While en route to the United Kingdom to complete our next semester of graduate school, Jess and I took advantage of our last week of winter vacation by meeting in Reykjavik for a few days of exploration. After a day of taking in the sights of the capital city, including chai lattes at Cafe Babalu, we rented an SUV and tackled the Golden Circle.

Equipped with homemade sandwiches, we had timed our first stop to arrive just as the sun was rising – not a difficult feat given that sunrise was around 11:00AM. We seemed to be the only ones on the road, but as we turned into the small parking lot of the falls, a tour bus pulled up. “Oh jeeze,” I thought, expecting our serene view to be overrun by the tourists. However, as the bus doors opened, we were greeted by a tour guide clad in warrior leathers; it was a Game of Thrones tour of the filming sites, and we were welcome to listen in on the tour.

We had myriad stops throughout the day, including Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, Haukadalur Valley , and Vatnsleysufoss, but my favourite was Friðheimar, where we had the world’s most incredible tomato soup. Friðheimar is a family-run restaurant-within-a-greenhouse, where diners are invited to indulge in ‘all-you-can-eat’ tomato soup and bread, as well as many other decadent, tomato-based meals. We even got a chance to say hello to the Icelandic horses on-site.

The skies had grown dark by late afternoon, and we stopped at the Secret Lagoon for a dip in the hot springs. Unlike the hot springs at Landmannalaugar, these were more developed and expanded to accommodate numerous travellers along various stages of their own Golden Circle tours.

We had missed one stop along the Golden Circle we’d originally listed, and, not wanting to leave Iceland with any stone unturned, we backtracked to the Kerið Crater. It is known to be a spectacular site, and we were able to walk right down to the bottom of the crater where the lake sits. Unfortunately, even our headlights struggled to reveal the beauty of the site given the pitch-black, cloudy skies.

On day three, we drove to the Southeast Coast to go to Diamond Beach, which more than made up for missing the crater during daylight. I felt like a wide-eyed child taking in the magic of the tiny icebergs that lined the channel and the ones that had washed up along the sand. On our drive back toward the capital, we stopped at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the very same that I’d been to with the Laugavegur Trail group. We looped around through the back of the waterfall, getting soaked in the process. Wet from head to toe, we bought hot drinks and a doughnut to split and raced back to the car. We will forever be talking about how good that doughnut was.

To experience a different side of Iceland was amazing, and to share in the beauty of its unique landscape with my dear friend allowed us to create many new memories. Given the number of hours we spent driving, Jess and I had plenty of time to discuss our travel bucket-lists for the year ahead, all while listening to great music. Iceland set the bar high for the year of European adventures to follow.

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