Iceland’s wild scenery, photographed by Rafn Sign, is hard to imagine if you have never set foot in the land of ice and fire, as many visitors have called it. Walking among craters, waterfalls and geysers, swimming in hot blue lagoons at zero degrees or less and watching the whales swirling around your boat is a miracle that you can really achieve in three days.

It may seem unrealistic that an island country in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, closer to Greenland than its European continent, can be explored in just three days. But, however unlikely it sounds, it is the naked truth, and it is much cheaper than you might think. You can choose from several low-cost carriers such as Easy Jet, Wow Air or Icelandair, and within 3-4 hours from London, you can reach the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik with less than £ 150 for a round trip.

A geothermal spa surrounded by volcanic rocks

I arrived in Iceland in early May. After hiring a car from Keflavik International Airport – about 50 kilometres southwest of Reykjavik – we drove directly to the Blue Lagoon, a 15-minute drive from the airport. The Blue Lagoon, named after the distinct colour of water, of an unnatural blue, is a geothermal lake in the middle of a Martian land surrounded by volcanic rocks.

Blue Lagoon

The lake was formed by accident, although the solidified lava surrounding the lake arose due to a volcanic eruption in the 13th century. This open-air spa is full of minerals and comes from leaks from the nearby geothermal power plant that was built to warm water in people’s homes. Due to frequent leaks, the lake is formed continuously, renewing itself every 48 hours. Minerals in the water are incredibly beneficial to the body and are often used to treat skin diseases such as psoriasis.

The steam rising from the hot water embraces you with such tenderness that for a few hours you will completely forget the biting wind that follows you everywhere in Iceland. The entrance fee of 40-50 euros for a standard ticket (depending on the season) is worth it, especially since you can buy drinks directly in the “pool” without having to go out in the cold.

The Golden Circle

Although Iceland is a large island – second in size in Europe and the 18th in the world – it barely reaches over 330,000 inhabitants. Hotels options are mainly in Reykjavik, which houses almost half of the country’s population, and prices are quite high. So booking in advance could provide a better price and a central location.

Stone cottages near Þorvaldseyri farm

Driving the car in Iceland is not an easy job because the fast-changing weather can cause serious problems. By the end of spring, roads may be inaccessible, so the option of a tour with an Icelandic travel agency is a good idea, especially if you want to visit the glacial caves and lakes in the heart of the island.

If you still decide to rent a car and drive on your own, it is essential to choose an off-road vehicle and organise your itinerary according to the season. It is also important to know that there are not many paved roads in Iceland.

Geysir Hot Spring Area

The main road that surrounds the island is called the Ring Road, but it is not accessible all year round. A more attainable inner highway, known as the Golden Circle, connects the capital with several points of interest. The Golden Circle tour is very popular among tourists, and it can certainly give you a good idea about wild Iceland. Many touristic offers in the country provide this one-day tour.

The journey starts in Reykjavik and passes through Thingvellir National Park, then on to the Geysir Hot Spring Area. A geothermal field with more than ten boiling water pits, the area has been active for over 1000 years. The most active of all is Strokkur. When the geyser heats up, it erupts and sends jets of water up to 30 meters in the air. It is fascinating to watch it from afar, how it spits translucent liquid flames from the depth of the earth like an enraged dragon.

Gulfoss Waterfall

The next stop is Gullfoss Waterfall, where you can enjoy the impressive sight of a glacial cataract. The water plunges from over 30 meters into a long 2.5 km canyon. From here, the road heads south to the Kerið crater – a volcanic lake surrounded by red rocks, which was formed about 3,000 years ago – before your return to Reykjavik.

Kerið Crater

Driving on the Ring Road

After we followed the Golden Circle route, we wanted to see more of these fairytale landscapes, so from the Kerið crater, we headed south until we reached the Ring Road again.

Because of the strong wind, our small car was shaking while real monster trucks passed by us smoothly. And then we understood why on such narrow roads you need such big vehicles, something we did not think about when we rented ours.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Eventually, the small Hyundai i10 did its job and carried us safely to two other famous waterfalls – Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s most beautiful cascades with a 60-meter fall and a path that allows you to walk behind the torrent, and then Skógafoss, another natural wonder.

Þorvaldseyri farm beneath Eyjafjallajökull 

But what impressed me most as we travelled along the southern Ring Road was the silent image of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano. With a defiant beauty and bathed in fog, it was standing there completely ignoring the chaos it caused in the aviation world in April 2010.

Before our return to Reykjavik, we stopped in Stokkseyri. This small town in Southern Iceland, located about 60 km from the capital, is renowned for its seashore. And here, in fact, I ate the best baby lobster I could ever dream of.

Fjöruborðið Restaurant in Stokkseyri

The way back to Reykjavik was a real journey through the seasons. After the cold but sunny spring, we soon entered the rainy autumn and, as we advanced north, the winter began to bury us in the snow. Fortunately, after 20-30 kilometres we met again spring, which promised us a greener and maybe warmer summer.

Bonus tips

Although I promised you a weekend with wild landscapes and whirling whales, I’ll have to leave the whales’ story for another time. What happened was that after we left the Reykjavik harbour and headed further out the sea, the boat’s engine suffered malfunctions, so we had to return to the shore.

But do not worry, because although I cannot say that I have seen them with my own eyes, my Icelandic friends have guaranteed that the chances of seeing whales are 90%. Therefore, for me, there is yet another reason to revisit Iceland.

And, to add another bonus to this trip – which would surely be a delight for any travel addict as I am – if you can spend another day in the area, you could even take a one-day trip to Greenland (however the price is quite high!).

Leave a Reply