In an effort to be “fiscally responsible,” for my trip to Ireland I purchased a ticket through WOW airlines which afforded me a considerable layover in Reykjavik in either direction. Although I could have chosen a shorter layover, I am so happy that I chose a 17 hour layover en route and a 9 hour layover on my return. In this time I was able to explore the town of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and the Blue Lagoon. This little sample was enough to inspire me to one day return to Iceland and circumnavigate the island along the Ring Road, but until then, here’s Reykjavik in a Layover.
The Golden Circle (~6-8 hours):
Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site), which is the site of the ancient Icelandic parliament formed in 930AD. This is the first ever democratically elected parliament, and while it no longer meets in the National Park (it did until 1798), it IS still functional and governing (with the exception of 47 years when Iceland was subject to Norwegian and Danish monarchies). This is also the site where the Icelandic people officially voted to abandon their pagan beliefs in favor of Christianity.
The landscape here is so aggressive, drastic, and charged, shaped by the tension between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which you can actually view on land. That said, if you are inclined for water, you can also opt to scuba or snorkel in the Silfra fissure, but if you aren’t inclined for literal freezing temperatures, you may want to reconsider. Being surrounded by stark magma rock formations covered in golden and green Icelandic moss elicited an almost eerie feeling of being on a different planet.
After exploring Thingvellir, we progressed to the Gullfoss waterfall, literally the “Golden Waterfall” – befitting a monument on the Golden Circle. Gullfoss is actually a series of two waterfall teeming with water from the melting Langjökull Glacier, upstream of the Hvítá River.
In the early 1900s there was a custody battle for the giant waterfall between the daughter of the farmer who owned the land and a businessman who wanted to harness the power of the waterfall for hydroelectricity. Ultimately the daughter won, protecting this roaring beauty for all of us to enjoy. There is nothing like standing next to such a powerful natural phenomenon to make me feel small and insignificant, in a way that is actually quite comforting. Sometimes I can get caught up in my head, racing around chasing problems that seem so HUGE to me, but standing next to Gullfoss brought me back to myself and lent some much needed perspective to how small I am in the grand scheme of the world. Be prepared to get wet! I rented water proof pants for this adventure!
The final stop on the Golden Circle is the Geysir, for which all other geysers are named! Geysir can mount a spray up to 70m high but it very rarely erupts now and can go several years between eruptions. It is currently dormant, but right next to it is the Strokkur geyser, which erupts every 6 – 10 minutes. This area is also full of fumaroles which emit warm sulfuric steam from deep in the ground. They’re beautiful and ethereal but smell kind of like eggs.
After the Golden Circle I was dropped off along the waterfront of Reykjavik, by the sculpture The Sun Voyager, paying homage to Iceland’s Viking roots but representing the freedom and possibility of the future. Just down the street is the Harpa Concert Hall,home of the national symphony and opera, noted for its unique glass honeycomb architecture. The varied colors of the glass looks almost like a hologram!
I then took a stroll through town, down the oldest shopping street, Laugavegur (“wash road”), to Tjörnin Lake by City Hall, an iconic area of “small town, old time architecture.”Finally, I went to catch up with some friends at a local seafood restaurant down on the dock. Afterwards, we grabbed some beers and laid in front of the Hallgrímskirkja, a local Lutheran Church and the tallest structure in the all of Iceland. Then I grabbed a quick 2 hour nap at a hostel by the bus stop (which I had pre-booked before realizing how safe Iceland and I definitely could have just napped at the bus stop or the airport with tons of other people on layover) and then returned to the airport to continue to Ireland!
The Blue Lagoon:
So apparently this is ranked now as one of the 25 wonders of the world. It is truly iconic, just as blue as it looks in the pictures, and soooo welcomingly warm in winter! I did just the regular day package which includes access to the lagoon, a silica face mask, and a drink. It was the absolute perfect way to stretch out and relax between my flights! I’m not sure whether or not my face looked any more “youthful” or anything after the face mask, but I definitely felt pampered! PS- a bus will pick you up from the airport and deliver you back, but only within certain hours, otherwise it’s a $100 cab ride if you miss your bus — not that that happened to me, I just heard it through the free-wine-grapevine *wink wink* jk it totally happened to me.