One of the joys so far of the trip was celebrating Chad’s 41st birthday in Iceland. We arrived about 10:30 a.m. and picked up our rental car from Sixt. The car worked out great for us and we used it to drive the Golden Circle route to the main Icelandic natural sites that are close to Reykjavik. But first we got some coffee and discovered that everything we’ve heard about the high cost of Iceland is absolutely true – we paid $10 for two coffees at a gas station, double what we’d pay in the U.S. Luckily, I had packed some Cliff bars, so we at least saved on breakfast.
Thingvellir National Park
We drove about two hours from the airport to Thingvellir National Park. The countryside on the drive was beautiful – kind of felt like the American West with the flat brown scrub near the road and mountains in the distance. It is a landscape that Chad loves, which is good because our layover just happened to fall on his birthday. We made it to Thingvellir and followed a sign to the main parking lot, which cost 5000 ISK to park the car. I made a quick bathroom stop – 2000 ISK – and then we figured out the trail we’d follow.
There were plenty of people there when we arrived about 2 p.m. but it didn’t feel overly crowded. We followed the main path down the gulch and then over toward the old church, snapping plenty of pictures along the way. The whole walk was maybe a mile, but it felt good to stretch our legs and while Iceland was cold in late May (about 45 degrees F), the sun was shining so it felt nice. After our walk, we bought a salmon and egg sandwich to split and then headed to our next stop, just in time as the tour buses were starting to arrive.
About an hour’s drive away is a geyser called Geyser. When it blows, it shoots 70 feet in the air. A whole visitors center/tourist trap has built up around it and I’d read that it was an essential stop on the Golden Circle route. We parked the car and set out to find Geyser, stopping along the way at the much more reliable geyser, Strokkur. We saw Strokkur erupt 3 times during the 30 minutes or so we stopped, but nothing from Geyser. Although Strokkur is smaller – shooting up only about 30 feet – it was still really neat and our first experience seeing a geyser. It was also cool seeing the ground bubble at the various geothermal cracks and watching the crowds try to get selfies with the erupting geyser.
About 15 minutes or so from Geyser is a waterfall called Gullfoss. We’d seen a waterfall at Thingvellir, but it was no comparison to Gullfoss. It was amazing and the highlight of our time in Iceland. There were scores of people there too, but I didn’t really notice them because the waterfall was so entrancing. It renewed my interest in visiting Niagara sometime in the future.
It was just under two hours additional driving to complete the circle and head into Reykjavik. The city is not much larger than our hometown of Columbia, about 100,000 people, though the metro area has over 200,000 and the whole country of Iceland is only about 300,000 population! We headed straight to the Hallsgrimkirke, which is the most iconic structure in Reykjavik, a very cool church that looks like a spaceship. Before going up in the church tower, we stopped for a beer and a snack across the street in a cafe called Cafe Loki. If you think $5 coffees are tough, just wait until you’re paying $10 each for a beer! For our snack, we ordered one of Chad’s favorite foods, herring (after all, it was his birthday). Our table had a view of the church and it was a fun and relaxing break from driving and sightseeing.
Revived, we headed back across the street to the church and bought our 1000-ISK-each tickets up to the top of the church tower. It was an interesting view but COLD up there, so we mostly looked out from the landing, which was enclosed.
After the church, we walked through an adorable neighborhood to a restaurant called Fish and More (in Icelandic). They had three things on the menu – fish of the day, fish stew, and fish soup. Chad got the fish soup and I got the fish stew. Both were very good, though there’s probably a reason you don’t see a lot of Icelandic restaurants outside of Iceland.
Hotel and Departure
During our snack, we had taken note the weather had turned much colder, windier and rainier than earlier in the day and agreed that staying in our car all night was probably not ideal. So I booked us the least expensive room near the airport I could find in a B&B called a. Bernhard Gasthaus. By least expensive, we were still talking over $100, but it was very clean and about 5 minutes drive from the airport. My review from booking.com and Trip Advisor is below. As we listened to the wind and rain outside our window throughout the night, I knew it was money very well spent, even though we only spent about 6 hours in the room.
At 4 a.m. it was time to head back to the airport. The Sixt office where we were to return our car was a little separate from the airport and we’d originally reached it by airport shuttle. I knew the airport shuttle wouldn’t be running yet because the office didn’t open until 5 a.m., and it was still raining a little so I worried about one of us being stuck in wet jeans on our 4-hour flight to Frankfurt. So, because I had a pair of workout shorts in my carry-on, my ingenious solution was to drop Chad off at the airport with all of our bags and run to the airport in the rain after dropping off the car. It was only a 4-minute run and the plan worked perfectly. Chad enjoyed a final $5 coffee while I dried off and changed and we boarded to Frankfurt. Iceland was a great layover and great place to celebrate Chad’s birthday. And only the beginning of our trip.
Review of a. Bernhard Guesthouse “Good for a night before a flight!”
This worked well for us for a one-night stay. The shared bathroom we had access to was really nice. The room was very clean, modern, and they had the nice touch of leaving fresh water in the room. The only negative here is true in many guest houses – there were a lot of rules, check in had to be pre-planned and privacy wasn’t perfect. For that reason, we typically choose hotels or vacation rentals instead. But in Iceland, those are out of our price range!