On the way to Germany, we decided to make a quick pit stop–in Iceland!
Iceland has become an extremely popular vacation spot in the past year or two, as both a layover and a permanent destination. IcelandAir allows you to build in up to a week layover for no extra charge, encouraging people to stay longer. Both IcelandAir and its sister airline, Wow, are much cheaper options for flying to Europe than more mainstream airlines. Our flight to Munich was probably half of what it would have been on Lufthansa.
Our layover was 18 hours, during which we needed to pack in everything we could. To give ourselves more flexibility, we decided to rent a car so we could drive ourselves around rather than worry about catching a tour or how to get back to the airport. Although several tours do pick you up at the airport, we also wanted to more easily pick and choose what to do and see. There are several car rental agencies at Keflavik airport, so there’s no shortage of options. The car also allowed us to not worry about storing any larger carry-on luggage.
The Blue Lagoon
We packed everyone into a Ford escape and headed to our first destination—the Blue Lagoon. Yes, it’s touristy, but it is refreshing after a six-hour overnight flight. Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa, but it’s not a naturally occurring hot spring. The water is actually heated by a geothermal power plant nearby. The pool was formed by accident, but the water’s mineral content started drawing people to the site because of its healing powers. The water is a light blue color and rich in silica and sulfur, cloudy enough that you can barely see your body when you look down! Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of it—I didn’t want my phone to get wet and little did I know you can BUY a waterproof phone case there!
We really enjoyed floating around at the Blue Lagoon, and since it’s very close to the airport I definitely recommend it during a layover. Some quick Blue Lagoon tips:
- Book an early time slot to have more space to yourself before it gets packed.
- You only need the Standard package–towels are available to rent and you ask for dry ones to replace wet ones.
- Make sure to condition your hair! The sulfur in the water dries out your hair. We heard some horror stories of hair not going back to normal for weeks!
- A little of the silica mud mask goes a long way–no need to take a huge glob of it like most people (and make sure not to get it in your eyes!)
The Golden Triangle
On the drive to our first stop, we really started to see the magic of Iceland. The roads are almost deserted, and there are barely any trees, allowing an unobstructed view of the gorgeous countryside, mountains, and several rainbows.
We even made some friends along the way.
We followed the Golden Triangle route (using this map), going from Blue Lagoon about an hour to Kerið. Kerið is a crater with a shallow blue lake creating a caldera in the bottom. You can walk all around the rim, and then descend to the bottom.
A path encircles the top.
The earth going down into the lake was a stripy red and green, contrasting beautifully with the bright blue water.
Kerið may have been my favorite of the Golden Triangle sites. The pictures don’t do it justice.
From there we drove another half hour to Gulfoss, a waterfall fed by Iceland’s second largest glacier. When we approached we couldn’t even see it, only hear it, not expecting the beautiful site that came into view as we went down the hill.
You can walk alongside the falls to the top, or watch from a platform at the end.
By the time we were done there, we were starving. There are not really any rest stops on the side of the road and not much food along the way. If you want a restaurant, stop at Fridheimar—a tomato farm within a greenhouse. It’s one of the few restaurants along the way, and several tours stop there. We passed by it—and regretted it. We had to settle for some quick food in the visitor center for the Geysir, another stop on the Golden Triangle right before you hit Gulfoss. We weren’t dying to walk up to the Geysir—but it didn’t matter because we could see it erupt from where we sat for lunch.
The last stop on the Golden Triangle was Þingvellir National Park.
At Þingvellir, you can drive right in and stop at several little stop-offs before you get to the main parking lot, giving you plenty of photo opportunities with no tourists in the way.
We finished our drive in Reykjavik, stopping at the Hallgrímskirkja church.
The church is modern and beautiful inside—but the best part is at the top. For ~$8 you can ride to the top of the church tower for views of Reykjavik.
Rows and rows of colorful little homes.
We walked down Laugevegur street, which is lined with bars and restaurants (with some rather interesting names, including Chuck Norris Grill). Instead of sitting down at a nice dinner, we went for a local specialty—hot dogs! Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a little but well-known hot dog stand by the water. Both locals and tourists alike line up for hot dogs smothered in ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion, and remolaði (a mayo-type sauce), They. Are. Delish.
We headed back to the airport to return the car and finally continue on to Munich. Beware—there are not a ton of gas stations around either, so if you see ANY then go! We didn’t and ended up having to pay the ridiculous fuel surcharge.
We all absolutely loved Iceland—it really surprised everyone with how beautiful it was. And while Keflavik needs some help handling the influx of visitors, all of the roads and sites were never clobbered by tourists. We were able to take in the natural beauty all on our own time.