Iceland is not like any other place on earth. It’s no wonder the Vikings thought it must be where the Gods lived. It’s beautiful and dramatic with a crazy harsh climate that would test the heartiest soul when it was first inhabited. Estimated to be around 870 by Norse settlers.
We had nine people on this trip. This means it takes about five times longer to get anywhere but it can be ten times more fun! We rented an apartment for this trip but in retrospect we should have looked at Airbnb. The apartment was clean and cute but it was described as sleeping 10 and wasn’t nearly equipped to handle all of us. One of us had to sleep on a recliner while two others had to share opposite ends of a long couch. There were only six towels in the whole place and the location was a very residential area outside of Reykjavík with nothing within walking distance.
We rented a van from the airport and one of the things they told us was to hold on to the door when we got in or out and don’t bother with an umbrella if it rained, the wind would tear both right out of your hands. They were not kidding! The wind in Iceland is as dramatic as the scenery.
Now I’ve mentioned everything bad we experienced in Iceland. This Island is incredible and three days was not nearly long enough to explore here. This is one place we have to go back to, so much more to experience, so many more pictures to take!
Our first day we decided to follow the Golden Circle so we headed north out of Reykjavík. The first stop for the day was at a wool store and manufacturer called Álafoss. We all wanted to look at Icelandic sweaters. They also offer custom wool blankets and authentic Iceland wool yarn. Kind of a knitters paradise, I would need to learn to make something other than a straight scarf to truly appreciate what they had to offer.
Foss is waterfall in Icelandic and Álafoss was established in 1896 in front of a waterfall of the same name so it could use the hydropower of the waterfall to power the factory. Energy in modern day Iceland is almost 100% renewable, between hydroelectric and geothermal energy. They are true pioneers in this area.
We left the wool shop and drove on to see what was next along the Golden Circle.
When you travel with nine people someone is always hungry. We decided to start looking for a place to eat lunch. We stopped at a dairy farm that also houses a hotel and restaurant called Efstidalur II. Everything there is from the farm including their home made ice cream. The burgers and salad were as fresh as you can get them, never mind farm to table, this was just eat at the farm. Everything tasted wonderful with generous portions but the best thing we encountered at Efstidalur II were the Icelandic horses.
Brought to Iceland by Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries they are considered one of the oldest breeds in the world. A little bit larger than ponies, they have long manes and tails with a thick front bang. These horses are really beautiful! Icelandic horses are sturdy and can withstand the harsh climate of Iceland. It is illegal to import any horses into Iceland and if they are sold and taken outside of the country, it is illegal to bring them back in. This makes Icelandic horses unique in the world and a true purebred.
Our lunch took longer than expected but we thoroughly enjoyed our equine adventure.
Leaving the farm we continued to Gullfoss, one of the most famous sights in Iceland. Gullfoss means golden falls and well deserves its fame. There is an overlook with an incredible view of the falls and you can follow a walking trail down for a close up experience. This is really a must see in Iceland. But I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
The falls actually freeze in the winter. I would love to see that someday but I’ll bet it’s pretty cold! We were there in September and it wasn’t exactly balmy.
A great picture of Stefan and our middle son Justin at Gullfoss.
We still had a lot to see on the Golden Circle. Geysir was our next destination. Found in Geysir geothermal area the Geysir named all geysers found all over the world. Thought to be the first one ever discovered, it was named Geysir and every one since then has been called a geyser. Whoo! That’s a lot of geysers!
Be careful when you walk up to see Geysir, when it goes off it seems to go in a different direction each time. There is a bench close to the eruption point that we think must have been put there as a joke. The geyser went off once and completely soaked a group of British school kids sitting on the bench. One of our group got hit by the next blast and became our smelly companion in the van until he dried. The geothermal area is pretty cool to see and of course they have a gift shop.
We really enjoyed our very busy first day! Time to head back to Reykjavík for some dinner. We were going to check out a seafood restaurant downtown called Restaurant Reykjavík. Although the main attraction of this restaurant is the buffet we decided to sit down and order from the menu. The food and service were excellent. While nothing is inexpensive in Iceland, the prices were comparable to other restaurants in the area. We all ordered different entree’s and shared among ourselves, we almost made our own buffet.
The next half of our Iceland adventure was to travel along the southern coast from Reykjavík to the black beach of Vik. Of course it was not a straight line, there were several beautiful stops along the way.
We were driving and saw something unusual set a little back from the road. It looked like a hut built into a huge rock. We pulled off to check it out and discovered Rútshellir Cave.
Rútshellir Cave is thought to be one of the first dwellings in Iceland. The cave itself is man made and is thought to have been used both as a dwelling and a forge. The part you see on the outside is much newer, built in the 20th century.
Of course, this is Iceland so there has to be a Saga attached to this place. The legend is that the cave was the home of Rútur. Rútur was either a thief or an evil troll who kept slaves that plotted to kill him by making a hole under the shelf his bed was on and stabbing him with spears through the hole. He discovered the plot and went out to hunt and kill the conspirators. There are three places nearby named after the three dead slaves.
Our next stop was at Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall shows up in a lot of pictures taken in Iceland. It is strikingly beautiful and can be seen from the main road, we spent some time on this stop a hiked a little bit. You are able to walk up behind the waterfall here and all of us were happy to stretch our legs.
They have restrooms and a food stand with coffee and soup among other things. This really hit the spot on a chilly day. This was also a great place for a family photo for our son.
We’ve always wanted to see a glacier. There are places in Iceland where you can hike, or even snowmobile on a glacier. Traveling with a 3 1/2 year old we opted just to walk up to one.
Sólheimajökull Glacier is about 30 minutes from Vik. It’s off the main road and a nice little walk to get up there from the parking lot. With intermittent rain and the ever present wind it was a little cold but well worth it. You can actually get pretty close to the glacier on this trail.
From here it was pretty much a strait shot to Vik. We only planned one day for this and we wanted to make sure we got to see the black beaches and rock formations while we still had daylight.
We had to make one more quick stop to meet one of the locals though.
He seemed to have a lot to say.
Now on to Vik and Reynisfjara beach.
The wooden church on the hill was one of our first sights in Vik. The light was hitting it just right and it just seemed to glow. The church dates back to 1929 and can be seen clearly from the beach. Vik is the southern most settlement in Iceland. It’s a fairly small town but an important location for gas and food along the ring road. This was our turn around point.
Reynisfjara Beach is one of the most dramatic scenes in a dramatic land. The ocean here is pretty wild with huge waves hitting the beach. The rock formations are stunning. Well worth visiting if you get the chance to go to Iceland.
We ate a late lunch at the Black Beach Restaurant and headed back to Reykjavík. We drove into the sunset on the way back and it was beautiful over the fields. Iceland just wanted to show us a little bit more of her beauty before the sun set.
For dinner that night we had to find a place that served fermented shark. This is served with a shot called Black Death to wash it down. Eating fermented shark seems to be a manly thing to do in Iceland since only the guys in our group were willing to take that dare.
This turned out to be smart on the part of all of our ladies. The expressions we got while eating this little Icelandic treat were very picturesque I have to say!
This story is not nearly finished and we will be returning to Iceland. This island country deserves more than a passing glance. Since we based ourselves in Reykjavík we were only able to take daytrips from there and ironically we saw very little of Reykjavík itself. We felt that we got everything we could out of the time that we had but it left us with a thirst to see and photograph so much more.
Iceland, we will be back!