Courtney and I recently got married! For our honeymoon we decided to take a chance on Iceland during the autumn. It's still kind of funny to think that we went in autumn. The fall season there is pretty much what we in the states would consider full blown winter. While the temperatures are comparable to New York in the winter, the weather is completely unpredictable. We encountered high wind, blizzards, steady snowfall, mainly overcast skies, ice, and even some sunlight. We knew all this beforehand and still wanted to go this time of year. The idea of traveling to Iceland was one we had even before we were engaged, so making the decision on where to spend time celebrating our post wedding bliss was easy. This will be the first of two entries on our trip. The second entry following this will be entirely devoted to our time in Reykjavik. So without further delay, let's talk about Iceland.
The first part of our trip was spent about an hour and a half outside of Reykjavik in Selfoss. Although, it was hardly what you would consider being in a city, more like being in the general area of a village. Anyway, it was in the middle of nowhere. We stayed at the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, making it our base of operations for a few days. We didn't spend a whole lot of time in the hotel, but it offered an amazing spa and some amazing food (the all you can eat breakfast buffet kept us fueled during the day). The picture above is from the outside of the hotel. The front of the hotel is a cozy little bar where we had probably the best Irish Coffee we had ever tried. The heated pool, which is also at the front of the hotel below the bar is pretty relaxing. It's an interesting sensation being outside in freezing temperatures then stepping into a hot pool. A bit of advice, make sure you stay hydrated. Heated pools can cause some dizziness if you're not drinking enough water.
Staying at Ion offered us a great opportunity to explore the Golden Circle. It's located pretty much in the middle of the The Golden Circle. The Golden Circle refers to a popular route you can drive in about a day that allows you to see some of Iceland's most impressive natural sights in the southwestern region. The highlights are Pingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss Waterfall. There are a couple of ways you could go about seeing the Golden Circle. Going on a guided tour or driving the circle yourself by renting a car. I definitely recommend renting a car and driving it yourself. We went on one guided tour on our trip and it was probably the least enjoyable time on we had. Not to say we didn't have fun, it just wasn't as fun as the other parts of our trip. With that in mind, driving in Iceland can be a little intimidating in fall and winter, especially if you're not familiar with icy and snowy conditions. Luckily we had a great rental car company (Blue Car Rental) that offered studded snow tires on all cars in their fleet from October to March. We also opted for the all wheel drive option. I would recommend all wheel drive if you are visiting in fall and winter. If you're going to be there in spring or summer you should be okay with standard front wheel drive.
We started our day out driving through Pingvellir National Park. The roads around the park are winding, and during the winter are typically covered in snow and ice. This was definitely a time when those studded snow tires proved useful. The park itself it pretty open to explore. You can easily drive through the park to get to several points of interest. If we had more daylight we probably could have spent a good 4 hours just driving to several different points of interest. However, being that we only had about 5 and a half hours of daylight to work with it was important to make the best use of our time to ensure we saw everything we wanted to see.
One of the more enjoyable moments of the trip was when we encountered the wild horses of Iceland. I was hoping that we would get the opportunity to see some of these in person. Luckily they are pretty easy to find. They're just as common as any horse you might see when on a road trip in the states. As we drove along past Pingvellir National Park towards Geysir and Gulfoss we spotted some not to far off from the main road. We found a small area where we were able to pull off from the road. It's important to note that it's not recommended to stop you car near the main highways. Even though traffic is sparse throughout the entire country, bad weather can make a stationary vehicle on the side of the road an unnecessary obstruction to a veering vehicle. I was surprised at how friendly the horses were. They probably are used to tourists like us coming up and saying hello. I was really happy with some of the shots I got of these friendly guys.
Our next stop along the Golden Circle was Geysir. Here, visitors can view the natural occurring geysers erupt. The geysers have been active for over 10,000 years. The largest geyser here is simply known as "Great Geyser". There are several smaller geysers as well but Great Geyser is the only one that erupts normally. Be prepared to wait a few minutes when you first arrive to see the first eruption. We timed the interval of the eruptions to be about five minutes. After stopping off at Geysir you can drive just another fifteen minutes to get to Gulfoss. Gulfoss (Golden Falls) is the largest waterfall in Europe. It was an amazing sight to see in person. Like everything I'll post on Iceland, the pictures don't do it justice. The Golden Circle is a must see for first time visitors to Iceland. It's an easy self drive tour you can do in a day if you have a car. Like I said before, I wouldn't recommend taking a guided tour for the Golden Circle unless they offered something special as part of the tour. If the tour simply consists of taking you to the highlighted stops to see them just drive yourself. You'll be able to go at your own pace without having to stick to someone's timeline. Next up I'll cover more on the countryside of Iceland.