It is hard to believe that it has been 7 years since our trip to Iceland. One of our favorite memories in Iceland was driving around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It was recommended to us by the staff at the hotel and it was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. The Golden Circle is certainly an absolute must, but you will be surrounded by crowds and tour buses while driving around the peninsula, at least in winter, will have you enjoying the natural beauty of the island on your own. Two of our favorite sights while driving around the peninsula was Lóndrangar, which is a pair of volcanic rocks that jut up along the coast and the Malariff Lighthouse located nearby. It is also a perfect place to see the “black beaches” of Iceland, which are beachs covered in black volcanic rocks.
Seeing the twin peaks of Lóndrangar is certainly an amazing sight and pictures don’t truly do it justice. Centuries of erosion have left these volcanic rocks looming over the edge of the coastline. The entire area is volcanic crater that has been enveloped by the ocean and now only lava rocks remain. We were fortunate to see Lóndrangar from two angles, first looking at them with the ocean sitting behind them and then later from the Malariff Lighthouse. Since we were there during the winter, the black lava rocks really stood out against the snowy landscape and glacial mountains off in the distance.
Next we drove to the Malariff Lighthouse, which is truly dramatic and well worth visiting. You are able to walk all around the lighthouse, which stands as a lonely sentry to protect ships from crashing into the rocky coast. As we arrived, the cloudy skies temporarily parted to provide an amazing backdrop to the white lighthouse. It is supposed to be a great location to see different water birds and even seals, but perhaps the weather was too cold for even them during our visit.
After walking around the lighthouse, we continued on to walk down to the shoreline and see the waves crashing against the lava lined coast. It certainly provides a sense of how powerful the ocean can be in this rugged land. It also provides evidence as to the clear need for the lighthouse when you see the waves splashing high above the rocks along the shore. Iceland is such a beautiful country and this little snippet of the coast will give you a true sense of the destructive forces that have created not only Iceland, but the world as a whole.
One of the most interesting things that we’ve seen in our travels are the black lava beaches in Iceland. There are several of them on the island, but we visited the ones that are on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. They are especially interesting when seen during winter when the black of the lava contrasts with the white of the snow. As time goes by, the larger lava rocks slowly erode to an almost sandy appearance, but it is still quite rough. We stood for quite some time just watching the waves pounding against the rocky shore, the power of nature in all of its glory.
To get to the black beaches on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you go into the Snæfellsjökull National Park and head toward the Malariff Lighthouse. From there you simply continue to the shore where the beaches line the coast. You will also get a chance to see the twin peaks of Lóndrangar, which are huge lava rocks along the shore that have survived years of erosion. As we continued down the coast away from Malariff, we came across even more dramatic lava rocks on the shoreline. The lava has been carved into sheer cliffs with the waves crashing along their base. Even further along the coast, we came across large lava fields along the shore that almost looked like we had been transported to a foreign planet.
Visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which has been described as Iceland in miniature, is definitely something that should be seen during any trip to Iceland. For many reasons, seeing the black beaches along the coast is something that we found extremely beautiful as well as geologically fascinating.
One of the most popular tours to take from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle. There are plenty of reasons why the Golden Circle is so popular and we were amazed by the impressive sights at each of the stops. Actual driving time is about four hours, but it takes at least six to eight hours with stops and hiking around to see everything that each destination has to offer. Assuming that you take the circle in the traditional direction, the first stop is Þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir in English), the second stop is Geysir, and the third stop is the Gullfoss waterfall. There are definitely some other stops that are worthwhile, but these three are “can’t miss” locations, each for their own reasons.
Þingvellir National Park is interesting for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is its natural beauty, which we’re sure is spectacular in any season, but since we were there during the tail end of the winter season, we enjoyed the snow-covered scenery. It is also home to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe slowly separate away from each other. Iceland offers several opportunities to stand in both the North American Continent and the European Continent, but obviously Iceland is a European country. From a historical perspective, it is also the site of the first Icelandic Parliament, called Alþingi (Althing in English), in 930 AD, which we learned even more about during our visit to Borganese (more about that later). It is just north of the largest lake in Iceland, Þingvallavatn, which was mostly frozen while we were there, but still quite spectacular.
Having rented a car, we were doing a self-guided tour as opposed to riding one of the busses filled with other tourists. We’re not a big fan of crowds, so we preferred to do it ourselves and do our best to avoid the throngs of tourists that were there at the same time as us. Despite the fact that we were in Iceland in what is considered to be their off-season, we found that there were plenty of tours running everyday, so we can only imagine how busy the summer season must be. The good thing for us was that we could wait a few minutes and the tour guides would cattle call their group back to the bus and at least for a few minutes, we would have relatively quiet access to each of the sites. But if you do rent your own car and do the tour yourself, be careful because the environment can be very harsh and one mistake could lead to disaster. This didn’t lead to disaster, but a tourist plowed their car into a snowdrift and we tried to help them get the car out of the drift, but were unsuccessful. Fortunately they were able to call for help, but in these conditions it could have been disastrous.
Geysir, also known as The Great Geysir, is a spectacular geyser and is what all other geysers are named after. Obviously, Iceland is known as the “Island of Fire and Ice” due to all of the volcanos and thermal activity that occur throughout the island. Hot springs and geysers can be found throughout the island, but The Great Geysir is the most famous, having been active for 10,000 years, although it can go dormant due to earthquake activity for long periods at a time. While we were there, it was quite active, erupting several times in a twenty to thirty minute stretch. Having been to Yellowstone National Park and seeing Old Faithful as often as we have, it was interesting to see as the water in the mouth of the geyser ebbs up and down until it reaches its crescendo.
We had missed the hotel where we were hoping to have lunch, so we grabbed some fries from the cafeteria. Since Geysir was obviously the lunch stop for the tour busses, we had no desire to sit in the cafeteria surrounded by the large crowds, so we figured we would just save our appetite for a delicious Icelandic dinner that evening. One thing that we did learn is that finding restaurants outside of Reykjavik is not as easy as it has been in other places we’ve visited. The countryside is dotted with wonderful little farms and small villages, but very few cafes and diners where you can grab a bite to eat, so planning ahead as to where you want to stop is a definite must.
The final stop was the waterfall at Gullfoss. This was truly the most spectacular site that we saw during the day and one that will last with us for years to come. Despite being cold from being sprayed with the mist from the falls, it was as beautiful as anything that we’ve ever seen. The combination of ice and rushing water made for a fascinating contrast that was mesmerizing to watch. If we weren’t so cold, we could have hiked around the falls and captured them from every angle possible for hours. Even if you don’t have time to do the full circle, a trip to Gullfoss is an absolute must.
We continued around the circle, surrounded by incredible beauty, with only one other site that we wanted to see along the way. Despite the crowds that were at each of the stops, the roads were mostly empty and most of the time that we spent driving, there wasn’t another soul around, which felt a little ominous at times. It gave us a sense of how harsh it must be to live there during the winter and how hard it must have been for the earliest settlers of the island. Another stop worth seeing is a volcano caldera called Kerið (pronounced Kerith in English) that is along the circle, which isn’t nearly as busy as other stops. Also, no matter where you go in Iceland you will find plenty of Icelandic horses, which are furrier than those that we find here in North America.
All in all, the Golden Circle was amazing, but it was only our second day in Iceland, so there were plenty more amazing sights to see before our trip would be over. We know that we’ve said that we don’t get pictures of sunrises because we’re just not up that early, but Iceland changed that for us since the sun rises so late. We couldn’t have been happier with our decision to visit Iceland, it was one of those experiences that will stay with you forever.