Day 7: the world’s oldest parliament
After a big breakfast in our hotel, we headed to Gullfoss waterfall, which it turned out was literally at the end of the road leading to the hotel.
There was hardly anyone there, so we took advantage of this to take some good pictures and explore a little bit. A few of the paths around the falls to the various viewing stations were shut as there was still so much snow and ice on the ground. We had seen a lot of waterfalls in the last week and this did not disappoint. Gullfoss is a huge waterfall which is both high and broad- far larger than the others we had seen on our trip.
After snapping some pictures we were back in the car and on our way to Þingvellir, which was about an hour’s drive. If I did this tour again, I’d be tempted to stay closer to Þingvellir, as both Geysir and Gulfoss can easily be visited in a fairly short amount of time, whereas Þingvellir is a longer visit with more activities to avail of. The area is also readily accessible from Reykjavik, with Þingvellir just 40km away.
Þingvellir is a Unesco World Hertiage Site, due both to the natural environment and its cultural importance. Þingvellir was the seat of Iceland’s parliament, the Alþingi, the world’s oldest parliament. Sessions were held at Þingvellir from 930 AD until 1798. There are still temporary turf dwellings visible on the site, which were set up by visitors to the Alþingi, many of whom went there to trade as part of an annual social meeting.
The site itself is stunning, with huge rock formations, even more waterfalls (didn’t I say there was one around every corner in Iceland?). Öxarárfoss is particularly dramatic, with the water from the falls running away down through the huge jagged rocks.
After exploring Þingvellir it was time for our most exciting activity of the trip, which we had booked on a whim after learning that our ice cave tour was cancelled- snorkelling in the Silfra fissure between the American and Eurasian continental plates. As with all activities on offer in Iceland, it was crazy expensive – you could spend so much money there if you did everything, but this was totally worth it. Where else are you going to be able to snorkel in crystal clear waters between two continents?! We booked with Dive Iceland.
Snorkelling at Silfra
At Silfra, the plates drift apart by 2cm every year. Visibility in the water is over 100m due to the extensive filtering (for up to 100 years!) of the glacial water from Langjökull before it comes to rest in the fissure. Some people report getting vertigo from diving here because they can see so far down.
The snorkelling tour takes you through the various sections of the fissure: Silfra Big Crack, Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral, and Silfra Lagoon in a group, with about 30 – 40 minutes spent in the water. Despite the dry suit and other precautions, it is utterly freezing in the water and towards the end, when you have time to explore a small area on your own, it’s hard to stay in too long as the cold is starting to get to your hands badly. They tell you to keep as still and straight as possible in the water to stop more cold seeping in- they are absolutely right, you soon keep still after you’ve done it a few times!
This is truly an unforgettable experience- I’m only sad that I don’t have any photos of the experience (although you can buy these from the tour operator).
We decided we needed to warm up after our freezing cold snorkelling adventure, so we consulted the guidebook and found the nearby Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa. What a great way to relax after a very cold day out!
The spa offers a range of packages and tours if you fancy booking ahead. It’s great value compared to sites like the Blue Lagoon and has a great position, looking out over the Lake Laugarvatn. It has pools and saunas of varying temperatures (some clearly for experts, not those of a delicate disposition like me!) and was such an enjoyable way of spending a few hours – I could have stayed all night!
Just opposite the spa is a really great local restaurant, Lindin, where we had dinner that evening. I wholeheartedly recommend this relaxing combo if you’re in the area.
Our route to Þingvellir and back to the hotel via Laugarvatn
Day 8: homeward bound
Our last in Iceland. After an amazing trip, it was time to head to the airport. We pointed Google maps back towards Keflavik and set off. It was another stunning drive, crossing snow capped mountain passes and more stunning and changeable landscape. I only regret not leaving enough time for a more leisurely drive, as there’s always something to stop and take photos of.
There was time for one last Viking lager in the airport before we headed back to the UK. This will not be my last visit to Iceland- there are so many other wonderful things to see in both summer and winter. I’d happily do exactly the same trip again and would no doubt be astounded all over again by the variety and drama of the landscape.
This destination should be on everyone’s short list- I’d love to hear how you get on.
My 7 day Iceland itinerary
This has been slightly amended from my actual trip, back to what we had originally planned before delays and cancellations forced some on-the-hoof rescheduling. There is heaps more to do and plenty of different ways to see the same areas or spend 7 days in Iceland- this is just one suggestions which my friend and I really enjoy.