The Beautiful South Coast – Iceland Day 5

The South Coast of Iceland is perhaps not as famous as the Golden Circle, but no less stunning, with waterfalls, coastal villages, black sand beaches, and glaciers to explore…

This time I went with the tour company Sterna Travel, and ended up with a wonderful tour guide. He offered us hilarious personal anecdotes as well as knowledge on the local history. While the WiFi on the bus kept cutting out, the free USB charging was an unexpected bonus, and it was easy to pass the time watching the beautiful scenery out of the window.

The first stop of the day was at the Urriđafoss waterfall which has the highest volume of water in all of Iceland. It’s another waterfall at risk of being dammed to generate electricity, but so far it’s natural beauty is undisturbed.

After that, we visited Skógafoss, a waterfall situated on the Skógá river with a total height of 60m and a width of 20m. Due the amount of spray this waterfall produces a rainbow is normally visible at its base on sunny days.

Just before lunch, we stopped at Dyrhólaey, the southernmost tip of Iceland. It’s an island of volcanic origin from which the whole coastline to the west is visible. In the summertime, many puffins nest on the cliff faces. Perfect for a stroll in the fresh air, but avoid the beach as the area is known to be common for sneaker waves to hit, and you’ll find yourself trapped against the cliff.

The black sand beach, Reynisfara, features a distinctly shaped cliff of regular columns called Hálsanef. Out in the midst of the waves are the basalt sea stacks named Reynisdrangar. According to the legends, two trolls tried to drag a ship to land, but were turned to stone when the sun rose.

The shrinking glacier, Sólheimajökull, has retreated by over a kilometre in the last decade, a rather sad consequence of global warming. Our tour bus only made a quick stop, but there are plenty of companies that will run a full glacier walk along Sólheimajökull if you want to explore it further.

To end our fantastic Icelandic adventure, we visited Seljalandsfoss, one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland. Here there is a path leading right up to the waterfall and behind the flow of water into a small cave. This is the perfect opportunity for some cool photographs but beware the slippery steps, and the fact that you’ll emerge soaking wet.

The bus dropped me off back at the Old Harbour, and I celebrated my last night in Iceland with a hearty meal of fish and chips in the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant.

Then I headed to bed ready for my early 5 am start to catch the FlyBus to the airport. I had a fantastic time in this beautiful country, and I’m already planning for the chance to return. Until next time, farewell, Reykjavik!

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The Grand Golden Circle – Iceland Day 4

The classic but not yet overused scenic tour route around the incredible Icelandic countryside…

I booked the Golden Circle tour with a company called BusTravel Iceland. They were efficient and organised throughout the trip. The commentary was quite dry and lacking in parts, leaving us to long periods of silence on the roads, but still informative. The free WiFi on the bus meant that I could stay connected on the go – a blogger’s dream.

We visited waterfall after waterfall, with a few geysers thrown into the mix. And yet each was more stunning than the last. 

Our first stop was the Keriđ volcanic crater lake. With the soil formed from red volcanic rock, and the minerals collected turning the water into a striking teal colour, a lovely scenery is formed. Footpaths can either lead you down to the lake or around the crater edge. There is a small entrance fee but this is normally taken care of if you book with a tour company.

Faxi waterfall isn’t the biggest you’ll see on this route, but it is certainly pretty. The viewpoint at the edge of the carpark allows you to look out onto the water or you can head down the slope to view it from the bottom. It’s also known to be packed with salmon and therefore makes for a good spot for a fishing trip.

Gullfoss waterfall is the big one. There are three separate viewing platforms built into the hills, each allowing for a unique viewpoint of this iconic attraction. The story goes that Englishmen wanted to harness its power for electricity but were stopped by Sigríđur Tómasdóttir, the daughter of the owner. She led the campaign to protect the waterfall and is now known as the first environmentalist.

The Great Geysir is a geyser in southwestern Iceland but it’s activity has greatly decreased over the years. The nearby Strokkur geyser now steals most of its thunder, with eruptions every 4 to 8 minutes.

Our final stop was the Reykjanes Ridge. It separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and has an average spreading rate of about 2.5 cm per year. Bridges have been erected to allow you to explore the ridge at your own pace.

In short, whether you’re on a trip to learn about Icelandic history or just to snap a few photographs and make your friends jealous, the Golden Circle tour is the one for you!

Smoky Bay – Iceland Day 3

Named after the steam rising from geothermal vents, the town of Reykjavik was discovered by Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian, in AD 871. But it wasn’t until 1786 that it was founded as an official trading town, and now it has become one of the safest, cleanest, and greenest cities in the world.

I spent an afternoon and a day exploring here, but shattered after the long journey and the horse riding trek, I fell far short of my goals on what I wanted to accomplish. If I’d kept pushing, I would have been able to see all the main sights, but it would have been a sprint rather than a stroll.

I’m going to walk you through my planned itinerary, to show you just what this vibrant city has to offer, and how much lighter your wallet will be when you leave. 

However, keep in mind that Iceland was still operating by winter opening times while I was there, so there was far less flexibility on when to visit each attraction. The summer months bring longer daylight hours, and therefore much more time to spend exploring, but the Northern Lights aren’t around. Weigh up the pros and cons before deciding on the date for your trip to Iceland.

I also purchased a Reykjavik CityCard for the two days, which in hindsight, I didn’t fully take advantage of as I missed out on a lot of the discounted attractions and walked everywhere instead of using the public transport included in the card. 
But if you’re planning to see more than two or three attractions, the CityCard is well worth the cost at 3.700 ISK for 24 hours, 4.900 ISK for 48, and 5.900 ISK for 72. You can find the list of locations where it’s available to purchase here.

  • Museums

A majority of the museums in Reykjavik are free with the City Card, or at least discounted. However, most of them are also closed on Monday during the winter months. As the time I allocated was Sunday afternoon and all day Monday, I was left with only a few hours to visit them all.

  1. The National Gallery of Iceland showcasts work based in Iceland, work done by Icelandic artists, and work favoured by the Icelandic people.
  2. The National Museum of Iceland leads you through the history on the founding of Reykjavik, the rule of the Norwegian and Danish crowns, and finally the rapid development during WWII.
  3. The four branches of the Reykjavik City Museum cover a variety of lifestyles and industries found in this city. There’s the Árbær Open Air Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Museum of Photography, and the Settlement Exhibition, which is one of the few open on Mondays.
  4. The SAGA museum recreates key moments of Icelandic history. It’s very close by to the Old Harbour and the Maritime Museum, and the CityCard will get you a 10% discount on admission.
  5. The Icelandic Phallological Museum is certainly one of a kind with nothing else like it in the entire world. While not to everyone’s taste, if you decide to visit, the CityCard gives you a 20% discount.
  6. The Whales of Iceland exhibition offers an interactive exploration of whale anatomy, with audio and visual guides. The CityCard gives you 30% off here.
  • Tours

There’s so many tour options from Reykjavik, from horse riding to glacier climbing, that I’m not going to go into detail here.

My advice is to look at the list of tours that the CityCard offers discounts on and compare those to cheaper companies offering the same experience.

I always use GetYourGuide to find and book my tours when visiting a city. I just add the location and the date, and then open up the link to every single one that interests me. After that I sort them into similar groups, and cut them down until the best quality and best priced of each option remains. It’s a long process but it’s worked well so far.

  • Cinemas

There are three main cinemas in town, the Art House Cinema, the Cinema at the Old Harbour, and the Volcano House.

Each is discounted with the use of the CityCard, and they all offer films in English about the history and making of Iceland.

  • Thermal Pools

These are a classic and popular way for Icelandic people to unwind before or after work or school or even on the weekends. Most have a regular slot that they attend, and so they get to know the other people and treat the pools as a social place to catch up on the latest gossip.

For a truly Icelandic experience, don’t miss this opportunity. The CityCard allows free entry to any Reykjavik City thermal pool and offers discounts to some of the privately owned ones.

  • Other Attractions
  1. Reykjavik Zoo and Family Park hosts a collection of domestic Icelandic animals such as reindeers, harbor seals, and artic foxes. It’s a great place for a day trip but it’s also quite far out from the town centre, hence why I ended up skipping this attraction.
  2. The ferry to Videy Island, while free with the City Card, runs on very limited hours in winter. It’s only available on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from Skarfabakki pier.

On top of my solo sightseeing, I signed up for a walking tour with I Heart Reykjavik. This tour isn’t for those wanting to see the main sights – that would be the City Sightseeing bus – but it’s perfect for the chance to get a taste of Icelandic culture from the eyes of a local, helping you discover hidden gems such as artistic murals and the meaning behind names.

The walking tour lasts 2 hours and is a branch of the popular blog, I Heart Reykjavik. I used their posts extensively during my planning and research, so go and take a look.

Overall, the time I spent in Reykjavik was more than enough to make the place feel like home. You could easily spend a week within the city, not venturing outside its boundaries, with all it has to offer, but then you would miss out on the incredible scenery covered in my next blog post…

The Icelandic Horse – Iceland Day 2

The only breed of horse in Iceland, and a beautiful one at that…

These sturdy creatures live a disease-free life thanks to strict laws governing the import and export of animals. Also known as the Icelandic pony, they stand at an average of 13 to 14 hands high.

The unique traits of the breed are two defined gaits, in addition to tbe usual walk, trot, canter, and gallop of other horses. One of these is the ambling gait known as the tölt, which offers a comfortable ride and can be used at varying speeds. The other is the flugskeiđ, which is fast and smooth, enabling some horses to reach up to 30 mph.

With these facts in mind, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet these fascinating creatures. I booked a 2 hour trek across the lava fields with Ishestar Riding Stables.

Aside from a mix up where my name was put on the wrong pick up list, which was sorted by a quick phone call, the tour bus was prompt and efficient. We arrived at the stables, checked in, and watched the short safety video.

Warm overalls and wellington boots were offered to those who hadn’t come prepared (Come on people, it’s a horse riding tour), and complimentary tea and coffee were provided after the ride.

And off we went.

The scenery was incredible, and it was worth the risk of dropping the camera to sneak a few photographs as we rode along. Some people had trouble controlling their mounts, while I found mine to be perfectly obedient, up until he became tired of following and decided to take the lead.

The tour guides gave us the chance to split into two groups. The beginners would continue the tour at a walking pace, while more experienced or adventurous riders would be able to experience a range of gaits, including the infamous tölt. I regret picking the slower group, as I was slightly nervous about my riding skills, but it was still a great trip all the same.

For anyone heading to Iceland, regardless of your horse riding ability, I highly recommend you add this tour to your itinerary.

I spent the afternoon and the next day exploring the town of Reykjavik, but I’ll save that for my next blog post to give you as much detail and information as possible.