeps back into the tube. The process begins again. In some small geysers, the eruption process can take just a few minutes. In larger geysers, it can take days. The most famous geyser in the United States, Yellowstone National Park's Old Faithful, erupts about every 50-100 minutes.’

Also, as per National Geographic Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming has more than 300 geysers about two-thirds of the number of geysers in the entire world. Other geyser hot spots are Siberia, Chile, Iceland and New Zealand.


Various famous geysers around the world

Board displayed at Geysir Geothermal Area comparing the height of all famous geysers around the world


The Geysir has been active for at least 10,000 years and has been known since the 13th century. It is said that the Geysir once erupted with a much more powerful reaching heights of 120-170 metres. It is also said that the Geysir’s periods of intense activity follow large earthquakes. It remains dormant now and the last activity was during 2000. These days, the Geysir is less active, but Strokkur can captivate you for hours with eruption every few minutes and the hot water gushing out with all the drama and reaching heights of 30-40 metres. Strokkur is currently, the tallest erupting geyser in Iceland.


Hot spring, Geysir Geothermal Area

Hot spring at Geysir Geothermal Area


There are several other smaller geysers and hot springs. A slow-paced exploration of site takes a couple of hours. 



Gullfoss

Located in the southwest of the country, along the Golden Circle tourist route is the iconic Gullfoss, also known as the "Golden Waterfall".


Gullfoss, Iceland

Panoramic view of Gullfoss


It has two drops, one measuring 11 meters (36 feet) and the other 21 meters (69 feet), for a total height of 32 meters (105 feet). Gullfoss plunges into a gorge of foaming water and is viewed from top and sides. Gullfoss was formed during the last ice age, when glacial runoff carved out a deep canyon in the Hvítá river. The waterfall is created by a series of cascades and drops that plunge into the canyon below.


Gullfoss, Iceland

From a photo spot at Gullfoss


Gullfloss has an interesting history - it was owned by an Icelandic farmer, who was approached by an English investor interested in utilizing the energy of the waterfall to fuel a hydroelectric plant. Though he declined the offer, the investor managed to work through a loophole to proceed with his plans. The farmers daughter thereafter led a long battle to get the contract nullified, paying for a lawyer through her savings. Eventually the investor withdrew and the waterfall remained untouched. You can see a plaque with her details at the top of Gullfoss. The lawyer Sveinn Björnsson, who assisted her went on to became the first president of an independent Iceland.


Friðheimar – Tomato Farming Greenhouse (farming using geothermal energy) and Lunch


We had booked our lunch at Friðheimar - an amazing experience eating tomato based cuisine in the warm and bright greenhouse!


Lunch at Friðheimar, Tomato Farming Greenhouse

Dining setup in the middle of greenhouse tomato farming at Friðheimar



Friðheimar, Tomato Farming Greenhouse

Bar inside the tomato farming greenhouse Friðheimar


A couple had brough the farm which had two greenhouses, and a large house in 1995 with the aim of combining their different areas of expertise – horses and horticulture. They subsequently built a massive greenhouse and kept running the farm and renovating the existing buildings. After a few years they decided to start growing tomatoes all year round and with collaboration with Finnish experts introduced horticulture under artificial lighting.


Food at Friðheimar, Tomato Farming Greenhouse

Tomaro harvest and tomato based soup and drink that gets served at Friðheimar



Guided tour at Friðheimar

Informative guided tour on greenhouse tomato farming at Friðheimar


Today the place is bursting with activities and visitors are offered with free guided tours after lunch. The annual harvest now is around 370 tons!


Thingvellir National Park 


Located 49 km east of Reykjavík from Reykjavík, the Thingvellir national park is where you can witness history and get a glimpse of the future! 


Thingvellir National Park 

Walking path inside Thingvellir national park


The National Park is located in an active volcanic area and covers area that constitute the World Heritage property. It is enclosed by mountains on three sides, featuring grass-covered lava fields, and Lake Þingvallavatn lies at its southern end creating an unparalleled view all around. 


Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland sits on the constantly active geologic border - the mid-Atlantic ridge (ridge being the boundary between two tectonic plates) - North American plate and Eurasian plate. So, Iceland literally sits between two continents. Being in the middle of a ridge means it is the centre of geological activity. The tectonic plates shift and collide and move away apparently at the rate of 2.5cm per year. When the tectonic plates move apart, the oldest rocks get pushed to the sides, and new rock gets formed in the middle. Eventually, these plates will end up splitting the whole island in two - right through its middle part. So, one day, Iceland will no longer be a single piece of land!


Thingvellir National Park 

Water steams running through the Thingvellir national park where the two tectonic plates merges



The fissure can be seen today at the Thingvellir National Park - you can see both sides of the plates and literally walk between two continents, or dive if you wish, between America and Europe. 


Thingvellir National Park 

Picturesque landscape and water cascade at Thingvellir national park


Though lot of people come for snorkelling and diving - just witnessing the ravines opened by the tectonic movement is sure to fill you with awe! These ravines are then filled with the water from the Langjökull glacier, traversing its journey underground through porous lava rock, before revealing its pristine beauty in the ravines. Not to mention that it was the shooting location in HBO’s Game of Thrones series.


We called it a day after visiting Thingvellir National Park and checked into our accommodation in Selfoss.


Day 5 Snæfellsjökull Peninsula


After early breakfast we left Selfoss and started for Snæfellsjökull Peninsula which is loacled in the north west part of country. There are a number of attractions in Snæfellsjökull Peninsula alongside the ring road that covers the entire peninsula. We started clockwise and went towards west covering all major attractions.


Búdakirkja


There is no dearth of surreal things to witness in Iceland - the Búdakirkja church is definitely one of them. Almost reminiscent of the black volcanic soil in Iceland, this dainty little panelled black wooden church with white doors and windows sits in an open green palette lava field in the hamlet of Budir in Iceland’s Snafellsnes peninsula. In the old times the village used to be called Hraunhofn, which meant ‘“The Harbor of Lava” in Icelandic.


Búdakirkja church, Black church of Iceland

Panoramic view of Búdakirkja church or Black church


It is tiny - around 5m x 9m and sits upto 50 people. There is an organ, but no heating, no bathroom or running water in the church. There are two church bells in the tower. The church is used for traditional church events for the parish, destination weddings, music events, storytelling etc.


Búdakirkja church, Black church of Iceland

Búdakirkja church or Black church is a great photo location for travellers tavelling to Snæfellsjökull Peninsula


The first church was a small turf church with a cemetery that over time fell into disrepair and was finally abolished. In the 19th century, a local widow, applied for permission from the Church authorities to rebuild a church and paid for the little church that stands today. She was buried in Budir cemetery and is a gravestone in her memory.


Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge (Rauðfeldsgjá)


Rauðfeldasgjá Gorge is a hidden gem of Snæfellsnes Peninsula located in the Botnsfjall Mountain. During summer months it is possible to walk inside the gorge and experience the enormity and beauty of the nature. Located 10 minutes walking form the main road, this natural beauty is one of the must-see places in Snæfellsnes Peninsula for visitors. Anyone willing to visit this place can park the car just off the road in a well-maintained carpark and walk 10 minutes to the mouth of the gorge.


Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge

Opening of the Rauðfeldasgjá Gorge on mountain cliff


Rauðfeldasgjá Gorge gets its name from an Icelandic folklore that was written during the 14th century based on a saga from 9th century. The saga narrates that a half-troll and half man, Bárður was to live in a place called Laugabrekka in Snæfellsnes Peninsula with his daughters. His brother used to live in a nearby village called Arnarstapi with his two sons. The cousins, four of them used to often play together by the shore. The saga says that during one such playful day one of the boy named Rauðfeldur pushed Bárður’s elder daughter onto an iceberg. The daughter believed to drifted away on the iceberg to Greenland. This made Bárður furious and angry, and he pushed Rauðfeldur into the gorge and his brother, Sölvi, off the nearby cliff. This gave birth to the name of the gorge as Rauðfeldsgjá and the nearby cliff Sölvahamar Cliff. As per the saga then Bárður went to nearby glacier Snæfellsjökull and never to be seen again. Local believes Bárður still watching over the area from the glacier.


Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge

Inside Rauðfeldasgjá Gorge


The opening of the gorge is narrow with a tiny stream of river flowing though it. There are rocks on the river which are suitable to step onto and walk inside withing getting the feet wet. 10 to 12 meters inside the gorge widen few meters and have some dry patches to stand onto. Here the gorge ends where the walls of the gorge are brightly green in colour due to the moss growing on the face of the rock. There is a crack at the top of the tall wall of the gorge from where the sun rays fall into the gorge creating a magical scene.


Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge

Panoramic view of the valley from the entrance to Rauðfeldasgjá Gorge


The view of the valley and the coastline from the mouth of the gorge is breath-taking and worthy of a few snaps.



Arnarstapi Cliff Viewpoint and Gatklettur Stone Bridge


In Iceland’s dynamic geology, it is not impossible to imagine hot magma falling through cliffs and hitting the cool waters of the Atlantic and solidifying. Thousands of years of erosion thereafter can carve windows and doors into these formations.


Gatklettur Arch, Hellnar Arch

Gatklettur Arch (Hellnar Arch)


Gatklettur Arch (Hellnar Arch) is one such marvel of nature and even boasts of stunning swirling patters. There is great birdlife around the cliffs and pretty flora surrounding the area.


Arnarstapi cliff viewpoint

Walking path from carpark to Arnarstapi cliff viewpoint


Arnarstapi cliff viewpoint present a beautiful panoramic view of the Atlantic and surrounding areas and cliff which showcases the mightiness of mother nature.

Arnarstapi cliff viewpoint and Gatklettur lies between Arnarstapi and Hellnar villages along an iconic coastal path and can be reached from both points. However, the closest car park to both of these is in Arnarstapi, which allows the easiest access to the main road we chose to start from this fishing village. 



Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs


Another geological wonder of the Snæfellnes peninsula are the Lóndrangar basalt cliffs that can be reached from Visitor’s Centre, through mossy fields. The silhouette of these rocky pinnacles emerging over the entire southern coastline resemble a castle (perhaps slightly distorted version) and is usually referred to as a rocky castle. These are the remains of a volcanic crater, and the magnificent form has been carved over years of battering by the sea waves.


Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs

Panoramic view of Lóndrangar basalt cliffs and Altantic ocean


Legend has it that there are elves in the area! Wander around the unreal surroundings and down a few shots of Brennivín - you may probably spot one!



Djúpalónssandur beach


A stunning intense black lava sand and pebble beaches located on the foot of Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Western Iceland. Hugged by rugged cliffs and a green moss turf on the lava field with wildflowers and sounds of birds, this is another sight to marvel at. On the beach is a big red lava rock called Söngklettur or the Singing Rock. The rock is said to be protected by the elves in the area.


Djúpalónssandur beach

In the middle of no-where in Snæfellsjökull Peninsula


On the beach there are four big stones all in different size - ‘lifting stones’. as they were used by the fishermen in Iceland to measure their strength. The smallest weighing around 23 kilos, and the heaviest around 154 kilos. You'll also see the remains of the Epine GY7, a British trawler that was shipwrecked off the coast of Djúpalónssandur.



Svörtuloft Lighthouse


This bright orange lighthouse standing tall on the rocky black cliff - another dramatic and iconic feasts Iceland has to offer. The drive to the lighthouse was a bit edgy but the view was phenomenal.


Svörtuloft Lighthouse

Viewing deck and walking planks at Svörtuloft Lighthouse


There are wooden walking planks and a viewing panel overlooking the ocean. The sound of seagulls mixed with the waves hitting the cliffs and the stench of bird poop is a strong reminder of where you are.


Svörtuloft Lighthouse

View of Svörtuloft Lighthouse, cliff and ocean


The vastness of the ocean and the lighthouse brings up visuals of weary seafarers delight of reaching dry land! It is not hard to imagine how difficult it would be to navigate the sea with high winds and jagged cliffs. It is said that many ships have been stranded and destroyed and led to the construction of the lighthouse, in the early 20th century. The original structure was replaced with the current concrete structure due to significant erosion. There are no public toilets in the vicinity, so find one before making your way up to the orange beauty!



Kirkjufellsfoss


Kirkjufell is a distinctive arrow shaped mountain besides the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall in the Snaefellsness Peninsula in the fishing town of Grundarfjordur. Kirkjufell is one of the steepest mountains in Iceland and is said to be made up of a few different types of lava and rock with fossils found at the top of the mountain


Kirkjufell

Classic shot of Kirkjufell with volcanic mountain in the backdrop



Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell is one of the most famous and top tourist attraction of Iceland


There is a car park and a well-maintained path that leads you uphill near the waterfall which is actually a group of 3 waterfalls dropping into a river. These aren’t as big as other waterfalls, but the view is top down and therefore a different perspective from others. 



Day 6 – Back To Reykjavik And Blue Lagoon



Gerðuberg Cliffs


Located in west Iceland and accessible from Highway 54, these incredibly perfect basalt rock columns are over 50 meters high and hard to believe that they are not man-made! 


Gerðuberg  Cliffs

Gerðuberg Cliffs consist of a series of hexagonal shape tall columns standing like a wall


Iceland’s 130 volcanoes have been erupting periodically over millions of years, but only 30-40 remain active. One of these is Ljósufjöll volcanic system. The cliffs were formed by flowing basaltic lava that originated within the Ljósufjöll volcanic system. The Lava flows rich in iron and magnesium are cooled rapidly by the sea and the air, and as the lava solidifies, vertical cracks are formed by the stress of the rock’s cooling and contracting. The fractures grow perpendicular to the surface of the flow, and as they continue to grow, they form a closely-spaced regular array of columns and can end up with 3 to 8 sides; the Gerðuberg columns have the more typical hexagonal shape. Similar columnar natural structures can be seen in other parts of the world too.


Gerðuberg  Cliffs

Gerðuberg Cliffs is not a popular tourist attraction, but it worth a visit


The attraction is located off the main road (Ring Road). A gravel road branches out of the main road with clear sign leading to the car park at the bottom of the cliffs. The distance from the main road to the car park is around couple of kilometers. The attraction is not hugely popular among tourists, so finding an empty space in the car park is not a challenge at any time of the day and there is no entry fees to the attraction. No information centre or public toilers are around either, describing in simple terms - its located in the middle of no where!



Reykjavik old harbour


This natural harbour which was the backbone of Icelandic fishing trade and led to the growth of the city around it. Today it is more of a tourism site, and it is hard to miss signs for whale-watching tours. The vessels leave multiple times a day, and cruise into Faxaflói Bay, where an abundance of white-beaked dolphins, Humpback Whales, Harbor Porpoises and Minke Whales and occasionally Blue Whales and Fin Whales can be sighted. Iceland has a tradition of whaling, though it current times there is little consumption within the country and most of the catch is either exported to Japan (Fin Whale) or served to tourists (Minke Whale). With rising awareness and campaigning, the demand has been decreasing and there has been an increase in whale watching activities instead. 


Reykjavik old harbour

Reykjavik old harbour area houses a number of good restaurants serving local foods


We strolled along the harbour and wandered aimlessly for a while before heading to a nice cozy restaurant in the heart of the old harbour called Sagreifinn (Seabaron) for lunch. The restaurant is very popular among locals and tourists which serves amazingly delicious lobster soup and grilled fish and seafood.


Lobster soup at Sagreifinn

Lobster soup, seafood and fist skewers at Sagreifinn (Seabaron)


The decore of the restaurant is traditionally Icelandic with lots of pictures and sailing and maritime items on display. We ordered soup, grilled fish and seafood and enjoyed thoroughly. After lunch we headed for our last treat in Iceland - Blue Lagoon. 



Blue Lagoon Thermal Bath


We decided to wrap up our trip of Iceland by wrapping ourselves in the warmth of the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon. Logistically it made sense as it is just 15-minute drive from Keflavík International Airport.


Blue Lagoon Iceland

Blue Lagoon which is a wastewater lagoon is the top and most famous attraction of Iceland


The Blue Lagoon is technically man-made and was initially formed by the wastewater from the nearby geothermal power plant which started collecting in a pool which later saw development around it as it becoming more and more popular to bath in these waters. The water is naturally heated by the Earth's geothermal energy and is typically around 37-39°C (98-102°F). The water has a milky-blue color due to the high concentration of silica, sulfur and other materials. There is also a research and development facility on site dedicated to cures for skin ailments. You receive some complimentary silica mud and other face packs on the pool for a face mask. You can even enjoy some drinks while in the pool. The cold air outside, the warmth of the water, the vivid blue colours surrounding you and the beautiful volcanic landscapes around make it an amazing experience. 


Blue Lagoon Iceland

Blue lagoon is a perfect location for relaxing after a long road trip of Iceland


Though a lot of websites we researched mentioned it was required to bath naked before entering the pool, there are excellent shower facilities with curtains and with complementary towels. There are also cafes and restaurants inside the facilities. As with most places these days, it is essential that you book in advance!


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While travelling to Iceland detailed planning for the trip is key for an unforgettable experience. We meticulously planned our trips months before our travel. According to our planning and experience of travelling to Iceland here are the top things to keep in mind when travelling to Iceland.


  • Car Hire


Iceland is a country that demands exploration at your own pace. And for that, the best option is to hire a car and drive, especially during spring and summer months. It gives you the freedom of customising your itinerary and allows you to spend as long or as little time at an attraction as you want. As most of Iceland’s attractions are scattered throughout the island along the ring road, exploring Iceland with a car is the best possible way to cover most of the popular and less popular attractions.



Self driving in Iceland with hired car

The best way to explore Iceland is self driving


We travelled during late spring and picked up our hire car from Keflavík International Airport and dropped it back at the airport at the end of our trip. 


  • Traffic rules and driving in Iceland 


If you decide to drive, it is important to get familiarised with the traffic rules in Iceland. Like any other European country and the US, its right-hand side driving in Iceland. All roads have maximum speed limits which are clearly sign posted on the side of the road. The speed limits are based on area and nature of the roads. The speed limits are as follows:

  • Built up area (Towns and Cities): 30 – 50 km/hr

  • Gravel road: 80 km/hr

  • Highways (Ring Road): 90 km/hr


Speed cameras are present in many of the major roads in Iceland. And over-speeding will usually land you with a hefty fine. So, keep within the limits to avoid these hassles.  


In many parts of the country, especially outside the city of Reykjavík there are roundabouts on the roads. The rules are slightly different from UK where the roundabout goes in anti-clockwise direction and in case of multi-lane roundabouts cars in outermost lane are required to stop to give way to cars existing the roundabout. 


So, is it easy to drive in Iceland? The simple answer is ‘Yes’. Most of the roads around the country have very light traffic which helps drivers to get used to the driving conditions which you really cannot prepare for beforehand!  Cities like Reykjavík have slightly heavier traffic, but if you keep within the speed limits and follow the driving rules city area driving isn’t bad at all.  


We suggest you check Iceland official website for roads and traffic https://www.road.is/ which gives real time and up to date road conditions for driving, road closure etc. for commuters. This is great to prep before you travel and quite handy while you are there!


One point worth mentioning here is that it can be quite overwhelming as well as risky to drive around in Iceland during winter months and requires experience and skill to drive in snowy condition and  specialised vehicles.  April to September months can be considered easier to drive. 


  • Accommodation


Reykjavík and Keflavík area have several accommodations ranging from budget to luxury. However, further afield in countryside options are limited and can be expensive based on the time of the year. Summer months are the peak of tourist season and prices for accommodation goes up significantly. So plan and book early to keep it budget friendly! 


Cabin accommodation in farmland in Iceland

Our stay at a farmland cottage - The view and experience, both were unique


During our trip to Iceland, we avoided staying in Reykjavík and Keflavík area apart from the first night as we arrived late in the night. As most or all the major attractions are located away from Reykjavík and Keflavík area, staying in one location and travelling to and from attractions isn’t a good idea. We stayed in different accommodations along the Ring Road each night based on where we were ending our day. So we found cottages in farms in small villages, which was a great experience in itself. These types of cottages have their own kitchen and it was indeed quite fun (and cost efficient) to cook and wind down at the end of day.   


  • Food/Eating Out


Eating out in restaurants is usually quite expensive in Iceland compared to mainland Europe. A dinner or a lunch with a drink at an average restaurant can easily be over 25 euros (around 3700 Icelandic Kronur) per person and significantly more at fine dining restaurants. Therefore, eating out thrice a day can easily get to 60 or 70 euros per person in Iceland. So cooking your own food might be the way to go unless you wants to splurge! During our trip to Iceland, we used to eat sandwiches or wraps as lunch from supermarkets and prepared our own breakfast and dinner in the cottage where we stay overnight. 


Local Icelandic cuisine

Eating local Icelandic cuisine is a delicious experience that come with a cost attached to it


However, we did eat at restaurants a couple of times to try some local favourites  like lobster soup and grilled fish. 


  • Shopping at Supermarket 


The main  supermarkets in Iceland are Bonus and Kronan. Both have large stores across the island and are stocked with good range of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, diary and breads. We found everything we needed to cook good meals during our trip from these supermarkets. 


Icelandic supermarket

Icelandic supermarkets offer a wide range of fresh produce at reasonable price


Icelandic supermarket

Kronan is one of the big supermarket chain in Iceland with branches located all over Iceland


The prices of food items in supermarkets in Iceland seemed to be roughly 10 to 15% higher compared to mainland Europe. 


  • Consider time of the year for travelling to Iceland


Iceland can be considered as a year-round travel destination, though the activities can be widely different depending on the time of the year. During the winter months when the entire country is under a blanket of snow and day lights hours are very short, it’s the best time to catch northern lights (if you get lucky that is!) and enjoy a number of winter spots. However, due to extremely short day there isn’t enough time to  enjoy most of the attractions. During winter travellers are required to stick to the various tour programs sold by travel companies in Reykjavík. 


However, during late spring and summer months, with milder weather condition, very long daylight hours (specially in month of late June with around 22 hours of daylight) and suitable driving conditions, it’s much easier to drive around the island and explore all attractions at your own pace. 


Icelandic landscape and wild lupin bloom

End of May - early June is the best time to see wild Lupin blooming in Iceland


We visited Iceland during last few days of May and start of June. This time collides with Iceland’s wild lupin season when wild lupin flowers blooms into full glory for a few weeks especially in south of Iceland. We found plenty of beautiful lupin fields randomly by the side of roads, and near many attractions. When we visited Iceland the daylight hours were long enough for us to be out and about till late (sometime till 10 pm). The bright sky in the late hours was quite an experience!  


  • Packing Clothing Accordingly 


What you pack in your suitcase when travelling to Iceland varies completely based on what time of the year you are travelling to Iceland. Winter travel to Iceland requires specialised winter clothing. 


Icelandic wilderness

What cloths to pack while travelling to Iceland changes significantly by season


We travelled during late spring, early summer when the temperature is generally pleasant and daytime temperature stays around 11 to 12 degrees centigrade. So, we packed jeans, long sleeves t-shirts and light jackets. Late spring, early summer months also bring in the occasional rain, so packing a rain jacket is always a good idea. 


Iceland involves a good amount of walking on gravel roads and on beaches while visiting the sites. Hence a good pair of waterproof walking or hiking shoes are essential while travelling to Iceland. 


  • Attraction Entry Fees and Opening Time


Entry to majority of the tourist attractions especially natural attractions like waterfalls, beaches, lagoons is open 24 hours and requires no entry fee. Car parks for some of the attractions have minimal charges.  


Icelandic waterfall

Almost all natural attractions in Iceland are free to enter and enjoy


Attractions like blue lagoon and museums in Reykjavík have an entry fee and a specific opening time. Blue lagoon keeps its doors open from 7 am in the morning till midnight during the months of June to August and 8 am to 10 pm for the remaining months and visitors need to book tickets in advance and book timeslots to enter the lagoon. We would suggest you check opening hours for attractions such as blue lagoon, Hallgrímskirkja or museums in Reykjavík on their official website before visiting.

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