In the middle of our road trip through Iceland we planned a two-night stop in Reykjavík with a day trip along the Golden Circle tourist route. This would allow to have the same accommodation over two nights – sparing ourselves the hassle of packing-unpacking every single day – as well as pick the best day, weather-wise, for the Golden Circle tour. In the end the weather in the Golden Circle area proved to be quite horrendous on both days, while in Reykjavík it was supposed to be bad on one day and okay on the other. So we just decided to make the most of the city on the okay day and take whatever came for the trip on the other.
Around the streets of Reykjavík
I found Reykjavík to be really cute. I like the minimal feel that some nordic capitals have – Oslo and Helsinki in particular, as Stockholm and Copenhagen boast much more pompous architecture. Reykjavík gave me a lot of Oslo and Helsinki vibes. The streets in the centre are colourful, lined with small houses with a seaside feel, and the overall mood is relaxed, rarely crowded. The city looks like it’s expanding and fancier tall apartment buildings mark its waterfront. One gorgeous example of such architecture is the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre.
A different kind of architecture is displayed by Reykjavík’s tallest church, Hallgrímskirkja. Its peculiar appearance makes it very similar to some natural rock formations found all over the island, like the basalt columns at Reynisfjara, in the South of the country. In front of the church stands the statue of Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot on North American soil.
The sky miraculously cleared up when we reached the waterfront and the other landmark Reykjavík is famous for: the Sun Voyager, the sculpture of a dream boat that looks just ready to sail away. Oh did I enjoy photographing it with my wide angle lens! To me this sculpture is something between a Viking longboat and a whale skeleton, although I know that it represents neither of those things. In my mind Vikings and whales are key features of Iceland, so I guess this is whow I made up this interpretation.
Haukadalur, home of the geysers
On the day that we set off on our day trip following the Golden Circle route we did not have the same luck with the weather. In fact, due to the unstable weather we slimmed it to the thinnest, only stopping at the most notable landmarks. I had read that driving the Golden Circle can take up to 10 hours if stopping at every single location and taking proper time to take it all in. It took less for us, also counting that at some point we had to drive really slow through a snowstorm. That’s the beauty of Iceland in April. So our first stop was Haukadalur, the home of the geysers.
We saw the geyser Strokkur explode with all its bubbly might, although the strong wind often pushed the jet down, dimnishing its spectacular power. Other geysers and hot springs, including the famous Great Geysir, are dormant so we could only admire them as beautiful pools of blue in a sulphureous landscape.
Gullfoss, a majestic waterfall
Then it was time to move on, and after having lunch in the car with a view on Strokkur we continued on to Gullfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall. If the wind had been a nightmare at the hot springs, once we reached the waterfall it got even worse. It was at this point that we found ourselves struggling to keep balance as the wind blew like crazy, some gusts reaching 150 Km/h. The wind carried along small hailstones, continously hitting our faces (and camera lenses, sigh). The inglorious combination of strong wind, cold and hail made it very challenging to properly enjoy the place – keep the eyes open, even! I guess that the quantity of ice and frost all around the waterfall can somehow give a clue of the cold.
Þingvellir, where Europe meets America
Despite all this, the waterfall had a memorable roar which we enjoyed even keeping our eyes shut. At this point the weather deteriorated, but we still had one place to check out on the Golden Circle: Þingvellir. Þingvellir was proclaimed the first national park of Iceland and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural value. This is where the Icelandic parliament was established and held from 930 until 1789. Symbolically, when Iceland was proclaimed an independent Republic in 1944, the ceremony was held at Þingvellir.
Þingvellir’s location is of geographical relevance, too, as it lays on the ridge where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, thus making it a border between two continents. This was the quickest stop we made, snow had turned into pouring rain, and after admiring the ridge we ran back to the car, bound to Reykjavík again and dreaming of a hot meal.