We recently returned from a trip to Iceland, long on our bucket list. The visit was not disappointing. Iceland is a beautiful country with fantastic geological features, wonderful scenery, friendly people and delicious food. Our land portion was arranged by Nordic Visitor, who provided a comfortable vehicle, a great guide/driver, hotel reservations and a planned tour of the famous Ring Road. The latter is a main highway which essentially circles the island, and provides access to a multitude of amazing sights.
We started in Reykjavik of course. Our guide was a delightful and knowledgeable gentleman and Icelandic native, Johannes Vilhjalmsson. I think the best way to describe our journey is to do a blog post covering each day of the trip around the ring road. First a few fun facts.
Iceland is an island of about 100, 000 square miles (twice Kentucky) with 360,000 people and more than 400,000 sheep. It was first settled by a Viking chieftain in 874 AD, and has had a governing parliament since 930 AD. It was under Norwegian then Danish rule until independence in 1918. Geologically the island has a tectonic plate rift down the middle between the Americas and the Eurasian. There are over 200 volcanoes on the island, some 30-40 active; one erupts about every five years. There is extensive geological activity including geysers and steam vents. The country is 96% green in the energy area with extensive hydro and geothermal plants. The only native mammal is the arctic fox. Polar bears are not native although do visit from time to time.
As one might expect, much of the island is covered in lava, there are numerous glaciers, rivers, waterfalls and so on. The beaches are primarily black volcanic sand. Thus the scenery is spectacular and volcanic in nature, although farming is very extensive as is the raising of sheep and cattle. The island is also quite populated with purebred wild horses.
Our first day of touring was the famous Golden Circle, a route running basically east from Reykjavik. We visited Pingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss.
One of the iconic stops on the Golden Circle route, Pingvellir is Iceland’s most important historical site. The Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament here in AD 930. The site has a superb natural setting, in an immense fissured valley caused by the meeting of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, with rivers and waterfalls. Filling much of the rift plain south of the site, Pingvallavatn is Iceland’s largest lake at 84 sq km.
One of Iceland’s most famous tourist attraction, Geysir is the original hot-water spout after which all geysers are named.The Great Geysir has been active for 800 years, but seldom spouts today. The current attraction is the very reliable geyser Strokkur, which spouts at least every ten minutes. The geysers are surrounded with an undulating, hissing geothermal area filled by steaming spouts.
Iceland’s most famous waterfall Gullfoss is a spectacular double cascade dropping 32 m back into the Hvita River. The spray from the falls is rather intense, making timed tripod images difficult to get without the lens being covered in water droplets.
During our tour of the Golden Circle, we were treated to multiple views of the beautiful countryside.
Fridheimar Tomato Farm
A side attraction on the Golden Circle is a must-stop at the Fridheimar tomato farm, where tomatoes are grown year round in a series of greenhouses heated by geothermal water. The farm also has a restaurant contained within one of the greenhouses which offers refillable bowls of – yes – tomato soup with wonderful Icelandic bread.
As a finale to each blog post I will post information on the evening stops, both hotel and restaurant. On this evening we stayed at the Hotel Grimsborger in Grimsnes, a lovely five star hotel convenient to the Golden Circle. We also dined in the hotel restaurant, also excellent.