Iceland from Reykjavik | Golden Circle & South Coast

If you’re aiming to meet halfway between NYC and London, Reykjavik is your best bet! Over the past 10 years, Iceland has become a top choice destination for travelers from western Europe and the east coast of the US. So much so that the Icelandic Tourist Board recently proposed Airbnb regulations to minimize the number of tourists in the country. The spectacular waterfalls, stunning coastline, abundance of outdoor activities and incredible tourist infrastructure make it hard to stay away!

Accomidations

Everyone uses Airbnb in Iceland. An Airbnb in Reykjavik is an ideal home-base. If I go back in the winter chasing aurora borealis I think I would stay at Ion Iceland for a different experience.

Our Itinerary

Friday | Icelandic Culture and History in Reykjavik

  • Reykjavik is easily walk-able. You can explore the major sites in just a day.
  • National Museum of Iceland – sets the scene and provides some background on Icelandic history. The museum cafe is perfect for a late morning coffee break.
  • Lunch at Icelandic lamb hot dog stand, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur on Tryggvata street. Icelanders apparently love hot dogs 
  • Afternoon self guided walking tour
    • Hallgrimskirkja Church
    • Harpa
    • Shops along Laugavegur
    • Lighthouse on Grotta Island

Saturday | Golden Circle

We spent a lot of time trying to decide if should rent a car or do day trips with SuperJeep, GeoIceland or some other group. I am so happy we decided to do our own self guided tour. Driving around Iceland couldn’t be easier. All of the major sites are exceedingly well marked and right off of the main road/highway. Its virtually impossible to get lost or miss a landmark.

  • Þingvellir (Thingviller) National Park – a large national park. Plan to spend at least an hour here.
    • Silfra Fissure, a crack in the North American and Eurasian continental plates. There are snorkeling excursions in the fissure, but I settled for just taking a few pictures and touching the chilly water!
    • Öxarárfoss waterfall is the other major point of interest in the park. Quite tame in comparison to other Icelandic waterfalls, but the walk through the park to Öxarárfoss is lovely.
  • Strokkur Geyser and Geothermal Area – walking through the geothermal area I felt like I was in one of the dark, scary scenes from the Land Before Time. Little puffs of steam rise up from the barren, reddish landscape. The geyser erupts every 10 minutes or so. You can stand so close that your are sprayed by water from the eruption!
  • Gulfoss Waterfall – known as the “Golden Waterfall” because of the gold, sparkling hue on sunny days. Gulfoss is the most powerful of the waterfalls we visited in Iceland
  • Late lunch at Friðheimar Tomato Greenhouse – one of our favorite stops of the day! The Friðheimar Tomato Greenhouse is pretty incredible. The greenhouse uses thermal energy to sustain production of an average of a ton of tomatoes a day. The greenhouse restaurant serves unlimited tomato soup and bread. Yum! Reservations are recommended.
  • Kerið (Kerid) Crater Lake – a lake in a volcanic crater. Another surreal stop. The contrast of red rocky earth and the dark turquoise lake is incredible.

Sunday | South Coast and Glacier Walk

After driving the Golden Circle, you’ll find it hard to believe that the South Coast drive is even better! The waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers and opportunity to see puffins made me rate the South Coast drive as just a tiny bit better than the Golden Circle. We booked a Sólheimajökull Glacier walk with Arcanum tours which made the day even more special. There are not many opportunities to stop for meals or snacks on the south coast drive, so you should stock up on provisions the night before!

  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – the best waterfall I’ve ever visited. Seljalandsfoss, which drops 197 feet cascades in front of a cave, which you can walk through to see the waterfall from behind. Its worth flying to Iceland just to go to Seljalandsfoss.
  • Skógafoss Waterfall – how to follow Seljalandsfoss?? Skógafoss is everything a waterfall should be: sparkling water, lush green grass, birds swooping by and so many rainbows! You can climb to the top of Skógafoss for even more dramatic views
  • Sólheimajökull Glacier – Our major activity for the day was a glacier walk on Sólheimajökull. There are quite a few tour operators offering glacier walks, however Arcanum have a base at Sólheimajökull and allow you to book a glacier walk, without including transportation from Reykajivk which made it the best option for us. The glacier walk lasts about 3.5 hours. Outfitted with ice picks and cleats we walked across the glacier and learned about the history of Sólheimajökull the impact of the 2010 volcano eruption and global warming, and so much more from our guide.
  • Dyrhólaey – Dramatic coastline, amazing views and home of black sand beaches and some puffins on the south coast of Iceland.
  • Reynisdrangar – Basalt sea stacks by Dyrhólaey on the south coast. Our last stop before turning back towards Reykajivik.

 

Restaurants

  • Tapas Barinn – Icelandic small plates. Try the Icelandic Tasting Menu which includes smoked puffin, seared minke whale, and Icelandic foal.
  • Matur og Drykkur – “Food and Drink” in Icelandic. This new restaurant located in an old salt fish factory offers modern twists on traditional Icelandic food and drinks. Highly recommended!
  • Resto – a cozy, friendly Icelandic restaurant. Cozy booths with tons a candles, a chalkboard menu and comfort food dishes – perfect after an afternoon shivering on a glacier.

Useful Links and Inspiration 

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