Summer is synonymous with road trips and during summer, there is no better time to get out and drive Iceland. The sun is “officially” up for 22 hours though between 12-2am the sky still emits a purple haze. Foreign travelers are on the move and locals are soaking up the warmth on their skin. Big buses truck visitors up, down, and around the coast. So some sights can seem flooded with people in the mornings and completely deserted by 2pm. For us, we wanted to take advantage of the bright blue skies and dry (for the most part) roads. We set out on a 2 day road trip starting in Reykjavik, looping through the South Coast, and ending at Keflavik Airport. Here’s our itinerary.
Leaving Rekjavik in the Afternoon
I would have liked to start our trip earlier. But after an unfortunate rental car mishap, our 11am departure became 2pm. Nevertheless, once in our cute Suzuki Swift, the GPS led us easily out of the city and onto Route 1. We programmed the furthest destination first: Gullfoss. The trip northeast along Route 36 was beautiful with wide open plains and blue sky. After 90 minutes we’d arrived at one of the most iconic places in Iceland.
With food in the car from the local grocery store called Bonus, we headed to the first point of the Golden Circle, the Gullfoss Waterfalls. It looks like a giant slice of cheesecake floating between two verdant cliffs. If you’re driving, two parking lots offer upper and lower access to the falls. Choose the upper lot to visit the welcome center, its cafe, and the restrooms. If you require handicap access, choose the lower lot since you can then head right out on the walkway to the falls.
After a short stop at the welcome center (where I spotted the famous lamb stew in the cafe), we walked down the wooden stairs to Gullfoss. Here you can start burning through those memory cards in your camera. Each angle offers superlative views of the waters and with just one shift of the clouds the entire park takes on a different facade. After an hour on the lower path, we then trekked back up the steps to the lookout point above. Here the falls really look like a slice of cake. One man even went beyond the official barricade to snap his shots of Gullfoss. I won’t recommend it though.
Geysir Blue Blasts
In Iceland, the term geysir was coined. Below the surface, volcanic activity churns and shafts of water begin to heat up from the bottom. Water expands in a desperate need to find more space and shots upward. But as the hot water punches up, liters of water sitting at the top are cooled by the air topside. Hot water continues to push up. The cold water stubbornly won’t give way. Until finally a cerulean cap balloons outward, a sure sign of a gusher. The blue cap expands turning green then white as the pressure breaks through the top layers and a white column of the geysir shoots upward hundreds of feet into the air. Each geysir blow is a little different. So if your first glimpse is of a mini-blast. Don’t worry. It usually means a double geysir may be churning below.
UNESCO World Heritage Thingvellir Park
With our morning delay with the rental car, Neil and I soon found ourselves racing against the late hours into Thingvellir National Park. It is part fortress, part ancient council, and almost all continental divide. UNESCO-protected, Thingvellir is a prime spot for light trekking and a break along the walls that overlook the Golden Circle. Alas, we arrived at 9pm with the biting bugs descending on us. Defeated but confident that we would return, Neil and I took a brief ride along the ramparts and drove back to Reykjavik.
Remember that driving in Iceland requires a little bit of planning. You need to request an automatic car ahead of time or you might be forced to rent a manual drive car. Use a GPS and make sure to leave enough time for all the sights and your drive home. In summer, the sun will be up almost 24 hours. But in winter, night falls quickly. So keep your dayrunning lights on and follow these other safety and drivng tips for Iceland. For great roadtrip music on your Golden Circle drive, pick up an album by local group, Retro Stefson at a Reykjavik music shop. Close by you can make your car rental arrangements through the Tourist Information Shop which was right across from our home stay in Reykjavik 101.