On Day 1 of our Iceland campervan road trip, it was sideways-raining and gloomy outside. But we were still excited to begin our day of exploring the Golden Circle route and checking out the best South Iceland waterfalls. Armed with caffeinated beverages (since it was midnight at home in Denver) and water-proof gear, we set off to check out some of the most iconic things to do in Iceland.
Navigating the Ring Road
Driving around Reykjavik to get supplies was a bit stressful, as is navigating any big city for the first time. But once we got onto Route 1 (the Ring Road) it was smooth sailing from there. Everything is very well marked and easy to find.
We quickly learned the symbol for point of interest and stopped pretty much every time we spotted it. We actually called it “the wonder symbol” because we have an unhealthy obsession with the show An Idiot Abroad and like to quote it whenever possible. (If you haven’t seen it you really should).
We couldn’t see much through the gloom, but what we could see was beautiful – moss-covered lava fields, lakes, and streams. And we could even see mountains when the fog momentarily lifted!
The Golden Circle Route
By the time we reached the turn for the Golden Circle, it was around noon. So we decided to go to the amazing tomato soup place I read about in a blog. This isn’t traditionally on the Golden Circle Route, but Friðheimar Greenhouse was a worthy detour. I knew I could get tomato soup anywhere. But there was just something that sounded so lovely about eating fresh tomato soup in a warm Iceland greenhouse on such a gloomy day. I couldn’t get that dang soup out of my mind!
However, after about an hour of searching, I reluctantly agreed to give up and instead we made PB&Js and headed to Geysir. (Note: we decided to do our trip old school style with only a map. And ours didn’t happen to have Friðheimar Greenhouse on it – go figure. And the “just in case” Google directions I printed out were 100% worthless).
Geysir was a quick stop, but definitely worth seeing. It is hilarious how excited people get when they are doused with thick, warm smoke!
Geysir, an erupting hot spring, is basically inactive now, but its close neighbor Strokkur is much more reliable, with an eruption about every 10 minutes. We watched a few eruptions and got warmed up by the smoke. Then we headed on our way to see our first waterfall of the trip.
I don’t know if it was because the sun finally peeped out or because there were rainbows EVERYWHERE, but within minutes of arriving at Gullfoss I was in absolute awe. This waterfall is huge and you can see it from pretty much every angle – above, below and right next to it!
As we walked down to get closer to where the water was crashing, we were doused in mist and happiness. When we actually walked through one of the rainbows, I started questioning if maybe I had fallen and hit my head and was now dreaming.
After a quick search for a white rabbit with a pocket watch, I continued down the path to have a few moments of solitude by the water. And then a few more moments hugging my hubby and taking in how super-blessed we were to be in this magnificent place. It was at this point that we realized our photos would never do Iceland justice … but that’s no reason not to try!
First Night in our Happy Campers Iceland campervan
After probably two hours of enjoying the first of many waterfalls and taking dozens of pictures, we made some Ramen in our camper van kitchen. Then we started on our way to Þingvellir National Park.
However, we only got about 15 minutes from Gullfoss before Buddy finally hit his limit and needed sleep. So we stopped in a parking lot overlooking some beautiful open space and passed out as soon as we hit the bed – at about 7 p.m.
Þingvellir National Park
Around 9 a.m. we awoke rested and excited for day 2! And, what’s that in the sky? The sun! It was a beautiful day for adventuring and we took full advantage of it when we got to Þingvellir.
Our first stop was a little canyon that you could walk into and on top of. For some reason I got a little freaked out exploring the top part. I actually crawled (like a huge idiot) over a particularly narrow part. Apparently other tourists laughed and took pictures… but hey, maybe I’m a meme now? 🙂
We walked around the park for hours as we soaked up the sunlight – taking in another beautiful waterfall (Öxarárfoss), checking out the canyon created by tectonic movement, exploring historical places (it is the original meeting place for Iceland’s parliament) and watching snorkelers waddle over to swim in the fissure. Definitely a highlight of the Golden Circle Route and a must on the things to do in Iceland list!
Finding Friðheimar Greenhouse
After all that walking, we had worked up quite an appetite and I still had one thing on my mind – tomato soup! We decided we would try one more time to find the famed Iceland greenhouse, then write it off as a mystery.
They are only open from 12-4, so we had a little over two hours to find it. But, this time I had an X on a map that a nice gas station attendant had given me when I inquired. This had to work!
Flash forward to two hours later, after taking a wrong turn because I thought I saw a sign that actually wasn’t the right sign, we made it just in time to order before Friðheimar Greenhouse closed for the day! I almost cried with joy! And let me just tell you, it was well worth the effort to find this unique Iceland greenhouse! (Note: it is right off of Route 35 in Reykholt).
Devouring ALL THE FOOD!
As soon as you enter this adorable place, the warmth of the beautiful Iceland greenhouse feels like a big hug from your grandma. The plants surrounding you make you feel like you are in a secret garden, because you kind of are. And the table in the corner with unlimited bread and soup are just the cherry on top of the most delightful place you will probably ever eat lunch.
We ordered the pasta because it came with bread and soup, and we were starving! After making a plate of bread and a big bowl of soup, I happily cut some basil leaves off the plant at our table, tossed them on my soup and dived right into the best bowl of tomato soup ever. The wonderful waitress, who may have actually been an angel, brought us a plate of accompaniments for our soup which made a simple dish feel quite fancy.
Then came the pasta, which despite our best efforts, we had to have packaged to-go. Because we just couldn’t finish it all after the plate of bread we had destroyed.
I loved our entire experience at Friðheimar Greenhouse! I’m sure I’ll be having tomato soup dreams long into the future. Luckily, they sell the recipe on a postcard at their shop, so I can try my hand at recreating it!
We left with full bellies and happy hearts. But Day 2 wasn’t over yet – we still had more South Iceland waterfalls to see!
South Iceland Waterfalls
Of course, exploring the beautiful waterfalls of South Iceland is a must on the things to do in Iceland list. I knew you could see Seljalandsfoss from the Ring Road, so I had my eyes peeled. But you really can’t miss it – it is huge! There were a bunch of tourists taking pictures when we arrived. While we waited for them to clear out, we walked down to Gljúfrabúi. I had read that this was another must-see waterfall in South Iceland, but it really took our breaths away.
This spot was supposed to be somewhat of a secret, and hidden in a cave! I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but it did not disappoint.
As we walked up to a wall of stones, we saw someone appear from behind it and walk across the rocks in the stream to where we were standing. Without a second thought, I started hopping rocks to get into this waterfall wonderland.
I was immediately taken aback by the unique beauty and cold mist hitting me when I turned the corner into the cave. Pictures don’t even come close to capturing this spot. Even a video lacks the true essence. But I took one anyway: check it out here (excuse the poor video editing … it was my first one)!
I stood under this majestic beauty and laughed as the thick mist drenched me from head to toe, letting it wash away all of my real-life responsibilities and obligations. After a few minutes, I emerged a care-free adventurer who was head-over-heels in love with Iceland. And this was only Day 2.
Buddy and I walked out of the cave with huge smiles right as the sun was beginning to set. Realizing daylight was fading, we hustled back to Seljalandsfoss.
This waterfall is equally spectacular in its own way. We stayed here for a while to take lots of pictures and another mist-shower. You can actually walk behind this massive waterfall, which is another one of those “you had to be there” experiences. There are just some things you can’t capture in pictures (or words). And I think that makes the experience even better. Like you are part of a big secret, or a winner of a special prize.
Before the sun completely went into hiding, we went up the road a bit to see Skógafoss (another massive waterfall). We stayed there until it was dark then headed into Vik to camp.
There is actually a stairway that goes up the side of Skógafoss to the top where there is more hiking. But we were just too exhausted to make the trek and headed out to find a South Iceland camping spot!
Day 2 had been nothing less than amazing, but little did we know it wasn’t quite over yet. Check out the next blog, Blown Away by South Iceland: Adventures Near Vik, to read about our Northern Lights sighting & more on the wonders of South Iceland – including black sand beaches and the craziest hike of our lives!
And for more Iceland travel stories from our fall camper van road trip, check out our Iceland page!