18 Hours In Iceland: Part 2
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
Golden Circle Itinerary
Be sure to read 18 Hours In Iceland: Part 1 to see how our trip started in the beautiful and lively town of Reykjavik! After we explored the city, we hopped in our rental car and took off on a *starts singing* five hour tour, a five hour tour! The Golden Circle is a loop in southern Iceland, that will have the nature lover in you speechless the entire time. The sites you see along the way are breathtaking, majestic and unforgettable. The route is quite popular with tourist groups but as I suggested in part one, you should rent a car and drive it yourself. In my opinion nature is best enjoyed without a crowd of people so if you have the time to wait out the tour groups, I would. We went in the evening so that we could enjoy an unobstructed view at each site and it was the best decision we made. We also went in early June when the sun doesn't really set so we had all evening and night to enjoy the sights. We were actually anticipating the sun setting around 11:30 pm so we planned our route to be done by then but much to our surprise, it actually never set. The entire 18 hours we were in Iceland, the sun got lower but never went away. It was just one of the amazing aspects of that trip. We stopped at five different landmarks on our route and each one had something to offer that I had never experienced before.
7:00 p.m. We left Reykjavik and headed to Þingvellir National Park which happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its cultural and geological significance. It was not only the site of Iceland's parliament from the 10th to the 18th century, which is regarded as the first of its kind in the world, but it is also where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. For the geology lovers out there, you'll appreciate being in one of the only places in the world where you can see the plates drifting apart on dry land. They have been slowly drifting apart creating the deep and rugged valley that runs through the site. There are a few sites to see in this park and we chose two of them, a waterfall and a fissure!
Travel time: Reykjavik to Öxarárfoss waterfall 30 miles/45 minutes
7:45 p.m After an easy drive out of the city we arrived at our first stop! There is a parking lot right off the road and then you will follow a path down and through a rocky valley that leads to the Öxarárfoss waterfall. The path itself is easy to follow, kid friendly and not treacherous in any way. It is however, an indescribable feeling walking between the huge rock walls on either side. Once you walk through the valley and across a wooden path, you will see the Öxarárfoss waterfall! The intense rushing water falling down to the many rocks at the bottom of the waterfall is actually quite peaceful with nobody around. After taking in its beauty and taking as many pictures as we thought could capture said beauty, we headed out to the next site!
Travel time: Öxarárfoss to Flosagjá fissure 2.5 miles/5 minutes
8:20 p.m. Flosagjá fissure was the next stop on our list and it is only a short drive from the waterfall. The water at the bottom of the fissure travels from so far away it can take 20-30 years for it to reach that area. It also follows a unique path to get there as it passes through underground channels and mineral rich lava fields which filter the water making it so clear you can see the rocks and coins at the bottom. They do discourage tourists from throwing coins into the fissure now though so we just took pictures and appreciated the beauty of the area and went on our way!
Travel time: Flosagjá fissure to Geysir Hot Spring Area 35miles/47 minutes
9:20 p.m. One of the sites I was very excited to see was less than an hour away from the fissure and after driving a bit, you'll start to notice signs leading you to the Geysir Hot Spring Area. This is a popular stop for tours so you'll appreciate being there without the major crowds because you'll want a good spot to see the Strokkur erupt! There is a little parking lot and then you'll follow the signs and the stay on the pathways to get to the geyser. We walked around the boiling mud pits before getting to the main geyser. We were able to get a great spot with an unobstructed view and watched it erupt a few times! The very active geyser goes off every few minutes and shoots water up to 100ft high! Because it goes off so often, you'll be able to take plenty of pictures and videos. There is also a hotel, restaurant, and a Geysir center for you to explore as well! As we walked away the geyser went off one more time, and we walked through the mist to the car, it was truly a magical sight to see!
Travel time: Geysir Hot Spring Area to Gullfoss waterfall 6 miles/10 minutes
10:00 p.m. Speaking of magical sights, our next stop was to the majestic and powerful Gullfoss waterfall! This was the most impressive sight on the list in my opinion. There is a parking lot more level to the waterfall which was closed when we went or there is a parking lot at the top of the hill and we parked there. Either way you reach the same point of the waterfall, one just has less stairs. We of course had to take the one with all the stairs but it was worth it! Once you take the stairs down you'll be greeted by her majesty Gullfoss and you will feel small in her presence. This unbelievable two tiered 104 ft high waterfall is breathtaking in every way and from any vantage point. Luckily you are able to view this beauty from different heights. You are going to want to ignore TLC and definitely go chasing waterfalls if you are there in the summer. There is a narrow pathway you can follow that takes you right to the edge of the waterfall and is only open during the warmer months. We climbed on rocks and took pictures right next to the top of the waterfall! You can watch the water in awe up close and personal, as it crashes down from the first tier to the second tier and on to the bottom. I highly recommend giving yourself some time to take in this powerful sight from all the different vantage points that are offered. There is also a visitors center and bathrooms located in the top parking lot.
Travel time: Gullfoss waterfall to Kerid Crater 35 miles/45 minutes
11:20 p.m. After having our minds blown by Gullfoss we ventured on to our last stop on our list, the Kerid crater or as Ryan calls it, where the aliens once landed. To his credit, we have been watching a lot of X-Files. There is a little parking lot out front and then you can walk over and see this massive volcanic crater filled with blue/green water! Not only do you get beautiful pictures from the top but there is also a stairway leading all the way down to the bottom! When we went, it was pretty late at night, though you can't tell from the pictures because of the sun still being out. Luckily there was only one other couple out there and we were able to take it all in, in peace. If you are able to take the stairs down, I suggest taking that opportunity because as cool as it looks from the top, the feeling you get from being at the bottom, inside the crater is indescribable. After taking pictures and imagining what it was like when the crater was formed we hopped back in our rental and headed on to Reykjavik!
Travel time: Kerid Crater to Reykjavik 45 miles/1 hour
12:40 a.m. We arrived back in Reykjavik with the entire drive lasting about 5.5 hours and about 154 miles. By the time we made it back to the city, it was about 12:40 am and the sun was still making it pretty light. We decided to park and explore the city until it was time to take the rental car back. The bars were lively but the streets were pretty empty and quiet. It was such an eerie feeling and one that the horror fan in me loved. With the bars closing at 1:00 a.m., we decided to just walk around and enjoy the emptiness of the streets. We eventually made our way back to the hot dog stand which was still open and had one more hot dog with everything on it, while we walked around and explored the city in the almost nighttime. After walking up and down the streets and then going on a quest for a bathroom, it was time to make the drive back to Keflavik and drop off the rental car.
I truly believe we got to see the best of Reykjavik by exploring the city by day and the Golden Circle in the evening and then the city again by night. If you are interested in the many visitor centers, cafes and restaurants along the route, you may want to leave a little earlier, as most of them were closed when we were driving around. But be advised you will also be dealing with all the tourist groups as well. I hope this encourages you to either take a trip to Iceland or to just choose that flight with the long layover because as you can see even if you don't have a whole day in Iceland, you can still make the most of just 18 hours! If you want advice or help putting together an itinerary just send us an email and we would love to help you explore this beautiful area!