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72-Hour Guide to Iceland: Reykjavik and Golden Circle (Part I)

Iceland has been on my bucket list for a while and I have finally got a chance to tick it off my list. I just came back from a short trip to Reykjavik and I have to say this was one of the best trips I have ever taken! From record snowfall and geysers to fermented shark and Blue Lagoon – my hubby and I have tried it all. If like me, you only can/want to get away to Iceland for few days, hopefully this 72-hour travel guide and general tips will come in handy.

Day 1

Having arrived in Reykjavik in the evening there wasn’t much time left for any sightseeing. However, we were still in for a treat. As the plane hit the runway, I could see it snowing heavily and that on its own was already exciting.

Having lived in London for the past 6+ years, I rarely see any snow here but I still miss the magical feeling it brings. Once we checked into the guesthouse – a very hygge studio flat with a cool Scandi design – we decided to go for a walk and scavenge for food in the local neighborhood.  In less than 10 minutes we were by the Hallgrímskirkja church, one of Reykjavik’s main landmarks. Although it was closed by that time, there was still a lot of action around it as a group of locals were building a giant snowman with others taking their cameras on tripods to capture a magical sight of this impressive building during the snow. 

Once we got our provisions (breakfasts and snacks for the next couple days as Reykjavik is super expensive for eating out), we stopped by the Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden next to the church. It was open but completely empty so we could roam around and check out various sculptures slowly getting covered by the snow.

The atmosphere was so serene and quiet that we didn’t want to leave. We finished the day in our cosy little studio drinking hot tea and munching our snacks in front of the telly and watching snow quietly settle on our window sills.

Day 2

As we had a 6-hour Golden Circle tour booked for 10:30am, we got up early to get ready. But as I opened the blinds, I was stunned…the snow that had continued piling up all night was now to the point that getting out of the door looked like a serious challenge. It was up to my knees! After quickly throwing on our parkas and boots we somehow managed to get ourselves out and get on the main street which had been somewhat cleared of the previous night’s snowdrift by our friendly neighbors.

The tour, due to the record snow (51cm, compared to the last record of 55cm in 1937), was delayed as the roads were getting cleared off the snow. With Icelandic perseverance, by 12:30pm we were on the bus and ready to hit the road.

First stop on our journey was Strokkur geyser by the river Hvítá, which shoots a column of pressurized hot water up to 30 meters in the air.

As we were there, it shot with various frequency – anywhere from three to 10 minutes, which feels like a long time when you are standing in the cold and trying to hold a camera steady! Around the geyser, there were several hot springs which emitted strong smell of Sulphur (think rotten eggs), typical for hot water in Iceland.

These natural water pits are so hot (100°C) that you can easily boil eggs in them so be careful and don’t get too close!

The next stop was the famous Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall created by the river Hvítá. It is around 32m tall and produces a stunning sight in the form of a beautiful rainbow that falls over it.

But because it was so cold, the water droplets from the waterfall felt like pins and needles on my face.

Both stops, Strokkur geyser and Gullfoss waterfall, had lovely gift shops and cafes, where you will find good choices of hot drinks and bites, as well as lovely souvenirs and Icelandic clothing and accessories (think soft wool, fur and felt!).

The last stop on the Golden Circle tour was Thingvellir National Park, where North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

So, without actually leaving Iceland and any visas required you can easily visit America! According to our friendly tour guide this was where some of the epic battle scenes in Game of Thrones were filmed. Also, something I didn’t know is the plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year.

The tour lasted 6 hours but the time went by so quickly and we learned a lot not only about the places we visited, but various random facts about Iceland and its people (e.g. swimming is a required subject in schools, all energy in the country is renewable, volcano Hekla erupts every 10 years, Eric Clapton comes to Reykjavik every year for salmon finishing and there are 100 words to describe Icelandic horse). Wherever we looked the landscape of this island country was stunning – from glaciers and volcanoes to rock formations, waterfalls and mighty rivers.

And adding a white blanket of snow on the top made it even more breathtaking!

Whilst the tour was over, the day wasn’t until we went out for a hearty dinner at the Café Loki across from Hallgrímskirkja church. I chose Icelandic platter that had two pieces of rye bread served with herring and mashed fish, and rye bread ice cream which was delicious.

My husband had gratinated mashed fish with salad and rye bread which he enjoyed thoroughly!

We also ordered an Icelandic speciality – fermented shark meat. Something we saw Rick Stein try on Rick Stein’s Long Weekends episode in Reykjavik and wanted to try it for ourselves.

I am glad I tried it but it would be my first and last time. Imagine a mix of a stinky cheese with the acidity of cat pee? That’s exactly how it tastes and smells. Even two French men sitting at the next table complained that the smelliest cheese in France couldn’t compare to this!!! We ended the day with a walk through our beloved Sculpture Garden that was drowning in snow with its sculptures looking a little cold and lonely. 

Make sure to check out my vlog below and Part II of our Icelandic adventures next week.

Happy travels! xx

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