I think there are going to be quite a few posts on Iceland coming up. Although we only spent a few days there, I was really taken with it – from design shopping in Reykjavik (money was spent), chasing the Northern Lights (they didn’t show, but there was hot chocolate), to soaking in the thermally heated waters of the Secret Lagoon (just SO nice). I’m looking forward to giving you the lowdown on where to shop in Reykjavik, and showing off the things I bought. But in the meantime, I thought I should let you know about the wonderful day trip we took to see the main highlights within Iceland’s famous Golden Circle, as well as an extra stop off at the hot waters of the Secret Lagoon. There are loads of day trips to choose from in Reykjavik, so tourists are well catered for across all abilities, activity choices and trip duration.
The Golden Circle day trip is extremely popular and lots of operators run full or half day tours, including hotel pick-ups. We opted for a company called Sternatravel because in addition to all the major sights in the Golden Circle (Þingvellir National Park; Geysir Hot Springs; and Gullfoss Waterfall), this trip had the added bonus of an hour’s dip in the naturally thermally heated Secret Lagoon. As we had failed to organise our visit to the famous Blue Lagoon and it was fully booked until after we were due to leave (d’oh), we figured that a trip to the Secret Lagoon was something we absolutely had to do!
HINT: If you want to go to the Blue Lagoon, book early. You can fit it in a visit easily on your way to or from the airport, as loads of firms offer scheduled pick ups and drop-offs. If you want to read, and see, more about the Blue Lagoon, check out this post by Abi from TheseFourWallsBlog.
After boarding our coach and collecting the other passengers, our guide Simon (well, this was the name he told us to use given that his Icelandic name was far more complex and lengthy), gave us some interesting history lessons about Iceland and its geology, history and folklore. The information he provided throughout the full-day tour was excellent and engaging. He was also extremely passionate about Game of Thrones, which is partly filmed in Iceland, and which employs lots of locals as extras!
Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park (which I think is pronounced Thingvellir, but don’t quote me); a vast landscape of lava fields, a frozen lake, and the place where the European and North American tectonic plates meet. We learned that they are pulling apart from each other by about 2cm every year.
The national park is also the site where the first Icelandic Parliament was founded back in 930AD and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – not hard to see why. The Park hosts thousands of visitors each year, and is a great hiking destination in the Summer months.
From there, the coach continued on to the Geysir area, home of bubbling hot springs. One in particular, called Strokkur (they’re all named), erupts with a dramatic plume of hot water about every 2-3 minutes. I loved it here. The contrasts between the icy mountains and the steam rising from the bubbling pools in the ground was really fascinating, especially when mixed with the expectant wait of the crowd as we held our breath before Strokkur exploded once more.
After a spot of lunch at one of the two restaurants (and an extensive gift shop – of course!) at Geysir, we re-boarded the coach and travelled a short distance to the waterfalls at Gullfoss. The drive itself is pretty impressive – Iceland’s vast, dramatic landscapes are thoroughly enjoyable to look at, and we regularly passed fields full of rugged Icelandic horses. Simon was very clear with us all that despite their diminutive stature, these were very much horses and DEFINITELY NOT ponies (obviously I had been referring to them as ponies every time we spotted them, in earshot of our guide. Oops.)
It was really cold with biting, icy winds when we arrived at Gullfoss, but we were not deterred. We headed straight up the wooden steps to get the best view of this amazing waterfall – Iceland’s second biggest and most powerful – which was partly frozen, making it all the more spectacular.
By the time we returned to the bus, we were definitely ready for the final destination – the Secret Lagoon. Located in the tiny village of Fludir, the Secret Lagoon is a natural old lagoon, heated to 36-40 degrees celsius, by the hot springs surrounding it. Whilst not as picturesque as the more famous Blue Lagoon, it was much quieter and really rather atomospheric. The hot springs located just outside the main pool bubbled away – getting increasingly active, then calming back down again. And moving around the pool you found different temperatures – ranging from nicely toasty to verging on the too-hot. There’s a bar so you can sip wine or beer whilst you relax in the hot waters, and the admission fee and use of a towel were included in the fee for the whole trip which meant no unnecessary admin on the day. We loved it and it was the perfect end to a enchanting day of discovery.
I highly recommend this day trip, especially if, like us, you’re only in Reykjavik for a short time and aren’t able to hire a car to see the sights on your own. There were lots of trips to the Golden Circle available, but we only found this one with the Secret Lagoon visit added on. The extra time and money was well worth it – so go on and treat yourself!
Tell me about your visit to the Golden Circle – or if you haven’t been yet, let me know if you’re tempted – in the comments below.
Happy travels, and shopping