Driving the Golden Circle & NYE in Iceland

Photo of the sun through the steam of a geysir in winter

Matt and I both woke from vivid dreams in the morning. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but Matt was eager to hit the road as the skies were clear for stargazing and northern lights! Due to my sloth-like morning tendencies, we didn’t get out until 9:45am, just as the sky was beginning to turn twilight blue.

White mountains loomed in the distance and soon there was white snow as far as the eye could see. Sun rose around 11am when we were in the Þingvellir National Park. Even in the dead of winter, the place was full of tourists!

Photo of a snowy mountain against a blue sky

Driving the Golden Circle

I was glad Matt was driving with all the blowing snow across the road. It was quite beautiful and mysterious to watch.


Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park. It is home to the natural amphitheatre where Iceland had its first parliament in 930 AD until 1798. I was very eager to see EVERYTHING today, so we just stopped at the lookout, snapped a few pictures and went on our merry way. I’m sure there is more to this park than I glimpsed, but I was in a sense of urgency with the limited daylight.


We stopped at many lookouts along the way. I was eager to get to the Geysir. To our surprise, we drove through the town I stayed during my first visit to Iceland! Matt was thrilled to see the place I’d had spoken so much about.

Photo of two boats turned over by a lake beneath a mountain


We parked at Fontana, the local spa. Matt really wanted to try their famous bread. It’s baked in the sand outside from the natural geothermal heat coming up from the ground. Matt said it was the best bread he’d ever had! We bought a quarter loaf (which is huge) and shared a small bowl of soup between us before wandering around the small town.

Behind the spa where the little mounds where the bread was buried. We walked around the edge of the lake, admiring the mountains and steam rising from the sand. We saw someone put their hand into a steaming stream and not flinch, so we followed suit. The little streams around the lake were as warm as bath water!

Photo of a Geysir erupting in front of a crowd of people


I was very excited to see the Geysir. It was great fun to watch it erupt every 2 minutes or so. Everywhere was ice and steam! As we left, there were six eruptions right in a row behind us!
Photo of a gully full of icy waterfalls


A short drive from Geysir was Gullfoss. The waterfall was well worth the near-frost bite on our fingers. It was bitter cold and windy, but the mammoth raging waterfall was beautiful! Everything was covered in ice. The white ice, bluish-green water, and black rock was quite striking.

Photo of horses in a field below a full moon at twilight

Back in the car, we got out the sand baked bread we’d bought at Fontana (or ‘magic bread’ as Matt called it) to snack on. It was so dense that I struggled to rip off a piece!

We spotted a woman at the side of the road with a camera. This was an alert there were Icelandic horses! Matt drove up beside her and I hopped out to take a picture of the horses with the full moon. As I did this, six cars pulled up beside us!

Photo of crater lake in winter

Crater Lake

The last stop on our Golden Circle tour was Crater Lake. It looked quite striking in photos – red stone with sapphire blue water surrounded by green moss. However, it was a bit dull in winter. The water was iced over and the moss was covered in snow! I marched up to the summit with my camera and tripod, full with Now or never!” motivation. However, after the Geysir and the Gullfoss, the crater lacked the grandeur the other sites held.

Photo of a child holding a road flare by a bonfire at night


We drove into Selfoss on our way back to Reykjavík to get a bite to eat and to look into accommodations for tomorrow. To our surprise, everything was closed! We were shocked – what did Icelanders do on NYE?! No gas station or eatery could be found.

We spotted a traditional New Years Eve bonfire off in the distance. We drove towards the yellow glow, in hopes there might be a hotdog stand or someplace to get food. We parked and walked towards the crowd. Behind us was a snowy mountain against the night blue sky, a full moon above us, and the biggest bonfire I’d ever seen in my life ahead of us!

Photo of a huge bonfireAs we approached the front of the bonfire, fireworks burst overhead. You could feel the explosions in your chest – we had never been so close to that many fireworks going off! It just kept going – all huge, all spectacular! We couldn’t have had better timing! It was so magical!

The crowd was full of young children and their family. Many of them were wearing ear protective eye gear – all were bundled up in full snow gear! Children waved around sparklers and what looked like road side flares, which they threw into the fire. Everything was closed because the whole town was here!

Photo of people gathered around a bonfire

Drive home

We drove back to our home-away-from-home in Reykjavik with mountains silhouetted against the sky on every side. We passed a church where all the tomb stones were lit up with what looked like Christmas lights. There were crosses in the Icelandic colours of white, blue, and green. We’d never seen that before!

Every gas station was closed – even in Reykjavik! We watched as fireworks went off over the city lights ahead of us. We even saw an emergency flare go off in someone’s yard!

NYE Dinner

We cracked open a beer, cut some bread, and finished the gravlax from yesterday with some cream cheese while listening to classical music on the radio with the fireworks going off outside. Matt said it sounded like a war zone out there!

Photo of fireworks spanning the horizon

New Years Eve in Reykjavik

We headed out a little after 8pm. The fireworks had been constant – an endless popping sound! There is no officially organized fireworks show in Reykjavik – it’s all the locals! It’s said to be the biggest fireworks show in Europe. I totally believe it now! Icelanders really do like their fireworks!

We walked to the church at the top of the hill, which was said to have a good view. We felt we could do better, so headed down the hill. We thought we could check out the Dillon Bar, which shared the name of my old local in Toronto. Unfortunately it was closed, so we went next door. The tables were full but for the patio, so we sat out there to listen to the fireworks and sip beer.

We walked down to the harbour to see if we could get a better view. What we did get a view of was the hotdog stand. The lineup was much shorter than before, so we hopped in line. We each got a hotdog with the works – two unknown sauces and dehydrated onions. It was yummy.

Walked back to the big church, Hallgrimskirkja, on the hill, then higher still to the water tower at Perlan. At Perlan we had a 360 view of the city. There were fireworks everywhere! At midnight, we popped open our bottle of brut and kissed. I lay in the snowy grass, looking up at the sky as fireworks cracked all around us.

We eventually made our way home. There were fireworks still going off at 3am when Matt went to bed. I konked out as soon as we got in. We awoke at 8am the next morning. My head was swimming, but Matt, ever the champion, got up and made “…the first cup of coffee of 2018!”. He put some Latvian choral music to help me ease into the day… then tickled my feet to get me up. Happy 2018!