Iceland Adventure in 72h
Last year, when I left Iceland after 7-day amazing adventure I promised myself that I will come back. I didn’t think, though, it would happen only 12 months later. Sooner than I expected I stood on the same land again, revisiting spots that I had already seen and exploring new places. This September I went to Iceland for 72-hour road trip, which at the beginning seemed a bit crazy. Who goes to Iceland for such a short time? I do. And I do not regret this decision. I had 3 intensive days full of magical moments and unexpected adventures.
After 3-hour direct flight from Gdansk my friend and I arrived at the Keflavik airport on Friday evening. we quickly left gates and headed straight to car rental office to pick up our booked car. That was the first time, I rented a car on my own, so I was a bit worried about extra fees that the company could potentially charge us. Especially, after reading online reviews. However, my concerns were unfounded. Everything went smoothly and even better than I expected.
Service at the office was perfect and to our surprise we got better car than we booked online for the same money. Our budget was very tight and prices in Iceland are insane in general so we settled on the smallest and the cheapest option. To our luck that car was not available at that moment, so we were given an alternative with 4WD. In Iceland it’s a huge advantage. Many roads are accessible to such cars only. Two-wheel-drive cars are forbidden on so-called F-roads. We wouldn’t have seen many magical place if not for the car swap.
We slept in the car. Not the best accommodation we could ask for, but wasn’t too bad. September is still bearable in terms of weather conditions. Temperatures at night go down to a few Celsius degrees, so we didn’t freeze inside. Sweater and sleeping bag was just enough.
Outside wasn’t that pleasant. Even if temperature held European standards, the wind was far from what I have experienced in my life. And it was nothing compared with how bad it can get in late autumn and winter. Actually, I’ve read an article a while ago that accurately describes how Iceland does its justice and I quote: “the winds that hit the eastern part of the country exceeded the designation for hurricane level by two-fold, peaking at 260 km per hour (160 mph)”.
Even though, it was far from that during our stay, the wind didn’t resemble mild blowing. I could clearly feel the car rocking while I was driving. However, the weather did not put us off from exploring the wonders of Iceland.
We started our journey with famous Golden Circle – the most popular tourist attraction in the country that includes three spots: Þingvellir (the rift valley), geysers and enormous waterfall called Gullfoss (Golden Falls). However, the golden three is not everything you can see in that area. If you head to see Golden Circle, don’t follow all tourists and swerve toward less popular spots too.
We started with Þingvellir, a place where two continental plates North American and Eurasian collide. The rift valley is located next to enormous lake – the biggest one in the SE Iceland. Lots of space, nice views and all rocky formations are covered with moss. On top of that, there is a small waterfall in the valley. One out of thousands in this beautiful country.
Geysers area is distant from Þingvellir around 60 kilometers (37 miles). There are a few geysers around, but only one is normally active. The biggest one Geysir has considerable decreased eruption frequency due to crustal plates reposition. It used to hurl boiling water up to 80 meters in the air. However, you can now experience that once in 1-2 days (supposedly). However, you can admire another one, Stokkur that erupts every 5-10 minutes. It’s much smaller, but still very impressive. Useful tip: don’t stand against the wind in front of the geyser. You’ve got 100% chances to get soaking wet if the wind blows the whole water towards you. It should be obvious, but there are still many tourists who fall for that.
Last Golder Circle attraction – Gullfoss is an enormous waterfall with lots of water running down the canyon. Haze that rises into the air combined with rays of sun often create colorful rainbows.
There is another nice waterfall close to Gullfoss – Hjálparfoss. It is situated in the lava fields north of the volcano Hekla.
My personal paradise
It is not an easy thing to pick the most beautiful place in Iceland. It’s almost like mother choosing her favorite child. Decision impossible to make. However, if I were to make that difficult choice, I’d probably pick Gjáin out. It is a paradise-like valley in the middle of nowhere with waterfalls, ponds, and volcanic structures.
If you want to get there, you’ve got two options. With a 4WD car you can drive up the F-road 327. It might take a while as it’s a narrow dirt road, theoretically with two-way traffic, but I have to idea how two cars can fit in next to each other. I’m glad we didn’t encounter any vehicles driving towards us. There is no way we could have got past. We stuck in the sand though. We made the wrong turn, so we had to turn back. Roadside is mostly covered with big stones, making it impossible to pull over. After a while we found an area that seemed to be just perfect to turn back. Almost perfect. We didn’t foresee that the ground could be squishy, making it really hard to get out. We’re lucky there were three of us so we could push the car out and drive further to our little paradise.
If you don’t have a 4WD car, the only way to get to Gjáin is on foot. You should leave your car at the beginning of the road 327 (by Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng) and then walk up to the hill. It takes about 1 hour.
Replica better than original
Right next to Gjáin valley, there are ruins of an old viking-era farm called Stöng that was buried under volcanic ash in 1104 following the eruption of the volcano Hekla. The farm was reconstructed and build around 7 kilimeters away from the original ruins. The replica of hobbit-like houses is located by the green hillside so walking around makes you feeling like you traveled to some kind of fantastical wonderland.
The original Stöng, on the other hand, was the biggest disappointment of Iceland. I imagined I would discover old mysterous ruins covered with moss and hidden between hills. Instead I saw a huge cabin that covers stone foundations of a farm house. I guess it is now a kind of museum, but we couldn’t get inside as it was late and probably after tourist season. Still I don’t think we should regret it. The reconstructed houses are way better.
We started second day with two unique waterfalls that are also popular tourists attractions in Iceland. The first one – Seljalandsfoss drops 60 meters over the cliffs and its biggest attraction is that you can walk behind it. The other one – Gljúfrafoss is hidden between cliff rocks, so it looks like it’s inside the cave. The literate translation of its name is “one who lives in the canyon”.
The weather that day wasn’t hospitable for us, so we were mostly driving, stopping for a short time at each spot we wanted to see. First stop was in Seljavallalaug valley where we wanted to relax a bit in a hot spring pool. Last year, I remember, it was a perfect experience. A small pool was located in the middle of fabulous valley and filled with hot water. We were totally alone in the valley at the moment we swimmed there.
This year it wasn’t that pleasant. First of all, it drizzled, temperature was much lower and the wind stronger. Secondly, we couldn’t find our way to cross the stream without soaking our feet. Water level was higher than in the previous year, so we hit on a terrific idea to take the shoes off and walk through the stream barefoot. It hurt and my boots got wet anyways. But that wasn’t it. When we reached the pool it was filled with water up to one third and there was only on small spot inside where I could actually feel the hot water. The rest of it was rather cool. On top of that, we followed other people on our way back to the car and it turned out that there was a place to cross the stream, so our commitment with taking the shoes off was unneccessary. We had fun anyways.
Next stop on our way was black sand beach in a small town Vik. The scenery differs from other beaches you can find around the world. Balck sand beach spreads in the foot of enourmous cliffs and not far away from there you can spot Reynisdrangar – basalt sea stacks.
Then we drove further east to find a picturesque canyon – Fjaðrárgljúfur. It’s not far away from the Ring Road, but the road that leads to this place is an F-road, so you can either walk up to the hill or drive 4WD car there. When you climb up to the top, you will see a wonderful view down on the canyon with winding river and many waterfalls.
Fjaðrárgljúfur was the furthest point we reached on the east and from there we headed back to Reykjavik where we were supposed to spend our last night. On our way back we stopped at lava fields covered with moss to take a few shots. Those fields spread on both sides of the Ring Road when you drive from Vik to the east.
Iceland greeted us with (relatively) nice weather on the first day and apparently wanted to say goodbye with even better conditions. Our plane took off in the evening, so we had a full sunny day to make the best of it. We started it with Reykjavík – the capital.
The capital of Iceland looks nothing like any other European capital. Everything there is smaller, cosier and more friendly. Governmental buildings are tiny in comparison with those that we are used to in Western Europe. Besides the city is lively and colorful. I guess Icelanders want to compensate bad weather conditions and extremely short days during winter, so the architecture is bright and cheerful. They also have lots of nice cafes, vibrant pubs and many other cool places to hang out.
On top of that, Reykjavík is rich in murals and other forms of street art.
Last stop before the airport
From Reykjavík we headed to our final destination before Keflavik airport – to Reykjanes peninsula where the Eurasian and North American continental tectonic plates collide. Thanks to its geaological loation the area is marked by active volcanism under its surface, so the landscape on the ground is very attractive.
I recommed to stop by Kleifarvatn, the lagrest lake on the peninsula and Krýsuvík, the geothermal area. These two spots are located next to each other and distant from the airport by only 55 kilometers, so it is a perfect place to start of finish your Icelandic adventure with. Also Blue Lagoon – a geothermal spa is situated nearby, but I’ve never went there and I’m a bigger fan of “wild” hot springs like the one in the Seljavallalaug valley.
Altogether we made 1,000 kilometers which is a nice result for a three-day road trip. Next time I go to Iceland I want to do the whole Rind Road and drive around the whole island. Can’t wait already!
If you have any questions regarding Iceland, drop me a message or leave a comment!