As we had an early start on our first full day in Iceland, I had set my alarm for 6:30am. Thankfully I had slept well and as I knew we had a lot planned, it was easy to get out of bed ready for the long day ahead. After having a shower and getting dressed, we made our way downstairs for an early breakfast.
For breakfast, I had some bread, cheese and cucumber to eat all washed down with some apple juice and several cups of tea. I was very impressed that there was a carton of soya milk available and displayed on the table as it is not something you see very often in hotels.
After breakfast, we collected our bags from our room and double checked that we had everything we would need as we would not be back in Reykjavik until the following night. We also put on several more layers of clothing that we would be needing for the rest of the day. We left the hotel at 8:40am. There was very little traffic and it was showing a forty five minute journey to our first stop on the Golden Circle which was Thingvellir National Park.
As soon as we turned off the Ring Road towards Thingvellir National Park, it started to snow. As is normal for Iceland, it only snowed for five minutes but further along, the road was very snowy. It was not difficult to drive in these conditions – you just needed to slow down and use caution. However I was surprised at the amount of tour buses and trucks overtaking and speeding past us.
The road soon cleared again and we stopped by Lake Thingvallavatn along with many others to look at the view. However as soon as we got out of the car, a blizzard started which was incredibly painful as the snow felt like needles hitting my face in the wind. After taking a few photos, we jumped back into the warmth of our car and in the distance back towards Reykjavik, saw our first glimpse of some blue sky since we arrived in Iceland – it did not last for long though.
We arrived at the car park of Thingvellir National Park less than ten minutes later. It was very busy which was not helped by the amount of tour buses parked up but thankfully we had no trouble finding a space. There is a charge for parking at Thingvellir which costs 500 ISK (£3.60) but it is valid all day and can be used at all of the different car parks around the park. The machines are very quick and easy to use but will only accept payment by credit card however if you go to the visitor centre, you can pay using cash.
Thingvellir National Park was the site of the first Icelandic parliament in 930AD who continued to meet here until 1798. It is also a rift valley where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is visible and where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
We took many photos across the valley towards the church and row of houses which must be one of the most photographed views in Iceland. We did not stay here for long as the wind chill was vicious as the viewing point was open to all the elements.
We walked down the path through the Almannagjá fissure which due to the wet and freezing weather conditions was incredibly slippery however as we were now out of the wind, it was much nicer than a few minutes beforehand. There was a small path leading to a bridge offering a different view of the rocks along the canyon and the rift valley.
We decided not to walk to Öxarárfoss as we would be seeing several other waterfalls during our trip and that seemed to be where everyone on the tour buses was heading. After getting back to our car, I took over the driving and we started the next leg of our journey to Gullfoss.
The drive from Thingvellir to Gullfoss took one hour and thankfully the weather improved but for the first part of the drive, we got stuck behind someone who really should not have been driving as they could not even drive in a straight line. It took a while to overtake them due to lots of cars on the road travelling in the opposite direction, but after that, we barely saw another car for the whole journey.
When we arrived at Gullfoss, we parked in the lower car park and waited in the car for about ten minutes as another blizzard started. It was still snowing when we got out of the car but not as bad as before. We took a few photos before driving to the upper car park. There is a staircase between the two but driving was much easier.
At the upper car park is the visitor centre along with toilets. To use the toilets costs 200 ISK (£1.40) and you can use your credit card by tapping it on the contactless points on the turnstiles. It might seem a lot to use the toilet but I did not care – they were dry, clean and the heating was working well which as it was freezing out, felt heavenly.
On the walk to the viewing point, it was hysterical to see that some people were just not dressed for the Icelandic weather – thin three quarter length leggings, a hoody and plimsolls with no socks are just not suitable for Iceland in March. I (and most people it seemed) had done so much reading about what to pack and had even purchased some clothes as well as new shoes especially for this trip.
The spray from the waterfalls combined with the freezing temperatures and the wind made for an interesting few minutes. Despite this, Gullfoss in the snow is simply beautiful.
The next stop of the day was Strokkur and Geysir which we had passed on the way to Gullfoss. There were lots of people waiting at Geysir which barely erupts anymore so we walked over to Strokkur which reliably erupts every few minutes so you will not need to wait very long to see it.
Blue skies started to appear when we arrived at Strokkur making the view even better than what it would have been – it was perfect. It was the first time I had seen a geyser erupt with my own eyes and it was an incredible sight to see. As it erupts so frequently, we stood there for about half an hour watching it and trying to guess when it was about to blow! I could have watched it for hours.
Our final stop on the Golden Circle before we started the long drive towards Jökulsárlón was the Friðheimar Greenhouse Farm for lunch. A family friend who had visited Iceland a few months before our trip had told me we had to go and I’m so glad they did as it was amazing. They offer lunch in their greenhouse where they grow their tomatoes every day between 12:00pm and 4:00pm. Once we were seated, a member of the staff explained about how they use hot geothermal water to heat the greenhouses and bees imported from Holland to pollinate the plants.
The tomato soup buffet was 2290 ISK (£16.50) per person which included their freshly baked bread. On the table to accompany the soup was a delicious cucumber salsa and sour cream as well as a basil plant. Even the pitcher of water had tomatoes in it! The tomato soup was probably the nicest soup I’ve ever had in my life – it just tasted so fresh and their olive bread was to die for. I managed three bowls of soup before I was full – it was that good!
I was so full I could not manage dessert but there was a choice of Tomato Ice Cream, Tomato Cheesecake or Tomato and Apple Pie. One thing I did love was that you could help yourself to tea and coffee and they even had paper cups with lids so you could take a hot drink away with you – we both took a cup of tea with us to drink in the car. I would recommend a visit to Friðheimar Greenhouse Farm to anyone – what an incredible place with simply wonderful food.
We left Friðheimar at 3:30pm and according to Google Maps it was a four hour drive to our hotel for the night which was close to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. It was a beautiful afternoon making the long drive very easy. We stopped at Seljalandsfoss after an hour of driving to use the toilets which had a long queue as there were lots of tour groups at the waterfall. We did not take any photos in the short time that we were there as it was incredibly busy and we were planning on stopping there the next day on the way back to Reykjavik when hopefully it would be quieter.
After another hour, we stopped in the town of Vik to fill up the car with petrol and once again we paid using a credit card at the pump itself – there really isn’t any need to carry cash with you at all in Iceland. We also stopped at Kirkjubæjarklaustur to swap drivers.
As we got closer to Jökulsárlón, the scenery got more and more spectacular. There were snow capped mountains and glaciers everywhere you looked. The skies were reasonably clear at this time so we were hoping it would stay that way so we might get a chance to see the Northern Lights once it got dark.
We arrived at the beautiful Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon just after 7:30pm. If staying here, the best advice is to book as early as possible as it does sell out. We booked last summer and paid 150 Euros for our room for the night whereas it was soon selling for 600 Euros a night which is a huge difference. Our room was amazing and I loved the window seat, the heated floor in the bathroom and the fact that we had a amazingly comfortable bed that wasn’t two single beds pushed together!
Sadly the the skies were also now incredibly overcast meaning that once again we had no chance of seeing the Northern Lights. As you are in the middle of nowhere, there is no light pollution so this would have been one of the best places to view them from too.
We were both tired and neither of us wanted to go for dinner in the restaurant at the hotel – I don’t think there was much there that I could have eaten anyway and it was stupidly expensive as there is nowhere else nearby to eat. Thankfully, we had brought plenty of snacks with us to Iceland especially for these two days so we were prepared. After such a long day, just being able to chill in the room was great.
I set the alarm for early the next morning as we wanted be on the beach at Jökulsárlón for sunrise and there was no way I wanted to miss that!