An early start by Icelandic standards, we were up and out before dawn – although the fact dawn was after 10.30am made it much easier. Satnav set, roads checked, snacks packed and we were on our way to our first stop of the Golden Circle…Þingvellir National Park!
One perk of hiring a car is that you can stop off wherever you feel like it, and as we drove along we spotted a lake in the distance. The closer we got, the more we realised how huge and absolutely stunning the lake was! Cars in front of us were pulling over in a lay-by, and we didn’t want to miss out so parked up and stepped out into the freezing cold to soak up the views and take a few photos. It was so cold that I couldn’t bear to be out of the car for long, so it wasn’t long before we were on our way again.
With just enough time to thaw and warm up, the satnav was soon taking us past the signs for Þingvellir and making us question our trust for this tiny gadget that had already taken us on some random detours. With no choice but to go with it, we soon found ourselves in a carpark with a few other cars, no tour buses and just a short walk between all the sights of the national park.
First stop was the absolutely stunning waterfall Öxarárfoss. As we climbed the rocky, icy staircase I was so glad we’d stopped in Frankfurt a few days earlier to buy proper boots, there was no way I’d have made it without them! The wooden viewing platform for waterfall was super icy, and after a few tentative photos we made our way back, towards Almannagja. I’d read in our guide book that this was a gorge created by the two tectonic plates moving apart from each other, which I find so interesting and couldn’t wait to see. Following the signs, we ended up at the visitor centre with a really cool viewing platform that looks out over the national park. Definitely one not to miss! We had time for a few photos before we were hit with a snow storm.
Taking the opportunity to use the toilet before dashing back to the car, the snow storm was, in true Iceland style, over in about 10 minutes. By the time we reached the car it was sunny again! I’d also managed to finally work out where Almannagja was after searching for it for quite some time – we’d been walking through it the whole time! Taking as many pictures as I could manage with my frozen fingers, we were soon on our way again, this time to Geysir and Gullfoss!
As the Golden Circle is a very popular tourist trail, tour buses frequently appear and disappear at the sights, and there’s a main road connecting all of the sights. Despite this, our satnav took us along the scenic ‘shortcut’. As the driver, my boyfriend definitely didn’t appreciate this as the road was very bendy, visibility was cut short by the tall plants either side of the road and at some points we got very close to the rocky edge of the lake. Me, on the other hand? I loved it! Aside from the moments when I slightly feared for my life, the views across the lake were amazing! Although, I made a mental note not to drive back that way…
Geysir and Gullfoss are relatively close to each other and we opted to stop at Geysir first before moving on to the almighty waterfall. Within minutes of stepping out of the car, my hands hurt so much from the cold. We also started spotting people who’d been at Pingvellir and were obviously doing the same trail as us. Arriving before a number of tour buses, we had a short while before the crowds descended and made the most of it by checking out the geysers in the area. It’s crazy to imagine what’s going on underneath the ground, and of course we stood and tried to guess when Strokkur – the most active geyser in the area – would pop, giving us the iconic geyser shot. They say it erupts every 5 – 8 minutes, but at one point we had two spouts within a couple of minutes of each other.
Before long, the other tourists and their darn selfie sticks started to bother me, so we jumped back in the car with the heating on full blast in the hopes we’d make it to Gullfoss before they did. It’s just a short 10-minute drive up the road, and although we missed the first turning for the car park we ended up just outside the visitor centre.
There are two viewing areas for Gullfoss – one higher up and another lower down near the actual waterfall. I was so cold and fed up by this point that I was happy to just see the waterfall from the higher viewing point. It was so icy that the pathways were being used as slides, and having the balance of Bambi, I ended up walking on the ground next to the pathway in the hopes I’d make it to the end of the pathway still on my feet. Next challenge: descending the stairs, which were thankfully not so icy!
Again, I’d have been happy to just stop there, but my boyfriend insisted we walk along and climb onto the rocky outcrop. Slightly grumpy and frozen, I trudged along getting slightly damp from the mist of the waterfall. After seeing someone slip on the rocks, I tried to move as little as possible, convinced I’d slip and fall under the ‘fence’ into the water. Before long, the cold got the better of my boyfriend too, who agreed it was time to head back to the car for a long defrost session on the way back to Reykjavik. In hindsight I can say I’m glad we walked all the way round at Gullfoss, but if you’d asked me then I would have disagreed.
As we drove back to the apartment we passed Fontana, which is a hot spring similar to Blue Lagoon. We had considered stopping off, but as we’d been to the Blue Lagoon the day before we decided to hunt out a local geothermal pool closer to Reykjavik instead. After tackling the snowy roads and pitch black wilderness, we found Árbæjarlaug on the outskirts of Reykjavik. This is more of a local pool than a tourist haunt, and I spent about 10 minutes trying to work myself up to having to shower naked in front of strangers. As it turns out, it was super quiet at the pool and I managed to find a little shower cubicle – phew!
There’s a tiny pool inside, but the real attraction is outside. A naturally heated pool, there are swimming lanes and slides for the kids. Dotted around the edge are jacuzzi pools of varying heats. I quickly jumped in to the mid-range one as it was still absolutely freezing outside, and settled back to look at the stars and watch some local kids play football nearby. It was absolutely the most perfect way to end such an awesome day in Iceland, and it was safe to say that Operation Love Iceland had been a success. I could even picture myself living here, despite the fact I hate the cold and the dark!