The second of several installments documenting a wonderful trip to Iceland, taken with my dear friend Karly! This was both of our first times to visit Iceland, and we loved every second of our trip! Here’s everything we did and saw on our second day.
The Golden Circle
Waking up refreshed on day two with blue skies and sunshine, we hit the road to experience Iceland’s Golden Circle. This iconic loop of Iceland’s countryside features some of its most famous sights, like Pingvellier, a dramatic gorge marking the separation of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, and also “A geyser named Geyser,” a steaming hillside home to Iceland’s most active geyser.
(Side note — the Golden Circle actually has a “golden hue” to it! I’m not sure if it was the landscape’s natural color or the way sunlight hits the hills, but this stretch of road definitely has a distinct glow to it. It’s best traveled with the windows rolled down and music cranked high! Our go-to songs while driving were Moon Taxi’s “Too High” and Vance Joy’s “Like Gold” 😎)
Our Day two travels kicked off with a breathtaking double rainbow. What we didn’t know was that we were in for numerous rainbows throughout the day.
One of our favorite finds along the Golden Circle was a roadside coffee shop (housed inside a tent!) It was manned by Laugurvatnshellar, Icelandic for “cave people.” This little coffee shop had beautiful rows of picnic tables topped with foraged flowers by the shop’s owner. After picking out our own coffee cup from the pantry (per tent rules), we were served delicious coffee paired with rock candy for added sweetness!
Before hitting the road, we asked our barista for recommendations for where to go to next along the Golden Circle. He recommended Efsti-dalur, a roadside dairy farm that serves some of the best ice cream in Iceland (SOLD!) It was the perfect sweet treat for our travels (and we got to pet some Icelandic cows, too!)
While journeying to our next destination, we spotted some horses along the side of the road. (I think this might have been Karly’s favorite part of the Golden Circle!) Even as a self-proclaimed “non-animal person,” I couldn’t help but be charmed by these majestic creatures, who let us walk right up and give them a good pet. They were beautiful.
Next up on the Golden Circle: Geysir (the one and only). Something I never knew before visiting Iceland: the word “Geysir” (which literally means “the gusher”) is a reference to a specific place in Iceland. This (free) attraction along the Golden Circle is a must. While the actual geyser is no longer very active, the geothermal field that surrounds it is constantly bubbling and every few minutes, a dramatic eruption of scalding water will burst forth from the surface.
Another high point (literally) of this stop was getting to climb the nearby hills to get beautiful views of the geothermal fields. We couldn’t have lucked out more with all the clear skies and sunshine! We could see snow-capped mountains, small villages and geothermal activity for miles.
Our next stop: Gullfoss Waterfall. We read up on this mighty waterfall before the trip, and were super excited to see it in person! It sits on the wide Hvita River, which drains Iceland’s interior. Standing next to something so powerful was an amazing experience — Karly and I didn’t say a word for a solid 20 minutes while visiting the falls!
While there, we learned that in the early 1900s British investors tried to buy the waterfall and use it to generate electricity. Thankfully, a passionate local farmer, Singridur Tomasdottir, thwarted the plans and encouraged Iceland’s government to purchase the land. This is a common theme in Icelandic history — locals speaking up when the country’s natural beauty is in jeopardy.
As if The Golden Circle hadn’t impressed us enough by this point, our next destination was a true jaw-dropper. Kerið, “The Tub,” is essentially the result of a volcanic explosion 6,500 years ago. The volcano collapsed and has since become a crater that collects water. Its red walls draped with green vegetation surround the green-blue natural pool. We had a blast walking its perimeter and getting a few photos from its basin.
We stopped in Selfoss on our way back to Reykjavik. This little town would become one of our favorite stops of the trip! We came back several days later for coffee and one of the best burgers (stay tuned for more details about that!) Set next to the rapids of Olfusa River, Selfoss is the largest city in Iceland’s southern region. We meandered through this seaside town and caught a beautiful sunset near a local cemetery. Although super windy and cold, this little town overflowed with warmth and charm.
After having some down-time back at the Airbnb (and stopping at a local grocery store for sandwich supplies — eating in Iceland is expensive, so we depended on “picnic style” dining frequently), we mapped out the rest of our night. Two other girls who were staying at our Airbnb (they were from Kansas!) offered up some suggestions from their time spent out on the town the night before.
Important notes about Iceland nightlife:
Drinks are super expensive (you’re looking at dropping $20 on 1 mixed drink here)
Because of this, people like to get liquored up at home and go out sometime after midnight.
Being the over-eager travelers we were, we hit the town at an (American-OK’d) time of about 9:30 pm. The first bar we went to was called B5, which was conveniently hosting a happy hour special of two beers for the cost of one (score). We enjoyed live music and a few brews here. They had an acoustic guitar player who serenaded us with with some Sweet Home Alabama.
At around midnight, just like we were told, locals began coming out in droves. B5 quickly turned into a nightclub and our tame Saturday night turned into a rowdy party. We did some dancing and chatted with a few travelers who were visiting from Atlanta. Once the bar began getting too crowded for comfort, we left in search of something a little less crazy.
On our way to another bar recommended by our Airbnb friends, we ran into a friendly local who suggested we hit up Prikith, the city’s oldest pub. This ended up being an awesome decision, as the bar had live music (all sung in Icelandic!) We heard Jackson Browne and Van Morrison in Icelandic and a handful of native songs (most included some form of clapping / stomping — it was awesome).
We stayed out until about 3 am and soaked in all the craziness of Icelandic nightlife. And, naturally, we topped off the night with some street dogs. We knew we wanted to try Baejarins beztu, a hotdog stand we read about in our Rick Steves book. Bill Clinton made this little stand famous in 2004 when he dubbed it the best hotdog in the world. With empty stomachs and dancing-induced drowsiness, we had to agree with ole Billy — these dogs were delicious!