Iceland Day 1: Golden Circle and Waterfalls

My first impression of Iceland – waterfalls!!! They are everywhere including people’s backyard, literally, it was that amazing!

We took the WOW Airlines flight from Boston to Iceland and one tip to share if you are departing from Boston – make sure your carry-on is less than 11 lbs! Yes, they do weight your carry-on and then put on an “approved cabin baggage” tag!!! We were scrambling at the check-in counter to reshuffle our stuff so each of our carry-on is less than 11 lbs; it was challenging since our DSLR camera and a lens weight more than half the limitation already. At the end we did it, it was unexpected! When we took the Air Tahiti flight back in January, they had the same weight limitation as well and we made sure each of our bag didn’t go over the limit..and at the end never once did our carry-on bag got weighted. I guess everyone were equally surprised and the check-in line really held up by this! Good thing we arrived at the airport early so we were the first ones in line!

This was our first time taking a flight from WOW Airlines and we were aware of it being a budget airline that it charges for everything..even on board drinks. We were prepared and bought water inside the airport and brought buns (Chinese bread with fillings) with us for the nearly 6 hours flight. We saw our captain and flight attendants and really attracted by their beautiful and stylist purple uniforms! Those uniforms were the best airline uniforms we ever seen!

And the purple boarding pass:

Our 6 hours flight was not too bad despite no in-flight entertainments that we normally do have for transatlantic flights. I tried to get as much sleep as possible so we can go straight sightseeing once we landed. Our flight was at 6:55 PM so it helped a bit to sleep in…..landing at 4:05 AM, very early! I was debating what to do so early in the morning and everything is closed! In the middle of the flight, the captain made an announcement: “for those of you who want to see Aurora in Iceland, look on your left, it’s right there!”. Everyone were super excited and tried to get a glimpse of it. Lucky us, we sat on the left side of the plane and our eyes were wandering around……there…..a very faint line of green! It does take time for your eyes to see it, especially the light and glare reflections inside the plane. I attempted to take pictures of it while the plane moving at 300+ miles per hour! I was super excited that it’s there, my first sight of Aurora. That was a great start of our trip……..

I couldn’t wait to see more!

We landed on time and going through custom and immigration was the fastest and easiest ever! They didn’t ask any question and just stamp our passports wow I guess they really welcomed visitors! We picked up our luggage and walked to the departure meeting point as instructed by Blue Car Rental direction to get to their office. From that exit, we walked across the street headed to the airport hotel direction and their office is right there. The moment we stepped out the sliding doors, it was freezing cold and super windy! We stepped back in and pulled out our jackets inside the luggage! It wasn’t freezing temp, it was like in the 40’s and you must think we are from Boston so we should be used to freezing temperature well you can’t blame us, it was 90’s when we left our house LOL! We walked over to the office and arrived at 4:50 AM, their office opens at 5 AM so 10 minutes of wait! My brother was on shorts haha, he had to pull out his sweatpants! At exactly 5 AM, two people came and opened the door! The rental pick up process was quite fast and she told us to always hold on to the door when opening because there were cases where strong wind blew the door off urg! Well we felt the strong wind so we’ll be extra cautious! As soon as hubby started the car, heat on full blast!!!

I punched in the address to the Hallgrímskirkja Church in the Nokia phone and off we go..it was still dark out and the sun just barely started to raise. From the airport to the capital city Reykjavik took around 40 minutes without traffic.

Our rental car, it looked quite new but no cruise control blah!!!

Parking in the very early morning was easy, we arrived at Hallgrímskirkja Church! It’s the tallest building in the capital with nice views of the entire city at the top but we were too early so it was closed! We took photos of the outside instead:

I had my winter jacket on!

The building shape is interesting to resemble lava flow, it looked like pipe organ to me!

Where should we head to next? It’s still 3 more hours to go before anything opens. We decided to not to wait or hang around and start our sightseeing! I know we might not have time to come back to the capital again so let’s visit another sight in the city – Harpa Concert Hall. The incredible building is next to the water and we saw our first Icelandic sunrise!

On the background are mountains and clouds covering the top..it looked like the clouds were floating down like lava, it was spectacular!

The glass building is the concert hall! The sunlight reflected by its glass and produced different colors!

A fish and chips food truck there but too bad it was not open yet!

The structure reminded me of honeycombs, it created a really cool 3 dimensional effect!

The building itself was tons of fun photographing! We were on the road again to the Golden Circle!!!

Those clouds floating out of the mountains were very dramatic to see! Hun, please keep your eyes on the road!

There were many speeding cameras that were visible inside the city and once we got out, we only see green mountains! They are probably hidden somewhere but to be safe, just drive at the speed limit and well posted! I have heard a saying Iceland is green and Greenland is ice, yep exactly correct!

Iceland wasn’t like this in my head, I was thinking it should look like Big Island, Hawaii where its mostly black volcano rock and sand not lust green like this! From far away, we saw white moving objects…OMG those are sheep everywhere! They just roam around freely, no fence, nothing to separate them from the what it supposed to be a highway OMG! They are sooooo cute!

In 35 minutes, we arrived at our first Icelandic nature experience – Thingvellir National Park where America meets Europe – the Mid-Atlantic Ridge tectonic plate! We were the 2nd car there whaha the whole place to ourselves! There’s a paid toilet there but it’s not open yet, however, there are restrooms for tour guides for free and the doors were open so we used them!

More info of the park:

We turned right and proceed to a viewing platform, the scenery there was so unreal! Beautiful!!!

The ridge:

 

Then we turned around and walked in further to the park:

The sun just peeking into the valley and made the stone like a golden wall!

Another viewing platform:

You can walk down as far as you like but don’t know where it leads to!

If you can read Icelandic haha!

Continue on to our Golden Circle route to Geysir! On the way, there are cute houses and we couldn’t help but stop for photos. BUT we didn’t pull over the road, it’s dangerous to others to do that please be considerate! We drove into a smaller road and found a safe parking spot to do so!

This one looked like a hotel, the view there should be spectacular

Continue on the road for another hour to get to Geysir. The road is route 37, not the famous Ring Road (route 1) yet. The 1 hour drive wasn’t bad with such nice views!

We arrived Geysir and it was still windy! There are visitor center, cafe, museum type gift shop, and restrooms! The parking lot wasn’t huge so be here early in the morning!

We had no idea where the famous Geysir is but we followed the small crowd and walked on this road across the street from the visitor’s center:

One thing I really liked about Iceland is that everywhere are free, no expensive admission for awesome natural scenery! We saw the smoke coming out from the ground here and there and warning sign regarding water is boiling hot! Within minutes of walk we saw a hole with rope around it to keep people from a distance and all suddenly boom!!!

We had no idea and surprised by the force of it….the hole looked smaller than I thought! We waited for the next one patiently, it burst every few minutes so be patient and you’ll see it! Oh…..have your camera ready to hit the shutter, it really happened quickly and unexpectedly! You have on way to tell when it’ll burst until it’s too late haha!

And each burst is different height too 🙂 We were there to see few times!

This is the geyser: Strokkur. The famous Geysir known as the Great Geysir has become inactive and according to wiki, it only erupts three times a day or less. Many people and online photos mistaken Strokkur as the Great Geysir and so are we!!! That was why it looked smaller than I thought! No wonder we saw people up there on the hill but there was nothing erupting so we didn’t think that’s the Geysir!

We walked back to the cafe and it’s like a mini market and cafeteria inside with hot and cold items! Coffee, soup, sandwiches, snacks and even Skyr, the famous Icelandic yogurt!

The price there is like at least 2X more than supermarket but we were in the middle of “nowhere” and just to try it out. The texture is very thick, super thick but very smooth to swallow and not as sour as Greek yogurt! I had the melon flavor but you can barely taste the melon flavor.

The cafe with indoor picnic tables:

Next stop in the Golden Circle route – Gullfoss, only 10 minutes away from Geysir! There’s a small souvenir shop there and a long walk way to one of the most powerful waterfall.

You don’t really notice where is the waterfall from here, you’ll need to walk down the stairs and then another long walkway to get there.

Gullfoss!

It’s so powerful that the mist quickly covered the glass of the lens so point your camera down and cover it with your jacket if possible!

It was super windy too!

Walking down to get near the waterfall!

The water fall into a plunge into the river that you really can’t see until you go up there. The mist almost cover the river entirely!

When you are near it you can feel the power of the fall!!! The power of nature!

We walked back up to the top viewing platform for another angle of the incredible fall.

As you can see one side of the fall is completely in shadow so I guess the prime time to be there is during noon time. And the angle of the sunlight and maybe the strong wind prevent the rainbow from appearing 😦 Usually pictures you see of Gullfoss included a rainbow!

The parking lot of Gullfoss is quite big so you can expect how many tourists visit this site during peak times! I saw this big 4×4 with huge tires!

That concluded our Golden Circle route and next we headed to the town of Selfoss for lunch before continuing to Seljalandsfoss.

More just like out of the picture scenery of Iceland – red farm and horses and cows!

We took route 30 onto the Ring Road. The interesting mountain piled with huge rocks!

One hour later, we reached Kaffi Krus – Austurvegur 7, Selfoss for lunch:

It’s a cute little house with a bakery and tables on the 2nd floor! Its menu……yes food in Iceland is expensive! A pizza cost 3220 ISK that’s like $26 USD!!!

We ordered the chicken alfredo, the pasta is so good and creamy with crunchy chicken!

Shell fish pasta:

The seafood pizza: very fresh ingredients including fried lobster! It was our first time having seafood pizza! It was as good as the pizza we had in Italy and a small touch of spiciness yummy! It was enough to share!

Three dishes plus 2 sodas for 5 of us came to be $73.73 USD!!! The food is good but very pricey…that restaurant is considered to be average priced yikes!

After all the sights we saw so far, it was only 2 pm….well we started at 6 AM! After the expensive lunch, we agreed we should cook for dinner instead of going out! There is a supermarket right next to the restaurant called Kronan. We went in to do some grocery shopping. Grocery there is expensive in our standard since most of the items are imported! I found my favorite Ritter Sports chocolates there!!! We bought drinks, yogurt of course, eggs (a dozen of eggs was like $5 woah), pasta, Icelandic hot dogs (have to try once), and meatballs. Getting meatballs (beef) was challenging as you really can’t tell by the picture if it’s beef or lamb or something else. The ingredient label is only in Icelandic LOL! We tried to use the T-Mobile phone to google translate it but no reception inside the supermarket! Our grocery: $66.93 USD but enough for breakfast and dinner!

We passed by a gas station and filled up, $39.18 USD, you never know where the next gas station is so make sure every time you see one fill your tank! Many gas stations out in the rural area has no attendant so it only accepts credit card, make sure your credit card has a smart chip and a 4 digit PIN! There English menu so don’t worry it quite easy to use it!

We are on the road again – the Ring Road. Look at that snow-capped mountain in the background wow!!!

We saw those white rolls all over the place that looked like marshmallows! Don’t you think so?

Another hour of driving, we reached Seljalandsfoss – a waterfall known for you can walk behind it! How many waterfalls in the world you can do that? There are people climbing up to the hill, not sure why, it’s quite steep!

The biggest waterfall there is Seljalandsfoss:

A little rainbow on the left side if you look closely:

We are here!

You’ll get wet in no time walking behind it!

It was quite an experience!

And cover your lens! I kept wiping it each time I took a picture!

And be cautious, it’s quite slippery!

Walking back up is hard…careful of slippery rocks! It’s easier to walk back on the walk you came but if you really want to walk around it to see it 360 degrees then pay extra attention and good walking shoes!

Hubby was all wet afterward!

Yay, we completed the 360 degree view!

Too bad it was cloudy when we were there so the colors weren’t great. I wished we could be there during sunset (assuming no cloud covering the sun), it’ll be AWESOME!

Our last stop of the long day: Skogarfoss which is another 30 minutes away. The water of Skogarfoss falls onto the ground, no pond! And there’s a stairway to walk up for view! See the stairway on the right side of the photo?

It’s a wide waterfall!

Another you can get up close to waterfalls! Again, we felt the power of nature!

We couldn’t see much as we get nearer to the fall because the amount of mist but it was really cool for photos like this:

Afterwards, we walked up to the stairs – good exercise!!!

I need to stop few times along the way to catch my breathe!

And photos along the way!

We finally reached the top and there’s a platform…don’t look down if you are like me – acrophobia!

From up here, you can see the waterfall from another angle that its water drop!

There’s also a fence you can climb across to see its river; my brother and hubby went over to check it out while I was catching my breathe and drink water!

There are few accommodation choices here at Skogarfoss. I booked a room at Hotel Skogarfoss but since my cousin decided to come along with us, we exceed the maximum occupancy of the room and they only had one room left 😦 Around one months prior to the trip, we had to cancel and find another place to stay –  Farmer’s Guess House in Hella town. We drove back to Hella town – a 45 minutes drive from Skogarfoss. The location of the farm house is actually outside of the town and one of those places the GPS had difficulty locating. We had to google it and find a main street nearby – Ásvegur.

One the way, more photos!

Those houses were built beneath and into that huge rock!

We pulled over the main road and took pics of the glacier on top of the mountain!

Everywhere is photogenic in Iceland!

More smaller waterfalls….the mountain is like a cake and rivers overflowing it creating waterfalls like icing on the cake!

The sky cleared up and we saw the blue sky once again! We were on the way back so we make a quick stop at Seljalandsfoss again for photos with blue sky!

It has a lot more people now! But look, there’s the rainbow!

 

We continued on with the drive and we found the road Ásvegur to turn left onto. Continued straight there were many farm houses and we were not sure which one is the one we’ll be staying! I remembered from booking.com photos how it looked like so we stopped there. I ringed the doorbell and no one there so lastly, I used my hubby’s phone and called the owner. He picked up and said he’ll come over right away. He showed us the house and it was clean and big enough to accommodate 8 people!

The living room:

There was a dining table there as well, the wall decors were very home like.

First floor bathroom:

The dining room and kitchen:

The kitchen has everything we need to cook a meal, he said we are welcomed to use the spices!

Stairways to the 2nd floor where all the bedrooms were located:

The 2nd floor living room:

One of the 4 bedrooms with views of the farm houses:

Bedroom #2:

Bedroom #3:

And bedroom #4:

It was very home-like comfortable! There was also a washer/dryer down at the basement as well. More decors:

The owner even showed us the horses he breed! We got to feed and pad them, it was another one of our unforgettable Iceland memories!

The super nice owner:

While we were preparing our dinner, we noticed the incredible sunset so we grabbed our cameras and went out for photos. Isn’t it great to have horses in your backyard as a backdrop for photos?

It was very cloudy that I was afraid that iwe wouldn’t be able to see the Northern Lights…and my nightmare came true even though the forecast said it’ was supposed to be clearing up in the middle of the night! I had my alarm set so I wake up every hour or so to check out the sky…no luck!

This was like 2 am in the morning 😦

 

It was definitely a long long day and we were surprised on how much we saw in just one day! The waterfalls were amazing and very easy to get to without much physical effort. Iceland day 1 – already amazing, we can’t wait to see more of it!

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16 thoughts on “Iceland Day 1: Golden Circle and Waterfalls

  1. Wow! The landscape & waterfalls are stunning! WOW air has good deals from Baltimore as well. Can’t wait to see the rest of your showcases. When did you go?

  2. I love all your blogs!!! Your photos are always beautiful and your write ups are so interesting and detailed and I love your personal commentaries. You inspire me to continue to travel. Looking forward to seeing more of your travel adventures! Dee from California

      • Yes, I have subscribed for over a year now! I always look forward to your latest posts. I like how budget minded you are, and yet you manage to stay at nice places and eat good foods. Your tips on planning are also very helpful. Yes, please continue your blogs! I am a devoted fan…

  3. Thanks for sharing this! You have just sent me back in time on a mini-vacation. 🙂 Bringing back sights and sounds of Iceland, the tranquility and peacefulness of 4 years ago, the lovely cold yet biting wind, the unpredictable weather. Oh how I miss Iceland! :`(

  4. All photos are beautiful. Iceland is one place that needs to be on my bucket list and be prioritize for my next travel. This is great. The place looks so peaceful.

      • You might like Havasu Falls in Arizona if it is on the way.The blue water looks great blended with the red rock.3 major water falls(2 are good for swimming).Your photographic skill would produce some great photos .Lodging options are indian lodge or camping by the river.9 mile hike to camping area and main falls.Hiking,horse or helicopter option to falls area.

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