It seems that the vast majority of visitors to Iceland, especially those on tour groups, spend the bulk of their time in the southwest near Reykjavik. This gringo trail involves a series of easy day trips from the capital along with a popular three day trek near the south coast (the huts for which fill up months in advance, though camping needs no reservation).
The first item on my Icelandic agenda was a five day trek through the unpopulated interior highlands, but there were a couple stops along the way on the tourist trail that piqued my interest and seemed to warrant some time.
The “bus” (really a van) dropped me off next to the campsite in Thingvellir National Park, 23 km east of Reykjavik. The first democratic parliament was set up here by the Vikings in 930 to solve disputes and make laws, being in a field easily accessible by overland routes from across the island.
A scenic 3 km walk led to the main attractions, which are also geologically significant. Thingvellir straddles the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and there are lots of large fissures and geothermal areas throughout the area. Since so many of my geology textbooks in college had pictures of this place, I knew I had to pay it a visit.
I spent about five hours walking around, exploring the tiny old church, and people watching as the tour buses dropped off hordes of elderly visitors (next to the most expensive bathrooms I’ve ever seen at 200 kronor/$1.50 per use; there were free ones a five minute walk away).
After hanging out with other European travelers at the campsite, which is where all the young backpackers stay in Iceland since lodging is so overpriced, I spent a very windy night in my tent before taking the noon bus to Geysir.
Geysir is supposedly where the term geyser comes from, and every 8 minutes one of them shoots up jets of water 20 meters in the air. Spending four summers living within a half hour drive of 65% of the world’s geysers in Yellowstone may have made my expectations too high, since Geysir seemed quite small. It was still very nice, and there were lots of free heated places to hang out in the oversized gas station next door.