Our top reasons for renting a car in Iceland were.
- Affordability – The cost for the shuttles to and from the airport and the two tours we wanted to do would have been almost $900. The three-day rental was only $400.
- Flexibility – Bus tours would mean we would be spending more time getting on and off the bus than seeing the sights. The car would allow us to take our time to see what we wanted to see.
- Mobility – We could use the car to see a bit more of Reykjavik and the surrounding area on the last day, without booking another tour.
Every day when we woke up and went to bed, we would check the 5 day weather forecast ad every day it would tell us to expect rain showers in Reykjavik. The truth is there were rain showers, but for the most part, they were not where we were.
A lot of breakfast places in Reykjavik did not open until 9 AM. We set off to find one open at 8 and settled on Lauf, a place that had numerous small plates on the menu. You marked your choices on a card and they would bring your selections. Great in theory, but Pat had allergies, so a little more complex in the end. We managed to get fed, but plates were small and the cost for breakfast was around $55. After breakfast, we purchased sandwiches from Sandholt Bakery ($57 for 2 sandwiches).
On the road at last, Gertie got us out of town nicely and within minutes, we justified our choice to rent a car. The scenery was stunning, even in the cloudy light we faced this day. It was not long before we spotted this church and just had to turn off the road for a look. The lupins made framing shots easy.
Back on the road, we rolled through more stunning scenes until we hit þingvallavatn lake (the letter þ sounds kinda like a t) at the edge of Þingvellir Nasjonalpark. The lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in Iceland at 84 square kilometers with a depth of up to 114 meters.
Moving on, it did not take us long to get to the National Park, the site of the first Icelandic Parliament in 930 and now a beautiful walk in the rift valley created by shifting tectonic plates. After paying $6.55 to park and $2.61 to use the washroom, we set off on our hike. It was unlike anything we had ever seen. We were barely out of the vehicle, when the sand flies were on us like stink on a monkey. We swatted and flished, buttoned our coats up to our chin and covered our heads with our hoods, all to no avail. They were everywhere, even on my camera lens. They must have got the memo that advising fresh tourists were coming.
There were rock swirls from lava flow
and birds of every description.
At long last, we decided we had best be moving on and instead of paying another $2.62 to pee, we bought a couple of magnum ice cream bars for $10.50. It was at this point that I came up with a new name for Iceland….I would call it PRIceland. I am going to digress here to explain why most things in Iceland are so expensive.
- Labour rates are among the highest in the world and include 12% union dues, 37-46% income tax and parental leave at almost full salary.
- Farming is tightly regulated and there are importation restrictions on many agricultural items as well as price controls on local products. Almost everything required to run a modern farm must be imported. Locally produced milk costs twice what imported milk would cost, but, milk importation is forbidden.
- Importation costs on this island nation are high.
- There is an 11% VAT on food and another 24% VAT on nearly everything to make food.
- If you are in a tourist trap outside a major center, prices will be high, because they know people will pay them.
Due to this, Reykjavik is the most expensive capital in Europe to visit.
Now, back to spending our money. En route to our next stop (Geysir Thermal Region) , scenery continued to astonish, with mountains, valleys, streams and rivers. There were plenty of choices to pull over for our picnic lunch…which we ate inside the car….to avoid the voracious sand flies.
Arriving at the Geysir (Gay-Sur) visitor center, we were happy to be able to park and pee for free. Setting off across the road to the geothermal area, it began to sprinkle intermittently. We gathered with a large group around the smaller geyser Strokkur and did not have long to wait before it erupted 30 meters into the air. Wow, OK, lets hike over to Geysir only 80 meters away and watch that show. We waited and waited and waited, all to no avail. And the funny thing is there were only about 10 of us waiting. Eventually we gave up as Strokkur continued to erupt every 4-6 minutes. We wandered around the rest of the place past bubbling pools, muddy paths and lupins, every once in a while hearing the shrieks of delight as Strokkur performed. But, Geysir never did (until much later when we drove by on our return trip). Turns out Geysir is not a regular kind of geyser. It has erupted up to heights of 170 meters but eruptions are infrequent and unpredictable and at times can stop for years. Good thing we did not hang around.
Leaving the area, we crossed some road reconstruction and marvelled that any car could survive these road conditions. Our destination was the waterfall, Gulfoss on the Hvita River, which was not far away. We soon arrived to another packed parking lot. While the drop is only 32 meters in two stages, the size of the falls is immense. At one point, a hydro-electric generator was proposed for this site, but due to lack of money and public protest, it never happened and the site is now protected by law.
We felt very lucky to be here, especially as the slight drizzle seemed to dampen the sand flies enthusiasm. Oh, they were still there, but now they were trying to get out of the rain and into our car, for our continued swatting enjoyment.
As much as we tried, Gertie could not find our next stop, Kerid, a 3,000 year old volcanic crater, 55 meters deep, 170 meters wide and 270 meters across. Driving along, we just managed to turn in after spotting the small sign. The parking lot was small, as were the crowds and at only $5.22 admission each, it was a steal. Sun was starting to break through the clouds, so the shadows and colours of the crater and lake were quite dramatic. As we climbed up to the top, we spotted another crater and another and another, marching off into the distance. We were clearly in a volcanic zone.
Golden Circle route almost complete, we headed back to Reykjavik about an hour away, stopping to admire the scenery
or simply rolling on by and window snapping.
No luck finding parking near our apartment, so we headed up the hill to Halgrimmskirkja and the free parking. We opted to go back to the same restaurant and had the fish of the day, grilled salmon on mashed potatoes with Portobello mushrooms and bacon sauce…….yummmm, bacon sauce.
Did I mention that there are almost 24 hours of daylight at this time of the year. Leaving the restaurant, the sun was shining and I thought there might never be a better time to go up the 74.5 meter tower of Hallgrimskirkja, the largest Lutheran church in Iceland, built in 1945. Crowds were light and we were son admiring the fine views of Reykjavik.
the Perlan hot water storage building used to store heated geothermal water for heating, as well as housing concert/exhibition space, a restaurant and 3 shops.
the beautiful Harpa concert hall, opened in 2011 at a cost of 164,000,000 Euro
and some older Reykjavik houses, including this one with a sod roof.
The tower was getting crowded, so we decided to head down for a look at the church interior. A little austere, but nonetheless, beautiful.
Returning to our apartment for the night, we stopped for a chat with some new friends.