Three Days In Iceland
Three Days In Iceland
Finally we made it to the edge of the Arctic Circle to the fascinating and magical island of Iceland. If you have been following our travels over the last few years you would have seen us visit most of the continent of Europe, with Iceland a place high on our list of must visit destinations. In recent years on social media the vast amount of images from the country have been hard to miss, so now it’s our turn to finally see them up close and personal. Apparently one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, most expensive destinations to travel in, so could we handle three days on a budget? Read more to find out as we take Three Days in Iceland.
Three Days in Iceland The Land Of Fire, Ice and Pizza Slice!
Iceland has always been a destination which has fascinated me. OK every new destination interests me in some way, but mention Iceland to most people and you will invariably strike intrigue. Being a native Irishman I have always been aware of our position in the world out on the edge of western Europe, a plane or ferry trip away from the European continent. Look further north however and you will see Iceland up near the Arctic Circle. Is it really that cold up there? Are the people depressed living in almost total darkness for half of the year, are there really no trees and is whale meat a staple part of their diet?
In recent years Iceland has come to Europe’s and the world’s attention for varying reasons from the banking crisis in the late noughties to the success of their national football team. A team who were once the whipping boys of Europe when I was a boy! Nowadays the Viking Clap is copied around the world and Vikings and Viking culture is admired/copied and depicted regularly in varying TV shows across the globe. Iceland was always a place I kept a keen eye out for when searching for flights around Europe. Up until recent years reaching the country was a little more complicated than many others in Europe with Iceland air almost holding the sole monolopy on flights, even then us Irish needed to fly from the UK to get there!
Step forward WOW Air a lower fares budget airline and suddenly the possibility of a short stay in the country was a real option. Not being a lover of the cold or darkness ruled out a trip in the depths of winter, so when we sourced cheap flights from our current home in Alicante in April it was all systems go. Before we knew it we were on our way some four hours from Spain to the roof of Europe and the world. Talk to people who have been here previously and you will hear tales of sky high living prices and beautiful scenery, and during the planning stages of the trip you could immediately see some truth in it.
This certainly wasn’t going to be a weekend in Eastern Europe with hotels for under 50 euros and beers for 1 or 2 euros. We didn’t let this deter us however, we are used to stretching our budget to maximise our journeys. The first step was to rent a car, this would enable us to plan our own itinerary and avoid busy, restricting and high cost bus tours. Furthermore we would have a roof over our head if the cost of accommodation was too excessive!
Flying with budget airlines can have some drawbacks and one of them was our arrival time to Keflavik Airport, some forty minutes drive from the nation’s capital Reykjavik. It was 2am before we collected our rental car, and with nowhere booked, or in particular to go that night, we drove around the eerily quiet highways of South West Iceland, past the famous Blue Lagoon and to the town of Grindavik. It was the early hours of Sunday morning but no sign of late night revellers here, no sign of anyone to be honest! We searched for somewhere suitable to pull up in the car and get a few hours rest but eventually ended up in another small town of Þorlákshöfn further south east.
Thankfully it wasn’t very cold but after a couple of hours rest we did feel the effects of the biting wind outside and moved onto explore the Golden Circle at 7am. The Golden Circle (Icelandic: Gullni hringurinn) is a popular tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 300 kilometres (190 mi) looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. It is the area that contains most tours and travel-related activities in Iceland. Furthermore the name Golden Circle is a marketing term that has no roots in Icelandic history.
As the sun rose we got our first taste of the eye-opening beauty of this nation. It felt like we were the only people on the whole island as we cruised along the deserted highway. Vast tracts of flat land teaming with the iconic Icelandic horses, bordered in the background by stunning snowcapped uplands with the occasional waterfall trickling down.
It certainly was difficult to drive and my eyes were certainly not on the road at all times taking in this stunning almost lunar like countryside. We stopped at the usual tourists sites on the route, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall was the first on a chilly morning and the steep car park fee of around 5 euros was the first of many at these natural wonders on the way.
After a chilly visit to the waterfall it was a quick stop at the side of the road to say hello to some of the many Icelandic horses which call the country their home, and then on to check out Eyjafjallajokull Volcano which caused chaos in European air space back in 2010.
The volcano had particular significance for us as a couple as it was this eruption which caused Paula problems back in 2010. After she decided not stay in Canada and move in with me back in Ireland when we first started dating eight years ago, her flight was delayed due to the ash cloud which shrouded the route from north America. In fact the day previous to our visit happened to be the eight anniversary since it first erupted! “How time flies we thought.”
Next stop was The Dyrholaey nature reserve which was a nice stop but the biting, strong wind made it a quick one as we quickly took in the black beaches which seemed to be getting attacked by menacing waves. It was on to our last stop east on our route and the town of Vik. Now on the map of Iceland Vik looks like quite a large town but we drove through it before we knew it. That is not to say it’s not worth visiting, the views out to sea were beautiful, so good in fact we stopped for some bread rolls and salami to have lunch before heading back towards Reykjavik.
The impressive Gulfoss waterfall was next and we both agreed it was the most impressive one, like a mini Niagara or Iguazu falls and it certainly was the busiest with many tourists snapping pictures, no surprise then that it is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist sites.
Our last stop for the day on the Golden Circle was Strokkur Geyser at Haukadalsvegur. We had seen the waterfalls, volcanoes and horses so it was time to see the natural springs that pop up all over this fascinating land and we stood with many tourists eagerly awaiting the eruptions every couple of minutes or so.
Strokkur and its surrounding areas regularly attract tourists hoping to see the geyser erupt, as it is one of a very few natural geysers to erupt frequently and reliably. After a wonderful day in the Icelandic countryside it was time to take our first trip to Reykjavik and a much needed shower and bed for the night. Exhaustion started to creep up on us and I could barely keep my eyes open by the time I drove into Reykjavik city on a bright Sunday evening.
Three Days in Iceland All Roads Lead To Reykjavik
After parking up in the compact city centre to search for a hotel room we got our first insight into the astronomical costs of everything in this city. A bowl of soup advertised for approximately 18 euros, hotel rooms for 115 euros per night, with barely a star in sight, and forget kicking back in a local bar when a beer costs about 10 euros! This wasn’t going to be easy but with a wife who can make a euro go a long way I wasn’t concerned. We found a nice centrally located hotel for 75 euros and enjoyed one of the best nights sleep ever in one of the most comfortable beds you could ask for.
Refreshed after a good rest in a bed this time we headed back onto the Golden Circle to go to Pingvellir National Park which is notable for its unusual tectonic and volcanic environment in a rift valley.
The continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region, the largest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon. This also causes the often measurable earthquakes in the area.
After checking out the canyon Paula was almost ready to leave as the biting wind was almost chewing at her body! I kept her spirits up and gave her a jacket to keep her moving along and ultimately it was a wise decision. One kilometre up the track, as the sun came out, we were greeted by Öxarárfoss waterfall, yet another waterfall but as visually breathtaking as the others, and besides who doesn’t like waterfalls? Paula had warmed up at this point and couldn’t help but be calm as the cascading waters produced a stunning rainbow under a clear blue sky, even she couldn’t moan about it!! You couldn’t help but smile and be relaxed as we took in the sheer beauty of the place.
We then drove back towards Reykjavik and over to the western side of the country and boy were we not disappointed. We headed through one of Europe’s longest tunnels, The Hvalfjörður Tunnel (cost approx 10 euros) to the town of Akranes where we avoided the high food prices by buying lunch in Bonus (low cost supermarket) and having a roadside picnic with crystal clear blue waters and stunning scenery our backdrop.
We headed towards Kirkjufell Mountain and Waterfall passing acres of volcanic lava fields and idyllic scenery. I simple cannot put into words how beautiful and peaceful the trip was. We couldn’t help but smile as every kilometre just seemed to get more picturesque. The nation is small but felt vast as we again seemed to be the only ones on the road. I have driven in many parts of the world but this was the best by far and I doubt it will be beaten. Isolated colourful farm houses stood like a lost child in acres of land with horses the only sign of life. We stopped at Budir church with it’s adjoining graveyard akin to a scene from the Little House on the Prairie before cutting through gravel roads down to Kirkujfell mountain and signs of life with tourists standing taking selfies and pictures.
We moved further west on to the edge of the country to the small fishing village of Stykkisholmur where we enjoyed a nice walk up to the lighthouse before turning back and going to our base in Reykjavik, this time avoiding the tunnel and taking the longer but significantly more scenic route. It was 8pm before we arrived back in the city where we checked into our hotel before again dining out at Domino’s Pizza where we dined the night previously! Another wonderful night’s sleep was had before our final day in the country which would be spent exploring the capital Reykjavik to conclude our three days in Iceland which you can read about here. Reykjavik Iceland
Three Days in Iceland Summed Up
So how do we sum up our three days in Iceland? Simply wonderful is the short answer, it was very difficult to condense our experience into one blog. Every corner we seemed to take offered up another visual feast. Be prepared for pay parking at most tourist sites if you are driving and crowds of tourists, especially on the Golden Circle. Renting a car is highly advised if you can drive, the driving is spectacular and the roads were very empty while we visited in April.
Camper vans are also very popular with tourists and spotted everywhere, and again, if available, are a highly recommended choice as you can also cook for yourself. If you do like a drink but aren’t prepared to spend a fortune then join the locals in the duty free upon landing at Keflavik airport. Here you can fill up your trolleys with cheaper alcohol and avoid the high prices in Reykjavik and beyond which is what the wise Icelandics seemed to all be doing when we landed! As a Cystic Fibrosis sufferer the cold air could cause breathing issues but on this occasion it didn’t affect me, on the contrary, the clean fresh air was refreshing but do wrap up as the windchill is frigid. Oh and the myth about no trees on the island…not true, although vast areas of land do possess no trees you can see small areas of forest dotted around the country and trees in the capital city!
Three Days in Iceland
How we got here: Routes & Costs
Wow air Alicante (Spain) to Keflavik (Iceland) 130.97 euros two people including extra baggage
Rental Car Hyundai i20: 3 Nights total price 86 euros plus tank of petrol approx 80 euros.
Accommodation: Brim Hotel Reykjavik 75 euros per night, no breakfast. Adam Hotel Reykjavik 90 euros per night, no breakfast.