When I discovered I could fly direct from Edinburgh to Reykjavik in only 2h30 with a low-cost flight ticket, it didn’t take me long before booking my flight. Why, while living in Scotland, did I want to go to such a cold place on a short holiday? The promises of wild and almost extra-terrestrial nature and a scuba diving adventure in the clearest water on Earth between 2 continents enticed me. Warm winter clothes packed and a special ice water regulator mounted later, I was off for 3 full days in Reykjavik, Iceland. I arrived on a Thursday night and I had until Sunday night to get a full Icelandic experience including a highlight from my scuba diving Bucket List: Silfra.
For a summary in motion of my adventure in Iceland, watch my video “Iceland underwater & beyond“.
My 1st day was dedicated to scuba diving at Silfra fissure, but I had enough time in the afternoon to explore Reykjavik city centre. On the second day, I went on a road trip along the Golden circle. The last day, I drove along road 42 and relaxed at the Blue Lagoon before heading back to Keflavik Airport.
Day 1 – Diving Silfra and wandering in Reykjavik
It was somehow by chance that I started my scuba diving weekend with the scuba diving part, but if you can, try to do the same if you’re travelling with your own scuba diving gear. You will be then able to let it dry for the next day to avoid unwanted kilos of water in the hold luggage.
Located in the National Þingvellir Natural Park, the Silfra fissure is a geological canyon between the European and American tectonic plates. The water inside is breathtakingly clear, the visibility is easily superior to 100m.The transparency of the water gives you the impression of flying! You can read more about scuba diving in Silfra in my blog post “Crystal clear dive in the depths of the Earth”.
I started the day at 7.00am to be picked up by the super kind staff of Dive.is. We were in our dry suits at 8.00am, and after 2 dives of 35 minutes and a highly appreciated hot chocolate break in between, we were back in town by 1.00pm. Just in time to enjoy 2 delicious hot dogs in Reykjavik for lunch.
After, to be honest, I took an afternoon nap until 4.00pm. Knowing the sun didn’t set before 10.00pm in April, I knew I still had plenty of time to explore the city. I was staying on Laugavegur Street, which is full of cosy cafés, where people sit on benches along the windows with comfy cushions, outdoor equipment stores and Icelandic designer fashion outlets. While walking along this street in the direction of the port you can make a small turn on the left, between the blue and yellow houses, to visit the Hallgrimskirkja Church. With its interesting modern architecture, it became the symbol of Reykjavik. Although there’s a viewing point from the top of the spire, I would recommend catching the sites from the top of the Perlan (Pearl) – it’s free! From the top of its dome, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Reykjavik including Hallgrimskirkja. On the port, you can enjoy another modern architecture highlight: the Harpa Concert Hall. Its mirror-honeycomb window cage is stunning with the reflection of the sun just before the sunset, or at night when it becomes a technicolour light show!
Going out in Reykjavik is not cheap, but you would regret a party night in the Icelandic Capital. All bars are just inches away from each other and almost everywhere you can find live music bands or DJ playing. The atmosphere is really super friendly and it is just so easy to talk to Icelandic people. There are many proficient English speakers in Reykjavik. For your night out try the Boston café, the Islenski barinn, the Bravo or the Ölsmidjan.
Day 2 – Going on a road trip along the Golden circle
It is a popular well used tourist road, but as a first tier in Iceland with only a weekend ahead it is one of the best options. I have been amazed at what I saw and this is absolutely not overrated. If you want to enjoy the sites without the crowd of the tourist buses, rent a car, try to go on low season or leave Reykjavik early morning. By sharing the cost of the rental car and gas with 2 other travellers, it was relatively easy to keep the price of the road trip down. By having a picnic on the road, we enjoyed delicious food for less and we also saved a lot of time between the sites of Þingvellir (Thingvellir) and Geysir/Gullfoss. We even had time for a petting session with the super cute and friendly Icelandic horses. First, I decided to go back to Þingvellir Park even if I dived Silfra the day before. I am so happy I did so. There is so much to do in this UNESCO world heritage site: walk along the rift, discover the site of the world’s first parliament and walk to the Oxararfoss Waterfall.
About 1 hour of driving later, Geysir was definitely my favourite site of the tour. I shouted for joy when I saw the first explosion of water from the Strokkur Geyser! This geyser erupts every 10 to 15 minutes, so it is worth it to stay a while to enjoy this unique natural show. The surrounding geothermal park is full of many other small geysers. Although a freezing wind is blowing continuously, the beauty of the contrasted red and yellow colours of the soil, completed with the fuming crystal clear turquoise water ponds are inviting and you stick around waiting for the next geyser explosion.
Only a 15-minute drive east from Geysir, Gullfoss was an impressive step of our road trip but such a challenging one! This waterfall is 32m high and has a powerful flow rate of 109m3 per second! The name Gullfoss means the “Golden Fall”, likely names after the rainbows which make a bridge over it when the sun is shining. We were lucky to see the rainbow, but the elements were against us. Like any large waterfall, there is a lot of mist. Except here, in Iceland, this mist instantaneously freezes and adheres to anything, including your face, because of the wind. I did my best to prolong my enjoyment of this natural wonder, but it was so hard, the wind being so strong and cold.
To finish our Golden Circle road trip in a relaxing way, I chose not to go to the Fontana spa which is typically teeming with tourists, but instead I headed to peaceful Fuδir to enjoy the oldest geothermal pool of Iceland: the Secret Lagoon. Only 1 bus was there when we arrived and everyone was leaving! Having a whole 38°C pool for yourself was the most relaxing way possible of ending this trip. My sore back from the dives and the road trip enjoyed it!
Total time for this road trip was approximately 10 hours, starting in Reykjavik at 9am to take the rental car and taking on the road after shopping at Bonus supermarket at 10am. Be sure to always consult weather forecast and road conditions before road tripping in Iceland: www.vegagerdin.is/english
Day 3 – Exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula before flying back home
On the last day, I was flying back to Edinburgh at 8.00pm. Even if the flight was quite late, it was not really a good idea to venture far away. So as a first visit to Iceland and on your return flight day, there is a really interesting itinerary to take around Keflavik airport: a tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula. There are many options, but my 2 highlights were the following:
- The Road 42: The initial plan of my scuba diving weekend in Iceland included a dive at the underwater geothermal spring of the Kleifarvatn Lake. Cold and warm water at the same time with bubbles all around you like in a jacuzzi should be really quite a cool experience. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go this time but I still wanted to see this place. The road between Hafnarfjörδur and Krýsuvik gives the impression you just landed on the moon. You are instantly met with black lava fields along a gravel path road, then deep blue to bright turquoise lakes and finally volcanic colourful hills… everything made me want to stop the car to take a picture. My favourite spot along the road was the geothermal field of Seltún. Quite stinky because of the sulfur gases released, but honestly speaking it is not as bad as I was told (maybe thanks to the wind that day). Seltún is not huge but makes such an interesting walk: boiling mud pods and red, green and white-painted slopes are just fantastic subjects for photographers.
- The Blue Lagoon: Yes it is a favorite among tourists, yes it is not a natural hot spring… but I enjoyed it! Being in the warm, milky blue water surrounded by lunar black lava fields while having some snowflakes falling on the tip of my nose, this is what I call a delightful experience. Try to avoid rush hours, such as lunch time or late afternoon, to enjoy the lagoon with fewer people. Generally speaking I was impressed by the quality of the premises. It has everything of a luxury spa: from the changing rooms to the sauna, everything is stylish and clean. Many people say 35€ is too expensive, I found that was quite good value for money.
Starting from Reykjavik at 11am, this tour, including the time at the Blue Lagoon and the way back to Keflavik Airport, took me about 7 hours at a relaxing pace.
How to visit Iceland without breaking the bank?
Iceland is famous for being one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit. With these few tips, you will see you don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune to enjoy Iceland fully:
- Book a low-cost flight with Easyjet or WOW, the new Icelandic economy airline.
- Stay in alternative accommodation : Couchsurfing, AirnBnB (some rooms are only at 20€), hostels such as the Loft or KEX (Reykjavik was one of the first places to develop “poshtels” which means hostels with dormitory and private rooms for less while enjoying super stylish premises)
- Rent a car with local companies. This was my biggest discovery: the small Icelandic companies have such cheaper prices than the big brands. I rented mine with SAD cars for 2 days for only 59€! I was quite happy the car was not a brand new one, I felt better this way on the gravel roads of Iceland!
- Visit the natural sites for free: Absolutely all the sites I’m describing in this blog post were at no cost. With such an incredible wealth of natural scenery in Iceland, you really want to spend your time indoors if you only have a weekend?
- Make a deluxe picnic for less: Bonus is an Icelandic brand of discount supermarkets, I was impressed with the quality of the food they offer. I enjoyed smoked lax salmon, smoked meat, shrimp spread, flat bread, hazelnut milk chocolate and styr (Icelandic yoghurt) for lunch on the road and it was deliciously perfect!
Iceland is a country I’d like to visit again. From a scuba diving point of view, I want to return to dive Kleifarvatn and Strýtan underwater geothermal springs. I felt in love with Reykjavik. Its small and cosy cafés, lively nightlife and the kindness of people make me want to go back but next time I will definitely extend my visit to further afield places. I would like to make a road trip to the south coast down to the port of Höfn to taste their delicious langoustines. On the way I would make a stop to visit the ice caves of Skaftafell, the iceberg lake of Jökulsarlon and hopefully see the northern lights this time!
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