Our second day in Reykjavik, Iceland. Yesterday, we did the Golden Circle (well, part of it). Today, we have the car in the morning, and will do some more driving.
So we decided to start out early. The plan was to take a quick breakfast at around 6am in the Cafe Promenade and head out.
We were rather stunned that there was no food!
Oh dear, this looks serious.
Fortunately, this was the 10 to 15 minute window where they were clearing the food from the previous evening and putting in new food for breakfast. We waited about 10 minutes for the fresh food to be delivered. In the meantime, we had our coffee.
Our first stop was to reach Kleifvatn. Not sure what to see there, but one of the ship's tours would bring the passengers there.
We would drive out of Reykjavík, and head on Highway 42. This Highway got a bit challenging because for a good 10km during the road became a gravel road. So we definitely had to drive more slowly. Furthermore, it was completely fogged up! What a drive!
Gravel road. It was for quite a long distance, about 10km maybe. I was too busy concentrating on driving (see the oncoming car).
In the fog, look out for the yellow markers. Couldn't go too fast now.
We drove right past Kliefavartn. I didn't spot any visitor center or place to park, unlike previously at Gullfoss or Thingvellir or Geysir. Maybe it was very foggy but I really didn't see any. So we drove right through. There weren't any other cars either, maybe it was too early?
Anyway, we drove on, past the southern village of Grindavik, before heading north towards the Blue Lagoon. There was really nothing much in Grindavik, at least from the main road. So we just drove through and headed north on Highway 43 to the Blue Lagoon.
There was our rental Volvo XC90 SUV parked at the very large Blue Lagoon carpark.
There were a few other cars parked. We saw other tourists (self-drive) who had also dropped by to take a look. It was only about 7:30am. The Lagoon wouldn't be opening any time soon.
Where is the Blue Lagoon? Anyway, I am sure we were at the right place.
Here is a map of the area.
It was a short walk (about 3 minutes) via this clearly marked pathway.
And you get to the entrance of the Blue Lagoon.
Fortunately for us, outside the main entrance, there was like a small park we could walk into for free and check out the waters of the Blue Lagoon.
I made two short videos here.
Quite a surreal place. Weather was cloudy, so my camera can't catch just how blue the water was.
I touched the water with my hands. It was cold. I assume the actual swimming area would be much warmer.
After a brief 15 minute stop, we started our journey back to Reykjavik. This map shows you the route I took. These highways were very easy to drive and we got back to the city very quickly.
Once we reached the city, we found out way to the church, called Hallgrímskirkja. According to wiki, this is the largest church in Iceland (Lutheran) and stands at 73m tall. It is one of the city's best known landmarks and can be seen throughout the city. I was attracted to the building's architecture, which is rather unique!
Using the GPS, we drove through the city centre, very slowly and carefully.
I parked the rental car somewhere along this road, outside a small supermarket. As it was before 10am, parking was free. I think we got here around 8:30 thereabouts.
Alright, we are out of the vehicle and on our feet. Just a short walk to the church from the vehicle.
Oh, I took a photo of the parking meter. Coin operated.
There were some tourists, but not many.
The Hallgrímskirkja, from across the road. Pretty neat.
We were early in the summer season and the daffodils were just starting to bloom. Here is a nice small bunch.
Inside the sanctuary. I do like the minimalist design. Very clean and neat. It felt very serene in there.
Donations are welcomed.
A short video
There was a hotel just across the church. Since, we had a rental car, we drove here. Take note that the city center is a 40 to 45 minute walk from the ship, each way. We did see quite a number of ship passengers doing the walk.
Alright, even though there was still some time before we had to return the car, we decided to take it easy. We drove to a shopping centre call Kringlan. I had looked it up during my trip research and found it on the GPS. It is about a 15 minute drive from the cruise ship. Parking was free.
Look at the wood they use for the roof.
We were a bit early, and the shops were still shut. (They opened at 10am). Hagkaup is the Icelandic chain of supermarkets.
Some pictures of the shops.
What do these signs mean? No idea. Other than the sign for the toilets!
I found the roof to be rather interesting. All the timber.
Oh yes, The Body Shop. A familiar brand. Speaking of which, Iceland has NO McDonalds and NO Starbucks. One of the few countries left in the world without either!
Attracted by the name of this shop. 66deg North. Yeah, that's how north we were.
Alright, it was time to fuel her up (DIESEL) and return the car. We didn't want to risk not being able to get back to the ship on time.
This was the carpark lot for the Enterprise Car Rental, which they shared with some other companies. Returning the car is quite easy, though in Iceland they do check the car thoroughly for dents and scratches before they hand it over to you.
Overall, for Reykjavík, Iceland, if you want to do a self-drive from the cruise port, I would strongly recommend that you rent from a company that delivers the car to you at port and allows you to drop off at the port. It would be much more convenient that way, even though you would have to pay a premium for it.
We had that option, however, we found Enterprise rates to be substantially cheaper (about 10,000 ISK or 90USD) so we went with Enterprise because they told us that the ride from the port to the rental company office was 5 to 7 minutes. As I wrote earlier, the ride is no less than 15 minutes and the route so confusing that I got lost trying to back-track from the car rental office.
Since as cruise passengers we are short on time, go with the companies that do the pick-up and drop-off right at the port itself. It is worth the extra.
Back on board the ship.
Oh, the glorious sun. Looks like much better weather today, but we'll be sailing off shortly.
Instead of Icelandic Air, we bought Pure Icelandic water, from Kringlan.
Some pictures of the sun deck, as the ship was getting ready to sail for Akureyri.
And we sail.
Oh, the kid's pool - opened now.
We walked many, many laps during this cruise. It was our way to work off the calories. It was very fun walking though.
A picture of the cruise compass.
Ship about to leave Reykjavik Port, Iceland
Question on self-drive in Iceland:
Thanks for such a great post! We are doing a similar cruise on the Brilliance in the end of July. For parking at the cruise port was there a cost? We are looking into a rental car so we can see more of the countryside but we will be in Iceland on the Sunday and Monday of a holiday weekend, curious about traffic? Did you run into any other traffic related problems? Thank you again and looking forward to hearing about the rest of your vacation.
At the Reykjavik cruise port, the overnight parking was free of charge. You can see the rather empty carpark in my earlier photo. There were no signs that parking would cost anything, so I just parked the rental car there overnight.
Traffic was quite good, I don't recall being caught in any jams or any long waits at traffic lights.
Note, however, they do have many roundabouts (similar to the UK). So it may get a bit confusing going round and trying to figure out which exit to take. The GPS I had was generally very accurate. The voice commands were good and timely.
However, as I alluded to previously, I had some issues with finding the destinations on the GPS because the icelandic alphabet has more characters than the English alphabet. Best to get the specific addresses for your way points. The GPSes in Iceland were basic Garmin models. The ones I had in Norway/England were either Garmin or TomTom models. If you are familiar with these brands, it would be helpful too.
I had to resort to looking that favorites as well as the history of the GPS to hunt for the places that I wanted to go. I figured that other users of this GPS would have driven the Golden Circle or other routes.
On any self-drive trip, it pays to do your detailed navigation homework before the trip. This is especially so for a self-drive on a cruise because of the time constraints. Figure out which route you are taking, which roads and highway numbers, which are the major waypoints (e.g. towns, or cities along the way), which direction you are headed etc. Print out your own paper maps (e.g. from Google maps) as a backup.
All this is very useful as you drive because you DO NOT want to rely solely on the GPS. You may have inadvertently typed in the wrong waypoint or the wrong destination (sometimes the same place has a different name etc), so you need to do some independent sanity checks.
It would also be helpful if you have your own independent GPS system on your mobile phone. There are some apps on the iPhone and Andriod phones that allow you to download maps and you can get a fix on your location using the GPS on your phone without the need for data plan. (I don't use Google Maps from my iPhone because that would require data roaming and the cost may be prohibitive). I never actually had to use this but good to know that I had a backup to get a fix on my location, in case I get completely lost, which incidentally is not likely in Iceland unless you ignore all the road signs.
The above sounds like a lot of work but I think it is worth it on multiple fronts.
First, because you invested the time and effort pre-cruise to do the navigational planning, the drive is much more interesting as you see your efforts bear fruit. These days, with Google Earth and Google Street View, you can even take a look at the main intersections and places of interest that you plan to go beforehand, so that you have a mental picture of what the place looks like on the ground, even before you reach there. I found this very useful.
Second, with a self-drive, you get a lot more flexibility, though of course you are saddled with more responsibility.
Third, you save a lot doing a self-drive compared to going on a ship's tour. Needless to say, we do not like being part of a 40 passenger coach.
Thanks for reading!