Reykjavik is a nice small city to visit, but it does not require a full day, if you only have 2 days in Iceland and want to taste the natural wonders of this island.
On the day you spend in the city you can also go to the Blue Lagoon (on the way to or from the Keflavik airport), and if you have a car, I highly recommend that you add other sights in the vicinity, in the southern part of the Reykjanes peninsula:
- Kleifarvatn lake
- Seltún (Krýsuvík) geothermal field.
- The amazing bird cliffs at Krysuvikurberg (in summer).
Near Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon a small detour will take you to the beautiful cliff coastline at Valahnukur and the Gunnuhver geothermal hot spring.
For the second day, the Golden Circle is your best option.
In the environs of Reykjavik, you get to see the continental divide between Europe and America, the famous Strokkur geyser and the very impressive Gulfoss waterfall, plus some history in the Þingvellir national park. Many tour companies offer these day tours, but with a rented car you can do it at your own pace, and also add a visit to Hveragerði with the hot springs all around it and options for some excellent hikes.
Best I describe my experience and then leave you the details.
Fancying a nice, gentle Icelandic horse ride across a romantic lava field with snow possibly gently fluttering down around us, I booked the "special" which consists of 2 hours riding.
Upon arrival we were not specifically greeted or welcomed and it was all a little awkward ... as though we were not anticipated.
Others arrived - our riding group totalled around 24 people.
We were asked if we had ridden before. I explained that yes, we had but we were not experienced riders and my children had been led previously. Horses were saddled up and we were told to mount and follow. Now it might just be me but these horses did not seem to ride like any other horse I have ever ridden. A gentle clip clop to cross the road and suddenly>>>we were off!!!
I bounced around doing everything I could to remain in the saddle and looked around to find my youngest half hanging off, clinging on for dear life, tears streaking down his face.
After that moment the 2 riders that were escourting us changed the saddle on my son's horse and helped me to coax him back on. We were almost an hour away from the farm and he was not really having any of it. Eventually, with a leader reign, he agreed and re-mounted. This meant that there was now 1 rider dedicated to my youngest son and 1 rider to try to look after the rest of us... and off they charged! There were 4 of us left trotting contentedly ... all the riders ilkes ahead, my son and his rider miles behind... and suddenly the romantic trot through the lava fields began to form.
Suddenly, the snow and hail started to whip up and a blizzard started to brew!
The, even more sudenly WHOOOOHOOOO and suddenly a rider came from nowhere and told our horses in no uncertain terms to GO! GO! GO! He shouted to us not to be nervous and off we went at a frightful rate again!
We arrived back safely, my eldest son grinning because he had been back for ages and had had a "totally awesome" time racing along, my youngest plodded in a while later beaming with prde that he had doneit despite the minor set back.
We had all had a great time... and left to nurse our sore backsides!!!!
The rides are all year round and they have winter clothing that, they gave to our children and everybody else but for some reason not to us - we had long johns, trousers and waterproofs on and ok!
It cost € 130 for a family of 4.
On Route 35 is Kerid. Kerid is an eerie place and is a staggering 6500 years old. It is an explosion crater and if that is not impressive enough just stand on the edge and admire the spectacular colours
I cannot believe that back in the 1920s these falls were nearly destroyed - that would have been criminal! They are raw and powerful, massive and mighty. There is a double cascade and the water drops 32m.
There is a visitor centre which served delicious and much needed hot chocolate after trudging back in a hail storm, frozen and wet! If this is one of your first stops in Iceland, you may think the prices in the shop/cafe here are extortionate... nope - these are normal Iceland prices! Get used to it!!!
Togther with Pingvellir and the geysers, Gullfoss makes up the Golden Circle. This means 2 things: 1) it is easy to get to from Reykjavik Reykjavik 2)In season (which is only really 3 months of the year) it is going to be rather busy. I stayed a long time at this waterfall - I got here with my own car and would have hated to have been on a tour and moved along before I was ready.
There is a visitors complex on one side of the road which all looks very new and shiny with shops and all your tourists needs... I bypassed that and headed straight across the road to see the geysers!
It's all rather steamy and smokey and surreal as you meander along the pathways that wind around lots of little steamy holes full of boiling and bubbling water... and there is an excitement building... eventually you get to Strokkur - a large hole in the ground, roped of, the (downwind) ground utterly drenched around it and there is a bubbling activity below the ground... And you wait for something to happen. WHOOOSH up she shoots with no warning and with such gusto that oh! no! you were not quite ready for such a sudden splurge of energy and you are amazed by it.
Now, one tip to bear in mind, in case you need it spelling out as my children apprently really did... the reason one side of the geyser is soaked is because when it bursts upwards to the height of 15-30m and the wind blows against that water...if you stand there you ARE going to get drenched... which is not so fun in winter!!!!
If, like me, you were so unprepared for the sudden explosion... take heart... it happens very frequently - every 5-10 minutes! ....and then it is gone, back down into its hole.
The geysers are totally free to go to see... which is kind of awesome in its own right!
Geysir is part of the Golden Circle so is easily visited from Reykjavik and surely there is not a tour that will not lead you here. However, I like to do my own thing so I came here under my own steam (no pun intended!) and being on your own time and itinerary has always got to nicer, I think.
Now the part where I can sound clever! when geothermal water is trapped is gets super-heated. However, the water on the surface is cool. The two waters create steam and that steam has to escape and as it does it send the cooler water blasting upwards. Nature is rather funky!
Now I can absolutely say that this lake, in the winter, is stunning! It is the largest lake in Iceland and it is glacial (from the Langjokull glacier). It is 84sq km in size - like I sai - it is BIG!
In April some ares of the lake were entirely frozen solid. Further down the road there would be barely any ice and then just around the corner would be what looked like a field of frozen waves, rippling and undulating with the movement of the (unfrozen) water beneath. It really was something quite spectacular to see.
This is one of Iceland's oldest churches. Well, this one has only stood here since 1859 but before that it dates back to the 11th century.
In April it was closed but it apparently reopens in May (until August) and you can go in to see some old bells.
It is a very picturesque church.
Just 23km from Reykjavik is Pingvellir - a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pingvellir is the stunningly beautiful natural setting of the world's first ever democratic parliament (the Alping) which was formed here by the Vikings in AD930.
There is a rift valley in Pingvellir. It is caused by the North American and the European tectonic plates ripping apart from one another at a rate of 1mm to 18mm per year. (Almannagja)
Pingvellir Park forms part of the Golden Circle and is therefore easy to visit on a tour. However, I really do not think you can beat having your own set of wheels so that you can enjoy the delights of the park at your own convenience.
One of my best experiences in Iceland was in Pingvellir. I was at Oxararfoss and there was nobody else around for miles. I was taken with it's splendour but then it started to snow heavily adding another layer of beauty. It was so quiet and peaceful... it felt like a well kept secret. I am sure, had I been visiting in the summerit would never have been this quiet here!
The roads through the park are good.
Well, let's make no mistake here. This is not a very nice pool - it was, after all, used for the purpose of drowning women! I fyou were a woman you certainly did not want to be guilty of adultery, infanticide or other crimes considered to be serious because this is where you would end up!!!
Oxarafoss is an impressive waterfall which almost coyly tucks itself out of the way behind on of the faults (and when I say fault I mean where North America and Europe are tearing apart in a tectonic plate way).
The waterfall is impressive in an elegant way. It is powerful but not in an overbearing way.
In the snow, this waterfall fell short of nothing less than magical.
Iceland's National Museum of History is a little bit out from central Reykjavik, but it's worth taking the 10 minute stroll to get here, even if you're not all that keen about history. An important aspect of the museum is that most of the exhibits have captioning in English as well as Icelandic. Moroever, the museum also features scores of interactive video and computer displays that are also bilingual. This is really a state-of-the-art museum.
The history of Iceland is unusual in that it is in large party the story of a "New World". That is, Iceland was settled by people who chose to be here, and what's even more noteworthy, they did not encounter any indigenous folk when they arrived. A lot of non-Icelanders are under the impression that Iceland was settlers by hordes of semi-savage Viking warriors. That's at best a half-truth, as Iceland was actually settled by farmer people from the north-lands who may have been related to the Vikings, but who were much more in search of land to settle and farm. Which is not to say that the people who settled Iceland never fought among themselves.
Another interesting tidbit of history that I learned at the National History Museum is that the _male_ farmer-settlers of Iceland may have originated in the Norse heartlands of Scandinavia, but there is very convincing evidence that their women-folk were by and large not of Norse heritage, but instead came from the Celtic fringes of the British Isles and northern europe. What you can learn today from DNA evidence!
The one part of the museum I was disappointed with was the section that dealt with the most recent century of Iceland's history. I felt that the museum curators were absolutely determined to to avoid offending anyone, and so they left out any sense of conflict or difficulty. Strange but true: this museum does a better job of portraying Iceland's first century of existence than it does Iceland's achievements of Independence and prosperity.
There are many heated pools, hot pots and jacuzzis in Reykjavík and many of them are outdoors. A very icelandic thing to do is to jump (ok, not jump but walk) between the hot pots, starting with the coolest and advance to the more hot ones when the body has gotten used to the heat. Going to the thermal baths is a very nice way of relaxing after a busy day shopping or doing touristy stuff.
Technically not Reykjavik (and according to the locals not very Icelandic anymore either), but we made day trip around the Golden Circle and visited the Geysír and Þingvellir Park. Some roads were closed and/or in a terrible state so we didn't make it to the Gullfoss waterfall (pic) in the end, but it was great fun nonetheless! See the travelogues for all the snowy pictures.
The Asmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum is dedicated to the works of the sculptor Asmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982). Asmundur Sveinsson was one of the pioneers of Icelandic sculpture. The Museum building was designed and built mostly by the artist himself from 1942 to 1950. The artist donated the house and his collection to the City of Reykjavik after his day, and a museum dedicated to his memory was opened in 1983. Surrounding the museum is a sculpture garden, adorned with sculptures by Mr. Sveinsson. - See travelouge.
Every day except on Christmas and New Years day
The Nordic Culture House in Reykjavík was opened in 1968. The house was designed by the world famous Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). He even designed the furniture in the café and the original bookshelves in the library. This Nordic cultural centre was to serve as a link between Iceland and the other Nordic countries and has done so excellently over the years. The Nordic House organizes an extensive program of cultural events and exhibitions and maintains a library, which is an essential part of the Nordic house. There is a gallery in the basement of the house where numerous exhibitions of Nordic art are held. The ground floor houses the library, a small café and a small concert hall.
Websites on Alvar Aalto:
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