After Snæfellsnes, I wondered if our Iceland trip had already peaked there. No, it hadn't, and Iceland had so much more to offer. On our long journey back to Reykjavík, we had time to take a detour inland to visit a couple more sights.
We first stopped at a small gorge under an overpass, a nameless offshoot of the larger Norðurá River nearby, which was wide and covered by thin ice. Our next stop was Deildartunguhver, a natural hot spring, where we again decided against spending any money to bathe.
The first major attraction were Hraunfossar, meaning Lava Waterfalls, and Barnafoss, meaning Children's Waterfall. The former was a wide waterfall that seemed to seep out of the wall of a large gorge, cascading into the river below, while the latter was a smaller waterfall within a narrow winding gorge. A hiking trail took us from a viewing location across the gorge from Hraunfossar to a spot overlooking the torrents of Barnafoss flowing through a stone arch. The constant rain made the melting snow and ice on the trail especially slippery, and we didn't explore any further, as we were already soaked through.
We spent the next few hours driving back to City HI Hostel in Reykjavík, as the rain gradually cleared the snow from the fog-covered mountains, exposing their dark green slopes.
The next day, we departed Reykjavík and toured the famous Golden Circle, a series of attractions not far from the city. We were lucky to have fine weather on this gem-packed day. We first arrived at a small, half-frozen lake called Leirvogsvatn, which supplied a refreshing river stream.
We continued onto Þingvellir, a rift valley that marks that boundary between North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is situated next to the much larger Þingvallavatn Lake, where one could scuba dive through the underwater fault line.
The entrance of the national park led directly into the rift valley overlooking a vast plain. As the park is not far from Reykjavík, we saw a large amount of tourists arriving in droves, some clearly struggling to walk on the snowy rocks.
At the end of the long valley was a spectacular waterfall called Öxarárfoss. Within the span of a few minutes, light snow gave way to a delightful blue sky.
Þingvellir is not only a tourist attraction, but it also holds historical and cultural significance to the Icelandic nation. Until 1798, the valley had been the location of the Alþingi, Iceland's parliament. Established at Þingvellir in 930, it is the oldest continuously held parliament in the world.
We stopped briefly at a vista point with a spectacular panoramic view of the plains and mountains surrounding Þingvallavatn.
Driving onward, we reached Geysir, the origin of the English word geyser. The park was dotted with large and small pools of steaming blue water surrounded by reddish brown minerals. As the water boiled deep in the two largest pools, it would gush out in a tall column, leaving a plume of lingering white steam. The largest pool, the Great Geysir, is said to erupt every few hours, or manually triggered on National Day—but we didn't have the luck to see it. Instead, we stood around the second largest pool, Strokkur, and watched it erupt with great force every few minutes.
By this point, we were merely halfway through the Golden Circle. Just 10 minutes from Geysir was Gullfoss, a truly awe-inspiring sight—solid ground appeared to be cracked open, forming a deep canyon and an abrupt drop in a wide river. Torrents of river water relentlessly drop into the canyon, producing a constant rumble. Standing next to this great rift, humans looked helplessly insignificant.
On the returning side of the Golden Circle, we drove another hour to our final stop, Kerið Crater. This volcanic crater had been filled by rain and snow and formed a now ice-covered lake, rather like a dog bowl. As we walked along the rim of the crater, sunlight escaped through gaps in the clouds, painting the plains around the crater golden yellow.
That night, we skipped Reykjavík and drove directly to our BnB near Vík, in anticipation of our journey along the southern coast of Iceland in the next two days.