Reykjavik, the home of most of Iceland’s population (and thriving tourism industry), sits within an hour or two’s drive of three geological features that it’s renowned for: Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir. (That odd-looking first character ‘Þ’ is not a ‘P’; it’s actually pronounced like ‘th’.)
We made a stopover in Iceland for a few days en route to the United Kingdom, and decided to tour these sights by bus with Reykjavik Excursions rather than rent a car big enough to tote our family around. ($400/day for a minivan!) We were hoping to be able to see as much of the country as we possibly could in our limited time frame and this seemed a decent way to go about doing so.
Our family had never done a group tour by bus before, so this was a bit of an adventure from that perspective as well. And how was it, you ask? Frankly, it didn’t suit our family very well but that in no way reflects on the tour itself. We discovered that, with four kids to travel with, we didn’t much like being in a position of being told when to get on or off a bus, or having someone else determine how long we had at each location. (Absolutely NO offense to the tour guides or drivers, who did a fine job! Again, it just didn’t suit our family very well.) Shepherding four children around, we never seemed to have enough time to make all the necessary bathroom visits, or be sufficiently patient to manage as nice photos of the day as we were hoping for. In the end, we chalked the tour bus trip up to a learning experience.
On the bright side, the tour rates were very reasonable when you consider that all four of our children, being under 11 years old, traveled for free! This was certainly the most economical way for us to see the sights. If you are short on time, want to see as much as possible, and are happy to leave the driving to someone else, then a tour with Reykjavik Excursions is a fine way to see the sights. Just because it didn’t work entirely well for our family doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a perfectly good option for someone else.
All that being said, here’s the scoop on the individual locations we visited:
* Gullfoss is one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls, with the highest volume of water of any waterfall in Europe. (Located on a river fed by glacial runoff, the warmer summer months produce a very swift-flowing current!) It’s carved out of lava fields and stretches about 100′ high over several tiers.
* Geysir is a field of hot springs, boiling mud pits, and several geysers. The most reliably active geyser, Strokkur, was spouting about every 5 minutes with a column of water near 100′ in the air while we were there. Two other geysers also exist within a few hundred feet of it, but are less predictable. Several footpaths take you around the area and up a nearby hill to look over the geysirs.
* Þingvellir was the cultural center of Iceland during the first few hundred years after its founding (in the AD 900’s), but now is more significantly recognized for its geological significance. The tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia meet here, making it possible to observe continental drift as they separate (a few inches per year) creating fissures reaching deep into its volcanic rock base. These range in size up to huge chasms, and tourists can follow footpaths or even scuba dive where they are filled with water.
One of the best things about these Icelandic sights is that you can get up close and personal with nature, coming right up to the edge of the cliffs and water features with very little in the way of barriers. (They’d be treated very differently as American attractions!) Still, tourists abound, and because they are quite popular, gift shops, eateries, museums, and bathrooms can be found at every stop.
Visiting these sights was an impressive and unique experience, but we’d find it more satisfying to do so with a bit more autonomy than being embedded in a swarm of other tourists. Iceland has a plentiful supply of these kinds of locations, and we’d probably get more enjoyment from being a bit more “off the beaten path” than the standard tourist bus options allow for. Lesson learned!
We do very much hope to be able to visit Iceland again in the future, spend a longer period of time, and travel about at our own leisure. There is much to see, explore and enjoy here and we feel like our visit, especially this tour, merely whet our appetite for the untamed, beautiful country of Iceland.