Reykjanes Peninsula Tour – Iceland
Morning Day 1 of My Virtual Iceland Adventure
April 25th 2020, was supposed to be the start of my Iceland Adventure, on the way to the UK for my annual visit with my mum in Newquay, Cornwall. I was going to tour Iceland for a week visiting popular hot spots as well as hidden gems. However, due to COVID-19 and the travel restrictions needed to prevent the spread of the disease, my flights to Iceland and the UK were cancelled (which I expected). So, I decided to tour Iceland virtually instead (via Google Maps—which I do quite often anyway) and to share my virtual journey of Iceland with you. If Iceland is on your travel bucket list, come with me as I take you on a Virtual Iceland Adventure.
Reykjanes Peninsular Tour
a Detour from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik
Why travel straight to Reykjavik when there is so much to see, do and experience on a Reykjanes Peninsula Tour?
Skip to the bottom for a short video if you prefer to just see pictures!
Arrival in Iceland
At around 5:25 am, my red eye flight from Toronto arrived safely in Iceland, a country that can only be described as dramatically stunning, starkly beautiful and volcanically spectacular. Thankfully, I had chosen a window seat and was welcomed to Iceland with an incredible view of the volcanic landscape as the plane made its descent. I could see Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and various mountains in the distance—what a wonderful sight for tired eyes!
Best of all, I could see the sun rising over the glacier-scarred landscape as the plane banked. In late April, there’s around 16 hours of daylight in Iceland due to its northerly position, so by 5:20 am the sun was just rising over the horizon. Watching the dawn rise over Iceland as the plane descended was an amazing sight! (I was too bleary-eyed to take photos, so you’ll just have to believe me! *wink wink*)
Keflavík International Airport is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula also known as the Southern Peninsula Reykjanesskagi which is located southwest of Reykjavík. Before heading to the city, which is roughly a 45-minutes drive, and checking into my first night’s accommodation, I had planned to tour the Reykjanes Peninsula, as it was not only too early to check in, but I wanted to make the most of my first morning in Iceland…despite being a tad jet-lagged. A frequent flyer on the red eye to the UK, I was used to being up 36-hours on my first day—I rarely got much (if any) sleep on the night flight.
Instead of the short drive from the airport to the city centre, I would be spending the whole morning touring the Reykjanes Peninsula coast, half the afternoon travelling from the Southern Peninsula Region to the Capital Region and then on to Reykjavík. I wanted to see some must-see hot spots along the route as well as some hidden gems that required some knowledge of the area, more detours and, in some cases, some hiking over volcanic landscapes to find. As an Inspired by Iceland Specialist, a travel planner and a frequent Google Maps Virtual Traveller, I’m quite familiar with Iceland and had already created my itinerary.
First stop, Garður Old Lighthouse
After picking up my rental car from the airport, which I had pre-booked of course, I turned on the GPS and entered the first landmark on my itinerary… Garður Old Lighthouse which is located on the northern tip of the Peninsula, just a short drive from the airport. Inside the 120-year-old lighthouse there is a quiet restaurant, which is apparently a great place to watch the sunset in solitude (according to hiticeland.com) and Northern Lights. If I have time at the end of my trip, I may revisit to watch the sunset before heading to the airport and returning my car. It was probably too late in the season to see the Aurora Borealis, but who knows.
Nearby is another lighthouse as well as the Garður Folk Museum, where inside there is another restaurant (there’s also one on the way back too). It was tempting to get breakfast, but I had lots of sights to see on my mapped out detour of the Reykjanes Peninsula and had planned to get a late breakfast in Grindavik, a fishing village near the famous Blue Lagoon.
Crossing a Bridge between Continents
After a few photos of the fishing boats outside the museum and of both lighthouses, I headed back towards the airport and then west on route 44 to my next destination…Leif the Lucky’s Footbridge in Sandvik. This bridge, also known as a Bridge between Continents, crosses the plate boundary between Europe and North American, the Mid Atlantic Ridge. As you know, I’m a fan of geology, so this tectonic landmark was definitely a must-see experience on my itinerary. If you cross the divide over the bridge you can actually take home a personalized certificate at the visitor centre, but since I’m travelling virtually, I’ll grab that on my real visit!
After crossing Leif’s footbridge and attempting to get a selfie of me straddling two continents, I headed for Valahnúkamöl, a rugged coastal area on the southern tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Rugged coastal Valahnúkamöl and Reykjanesviti
On the way to Valahnúkamöl, I came to Reykjanesviti, Iceland’s oldest lighthouse (yes older than Garður Old Lighthouse), which was originally built in 1878 and then rebuilt in 1907-1908 after it was destroyed by an earthquake. I stopped to take some photos of the lighthouse as well as the surrounding landscape from Bæjarfell Hill, on which the lighthouse stands.
I then parked up near the cliff tops of Valahnúkur mountain where I got an incredible view of the volcanic and wave ravaged coastline. Just off the shore I saw some pointed lava stacks jutting out of the ocean as well as a small island called Eldey which I learned is a protected bird reserve and home to the largest gannet colony (fullsuitcase.com).
Gunnuhver Hot Springs – the first of many
I stayed a few minutes to soak in the fresh cool air and then headed for the next hot spot on my list… Gunnuhver Hot Springs. A wooden planked pathway takes you to a lookout over the steaming geothermal hot spring landscape. It’s usually a popular nature reserve, but today I was lucky enough to have the place to myself. I can’t describe how it smells here (maybe next time), but as you can see from this photo, it’s amazing to see the steam spewing from the rugged red volcanic landscape. If you visit, be sure to stay on the marked pathways as the steaming vents are very hot and dangerous.
Brunch at Grindavík fishing harbour
Next stop on my agenda was Grindavík, which as I mentioned earlier is a fishing village on the southern shore of the Reykjanes Peninsula, about 5 kilometres from the famous Blue Lagoon. Instead of heading to the Blue Lagoon, which by now would be a busy, tourist hot spot, I had decided to get a late breakfast at Café Bryggjan, right on the harbour front (I had other lagoons and geothermal baths and spas on my itinerary to visit later). At Café Bryggjan, I hoped to sit and watch the comings and goings of the local fishermen and get a taste of authentic Icelandic way of life while I tucked into authentic Iceland food. It was a hard choice between their lobster or lamb soup, but since it’s a fishing village I chose lobster…yum. It was even warm enough to sit outside for awhile on the patio with my Icelandic coffee.
Bryggjan Cafe, Grindavík, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland (screenshot taken on Google Maps on my Virtual Iceland Adventure)
South Coast Drive of the Reykjanes Peninsula
After eating my fill and chatting with a couple of friendly locals, I took a short stroll on the harbour front to take some photos before heading to my next stop on route to Reykjavík. Grindavik is not the prettiest of fishing towns (at least not by the fish yard) and it had a definite fishy sea air about it, but the meal was delicious, the locals friendly and the surrounding lava landscape that I passed on the east coast shore drive was stunning.
I had a couple more landmarks along the coastal route to visit, including Selatangar Beach and Krysuvikurberg Cliffs, plus several stops on route to Reykjavik, including Gígvatnsvatn and Grænavatn (a small crater lake), Seltún Geothermal Area and Geothermal Place plus Kleifarvatn, a stunning lake I definitely wanted to experience. I knew it would likely be two-three more hours before I arrived in Reykjavik, but couldn’t resist a few unplanned stops (as you do when you’re on vacation—virtual or otherwise!
When planning my trip, I had decided that, since the weather in April can be unpredictable in Iceland (actually it can be unpredictable in Iceland any time of year) and winter weather could still be possible during my visit, it would be best to rent a 4WD vehicle so that I could get to some of the more off-the-beaten-path places I wanted to visit. It also meant, if I came across an interesting spot on my road trip, I could still get to it, no matter how rough the road (and, trust me, there are many rough spots on Iceland’s back roads).
Thankfully I did…you’ll see why next…
Tip: Rent a 4WD Vehicle while in Iceland…You’re Welcome!
Whatever you do…if you want to visit here, be sure to rent a 4WD vehicle, or you’ll have at least a 40-minute round-trip hike to the rocky beach, not to mention the 20-minute hike to the abandoned fishing village.
Abandoned Fishing Village at Selatangar
Next stop on my itinerary was Selatangar where I would find a rocky black sand beach and, if I looked hard enough, I’d find a path that would lead me to an abandoned fishing village. I was intrigued by the story of the old settlement of Selatangar. According to Icelandic legend it was haunted in the late 19th century and had been abandoned in 1880. Now in ruins, it’s a protected monument. It was a definite must-see-experience on my Reykjanes Peninsula Tour but I knew it would be difficult to get to. The two-kilometre track to the parking lot is rough, but until you get there you don’t realize just how rough. Even though I had a 4WD, I had to drive really slowly to avoid damaging my rental car (which of course I wanted to ensure at all cost) and bumping around in my seat!
Once I got to the parking lot, I looked for the sign pointing the way to the abandoned fishing village and hiked a small path through the lava fields to get there. It was well-worth the hike and was a highlight of my Reykjanes Peninsula Tour. The remains of around 20 abandoned fishing huts and other buildings line the shore. Knowing about the legend, it felt a little eerie, however, I didn’t see any ghosts. I did enjoy learning about the history of the abandoned village from the signs at the monument.
After walking back to the parking lot, I went a little further down the track to the black sand beach. Wow…the waves are powerful here. No wonder they say not to turn your back to the ocean in Iceland. Really glad I took the time to visit this hidden gem…and luckily someone else was visiting in a 4WD, so I got a ride back to where I parked my car.
Stunning Krysuvikurberg Cliffs
I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to see Krysuvikurberg Cliffs during my trip. The three kilometres stretch of gravel road to get to them from the coastal road is rough and not suitable to drive on in a small car, especially when wet. The walk to the cliffs from the road would take about 45 minutes each way, which would leave me less time to visit the other highlights of my Reykjanes Peninsula Tour and still leave time to explore Reykjavik once I’d checked in. However, since I had decided to get a 4WD, it wasn’t an issue, and I was presented with a beautiful view of the rocky shoreline. I didn’t get too close to the edge of the cliffs though. They are very steep and it was quite blustery. I know how unpredictable coastal cliffs can be and didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. I walked for a bit and then made my way back to the car and onto my next stop…which I will tell you all about in my next blog post.
Writing my “virtual” journal seems to take longer than the actual touring would (I started this first entry a week ago), so instead of a daily journal, I will attempt to post once or twice a week—splitting my journal into mornings, afternoons and evenings. If Iceland is on your travel bucket list, join me again next time on My Virtual Iceland Adventure.
Note: since this is a virtual tour and has been created for fun during the COVID-19 lockdown, none of the photos on this page were taken by me. Some are screenshots of Google Maps Streetviews or photos submitted by others who have already visited. while others are from Pixabay or Unsplash, or linked to from another website. If you see one of your photos and I have not credited you appropriately, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to either ask to be credited or to have it removed. Once I can visit for real, I will be replacing all the photos with my own.
Want to experience Iceland?
As your Certified Inspired by Iceland Specialist, I can help you plan everything for your visit whether you’re travelling solo, as a couple or in a small group. I can help arrange an escorted group tour (G Adventures offer a wide range of tours including their National Geographic Journeys) or a completely tailor-made itinerary just for you. Contact me to start planning…