Iceland: The Golden Circle & Jokulsarlon.
Updated: May 25, 2019
Iceland is a place of magic and lots of waterfalls. We spent four days in Iceland, and that was the perfect amount of time. We rented a car, but advice: make sure you get automatic, because if not you are getting stick shift. The airport KEF (Keflavík International Airport) is about 40 minutes away from Reykjavik and we brought portable Wi-Fi to use in the car so we could map it out on our phones. We got to our Airbnb in Reykjavik (check out my article about Downtown Reykjavik!) and prepared for our long journey for the upcoming days. Since we knew we were going to be in a car most of the time, and Iceland is EXTREMELY expensive, we went to a grocery store and bought some peanut butter, jelly, bread, and crackers, just so we didn't have to stop and spend a lot of money on meals.
The Golden Circle Itinerary
We woke up at 8 AM and hit the road. The Golden Circle is a loop around Iceland where you hit the major waterfalls and scenic spots. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, about 35 minutes from downtown Reykjavik. It was honestly a bit confusing where we should go and park, but we followed the crowd for the most part and ended up at this beautiful waterfall:
We almost went snorkeling in the Silfra, which is still part of Thingvellir National Park, but we figured with limited time in Iceland, and mainly no place to dry our hair, that we would just drive by the fissure. If we were to have snorkeled, we would have booked it here. There is a gorgeous little town called Laugarvatn that we passed through, and if you have the time you should stop at the Laugarvatn Fontana, some geothermal baths with a small entry fee.
The absolute highlight of the Golden Circle was Bruarfoss Waterfall. We drove for what it seemed liked forever (maybe 10 minutes) down this road and parked our car. There was absolutely no one around but just a couple arrow signs leading into the forest. The ground was muddy and we didn’t have a change of shoes, but someone in passing told us that it was going to be “worth it.” Well I think these pictures speak for themselves:
If you are going to see anything on your trip, Bruarfoss Waterfall is a must. I could have stayed there for hours watching the crystal blue water. The water is so blue because it’s running over black lava.
Geothermal Field - Haukadalur
Haukadalur is a geothermal field. You’ll pull up to a parking lot across the street. There is a small convenient store across the street to use the restroom / eat / buy any souvenirs you want. The thermals themselves smell like sulfur, but that is a small price to pay when you watch the geyser burst out of the ground. My personal favorite part was seeing how crystal blue the geothermal’s got. It reminded me of something out of Harry Potter.
After a quick snack we were on the road again to Gullfoss Waterfall, which is one of Iceland’s staple waterfalls. It’s only around an 1.5 hours from Reykjavik, but with all of your stops, you should get here around mid-day. This waterfall is massive. Be prepared at all of these to get sprayed just a tad. Make sure you are cautious when you are walking, and bring a light rain jacket to keep the water off your clothes / hair.
From Gullfoss, you can really go anywhere. There is the Hvita River, but it is a detour from the circle. You can venture to Kerid Crater, which is a crater with bright water at the bottom. In your GPS you put in “Kerid Car Park” though. We stayed the night in an Airbnb toward Hella, and stopped by Selijalandsfoss along the way. Then we saw Skogafoss Waterfall and took the stairs to “hike” to the top of the waterfall. WARNING: You have to pay for the bathrooms there. One thing about Iceland: you will see a lot of waterfalls. But they are all wonderful and worth it!
It's not necessarily on the Golden Circle path, but I thought it was worth adding is Jokulsarlon. About five hours away from Reykjavík, but only about three from Vík, so if you time it right, you can go to the glaciers, pop by Vík for lunch, then head back to Reykjavík. We booked a Zodiac tour, and although it's expensive, it was hands down the coolest thing I've done in my life. We got to ride on boats of about 8 people and actually go into the glacier water. Hold on for dear life, because if you fall in you're probably frozen (not really, because they give you these huge yellow suits to wear, but I like to add the dramatic effect). We learned all about how and why the glaciers flip, and why they are different colors, but you'll just have to find out yourself!
Around 15-20 minutes from our glacier tour, was Diamond Beach. It's called Diamond Beach because there are glaciers that wash up against the shore. Unfortunately, we went in the summer time (which is slightly warmer than usual) and the glaciers we're very big at all. They looked like small crystals, hence the name Diamond Beach. This is a great place to run around, hold the glaciers and take photos.
After the glaciers you might as well just say in the Jokulsarlon area. We stayed the night in a hotel called, Hof 1 Hotel, which was next to the "highway" (just the main street throughout the countryside). You get your own "cabin"-like room, where you can see the beautiful countryside right outside your window. The hotel has complimentary breakfast, and a indoor pool and hot tub which we found relaxing after a lot of driving.
After a night of rest, we headed down to Vík, a small town on the coast. There's a famous church there (I still couldn't tell you why it's famous) that we drove up to, parked, and took some photos. Behind the church there are these huge mountains that we just ran around in (when you're in a car majority of the time, you've got to just find time to run around). The air there is so clean and fresh, it reminded me of running around the Swiss Alps. There are a lot of places to eat lunch and enjoy the view of the ocean and the #BlackSandyBeach, which is what Vík is famous for. We spent some time walking along the beach, looking at the different shells they have there, and enjoying our time.
After Vík, we headed back to Reykjavik. I always thought driving around Iceland was a far off dream, but with the right amount of research and budgeting, we made it possible! I hope you get the chance to visit Iceland too!