Iceland- The Golden Circle & Southern Coast

Coming off of a busy work-week and a sleepless red-eye flight, our descent into Iceland found us a little groggy. Somewhere over Greenland, we started questioning our plan to hit the ground running.

However, our enthusiasm surged as soon as we deplaned, so we sped through customs, grabbed our Hertz, and were practically giddy by the time we got our first gulp of fresh, cool air. (August is the perfect time to leave Texas for Iceland!) Our cute little compact car was easy to handle, and we headed into the mossy green landscape towards Reykjavik.

Our first stop was to pick up the Wifi hotspot we rented; we navigated by map until we made it to the strip mall. From there, getting around was effortless. We connected our phones and had maps, music, and plenty of instagram access for the awesome photo ops to come.

We were hungry, so we went a few minutes more into the heart of town to park and walk towards C is for Cookie. Caffeine and a good breakfast was a solid idea and fueled our excitement for soaking in the fantastic weather, architecture, style, and sites we were already noticing.

Icelanders are so effortlessly cool and on a quiet morning, a local marathon was taking place, friends were strolling around, and moms were leaving their buggies in the peaceful street to grab a coffee with friends inside.

Back at the car, our first goal was to tackle the Golden Circle, the popular tourist circuit only about 100km from the capital.

Thingvellir National Park was the first of our morning destinations.  Once the seat of the parliament and assembly place of the Vikings, this national history center is also the tectonic plate boundary of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. It's not just a bunch of boring historical markers, but a breathtakingly beautiful park with a great lake, powerful river, falls, ridges, and busy trails.

The Silfra fissure, also found inside the park, was enchanting. Snorkelers can swim in the crystal clear blue waters that fill the crevice where the American and European continents meet! The fresh water is some of the purest in the world and we definitely regretted not budgeting in this excursion.

We pulled ourselves away to drive on to the next stop.While conveniently located along the golden circle route, it is not actually an official tourist destination. In fact, we hesitate to recommend this stop because it is situated in a quiet, (we think) private enclave of summer estates.

A gravel road past modern, minimal retreats leads to a brushy trail head. We circled slowly, only having our notes to guide us, and once out of the car, we carefully slid down the muddy path towards the thrilling sound of rushing water. Our jaws dropped when we made it to Bruarfoss.

Completely secluded, we were able to enjoy one of the most serene moments we've ever experienced. The magnificent blue was unlike any we have witnessed in nature; standing above on the bridge, you become mesmerized as you watch the icy water swirl below.

Second item on our list and the trip was already worth it. Eventually another private tour group came along and broke the spell, so we started the muddy hike back to the car.

Back on the Golden Circle, we arrived at the Geysir, just in time for an afternoon thunderstorm. We hunkered down in the cafeteria and enjoyed a light afternoon lunch, browsed the great collection in the shops, and finally decided we'd have to venture into the rain if we were going to see the main event.

While the namesake "geysir" is no longer as active, Strokkur regularly shows off for guests. Seeing what we came for, we ran soaking, back to the car to finish the loop at Gulfoss. Since were were already wet, we didn't mind the heavy mist that came up from the thundering falls. The power was incredible but I loved the tale of the strong-willed woman who fought to protect the falls in their natural state.
Soaked, and quickly tiring, we decided we were ready to make it to our evening lodging. We hit the rough backroads towards Heistheimar. This pastoral horse farm is a wonderful place to recharge: grab a hearty, family style dinner with other travelers, enjoy a warm shower in the quiet little cottages, or take a walk/ride on the pretty Icelandic ponies.

A fantastic breakfast from the lovely hosts at Heistheimar had us ready to tackle an early start and we hit the Ring Road. Our first stop was to explore behind the waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. How many times do you get to do something fun like that?!

From there, we drove on, stopping to admire a volcano….

before quickly arriving at our next big waterfall, Skogafoss.

We took time to climb to the top of the cliffs and enjoy the dramatic vistas.

Next up, Reynisdrangar for dramatic sea views

….and puffins!!!

What a joy it was to watch this funny birds diving around in the rain.

We continued on down to Reynisfjara beach, walking along the black pebbles, ducking in the cave, climbing along the basalt columns, and peacefully strolling along the moody shores.

Vik was foggy, but made a nice refueling point before our afternoon road trip.

Leaving Vik, you quickly come upon expansive mossy green lava fields that seem other-worldly. Wait for the obvious pull in (and don't walk on the moss!), but it's definitely worth taking time to wander along the paths and pause for some photos.

The drive is dotted with stunning waterfalls, and unique sites like a sorting corral for the annual lambhagi, stood out along the way.

Fjadrargljufur Canyon was one of our must-sees and it did not disappoint. A pretty turquoise ribbon curls through vivid green cliffs and the easy walk to look down into the canyon is fun. We walked along the top of the canyon, but you can hike below in the river bed too.

At this point, our travels were going very smoothly and we decided we needed to bump up an activity to fill the late afternoon. We headed past our hotel, and on to Skaftafell in Vatnajokull National Park.

A closed parking lot led us on a much longer hike, but the detour brought us through lovely nature on our way to see the black waterfall, Svartifoss.

There were wildflowers, quiet meadows, peaceful creeks, and lots of happy campers. The trails were full, but plenty of quiet pockets let you break away from the crowds.

We descended and sat in the crisp evening air, savoring a dinner of lamb and langoustine at a great food truck in the park. After dinner, we warmed up with lattes and kleinur in the visitor's center while taking in the glacier in all it's glory. Talk about good vacation vibes…ahhh.

A quick drive brought us back to Fosshotel Nupar, which looks more like a lunar landing station than a hotel.

We loved our quiet, understated room and it's sweeping views, and appreciated the comfy beds after the day of adventure on the Ring Road.

Sudurland is where it is at!

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